Bíldudalur’s Old Cannery is Full of Sea Monsters
Bíldudalur, the only settlement in the vast Arnarfjörður, is a great base to explore the western Westfjords. The village (population 290) is set on a green hill overlooking a calm inlet and the surrounding mountains.
Guests either overnight at the lovely Harbour Inn Guesthouse or the campground next to the sport center by the entrance of town. The all-around cafe and grocery shop Vegamót is on Main Street Tjarnarbraut.
Bíldudalur dates back to the 16th century, as a trade hub for Danish merchants. The town’s name is still today associated in Icelandic culture with green peas: for much of the 20th century the village ran Iceland’s largest cannery.
The old cannery, opposite the church, is now occupied by monsters.
The Sea Monster Museum
The Sea Monster Museum (Skrímslasetrið) celebrates Bíldudalur’s legacy of spotting freaky creatures spying from sea and occasionally crawling on land. The exhibition goes beyond folkloric anecdotes by giving visitors a sense of how these stories came to be. Ocean and isolation have historically defined life in the Westfjords and the strange creatures portrayed in the museum translate that reality into a vivid story. The shapeshifting Nykur, for instance, looks like a gray horse but the hooves face backwards. Check before jumping on an Icelandic horse.
Ketildalir og Selárdalur
Exit Bíldudalur to the north – i.e. not the default southern entrance – for a remarkable one-way 25km drive from Bíldudalur to Selárdalur. The tiny gravel track, accessible over summer, passes gorgeous valleys collectively known as Ketildalir.
Where the road ends, the art show begins: Selárdalur valley is where the farmer from Brautarholt, named Samúel Jónsson, made his mark on Iceland’s popular art history. Jónsson has been described as the “artist with the infantile heart” but his life story certainty lacks the elements of innocence: his three children all died young and his sculptures and paintings received little attention.
Age 72, he displayed them to the world by embarking on a colorful church with an onion dome, after the regional church some 2km up the road refused to accept an altarpiece he made. The church and its backyard of delightful sculpture is today what makes the open air museum of Samúel Jónsson. Note the lions - a replica of the Lions Court in Alhambra, Spain.
About 23km southeast of Bíldudalur, the run-off water of a random hot spring warms the old Reykjafjarðarlaug to about 34°C. The pool, no more than 10 meters long, has open access with basic outdoor lockers. Less visible is a warm riverbed little further behind the locker rooms – follow a path for about 30 minutes. This natural bath is over 40°C, sometimes too hot. Best time to visit is when the sun is setting over Arnarfjörður.
Experiences around Bíldudalur
- Dynjandi Waterfalls, a cascade of six falls, is the best known site in the Westfjords. The tallest Fjallfoss on top is an easy walk.
- Rauðisandur and Látrabjarg Peninsula offer pristine hiking along steep cliffs and yellow beaches. Plus, the stoic puffin.
- Jón Sigurðsson, Iceland’s 19th century independence hero, was born on Hrafnseyri in Arnarfjörður. His home is now a museum dedicated to his life and the breakaway from Denmark.