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  • Einar Páll Svavarsson

West Fjord road trip in Iceland is the perfect scenic drive

Updated: Mar 29, 2022

Arnarfjörður West Fjords
Arnarfjörður is one of the spectacular fjords in Iceland

In the northwest of Iceland, the West Fjords stick out like the head of an animal. The place offers the most spectacular scenic drive in the country with its many fjords, beautiful valleys, impressive cliffs, spectacularly colorful beaches, high mountains with steep slopes, rivers, mountain passes with rolling mountains, waterfalls, birdlife, and geothermal pools, to name a few. In the flora of natural wonders, it is more like a standalone natural wonder containing many ingredients rather than a mere connection between two natural wonders. Although it looks like a small remote part of Iceland, its coastline makes up one-third of that of the country. The entire landscape of the West Fjords is so stunning that people have described it as driving through a painting or a work of art; it is more like an experience rather than a simple road trip. It is an all-embracing, accessible, unique natural wonder on this planet.

Map of Vestfjords in Iceland
Map of Vestfjords in Iceland

What you will see

Arnarfjörður and Ketildalir in West Fjords
Ketildalir valleys on the south shore of Arnarfjörður fjord in the West Fjords

You will see many different fjords, even fjords inside fjords. You will visit almost forty different fjords. From mountain passes, you will have an overview of spectacular mountains, valleys, and fjords, and as you drive to the bottom of small beautiful fjords, you will witness many small lakes, waterfalls, and rivers. You will see many different kinds of shorelines, ranging from stunning beaches to some of the highest cliffs in Europe. At one point, the most spectacular waterfall in Iceland will suddenly and almost unexpectedly emerge in front of your eyes. The villages in the West Fjords are all small, and each of them has its own fascinating characteristics and history, although Ísafjörður town is at the top with its old houses and beautiful surroundings. Along the way, you will come to places of immense historical importance in Icelandic history.

The West Fjords roads, time to visit, and what car to use

Gravel road in West Fjords
A large proportion of the roads consists of gravel roads

Driving through the West Fjords is not particularly easy. It is, if not the definition of, a long, winding road. You are always and almost the entire time driving in, over, or out of a fjord, and quite often, up to a mountain pass and down to the coast. Although excellent asphalt roads constitute a considerable part of the drive, a large proportion consists of gravel roads. Some of them are steep gravel roads, not always in the best of conditions, even in summer. Moreover, this is a part of Iceland you must drive through from the beginning of June until late September. It is not a particularly interesting drive during the other eight months, as some roads are closed, which makes some of the places impossible to visit. During the winter months, the weather is often severe and the roads are both icy and dangerous. I can only recommend this drive during the summer months, as well as the Strandir drive. In those months, it is possible to complete the whole drive in any car. Even a small car will do for the roads we have recommended in this article. However, a large or mid-sized car is more convenient, as there are many gravel and badly maintained roads and the drive in a small car may be tedious.

How long is the West Fjords drive in kilometers, and how long does it take?

Puffin West Fjords
Puffin at Látrabjarg cliffs

Although very rewarding and enjoyable, the West Fjords drive is indeed a very long drive of around one thousand kilometers. Don’t be surprised if it takes a bit of a toll on your temper while driving. But then again, if you are reading this article and considering this beautiful drive, you are planning a vacation in Iceland and, thus, are not in a hurry. No one visiting Iceland should be in a hurry. This road trip, as are most places and road trips in Iceland, is not for people who are in a hurry; it is more suited for those who love to sit back, inhale, and enjoy the natural wonders. Remember that this is mostly a drive by the coastline, which is one-third of the six thousand kilometers coastline in Iceland. We recommend spending four days on this West Fjords road trip.

The first day: Búðardalur village-Vatnsfjörður

We start the West Fjords road trip in the small village of Búðardalur. It is a perfect place for an early start and has a great camping site and excellent accommodation. The drive from Reykjavík to Búðardalur is one hundred fifty-four kilometers long and will take about two hours if you choose to start from Reykjavík.

The farm and hamlet Reykhólar

Reykhólar West Fjords Iceland
Reykhólar farm and Hamlet a source of huge accumulation of wealth for many centuries

From Búðardalur, you drive north on Road Nr. 60, Vestfjarðarvegur, or the West Fjords Road to the first of many fjords – Gilsfjörður. This is a forty-kilometer drive through the part of Iceland that was the stage for the Laxdæla Saga, one of the most fascinating places in all of the Icelandic Sagas. If there are two books you should read on West Fjords trip, they are Laxdæla Saga and Gísla Saga Súrssonar. Reading real stories that occurred over a thousand years ago will spice up your trip. After you pass the bridge on Gilsfjörður, you drive about twenty-one kilometers and turn south (left) on Road Nr. 607, which is Reykhólasveitarvegur (if you can memorize that name), to the tiny village of Reykhólar. The drive is only fourteen kilometers long, and Reykhólar is an important place in Icelandic history, there reside many wealthy families and powerful individuals for centuries. It is also a perfect spot to get a great view of the hundreds of islands in the large Breiðafjörður bay.

