Herring Era Museum – Siglufjörður, Iceland - Atlas Obscura
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Siglufjörður, Iceland

Herring Era Museum

This excellent museum recreates the boom days of the herring rush in the "Atlantic Klondike."  

The northernmost town in Iceland, Siglufjörður (Sigló, for short), is a place that many people never get to see. There’s still only one road in and out of town, and for at least 60 days a year, the sun cannot be seen above the horizon because of the surrounding mountains. 

Yet from the 1920s until 1969, the seaside village was a boomtown in the summertime, thanks to what Icelanders like to call “the herring adventure.”

At the time, salted herring was a staple of the European diet, and the cold waters of northern Iceland were rich with this “silver of the sea.” The bountiful herring fisheries transformed Iceland’s economy. Sigló was at the center of the herring rush that swept Iceland, earning it the nickname “the Atlantic Klondike.” The once sleepy village ballooned to over 3,000 inhabitants, whose life revolved around herring. Salting stations and factories sprung up all over town. 

But by 1969, the industry had completely depleted the over-exploited herring catch. The factories were abandoned and the town’s population dwindled (it’s now home to about 1,300 people). The herring adventure had come to an end.

Those former glory days are brilliantly recreated at the Herring Era Museum, which paints a picture of what life was like for the people who flocked to this tiny northern Iceland village every summer to earn a living. The museum opened in an old abandoned salting station and was built up over several years to span five buildings, including a freezing plant, salthouse, factory, and boathouse. 

While roaming through the period living quarters it’s easy to forget you’re in a museum, because it feels more like an old boarding house that’s frozen in time. In the boathouse, you can climb aboard the larger fishing boats to see how things worked both above and below deck. It brings this chapter of Iceland’s history to life.

Know Before You Go

The road to Sigló is tricky, mostly due to a one-way tunnel inside of a mountain pass, so visiting as part of a tour is recommended. If you're short on time, you can fly from Reykjavik's city airport into Akureyri and take the one-to-two hour ride from there.

Try out the Hotel Siglo if you do have time to spend a few days. It's owned and operated locally and the food is delicious. Also, halfway between Akureryi and Siglo is a beer spa that is definitely worth a stop.