With a population of around 2600, ÍSAFJÖRÐUR is far and away the largest settlement in the West Fjords, and is where most travellers choose to base themselves when exploring the region – not least because this is the only place from which to reach the Hornstrandir peninsula by boat, a major goal for many visitors. All administration for the area is centred here, too, and there’s also a significant fishing industry. It’s hard to imagine a much more dramatic location; built on the L-shaped sandspit, Eyri, which stretches out into the narrow waters of Skutulsfjörður fjord and provides exceptionally good shelter for ocean-going fishing vessels, the town is surrounded by towering mountains on three sides and by the open waters of Ísafjarðardjúp on the fourth. During the long winter months, locals are forced to battle against the elements to keep open the tiny airport, which very often provides the only point of contact between the entire region and the rest of the country. Should you arrive in Ísafjörður by plane, however, you’ll be treated to an unforgettable experience as you bank steeply around the fjord, then skim past the sheer mountainside of Kirkjubólshlíð before dropping onto the landing strip. In fact, during the darkest months of the year (Dec & Jan), the sheer height of the mountains either side of the fjord prevents the low winter sun from shining directly onto the town for a number of weeks, and the sun’s reappearance over the mountain tops at the end of January is celebrated with sólarkaffi, “sun coffee” (in fact just normal coffee) and pancakes on January 25.

Today, Ísafjörður is a quiet and likeable place where you’d be wise to make the most of the shops and restaurants on offer before venturing out into the wilds beyond. There’s very little of note, though, in the town itself – Ísafjörður’s pleasures are more to be found in strolling through its streets or watching the fishermen at work in the harbour than in tourist sights. However, Neðstikaupstaður, the West Fjords Heritage Museum, one of the very few museums in the region, is worth visiting for an insight into the extreme conditions that past generations have lived under here. That it’s located in one of the country’s oldest timber buildings is unusual in itself, when you consider that the climate here is so severe that anything made out of wood tends to be quickly decimated by the elements.

Brief history

According to the Landnámabók, a Viking by the name of Helgi Hrolfsson was the first person to settle in Skutulsfjörður, building his farm here during the ninth century. However, although the sandspit was inhabited from the time of the Settlement, it took several centuries for Eyri at Skutulsfjörður, as Ísafjörður was then called, to emerge as one of the country’s main commercial centres, an enviable status due to the establishment of a trading post here by foreign merchants during the late sixteenth century. It was also around this time that the town’s most notorious resident, Jón Magnússon, a fundamentalist priest, ordered two men on a neighbouring farm to be burned at the stake for sorcery, which was reputed to be widespread in the West Fjords at the time. Finally, in 1786, with the winding-up of the Danish trade monopoly, the town was granted municipal status and became one of Iceland’s six official trading posts. Just over a hundred years later, Eyri finally received city status and celebrated by changing its name to the present Ísafjörður, meaning Ice Fjord.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Iceland features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Hot tub happiness: the dos and don'ts of Icelandic spas

Hot tub happiness: the dos and don'ts of Icelandic spas

Going to a spa in Iceland can feel wonderfully alien. Against a backdrop of barren moonscapes and denuded hills, the waters are so preternaturally blue, so exag…

02 Mar 2018 • Mike MacEacheran insert_drive_file Article
Iceland: top 10 hot pools to take a dip

Iceland: top 10 hot pools to take a dip

An outdoor soak is an essential part of the Icelandic experience – a surreal way to spend a dark winter's day, or to unkink those muscles after a long day's h…

02 Mar 2018 • David Leffman insert_drive_file Article
Tackling overtourism: where next for Iceland?

Tackling overtourism: where next for Iceland?

Last year, there were six tourists in Iceland for every local. As overtourism becomes an increasingly hot topic, Keith Drew looks at the effects of Iceland’s …

01 Mar 2018 • Keith Drew local_activity Special feature
View more featureschevron_right

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs