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  • Einar Páll Svavarsson

Bolungarvík fishing town in the West Fjords

Updated: Jan 12, 2022


Bolungarvík village Iceland
Bolungarvík village and Ísafjörður fjord in the West Fjords in Iceland

Bolungarvík is mentioned in the Icelandic Book of Settlement, written in the 12th century, which tells us that people have lived in the area for centuries. It also tells us that it was an excellent place to live despite the isolation, as both land and sea provided suitable means of livelihood. The story from the Book of Settlement is both interesting and unusual because it mentions a woman, Þuríður sundafyllir, not a man or a famous Viking, who settled in Bolungarvík around one thousand years ago. Until the second half of the nineteenth century, most inhabitants lived on farms in the two valleys picturesquely lying between the three mountains characteristic of Bolungarvík. Throughout the centuries, many small farms existed in the two valleys. However, the main difficulty people living in Bolungarvík and the limited lowland in the valleys faced was isolation.


Bolungarvík is one of the oldest fishing stations in Iceland

Avalanche defense wall in Bolungarvík
On the avalanche defense wall in Bolungarvík village

Fishing has always been important because of the short distance to rich fishing grounds, making it easy for inhabitants to add to their food and protein cultivated in the valleys. Consequently, for centuries, Bolungarvík was one of the largest fishing stations in Iceland, with houses scattered throughout the land and in both valleys. At the end of the 19th century, coastal towns grew as housing became denser near the shore and more people began to make a living from fishing and fish processing. Commercial activities became the primary means of income and were more organized. And the former fishing station grew into a village. Like many towns on the coastline of Iceland, significant changes started when Icelanders began to use decked vessels and motorboats in the early 20th century. At that time, more commercial activities like trading started in Bolungarvík.


Transportation on land was always difficult

Bolungarvik store
A store in Bolungarvík village

Transportation on land was always tricky in Bolungarvík as high and steep mountains surround the area. Most of the transport was by sea, and a road wasn't built until 1950. This road was by the shoreline and proved quite dangerous due to landslides, avalanches, and rocks falling from the mountains above. In 2010, the village got a permanent solution to their transportation woes when the road was moved from the shoreline, and a tunnel was built through the mountains. This has made Bolungarvík more accessible and the roads much more secure. So, you need not worry about driving to the village when visiting the Westfjords.


Bolungarvík is still a fishing town

School in Bolungarvík village
School in Bolungarvík village in West Fjords Iceland

Today, fishing and fish processing is still the primary economic base and source of income for most families. However, like so many villages in the Westfjords, Bolungarvík was hit hard by the fishing quota system created by the Icelandic Government in 1990. Instead of large vessels and active fish processing companies abundant in the seventies and eighties, everything is smaller and less active. Somehow, most towns and villages in the Westfjords lost permission to take advantage of their abundant fishing grounds during that time, resulting in a smaller share in the fishing industry.


Bolungarvík and people traveling in Iceland

Old houses in Bolungarvík village
Old part of Bolungarvík village in Iceland

Like many of the towns and villages on the coastline of Iceland, most of the houses are single-family houses built between the fifties and eighties in the last century. At the time, much of the town's infrastructure was created to provide the necessary services available to today's residents. Bolungarvík has a preschool, elementary, and middle school as well as a library. There is also easy access to the high school in Ísafjörður, which is only minutes away. The town has a sports center, swimming pool, accommodation, gas station, and beautiful camping site. Traveling in and visiting the Westfjords is only possible during summer and is not recommended from October until the beginning of June.

Recent Apartment building in Bolungarvík
A recent apartment building in Bolungarvík village in West Fjords Iceland

Although it is an attractive small town, it is difficult to see how Bolungarvík can become an important destination and participate in regional tourism. It is still a long way from mainstream attractions. One effort to bridge this gap is a new viewing panel at 620 m above sea level, near the peak of Mt. Bolafjall. This will allow visitors a spectacular view of the mountains and fjords in Ísafjörður, but not as impressive as what you see driving in the Dynjandisheiði mountain pass between the Arnarfjörður and Barðaströnd fjords.





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