Ísafjörður is the main largest city located in the western fjords (Westfjords). The city itself covers an area of 2,400 square kilometers and is home to approximately 4,000 residents, but the municipal jurisdiction of Isafjardarbaer also includes the villages Hnifsdalur, Sudureyri, and Thingeyri Flateyri where an additional 2,550 residents live. In the south you can visit the beautiful Dynjandi Waterfall, and in the north the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve and Hornbjarg cliff, a breeding area for one of the largest colonies of seabirds in the North Atlantic.
Ísafjörður is the central town of the western fjords It has a port, hospital, shopping center, schools and airport that all provide services to the surrounding communities. Walking down the main street of the old town amongst the cafes, shops and restaurants shows how Icelanders lived in the 19th century. The houses on the street are simply but effectively decorated and show how people were content and made do with what they had.
Wherever you look in Ísafjörður you can see the snowy fjords, sea and mountains that surround it, it seems like that the town is its own world. The peace and tranquility that surround the fjords magnetize people who visit and make them feel as if they are in another dimension where time passes slowly, and they can relax, take a break from the race of life and not rush around.
Ísafjörður is renowned for its rich cultural life and musical tradition that has been preserved for many years with concerts and festivals held throughout the year. Besides their love of local music, they are also considered daring sailors, since many of them set out to the open sea in fishing boats, not knowing if they would ever return. Marine technology has since developed and metrological forecasts are now accurate, but in ancient times boats departing from the calm blue sea, were often surprisingly caught into stormy weather that is characteristic of Icelandic weather conditions that change constantly.
The fishing industry is still popular in Ísafjörður and many of the residents work on fishing boats and in fish factories. Now when the weather does not allow sailing or boats require repair, you can see these daring sailors sitting and drinking at a local bar. If you take time to chat with them you will still see the spark in their eye that reminisces the boldness of their ancestors as they tell stories about their experiences in the open sea.
Ísafjörður lies in the inlet of the small Skutulsfjordur fjord that connects to the larger Isafjardardjup fjord. The climate here is considered one of Iceland's cooler areas for those at sea level, due to the cold sea stream that comes from East Greenland. Winter here is cold, snowy, and in some years, it is so cold that even the sea freezes. The sun in winter months only shines in the southern horizon, blocked by towering mountains to the south and therefore cannot be seen directly, even during daylight. During the summer months however, due to the northern location, there is plenty of sunlight and the average temperature is about 7.7 ° C.
Ísafjörður was settled around 1100 AD thanks to the natural harbor, which served as a good base for fishing. In 1786 when the King of Denmark abolished the 184-year economic blockade, the fishing industry began to develop and subsequently the population grew, thus Ísafjörður received a municipal town status.
Salted fish became the main product manufactured and marketed overseas and Ísafjörður port was one of Iceland's major trading stations until the early 20th century. In the years following World War II, the fish industry continued to grow thanks to the introduction of large fishing ships and fish processing techniques with advanced freezing technologies. Most local residents worked in fishing industry-related jobs, business flourished, the population increased and this was known as Ísafjörður 's golden era.
But from around 1980, due to changes in fishing quotas between companies in Iceland and international fishing restrictions (Third Cod War) a crisis began, leading to the closer of some fish processing factories. Many residents lost their jobs, left the town and Ísafjörður went into decline. .
Over time, the economy recovered thanks to the development of high-tech industry and marine research. The huge fishing boats were exchanged for small but sophisticated models with lower maintenance costs and the tourism industry slowly started to develop.
Ísafjörður is a relatively small town and most places are just a short walk away. Here are some suggestions of interesting places that you can walk to.
Ísafjörður old city center of is just eight minutes' walk from the harbor, it has narrow streets and a special atmosphere. The cafes, shops and restaurants show how Icelanders lived in the 19th century, a simple life where they made do with what they had. It is recommended to take a map of the old city from the tourist information center.
