A day in Hólmavík: Folklore and whale watching without the crowds
Hólmavík is an overlooked curiosity. The village of 350 people can claim ‘folklore’ as a major industry and occasionallyoffersland-based view of whales feeding close to shore in the large Steingrímsfjörður fjord.
Hólmavík is traditionally a fishing village and service town for the Strandir region – hence, the large Krambúðin supermarket. In more recent years, however, the town has re-invented itself by telling stories from the past.
The Folklore Institute of University of Iceland, based in Hólmavík, lends the village a great deal of authority in research field where Iceland offers unique insights. Recent studies have explored the life of vagabonds in old Iceland’s agricultural society and the outrageous, bizarre, and brief Witchcraft Era. Over a 30-year period, from 1654, one-hundred people were burned alive for supernatural practices. Unlike in Europe, the ‘witches’ were mostly men, many in the Westfjords region.
The Museum of Witchcraft
The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft
The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraftoffers somewhat of a redemption for the victims of the wicked era: through stories and recreation of objects the museum celebrates the practice of witchcraft. Look out for the necropants, magical pants made by skinning a dead man from the waist (re-created from folktale descriptions, no bodies were skinned for the making of the exhibition). Open year round, with a restaurant attached.
Sheep Farming Museum
To this day, sheep outnumber humans in Iceland. The stoic, resilient animal kept the nation alive, with its meat, milk and wool. The Sheep Farming Museum tells the story, surprisingly complex and layered. Located 10-minute drive from Hólmavík, the museum hosts temporary exhibitions on local issues such as the whereabouts of elves and incidents of polar bears arriving from Greenland.
Whale watching in Hólmavík
Hólmavík offers whale watching without the crowds and the rarity of humpback whales and orcas feeding together. The two species are not spotted together on every tour – humpbacks are more common – but the possibility makes Hólmavík a very promising destination for whales.
And ideal for children and people prone to seasickness. The narrow and calm Steingrímsfjörður fjord is sheltered from the high seas. Tours also tend to last less than three hours.
At the time of writing, Láki Tours
Láki Toursoffered tours from June to October.
Land-based whale watching
Land-based whale watching can be a pleasant addition, or alternative. All you need is binoculars, luck and a keen eye. Locals often know where the whales are residing on a given week – a good place to start is Rte 68 by the Sheep Farming Museum. Look out for spouts or the fin of a humpback (orcas are too far out). If nothing else, the walk along the beach is lovely.
Other ideas for Hólmavík
- Soak in the public pool, Sundlaug Hólmavíkur, large for Westfjord standards: three leisure pools and a 17m swimming pool.
- Walk up the mountain (hill?) Kálfanesborgir for a view over Steingrímsfjörður. Follow the easy path from the campground; come back the same way or loop by walking towards the ocean on the other side.
- Make a day-tour up the rugged Strandir costaline, where hot pools and remote cafés reward the far traveler.