How many fjords are there in Iceland? What is a fjord? What’s special about the Icelandic fjords?
There are 109 fjords in total in Iceland. These fjords are mainly split between the east of Iceland and the Westfjords that are in the northwest of Iceland. A few fjords are found in the north of the country and a couple of fjords are close by Reykjavík in the west. The south of the country is one long coastline and doesn’t have any fjords.
The best way to explore all these fjords is by hopping in a car and going on a self drive tour in Iceland.
Picture from Wikimedia Commons.
What is a fjord?
A fjord is a U-shaped inlet of land that has been formed by a glacier tongue. Fjords are typically long, deep and narrow, and similar to valleys, except they are filled with sea. You won't find any fjords with freshwater in Iceland, as all Icelandic fjords are connected to the ocean. In fact, any freshwater 'fjords' (that can be found in Norway and New Zealand) have been given the wrong name and are in fact 'fjord lakes' - lakes formed by fjords that have been landlocked.
On either side of a fjord is a mountain. Typically you’ll find tall mountains or glaciers at the inner, shallower part of a fjord, called 'the sea bottom'. There you'll find great water sources and you can often see small rivulets trickle down the mountainsides, or even impressive waterfalls.
The wider part of the fjord, the one that connects to the sea, is called the mouth of the fjord. If the strip of the water is wider than its length, then it's no longer a fjord but a bay or a cove.
Fjords often offer breathtaking scenery, with impressive mountains on each side, often mirrored in calm waters. In Norway you can expect to see the mountainsides covered with trees, but Iceland doesn't have many trees and you're more likely to see a number of waterfalls and colourful grounds.
Fjords near Reykjavík
Picture from Wikimedia Commons.
Hvalfjörður is a very large fjord and it took so long to drive it that a tunnel was made underneath it in 1998, shortening the distance between Reykjavík and Akureyri by an hour. Driving the fjord takes about an hour, but driving the tunnel takes about 7 minutes.
Photo from Hiking to Iceland's highest waterfall - Glymur, by Jórunn
If you don’t mind the extra time in the car, then it is actually a very beautiful fjord and at the bottom of it you can find Iceland’s highest waterfall, Glymur.
The fjord is just as equally stunning during wintertime, and very accessible all year round.
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Picture from Things to do in Iceland during winter, by Ása
Hvalfjörður is also popular for sea-kayaking as it’s not far from the capital, very beautiful and tranquil as it doesn't have heavy traffic due to the tunnels.
Borgarfjörður is where the town Borgarnes is, a popular stop for ice-cream and snacks if you are driving between Reykjavík and Akureyri. It’s a very cute little town as well, so it’s worth checking out for a little longer. Make sure you don't confuse Borgarfjörður with Borgarfjörður Eystri - that's on the other side of the country!
The Westfjords of Iceland
The Westfjords are Iceland’s most remote area. The ring road of Iceland, road #1, bypasses the Westfjords. Some of the roads there are gravel roads and some of them become impassable during wintertime, as they go over high mountains. The nature in the wild Westfjords is breathtaking though, so it’s well worth going there.
Picture from Dynjandi Waterfall - The Jewel of the Westfjords, by Regína
You can, for example, see the stunning Dynjandi waterfall, as it cascades down into Arnarfjörður (Eagle Fjord) or the impressive mountains and fjords of Hornstrandir nature reserve, where the mountains jut out to sea with impressive cliffs.
Another impressive location with sheer cliffs jutting out to sea is the more accessible Látrabjarg, where you can admire thousands of birds, such as the popular puffin, and have a view over the wide Breiðafjörður (Wide Fjord) all the way to Snæfellsnes peninsula.
The largest fjord in the Westfjords, and the rest of the country, is Ísafjarðardjúp (Ice Fjord's Deep), that splits into many smaller fjords. The biggest town is the picturesque Ísafjörður, named after its fjord.
The mountains in the Westfjords are old and weathered, having carried snow and ice on them for millions of years. As a result, you’ll find many table-top mountains in the Westfjords, that look incredible when they’re mirrored in the still sea.
The east fjords of Iceland
As a contrast to the flat top mountains in the Westfjords, the mountains in the east are younger, harsher and more rugged. So the fjords in the east are surrounded by much more dramatic mountains than the ones in the west.
There are some spectacular hiking routes in this area, you can for example hike from Borgarfjörður Eystri - 'East TownFjord' south to Loðmundarfjörður. This hiking area is called Víknaslóðir, and is on the top of our 20 hidden gems in Iceland list!
Make sure you stop at the spectacular Stórurð, with its azure blue coloured waters.
Picture from 11 Day Self Drive Tour of Ringroad and East Fjords
Or if you enjoy horseback riding, you might want to join this 7 day trip of the deserted fjords in east Iceland.
South of Loðmundarfjörður you’ll find a number of stunning fjords, all battling to be more picturesque than the last one. These include (but are not limited to) Seyðisfjörður (by many considered Iceland's most beautiful fjord!), Mjóifjörður, Eskifjörður, Reyðarfjörður, Fáskrúðsfjörður, Stöðvarfjörður, Berufjörður, Hamarsfjörður and Álftafjörður - as well as a few smaller ones.
Fjords in north Iceland
Picture by Völundur Jónsson
Akureyri, the capital of the north, is situated in Eyjafjörður (Island Fjord). This is a large fjord, containing the island Hrísey and is frequently visited by cruise ships. It's also very picturesque, as you can see here above. Hrísey is often referred to as the pearl of Eyjafjörður, and it is possible to take a ferry there to visit it.
Skagafjörður also contains islands, in fact, there are three of them: Málmey, Drangey and Lundey. They are however smaller and uninhabited. Between the two fjords is the mountain pass Tröllaskagi (Troll Peninsula), where you can find the picturesque Siglufjörður village, in Siglufjörður fjord (Sailing Fjord).
Siglufjörður used to be Iceland's 'herring capital' - but is now more famous for being the backdrop location for the Icelandic crime series 'Trapped'.
We urge you to go and explore all of Iceland's wonderful and unique fjords, and then tell us, which one is your favourite?