An inside guide to Húsavík, Iceland’s whale watching capital

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It would be inconceivable to describe humpback whales as boring, but as anyone who has seen them regularly – perhaps right here in Húsavík – will tell you, their behavior is predictable. The town is located in Skjálfandi Bay in northern Iceland, whose relatively shallow waters mean the creatures tend not to stay submerged for more than 10 minutes at a time, sometimes breaking apart when they swarm. frolic or communicate with other whales. For guides and guests, it is something of a dream. Between May and September each year, it takes a lot of bad luck not to spot these abundant behemoths in the bay.

This abundance would be extraordinary on its own, but humpback whales are only one of 24 cetacean species to frequent these waters. Lucky visitors might also spot pods of orcas, spectacular sperm whales and, arguably best of all, blue whales, the largest animals to ever grace the Earth. Dolphins can also be spotted before you even leave port.

This world-class access to marine mammals has given Húsavík a stellar reputation as possibly the best whale-watching site in Europe. gentle giants is one of many long-established operators in the town and also offers birding tours to nearby Flatey Island.

While whales have been the bulk of Húsavík’s marketing for more than 30 years, the 2020 release of Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams’ film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga further amplified the fortunes of the city. His track Husavik (My Hometown) – a bizarre ode to life here – was nominated for Best Original Song at the 93rd Academy Awards. Hats off to the local entrepreneurs who opened in a hurry Jaja Ding Donga coffee bar named after another song from the film’s soundtrack, although it did not receive any form of Oscar recognition.

The fictionalized version of the town featured in the film may not be the scene that awaits visitors, but, in addition to the whale-watching opportunities, there are plenty of benefits to making the trip this far north. North. To expand your knowledge of cetaceans, visit the excellent Husavik Whale Museum, based in a former slaughterhouse (although the focus today is on living creatures).

Elsewhere, among the town’s many pretty buildings, Husavikurkirkja – a wooden church built in 1907 – is perhaps the most beautiful and is open to visitors during the summer months. The Exploration Museum, dedicated to the history of human exploration, is also worth a visit, especially since the region around Húsavík is considered one of the very first to be settled by Viking explorers.

Food and drink options are somewhat limited, but the family-run establishment Naustid restaurant has won many admirers for its clever use of locally caught seafood. And perhaps surprisingly for a town of this size, there is also a microbrewery, the best it has a right to be. Husavik Öl.

Featured in the September issue of National Geographic Traveler (UK).

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