westfjords what to see and do
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
When people ask what they should see and do in the Westfjords, the simplest answer is simply “the Westfjords”. Every turn brings something new. Every fjord is its own little world. Every mountain competes for your attention.
Even the least remarkable parts of the Westfjords glow with natural beauty, begging to be explored – and the most remarkable parts of the Westfjords are too numerous to list here.
The Westfjords region is home to Látrabjarg; the westernmost point in Europe, and one of the continent’s most remarkable seabird breeding cliffs.
The Dynjandi waterfall, in the Arnarfjörður protected area, is notIceland’s fastest, tallest, widest or loudest cascade – but it might just be the country’s most beautiful. Also by the shores of Arnarfjörður, Hrafnseyri is a reconstructed turf farm and museum in honour of national independence hero, Jón Sigurðsson, who was born there.
The Hornstrandir nature reserve is a peninsula accessible only by boat or by foot and inhabited only by Arctic foxes, seals, birds and the occasional hiker.Paradise.
Rauðasandur is one ofIceland’s few large golden beaches, while Vigur island is one of the country’s few eider duck hotels and home to the smallest post office in Europe (apparently).
These are just a few highlights of the wild and surprising Westfjords. A few highlights among hundreds.
One of Europes biggest bird cliffs, a home to birds in unfathomable numbers. This westernmost point of Iceland is really a line of several cliffs, 14 kilometres long and up to 441 m high. And it’s as steep as it gets, dizzyingly so. Safe from foxes, the birds are fearless, and provide stunning photographic opportunities from close range. Bird photography for dummies, you might say. The puffins are particularly tame and are the ones frequenting the grassy, higher part of the cliffs. But look out, the edges are fragile and loose and the fall is high.
Látrabjarg is thus deservedly the most visited tourist attraction in the Westfjords. The cliffs are easily accessible by car and when you’re there, a walk along the cliffs awaits. The whirling sensation will not fade, and neither will the memories.
Hornbjarg is the signature cliff towering at the top of Hornstrandir nature reserve. Green lush hills suddenly cut off by sheer cliffs dropping over 500 m straight down into the ocean below.
Simply enthralling; The Westfjords’ favourite front-page model for decades, and is never short of breathtaking. The biggest and widest part of the waterfall is the one that gets all the attention and the photos, even though there are impressive, albeit smaller, waterfalls further down the river. In fact, one is formed in such a way that the brave can walk behind it, relatively dry.
To enjoy, follow this simple step-by-step manual. 1. Stop your car at the parking lot. 2. Walk all the way up to the biggest part of the waterfall, it takes about 15 minutes. 3. Take a deep breath and enjoy 4. Whenever ready, go back down to the car. 5. Tick off this article and continue working through the check-list.
Svalvogar is a 49-kilometre circular route between the fjords of Dýrafjörður and Arnarfjörður. It usually starts and finishes in Þingeyri and takes the narrow exposed coastal track around the headland (not to be attempted at high tide) and comes back along the Kaldbakur route, past the Westfjords’ tallest mountain in the so-called Westfjords Alps. Sometimes called theDream Road, Svalvogar is among the most beautiful routes in the country. It is not suitable for small cars and is best enjoyed by mountain bike. Be prepared to get out of breath…or take a 4×4.
Among the hidden gems of the Westfjords are the natural hot pools that can be found even in most remote places. This might sound like a cliché, but the pools are truly a well kept secret, taken for granted, or even forgotten by locals. An explanation could be that the Westfjords are not generally considered a “hot spot” in Icelandic geology, so the geothermal activity is not as visible as it is in the north or the south of the country. Therefore it is surprising to find that nowhere in Iceland are there more natural bathing pools than in the Westfjords, the reason being that the water is of perfect temperature straight from the ground.
Some of the pools are situated right on the shoreline, with amazing views towards the sea, creating a unique experience to be enjoyed all year round.
Samúel Jónsson´s outstanding naive sculptures and buildings in Selárdalur valley in Arnarfjordur had been rapidly decaying when a society for it´s restoration was founded in 1998. This society is a non-profit organization and has had collaboration with the German sculptor Gerhard König and some others to work on the restoration during the past years in cooperation with the landowner, the ministry of agriculture. Groups of volunteers from Germany have been working together with Gerhard König during the past summers. In the summer of 2008 the plan is to pull down Samúel´s living house in order to build there a new house with a similar front that can serve as a guesthouse for artists and scholars. It´s planned to have the museum ready in 2009.
Valagil is a spectacular ravine, complete with mighty waterfall and made from layers upon layers of ancient lava. You will find Valagil at the landward end of Álftafjörður, not too far from Súðavík. There is a marked footpath to the ravine from the road. Some say the ravine is named after the falcons (valur is Icelandic for falcon) which reported used to nest there. Other people say it is named after a woman called Vala who is said to have fallen to her death in the gully (hundreds of years ago).
The swimming pool in Reykjarfjodur, a fjord that is part of the Arnarfjörður fjord system, is a full size swimming pool heated by natural water that runs through the pool all year around.
A small shed beside the pool where guests can get changed into their bathing gear.
Just above the swimming pool there is a smaller natural pool.
Puffins, eiders, guillemoths and arctic terns are this island’s magnets, and they are all abundant. Indeed, as the puffins, which nest in burrows, have dug through much of the island’s soil, travellers have to follow a certain path to avoid falling into one. This small bird, by some dubbed the penguin of the north, is a clumsy flier but impresses visitors by artfully stacking its beak full of sand eel or small fish, carrying it home to its hungry chicks. Being the opposite of the hospitable humans that live on the island, the Arctic terns fight to keep intruders away. Luckily, a stick held above the head does the trick. Eiders and humans share a mutual beneficence; eiders get protecion by nesting in close vicinity of the people, who collect the precious down from the eider nests. One of the every day event is when locals feed a group of orphan eider chicks. In Vigur you find the smallest post office in Iceland, as well as the only windmill and beautifully renewed houses. Since an end was put to milk production on Vigur island, the inhabitants spend much of the winter preparing the eider down, collected over the summer, for export.
To get to Vigur, there is a daily boat tour from Ísafjörður.