I had the chance to tour Iceland for two weeks in 2016 and discovered a country steeped in culture and tradition. From angry volcanoes to small, once booming, fishing towns: join me on a trip to some of the small museums in Iceland and discover the personal stories behind some of Iceland’s most important events.
Eyjafjallajökull visitor centre
It’s cold but sunny as I pull over at the Eyjafjallajökul visitor centre, about 7 km outside Skógar. Nothing reminds me of the devastating ash floods that covered the area back in 2010 and caused one of the biggest flight disruptions all over Europe. All looks peaceful now.
The family farm of Þorvaldseyri had front-row seats during the Eyjafjallajökul volcano eruption. Inside the small reception area, pictures of spitting ash clouds and the roaring aftermath explain the dramatic history of volcanism in Iceland.
The highlight however is a 20 minute video that tells you the family’s history as they had to overcome the lack of electricity, water and safety in the days following the eruption.
We all remember the huge flight disruptions, but this is something else. This is the story of the people that were affected the most and the story of the overwhelming power of nature.
It’s also the story of the community spirit that reigns in rural Iceland. Days after the eruption, neighbours flocked together to help with the massive clean-up and recovery, determined to rebuild everything! Well worth a visit!
Earthquake centre in Kópasker
Another example of the devastating power of nature can be found in Kópasker, a tiny village on Iceland’s north coast. Its inhabitants all remember the big earthquake that took place in 1976 and measured 6.3 on the Richter scale.
The village school has nowadays been turned into a small centre dedicated to the event and provides information about plate tectonics and geology. You can even get locked into a small cabin that gives you an idea about the strength of the earthquake.
The person on site was one of the people that had to be evacuated back in 1976. She was very keen to tell her story, making my visit to the centre a very personal experience!
Herring Era museum
If you would have told me that one day I’d visit a museum dedicated to herring, I would have severely doubted your judgement of me. But the Herring Era museum in Siglufjördur is so steeped in history that I just “had to go” if I wanted to learn more about the history of Iceland. It is Iceland’s largest maritime museum after all! To my surprise, it is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited! (together with the Fram museum in Oslo)
Set in 3 different buildings, using photographs, videos and artefacts, the museum recreates the heydays of the early 20th century when Siglofjördur was a booming and busy herring station and one of the highlights of Iceland’s economy.
It is easy to navigate, with plenty of explanations. You get an idea about life on board the vessels or visit the rooms where the “herring girls” worked during summer. The European Museum Award it received in 2004 is well deserved!
Folk music centre
Siglofjördur might be small in size, it definitely gives you a good introduction into earlier life in Iceland. The Folk music centre shows you instruments that were once very popular, but are now only used during folkloric events. The videos let you listen to popular Icelandic folk songs and if you’re good, you might even have a go at one of the many forgotten instruments!
I urge everybody to go beyond Reykjavik and the Golden Circle and discover some of the small museums in Iceland.
The heart of Iceland lies in the tiny, sometimes isolated, fishing towns. It lies in the personal stories of the Icelandic people.
Have a great trip!