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  • Writer's pictureEinar Páll Svavarsson

West Fjords road trip in Iceland is the perfect scenic drive

Updated: 2 days ago

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. The flora of natural wonders 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 the country's. 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 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

During your journey in the West Fjords, you will have the opportunity to witness a variety of fjords, including some fjords within other fjords. You will explore almost forty different fjords, and from mountain passes, you will enjoy breathtaking views of magnificent mountains, valleys, and fjords. Driving down to the bottom of small, picturesque fjords, you will encounter many small lakes, waterfalls, and rivers. You will also have a chance to witness diverse 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 but each has its unique characteristics and history, with Ísafjörður town being a standout with its old houses and beautiful surroundings. Your journey will also take you to places of immense historical importance in Iceland.

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 comprises gravel roads. Some are steep gravel roads, not always in the best conditions, even in summer.

Moreover, you must drive through this part of Iceland 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, making some places impossible to visit. The weather is often severe in winter, and the roads are both icy and dangerous. I can only recommend this drive during the summer months and the Strandir drive. In those months, completing the whole drive in any car is possible. Even a small car will do for the roads recommended in this article. However, a large or mid-sized vehicle is more convenient, as there are many gravel and poorly maintained roads, and driving 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 of 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, with 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 number 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 the 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 number 607, which is Reykhólasveitarvegur (if you can remember 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 view 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 number 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 number 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 number 612 Ölygshafnarvegur. After a roughly eight-kilometer drive, you take a left turn again on Road number 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 number 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 number 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 number 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 to Ísafjörður is probably the most memorable and spectacular part of the West Fjords drive. It is not an easy drive as the roads are more or less difficult gravel roads over a high mountain pass, and a few of them are by the roots of some very steep mountain slopes. Fortunately, the whole drive is a beautiful scenic experience that includes one of the most spectacular drives in Iceland and takes you to the most interesting and beautiful waterfall in the country.

Selárdalur valley and Ketildalir

Sculptures in Selárdalur
Sculptures in Selárdalur

At Patreksfjörður, you take the road Bíldudalsvegur number 63, which will take you to the next fjord Tálknafjörður and a small village with the same name. At the bottom of the fjord, you can drive the short distance on Road 671 to visit the Tálknafjörður village or continue on Road number 63 over the Hálfdán mountain pass that takes you to the large fjord Arnarfjörður – Eagles’ fjord. I recommend that you drive to Bíldudalur village when you are over Hálfdán and take a digression on road number 619 Ketildalavegur to the valley Selárdalur and view the many interesting sculptures. The small church and the house are quite interesting and so is the road to Selárdalur. Unfortunately, you need to drive the same road back to Bíldudalur village to continue your drive through the magnificent landscape of Arnarfjörður fjord.

Dynjandi the spectacular waterfall

Dynjandi waterfall in West Fjords Iceland
Dynjandi is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland

As you drie from Bíldudalur, you start on a bit of a winding road. You will basically be driving on Suðurfirðir (the south fjords), which are five fjords at the southern bottom of the mighty Arnarfjörður. The first interesting stop is at the bottom of Reykjarfjörður where you will find a small geothermal swimming pool and a small warm pool. It is a great place to stop and relax out in nature. From Reykjafjörður, you start your drive over the mountain road Dynjandisheiði, which takes you up to an altitude of about 500 meters, and there is a complete change in the terrain – from a wonderful fjord to a rugged, bare and cold terrain. However, what you get is a magnificent view over Arnarfjörður fjord, and we can only encourage you to stop and enjoy the scenery. When you continue your trip, you start to descend, and soon, on your left side, you start to notice the stunning waterfall Dynjandi. The waterfall is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland; so, you will want to spend a few hours there.

The West Fjords villages

Dýrafjörður fjord West Fjords
Þingeyri village in Dýrafjörður fjord

From Dynjandi, you continue west on Road number 60 Vestfjarðarvegur. Before you take a turn toward the new tunnel to the wonderful village of Þingeyri in Dýrafjörður fjord, we recommend that you stop at Hrafnseyri, the birthplace of Iceland’s most important politician, Jón Sigurðsson, who was a historical figure and a leader of Iceland’s struggle for independence. At Hrafnseyri, you will find an important museum and a nice local café. After passing through the tunnel, you reach Dýrafjörður fjord (Animal fjord). From Þingeyri and Dýrafjörður, you have a short but wonderful scenic drive over the mountain pass Gemlufallsheiði to the Önundarfjörður fjord. Shortly after you come to Önundarfjörður and continue on Road number 60, you drive through a tunnel to Ísafjörður, the largest town in the West Fjords. The small villages of Þingeyri in Dýrafjörður fjord and Flateyri in Önundarfjörður fjord are both quite interesting. The distance between these villages and Ísafjörður is not that wide; so, both are also good options for accommodation before heading off on your fourth day.

The fourth day: Ísafjörður-Hólmavík

Old houses Ísafjörður village West Fjords Icelan
Old houses in Ísafjörður town in West Fjords Iceland

Ísafjörður is on our list of the ten most fascinating towns and villages in Iceland. It is a wonderful place that has a long history and is of historical importance in Iceland. If you intend to spend only a short time in one town or village in the West Fjords, the place should, by all means, be Ísafjörður. The town has good and interesting restaurants, great accommodation, and excellent camping facilities. The town is quite photogenic with many attractive old houses and neighborhoods.

Ísafjarðardjúp drive

Litlibær Café in Ísafjarðardjúp West Fjords
Litlibær Café (very Icelandic and traditional) in Skötufjörður fjord in the Ísafjarðardjúp bay and fjord in the West Fjords

The drive from Ísafjörður to Hólmavík starts at the bottom of the fjord Skutulsfjörður fjord, which is the home of Ísafjörður town when you enter Road number 61 Djúpvegur. On this day too, you will drive in and out of many fjords within one of the largest fjords in Iceland – Ísafjarðardjúp (The Ice Fjord Depth).

Waterfall Steingrímsfjarðarheiði West Fjords
A waterfall with no name at Steingrímsfjarðarheiði mountain pass West Fjords

Soon after starting your drive, you will come to a small village of Súðavík. It is the home of The Arctic Fox Center, which is a place you should definitely visit. The Arctic fox is a fascinating animal among the wild fauna in Iceland. While driving, enjoy the scenic beauty and the fjords all the way to Hólmavík and stop as often as possible. Another place to stop and see firsthand how Icelanders lived only decades ago is Litlibær in fjord Skutulsfjörður. A cup of chocolate and pancakes with whipped cream and jelly are much appreciated on this long and relaxed drive in and out of fjords. Here, you are driving by the shoreline and the sea with beautiful surrounding scenic mountains. Only when you reach the bottom of the huge fjord Ísafjarðardjúp that you start to ascend the Morse and mountain pass Steingrímsfjarðarheiði. Road number 61 will take you to Hólmavík, which is a perfect stop with nice camping places, good accommodation, and some restaurants that serve scrumptious food. It is also the home of the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft.

If you're planning to tour Iceland in a rental car, make sure to read this article about the type of car that would be best for your trip.

West Fjords Road Trip map
Map of West Fjords drive road trip in Iceland


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