Ísafjörður is a town in the northwest of Iceland and the largest settlement of the Westfjords of Iceland. It is considered the capital of the region, and is the centre of trade, commerce, fishing and tourism.
Ísafjörður is located on a spit within the fjord Skutulsfjörður, which is part of the larger fjord Ísafjarðardjúp. The settlement is one of the few large enough in the Icelandic Westfjords to be considered a town, with a population of around 2,600 people.
According to Iceland’s Book of Settlement, the fjord Skutulsfjörður was first settled in the 9th century by a man called Helgi Magri Hrólfsson. Around the 16th century, Ísafjörður grew rapidly due to it becoming a merchant trading post. The town was granted municipal status in 1786.
The oldest house still standing in Iceland, built in 1734, is located in Ísafjörður as part of the local folk museum. The area also includes the most extensive body of old timber frame houses in the country, constructed in the 18th century by foreign traders. One of these is Tjöruhús, now a seafood restaurant, and another Turnhús, now a maritime museum.
Throughout its history, Ísafjörður has been one of the largest fisheries in Iceland. Several factors— a fishing restriction in the 1980s, drops in the fish population and monopolisation from bigger fisheries in Reykjavík—have led to a sizeable decline in the town’s population.
In recent years, the tourism industry has yet again created local jobs and economic prosperity for the town. The town now has many hotels and hostels, restaurants and cafes, and tour operators offering trips out into the Westfjords.
The climate of the Westfjords and Ísafjörður is tundra, bordering closely on subarctic, meaning the winters are cold and the summers cool. Due to Ísafjörður being located in a fjord surrounded by steep mountains, during the peak of the winter solstice, the rays of the sun don’t reach the town for weeks on end.
The Westfjords have a wealth of birdlife, and Ísafjörður is no exception; many species can be seen on several hikes out of the town. When on such trails, keep an eye on the landscapes to spot Arctic Foxes, on the coast to see seals, or the ocean to spot a whale.
Ísafjörður is the most convenient place in the Westfjords from where to visit the region’s incredible natural sites. These include Látrabjarg, birdwatching cliffs perfect for getting up close and personal with puffins; Dynjandi, a series of waterfalls that look to be plucked from fantasy; Hornstrandir, a Nature Reserve with spectacular views; Rauðasandur, a red- and gold-sand beach; and Drangajökull, the only glacier in the country that is expanding rather than shrinking.
Ísafjörður, despite its isolation and small population, boasts a proportionately urban atmosphere. The town hosts a multitude of events and festivals attended by people from all over Iceland, such as the Ski Week Festival, the Act Alone theatre festival, the European Championship of Swamp Soccer and alternative music festival Aldrei fór ég suður.