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  • Writer's pictureEinar Páll Svavarsson

Siglufjörður the remarkable old herring town the Nothern Region

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

Siglufjörður town
Siglufjörður the herring town in the northern region in Iceland

Geographically, the town of Siglufjörður is an isolated place. It is a narrow fjord a short distance from the Arctic Circle, and is surrounded by steep mountains. The first road built to connect Siglufjörður to the main roads in Iceland, west of the fjord, was in 1940 when the Siglufjörður mountain pass opened. However, all this has changed dramatically in recent years, with a new tunnel from the east side, connecting Siglufjörður to the neighboring town of Ólafsfjörður, along with a new hotel, modern restaurants, and large projects to attract tourism to this beautiful old fishing town. The town is now a place to have in mind if you are looking for a place to stay or visit when planning a vacation in Iceland. Although mentioned in the Book of Settlement, settled by Þormóður Rammi (Thormod the Strong), Siglufjörður is seldom mentioned in written documents up until the middle of the 19th century, when it began to develop as a hamlet or a village.

On the other hand, the location has its advantages. For centuries, the surrounding waters were packed with abundant and valuable natural resources. Moreover, it was a short distance from rich fishing grounds, often filled with cod, halibut, and herring.

The center of the herring frenzy

Houses in Siglufjörður
Houses in Siglufjörður town in the northern region in Iceland

In the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, Siglufjörður was the center of fishing and fish processing adventure; Norwegian entrepreneurs started their first shark-catching ventures here. Understanding the value and volume of the massive herring stock, they also created a herring venture, and Siglufjörður became the primary place of their herring operation; this marked the beginning of the town’s growth and highly fascinating history. Icelanders quickly learned the value of the herring stock and started their ventures in the industry. In the first decades of the 20th century, factories for herring-meal production were constructed left and right, both in the village and on the other side of the fjord. The business was highly profitable, and Siglufjörður became a kind of Klondike town, and the population exploded in the ’30s throughout the ’40s. Siglufjörður has a special place in my heart, as my father was born and raised there during the most active part of the herring frenzy. My great-grandfather also lived there after immigrating from Denmark. My Norwegian grandfather, from my father’s side, lived there almost all his adult life with my Icelandic grandmother, who was born in Siglufjörður and gave birth to 14 children before reaching the age of 40.

Siglufjörður is becoming one of the most exciting urban tourist attractions in Iceland

Herring museum in Siglufjörður
The fascinating Herring museum in Siglufjörður

Today, with approximately 1200 inhabitants, the town is not as isolated as in the past and is connected to the main road with two tunnels, one from the west and one from the east. This makes Siglufjörður a perfect place to stop at. It is one of those beautiful towns in Iceland that people should definitely visit, which is one of the reasons to drive the loop around Tröllaskagi Peninsula when driving the Ring Road. In the last century, the town has experienced dramatic changes, which can be viewed in the fascinating Herring Museum in the middle of the town. At one point, it was the busiest place in Iceland during summer and the center of the booming herring industry; it was the most populated area in the whole country, floating with herring entrepreneurs, workers, ships, and everything that made up the herring boom. Today, it is being transformed into an exciting tourist attraction. A considerable amount of funds is being devoted to hotels, restaurants, ski lifts, golf courses, and museums. In addition, residents are renovating some of the old houses, and the town has finally managed to clean up all the docks and piers that companies built in the ’30 and the ’40s when the herring boom dominated the town.

Today a part of Fjallabyggð municipality

Apartment buildings in Siglufjörður
Old apartment buildings in Siglufjörður town

Siglufjörður is now part of the Fjallabyggð municipality after merging with its neighboring town Ólafsfjörður. The Fjallabyggð municipality offers good service with two kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, excellent sports facilities, and two swimming pools. Most of the houses were built in the ’30s through the ’60s, and are facilitated with geothermal heating. The town has excellent health care and good service for the elderly. Siglufjörður also boosts one of the best skiing slopes in Iceland.


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