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  • Writer's pictureEinar Páll Svavarsson

Neskaupstaður the typical Icelandic fishing town in the East Fjords

Updated: Mar 26, 2023

Neskaupstaður town
Neskaupstaður town in the East Fjords in Iceland

The town of Neskaupstaður, with a population of approximately 1500 as of January 2022, is the easternmost town in Iceland, located by the shoreline, in the small fjord of Norðfjörður. Originally, it was a farm called Nes and was mentioned in the book of settlement as being established by a Viking named Egill the Red in the 9th century. Geographically, Norðfjörður is conveniently protected by all-embracing high mountains and the peninsula Barðsnes that provide good protection against the strong eastern winds, lending the town perfect harbor conditions. But the presence of the high mountains also has a downside, as they make communication difficult. As such, the village didn’t have any real transportation options or connection with other parts of the country until 1949, except by sea. This isolated the otherwise attractive area from other parts of the east as well as the country.

The red town survived the fishing quota system imposed by the government

In the museum house, you will find the Museum of Natural History, Tryggvi Ólafsson's Art Collection, and Seafaring Collection

Neskaupstaður is one of few towns in Iceland where life and the town’s economy still depend almost entirely on fishing, fish processing, and service to the fishing industry. Throughout the centuries, Nes and Neskaupstaður have always had rich fishing grounds nearby and have been fortunate to make sensible decisions in terms of both technical and marketing developments after Icelanders discovered the value of their resources in the 18th and 19th centuries. The town’s fishing industry started developing in the late 19th century, with the arrival of entrepreneurs from Faeroe Island and Norway. It continued to grow until the government imposed the quota-regulated fishing system at the end of the 20th century. The town was smart enough to take advantage of the new quota system while many other towns and villages in Iceland lost their livelihood. In the period between the 19th century and time the fishing quota was imposed, the people in Neskaupstaður, both entrepreneurs and socially driven coop companies, preserved and developed the economy. At the beginning of the 20th century, they used motorboats. Then, they used side trawlers and fishing boats in the forties and large stern trawlers in the seventies. Concurrently, the people and community built ambitious projects related to fish processing. Today, Neskaupstaður is one of the few towns in Iceland that has not only survived the fishing-quota law imposed in the nineties but has enhanced and developed its economy and has one of the largest, impressively profitable, and strongest companies in the fishing industry in Iceland, Síladarvinnslan. It is a fascinating story because the town was always labeled as the red town for political reasons.

Changes in the road and communication

The Norðfjörður fjord is surrounded with mountains

In 1949, a mountain road opened through the Oddskarð mountain pass approximately 700 meters above the sea level, with a short tunnel at the top. The road was steep and difficult to drive through. The view over the south part of the East Fjords was, on the other hand, monumental. Moreover, this road was challenging to drive through in winter. This difficulty saw a dramatic change in 2017, when an eight-kilometer tunnel from Eskifjörður village opened. The tunnel is yet another advantage that will enhance the municipality of Fjarðarbyggð and the eastern region both economically and in terms of inhabitability. It also makes it much more exciting and easier to take the time to drive to Neskaupstaður and Eskifjörður if you are traveling through the Ring Road. Although the town doesn’t necessarily offer various services to tourists, it has a good camping site, accommodations, a store, and a food service.

The town is a typical, modern-day fishing town

Neskaupstaður was a stronghold of socialist and left-wing parties for decades

Neskaupstaður has always been an excellent town to live in, with its strong emphasis on community and family and its welfare-oriented society. It was labeled the red town in the past because it was a stronghold of socialist and left-wing parties for decades. It is still an excellent place to live in today, as it has a strong economy and is home to one of Iceland's most significant fishing companies, Síldarvinnslan. The town offers excellent services to its residents: a good preschool, an elementary school, a middle school, a high school, a sports center, a swimming pool, a library, a community center, a hospital, and a healthcare center. It also has a skiing area at the mountain pass of Oddskarð. Unfortunately, the town has also experienced significant difficulties and natural disasters throughout history. Just before Christmas in 1971, a large avalanche fell on the town, destroying a large part of the buildings and structures of the fishing companies as well as many homes. Twelve people also lost their lives due to this event. It was a devastating blow to the community. Since then, a colossal avalanche defense structure has been built on the mountain slopes above the town. The structure is quite large in proportion to the small village and took years to build. It is absolutely one of the reasons to visit Neskaupstaður village, as the whole structure is quite impressive, and there are hiking trails that go up the hills for viewing.


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