Ísafjörður

Ísafjörður is the main centre of the Westfjords, with a population of around 2500. It is a common stopping point for cruise ships. By car, it can be reached by route 61 from the East via several windy sections in and out of the fjords of the coastline, or from the South via a pass which is quite steep in places and to be treated with great caution in bad weather. Alternatively, there are flights from Reykjavik domestic airport.

Things to do:

Kayaking on the fjord – there are several companies who will take you out sea kayaking from Ísafjörður. Staying within the confines of the fjord walls is a wonderfully peaceful introduction to kayaking and suitable for complete beginners. On a calm day, there isn’t a ripple on the water, particularly in the calm bay towards the head of the fjord.

Boat trip to Vigur – This tour best done in summer when the birds are on the island; you will get the chance to see puffins, eider ducks, arctic terns and skuas, as well as sheep and seals. It takes around 45 minutes to get to the little island of Vigur by boat then the tours usually offer a chance to wander around and explore, as well as coffee and cake at the little cafe and a demo of the construction of eider down pillows. One family looks after the island and makes their income from the sale of eider down.

Walking up to the hanging valley – from Ísafjörður town you can look across the fjord and your eye is drawn to the shallow hanging valley directly across from you. It’s an easy and flat walk to go around the head of the fjord along the edge of Route 61, and a not-too-challenging uphill section into the valley itself. From here, you get spectacular views down to the town and out to sea, and if you hunt around you will find a little surprise left by previous walkers….

Swimming pool – an unusual (for Iceland) indoor pool, this feels rather like a school pool until you realise it still has a hot tub and drinks can be brought out to you if you fancy a cup of coffee or juice – a nice touch I’ve not come across at any other Icelandic pool.

Westfjords heritage museum – good for a rainy day, this is a collection of maritime artefacts and details of the fishing traditions in the Westfjords. Salted fish is often laid out just outside, drying in the sun.

Top place to eat: Tjöruhúsið – down at the harbourside is the best restaurant I have come across in Iceland, and I don’t say that lightly. The freshest of fresh fish, brought out to your table in the pan surrounded by the vegetables fried with it, seasoned to perfection. It’s also cute and rustic inside, with big tables so you’ll be sharing with some other people, which all adds to the authentic atmosphere. Sadly this amazing restaurant is only open from easter and through the summer months.

Swimming in Reykjavik

Forget the Blue Lagoon; with Iceland’s wealth of geothermal energy the municipal pools in Reykjavík are the places to go to relax and rejuvenate for a much more reasonable price. Don’t let cold weather put you off, it’s even nicer sinking into a hot tub when the air temperature is below zero and there is snow on the ground. However, be aware that showering naked before entering the pools is always obligatory, and in places enforced by staff who monitor the shower areas. You soon get used to it, and it makes your pool experience feel so much cleaner. Liquid soap is provided. You also generally need to leave your shoes in a shoe rack outside the changing area to ensure no dirt gets inside. Lockers usually aren’t coin operated, just use the key provided to lock and unlock. Likewise, hair dryers usually aren’t coin operated either, and swimming costume dryers are often provided.

Municipal Pools in Reykjavík:

  • Laugardalslaug – this is Iceland’s largest pool, with two 50m pools (one indoor, one outdoor), a flume and children’s pool, several hot tubs ranging from 38 to 44°C, a saltwater hot tub, sauna and stream room.
  • Sundhöllin – this used to be an indoor only pool, with hot tubs on the roof and male/female sunbathing terraces, but has recently been extended to include a full outdoor complex too.
  • Vesturbæjarlaug – a bit of a walk to the West of the city, but a lovely pool with all the usual hot tubs and steam rooms.
  • Lágafellslaug – in the suburb of Mosfellsbær north out of the city along Route 1, this is a modern pool with flumes, hot tubs, a children’s pool and a lap pool.
  • Álftaneslaug – on the Alftanes peninsula, this is the only pool with a wave machine in Iceland. There’s also the usual lap pool, with a hot tub raised above it, sauna and steam room.
  • Árbæjarlaug – a pleasant entry on a cold day as you get into the indoor pool under a glass domed roof and swim outside. The children’s pool and lap pool are joined so you don’t have to venture out into the cold air. The entry to the flume is also very close to the water. Hot tubs require a quick sprint outside though. There is also an indoor pool.
  • Kópavogslaug – a 50m swimming pool and all the usual hot tubs, plus some bonus hot tubs at the far end of the lap pool.

Bonus pools….

The Blue Lagoon – if you really want to see what all the fuss is about, be prepared for some long queues to get in, even if you’ve pre-booked. The easiest way to do the Blue Lagoon is just after arrival, or just before departure, as certain Reykjavik Excursions coaches go via the Blue Lagoon on the way between Reykjavik and the airport. There is luggage storage available. The usual Icelandic washing rules apply in the changing rooms, but it’s not enforced as strongly as in the municipal pools.

Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach – an unusual yellow sand beach amongst the black volcanic sand elsewhere, this beach has been imported from Morocco. We took a look in winter, when the place was deserted and icy, but in the summer there is a hot tub along the back of the beach and you can swim in the sea if feeling brave.