The museum is located near the port of Ísafjörður, an 18th century building which is one of Iceland's four oldest buildings that are still standing. The museum exhibits the close relationship of Ísafjörður and the fishing industry in Iceland and focuses on the history of sailors, fishing equipment and boats used by sailors over the years.
Once the population grew at the beginning of the 20th century, it was decided to establish a large, modern hospital. Iceland's National Architect Guðjón Samúelsson (who also designed the Halgrims Cathedral in Reykjavik) took the task of planning and the building inaugurated in June 1925, was, at the time, one of the most impressive and largest in all of Iceland. The building served as a hospital until 1989 when construction of the new hospital, located across the street, was completed. Over the years, the old building became known as the cultural building of Ísafjörður and inside is a large library, photo exhibitions, art, preserved ancient documents, traditional Icelandic dress, and medical equipment from the early days of the hospital building.
A small park located near the "old hospital", the main attraction is the arc made from a whale's jaw..
One of Ísafjörður residents' favorite hobbies that allows a fantastic glimpse of the surrounding nature of high mountains that are and reflected on the water. You can also get a rare opportunity to view seals and seabirds in their natural habitat.
Cycling enthusiasts can cycle around Ísafjörður and enjoy the stunning nature, whether riding on a road or along the mountain paths. For information on cycling trails and bike rentals, please contact the tourist information center, located in the center of town.
Ísafjörður connects to the villages Flateyri, Suðureyri and Þingeyri via a tunnel road through a hill which was completed in 1996.
A small fishing village 23 km away from Ísafjörður. The village is known as the original fishermen's village. Whilst touring the village you can glimpse into the daily lives of the anglers. You can visit one of the fish factories or even spend the day as a fisherman yourself! Suðureyri has an excellent outdoor geothermal swimming pool that attracts locals from nearby towns and a visit here is highly recommended!
Also located 23 km from Ísafjörður. The museum in the city was called "The Old Bookstore" and shows the history of the city including the avalanche that claimed the lives of 20 residents of the village in 1995. Travelers can also visit the International Puppet Museum in the village. The village also has a swimming pool, and many hiking trails.
This village is 49 km from Ísafjörður and is the center of one of Iceland's most famous sagas, the Gísla saga Súrssonar. Þingeyri has a swimming pool and beautiful hiking trails, including an easy hike to the highest mountain of the western fjords. You can also ride on Icelandic horses here.
This is one of the best fish restaurants in Iceland. Meals are served buffet style and include a variety of fish and seafood. The menu changes daily and you can eat as much as you like!! If you prefer just a snack, you can enjoy fish soup and fresh bread. Address: Nedstikaupstadur, Ísafjörður
This bakery has been operating as a family business since the 19th century and over the years a small café was built whose walls are filled with pictures of the old Ísafjörður. Here you can take a peaceful rest with a cup of coffee and selection of freshly baked pastries. Try Kringlu - rye bagel considered a traditional pastry of Ísafjörður.
Address: Aðalstræti 24, Ísafjörður
This restaurant is located in the harbor in the same building as the Ísafjörður tourist information. A rich menu and an emphasis on lunch, dinner, and features fresh fish from the nearby harbor, meat dishes and desserts. On fine days, it is recommended to sit at the tables outside and enjoy scenic fjord, which is right across the street. Edinborg is spacious and can cater for large groups. The bar has a superb selection of drinks.
Address: Aðalstræti 7, Ísafjörður 400, Iceland
A cafe, restaurant and bar all in one complex, open daily from midday until late at night. Husið serves a varied menu with fish, meat and vegetarian dishes. Local musicians perform in the evening.
Opening Hours: daily 11:00 -03:00
Address: Hrannargata 2, Ísafjörður
Ísafjörður is 445 km and about 5 and a half hours from Reykjavik. There are daily flights that leave Reykjavik airport, and the duration of the flight is 40 minutes. The Icelandic bus company Strætó offers routes from Reykjavik and Akureyri to Ísafjörður. The lines are not direct and you will need to change two buses on the route and the trip takes a long time.