The Adventurer’s Guide to the Westfjords, Iceland
Yahnny Adolfo San Luis
The Golden Circle has all the essential Iceland sites – including Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss – but it is very touristic and often crowded with tour buses and selfie-stick touting travelers. If you’re longing for something more under the radar, then the Westfjords is where you’ll want to go. This often overlooked part of the country is a great opportunity to visit an awe-inspiring area of Iceland.
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Where to stay
Fosshotel Westfjords is a three-star hotel in the small fishing village of Patreksfjörður, West Iceland, gateway to some of Iceland's greatest attractions.
In the old center of the village of Flatey, the hotel is made of timber structures dating from the island's former times of prosperity, and most of them have been restored in their original style.
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Day 1: Ísafjörður
You’ll start your visit at Ísafjörður, the unofficial gateway to Iceland’s Westfjords. Known for its dramatic landscapes, expect a charming fishing town with wooden houses dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Ísafjörður is considered the largest settlement in Iceland’s Westfjords and the capital of this region, often serving as a jumping-off point for travelers to explore more remote areas.
On your first day in town, take in the spectacular views – which you can enjoy from the comfort of your room at the Hótel Ísafjörður – and stop by the Westfjord History Museum for an introduction to this part of the country.
For dinner, grab a table at Tjoruhusid, considered the best seafood restaurant in town as it notably serves only fish caught that very same day.
Day 2: The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
After a day spent exploring Ísafjörður, take time to explore the wild nature of the Westfjords.
The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is a windswept landscape where flowering meadows, ocean views, nesting seabirds and arctic foxes await. With hiking trails ranging from easy to moderate, a visit to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve will take you toward activities such as looking for hidden arctic fox dens. Hornstrandir is only reachable by boat, which you can book in Ísafjörður.
Your boat will take you to Hornvik, a place where you’ll be greeted with a stunning black sand beach that doubles as a camping location for travelers.
From here, you can hike up to the famous Hornbjarg, a place which is considered the northernmost tip of Iceland. Hornbjarg ("bjarg" means cliff in Icelandic) is home to nearly a million seabirds – yes, one million! The bird cliff plays host to guillemots and kittiwakes, as well as the ever-popular puffin. As you look up towards the squawking birds, make sure to scan the ocean since whales can sometimes be seen from this vantage point in North Iceland.
A note from Yahnny
The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is an intrepid traveler’s paradise. I love that there are no roads in the nature reserve and that it is virtually inaccessible. The only way to venture there is by boat. Due to its remote location, it is very possible to stay there for several days without meeting another soul.
Day 3: Látrar and Latrabjarg
Látrar was a fishing village in the 19th and 20th-century. In its heyday, this once-thriving fisherman’s village was home to 120 inhabitants, but over time, people left until Látrar was abandoned by 1952. Today, travelers make the trip to Látrar to admire its abandoned homes standing in stark contrast to its awe-inspiring surroundings.
Nearby, don't miss Latrabjarg, a destination which is Iceland's largest sea cliff stretching nearly nine miles and peaking at a height of 1,447 feet. This majestic cliff's claim to fame is that it is the westernmost point in Europe and hosts Iceland's greatest concentration of seabirds. Each year, the puffin season in Latrabjarg starts from the middle of May until late August. The cliffs also make a stunning viewpoint for Aurora Borealis during Northern Lights Season, but hikers should beware as the bird cliff edges are fragile and it is a long drop to the beautiful beaches below.
A note from Yahnny
If you are driving from Reykjavik, the largest town in Iceland, to the Westfjords, it will take you about six hours to get to Latrabjarg. Fill up the tank at the rest stop called Flokalundur. From there, you will drive about 60 miles to Latrabjarg (with no gas stations on the way). If you forget to fill up, you will need to take a detour to Patreksfjordur.
Day 4: Hesteyri
Considered a paradise for hikers, Hesteyri – like Látrar – was once a thriving town that was abandoned by locals in the 1950s. Today, many of the original residents still maintain their old Hesteyri homes, using them as summer getaways during Iceland’s warmer months. Like much of the Westfjords hidden gems, Hesteyri is only accessible by boat. Yet, it’s truly worth the sail to get here because once you’ve made landfall, you’ll be welcomed with idyllic hikes in a location where there are no cars or roads.
As you explore this ‘edge of the world’ town, you’ll uncover exquisite sandy beaches that are home to Harlequin Ducks. With their unique white, brown, and black patterns, these waterfowl are known to be one of the most spectacular in North America.
Near Hesteyri, you’ll also find the ruins of an old whaling station where Norwegians once processed around 12,000 barrels of whale oil between 1894 and 1915. Thankfully, Iceland has long since passed a law that protects whales in Icelandic waters, temporarily turning this whaling station into a herring processing plant before it finally shut down in 1940.
A note from Yahnny
If an Icelandic road trip isn't your thing, don't fret! The capital city of Reykjavik in Southwest Iceland has plenty to do to keep you and your adventure buddies entertained. Go sea kayaking in the Arctic Circle, and afterward, hop in the Blue Lagoon, a hot spring, to warm up.
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