Westfjords Road Trip in Iceland is the perfect scenic drive

  • Westfjords Road Trip in Iceland is the perfect scenic drive
May 10 2016

The Westfjords is the northwest part of Iceland that sticks out like a head of an animal.  It is the place that offers the most spectacular scenic drive in the country with its many fjords, impressive cliffs, spectacular colorful beaches, high mountains with steep slopes, rivers, mountain passes with rolling mountains, waterfalls, birdlife and geothermal pools, to name some of the most spectacular attractions.  In the flora of natural wonders, it is more like a stand-alone natural wonder with many ingredients rather than a place where you drive from one natural wonder to another.  Although it looks like a small remote part of Iceland, its coastline makes up one-third of the country's coastline.  The landscape all over the Westfjords is so stunning that people sometimes describe it as driving through a painting or driving inside a painting or a work of art. It is more like an experience rather than a road trip. It is an all-embracing accessible natural wonder and probably unique on the planet.

Arnarfjörður in the Westfjords

What you will see

You will see many different fjords, even fjords within fjords, and prepare yourself, as you will visit approximately 40 fjords.  From mountain passes, you will have an overview of spectacular mountains and fjords, and you will also drive to the bottom of small beautiful fjords with small lakes waterfalls and rivers.  You will see many different kinds of shorelines ranging from stunning beaches to some of the highest cliffs in Europe.  At one point the most spectacular waterfall in Iceland will suddenly and almost unexpectedly grab your eye. Villages in the Westfjords are all small, and each has their fascination, characteristics, and history although Ísafjörður town is at the top with its old houses and beautiful surroundings.  Along the way, you will come to places of immense historical importance in Icelandic history.

Flokalundur in Westfjords in Iceland

The Westfjords roads, best time to visit and what kind of car

Driving the Westfjords is not particularly easy.  It is true, if not the definition of a long a winding road. You are always and almost all of the time driving in, over or out a fjord. Very often up to a mountain pass and down to a coast.   Although a considerable part of the roads is excellent asphalt roads, a large proportion of the drive is a drive on gravel roads. Even some are steep gravel roads, not always in the best of conditions, even in summer.  And by the way, this is a part of Iceland you drive from the beginning of June until late September.  This is not a particularly interesting drive during the other eight months and some roads are closed making some of the places impossible to visit.  During the winter months, the weather is often severe and the roads both icy and dangerous.   We can only recommend this drive during the summer months, and during that time we highly recommend the Westfjord drive. During this period it is possible to drive the whole tour in any car.  Even a small car will do for the roads that we recommend here in this article.  On the other hand, a large or midsized car is more convenient because of the many gravel and badly maintained roads and tedious slowness when in a small car. 

Flokalundur westfjords in Iceland

How long is the Westfjord drive in kilometers, and how long does it take?

Although very rewarding and enjoyable in all aspects the Westfjords drive, as presented in this article, is a very long drive, around one thousand kilometers. Don't be surprised if it takes a small toll on your temper while driving.  But then again, if you are reading this article and considering the beautiful drive, you are planning a vacation in Iceland and thus not in a hurry.  No one visiting Iceland should be in a hurry.  This road trip, as are most places and road trips in Iceland, are not for people in a hurry, it is more for those who love to enjoy and inhale natural wonders. Remember that this is mostly a drive by the coastline and the coastline in the Westfjords is one-third of the six thousand kilometer coastline in Iceland. Our recommendation is to spend four days to drive this road trip in the Westfjords.

The first day: Budardalur village to Vatnsfjörður

We start the West Fjord road trip in the small village of Búðardalur.  It is a perfect place for an early start and offers a great camping site and excellent accommodation.  The drive from Reykjavík to Búðardalur is 154 kilometers and takes about two hours, if you choose to start from Reykjavík. From Búðardalur you drive north on Road Nr. 60, Vestfjarðarvegur or the Westfjord Road to the first of many fjords, Gilsfjörður. This is a 40-kilometer drive.  Here you are driving through the part of Iceland that was the stage for the Laxdæla Saga, on of the most fascinating of all the Icelandic Sagas.  If there are two books you should read on your Westfjords trip, it is Laxdæla Saga and Gísla Saga Súrssonar.  Reading those stories that occurred over a thousand years ago will spice up the journey. After you pass the bridge on Gilsfjörður, you drive about 21 kilometers and turn south (left) on Road Nr. 607, which is the Reykhólasveitarvegur (if you can memorize that name) to the tiny village of Reykholar.  The drive is only 14 kilometers, but Reykhólar is an important place in Icelandic history as it was the substance for many wealthy families and powerful individuals for centuries.  It is also a perfect spot to get a great view of the hundreds of islands in the hughes Breiðafjörður bay.

