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  • Writer's pictureEinar Páll Svavarsson

Ísafjörður town in West Fjords a must visit

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

Old house in Ísafjörður
Ísafjörður has many interesting old houses

Ísafjörður is the center town in the West Fjords Peninsula in Iceland and the largest one with a population of approximately 2,700 people as of January 2022. Like many of the towns and villages around the coastline in Iceland, Ísafjörður was mentioned in the Book of Settlement, which is huge in Iceland. However, from the time of early settlement until the 16th century, there wasn’t much activity in the area, at least not in any historical sense. It wasn't until the second half of the 16th century when merchants started trading that Ísafjörður became the largest trading post in the West Fjords.

Ísafjörður is a significant part of Iceland's history

Buildings in Ísafjörður town
There are many wonderful old houses and buildings in the town center in Ísafjörður

The town maintained this status during and throughout the Danish-Icelandic trade monopoly, until it was abolished in 1786. The houses the merchants built on the sandbank that stretches into the fjord from the roots of the steep mountains are still standing and have been renovated over time. Soon after the trading monopoly ended, Ísafjörður became a booming and prosperous town, as both trading and fishing laid a solid economic base for the town. Ísafjörður became one of the most interesting towns to live in for decades, operating more decked vessels and doing more trading than most other places in Iceland, with great businesspeople running profitable businesses for many years.

Ísafjörður is a victim of the Icelandic quota system

Ísafjörður Town Centr
Ísafjörður town center a view from the harbor

In the 20th century, fishing and fish processing became the most important lines of business and for a large portion of the population, the main livelihood. In the eighties, Ísafjörður was one of the strongholds of the fishing industry in Iceland. At one point, the largest and most technologically advanced fishing vessel in Iceland had its home in Ísafjörður; Guðbjörgin was the pride and trophy of Ísafjörður, but that all ended when the Icelandic government introduced and implemented the fishing quota law in the nineties. As for many or almost all the towns and villages in the West Fjords, this was a huge drawback for development.

A town of culture and impressive history

Old houses in Ísafjörður
Beautiful renovated old houses in Ísafjörður West Fjords

Despite all the man-made and government-initiated obstacles, Ísafjörður has always been a highly attractive community. The town has a fascinating political and economic history; it has always been a highly cultural town in the forefront of music, culture, and education. Like most towns and villages, great emphasis was laid on building good infrastructure for the residents. Ísafjörður has good schools for children, a great music school, good sports facilities, and a beautiful library. Since the town is very old in Icelandic historical terms, there are more longstanding and interesting houses in Ísafjörður than in any other town in Iceland of comparable size. Fortunately, people in Ísafjörður have taken greater and greater interest in renovating the old houses.

A must-visit tourist spot if you are visiting West Fjords

New houses in Ísafjörður
A more recent section of Ísafjörður

In Ísafjörður, you will also find one of the best and most original restaurants in Iceland, Tjöruhúsið, which is one reason you do not want to skip the West Fjords if you travel to Iceland. It is a restaurant operated in one of the oldest houses in Ísafjörður built in 1781 by the merchants who operated their business soon after the notorious Danish-Icelandic trade monopoly was abolished. Ísafjörður has a

ll the other necessary services for people traveling in Iceland, such as accommodation, a gas station for those traveling in a rented car, a bakery and convenience store, and a fabulous camping site. It is one of my favorite towns in Iceland and easily made it to my list of 10 most interesting towns and villages in Iceland.


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