With a population of 1,150, Stykkishólmur is a small but busy town in western Iceland. Its roots go back to the late sixteenth century with the establishment of a trading post. Nowadays, some of those old houses remain, though you’re more likely to see single-family homes from the 1960s and 1970s. You might also notice the local church, nine-hole golf course, and inviting restaurants and cafés. Everywhere you turn, there’s more to see. Here are five things to know about Stykkishólmur.
- Helgafell Holy Mountain is the town’s main attraction.
As its name would suggest, this is an important mountain. At 240 feet tall, its summit offers a great view of Breidafjordur Bay. According to folklore, first-timers who climb the mountain without looking back or talking will be granted three wishes (as long as they face east and keep their wishes secret, of course).
- Stykkishólmur's museums are all worth visiting.
The three museums in Stykkishólmur are all worth a visit. The most popular is the Volcano Museum. Sadly, it’s not located inside a volcano, but it has an impressive artwork display as well as items related to volcanoes and eruptions. Managed by venerable volcanologist Haraldur Sigurðsson, the museum also hosts a series of daily talks.
Then there’s the Norska Húsið (Norse House). Originally built with Norwegian timber in 1832, the museum contains many nineteenth-century artifacts that offer a glimpse into life in Stykkishólmur back then.
Don’t forget the Library of Water, a former library housing Roni Horn’s art installation of twenty-four water columns, each from a different glacier in Iceland.
- Stykkishólmur runs on geothermal heating.
As part of Iceland’s green energy revolution, the town runs on geothermal energy. The many volcanoes in the vicinity generate this energy, which is then harnessed and provided to residents through Reykjavik Energy (a power plant in the Icelandic capital). What’s more, Stykkishólmur was one of the first European towns to be EarthCheck certified.
- The driest month is June.
Although there’s a substantial amount of rainfall, Stykkishólmur’s climate is fairly temperate. If you’re deciding when to visit, your best bet is June, when precipitation is limited to an average of 1.65 inches. Other months are far wetter — rainfall reaches its highest point in October, when the average precipitation is 3.65 inches. Temperatures in the summer hover at about 50°F, while winter temperatures can go as low as 25°F.
- You can take a boat tour in Stykkishólmur and pretend you’re a fisherman.
You can see puffins and seals frolicking in the sea, or take a bird-watching tour followed by a fresh scallop tasting. You can even catch cod or pollock, have it filleted, and then take it home to cook. If you're lucky, you may even see some of Iceland's other wildlife.
Stykkishólmur is a close-knit community, and even though its origins go back centuries, it’s a modern town with an energy plan that could pave the way for other Icelandic — and European — communities in the future.