Bárðaströnd drive

Breiðafjörður bay
The view from Barðaströnd coastline to Breiðafjörður bay and Snæfellsnes peninsula

After your stop at Reykhólar, you will continue west on Road Nr. 60 where a winding road awaits you. This is more or less a drive in which you enjoy the landscape, the view from the high altitude on the mountain passes, the peaceful valleys at the bottom of the fjords, and the great shoreline with spectacular stacks and colorful bird flocks. There is no better stop than this, and you make your first recommended stop at Vatnsfjörður. At Vatnsfjörður, you are at the place where it all began, where the first settlers in Iceland had a winter stay. After stopping by the beautiful lake and small waterfalls by the shore in Vatnsfjörður, we recommend you take a dip in the geothermal pool Hellulaug to drain your stress and relax before starting on your journey. A short hike around the Flókalundur area right by Hellulaug is highly recommended as well, possibly after checking into your room or settling on a camping ground. Flókalundur is a beautiful place to stay overnight and prepare for the next day. During summer, the view from the camping site is spectacular at any given time since there is twenty-four-hour daylight.

The second day: Vatnsfjörður-Patreksfjörður

Rauðisandur beach West Fjords
Rauðisandur beach in the southern part of West Fjords

On the second day, two spectacular places for perceiving the beauty of Icelandic nature await you: Rauðisandur (Red sand) and Látrabjarg. Both are among the most exciting attractions in the West Fjords. From Vatnsfjörður, you continue your scenic drive west on Road Nr. 62 over the mountain pass Kleyfarheiði. Along the way, you drive by a beautiful coastline on your left side that leads to spectacular mountains towards the west. When you come down the mountain pass on the other side at the bottom of the fjord Patreksfjörðr, you turn left on Road Nr. 612 Ölygshafnarvegur. After a roughly eight-kilometer drive, you take a left turn again on Road Nr. 614 Rauðasandsvegur. Here, you will be driving over a mountain pass with a very steep road leading down to the coastline in the beautiful landscape at Rauðisandur. You need to drive slowly and cautiously. Once down by the shore, we suggest driving both to the east side to the famous Sjöundaá farm and the west side of the wonderful café. Depending on whether it is a low or high tide, you can take a walk on the sand. If you are to take up the recommended short hike to Sjöundaá farm and a walk on the beach, you should spend at least two to three hours here at Rauðisandur.

Látrabjarg cliffs

Látrabjarg West Fjords
Látrabjarg western part of Iceland of West Fjords Iceland

From Rauðisandur, you drive back the same mountain pass to Road Nr. 612 and continue westward. This is the road that will take you to Látrabjarg cliff. Although you can drive this road all the way to the cliff in a small car, here, it is much more secure and convenient to drive in a mid-sized and preferably a 4WD car, as the end is not particularly good. At the bottom of the small valley, Örlygshöfn is a great museum by the Hnjótur farm that you should not miss. The museum gives an insight into the harsh life and isolation of the people who have lived in this area throughout the centuries. Along the way, you pass the Bay Breiðavík, which is also an interesting shore and an amazing place to make a stop. At the end of the road, there is a parking lot near the lighthouse where you can park your car. The cliffs and the birdlife are stunning, and we can not emphasize enough the necessity for everyone to take extreme caution when viewing this spectacular cliff.

The Patreksfjörður fjord and town

Patreksfjörður West Fjords
The harbor in the small town Patreksfjörður

After visiting Látrabjarg, you should take the same road all the way back to the bottom of the fjord Patreksfjörður. You can then continue on Road Nr. 62 to a small village with the same name as the fjord Patreksfjörður. We recommend that you find accommodation or stay at the campsite at Patreksfjörður village or the nearby village of Tálknafjörður. Both villages and the short distance between the two along Road Nr. 63 Bíldudalsvegur are great places to stay overnight.

The third day: Patreksfjörður-Ísafjörður

Bíldudalur West Fjords
Bíldudalur town in Arnarfjörður West Fjords Iceland

The drive from Patreksfjörður