Cruise ships are welcome visitors in Isafjördur
If you cruise to Isafjördur, you have no doubt embarked on a spectacular journey. Located in the northwestern extreme of the European continent, it is by no means possible to argue that this Icelandic destination is situated along the touristic highroad. Those who choose to travel here are richly rewarded, though. The fjord-rich Vestfirdir (Westfjords) peninsula, where Isafjördur is located, is an Eldorado not only for those who enjoy the great outdoors, but also for “culture vultures” – and fans of swamp soccer.
As you take in the scenery in this corner of the world, you might also give a thought to the journey that the town of Isafjördur has embarked on. Founded some 1,100 years ago, fishing has for centuries supplied the economic base for the local community. Things, however, are changing.
In the early 1900s, the proximity to some of the best fishing grounds around Iceland propelled developments: when novelties such as motorised fishing boats reached Iceland, they were first introduced here. In the years following World War II, the fishing boats grew larger and larger. Then the 1980s arrived – and Isafjördur’s transformation began.
Lowered catch quotas and fishing restrictions were some of the reasons behind the decrease of the importance of the fishing industry in Isafjördur. Although fishing remains important to the local economy, the town is branching out as it encourages new ventures in technology, research and tourism – not least in the form of cruise ships.
There are signs that this area of Iceland is on the right track: the Lonely Planet travel guide recently included the entire Westfjords region in a top list of destinations to visit in 2011.
Maybe this is also the right perspective from which to view Isafjördur’s swamp soccer tournament: the European Swamp Soccer Championship. Held each year since 2005, this somewhat peculiar tournament attracts participants not only from Iceland, but also from many other corners of the world.
With some 4,000 inhabitants, Isafjördur also has a reputation as destination for downhill skiing.
Oceania's Marina and Ponant's Le Boreal berthed in Isafjördur
Isafjördur features two quays able to accommodate cruise ships. The town centre is within walking distance from where cruise ships berth: the distance is some 0.3 miles/0.5 kilometres. Tourist information and taxis are available on disembarkation.
- At Isafjördur’s Maritime Museum, visitors are able to learn everything about fishing and fish processing. Isafjördur’s heydays as a fishing port might be gone, but both fishing and the fish industry still play important roles here. The museum, located a short walk from the cruise quay, is housed in one of Isafjördur’s oldest houses.
- Nearby Bolungarvik (about 10 miles/15 kilometres from Isafjördur) features another museum with focus on the sea: Ósvör Maritime Museum. In Bolungarvik, you will also find the Westfjords Institute of Natural History.
- A must-see within easy access for cruise visitors is Isafjördur’s Old Town, with its narrow streets and houses from the 19th century.
- For an immersion in local culture, visit The Old Hospital – an important element in Isafjördur’s cultural life. In addition to an art gallery, The Old Hospital also accommodates a library and offers Internet access. Nearby is a small park, Jónsgardur.
- Another alternative for the culturally interested visitor is the Edinborg Cultural Centre. Not only does it host concerts and other performances, but also, importantly, the Tourist Information Office.
- The Westfjords Heritage Museum provides an insight into the development of Isafjördur and the surrounding region.
- Isafjördur and the surrounding area is a great place to experience on foot or by bike. The Tourist Information Office (see above) can help with route suggestions and advice on where to rent bikes.
- If you fancy a swim, it might be worth knowing that the Westfjords peninsula (where Isafjördur is located) has approximately one third of Iceland’s coastline. If the waters are too chilly, the town features four different indoor pools.
Spectacular wildlife at sea: a humpback whale greets a cruise ship just off Isafjördur Photo: Haukur Sigurdsson
- This region of Iceland has been bestowed with a spectacular nature that can be either mild or dramatic - or both. In either case, it is worth experiencing in one way or another. Alternatives include horse riding, boat trips, fishing, hiking, and bird watching. A famous place for bird watching is Latrabjarg in the westernmost part of the peninsula.
- If you go hiking, chances are that you will run into one or several natural hot pools. These pools are the result of the geothermal activity of the region.
A range of shore excursions in and around Isafjördur can be available. Examples include:
- Tours to the island of Vigur, known for its picturesque landscape and wildlife – not least when it comes to birds of various species.
- The region surrounding Isafjördur, including its small villages, can be in focus on some excursions. High mountains and deep fjords are included along the way.
- Tours of Isafjördur will explore the history of this town that dates back to Viking times, sometimes including a visit to the West Fjords Maritime Museum (see above, under Do Not Miss).
The distance to Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, is some 280 miles/450 kilometres. Travel west by ship from Isafjördur, and you will find yourself in Greenland sooner than you might have expected.