Europe's sunny weather makes for a sorry summer in Reykjavik

While in other parts of Northern Europe, especially Britain and Scandinavia, a heat wave is expected to continue well into July, in Iceland this summer has been gray and wet. This also hurts tourism in Reykjavik.

The stark contrast is no coincidence. High pressure over western Europe alters the jet stream and pushes clouds and rain over the continent's northern posts, causing foul weather in the North Atlantic island nation.

People defy the bad weather and go for a swim in Reykjavik

During June, the month of midnight sun and camping holidays in Iceland, sunshine touched the capital Reykjavik for a total of 70 hours. The temperature reached 13.2 degrees Celsius (56 F) on the warmest day, two degrees shy of Reykjavik's average for the month. In May, it rained every single day. Summer's delayed arrival has spurred a weather forecast obsession and constant disappointment in the world's northernmost capital city.

West Iceland and the Westfjords

An iconic landmark: Kirkjufell Mountain

Kirkjufell Mountain near Stykkisholmur is described as "the most-photographed mountain in Iceland," so it's not exactly the spot with the less tourists in West Iceland. The stop is still well worthwhile, as the waterfalls in the foreground of this iconic landmark allow photographers to capture in one snapshot an impression of the country's never-ending natural wonders.

West Iceland and the Westfjords

Changing skies in Stykkisholmur, West Iceland

Sunny, cloudy, rainy, then rays of sun again: "With the constant changes of weather, you need to know how to improvise to travel in this country," said Kristjan Gudmundsson, managing director of the West Iceland tourism office. The changing light also pushes visitors to continuously take pictures, in a vain attempt to capture the spirit of the 360-degree impressions that engage all senses.

West Iceland and the Westfjords

Epicurean tour in Stykkisholmur

The philosophy of the organizers of the "Stykkisholmur Slowly" tour is to share their passion for the pleasures of their homeland the way their "eccentric, epicurean grandmothers did." Above is a picture of the special dessert they serve at the end of their deluxe pick-nicks: "All you need in a dessert is a lot of cream, sugar and pink," said one organizer — and everyone agreed.

West Iceland and the Westfjords

Awe inspiring: Latrabjarg cliff, Westfjords

When you reach this area, you'll be greeted by a sign indicating that you've reached the "Westernmost point of Iceland and in Europe." Protected by the vertiginous cliffs, millions of birds come to nest in Latrabjarg. Even though they're gone by September, the 14-kilometer-long sea cliff remains an exciting place for a romantic or solitary hike, all year round.

West Iceland and the Westfjords

Raudasandur or Red Sands beach, Westfjords

Sand beaches are actually quite rare in Iceland, but that doesn't mean that thousands of tourists flock to this 10-kilometer expanse of dark golden sand. The location is so remote that you'll most likely have the whole beach to yourself, especially during the down season. Seals like to hang out there during the summer, and it's the territory of Artic foxes as well.

West Iceland and the Westfjords

Abandoned ship, Westfjords

The Gardar BA 64, the oldest steel ship in Iceland, was run aground in 1981 instead of being dismantled once it became unsafe for service. Beached in Skapadalur Valley, this rusty ruin rules amidst an impressive Icelandic backdrop, offering amazing photo opportunities.

West Iceland and the Westfjords

Whale watching

There are about 20 species of whales around Iceland. Shown here are humpback whales traveling as a group around the Westfjords. Seeing such huge creatures submerge to the surface to breathe is an incredibly poetic experience — and the snowy mountainous backdrop surrounding them definitely adds to the beauty of the moment.

West Iceland and the Westfjords

Northern Lights, Westfjords

The best season to see Northern Lights in Iceland is from September to mid-April, as they are the months with long dark nights. The popular yet elusive attraction of the country is even more unpredictable than the weather: The skies need to be clear, and there are nights where the aurora borealis are more active than others.

West Iceland and the Westfjords

Dynjandi waterfall, Westfjords

There are so many waterfalls in Iceland that at some point you almost stop noticing them. But you can't miss the Dynjandi waterfall, known as the "jewel of the Westfjords." The breathtaking series of waterfalls have a total height of 100 meters (330 feet). You can spend hours taking pictures there.

West Iceland and the Westfjords

Mountain biking near Isafjordur, Westfjords

"Around here we rather have niche tourism, people who are more into adventure and that's the form of tourism I'm aiming to develop," said Asgeir Hoskuldsson, aka Geiri, who organizes different types of tours from Isafjördur with his company West Tours. We went biking on one of Iceland's "most dangerous" roads, the Oshlid road, a paved path on the coast that has been closed to cars a few years ago.

Summer is Iceland's main tourist season and many travelers sleep in tents during their stays. The Laugardalur campsite in Reykjavik is seeing slightly fewer guests than in previous years. But manager Oddvar Arnason observed that "most people don't change their means of accommodation after arrival and simply adjust."

Alex Moreno, a 17-year-old camper from Granada in Spain, said he found the brisk climate more pleasant than the boiling weather at home. "Just put on a jacket and it's fine here," he said.

Egill Bjarnason (AP)