I often visit the pretty little villages on the south coast of Iceland, Stokkseyri and Eyrarbakki - where the pace of life is much different than that of Reykjavík, Iceland's capital city, where I live. In this travel-blog, I will be showing you what I find so alluring about Eyrarbakki village, which has got around 570 inhabitants.
Back in the 18th century Eyrarbakki was a very vibrant community and served as a centre for fashion and culture in Iceland. Here you could find one of Iceland's biggest ports and trading centres in Iceland serving the south coast of Iceland all the way to Mt. Lómagnúpur.
Nowadays Eyrarbakki it is so quiet, yet with so much to offer. If you love quaint old colourful houses and a slow pace of life, then Eyrarbakki is the place to visit :)
The most prominent house in Eyrarbakki village is Húsið - the House - which is one of Iceland's oldest houses, built in 1765. It was built back when Eyrarbakki was one of the most vibrant commercial villages in Iceland and Danish merchant families lived in it for some 200 years.
Viðeyjarstofa house, on Viðey island, just outside of Reykjavík, is the oldest concrete house in Iceland, built in 1753-1755 - and the old wooden house in Aðalstræti 10 in Reykjavík is considered to be the oldest house on the mainland, as it were, built in 1762. You can visit that old house on the Reykjavík walking tour.
Now, back to Húsið in Eyrarbakki. Back then the majority of Icelanders lived in turf houses and the modern wooden house Húsið was the centre for European art and culture in my country. From 1847-1916 Húsið was one of the greatest manors in Iceland.
Almenna verslunarfélagið - Det almindelige handelskompagni, which was the largest trading company in Copenhagen back then, transported the kit house Húsið in 1765 from Denmark and erected it as a home for their store manager. It remained as such until 1925/26. The name, Húsið, refers to it being the only timber residence in Eyrarbakki at the time.
West of Húsið - immediately to the left when looking at Húsið from the street - you will notice a green painted house, the Assistentahús house, built in 1881, where the owner of the store and his clerks lived. A connecting annex lies between Húsið and the Assistentahús house.
In a small house behind Húsið you will see the Eggjahúsið or the House of Eggs, where you can visit the Peter Nielsen collection of birds and eggs. Peter Nielsen was the store manager of the old store and collected birds and the eggs from Icelandic birds.
After the store manager and trading moved to nearby Selfoss in 1926 Húsið came into the possession of the National bank. In 1932 it became the private property of Halldór K. Þorsteinsson and Ragnhildur Pétursdóttir in Háteigur in Reykjavík and was used as a summer cottage for a while. Ragnhildur Halldórsdóttir inherited Húsið after her parents' demise.
Friends of my family, Pétur Sveinbjarnarson and Auðbjörg Guðmundsdóttir, bought Húsið in 1979 and we visited it often - once we stayed over in this wonderful old timber house - and I have such fond memories from here.
After the lady of the house, Auðbjörg, sold Húsið it came into the possession of the State Treasury in 1992. A large amount of money was used for refurbishing it and 3 years later, in 1995, it opened up as a heritage museum - the Árnessýsla Heritage Museum - the House at Eyrarbakki - and is now open to visitors during the summer months and upon appointment.
The house Húsið is the main showpiece - you can roam around it and have a peek into different rooms to see the living conditions of people back then. Here you will notice the big difference in the living conditions of the owners and the servants. Visiting this house feels like the inhabitants just stepped out for a moment.
In the beautiful drawing room, you will see photographs from the history of Húsið and trading in Eyrarbakki. Wedding ceremonies are popular in this room and I can for sure understand why.
The Assistentahúsið house has 6 exhibitions on two floors, exhibiting household things from Árnessýsla county - here you can see many an exquisite artefact and carvings. Along with some more run-of-the-mill objects.
One of the exhibitions showcases church artefacts with an altar and an altarpiece. At another exhibition, you will learn about the immigration of Icelanders to the New World.
At yet another exhibition you will see objects from the Lefolii-store, but a model of the Vesturbúðin store of the Danish Lefolii-store is on display outside by the memorial of drowned fishermen in Eyrarbakki.
By the model of the Lefolii store, you will find the memorial of drowned fishermen and those lost at sea by Eyrarbakki. I call the location of such monuments the heart of the villages in my country.
Every sea-side village and town in Iceland has got a memorial of this sort and I seek them out on my travels in my country and pay my respect.
Fishing kept the Icelandic nation alive through the centuries and the ocean has claimed many a life, leaving grief-struck families ashore. These monuments remind us of how harsh the living conditions were in Iceland. Do stop for a while and pay homage to these memorials during your visit.
On the grounds of the memorial and the model, archaeological excavations are taking place (2017). From here you can also visit a viewpoint for a beautiful view of the sea.
You will find a couple of other museums in Eyrarbakki like Kirkjubær, which is a small house from 1920, where you can learn about the life of the common people in Eyrarbakki from 1920-1940. And the Eyrarbakki Maritime Museum, where you can learn about the lives of the inhabitants of Eyrarbakki from 1850-1950.
