Westfjords of Iceland – magical, remote and rugged

Gardar ship rusts away in the Westfjords of Iceland
The forlorn ship, Gardar, rusts away in the Westfjords of Iceland.

Westfjords of Iceland is a magical region. It is a little tough to describe it, but even if the Westfjords are a region of Iceland, I always feel that I am abroad when I visit it. Well, maybe it would be better to say that the Westfjords are, of course, Iceland, but the Westfjords are even more so. The remoteness and the ruggedness of the Westfjords seem to have shaped the people who live there. My wife says that when she sings in the Westfjords, an audience of 50 feels like an audience of 100. Each personality is so big that one person from the Westfjords equals two ‘regular’ people. People had to be tough to survive the long dark winters of the Westfjords. And make as much as they could make the most of the short summers in preparation for said long winters.

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Loved by Loney Planet

The Westfjords received a much-deserved accolade by Lonely Planet when it was chosen as the best region to visit in 2022.

Hotels in the Westfjords

See the map below and start exploring hotels in the Westfjords.


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Westfjords of Iceland have a remarkable pull

For the traveler, the rugged beauty of the Westfjords is their main attraction. I have visited the Westfjords a few times, and the region has an incredible pull. I think you should discover it on your own. Below are a few noteworthy destinations in no particular order that I have visited, and I hope you will too.

The Dynjandi waterfall in the Westfjords of Iceland.
The Dynjandi waterfall in the Westfjords of Iceland.

The majestic Dynjandi Waterfall

Dynjandi waterfall is right up there with all the other classic Icelandic waterfalls, like Dettifoss waterfall, Aldeyjarfoss in the north, and Skógafoss, SeljalandsfossGljúfrabúi, and Gullfoss waterfall in the south.

Snæfjallaströnd in the Westfjords of Iceland.
Snæfjallaströnd in the Westfjords of Iceland.

The remote snæfjallaströnd

Snæfjallaströnd is a region that few people visit. However, the serenity there and the beauty are quite something.

Puffins at the island of Grímsey
This is why I call Grímsey puffin island.

The puffin island of Grímsey

Want to see puffins? Well, Grímsey is an island teeming with them.

Puffin lands at Látrabjarg cliffs in the Westfjords of Iceland.
Puffin lands at Látrabjarg cliffs in the Westfjords of Iceland.

The puffin cliffs of Látrabjarg

The epic cliffs at Látrabjarg are just massive. And yes, there are loads of puffins there too.

Boat at Vigur Island.
Boat at Vigur Island.

This ship in the Westfjords of Iceland is a lot cooler than the plane-wreck at Sólheimasandur

In Skápadalur, this photogenic ship is just rusting away on the beach. Forget the plane at Sólheimasandur and check it out.

The art gallery at Selárdalur valley

Imagine being an old hermit at the edge of the world. And then building a church, a house, a lion fountain, a temple, and lots of statues just for yourself. You can see the result of just this at Selárdalur valley.

The lion fountain at Selárdalur.
Yes, I really like the lion fountain at Selárdalur valley

The island of Vigur, the place of zen and angry birds

The island of Vigur has for a long time been a center for the harvesting of eiderdown, the ultimate luxury good. It is full of highly aggressive arctic terns that help to protect the all-important money-making eider ducks. If you are up for a nice boat trip to this beautiful island, you will have great moments of zen and beauty. When you venture out for a walk around the island, you will be “greeted” by angry arctic terns that hate you and will try to peck you to death. They are not too bright, though, so just put a stick above your head.  This way, you will avoid most of the pecking. You will continue to be at risk for their “bombardment,” though. So yes, I do recommend taking this trip.

MurAL
Mural at Dokkan Brewery

The town of Ísafjörður in the Westfjords of Iceland has Iceland’s best beer and restaurant

Ísafjörður town is not only charming. It also has fantastic local beer made by the Dokkan Brewery. I had not tasted their beers before I went to Ísafjörður in the summer of 2021. I was only going to have one or two but let’s say it went a little bit beyond that and who could blame me. The café Heimabyggð is also great, I highly recommend it. Ísafjörður town also has Iceland’s best restaurant, Tjöruhúsið.

The legendary restaurant Tjöruhúsið in Ísafjörður, Iceland.
The legendary restaurant Tjöruhúsið in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

This restaurant has a buffet of just incredible fish dishes. It is honest to god hearty food, local fish fried with tons of butter. You need to book a table there well in advance, and you should make sure you go in there hungry. The buffet is the gourmet’s Everest; my Apple watch reported on my dinner there as it would report on a good workout. So come prepared and enjoy the best meal in Iceland.

The best café in Iceland is found in the Westfjords of Iceland

Steinshús is a small museum dedicated to Iceland’s beloved poets, the perpetually poor, skinny, polio-stricken, hungry, and melancholy communist outsider Steinn Steinar. But it is also Iceland’s best café. It is just weird, it is right in the middle of nowhere, and we just found this café by coincidence. But man, those cakes are to die for. Steinn Steinar never had anything like those calorie bombs. His poetry would not have been so good if he had ever had that luxury.

The sorcerer madness

The Westfjords have had their share of tough times. It was at the epicenter of the bizarre and horrific sorcerer-madness in the 17th century. During this time, people were burnt alive for trumped-up charges for sorcery. If somebody went mad, if livestock perished in lousy weather, or if somebody got lucky in some way, people would often suspect sorcery was to blame. Some poor person would be then be burned for alleged witchcraft.

Breaking free from servitude

There are many charming little fishing villages in the Westfjords, but Iceland’s towns and hamlets are a pretty recent phenomenon. Until the late 19th century, Iceland was a stagnant and poor agrarian society where landless people were strictly forbidden to strike out of their own. This system finally broke apart at the turn of the last century, and people could finally live where they pleased. Naturally, they gravitated towards the coast where you could make good money fishing. And then people could also marry whomever they wanted, and no farmer ruled over them. I think it was incredibly liberating for young women who had it pretty bad in the “old Iceland.”. How the country would have developed if not for this oppressive system of indentured servitude from the late middle ages onwards is the “what if” of Icelandic history.

From heyday to a crisis, to a fishing scandal in Namibia

One could argue that the heyday of the Westfjords was in the seventies and early eighties of the last century. The was a time when Icelanders were fishing with powerful trawlers without set quotas set by the government. People worked hard in the fishing industry and often made good money. However, the freewheeling fishing gave way to fishing quotas which saved Iceland’s fishing stocks from annihilation. The fishing towns of the Westfjords lost out when a new breed of savvy and ruthless new fishing barons from outside of the region bought up both fishing quota and the large trawlers. The Namibia fish-rot scandal is the latest escapade that some of these fishing barons are involved in.

Avalanches strike

An avalanche struck the town of Súðavík in January 1995, killing fourteen people. Twenty people died in October the same year in an avalanche that engulfed the village of Flateyri. But the people of Westfjords are resilient, and the region has recovered somewhat from those shocks. You will get a warm welcome.

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