The Westfjords of Iceland sits within a large peninsula in the country’s northwest. The Westfjords lie on the Denmark Strait and are the closest part of Iceland to Greenland.
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The region is very mountainous and filled with dozens of incredibly beautiful fjords and steep hills. The Westfjords are a place of wonder, enchantment, nature and wildlife but there’s a lot more to them than that.
The area is rich in jaw-dropping vistas, a place of unique and breathtaking beauty, but there are some fascinating facts, places and events that you might not know about this western Icelandic belle.
We’ve put together some interesting facts about the Westfjords you may not know.
Cut off during winter.
The Westfjords are connected to Iceland via a 7km wide isthmus. This means that there are limited options getting in and out of this part of the country. Once entering the Westfjords, there are very few shortcuts between towns so if a road is deemed unusable, it can be difficult to find another option for travel.
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During summer all of the roads in this area can be used, however during the winter months ice and snow cause many of them to close completely.
The Westfjords are very sparsely populated. Currently there are less than 10,000 people permanently living there; however, the area has four domestic airports. To compare, Reykjavik which presently has a population of around 122,000 only has one domestic airport.
The reason for so many airports for such a small population has more to do with how long it takes to travel throughout the Westfjords and the occasional inaccessibility of different roads during the winter months.
There are domestic airports in Ísafjörður, Holt, Gjögur and Bíldudalur, although the flight routes for these airports aren’t as frequent as some of the more travelled paths in Iceland such as between Reykjavík and Akureyri.
No Active Volcanoes
The landmass of the Westfjords is older than most of the rest of Iceland. Because of this, the area has less geothermal activity and fewer hot pools, but fewer still means there’s more than 20 of them hiding in nature.
See Also: Hot Pools in the Westfjords of Iceland
One of the most spectacular is near Mjóifjörður (not to be confused with the town in Iceland’s east that has the same name). It’s a remote fjord many pass on the way to Isafjörður. The hot pools are a local secret. To find out where they are, ask a friendly local, and they will most likely draw you a map.
Home to a huge music festival
One of the larger towns in the Westfjords, Ísafjörður, is host to a music festival each year. ALDREI FÓR ÉG SUDUR (I never went south) spawned from a conversation in a London pub between a father and son.
Icelandic musicians Mugison and Papamug wanted to create a celebration of local music. The name of the festival comes from the tendency for musicians in the Westfjords to have to move south to Reykjavík to further establish themselves.
The festival is in spring each year, and since it began in 2003, it has attracted the biggest names in Icelandic music to the region for a massive music celebration that is free of charge to everyone.
Many people coming to Iceland are excited about seeing the birdlife here. There have been over 330 species of birds recorded in Iceland since early settlement, and at least 85 species are known to visit, live or nest here today.
One species even amateur ornithologists chirp up about is the Arctic Puffin. This beautifully coloured and stout statured bird is a regular inhabitant of the Westfjords.
The Látrabjarg cliffs, approximately 12 km outside of Breiðavík, offer abundant shelter and seclusion for native bird life. The cliffs are a place that guarantees fantastic bird spotting in incredible surroundings throughout the warmer months of the year.
Documentary Hot Spot
Each year the town of Patreksfjörður is host to a documentary film festival. In summer the Festival of Icelandic Documentaries or Skjaldborgarhátíðin brings hundreds of filmmakers and film watchers to the Westfjords.
See Also: The Story of Icelandic Cinema
It’s possibly the largest celebration of Icelandic documentary filmmaking on the planet and has become a favourite festival for people from all over the country and abroad since it began in 2006.
A place of witchcraft and sorcery
On the eastern side of the Westfjords lies the town of Hólmavík. It’s believed this town and the surrounding area were hotbeds of witchcraft and sorcery in the early settlement of Iceland. The town is now home to an incredible museum dedicated to the magic and folklore of Iceland.
The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft or Strandagaldur is open every day and offers an incredible visual insight into the weird and wonderful stories of the dark arts in Iceland.
Everything from milk sucking demons to stories of zombie conjurers who met their end at the stake are on display.
Possibly the piece de resistance in the museum’s displays is the necropants. Old Icelandic legends tell that if you cut the skin off a man from the waist down in one piece; stole a coin from a poor old woman and placed it in the, well let’s call it ‘coin purse’; then wore the pants, you would receive untold riches.
The exhibit comes complete with a replica of the necropants that will either give you nightmares or inspire murderous business ideas.
The museum also has a popular restaurant making it a great lunch stop, or a place to have dinner before heading to bed to prepare for another day exploring the countless wonders of the Westfjords.
Have you been to Iceland’s Westfjords? What were the highlights for you? Let us know in the Facebook comments below.