A Few Towns
Akureyri is the capital of northern Iceland and the third largest town in Iceland, with about 18,000 residents. Akureyri lies on the west side of the head of the fjord Eyjafjörður. At the innermost section of the fjord, the “Akureyri Puddle” or “The Puddle” is, by nature, one of the best harbours in the country. Certainly, above all else Akureyri owes its thanks to the good harbour for its existence but Akureyri is an important centre of the fishing industry.
It is uncertain when settlement and commerce began in Akureyri, but the main trading centre of the north, which was at Gásar 14 km north of the town, has existed since at least 1400. The settlement has, little by little, moved farther up to the head of fjord. One cannot speak of a permanent settlement before the middle of the eighteenth-century. Initially, it was established as a trading centre: there is still a lot of trading done there as it is close to a large country population.
There is a great interest in gardening in Akureyri. Gardens decorate the town and, alongside tall trees (by Icelandic standards), they give a beautiful appearance to the town in summer.
Akureyri is sometimes called “the school town”, and educational and cultural life has long been strong there. It has two secondary schools, a college of art, a school of music and a university. There is an active theatre, various choral groups and a symphony orchestra. It is safe to say that the cultural and artistic life of the town is in bloom.
Sporting life is varied: two football clubs are run in the town, as well as swimming, ice-skating, and golf clubs to name but a few. Furthermore, Akureyri is the best skiing centre in the country.
The church is located at a high point of the town, and the steps leading to up it are the longest church steps in Iceland.
With approximately 3,400 residents, Fljótsdalshérað is East Iceland's most populous municipality. Egilsstaðir is the largest urban center there and the administrative and transportation centre of the eastern part of Iceland.
The ring road around Iceland passes through the town, and the distance from Egilsstaðir to Reykjavík via the southern or the northern stretch of highway one is practically the same.
Egilsstaðir is located in the Fljótsdalur district, on the eastern end of Lagarfljót. There are many stories about “kynjaskepnur”, that is, strange animals or unknown phenomena, in Lagarfljót. One of these stories concerns the Lagarfljót Worm, or “Lagarfljótsormur”, that is thought to live in the river and show itself only very rarely. The legend of the worm is first mentioned in the Icelandic Annals of 1345. When his hump surfaced out of the river, it was thought to bode great news. More recently, gasses that are forced up out of the water have been discovered in two places and it is thought that this may offer an explanation of the Lagarfljót Worm.
At the southern end of Lagarfljót lies Hallormsstaðaskógur, the largest forest in Iceland. A forestry station was established there in 1903, where trees are cultivated and experiments with foreign varieties of trees are carried out.
With approximately 2,600 residents, Ísafjörður is the largest town in the West Fjords. The town lies in Skutulsfjörður, the most westerly of the fjords that run in a southerly direction from Ísafjarðardjúp. High, steep mountains enclose the fjord from both sides.
Ísafjörður has a very long history of trade. In 1569, merchants established a permanent habitation on the spit of land on which the town is now placed, and we have documents from the early seventeenth-century about a trading house made out of timber. Some eighteenth-century houses are still standing: these have now been protected by law. There are not many old houses like these in Iceland and they add something special to the appearance of the town.
Ísafjörður is still the main trading centre for the people of the West Fjords; it is a place where children can attend school and provides various other services. Ísafjörður has long been an important fishing town.
There is a high proportion of immigrants in the West Fjords and in Ísafjörður you can find a Multicultural Centre.
The Vestmannaeyjar form a cluster of islands off the south coast of Iceland. There are thought to be a total of 15-18 islands and 30 skerries and rock pillars. The islands were all formed by volcanic eruption and are all connected to the volcanic system which has its centre on Heimaey Island. Four eruptions are known to have occurred in Vestmannaeyjar since Icelandic settlement, the first in 1637 and the last in 1973, when there was an eruption on Heimaey Island which destroyed a quarter of the town.
Most of the islands have steep-sided cliffs down to the sea and are difficult to approach and land, except by experienced climbers. Many of the islands have vertical sides, but grass does grow on their tops. Birds and eggs are something of perk for the residents, and each year there is a large bird hunt, especially of the puffin bird or “lundi”.
Vestmannaeyjar town has ca. 4200 residents and is located on Heimaey Island, the largest town on the cluster, and is, amongst other things, the most important fishing town in Iceland.