When you learn that the population of Ísafjörður is just over 2,700 people, ‘urban metropolis’ probably isn’t the first phrase that springs to mind. After exploring the remote and unspoiled Westfjords though, oddly it starts to feel like one.
The town of Ísafjörður sits in a narrow fjord called Skutulsfjörður. The walls of the fjord are so high that the sun doesn’t reach over it in winter. The area was first settled in the 9th century, as testified in Landnámabók, or the Book of Settlement.
It wasn’t until the 16th century though that Ísafjörður began to grow substantially. In the 18th century, it was granted town status and developed as a Danish-controlled trading post. You’ll find many timber-frame houses in the town center that were built around this time.
You’ll find Ísafjörður where road 60 and road 61 meet – these are the two main routes that pass through the Westfjords. Follow road 60 south through the tunnel and you’ll reach Dynjandi waterfall. Road 61 will take you east to Hólmavík and the Ring Road (Route 1).
For a town of its size, Ísafjörður has a surprising number of cultural draws.
Start by exploring the historic Neðstikaupstaður district, with its charming wooden buildings. Here you’ll find the Westfjords Heritage Museum (Byggðasafn Vestfjarða), which focuses on the region’s rich maritime history.
You can also check out Hversdagssafn, or the Museum of Everyday Life, where you can gain an insight into local culture past and present.
Every year around Easter, the music festival Aldrei fór ég suður (‘I Never Went South’) is held in the town. This brainchild of Icelandic singer Mugison has been going since 2004, and brings a buzz to the normally sleepy town.
Ísafjörður acts as a getaway to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, which is inaccessible by road. To get there, you can take a boat from the town’s harbor. The reserve has been given over to nature, and Arctic foxes roam free here.
You could also take a boat tour to the far-flung Vigur island, where you can spot puffins and eider ducks.