Raufarhöfn is the northernmost village in Iceland and one of the country's smallest and most isolated villages. The distance to the Arctic Circle is measured in just a few kilometers from here. When you visit this tiny village on the verge of being abandoned, it is hard to imagine that it was once a reasonably large export harbor. It is also hard to imagine what keeps it alive, although fishing and fish processing in small boats are the core means of income. During the herring frenzy which dominated Iceland's economy in the forties and fifties, Raufarhöfn became an important location for salting and processing herring. Processing plants were built, and investments were made in houses and companies. Hundreds rushed to Raufarhöfn because jobs were plentiful and salaries were good. But in the late seventies, herring disappeared because of overfishing, as sometimes happens with fishing stock. The economic base of the village collapsed and has never recovered since then.
Raufarhöfn was also a trading post
Although the distance to the fishing grounds played a role in the village’s development, trade was also a contributing factor. The main reason was the good natural harbor. Therefore, Raufarhöfn was a prominent trading post from the early 19th century and was considered an excellent location for imports and exports. At that time, like other small villages and hamlets close to the Melrakkaslétta peninsula, the village offered necessary services to its residents. But you only need to look at a map of Iceland to realize how isolated and remote this village is and how harsh and exposed the environment is.
A small village in decline
The small village of Raufarhöfn has never really recovered since the herring stock declined. For day-to-day necessities, the distance to other villages is quite far, not to mention the to-and-fro distances to larger towns with more variety and amenities, such as Akureyri. However, having said that, Raufarhöfn is far from being as isolated as many villages in a similar position, such as Utqiagvik in Alaska. These villages have no means of transport other than small airplanes and are thousands of kilometers away from the nearest urban area. But from Raufarhöfn, it only takes about nine hours to drive to Reykjavík, and the roads are getting better every year.
Raufarhöfn is part of a larger municipality, Norðurþing
During the second decade of the 20th century and the upswing years, some of the necessary infrastructures were developed. A school was built in 1939, followed by a church designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, Iceland's most prominent architect, in 1927, and later a large community center. Today, with a population of approximately 180 people as of January 2022, Raufarhöfn is part of the municipality of Norðurþing together with the thriving town of Húsavík. But it still struggles to provide all the essential services expected of a town or village. For those of you who wish to explore the Melrakkaslétta peninsula and the northeast part of Iceland, Raufarhöfn offers a camping site and accommodation, a small café, and a roadside restaurant. Visiting the village is an experience, as is the drive around Melrakkaslétta. And here, you need to remember that even though it is pretty dark during winter, you also have daylight around the clock for weeks on end.