When deciding where to travel for only 4 days to get a glimpse of Icelandic nature, there were many places that came to mind. Originally we were planning on doing the circle around the country but eventually my family convinced me that the Westfjords (also called the ‘head’ of the country) was the place to visit. We ended up traveling from Reykjavík to the fjords having only 3 nights. We had to plan our trip well since there was no time to turn back or take big detours. We ended up incredibly happy with our trip, our expectations definitely exceeded. With this blog I want to share our experience and give some tips on what to have in mind when travelling the amazing Westfjords.
It is a beautiful and remote area almost undiscovered by tourists. The area isn’t connected to the popular highway 1 circle and not easily accessible; the roads are often unpaved, of a lesser quality and not suitable for inexperienced drivers. If that doesn’t bother you then I can’t recommend going there enough. The nature is astounding, diverse and its remoteness makes it truly special.
After researching the Westfjords, we decided there would be a few main attractions that we must visit: Dynjandi, Látrabjarg, Breiðavík, Rauðisandur, Ísafjörður and a few pools like Hellulaug and Hörgshlíðalaug. We therefore decided to simply drive towards the fjords and visit as much as we could on the way. While there were many unique and stunning sites on the way, the drive itself was also a great experience.
It’s important to be prepared. There were a few things we found essential for our trip. First of all a good car. It’s definitely possible to drive the fjords on a small car but since the roads are often gravel, a jeep is both much safer and more comfortable. Second, raincoats, good shoes and warm clothes are necessary. The average temperature was dropped below 10 degrees while we were there (in mid July) and rain could always be around the corner. Third, some food for the road. There are not many supermarkets in the Westfjords so stocking up on some snacks for the road is important. Finally, a good and long playlist for the road. The drive is long and the radio signal is bad. You will get tired of hearing the same song 5 times in one day.
The red line shows briefly how we drove, counter clockwise direction. Photo: GoogleMaps.
Day 1: Borgarnes – Deildartunguhver – Barnafossar – Grábrók – Sælingsdalur
We started our drive from Reykjavík straight to Borgarnes. Since our first night was planned for Sælingsdalur, which is only a 2 hour drive from Reykjavík and not yet in the Westfjords, we decided to take a little detour.
After stopping in Borgarnes for some snacks in Bónus, such as harðfiskur (dried fish) with hummus (highly recommend), we crossed the bridge again south of Borgarnes and went towards Reykholt. We drove road 518 past Reykholt and stopped at Deildartunguhver, Europe’s most powerful hot spring. We were quite surprised of how small it actually was, but nevertheless an interesting site. We stopped quickly and decided to continue on road 518.
Next stop were the neighboring Barnafossar and Hraunfossar waterfalls. Barnafossar is associated with the tragic old folk tale of two little farmers boys that fell down a bridge that crossed the waterfall and died. Their mother consequently put a spell on that bridge, declaring that nobody would cross the bridge without falling from it and drowning. These waterfalls are always a stunning sight and well worth the visit.
We drove back west taking a different road, 523, to try to get a different perspective. The road was gravel and close to the other one so not necessarily recommended. From there we ended on road 50 to go back to the main road 1 headed north. We stopped at Grábrók by Bifröst and took a few minute walk up a black-cladded mountain. This excursion was short, but worth the view of a seemingly crater covered landscape.
Upon continuation we left road 1 and took road 60. Our final stop that day was at Hotel Edda in Sælingsdalur. There were not many people and the area was calm and relaxing. Right above the hotel there is a great natural pool where we of course spent our evening and met some other travellers.
The view from Grábrók. Travelade/Sunnefa.
Day 2: Hörgshlíðarlaug – Ísafjörður
The next morning we woke up early and headed straight north-west. Since the end of our trip that day was to be at Ísafjörður, we took road 61 north and drove the zig zag road along the fjords towards it. The road was nice and there was never a moment where we were bored with the view.
