Stykkishólmur

The downtown harbor is worth a stroll, as Stykkishólmur has admirably preserved and maintained its older buildings. Those interested in architectural history should pick up the free brochure Old Stykkishólmur at the travel information center. To continue the walk, head past the ferry landing along a narrow causeway to Súgandisey Island, which protects the harbor and has wonderful views of Stykkishólmur's brightly painted buildings and the islands of Breiðafjörður.

Four kilometers (2 1/2 miles) due south of Stykkishólmur is Helgafell, a conspicuous, knobby hill of columnar basalt, 73 meters (240 feet) high. Helgafell was held so sacred by early pagan settlers -- who believed they would enter it upon death -- that a decree forbade anyone to gaze upon it unwashed. Meaning "Holy Mountain," Helgafell figures prominently in two of Iceland's best-known sagas, Eyrbyggja Saga and Laxdæla Saga. A steep, 10 minute trail leads to the top, which affords great views of Breiðafjörður and surrounding mountains. At the summit are remains of a small stone structure, which may have been a chapel. According to tradition, you are granted three wishes for climbing Helgafell, but only by adhering strictly to these four rules: 1) Don't talk or look back during the climb; 2) Face east while making the wishes; 3) Don't tell anyone what you wished for; and 4) Make your wishes with a true heart. The 1903 church near Helgafell's base is also worth a peek. The turnoff to Helgafell is marked from Rte. 58.

Flatey Island

For most of Icelandic history, Flatey -- measuring a mere 1 x 2 kilometers -- was the commercial hub of Breiðafjörður, peaking in the mid-19th century. Today the island has around 25 colorfully painted homes but only five year-round residents, who like to feel time has passed them by (though it's nice to have cell-phone coverage, too). Visitors simply take in views of Snæfellsnes and the Westfjords, stroll along the low bird cliffs, and keep the world at a manageable distance. The 1926 church is adorned with frescoes painted in the 1960s by Kristjana and Baltasar Samper; the side walls depict scenes from island life, complete with ducks and puffins, while the altarpiece portrays Jesus in a white Icelandic sweater standing over two sheep farmers. The yellow building behind the church, from 1864, is Iceland's oldest, smallest, and cutest library. Visitors in early summer should remain on the lookout for divebomb attacks by arctic terns defending their nesting grounds.

The ferry Baldur (tel. 433-2254; www.seatours.is/ferrybaldur), which connects Stykkishólmur to Brjánslækur on the southern coast of the Westfjords, docks at Flatey four times per day (twice in each direction) from June 10 to August 22. A traveler could, for instance, board the 9am ferry from Stykkishólmur, arriving at Flatey at 10:30am, and return to Stykkishólmur at 1:15pm or 8pm. Departures are more limited outside of summer, but continue year-round. The one-way fare to Flatey is 3,580kr. Passengers taking the full route between Stykkishólmur and Brjánslækur may disembark at Flatey and re-embark later that day -- or the next day -- at no extra cost, even with a car. The ferry has an acceptable restaurant on board.

Flatey's two accommodations are Hótel Flatey (tel./fax 422-7610; www.hotelflatey.is; June-Aug 22, 22,500kr double including breakfast; closed Sept-May), with snug, old-fashioned en suite rooms inside restored warehouses that flank the market square; and the guesthouse run by Ólína Jónsdóttir (tel. 438-1476; 18,000kr house for up to eight persons; 6,000kr per person made-up bed; 4,500kr per person sleeping-bag accommodation; no credit cards; closed Oct-Apr), which has a guest kitchen and breakfast on request. The only restaurant (Jun-Aug Sun-Thurs 8:30am-10pm; Fri-Sat 8:30am-midnight), serving fresh catch, local puffin, and lighter fare, is at Hótel Flatey.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.