The inhabitants of Eyrarbakki have for sure put their pride into welcoming visitors to their village.
In one of the colourful little houses in Eyrarbakki, you will notice a small convenience store. This is Verslun Guðlaugs Pálssonar - the convenience store of Guðlaugur Pálsson, which Guðlaugur managed here at Sjónarhóll from 1919 until he died in 1993 at 97! Before opening up his store in this quaint little grey house with a red roof Guðlaugur had been running his store for 2 years at another location in Eyrarbakki.
This little store, Laugabúð, looks almost exactly like it did all these years ago and visiting it is like stepping back in time. Guðlaugur was a legend and won the Order of the Falcon for spending most of his life, all in all, 76 years, behind the counter. He never used a calculator, but added and subtracted in his mind using only a pencil.
The counter from the store is on display at Húsið, but stepping into the store is really like stepping into a small museum.
I pop into the store when I see that it is open and buy a couple of things and reminisce. Last time I bought an excellent book on Hvítá river for a very good price. The store is now mostly open weekends.
Magnús Karel Hannesson bought the store and renovated it. I asked him to pose for me in my photo above like the previous owner had done when he was alive.
The lovely couple Valgeir Guðjónsson and Ásta Kristrún Ragnarsdóttir live at Bakkastofa in Eyrarbakki village. You might remember them from my travel-blog Saga Music 101 - the Icelandic Viking Sagas portrayed in Songs. They visit Reykjavík from time to time with their wonderful Saga Music 101 Show.
Valgeir and Ásta at Bakkastofa offer you an unforgettable visit to their quiet little village in which they live.
Groups of over 20 people can enjoy their show at the Old Fish Factory Venue across the street from Bakkastofa, but groups of less than 20 people can enjoy their show at the couple's home, Bakkastofa.
Here you can enjoy music and storytelling and generally bask in good company, but Ásta is a fantastic storyteller and Valgeir is a very well-known musician and used to belong to one of Iceland's most popular bands, Stuðmenn.
Ásta and Valgeir are extremely nice and lovely people, so do pay them a visit. And you can visit them for An Enchanted Christmas Eve and New Years Adventure, where Ásta and Valgeir will sing and play for you and tell you local stories, joined with a dinner at Rauða húsið restaurant in Eyrarbakki.
When I visited Eyrarbakki during their village festival on Midsummer Day I met Valgeir and Ásta in the village church, Eyrarbakkakirkja (1890), where Valgeir was performing. They welcomed me with open arms and gave me such good compliments on my travel-blog that I will never forget it - they are for sure an extraordinary couple :)
In Eyrarbakkakirkja church you will see an altarpiece painted in 1891 by the Danish Queen Louise, the queen of King Christian IX (who by the by was the great-great-grandmother of Queen Margaret II in Denmark, Queen Elizabeth II in England and King Harald V in Norway).
When the architect of the church, Jóhann Fr. Jónsson, sailed to Copenhagen to get wood for the church, he met up with the King and Queen of Denmark, and the Queen promised to paint an altarpiece for Eyrarbakkakirkja church. That is how it came about that we have a royal altarpiece in this beautiful church :)
In one location, when you enter Eyrarbakki village on the west side, you will encounter this sign by the shore pointing out that next stop straight south from the point your a standing on is the South Pole.
In Eyrarbakki, as you leave the village on the east side, you will find on your right-hand side the oldest still operating primary school in Iceland, established in 1852.
And as you drive a little bit further out of the village you will notice a large white building also on your right-hand side. This is Litla-Hraun prison, the largest maximum-security prison in Iceland, established in 1929. The oldest building of the prison was originally erected to house a hospital for this area.
The drive to Eyrarbakki village from Reykjavík city is 53 km via route 1 south and route 39, which we call Þrengslin. Þrengslin is a less travelled road, with a sign showing you the direction of Þorlákshöfn village, where you can f.ex. join a Horse riding family tour.
You can rent a car in Reykjavík and drive to Eyrarbakki in less than an hour. On the way you will pass Raufarhólshellir lava cave, so why not pop in for an hour's guided tour of the very colourful lava cave. You will actually be driving over a section of the cave for a moment.
Eyrarbakki and its neighbouring village Stokkseyri are located between two massive glacial rivers, Ölfusá river, which is Iceland's largest river by volume, and Þjórsá, Iceland's longest river.
The distance between these two villages is only 6.1 km - which is around 8 minutes of driving. We locals jokingly refer to these villages, Stokkseyri and Eyrarbakki, as Stokkseyrarbakki as we regard them as a pair :)
After visiting Eyrarbakki village I would recommend a visit to Stokkseyri - where you can visit the Wildlife Museum, the Ghost, Elves and Northern light's Museum and Þuríðarbúð, a replica of a fishermen's hut, made of turf and rocks, which by the way belongs to Byggðasafn Árnesinga - Húsið.
In another travel-blog, I will be showing you more interesting sights along the south coast of Iceland. This is a semi-circle which will take you to ring-road 1 again, where you can continue on your travels to the most interesting sights of Iceland.