Hólmavík

Hólmavík is a very cute little town at the entrance to the Westfjords. It can be accessed via Route 60 then 61 if you’re heading north from Reykjavik, or Route 68 from the Akureyri direction (or if you miss the turn off Route 1 from Reykjavik!). Buses run, but only on certain days of the week, and the route from Hólmavík to Ísafjörður only runs in the summer months.

The are hiking trails around Hólmavík, both along the fjord and up into the hills behind the town, offering good views back down. Ask at the tourist information for a trail map of the Westfjords.

A highlight is The Museum of Sorcery & Witchcraft – Hólmavík has a history of witchcraft and this great little museum does justice to this. The most grisly item on display is the Necropants – the skin of a man from the waist down which creates magical trousers with some gruesome powers.

Considering the town only has about 500 inhabitants, it has a lovely swimming pool with 3 hot tubs, sports hall and sauna. The pool seemed to be busiest in the evenings as the locals came to relax and catch up after work, which gave the whole place a friendly feel. If you’re staying at the camp site, the pool is right next door. Beware that we found the camp site to be particularly rocky in places – thin, strong tent pegs are advised.

Ísafjörður

Ísafjörður is the main centre of the Westfjords, with a population of around 2500. It is a common stopping point for cruise ships. By car, it can be reached by route 61 from the East via several windy sections in and out of the fjords of the coastline, or from the South via a pass which is quite steep in places and to be treated with great caution in bad weather. Alternatively, there are flights from Reykjavik domestic airport.

Things to do:

Kayaking on the fjord – there are several companies who will take you out sea kayaking from Ísafjörður. Staying within the confines of the fjord walls is a wonderfully peaceful introduction to kayaking and suitable for complete beginners. On a calm day, there isn’t a ripple on the water, particularly in the calm bay towards the head of the fjord.

Boat trip to Vigur – This tour best done in summer when the birds are on the island; you will get the chance to see puffins, eider ducks, arctic terns and skuas, as well as sheep and seals. It takes around 45 minutes to get to the little island of Vigur by boat then the tours usually offer a chance to wander around and explore, as well as coffee and cake at the little cafe and a demo of the construction of eider down pillows. One family looks after the island and makes their income from the sale of eider down.

Walking up to the hanging valley – from Ísafjörður town you can look across the fjord and your eye is drawn to the shallow hanging valley directly across from you. It’s an easy and flat walk to go around the head of the fjord along the edge of Route 61, and a not-too-challenging uphill section into the valley itself. From here, you get spectacular views down to the town and out to sea, and if you hunt around you will find a little surprise left by previous walkers….

Swimming pool – an unusual (for Iceland) indoor pool, this feels rather like a school pool until you realise it still has a hot tub and drinks can be brought out to you if you fancy a cup of coffee or juice – a nice touch I’ve not come across at any other Icelandic pool.

Westfjords heritage museum – good for a rainy day, this is a collection of maritime artefacts and details of the fishing traditions in the Westfjords. Salted fish is often laid out just outside, drying in the sun.

Top place to eat: Tjöruhúsið – down at the harbourside is the best restaurant I have come across in Iceland, and I don’t say that lightly. The freshest of fresh fish, brought out to your table in the pan surrounded by the vegetables fried with it, seasoned to perfection. It’s also cute and rustic inside, with big tables so you’ll be sharing with some other people, which all adds to the authentic atmosphere. Sadly this amazing restaurant is only open from easter and through the summer months.