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  • Writer's pictureEinar Páll Svavarsson

Stykkishólmur old fishing town Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Updated: Jun 17

Stykkishólmur old houses
The neighborhood by the harbor in Stykkishólmur has many beautiful old houses

Stykkishólmur is a town on the north coastline of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Western Iceland. Including the town and surrounding rural area, the municipality's population is around 1400 as of January 2022. Many people who visit Iceland and travel around the country may find it surprising that several of the country’s towns and villages have a short history. Although the settlement in Iceland started around 870, most towns and villages began to develop only around the middle of the 19th century and some even at the beginning of the 20th century. The main reasons for this are the late urbanization and Iceland's continued reliance on agriculture as the main economic base. However, there are exceptions, and one of the more interesting towns with a relatively long history is Stykkishólmur. The town is also s part of the Snæfellsnes Road Trip, which is described in more detail in a separate article.

A town with a natural harbor and rich fishing grounds

Harbor area in Stykkishólmur
A stroll around the old part of Stykkishólmur town by the pier is a joy

We can probably trace the origin of Stykkishólmur to one crucial aspect: a natural harbor. Súgandisey, a small island in front of the town, provides good protection for strong northern winds. This is noticeable even today when you walk around the harbor area and up to the top of the small island. Its iconic lighthouse provides a great view over the town and the Breiðafjörður bay. Because of these excellent conditions, Stykkishólmur became an important trading post early in Iceland's history. Contrary to several other towns and villages around the coast, it was not fishing but trading that played a crucial role in its early history. The area around the coastline in the Breiðafjörður Bay and the various islands had many productive farms that offered commodities of interest to people in England and mainland Europe for several centuries.

A history of trading

The Norwegian house in Stykkishólmur
The Norwegian house in Stykkishólmur

The first trading post in Stykkishólmur can be traced back to the early 16th century, even before our rulers at the time, Denmark and the Danish king, implemented the notorious Danish–Icelandic Trade Monopoly (1602–1787). From that time, trading has been at the heart of Stykkishólmur's history. The small village was also one of the official trading districts at the time of the monopoly. As a result, for almost two centuries, you had to go to Stykkishólmur if you had anything to trade or were looking for interesting commodities to buy. However, soon after Denmark abolished the monopoly, Ólafur Thorlacius from Bíldudalur, a small village in the West Fjords, purchased the trading operation in Stykkishólmur, which proved to be a prosperous decision for the town. His son, Árni Thorlacius, who took over all his operations in 1827, was an even greater entrepreneur than his father. Árni became active in trading, fishing, fish processing, and farming. In 1828, he built a large house for his home and companies called the Norwegian House. The marvelous house still stands, having been renovated a few years ago, and accommodates the local museum. It is a must-stop when you visit Stykkishólmur to get a peek into life in 19th-century Iceland.

The Community

Monastery, hospital and church in Stykkishólmur
The monastery of the Sisters of St. Francis, hospital, and the catholic church in Stykkishólmur

Most of the houses and homes in Stykkishólmur today are single-family houses. Although the town has proportionally more old houses than most towns and villages in Iceland, most were built in the sixties and seventies. Many of the older houses are close to the harbor. Most of them have been renovated in recent years and largely contribute to the town's attractiveness. The homes are heated with geothermal heating from a nearby farm owned and operated by Reykjavík Energy, the Reykjavík heating and power plant. With its sustainable energy, the town is thus a part of the green revolution that started in Iceland in the fifties, although the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is in a so-called cold area. This only shows that Icelanders go a long way to find a green and viable solution to their energy needs. Overall, the town is an excellent place to live in, much appreciated by its inhabitants.

Stykkishólmur is a great town to visit with good service for people traveling in Iceland

Stykkishólmur swimmingpool
Stykkishólmur has a good swimmingpool

I always enjoy visiting Stykkishólmur. I have great childhood memories of this beautiful town, having stayed twice at a summer camp with the Sisters of St. Francis. Their progenitors had arrived in Stykkishólmur in 1935 and built a hospital, a preschool, a summer camp for children, and a printer's workshop that they operated for over 80 years. This is one reason you will find a Catholic church in Stykkishólmur, which is located near the former monastery close to the harbor area and now the Fransiscus hotel.

Stykkishólmur church
Stykkishólmur church

The municipality offers services similar to those of residents in most towns and communities in Iceland. It has preschools, both elementary and middle schools, and a library. The old library is now the Library of Water, set up by the internationally acclaimed visual artist and writer

Roni Horn is a unique and exciting museum you should not miss. There is also a music school and sports clubs for the younger generation. The town participates in the high school in the nearby village of Grundarfjörður. Stykkishólmur also has an excellent sports center, a soccer field, and an outdoor swimming pool close to the camping ground. You will also find a variety of accommodations in Stykkishólmur. The harbor still has a central role in the town, and there, you can hop on the ferry to Flatey Island and take tours of the magnificent Breiðafjörður Bay and its many beautiful islands. In addition to service and tourism, the Stykkishólmur economy also relies on the ocean. It has a thriving shellfish processing plant but has otherwise never developed major fish and fishing operations similar to the other towns and villages on the north side of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

If you're planning to tour Iceland in a rental car, make sure to read this article about the type of car that would be best for your trip.


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