Driving in the Westfjords of Iceland - Full Guide
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
If you’re visiting Iceland, I highly recommend visiting the Westfjords region. The Westfjords, or Vestfirðir, are in the northwest of Iceland and are renowned for their natural beauty and wide-open spaces. The journey around isn’t an easy one, but it will absolutely be worth the effort. You’ll be offered stunning views of some of the most incredible fjords in the world and almost constant viewing of the ocean. Many tourists travel the Westfjords as a road trip in itself, spending four or five days up there.
How Long Does it Take to Drive Around the Westfjords in Iceland?
If you take a look at a map of Iceland, you’ll see that the Westfjords region is not at all straight-lined. Since there are towns or villages in basically every fjord, the roads have to access all of them. In recent years, the building of several tunnels has significantly shortened journey times, but there are still a lot of windy roads to navigate. It’s certainly a scenic drive, but driving in Iceland isn’t always simple. Note that there are gravel roads on the drive, such as on some of the mountain passes. The road conditions aren’t always great, so it would be best to hire a 4x4 if you are planning on a Westfjords trip.
Regarding the distance, the main roads alone cover over 630km (over 390 miles) so it’s going to be at least a nine-hour journey. And that’s without any stops and detours at places of interest. So, in order to fully experience the full glory of the area, you’ll want to give yourself at least a few days up there.
From Reykjavík to the Westfjords
From the capital to Reykhólar, a town in the Westfjords region, the distance is 228km (142 miles). That should take you about three hours. On this route, you will be passing through a tunnel that is 6km long: Hvalfjörður tunnel. That’s not even Iceland’s longest tunnel. As of 2018, it’s free to use and dramatically shortens your journey time since you no longer have to drive all the way around the fjord. Just follow Route 1 (the ring road) north, then jump onto Road 60 and stay on it all the way until you reach Reykhólar.
What to See in the Westfjords?
Iceland attracts millions of tourists every year, but what’s great about the Westfjords is that not many tourists make it up there. So, you have a little more room to breathe and more parking lots to choose from. The Westfjords are home to many natural hot pools, so take advantage of them while you’re up there. One of the best known is Hellulaug, on the south shore. It’s fairly small, fitting only a handful of people, and the waters are pleasant and relaxing. Note that unregulated hot springs can change temperature and no longer be safe to use, so check before jumping in.
Most people have heard of Gullfoss waterfall on the Golden Circle, but few have heard of Dynjandi waterfall in the Westfjords. It’s certainly one of the most incredible waterfalls in Iceland. Dynjandi translates to ‘thunderous’ and the waterfall lives up to that name; the water cascades about 100 meters down a cliff. And you’ve heard about Iceland’s black sand beaches, but what about its red sand beaches? Rauðasandur, located in the west of the Westfjords, has lost its black sand over the millennia as the area is no longer volcanically active. This beach is also right next to a famous bird-watching cliff, Látrabjarg, where hundreds of thousands of puffins can be seen in the summer months. Be sure to visit the region’s capital, Ísafjörður, which has a population of just over two and a half thousand people.
Since the Westfjords are as far north as you can go in Iceland, and they’re sparsely populated, the northern light viewing opportunities are in abundance. Check the Aurora forecast and be sure to have your camera ready. Having said that, due to Iceland’s extreme weather, the Westfjords are really only accessible from May to October. You may be able to catch an early Aurora storm in September or October or a late one in May, but this area should not be traveled in the winter unless necessary.
As I mentioned, the Westfjords are really only safe and fun to travel to in the summer months. Even then, extreme weather can be a cause of disruption. Sandstorms, snowstorms and strong wind are common all over Iceland, and it’s best to be prepared. Check the forecast before embarking on your trip and only travel if it is safe to do so. Pay attention to weather warnings and road closures, posted on the Icelandic Meteorological Office’s website.
A great rule to follow in Iceland is A.B.C: Always Bring Coats. The weather is so unpredictable here that we have a saying for it: If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.
Samuel Hogarth, Reykjavik Cars.