Barðaströnd drive Iceland

After your stop at Reykhólar, you continue on Road Nr. 60 west and a winding road await you. This is more or less a drive where you enjoy the landscape, the view from the high altitude on the mountain passes, the peaceful valleys at the bottom of the fjords and the great shoreline with spectacular stacks and colorful birdlife.  There is no particular place that is better to stop at than any other and you make your first recommended stop at Vatnsfjörður. And at Vatnsfjörður you are at the place where it all began, where the first settlers in Iceland had a winter stay.  After stopping by the beautiful lake and small waterfalls by the shore in Vatnsfjörður we recommend a dip in the geothermal pool, Hellulaug, to drain your stress and start your relaxation. A short hiking around the Flókalundur area right by Hellulaug is highly recommended also. Possibly after booking into your room, settling at the camping ground or putting up your tent.  Flókalundur is a beautiful place to stop overnight and prepare your next day. During summer the view from the camping site is spectacular at any given time since there is a 24-hour daylight.

Hellulaug in Vatnsfjörður fjord is spectacular and relaxing

The second day:  Vatnsfjörður - Patreksfjörður

On the second day, two spectacular places in the Icelandic nature awaits you; Rauðisandur (Redsand) and Látrabjarg.  Both places are among the most exciting attractions in the Westfjords.  From Vatnsfjörður you continue your scenic drive west on Road Nr. 62 over the mountain pass Kleyfarheiði. When you come down the mountain pass in the bottom of the fjord Patreksfjörður you turn left on Road Nr. 612 Ölygshafnarvegur. After roughly eight kilometers drive you take a left turn again to Road Nr. 614 Rauðasandsvegur.  Here you are driving over a mountain pass with a very steep road leading down to the coastline at the beautiful landscape at Rauðisandur. You need to drive slowly and take caution. Ones down by the shore we suggest driving both to the east side to the famous Sjöundaá farm and the west side of the wonderful café.  Depending on whether it is a low or high tide you can take a walk on the sand. If you take the recommended short hike to Sjöundaá farm and a walk on the beach, you should spend at least two to three hours here at Rauðisandur.

Westfjords Látrabjarg Iceland

From Rauðisandir you drive back the same mountain pass to Road Nr. 612 and continue westward. This is the road that will take you all the way to Látrabjarg cliff.  Although you can drive this road all the way to the cliff in a small car, here it is much more secure and convenient to have a mid-size and preferably a 4WD car on the road at the end is not particularly good.  At the bottom of the small valley, Örlygshöfn is a great museum by Hnjótur farm that you should not miss. The museum gives an insight into the harsh life and isolation of the people who lived in this area throughout the centuries. Along the way you pass the Bay Breiðavík which is also an interesting shore and place to take a stop.  At the end of the road, you park your car at the parking lot near the lighthouse.  The cliffs and the birdlife are stunning, and we can't emphasize enough for everyone to take extreme caution when viewing this spectacular cliff.

After you have visited Látrabjarg you take the same road back all the way to the bottom of the fjord Patreksfjörður.  You then continue on Road Nr. 62 to a small village with the same name as the fjord, Patreksfjörður. We recommend that you find accommodation or stay at the camp site at Patreksfjörður village or the nearby village of Tálknafjörður.  Both villages are great places to stay overnight and between them is a short distance, Road Nr. 63 Bíldudalsvegur.

Rauðisandir beach Westfjords Iceland

The third day: Patreksfjörður - Ísafjörður

The drive from Patreksfjörður to Ísafjörður is probably the most interesting and the most spectacular part of the Westfjord drive. It is not an easy drive as the roads are more or less difficult gravel roads over a high mountain pass and some are by the roots of some very steep mountain slopes.  Fortunately the whole drive is a beautiful scenic drive that includes one of the most spectacular drives in Iceland and takes you to the most interesting and beautiful waterfall in the country.

