West Fjords

Time magazine has named Iceland’s West Fjords one of the world’s best-kept secrets. „Memory is long here, and the landscape has a palpable supernatural spirit,” the 2013 article says. The West Fjords has received the prestigious „European Destination of Excellence“ and the Lonely Planet travel guide placed the West Fjords on its 10 top list of regions in the world to visit in 2011.

The West Fjords are one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and least-visited corners of Iceland – only three percent of all foreign tourists make it to the West Fjords. The West Fjord peninsula with its dramatic fjords cutting deep into its heart, is the result of intense glaciation. Since flat land is at a premium in this rugged part of Iceland, towns and fishing villages have grown up on the narrow strip of lowland that separates the mountains from the fjords.

Isafjordur, the friendly town with a population of about 2,700, is far and away the largest settlement in the West Fjords. Isafjordur is where most travellers choose to base themselves when exploring the region – not least because this is the only place from which to reach the Hornstrandir peninsula by boat, a major goal for many visitors. Isafjordur is surrounded by towering mountains on three sides and by the open waters of Ísafjarðardjúp on the fourth. During the long winter months, locals are forced to battle against the elements to keep open the tiny airport in Isafjordur, which very often provides the only point of contact between the entire region and the rest of Iceland.

Bolungarvík is the northernmost village in the Westfjords, situated on an eponymous cove.The village has been a fishing port since settlement, so naturally the most popular tourist attraction in Bolungarvík is the Ósvör museum, a fascinating replica of an old fishing outpost. Bolafjall Mountain is a popular spot in Bolungarvik, offering a staggering view.

On the other side of the West Fjords, the eastern Strandir coast, which stretches north from the busy fishing village of Hólmavík, is hard to beat for splendid isolation, its few villages hardly visited by tourists, and with some of the most dramatic, forbidding landscapes this corner of Iceland has to offer, particularly around the former herring port of Djúpavík. Hólmavík is the largest town in the Strandir region, an area with an exciting and tragic history of witchcraft, witch-hunting and sorcery. The Museum of Sorcery & Witchcraft tells the story of witch-hunting in 17th century Iceland.

The tiny island of Vigur in Isafjardardjup is a home to thousands of birds; eider ducks, arctic terns, puffins, black guillemot and more. Vigur´s friendly five inhabitants welcome guests with their relaxed easy manner in the family´s mid-19th century house. In Vigur you find the smallest post office in Iceland, as well as Iceland´s only surviving windmill, built in 1860. Since an end was put to milk production on Vigur island, the inhabitants spend much of the winter preparing the eider down, collected over the summer, for export. To get to Vigur, there is a daily boat tour from Ísafjörður.