The village of the visiting artist
On a summer night – when the bookstore is open late and people stroll from the three cafes on Main Street – it is hard to label Flateyri a tiny village.
The official register is 180 people, living on a sandbar in the stunning Önundarfjörður, some 20 kilometers from the Westfjord capital Ísafjörður. In reality, however, it is a different place over summer as houses are summer cottages and AirBnBs. Traditionally a fishing village, Flateyri has successfully blended its seafaring heritage with tourism.
Hafnarstræti: Main Street
Hafnarstræti, from the church to the fish plant, is the heart of Flateyri.
First up, is the newest building in Flateyri - the 2023 campus for Flateyri Folk High School, a non-formal residential school based on a Nordic model teaching life skills and community work to gap-year youth.
In a yellow tin-clad building with a cowboy-style logo, Vagninn restaurant is as hip as it seems! Open mostly over summer, Vagninn attracts top chefs and musicians. Dishes lean towards the traditionally home-made; at the time of writing their version of plokkfiskur (fish stew) was a rave. (Follow their calendar for concerts and events.)
Next door is Gunnukaffi, a big coffee shop with a small grocery store to the side. Catering is simple and the atmosphere correspondingly welcoming and laid back; this is the place where locals catch up.
Founded in 1914, the Old Bookstore in Flateyri (Gamla Bókabúðin) claims to be ‘the oldest store in Iceland still in traditional operation.’ Second-hand books are sold by the kilo (!) but more importantly for non-Icelandic readers their English selection covers a wide range of translations by Icelandic authors.
Last but not least, reaching the end of Hafnarstræti, the harbor cafe Bryggjukaffi serves home-made cakes and soups, renowned for their speciality fish soup.
Note the adorable street art all over town; it’s twelve different birds, painted by local artist Jean Larson.
History, rich and tragic
Flateyri has been a trading post since 1792 and saw its heyday in the 19th century when it was home to a fleet of decked vessels and the base for shark-hunting and whaling operations. The Bookstore hosts an exhibition covering its rich history.
Modern times have been less kind to its existence: in 1995 a major avalanche killed 20 residents. Again, in 2020, a series of three avalanches caused destruction and a painful shock, bypassing residential houses thanks to avalanche barriers. Since the 2020 event, barriers have expanded further, visible in the mountain hills.
Sea Angling and Kayaking
As elsewhere in the Westfjords, developments in Iceland’s fishing industry have devastated small ports and operations. Local fishermen have instead turned to sea angling and made Flateyri into a leading base for sea-angling tours. Guests, staying for at least one week, howl big species like cod and haddock. Visit Iceland Pro Fishing for more.
Experienced kayakers can rent gear - ask Bryggukaffi for details - for the calm waters of Önundarfjörður. Guided tours were infrequent at the time of writing.
Playgrounds and swimming
The school in Flateyri, located on the northern end, has a large and creative playground. Attached to the school building is the public swimming pool - Sundlaug Flateyrar - open year-round. The swimming pool itself is indoors, but outside are two hot leisure baths.
Experiences around Flateyri
- Strompurinn is a giant red-brick chimney along the beach 2.5 kilometers before arriving at Flateyri. The chimney was built for a whaling smelter, roughly a century ago, that never went into operation.
- Holtsfjara is a quiet beach in Önundarfjörður perfect for a short walk, sea swimming and family fun. The sand is fine and yellow, rivaling the better-known Rauðisandur beach. (Marked on Google Maps as 'Önundarfjörður Pier'.)
- Suðureyri is somewhat a sister town to Flateyri, on the other side of the mountains. Sea angling opportunities and a good outdoor swimming pool.