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Isafjordur is a town in Northwest Iceland and the largest settlement in the Westfjords region.

Adventurous travelers who want to discover the highlights of Isafjordur and the remote scenery of the Westfjords can visit as part of a four-day Westfjords tour. If you've made your own way to Isafjordur, you can take a sightseeing boat trip to Hornstrandir.

Isafjordur, spelled Ísafjörður in Icelandic, is the unofficial capital of the Westfjords and a center for services, education, and commerce. The town has a population of around 2,600 people and is known for its beautiful surroundings, rich cultural heritage, and opportunities for outdoor activities. It's a great base to explore the Westfjords, so make sure to book accommodation in Isafjordur and find a place to stay.

Why Visit Isafjordur?

Isafjordur is the biggest town in the Westfjords. Many travelers to this isolated area stay in Isafjordur to access the local services, including hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, and bars.

The fjord waters surrounding Isafjordur, with mountains reflected in the clear water.The town is located on the Skutulsfjordur fjord, part of the larger Isafjardardjup fjord. The settlement is one of the few large enough in the Icelandic Westfjords to be considered a town. It is surrounded by mountains and the sea, creating a stunning landscape that attracts visitors worldwide.

The town became an important trading and fishing center during the 16th century thanks to its coastal location and natural harbor. Seafood still makes up a large part of the local diet, and one of the best seafood restaurants in Iceland is located here.

Isafjordur's Old Town is a well-preserved area of historic buildings dating back to the 18th century. These brightly colored buildings were once used as trading posts, homes, and warehouses, but they now give visitors a glimpse into the town's past and make it a very picturesque place for a stroll.

History of Isafjordur

According to Iceland's Book of Settlement, the Skutulsfjordur fjord was first settled in the 9th century by Helgi Magri Hrolfsson. Around the 16th century, Isafjordur rapidly grew as it became a merchant trading post, and the town gained municipal status in 1786.

Isafjordur was previously one of the largest fisheries in Iceland. However, declines in local fish populations, fishing restrictions, and monopolization by more prominent fisheries in Reykjavik have led to a considerable decrease in the town's population.

A panoramic view of Isafjordur and the surrounding waters.Luckily, the tourism industry has, more recently, created local jobs, leading to improved economic prosperity. Visitors can choose accommodation in a local hotel or hostel, and many tour operators offer trips into the remote areas of the Westfjords by land and sea.

Things to Do in Isafjordur

Besides exploring the Old Town and the harbor, Isafjordur has a vibrant cultural scene, with fascinating museums, galleries, and cultural events throughout the year.

The Westfjords Heritage Museum is a great place to learn about the history and cultural significance of the Westfjords region. The museum is housed within one of the oldest buildings in Iceland, in the Nedstikaupstadur area. This area is home to the country's most extensive body of old timber frame houses, constructed in the 18th century by foreign traders.

Another exciting place to visit in Isafjordur is the Culture House in the former hospital building. The striking building is worth a look, even if you don't go in. The town's public library takes up the first floor, and upstairs, you'll find a fascinating display of old hospital artifacts, including a gruesome hacksaw and a set of scales to weigh a newborn.

If you want to learn more about how people live in Iceland, the Museum of Everyday Life, also known as the Hversdagssafn or Hvers Museum, is a brilliant choice. Visitors can discover a thought-provoking display of everyday objects beautifully curated to reveal beauty in the mundane.

If you visit Isafjordur around Easter, you can attend the "Aldrei for eg sudur" festival. It's an alternative music festival with no entry fee, making it an excellent way to discover local Icelandic musicians and bands during your visit.

Other yearly festivals include Ski Week and the European Championship of Swamp Soccer. Ski Week is an Eastertime ski festival with various outdoor activities included. The Swamp Soccer championship happens in August and lets amateur soccer players enjoy a game in the mud, with parties occurring throughout the night.

Outdoor Activities in Isafjordur

Isafjordur's natural beauty also makes it a hotspot for visitors who want to participate in outdoor activities, including hiking, skiing, and kayaking.

