Flateyri is the largest settlement in the 2km deep fjord, Önundarfjörður, in the Westfjords of Iceland. Its population is still just under 200 people. Even by the Westfjords’ high standards, Önundarfjörður is known for its sublime beauty, tabletop mountains, and eccentric museums.
The best way to visit this town is by renting a car and making your own way there.
Historically, Flateyri was a trading centre dating back to 1792. In the upcoming centuries, the town became a large support base for Norwegian whalers and shark fisherman. Relic hunters can still visit the ruins of the whaling stations’ extraction chimney, found overlooking the fjord. Due to this booming commercialisation, Flateyri used to be a far larger town, with a population closer to 600 people. Recent history, however, saw Flateyri enter difficult and tragic times.
In the late eighties and early nineties, a fishing quota system was implemented by the Icelandic government to prevent overfishing off the coast. This had a major impact on the industry, economy, and culture of the country. Fishermen and fish processing plants in Flateyri - a town well known for its quaint harbour and bustling sea traffic - began to pull away, taking many smaller jobs with them as they went.
Times were to become harder still.
An avalanche in 1995 struck the village, killing twenty people and destroying 29 homes. Given the tragedy, many residents found life in Flateyri too painful and moved away in a great exodus. A deflecting dam has since been built to protect the remaining residents from future avalanches, standing in a large “A” shape overlooking the village.
This history paints a somewhat bleak picture of Flateyri, an image that does the town no justice. As aesthetically beautiful as it has always been, with seas as bountiful, fishing companies are returning to fish in the Önundarfjörður fjord. Tourists too have been taken in by the small town’s charm. Beautiful hiking trails and a white sand beach are a short drive from the village, as is a popular base for foreign sea anglers.
Flateyri is also famous for its numerous quirky museums. The Nonsense Museum is (as you can imagine) an eclectic collection of pens, matchbooks, police hats, model ships, sugar cubes and more. The Village Museum, often called “The Old Bookstore”, tells the history of the village, including details of the 1995 avalanche, and sells rare second-hand books. Down the road, the Doll’s Museum, founded in 2001, hosts an enormous collection of dolls and dolls' costumes from around the world.
The people of Flateyri are famed for their sense of community, openness, resilience and diversity. Much of the population is made up of immigrants from Thailand, the Philippines and Poland, who now prosper in the rejuvenating fish processing industry. Today, the village now divides its focus between developing tourism and the drying and exporting of cod.