The Otherworldly Landscape of Vopnafjörður

Guarded by a Firey Dragon

The Otherworldly Landscape of Vopnafjörður

magine discovering a new land in the north in medieval days where you are met by a mighty flying dragon, protecting it. This was the sight that greeted a Nordic seafarer, according to Heimskringla, an Old Norse kings’ saga.

Today, Vopnafjörður stands as a spectacular example of the grand, harsh, but beautiful, Icelandic landscape. It was first settled by Viking seafarers 1100 years ago. The name, meaning, ‘Weapon Fjord’ comes from a settler called Eyvindur Vopni. It also boasts of its own Saga, Vopnfirðinga saga, written around a dispute between local chieftains.

The dragon is Vopnafjörður’s symbol and one of the four ‘landvættir’ – guardians of Iceland pictured on Iceland’s coat of arms.

The wide sandy coastline hosts a myriad of marine life forms and the magnificent cliffs and rocky islets of Vopnafjörður are superb. They culminate in natural wonders such as Skjólfjörur, accessible by driving the old highway east of the village, before it becomes the high pass of Hellisheiði between Fljótsdalshérað and Vopnafjörður and provides a spectacular view.

Vopnafjörður village, picturesque with its colourful old houses surrounded by rocky cliffs and islets, lies on the small Kolbeinstangi peninsula. It was one of Iceland’s major commercial harbours in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the last half century, the fishing industry grew considerably and is the largest business sector in the area today.

Remembering the past
The Kaupvangur museum is located in a large old wooden house down by the harbour. It remembers the thousands of emigrants who fled the region to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries following the devastating Askja volcanic eruption of 1875. It also commemorates brothers Jón Múli Árnason and Jónas Árnason, who wrote several jazzy musicals in the fifties and sixties, which have become classics of Icelandic popular culture.

The historical Bustarfell farm is a regional museum where history comes alive through storytelling and workshops each summer. The same family lived here in a large turf farmhouse from 1532 until 1966. Only a few such farmhouses are preserved today.

A Literary inspiration
One of Iceland’s most renowned novels, ‘Independent People’, by the Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness, was greatly influenced by the struggle of poor farmers in the countryside surrounding Vopnafjörður.

The area is the childhood home of another great figure of 20th century Icelandic literature, Gunnar Gunnarsson, who grew up on Ljótsstaðir. This famous writer wrote about the country life of Iceland, influenced by the people, nature and culture of Vopnafjörður.

Two great salmon rivers flow through the untouched landscape surrounding Vopnafjörður Bay. A cosy geothermal swimming pool with a nice view over the river sits on the banks of the Selá.


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