Húsavík is a historically important village in Iceland. Swedish explorer Garðar Svavarsson, who discovered that Iceland was an island, spent one winter at Húsavík in 870 – four years before settler Ingólfur Arnarson arrived in Iceland – and named the island Garðarshólmi. There are many Swedish influences in Húsavík, such as the name of the town which translates to House Bay, which likely refers to the house built by Garðar Svavarsson.
Over the centuries, Húsavík became an important fishing centre and an export harbour for sulphur from Þingeyjarsýsla county. Today, the town is a tourist destination. Known for its whale-watching, interesting museums, and references from popular culture – not to mention its relative closeness to some great hiking and other natural attractions – Húsavík is a wonderful place to visit. Here‘s how to spend your day there.
Although you can go whale watching in most large towns in Iceland, Húsavík has the benefit of being only a short sailing time away from the open sea, where more species of whales reside rather than in fjords and bays. Humpback whales, minke whales, pilot whales, and sperm whales are often sighted. Because of the deep waters in the bay, there is also a higher chance of seeing rare species like the basking shark, the northern bottlenose whale, and the beluga! You can even see blue whales, the largest mammals on earth, who live mostly in the ocean north of the country. Beginning in late April through early September, there is a possibility of seeing puffins. Many tour companies offer a combination whale and puffin watching tour during this time of the year. Factor in the rich birdlife in North Iceland, and you will see why Húsavík is many a nature lover’s idea of paradise.
Visit a museum
If you have not had your fill of whales, then good news: Húsavík also has a museum dedicated to these great sea mammals. If you want to learn more about whales, the Húsavík Whale Museum is the place to go. It has eight exhibition rooms, and eleven skeletons are on display, including one of a 25m-long blue whale.
If you‘ve had enough of sea creatures, you can check out the Húsavík Cultural House. There are two permanent exhibitions: the district‘s folk collection, “Daily Life and Nature – 100 years in Þingeyjar Counties” and the Maritime Museum. You will find photography, art, and other cultural artefacts from Húsavík and the surrounding villages.
Húsavík is also home to The Exploration Museum, which is dedicated to the history of human exploration, from the early explorers to the exploration of space. That‘s right – space! Many don‘t know that in the 1960s, American astronauts came to Iceland to train for their missions to the moon by walking through the otherworldly Icelandic terrain. The Exploration Museum highlights not just these explorers of the final frontier but also the Viking Age explorers who discovered and settled Iceland.
Get out of town for a walk or a hike
It always feels strange to recommend leaving a town when promoting a town. But this is the case in Iceland: it‘s a shame to be so close to some of Iceland‘s beautiful nature. There are a few hiking spots close to the town. There is a trail that begins at the end of Skálabrekka that leads up to an observation deck that overlooks Húsavík. It‘s a relatively quick and simple hike.
Húsavík is also part of the Diamond Circle, North Iceland‘s answer to the Golden Circle. Some of the attractions are a short drive from Húsavík, such as Ásbyrgi canyon. The wooded area surrounded by steep canyon walks makes for a perfect hike. A little further on is Dettifoss Waterfall, another attraction of the Diamond Circle and one of the most powerful waterfalls in all of Europe. On either side of the fall are relatively easy (approximately 3.5 km) out and back trails.
Like most Icelandic towns, Húsavík has a great swimming pool. Complete with a children‘s pool, two hot tubs, and waterslides, the pool is a perfect stop during your day in Húsavík. It‘s the best place to chat with locals, relax, and soak up the (hopefully nice) weather.
But let‘s say you want a more high-end relaxing experience in the water. Then you just need to head to the north side of town to GeoSea Geothermal Sea Baths. It’s a natural seawater spa with beautiful views of Húsavík’s mountain range, Skjálfandi bay, and the arctic circle on the horizon. The residents of Húsavík have been harnessing the local geothermal energy and water for decades. GeoSea combines mineral-rich sea water with the geothermal heat from the Earth‘s core. The minerals and heat are known to rejuvenate and soothe skin and muscles.
Ja Ja Ding Dong
Icelanders go crazy for Eurovision. And to everyone’s delight, Netflix released a movie in 2020 titled Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. The film not only included former Eurovision contest songs and artists but took place in the small fishing village of Húsavík. American and British actors – notably Will Ferrell, Rachael McAdams, and Pierce Brosnan – played Icelanders, despite their laughably bad accents.
Húsavík has embraced its role in the comedy. On the east side of town, you can find an exhibition that displays photographs, costumes, and more memorabilia from the filming of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. Next to the exhibition in the Húsavík Cape Hotel is a bar named after a song in the movie: Ja Ja Ding Dong.
After a day of exploring Húsavík’s past, its nature, and its culture – why not enjoy a drink at Ja Ja Ding Dong?