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Iceland’s magical Westfjords

A hidden gem in the Nordic region.

Photographs: Heather Storgaard

Text: Heather Storgaard

Iceland is often described as the land of ice and fire, thanks to its extreme geography. But how much of that utmost nature do tourists tend to experience? While you may be familiar with Reykjavik, the Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon, I would suggest stepping outside the box to explore Iceland’s stunning and under-rated Westfjord region. Known for its magic and untouched nature, it is one of my favourite places in the Nordic region and an ideal last-minute summer holiday destination.

The Capital of the Westfjords is Ísafjörður, a sweet town of 2,750 people that packs a lot in considering its small size. It has one of the most breathtaking airports in the world, indeed one of the most dangerous in Europe, squeezed in between fjord and fell. Once you arrive in the town, starting or ending the day can best be done at Heimabyggð, a cosy coffee shop, Tjöruhúsið, a seafood restaurant renowned throughout the country, or Dokkan Brugghús, a local brewery and bar. The town then makes a great base for day trips, such as to nearby Vigur Island or as a start on a Westfjords-wide adventure.

Of course, for most, the main reason to be in Iceland is the scenic surroundings and opportunities to be close to nature. Cycling the Westfjords has risen in popularity in recent years, thanks in large part to American expat Tyler Wacker who runs a bike shop and rental service. While it may require more stamina than flat Denmark, the Westfjords will offer you an unrivalled connection with its fjords, cliffs and coastline on a bike. And if that’s not your thing? Kayaking and sailing are also possibilities. For hiking, on the other hand, little can beat Hornstrandir, Iceland’s northmost peninsula, which is accessible from Ísafjörður by boat. Hardly populated today, the region is famous for arctic foxes and birdlife, with a hostel available for visitors.

"In a Nordic context, Iceland has also long been associated with mythology, folklore and literature."

In a Nordic context, Iceland has also long been associated with mythology, folklore and literature. The sagas that recorded Old Norse religion and ways of life come from Iceland, and the language has stayed the same to such a degree that Icelanders can still read the originals with relative ease. With such vast and rugged landscapes, with Northern Lights in the winter and near-constant daylight in the summer, it is easy to imagine these tales playing out in front of you. In fact, the Westfjords have long been known as wild, even by Icelandic standards, with the area having a reputation for witchcraft and sorcery. Even so, if your imagination can’t stretch that far, this history can also be explored at the Sorcery and Witchcraft Museum in Hólmavík.

Iceland has a complicated, multifaceted relationship with Denmark. Part of the Kingdom of Denmark until 1944, a century ago this very year, Iceland obeyed the laws laid out by the Danish state and followed their lead in foreign policy for centuries. To this day, Icelanders still twist their tongues around Danish as a second language in schools. As such, visiting the country will give you not just a beautiful holiday but also a deeper understanding of Denmark, its history and the complex structure of the Nordic region today.

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