Dynjandi waterfall westfjords Iceland

At Patreksfjörður you take the road Bíldudalsvegur Nr. 63 that will take you to the next fjord Tálknafjörður and a small village with the same name.  At the bottom of the fjord, you can drive the short distance on Road Nr. 671 to visit the Tálknafjörður village or continue on Road Nr. 63 over the mountain pass Hálfdán that takes you to the large fjord Arnarfjörður, Eagles fjord. We recommend that you drive to Bíldudalur village when you are over Hálfdán mountain pass and take a digression on road Nr. 619 Ketildalavegur to the walley Selárdalur and view the many interesting sculptures. The small church and the house are quite interesting, and so is the road to Selárdalur. Unfortunately, you need to drive the same road back to Bíldudalur village to continue your trip in the magnificent landscape of Arnarfjörður fjord.
As you drive from Bíldudalur you start on a bit of a winding road.  You are basically driving in Suðurfirðir (the south fjords) that are five fjords at the southern bottom of the mighty Arnarfjörður. The first interesting stop is at the bottom of Reykjarfjörður fjord where you will find a small geothermal swimming pool and a small hot pool. It is a great place to stop and relax out in nature in a warm pool.

Selárdaldur Westfjords Raod Trip

From Reykjafjörður you start your drive over the mountain road Dynjandisheiði.  The road takes you up to an altitude of about 500 meters and completely changes the terrain. From a wonderful fjord to a rugged, bare and cold surrounding. But what you get is a magnificent view over Arnarfjörður fjord and we can only encourage you to stop and enjoy the scenery.   When you continue your trip, you start to descend and soon on your left side you will start to notice the stunning waterfall Dynjandi. The waterfall is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, so you want to spend a few hours here.

Selárdaldur Westfjords sculpture

From Dynjandi you continue on Road Nr. 60 Vestfjarðarvegur west.  Before you take a turn to the mountain Road Hrafnseyrarheiði we recommend that you stop at Hrafnseyri, the birthplace of Iceland's most important politician and historical figure and a leader for Iceland's struggle for independence. At Hrafnseyri you will find an important museum and also a nice local café. When you pass the Hrafnseyrarheiði mountain road you are in the fjord Dýrafjörður (Animal fjord) and the small village of Þingeyri.  From Þingeyri and Dýrafjörður you have a short but wonderful scenic drive over the mountain road Gemlufallsheiði to the fjord Önundarfjörður. Shortly after you come to Önundarfjörður and continue on Road Nr. 60 you drive through a tunnel to Ísafjörður, the largest town in the Westfjords.  The small villages of Þingeyri in Dýrafjörður fjord and Flateyri in Önundarfjörður fjord are both quite interesting small villages.  The distance between those villages and Ísafjörður is not that long, so both villages are also a good option for accommodation before heading for your fourth day.

Ísafjörður in Iceland

The fourth day: Ísafjörður - Hólmavík

Ísafjörður is on our list of ten most attractive towns and villages in Iceland. It is a wonderful place with a long history and historical importance in Iceland. If you only intend to spend some time in one town or village in the Westfjords, it should by all means be Ísafjörður.  The town has good and interesting restaurants, good accommodation and excellent camping.

The drive from Ísafjörður to Hólmavík starts at the bottom of the fjord Skutulsfjörður fjord that is the home of Ísafjörður town when you enter Road Nr. 61 Djúpvegur.  This is a day driving in and out many fjords within one of the largest fjords in Iceland, Ísafjarðardjúp (The Ice Fjord Depth).

Steingrímsfjarðar mountain pass waterfall

Soon after you start your drive, you come to a small village of Súðavík. It is the home of The Arctic Fox Center and a place you should visit.  The Arctic fox is a fascinating animal in the flora of animals living in the wild in Iceland. As you continue, we can only recommend to enjoy the scenery and the fjords all the way to Hólmavík and stop as often as possible.  Another place to stop and see firsthand how Icelanders lived only decades ago is Litlibær in the fjord Skutulsfjörður.  A cup of chocolate and pancakes with whipped cream and jelly is much appreciated when you are driving a long and relaxed drive in and out fjords.  Here you are driving by the shoreline and by the sea with beautiful scenic mountains surrounding your travel. Only when you reach the bottom of the huge fjord Ísafjarðardjúp, you start to ascend the Morse and mountain pass Steingrímsfjarðarheiði.  Road Nr. 61 will take you all the way to Hólmavík which is a perfect stop with nice camping place, good accommodation, and some tasty restaurants. It is also the home of The museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft.

Hólmavík Westfjords Iceland

The Westfjords drive is one of many road trips you can enjoy in Iceland.  It is one of the longer ones along with the Ring Road.  Other shorter drives are the Snæfellsnes Peninsula drive and the Reykjanes Peninsula drive. We can only emphasize that the Westfjord drive is a road trip you do not take during winter.  It is a spectacular drive during summer and during that time everything is open and service available.  If you are interested in visiting the Westfjords during winter a trip to Ísafjörður town is something you should consider.

Read this important article before you choose a car.