7 Adventures in Iceland’s Wild Northwest

If you like your scenery dramatic and your wilderness untouched, Northwest Iceland is the place for you. Our insider James shares his secrets.

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Látrabjarg cliffs, Iceland Photo © iStock/cber969

One of Iceland’s least explored region, the northwest of the country is split into two completely different areas – the intimidating fjords and table-topped mountains of the Westfjords, and to the east, gentle hills and meadows with a scattering of lonely farmhouses.

Flatey Island

Traveling across Breiðafjörður to the Westfjords via the Baldur ferry (leaving twice a day from Stykkishólmur, kr. 8,780 or US $85 for a person and car) will give you the opportunity for a brief stopover on Flatey Island. Teeming with bird life and dotted with colorful houses, the island is a charming place to while away a few hours. Note that in the off-season, the ferry only operates once a day.

The Westfjords

The dramatic scenes awaiting you here will leave you in silent awe. Towering mountains dominate small fishing villages strung along windswept coasts, and deep valleys cut into the mountains, waterfalls spilling down on all sides. Only six percent of all tourists visit the area, so come here to find the adventure and isolation that you’ve been craving.

Ísafjörður is the capital of the region and acts as a great base for booking any outdoor activities. Skiing, horse riding, whale watching, bike tours, and kayaking are all available here.

Látrabjarg

At the end of one of those lawless dirt roads that are so common in the Westfjords lies one of Iceland’s biggest and most striking attractions – the Látrabjarg cliffs. Stretching for nine miles (14km) along the southwestern tip of the Westfjords, this is Iceland’s easternmost point and the best spot for bird watching in Europe.

Dynjandi Falls

Considered the crown jewel of the Westfjords, Dynjandi is a series of waterfalls crashing over a set of cliffs down into the fjord. An easy track leads up to the largest and most impressive of the falls, Fjallfjoss. It flows over a series of seven cliffs, growing in size as it gets closer to the bottom.

Dynjandi Falls, the jewel of the Westfjords. Photo credit: iStock

Hornstrandir

The last untouched wilderness in Iceland, Hornstrandir is perhaps the most scenic of places in the country. Inhabited up until 1950 and now protected, it has become a haven for hikers and the arctic fox. Mountainous passes give way to sandy fjords, cliffs swarming with birds, and countless waterfalls tumbling to the sea.

There are no services available here, so go prepared or take a tour. The region is accessed via ferry from Ísafjörður – prices start from kr. 10,020 (US $97).

Hiking in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. Photo credit: iStock

Vatnsnes Peninsula

This squat peninsula makes a ruggedly beautiful detour and is a great place to watch seals rollicking along the coast. The western side of the peninsula offers amazing views towards the coastline of Hornstrandir, while in the ocean on the eastern side lies the large, brooding rock formation Hvitserkur – a troll turned to stone by the breaking dawn as he tried to destroy a monastery at Þingeyrar. (A striking stone church now stands there instead).

Skagafjörður

Spend a bit of time in this quiet fjord to discover rural Iceland at its best. The glacial rivers running out towards Skagafjörður provide some of the best white-water rafting in the country – tours are available from kr. 24,390 (US $236).

At the end of road 748, a ferry leaves for Drangey Island, a volcanic outcrop teeming with seabirds (fares from kr. 12,190 or US $118). On the eastern coast of the fjord at Hofsós, a magnificent swimming pool sits just above the shores, offering an amazing view over the whole fjord.

Want to know more about Iceland? Check out our podcast. We chat about where to capture the best photos in Iceland, how to speak like a Viking (almost), and how a social policy got the country to the World Cup.

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