Bíldudalur in Arnarfjörður fjord in the West Fjords
Updated: Jan 12, 2022
Bíldudalur village sits on the southern coastline of the majestic fjord Arnarfjörður in the West Fjords. Arnarfjörður is one of the longest fjords in Iceland and displays an extraordinary landscape from its mouth to the bottom. Bíldudalur is the only village in the fjord and is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting stops in the West Fjords. The village has always been isolated and difficult to travel to and visit, especially in winter. However, in summer, every road from Bíldudalur leads to interesting places and enjoyable scenic drives, whether you are driving to the mouth of the fjord through all the valleys cutting into the mountains by the coastline or up to the mountain passes that take you to spectacular views and scenic drives.
Iceland’s first significant entrepreneur lived in Bíldudalur
Amazingly, in the second half of the 18th century, this tiny village was the home and center of operations for Iceland’s most prominent entrepreneur, Ólafur Thorlacius. Soon after the notorious Danish–Icelandic Trade Monopoly was abolished, Ólafur purchased all its assets and expanded his operation beyond anything comparable in Iceland at that time. Ólafur exported fish from Bíldudalur to Spain in his vessels and owned decked vessels when most people only had rowing boats. Quite interestingly, Ólafur found opportunities to build one of the most extensive operations of its time and accumulate unprecedented wealth in a remote place that most people associated with hardship and difficulties. In his lifetime, he expanded his business to other towns and became probably one of the wealthiest individuals in the country.
Bíldudalur is a small village with a fascinating history
Fortunately for Bíldudalur, some of Ólafur’s successors took the business to another level. For almost two centuries, Bíldudalur was one of the busiest towns for import and export in Iceland. In the 19th century, more houses were built in Bíldudalur than in most places in Iceland. However, as dashing as the village history might have been in the 18th and 19th centuries, the village took a downturn in the 20th century and never gained its former glory. Today it is a small struggling community, still economically dependent on fish and fisheries. Like most small villages in the West Fjords, it has been hit hard by the fishing quota system created by the Icelandic government in 1990. However, in recent years, Bíldudalur’s economy has again taken an interesting turn. Around 2010, a new aquaculture company, Arnarlax, started salmon farming in Arnarfjörður fjord with its main headquarters in Bíldudalur. The company is fast becoming one of Iceland’s largest fish farming companies with escalating exports. It was founded by an individual born and raised in Bíldudalur, so it seems as if the entrepreneurial spirit of Ólafur Thorlacius has not died.
Today a struggling municipality like many West Fjords villages
Bíldudalur is part of the municipality Vesturbyggð, which also includes the small village of Patreksfjörður. The community offers standard quality services provided by towns and villages in Iceland, such as a preschool, an elementary and middle school, a library, and a community center. In addition, the municipality collaborates in the Snæfellsnes high school, which has an annex in Patreksfjörður. There is also a good sports center. The fact that small towns in Iceland have good access to education and sports reflects the high value placed on education, well-being, and care for others in the community.
Most of the houses in Bíldudalur are single-family houses from the ‘50’s, ‘60’s, and ‘70’s, and all homes are heated with electricity. Bíldudalur also offers accommodation, a good camping site, and a convenience store for those who are interested in stopping in Arnarfjörður when driving the West Fjords.