Towns and Villages
Ísafjarðarbær is a municipality in the Westfjords of Iceland. The municipality is built up by five towns and villages in the northern region of the Westfjords. Ísafjarðarbær came to exist when six municipalities merged in the year of 1996. What triggered the merge was the grand opening of the Westfjord-tunnel between Ísafjörður, Flateyri and Suðureyri the same year. The tunnel made connection between the towns and villages much easier and the plan was to make the area a combined commercial area, where you can live in one town but work in another. Ísafjarðarbær consists of the towns of Ísafjörður, Hnífsdalur, Suðureyri, Flateyri and Þingeyri.
Ísafjörður is the largest town in the Westfjords peninsula, with some 2600 inhabitants. It is an ancient church site and a trading post since at least the 16th century, although a real town did not start to form until after mid-19th century. The growth of the town was triggered by salt fish production, and ever since then the fishing industry has been vital for the community. Other industries, such as tourism and the service sector have grown in recent years and decades.
In Ísafjörður you will find a hospital, schools ranging from kindergartens to a small university, and branches from various government organizations. For the tourist, Ísafjörður has a range of accommodation, restaurants and recreation for all budgets and tastes. A golf course, hiking- and biking trails, horse riding, bird watching, skiing and kayaking are all within an easy reach. Ferries to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve depart from Ísafjörður daily during the summer months. In Ísafjörður you will find the regional tourist information office for the Westfjords.
Ísafjörður hosts some of the most celebrated festivals in Iceland, including the music festival "Aldrei fór ég suður", the Runners' Festival, the mud-soccer European Championships, Act alone theatre festival and "Við Djúpið" classical music festival.
It is easy to reach Ísafjörður either by car, by bus or by using the two daily flights from Reykjavík. If you travel by car during winter, remember to get updates on weather and road conditions.
Patreksfjörður is the biggest town in the southern part of the Westfjords, with a population of around 660. Early in the 20th century, Patreksfjörður was a pioneering force in Iceland's fishing industry, initiating trawler fishing. Still today the chief occupation is commercial fishing and fish processing. Other industries, like fish farming and services are also increasingly important.
Tourism has been on the rise in Patreksfjörður, not surprisingly, as the village has gems like Látrabjarg cliffs, Rauðasandur beach and Dynjandi waterfall within its reach. Patreksfjörður has a new, absolutely gorgeous outdoor swimming pool, and if you prefer natural hot pots you will find them within an easy driving distance from the town. In Patreksfjörður you can enjoy hotels or guesthouses, restaurants and various tours. You can reach Patreksfjörður by flight six days per week via Bíldudalur (fly-bus takes you to Patreksfjörður), or by a bus from Reykjavík to Stykkisholmur, then the ferry Baldur to Brjánslækur and a bus from there to Patreksfjörður. If you drive on your own during winter, please remember to get updates on weather and road conditions.
Hólmavík is the largest town in the Strandir region, an area with an exciting and tragic history of witchcraft, witch-hunting and sorcery. Inhabitants in the countryside surrounding Hólmavík live mostly on sheep farming, while economic activity in town revolves around the fisheries and the service sector.
The Museum of Sorcery & Witchcraft takes visitors on a tour into the mystical world of the supernatural. The history of witch-hunting in 17th century Iceland is presented at the exhibition as well as various aspects of magic from more recent sources. A second part of the exhibition is in Bjarnarfjörður, 30 kilometres from Hólmavík. Next to Hólmavík there is also the Sheep Farming Museum, an entertaining exhibition dedicated to the Icelandic sheep and sheep farming.
Visitors will find all basic amenities, and more, in Hólmavík. Accommodation of various kind, a camping ground, restaurants, a newly built swimming pool and a good Tourist Information Center that serves the hole area. A golf course and a horse rental can be found just outside the town.
Hólmavík is reacheble from Reykjavík by bus two to four days per week, depending on seasons. There are also two to three busses per week between Hólmavík and Ísafjörður.
If you are interested in bird-watching, the small village of Reykhólar is the perfect hub. The sea closest to shore is very shallow and with a high tidal range. These conditions, combined with the marshes and ponds found inland create a bountiful biota and a perfect environment for a rich bird life.
There is a unique perquisite exhibition at Reykhólar, a museum dedicated to the gifts of nature, and their utilization, in the Breiðafjörður area. From a historical perspective, it shows how birds, seals and fish provided the farmers and fishermen with food and clothes, helping them to get through famines and hardship in the past.
The village is also famous for its kelp factory, the only factory in Iceland that processes seaweed. The products are used in food, animal fodder, fuel, fertilizers and for medicinal purposes, to name just a few.
