Húsavík has transformed itself from a placid small town with little appeal to the outside world to a must-see destination for tourists interested in some of the best whale-watching opportunities on the island. While that’s for sure the main draw, the charm of the small town, with tasty restaurants and classic Icelandic hospitality, makes this a destination to consider even if you’re not up for a boat tour.
Húsavík is home to under 3,000 full-time residents, but in the summer the numbers spike dramatically, as Icelanders from other towns, tourists coming in on bus tours, and independent travelers converge on Húsavík’s harbor.
Sights in Húsavík
Hvalasafnið á Húsavík (Húsavík Whale Museum)There are 10 different whale skeletons to check out, as well as a sperm whale jaw bone that is the size of a car.The Húsavík Whale Museum (Hafnarstétt 1, tel. 354/414-2800, 8:30am-6:30pm daily June-Aug., 9am-4pm daily Apr.-May and Sept., 10am-3:30pm Mon.-Fri. Oct.-Mar., 1,400ISK) is a comprehensive museum on Iceland’s most famous marine mammals. The exhibits have been developed and maintained with great care, and the curator clearly has a passion for whales. The museum, which is housed in a huge building that used to be a slaughterhouse, provides information on the whale species that inhabit the waters off Iceland’s coasts as well as whale ecology and conservation. There are 10 different whale skeletons to check out, as well as a sperm whale jaw bone that is the size of a car. It’s incredible to stand next to it. Short films available in English teach about whales, and a library has a large selection of marine-related books. If you’re going to go to one museum in Húsavík, this should be it.
Könnunarsögusafnið (Exploration Museum)
The Exploration Museum (Héðisbraut 3, tel. 354/848-7600, 9am-6pm daily, 1,000ISK) is a great spot to see something a little different in Iceland. The museum focuses on various types of exploration, from Vikings coming to Iceland to Americans landing on the moon. Maps and photographs are on display, and documentaries about Apollo astronauts training in Húsavík before a mission are available in English. It may not sound like it makes sense, but the exhibits work, doing a nice job of tying Viking exploration, Arctic explorers, and astronauts together.
Safnahúsið á Húsavík (Culture House at Húsavík)
The Culture House at Húsavík (Stóragarði 17, tel. 354/464-1860, 10am-6pm daily June-Aug., 10am-4pm Mon.-Fri. Sept.-May, 600ISK) features two fantastic exhibitions that give a window into life in Húsavík over the ages. The first exhibit has a maritime theme and includes a number of boats, many of which were built in Húsavík. Other displays include fishing equipment, tools used for seal and shark hunting, and photos and documentaries in English. The second exhibit focuses on daily life and natural history in the region. Here you can view homemade objects and crafts and learn about subsistence farming. Regional archives and a library are on-site.
Húsavíkurkirkja (Húsavík Church)
Located close to the harbor, the Húsavíkurkirkja (9am-11am and 3pm-5pm daily June-Aug., free) is one of the most significant landmarks in the town. Built in 1907, it stands 26 meters high and has a white exterior with reddish brown trim and a dark green steeple/roof. The interior features strong wood beams, beautiful windows, and red cushioned pews. Icelandic state architect Rögnvaldur Ólafsson designed the church, and all of the wood used to construct it was imported from Norway. The painting behind the altar is revered by town locals. Icelandic artist Sveinn Thórarinsson was commissioned to portray the resurrection of Lazarus for the church. His work incorporated Iceland’s landscape, including mountains and mist from Dettifoss.
Sports and Recreation in Húsavík
The Húsavík Campground (Héðinsbraut, tel. 354/845-0705, mid-May-mid-Sept., 1,200ISK) regularly gets kudos for being a well-maintained, large, and efficient facility that is wildly popular in June and July. The kitchen area is great and the showers are steaming hot. The campground, which is close to the center of town, is situated in an open field with no shelter. Tents and RVs and welcome.
The Húsavík Swimming Pool (Héðinsbraut, tel. 354/464-1144, 9am-7pm Mon.-Fri., 10am-5pm Sat.-Sun., 600ISK) is close to the campsite, which means it can get pretty crowded. Besides the pool, a couple of hot tubs also draw a crowd.
Come to Húsavík for the whale-watching tours. If you leave without getting on a boat to view these gentle giants up close, you’re missing out. The main whale-watching season runs from the middle of May to the end of October, but the high season is June and July. That time is your best chance to see as many as 12 species of whale, with the most common being minke and humpback whales. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot fin whales, orcas, and blue whales. You can always count on sighting dolphins, as they love to hang out close to the bay. Many of the guides are passionate about whales and love relaying stories to tourists about up-close-and-personal encounters.
Three main companies offer whale-watching tours. The tours are about three hours and depart daily.
- Gentle Giants (tel. 354/464-1500, 10,300ISK), April to mid-November
- North Sailing (tel. 354/464-7272, 10,500ISK), mid-March to November
- Salka (tel. 354/464-3999, 9,950ISK), mid-May to mid-September
Bring your camera, plus a pair of binoculars if you’re inclined, and dress warmly, even in the summer. The wind at sea can be punishing.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Iceland.