Cosmopolitan Ísafjörður is Westfjords' adventure hub
Ísafjörður is by far the largest town in the Westfjords, hemmed in on all sides by towering peaks and the calm waters of Skutulsfjörður.
Up until the early 20th century, Ísafjörður was Iceland's third-largest settlement, and timber houses from the merchant era define the central part of town; unlike Akureyri and Reykjavík, the old town never suffered major fires that wiped out densely populated homes such as the charming Street Tangagata.
Today, however, some 70 percent of harbor revenue in Ísafjörður comes from tourism, and it is Iceland's third busiest port of call for cruise ships. Furthermore, the University Centre of the Westfjords attracts many international students seeking a Master's degree in coastal and marine management
But to learn about the days when young people flocked to Ísafjörður to haul fish from tall ships, and herring boats head to the old wooden houses on the harbor tip, the Westfjords Heritage Museum
Westfjords Heritage Museum
Situated in an 18th-century building, the Westfjords Heritage Museum in Ísafjörður also offers an extensive insight into the rich maritime life of the Westfjords. From boat restorations to the Cod Wars between Iceland and the UK, as well as the production of saltfish - various exhibitions cover diverse subjects connected to the history and culture of the area.
Next door is the Tjöruhúsið restaurant, famously atmospheric, where the day's catch is served buffet style at a fixed hour.
The Museum of Everyday Life
In contrast to heritage preservation, the Museum of Everyday Life explores the magic of the ordinary with crafty, poetic storytelling. Curated by two local anthropologists, the personal narratives and story fragments draw from exhibition items like shoes, books, and mini-movies.
Browse gift stores on Main Street
Aðalstræti (main street) is home to many great gift shops. Knitwear studio Ívaf has wool garments with smart color combinations and classic textures. For more traditional woolen jumpers and mittens, Karitas is a co-op store owned by local knitters. The studio Fjord People sells hand-drawn maps, watercolors, and a cookbook from Þingeyri cafe Simbahöllin. And for a different kind of craft, the beer brewery Dokkan serves ales made from local ingredients - like a red ale with seaweed.
Outdoor paradise action
Locals in Ísafjörður value their outdoor escapes; the town is well known for hosting tournaments in everything from cross-country skiing to cycling.
Within walking distance from the town's western edge, the valley of Tungudalur has a 9-hole golf course and a skiing area, along with walking and bike paths.
For a scenic hike, however, head to Naustahvilft above the road from the airport – about 150m uphill to a massive 'bowl' in the mountain ridge known as the troll seat. It's a short but challenging climb.
Mountain biking has a strong following, with paths for all difficulty levels. Check out a trail map on the website Mountain Bike Ísafjörður. Local tour agency Borea Adventures offers guided tours several times weekly, suited for beginners.
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
Ísafjörður harbor offers daily ferry departures to Hornstrandir, the country's northernmost peninsula, and a rugged glacial horn that reaches for the Arctic Circle. One can spend days trekking the pristine landscape, visited by a small but steady number of people every summer. Most day tours sail to Aðalvík, roughly an hour by boat. It is possible to see the landmark Hornvík on a 10-12 hour tour; for a quicker visit to Hornvík, sail from Norðurfjörður on the Strandir Coast.
To learn about the nature reserve, supervised by Iceland's Environmental Agency, visit the Hornstrandir Visitor Center (Hornstrandastofa) opposite the Eymundsson bookstore on Aðalstræti.
Experiences around Ísafjörður
- Kayak. Tours departing from Ísafjörður and Mjóifjörður range from two hours to several days, sleeping on a remote beach somewhere in the company of seals and seabirds.
- Sail to the island of Vigur, home to an incredible number of Arctic Terns and coastal birds over the summer. The sailing takes an hour from Ísafjörður, usually in calm seas, as the inlet is sheltered from the open ocean.
- Hike Mt. Bolafjall to the tip of a cliff-end vista overlooking the wild fjord region of Ísafjarðardjúp.
- With children: Raggagarður is a vast playground in Súðavík, 20km from Ísafjörður, with picnic and barbeque facilities.