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. There, the museum curator greets visitors wearing a skin suit similar to the one Icelandic sailors wore in the 19th century. In addition there is a natural history museum in town that hosts an extensive bird and mammal collection, including a polar bear.
Another popular visiting point is the top of Bolafjall Mountain offering a staggering view. There is a road all the way to the top to service the radar station up there. It is open to tourists in the summer months only.
Amenities include a gas station, shops and different types of accommodation, as well as an indoor swimming pool and a sports centre. Just outside the village, there is a nine hole golf course.
Bíldudalur is nested by the fjord Arnarfjörður, a location which is not only beautiful but also responsible for Bíldudalur's reputation as the "good-weather-capital of the Westfjords". The main industries in this picturesque village are sea mineral processing and fish farming, while tourism has also been increasing. Although the population of Bíldudalur is only about 200, music and culture have thrived there for decades. The village hosts an annual folk music festival and don't forget to visit Melodies of the Past, an exhibition of Icelandic music memorabilia.
The fjord Arnarfjörður is well known for its numerous sea monsters. Tales of such creatures have played a colorful role in Icelandic folk culture for centuries. The Icelandic Sea Monster Museum in Bíldudalur offers an action-packed multimedia display of such tales, something the whole family can enjoy together.
Bíldudalur is accessible from Reykjavík by flight six days per week. A fly-bus connects Bíldudalur to the neighboring villages Tálknafjörður and Patreksfjörður. Bus connection from Reykjavík, via Brjánslækur (ferry Baldur) and Patreksfjörður, is offered all year. If you travel to Bíldudalur by car, make sure you check the road conditions before you start your journey. Please note that the mountain roads Dynjandiseheiði and Hrafnseyrarheiði on road #60 (between Bíldudalur and Þingeyri/Ísafjörður) are closed during winter.
Drangsnes is a fishing village, pure and simple. Conveniently located near the fishing grounds, it thrives in its minimalistic ways. In fact, the entrepreneur who runs the local restaurant and one of the guesthouses is a fisherman. He also runs the boat tours to Grímsey. Grímsey island, supposedly formed by a giant trying to dig the Westfjords apart from the rest of Iceland, is the biggest attraction in Drangsnes. The boat ride is only 10 minutes across. Grímsey boasts a rich bird life of puffins, fulmars and an interesting side story of fox farming.
It does not come as a surprise that in this small hamlet, the camping place is just by the municipality's office building, as synergy is always important in small villages. Lastly: although the new swimming pool in town is of top notch quality, the blend-in-with-the-locals way of bathing would be to dip into the small hot pools at the shore.
When visiting the Westfjords of Iceland, chances are you will be driving through some of the 8 fjords of Ísafjarðardjúp, fjord system, so it truly puts the “fjords” in your Westfjords adventure. Amongst all the natural wonders of the area such as Hvítanes seal colony, Vigur Island, Reykjanes geothermal area and the historical location Litlibær you will find a small community of 190 people, most based in the phoenix village of Súðavík. Súðavík is a small, charming and friendly fishing village 20 kilometres from Ísafjörður. It's a great place to visit, especially for families. The family garden Raggagarður, is a playground in the heart of the old town. It is created both for kids and adults as a place where the whole family can spend time together. Another attraction is The Arctic Fox Centre, an exhibition and research centre focusing on the only native terrestrial mammal in Iceland, the Arctic fox. The town is an excellent place for hiking and local guide is available for neighbouring routes.
Súðavík has two restaurants, a café, nice and quiet camping place, grocery shop, gas station, post office and bank service. Since 1995, when an avalanche destroyed a big part of the village, it has been divided into two parts, the old and the new. The new village was rebuilt by it's residents on a location safe from avalanches, and the old part is kept intact as a summer resort for travellers.
Tálknafjörður is a friendly village in the southern part of the Westfjords, with a population of approximately 300. For centuries, most of the locals made their living from fishing, and they still do of course, but in order to diversify its economy, the town now welcomes large groups of tourists every year, the biggest attraction being sea angling.
In the northern part of the fjord, hot water springs from the earth. This pure energy is used for fish farming and heating the swimming pool. Bonuses to this geothermal activity are natural hot pools located just outside the village. There is nothing better after a long day on the road, than to glide down into the warm water and enjoy the stunning beauty of the surrounding mountains. Various hiking trails can be found on either side of the fjord, many of them old riding paths, used to cross the surrounding mountains and heaths.
