Vopnafjörður is a bay and small village in the northeast of Iceland, located halfway between Þórshöfn, Egilsstadir and Kolbeinstangi Peninsula. 700 people live there all year-round. Vopnafjörður’s nature varies between fertile land, beaches, sharp rocks and mountains. The famous novel Independent People, by Halldór Laxness, was partly inspired by the landscape in Vopnafjörður.
In the fjord, there are three main valleys, Hofsárdalur to the south, Selárdalur to the north, and Vesturárdalur, where there are many rivers full of salmon. On the other side of the fjord, a string of impressive mountains, revealing the mountains Krossavík and Smjörfjöll “butter mountains,” which are the highest. The sandy beach Sandvík is a delightful place. This region is abundant in agriculture even though many farms were left abandoned there in the early twentieth century.
Norwegian Vikings first colonized the Bay in the tenth century. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Vopnafjörður was a port overflowing with activity, and today the fishing industry remains the most predominant activity in the area. You can get an idea of what Vopnafjörður looked like between the eighteenth and the early twentieth century by visiting the museum Bustarfell, about twenty kilometers from the village of Tangi, in the Hofsárdalur Valley. The museum displays a house made of peat; one of the oldest and best preserved in Iceland. The museum is open from June 10th through til September 10th, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Near the museum, there’s a little cafe, a small pen with animals, and also, a path that leads to the “rock fairy”, where there is Icelandic guide available to tell stories and legends about the region. You can see a beautiful view of the fjord from the rock fairy.
The area has no shortage of history regarding Icelandic culture. The writer Gunnar Gunnarsson (1889-1975) grew up in the farm Ljótsstaðir in the Vesturárdalurm Valley, a few kilometers from Vopnafjörður. He had in his time a strong following, especially in Denmark and Germany. You will also find an exhibition presenting the music, theater, and literature by the brothers Jón Árnason Muli and Jónas Árnason, both born in Vopnafjörður. The exhibition, opened in 2008 and is set in a beautiful old renovated building, near the village port and opens daily in summer and by appointment in winter.
Many historic homes are visible in Vopnafjörður, especially around the village square, “plássið”. Near the town shops are the oldest houses in the village: Guðjohnssenshús, also called Jadar, built in 1880; Baldursheimur, “the home of Einar” (a young village doctor who died suddenly after serving only three years in the community), built in 1883 and Kaupvangur the following year. All buildings are the design of architect Frederic Bald, who is known to have supervised the construction of the parliament in Reykjavik, Althing. The village has a grocery store, two cafes, a school, a gym, a swimming pool (of course!), a bank, a camping site, a hotel, a few guesthouses and even a small airport, which often connects the village to Akureyri.
One feature of Vopnafjörður is its relationship with the United States and Canada -many Icelanders from this region emigrated there between 1850 and 1914, hoping to find a better life. The Vopnafjörður of emigration center helps Icelandic-Americans and Icelandic-Canadians trace back their ancestors, and encourages them to learn more about their history.
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