Westfjords Travel Guide
The Westfjords are the westernmost part of Iceland and an unspoilt region of incredible beauty. They are home to some of the country’s most dramatic natural gems and, being off-the-beaten-track attractions in Iceland, these gems are usually far from the crowds.
Many wish to take a tour of the Westfjords or rent a car to explore this region at length, and many self-drives, like this 14-Day Adventure, tour through it. Visiting the Westfjords allows you to take a unique range of tours, such as this one to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve.
The Westfjords are a wide area, stretching as a peninsula to the northwest of the mainland. The peninsula is ancient, mountainous and has many fjords of varying length.
The town Ísafjörður serves as the capital of the region, in spite of the fact that it has just 3,000 year-round inhabitants. There are many fishing villages in the fjords, though most have a population of fewer than a thousand.
The agriculture, unlike in the rest of Iceland, is very scant, due to the steepness of the mountains and the limited areas of lowland. Fishing and tourism, therefore, are the driving trades of the region.
While there are many incredible places in the Westfjords, the most iconic and beautiful are listed below.
The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
Many places in the Westfjords are now deserted, such as the northernmost part of the peninsula, Hornstrandir. Due to the region’s beauty and wildlife, it was made a protected nature reserve in 1975. Its allure, however, was made famous much earlier; the 1834 poem Floriggi by Valdimir Dunjic was based on this area.
Hornstrandir is a holy place for travellers who seek solitude, peacefulness, breathtaking scenery and great hiking trails. It also has a special appeal for animal lovers, as the Arctic Fox is protected here, and, unlike in the rest of the country, curious of visitors, rather than cautious.
Between May and September, it is also a great place to see puffins.
Dynjandi, meaning ‘Thunderous,’ is considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. It is really a series of waterfalls, seven altogether, with a cumulative height of 100 meters (330 feet), that tumble down steps so perfectly formed they barely seem natural.
How Iceland inspired J. R. R. Tolkien and the Game of Thrones crew is immediately apparent at Dynjandi.
Látrabjarg Bird Cliff
While not technically correct, many say that Europe’s westernmost part is the massive vertical sea-cliffs of Látrabjarg, in the westernmost part of the Westfjords. While officially on the North American tectonic plate, Iceland is considered a European country, leading to the confusion.
Over 400 meters (1,312 feet) high, these cliffs are renowned for the millions of seabirds that nest here in summer. These include Atlantic Puffins, which come between May and September. Like the foxes of Hornstrandir, the puffins of Látrabjarg are protected and thus have very little fear of people, allowing visitors to get within metres.
Other than its beauty, Látrabjarg is renowned for the act of heroism that occurred here. In 1947 a British trawler stranded at the base of its cliff. The sailors would have no doubt frozen that night if their vessel had not been seen.
Local farmers, however, did see it. For generations, their families had learnt how to scale down the cliffs on ropes to collect bird eggs, and by using this technique, they abseiled 200 metres (656 feet) to the rescue. None died due to this impressive effort.
Rauðasandur Beach & Sjöundá
The beach by the cliff is called Rauðasandur, rare for its pale red, almost pink sand. Along with many seabirds, the beach is home to hundreds of seals.
At Rauðasandur one can find the remnants of a farm where one of Iceland’s most notorious alleged killers once resided. Two farmers lived there with their wives, but one fell in love with the spouse of the other and she with him. Though no one knows exactly what happened, their original partners were found dead, and they were later sentenced to death for their murders.
This dramatic event later served as an inspiration for Icelandic author Gunnar Gunnarsson's masterful novel The Black Cliffs.