Suðureyri is a fine example of an Icelandic fishing village. The village only began to form in the early 20th century, growing rapidly with the mechanisation of the fishing industry. Recently, villagers seized the opportunity of combining the fishing tradition with tourism, and every summer hundreds of sea anglers from Europe visit the village and try their luck at catching cod and halibut out in the fjord. Those who prefer more fish-friendly activities can feed the cod in the lagoon just outside the village. Suðureyri has in recent years taken big steps towards an environmentally-friendly and sustainable policy, all from catching the fish to serving it to the customer.
All basic services can be found in Suðureyri. The swimming pool is one of the most popular in the area, being one of the few outside pools, so it often gets crowded on sunny summer days.
Hnífsdalur is a small village between Ísafjörður and Bolungarvík. It has some 200 inhabitants, many of whom seek work in Ísafjörður, only 4 km away. The traffic is two-way, though, as Hnífsdalur is the home to the largest fisheries company in the Westfjords, HG, which has around 250 employees on their payroll.
No actual services can be found in the quiet village, but it is a great place for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The deep valley that the village derives its name from is lush and green, with a river winding through it. Multiple hiking trails can be found in the valley and surrounding mountains, both moderate and challenging. Hnífsdalur is easily reached by bus, with multiple departures from Ísafjörður every weekday.
Þingeyri is a small village situated on a spit of land in one of Iceland's most scenic fjords, Dýrafjörður. Like in most other seaside villages in Iceland, the culture and industry has been shaped by the sea throughout the centuries. Þingeyri provides various services to the surrounding countryside as well as to its visitors; a small shop, post office, bank and a swimming pool at the local sports hall .
Simbahöllin is a homely café, specializing in Belgian waffles, set in a beautifully renovated old Norwegian house from 1915. Another point of interest is the oldest functioning mechanic workshop in Iceland, established in the year 1913.
One of Iceland's most scenic golf courses is just a stone's throw from Þingeyri, with the Westfjords Alps as a backdrop, including the highest mountain of the peninsula, Kaldbakur (998 metres).
Traveling along road #643 through the Árneshreppur municipality is one of the most scenic drives you could ever take. Besides the breathtaking nature, you are bound to be captivated by the tiny settlements that greet you on the way. The historical village of Djúpavík dates back to 1917, when a herring factory was established in this small creek by the fjord Reykjarfjörður. The first attempt was short lived but in 1934 a new factory was erected, the largest concrete house in Iceland at the time. The factory operated until 1954, but today it serves as an exhibition building. The houses in Djúpavík are only used as summer dwellings today, except for the hotel, Hótel Djúpavík, which is open all year.
Djúpavík is a part of Árneshreppur the least populous municipality in Iceland, with only 53 inhabitants. It stretches over a wide area, though, covering some 780 km2. The population density is thus only 0, 07 individuals per km2. The area does not enjoy any public transport, apart from one to two weekly flights from Reykjavik to Gjögur, a small settlement which is only inhabited during the summertime. Most visitors travel by car. Please note, though, that if you are traveling during the winter it is necessary to check the weather and road conditions before you visit the area.
Norðurfjörður is a part of Árneshreppur the least populous municipality in Iceland, with only 53 inhabitants. It stretches over a wide area, though, covering some 780 km2. The population density is thus only 0, 07 individuals per km2. The area does not enjoy any public transport, apart from one to two weekly flights from Reykjavik to Gjögur, a small settlement which is only inhabited during the summertime. Most visitors travel by car. Please note, though, that if you are traveling during the winter it is necessary to check the weather and road conditions before you visit the area.
Hikers who wish to visit the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve can catch a ferry from another tiny village, Norðurfjörður. There, they will also find guesthouses, a campsite, a small grocery store and a café. Just outside the village they will find the renowned Krossneslaug, one of the most popular geothermal pools in the Westfjords area.
Flateyri has been a trading post since 1792 and saw its heyday in the 19th century when it was home to a fleet of decked vessels and the base for shark-hunting and whaling operations. The fishing industry has always been vital for the villages in the Westfjords, and in Flateyri the tradition of fishing has successfully been linked to tourism as the village has become a very popular destination for foreign sea anglers. The fjord also offers great opportunities for kayaking.
The old village bookshop has been turned into a museum where visitors can learn about the history of Flateyri while buying second hand books and visiting the old merchant's home. An international doll museum and the popular Nonsense Museum can also be found in Flateyri. Accommodation is available at the hostel or in self catering flats. A small shop, a restaurant/pub and a nice swimming pool with brand new outdoor hot-pots provide visitors with all the basic services.
Across the fjord you will find a white, sandy beach. Although the sea might be colder for bathing than most people prefer, the sand is great for building sand castles. This beach is actually the venue for an annual sand castle competition which attracts hundreds of participants every year, children and adults alike.