The West Fjörds area of Iceland is shaped like an outstretched paw and is characterized by tiny communities, threaded together by dirt roads through the brooding mountains.
Although it is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful parts of Iceland, is it also one of the least visited, receiving only one third of the travelers that make it to the highland deserts. This is mostly due to the roads being some of the worst in the country, riddled with hairpin turns. Those who do make it to the region are rewarded with Iceland’s most dramatic fjords and some of the best hiking, in the uninhabited Hornstrandir peninsula; home only to arctic foxes. Routes for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing lead visitors into the mountains, past waterfalls and to spectacular view points.
The region’s capital is Ísafjörður, located at the end of Skutulsjörðus, a small fjord off the Ísafjörðardjúp bay. The town is flanked on three sides by towering mountains creating a perfect natural harbor.
Ísafjörður is said to have been settled by Helgi Magri Hrólfsson in the 9th century. Like many Icelandic towns, it was founded on and grew around fisheries. During the 16th century it became an important site for merchants that traded with the farmers and fishermen in the area. The production and export of saltfish was key to its growth and its status as one of Iceland’s main trading posts. It is now by far the largest town in the northern part of the Westfjords yet it still has less than 3,000 inhabitants.
The period following World War II saw huge changes in the fishing industry. The ships grew bigger and new methods of production called for quick-freezing plants to be built. Ísafjörður was in the forefront of this industry and the fish plants were the workplaces of several hundreds of men and women. In the 1980s things changed in the fishing industry and many fishing plants were closed, forcing the people to move away in search of new opportunities. Today the town is home to a fleet of small boats that have replaced the trawlers of the early 1980s and fishing remains an important industry in the area.
The oldest part of town is the site of a 9th century farmstead, Eyri. Within the old part of town, known as Nedstikaupstadur, four restored timber buildings from the 18th century can also be found.
In March of every year the Aldrei fór ég suður music festival coincides with the town’s Easter Skiing Week. The town of Isafjörður is also the location of the oldest organized botanical gardens in Iceland and an arch made out of the jaw-bones of a beached blue whale. The centre piece of the church altar is also a point of interest and consists of 749 clay birds made by the people of the parish.
- Information provided by Cruise and Maritime Voyages
- Information provided by Vesturferdir Isafjörður
- Insight Guides: Iceland
- Port of Isafjörður magazine