Stray from the Circle: Iceland’s Westfjords
Iceland has some of the most unspoiled beauty on this earth. The vistas are expansive, and towns and cities are not overwhelmed by tourists. Icelandic people are welcoming and their food is delicious. The rich and unique geologic features add an entirely different layer to what a visitor will experience. The most compelling reason, though, to travel to Iceland, lies beyond the route most traveled. Steer off course a bit and explore the Westfjords.
Most people stick to the Golden Circle, a 300 km loop which begins and ends in Reykjavik and takes a traveler to central Iceland. While the Circle allows travelers to see some amazing scenery and important geological elements, they are missing out by not going the extra step of heading to the Westfjords.
The simplest way to get there from Reykajvek is to drive to Stykkisholmur, and take a lovely ferry ride across the spectacular seascape of Breidafjordur Bay. On the way to Stykkisholmur, an enjoyable little detour can be an exploration of Hraunfossar and Barnafoss. These two waterfalls are known for their exceptional beauty and unusual natural phenomena. Another stop can be at the Deildartunguhver hot spring, which bubbles out of algae-covered boulders at a steamy 97C.
Once at the darling harbor town of Stykkisholmur, travelers will enjoy the colorful timber buildings and cafes, and will be amazed by the towering cliffs of basalt columns that edge the harbor. The 3-hour ferry ride takes explorers through Breidafjordur Bay, which is dotted with 3,000 tiny islands. Encircled by mountains and the Snaefellsjokull Volcano, the dramatic bay is home to 50 bird species.
Upon arrival across the bay in Brjanslaekur, visitors will immediately discover the unique sights and beauty of the Westfjords, one of the least visited places in Iceland. The trip from Reykajvek to Brjanslaekur, including the detours, is a pleasant day trip. Overnight at Hotel Flokalundur, a quick drive from the ferry landing. Travel along to the quaint fjord village of Patreksfjordur and then stroll along Raudisnadur Beach, a 10 km cinnamon-colored sculpture of sand and shell that is unlike anything else in Iceland. The vistas are breathtaking. Sheep graze near the shoreline, which is back dropped by snowcapped mountains. Spend some time perusing unusual treasures at the quirky folk museum in Hnjotur.
Where to Stay
Lodge at Breidavik Hotel, which is right on a beach. This hotel was established in 1912 and has a top-notch chef on premises. This is a great launching point for another adventurous day- the Latrabjarg Cliffs.
Without a doubt, the Latrabjarg Cliffs are a highlight of the Westfjords! Hike along seaside cliffs to reach Latrabjarg, Europe’s largest bird cliff and a top- ranked wildlife spectacle of the world. Stretching 14 km and peaking at a height of 441 m, Latrabjarg Cliffs are the western-most point in Europe. On high, jagged formations, shaped by volcanic action and pounded by icy surf, the stunning cliffs host mindboggling colonies of sea birds- auks, common and thick-billed murres, razorbills and Atlantic puffins. Safe from Arctic foxes, the birds are fearless. The initial climb to the cliffs is a little steep, but once on the cliffs, the path is an easy hike. Since puffins make burrows into the cliffs, travelers must be careful as they peer over the edge to spot the birds. The best way to view the birds is to lie on your stomach!
Once a traveler pulls away from the Latrabjarg Cliffs, the winding coastline roads will eventually lead to the colorful fishing village of Isafjordur. It’s the honorary capital of the Westfjords. Isafjordur has a lovely old town center with beautifully restored timber buildings, a thriving harbor and lovely cafes. En route to Isafjordur, a traveler can stop at the Dynjandi Waterfall, a collection of seven cascades resembling a tiered wedding cake.
From Isafjordur, the route provides coastal views of the scenic fjords. The winding roads will allow for time to soak in the everchanging views of tundra, snow capped mountains and lovely waters. Be sure to watch for whales in the fjords! Make a point to stop at Litlibaer, near Holmavik village, for freshly baked waffles. A retired fisherman and his wife prepare fresh waffles, complete with jam and cream, served with a cup of coffee. You will enjoy the fjord view from their turf-roofed house, built in 1895. Holmavik village makes a nice stop for lunch. Drive through fertile green valleys to Lauger in Saelingsdal, an area rich in ancient Saga folklore and history. You’ve now officially left the Westfjords.
However, the scenery continues to amaze. Fields are filled with Icelandic horses. Rejoin the famed Golden Circle back down to Reykajvek, or continue heading east to enjoy the city of Akureyri, trade and cultural center of the north, and the village of Husavik. Husavik is a picturesque harbor town, where a traveler can tour the Norwegian themed church, Husavikurkirkja and take a boat to Lundey Island.
Plan a Break & Discover Iceland's Westfjords
Iceland’s Westfjords offer a unique perspective into the country’s rich geologic history. Since the island country continues to grow 2cm each year, from the center outwards, the rocks along the Westfjords are the oldest in the country. Adventurers will see amazing bird life and meet some of the nicest villagers on our planet. The gravel and paved roads will take you through breathtaking mountain passes and tundra spaces. Even if it feels like you are off the grid, you really won’t be. Internet and wireless access are readily available. So, travel west my friends. Iceland’s Westfjords will not disappoint, and your Icelandic adventures will be vastly different than those of the Golden Circle travelers.
By Jennifer Perry