The Pros and Cons of Driving in the Westfjords
Updated: Apr 12
The remote and beautiful Westfjords are very much an off-the-beaten-path destination. This large peninsular in the northwest of the country is one of the least populated regions in Iceland. The Westfjords are a world away from the busier Iceland beauty spots such as the Golden Circle or Blue Lagoon. You could easily spend a full day exploring the peninsular and only see a handful of other people.
Driving in the Westfjords can be more challenging than on some of the other Iceland road routes. In this article, we explore the road condition and itinerary routes in the Westfjords. We will also look at things to do in the area. Read on for your guide to a self-drive tour of the Westfjords.
The Westfjords, Iceland: Driving and the roads
When it comes to driving in the Westfjords things are a little different from general driving in Iceland. You may be used to the more well-traveled routes such as the Ring Road and the south of the country. However due to its remote nature and low population the West Fjord region is definitely more rustic. The roads here are often rougher and there are many gravel roads to negotiate too. You will also find high mountain passes with unguarded drops. So you will need to have your wits about you and plan your drives well.
The weather and when to visit
To enjoy a road trip in the Westfjords you will need to be visiting Iceland in the summer months. Much of the peninsular is closed off during the winter months when snows and ice reclaim the land. The mountain passes will be closed and driving would simply be too dangerous. If you did want to come for some backcountry skiing then you would need to join a guided tour.
Depending on the erratic Iceland weather you could visit as early as May or as late as September. But the ideal time for driving is during the high season summer months of June to August. This is when the weather in Iceland is at its most settled and the roads are safest. If September is fine then this is also a lovely time to visit the area. With its low population comes very low light pollution. This means that you might sneak a sighting of the Northern Lights towards the end of the month.
Do I need a 4 x 4 to drive in the Westfjords?
For some people, a 4 x 4 might be preferable. But it is more than possible to drive right across the Westfjords in a regular two-wheel drive rental camper or car. Again though this is only in summer. If you were to visit the area in winter you would need a 4 x 4 with good winter tires. You would also need a very experienced local driver to guide you. This is certainly not the place for a self-drive winter adventure.
Westfjords self-drive itineraries
There are several ways to visit this remote part of Iceland by camper or car. Whichever way you come though one thing that you will need is time. Getting to and around the peninsular is time-consuming but makes for an incredibly scenic drive. In terms of how long you need for a self-drive adventure here, we recommend at least four days. At a push, you could visit it in three days but that would mean some very long driving days.
Part of the reason why it takes so long to drive here is in the name. The fjords of the Westfjords cut deeply into the land. High mountains rise up either side of these long tongues of the ocean. So there are lengthy coast-hugging roads following the deep zigzags of the landscape. Progressing back and forth is not in the least bit tiresome though as the views are so dramatic. But it certainly takes some time. There are a few bridges here and there that serve to shorten some of the fjord drives.
One popular way of getting to the Westfjords is to take a ferry there from the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This is a great option if you are on a leisure trip. With time you could explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula first. Then catch the car ferry to the southern Westfjords. The ferry takes around 2.5 hours and makes for a fun interlude.
The other way to get there is to approach it from Reykjavik or via the Snæfellsnes Peninsula by car. You would then head through the southern Westfjords via the town of Búðardalur. This is a long drive and can be quite challenging towards the end. It has several high mountain passes to negotiate and quite rough gravel roads. For this reason, we recommend starting early or camping nearby the night before you head into the Westfjords.
Another option is to enter the Westfjords to the north and drive across the top first. You can go via the town of Hólmavík and then travel on to the largest town in the area Ísafjörður. If you are in the mood for a smoother ride then this is a good option. The roads in the northern part of the Westfjord peninsular are much smoother and easier to drive. Because of their proximity to the towns they are well-maintained and wider. This makes for an easier transition to the wilds of the Westfjords. You can then tackle the more exciting stretches in smaller portions over the coming days.
Driving the Westfjords is a Must-do in Iceland
The Westfjords are home to some of the most spectacular sights in Iceland. Just choose the best time to go, take your 4x4 campervan rental, and hit the road to make the most of it!