Iceland is a reasonable country for a week-long road trip. You can visit most of the island. However, you probably won’t be able to properly visit the West Fjords. The West Fjords are a peninsula that juts out of the northwest corner of Iceland. Three years ago, I went to Iceland and had to skip that 8,599 square miles. I went with my mother and we said we’d have to return to see the rest.
Last summer, we decided to make good on that notion. Our first trip was spectacular. Iceland is one of the most memorable trips that I’ve taken. It’s, by far, the most beautiful place that I have ever been. It has everything you’d want to see, nature-wise. I was happy to return. I knew the lay of the land, the airport, the rental car agency, the roads, the tolls, the cameras for speeding, and what to pack.
We flew into Keflavik (I learned, last time, that while you can select Reykjavik, you actually fly into an airport that is 45-minutes away from the capital). After a quick Icelandic Breakfast at Kaffivagninn, in Reykjavik, we stopped at a Bonus grocery store for provisions. Last trip, we did stay in a town, in the height of the summer-tourist season, that did not have an open store around dinner time. We bought snacks for emergencies.
Our first leg of the trip took us towards a spot that we had attempted to visit. The town of Drangsnes is on the southeastern edge of the West Fjords. Years ago, I had found the town on Instagram: photos of hotpots and a witchcraft museum. The roads were vastly improved from three years ago. The last time we tried to get to the town we had to go very slow (15-20 mph) to avoid potholes. This time, the roads seemed fine, and after a five-hour drive, we were at our Airbnb. After a jet-lag nap, we ventured out for dinner in Hólmavík, at Café Riis. This restaurant was recommended in the The New York Times for its pizza, but I have to say, the pizza looked terrible. I learned that ordering the “seafood soup” is the way to go in the West Fjords. I ordered the seafood soup for three-straight nights. Each soup was bit different: a little more or less sherry, or fennel, or leek. But, all of them were satisfying.
We drove back to our Airbnb and I walked around the tiny town to take pictures. Our last visit was in July; there was no darkness. This time, in mid-August, there was some night and the sun did slowly set. I tried to find the best time to take pictures. For most of the day, the overhead sun is so bright and the land is shadowless.
From Drangsnes we drove counterclockwise to Ísafjörður. We never had more than four hours to drive in a day, but with stops, you end up driving most of the day and taking your time. I had a student who spent part of a semester in the town of Ísafjörður. I emailed her for recommendations. The town is rather large for Iceland, but still small (population 2600). We walked around the docks and I took pictures. We went to dinner at a busy restaurant; we grabbed the last table at Húsið. The next morning we bought pastries at Gamla Bakaríið.
The highlight of the next day was visiting a waterfall that I had wanted to see the last time: Dynjandi. You can see the waterfall from at least five-miles away, as you drive the only road to the scenic spot. The rest of Iceland is full of waterfalls; seriously, there is a waterfall at every turn. But they are rarer in the West Fjords. Dynjandi, which translates as “thunderous,” requires a bit of a climb. The water cascades over the ledge and spreads out, pools, and then continues again down the mountain. It was windy, overcast, and cloudy while we were there, but the waterfall was still magic.
We continued along the coast to our next stop: Patreksfjörður. We checked into a guest house and then backtracked to Tálknafjörður for dinner at Cafe Dunhagi. Again, the seafood soup was excellent.
The next day we drove along some of the crazier dirt roads to Rauðisandur Beach. You never quite know what the road conditions will be or whether or not you’re on a secondary road. The unpaved drive to Rauðisandur was variously muddy and a very steep grade. We backtracked to the main road to drive to our guest house in Saurbær. We had dinner at Veiðistadurinn, in Búðardalur.
The next day we drove back to the capital and checked into our Airbnb. I wanted to spend the last night in Reykjavik. As we learned on the last trip, you don’t need more than a night or two to explore the capital. We had lunch, wandered around an indoor market, had coffee at Reykjavik Roasters, bought delicious pastries at Braud & Co, and enjoyed ice cream at Valdis. The next day, before our flight, we went to two of the three Reykjavik Art Museums: Kjarvalsstaðir and Ásmundarsafn. Each one is dedicated to an Icelandic artist. Before our trip to the airport, we stopped at my favorite bakery from the last trip: Sandholt.
This second trip to Iceland was more laid back. I often feel like I have to “see everything” and will fill an itinerary with too much to do. This time I didn’t plan things to do. There are sights to see, but it’s an ever-changing landscape; no scene is better than the next, only different.