The far northwest of Iceland is a large peninsula which looks like some sort of deformed dragon. It is geologically the oldest part of Iceland and is the product of ancient volcanoes and the ravages of Ice Age glaciers.
The result is a stunning landscape of towering, table topped mountains, deep fjords looking like the teeth of a saw on a map – and all crisscrossed by lush green valleys and edged by an endless coast of beach and cliff.
Nature’s splendour is all-pervasive in the region, but settlers (and more recently, planners) had great difficulty in finding big and flat enough spaces to put towns.
The biggest town in the Westfjords is Ísafjörður – and big it is, taking up almost an entire fjord! It’s that spectacular mountain landscape again, you see. The outskirts of the town are forced to stretch in a thin band along the shoreline, thereby giving the impression of immense size. The pretty town centre, however, is on a natural spit of land sticking out into the fjord and this natural physical boundary conspired in centuries past to create a dense, yet picturesque town centre which, to this day, is largely made up of old wooden buildings. In fact the town boasts the oldest surviving building in Iceland, built in 1757.
Ísafjörður has worked hard to develop its reputation as a cool place with good culture and lots going on. This can be seen in its innovative and popular restaurants, in its live music scene, and in its impressive calendar of festivals – most notably the hilarious European mud football championships every August and Iceland’s must-visit free to attend music festival every Easter weekend. Then there is what many people regard as the best bakery in all of Iceland…and that’s really saying something!
Reykjavík and Akureyri are obvious ‘headline towns’ for Icelandic and foreign tourists alike; but there is an ever-strengthening case for putting Ísafjörður in third place.
Ísafjörður makes an ideal base for exploring the Westfjords region, which boasts endless hiking and mountain climbing opportunities, good skiing in winter, some natural hot pots, the westernmost point in Europe, which is also one of the continent’s best bird cliffs, and some amazing waterfalls – among many other things.
Getting to Ísafjörður from Reykjavík takes about six hours by road; but often longer in the winter. Alternatively take a domestic flight which departs twice daily and takes 35 to 40 minutes. Intercity coaches run to Ísafjörður in the summer only, but Reykjavík city buses will get you to the half way point (the village of Hólmavík) all year round. From there a lot of people choose to hitch hike – although that is not official WOW air advice. Winter travel to Ísafjörður often involves delayed or cancelled flights or unsuitable driving conditions; but there are surprisingly very few days when the flights are cancelled and the roads are closed at the same time. Furthermore, the locals are usually only too willing to share the cost of petrol for the car when a flight is cancelled and waiting for the next is not an option. If you want to visit Ísafjörður during the winter we would recommend going at the beginning or the middle of your holiday. That way you don’t need to worry about delays and you can just relax in what is an extremely chilled out and welcoming town.