The mountains surrounding Isafjordur offer excellent opportunities for skiing and snowboarding, and the town has a ski club open to visitors and locals. Downhill and cross-country skiing are both available.

Kayaking from Isafjordur is a popular way to explore the waters around the Westfjords. Travelers can admire the fantastic views of the mountains surrounding the fjord and look out for animal life, such as seals and sea birds.

The Westfjords are also a bird lover's paradise, with guillemots, Arctic terns, and Atlantic puffins making the remote region their home. The island of Vigur, off the coast of Isafjordur, is famous for its impressive colonies of birds. Take a kayak and wildlife tour to Vigur to experience the island yourself.

Isafjordur is also one of the main entry points to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, one of Iceland's most remote and untouched areas. It's home to the Arctic fox, Iceland's only native mammal, and over 250 plant species, making this an unforgettable destination for wildlife enthusiasts.

Given the nature reserve's remote location, most visitors camp overnight to take their time. However, single-day guided hiking excursions are also available if you're pressed for time.

Hornstrandir isn't accessible by car, so you must take a boat from Isafjordur to Hornvik or another reserve area to reach the hiking trails and campgrounds.

How to Reach Isafjordur

Getting to Isafjordur can be challenging because of its remote location, but it is well worth the effort.

The easiest way to get there is by flying into the local airport, which has regular flights from Reykjavik's domestic airport. Alternatively, visitors can drive there. Take the Ring Road north out of Reykjavik, then turn onto Route 60, which takes you into the Westfjords.

The drive is about 260 miles (around 420 kilometers), but it's incredibly scenic and takes you through some of Iceland's most beautiful landscapes.

It's important to note that the Westfjords and Isafjordur are tundra regions, meaning the winters are freezing, and icy conditions are typical.

The roads in the Westfjords are mostly unpaved, and it's unusual for them to be clear of snow during the winter. With that in mind, it's recommended that you only visit the Westfjords during the summer, and even then, you may prefer to take an organized tour.

Other Attractions in the Westfjords

Isafjordur is the most convenient place in the Westfjords to visit the region's incredible natural sites. Even if you don't want to see the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, there are several other attractions in the Westfjords that you can visit from Isafjordur.

Dynjandi Waterfalls

The Dynjandi waterfalls, known as "the jewel of the Westfjords," are some of the most impressive falls in the country. Located about 35 miles (60 kilometers) west of Isafjordur, the falls are easy to visit as part of a day trip from the town.

Two people stand at the bottom of the Dynjandi waterfalls.The falls are about 98 feet (30 meters) wide at the top but double in width at the bottom. They're about 330 feet (100 meters) tall, making this the largest waterfall in the Westfjords region. Dynjandi is also one of the most beautiful waterfalls in all of Iceland.

Latrabjarg Sea Cliffs

The Latrabjarg sea cliffs are the westernmost point of Iceland. Thought to be home to an estimated five million sea birds in summer, this is a must-visit destination for bird lovers coming to Iceland.

An Atlantic puffin with grass in its beak, and another puffin in the background.Arctic terns, guillemots, eider ducks, and razorbills all nest at the sea cliffs, but the main attraction for most visitors is the massive colony of nesting Atlantic puffins. The birds here are protected and relatively tame, so you can get fantastic photos of the puffins interacting.

The cliffs are on the western edge of the Westfjords, about 113 miles (180 kilometers) from Isafjordur), so it's quite a distance but worth the journey.

Raudisandur Beach

Most beaches in Iceland have jet-black sand made up of volcanic rock and dried lava. However, Raudisandur Beach on the western coast of the Westfjords peninsula has red and gold sands.

Its sands differ from those elsewhere in Iceland because the Westfjords region is no longer volcanically active. The sand comes from regular rather than volcanic rocks, giving this beach an almost tropical appearance.

The beach, about 90 miles (150 kilometers) from Isafjordur, is near the Latrabjarg cliffs. This proximity means it's often possible to see seabirds here. It's also a popular seal-watching spot.

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