We wanted to spend our day in Ísafjörður so we only stopped to go to a little pool on the way in Mjóifjörður called Hörgshlíðarlaug, definitely worth the little gravel road detour. It is an extremely hot pool, a local man told us that before going in it is necessary to put the cold water hose in the pool to cool it down, and of course take it out before leaving!
That afternoon we finally arrived at Ísafjörður, the "capital" of the Westfjords, where we decided to first stop at the small and cozy café called Bræðraborg to get coffee and try to find a nice hiking route. Luckily, the staff there had a map of hiking routes in Ísafjörður. We ended up hiking in Tungudalur on a steep path next to the waterfall. Not necessarily recommended since the path was not good and there were several other walking paths to chose from.
In the evening we went for a beer at Húsið, a very nice place with a lot of people. Apparently, Ísafjörður is growing fast and becoming a popular place to live among Icelandic people. It’s definitely not a busy town but decidedly bigger than the other towns we visited in the Westfjords. We were lucky to receive free accommodation on a wooden sailing boat at the harbor, lent to us by a friend who lives in Ísafjörður. However, finding camping or hotel accommodation there should not be a problem.
Ísafjörður Harbour. Travelade/Sunnefa.
Day 3: Dynjandi – Rauðasandur – Hellulaug – Breiðavík
On day 3 we were planned to see a few of the most popular attractions in the Westfjords. We headed south from Ísafjörður and drove the steep and narrow roads heading towards our end stop at Breiðavík in the west. Driving the roads was a very daunting experience, the roads are narrow and high up the mountains. But the view is a guaranteed spectacle.
We drove past Þingeyri and towards the stunning Dynjandi waterfall. The waterfall is located by the main road so the visit can be quick. After that we drove towards Rauðasandur. Rauðasandur (red sand) is a wide beach with red sand which is quite rare in Iceland. The wideness, serenity and light cast over the cliffs makes it a magical place. Apparently there are occasionally seals there but we didn’t spot any.
From Rauðasandur we went to the natural pool Hellulaug. It is a cozy little pool close to Flókalundur with the perfect temperature. To find it, we had to go in to Hotel Flókalundur and ask where it was, but ultimately it was easy to find, seeing as there is a sign next to it.
It’s a popular pool in the area so there already were a few cars when we arrived. We met some nice people (the natural pools are definitely the best places to meet new people), hung out for a bit and headed west towards Breiðavík. Breiðavík is tiny and remote but a very hauntingly beautiful place enclosed by a fjord by the ocean looking out towards nothingness. The hotel had a nice restaurant and since there were no stores even slightly close by we had some dinner there and slept in our little bunk bed room with our sleeping bags.
Hellulaug pool by the seashore. Travelade/Sunnefa.
Dynjandi waterfall. Travelade/Sunnefa.
Day 4: Látrabjarg – Brjánslækur – Stykkishólmur
We woke up early to walk up Látrabjarg cliffs. Being early definitely has its benefits; we were the only ones on the cliff that morning. Walking Látrabjarg really feels like walking the edge of the world, a very special experience.
From Látrabjarg, we headed towards Brjánslækur, from there we had a ticket for the ferry crossing Breiðafjörður towards Stykkishólmur. We highly recommended taking the ferry since it is both a good break from driving and the view from the ferry of Snæfellsnes is amazing. You can book your ferry ticket here. From Stykkishólmur it’s only 2 hours to Reykjavík. If we would have had extra time, we would have stopped at Flatey island on the way with the ferry. From Stykkishólmur we would also have loved to travel Snæfellsnes.
A view from the ferry from Brjánslækur. Travelade/Sunnefa.
The Westfjords definitely exceeded our expectations. We hope to visit the Westfjords more often in the future and spend more time at every stop. We learned that preparation is not to be underestimated and that researching the sites makes them more interesting and the trip more fulfilling.
A typical view of the Westfjords. Travelade/Sunnefa.