Reykjavík may be Iceland’s best-known destination, with its plethora of cool bars and Nordic metropolitan vibe, but the unspoilt Westfjords peninsula (the region that looks like fingers when you look at the map) is the real stunner.
And while previously it’s been less-travelled, the new Westfjords Way touring route means its rugged landscapes are much easier to explore by road come spring. Just remember to pack layers!
1. Breathtaking beaches
You will probably have heard of Iceland’s Gullfoss, but the mother of all waterfalls in the Westfjords is the magnificent Dynjandi in Arnarfjörður.
This beast cascades 100m down the black rocky outcrops and it takes just 15 minutes to hike to the top of the trail.
Meanwhile, the incredible coast with its black lava beaches that look like shavings of dark chocolate are where you can spot seals basking all year round.
Make sure you stop by Patreksfjörður, which also has the majestic sight of Garðar BA 64 – Iceland’s oldest steel ship – rusting into its landscape. Not everywhere is black sand though.
Rauðisandur (meaning “red sand”) is a beautiful 10km beach which changes colour throughout the day, from deep orange to hues of yellow and magenta.
2. Incredible hikes
The variety of hiking trails on the Snæfellsjökull glacier in the Snæfellsnes peninsula make for invigorating adventures.
Spend the night in a rustic camping pod at Melanes – just mind the sheep when visiting the loo! Pods are open May to September and cost from £50 per night (Melanes.com).
From there, it’s a 15-minute walk to spy the ruins of Sjöundá, an old farm and setting of a famous crime story, then spot haförn (white-tailed eagles) in the skies and minke whales in the fjord.
3. Viking tales
Channel your inner Viking at Eiríksstadir living museum in Búðardalur to hear tales from Icelandic warriors and Erik The Red, the explorer who founded the first settlement in Greenland.
Tours run May until September and cost £15 (Eiriksstadir.is).
Meanwhile, one man’s trash is another’s treasure at Egill Olafsson’s collection at the Hnjótur Museum in Örlygshöfn.
It’s packed with ancient bits from the local fishing community – think everything from fish-skin shoes to a full-sized traditional wooden fishing boat. Open May to September, and entry costs £9.50 per person.
4. Super soups
For a perfect lunch spot, hit Flak in tiny Patreksfjörður village, which has just 721 inhabitants.
This artsy bar/cafe offers just two scrumptious soups – veggie or fish – served with homemade crispbread and houmous, £15, while home-brewed beer is also on tap (Flakflak.is).
Meanwhile, family-owned fish restaurant Tjöruhúsið in Ísafjörður, sits in a cosy wooden barn. There’s no menu, but first up is always their renowned
fish soup – likely the best soup you’ll ever have tasted. That’s followed by an amazing seafood buffet – from brown trout in lemon and cream to fried cod cheeks
in garlic – £38 (+354 456 4419). Craving meat? Borgarnes is the gateway to the Snæfellsjökull National Park, but still has village vibes.
Tuck into lamb shank with hearty mash at Englendingavík Homestay. Mains cost from £25 (Englendingavik.is/restaurant).
5. Adrenalin kicks
Hop on a quad bike and roar up gravel roads to the top of Þverfjall mountain in Ísafjörður – you’ll feel like you can almost touch the clouds!
The panoramic view of Skutulsfjörður fjord and the surrounding fjords is insane. Then go full-throttle down to Tungudalur Valley with its autumn-hued houses.
Two-hour tours cost from £160 for two people (Atv-isafjordur.is).
Meanwhile, from the viewing platform on the top of Bolafjall mountain in Bolungarvík there’s a staggering outlook over the peninsula of Ísafjarðardjúp and Jökulfirðir – though it may be one to avoid if you’re scared of heights!
6. Alfresco dips
Hidden just off the main road, the free geothermal pool in Reykjarfjörður Arnarfjörður has gorgeous mountain and fjord views. If you’re lucky, you may
get it all to yourself. Don’t miss the steaming natural pool hidden in the grass just above, too.
Meanwhile spanking-new Hvammsvík Hot Springs 45 minutes’ drive from Keflavik airport has eight natural springs to take a dip in.
If you want to channel famous ice swimmer Wim Hof, you can even hire wading shoes and dive into the freezing ocean (if you dare!).
Then down an energising shot of Hvammsvík, which is packed with astaxanthin – an antioxidant from seaweed – £4. Entry costs from £43 (Hvammsvik.com).
7. Local lagers
Don’t miss a visit to family-run micro brewery Dokkan Brugghús in Ísafjörður, the Westfjords’ largest town.
This local fave serves everything from finely crafted stouts like Skarfur to the very glugable lager Fossa Vatn (which means waterfall water).
Snap the bespoke sinks in the loos for Insta and jam to live music come the weekend (Dokkanbrugghus.is).
Plus, it wouldn’t be an Icelandic adventure without sampling Hákarl – fermented basking shark – in a local pub.
Wash it down with a shot of traditional Brennivín, unsweetened schnapps made from fermented potato and flavoured with caraway seeds.
The tipple has been a favourite with Icelanders since 1935. Skál!
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