In this post, I’ll tell you about what buildings or places that we hold dear here in Austurland. Here you can read about some of East Iceland’s biggest attractions like Skriðuklaustur, The blue church in Seyðisfjörður and other places that are an integral part of our history and culture.
Skriðuklaustur in Fljótsdalur
Skriðuklaustur is a building not quite like any other in Iceland. The Icelandic author Gunnar Gunnarsson had this beautiful house built in 1939. It was designed by his good friend, the German architect, Fritz Höger (who also designed the famous Chilehaus in Hamburg).
Gunnar had dreams of running a large farm at Skriðuklaustur with a large number of workers. But the Second World War brought with it a lot of social change in Iceland. The British forces station in Iceland required labor for construction which meant that there was a lot more competition for workers. A competition that favored the British as they paid a lot higher wages.
This caused a lot of urbanization that saw people moving from the countryside into the towns and villages. To compound Gunnars troubles it became a lot harder to import materials from Denmark for the construction. Which meant that the houses that were to house livestock were never built. After living at Skriðuklaustur for nine years Gunnar and his family decided to move away from Skriðklaustur to Reykjavík in 1948. Upon his departure, he gifted the house to the Icelandic nation.
Now the building houses a museum dedicated to Gunnar Gunnarsson. You will also find a beautiful little café that offers food made only with the finest local ingredients. Below Skriðuklaustur you’ll find the outlines of an Augustinian convent that served the elderly and poor from 1493 until the reformation in 1550. Across the road from Skriðuklaustur is Snæfellsstofa, the visitor center for the national park of Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður. Add to that that the weather tends to be quite mild on warm in Fljótsdalur and you just might just have a recipe for a nice day out. Here are links to Skriðuklaustur and Snæfellsstofa visitor center on Google Maps.
The blue church in Seyðisfjörður
I might not have any official numbers over it, but we feel pretty safe to ascertain that the Blue Church is the most photograph church in East Iceland. It has been relocated in the fjord on more than one occasion but has been standing in its current location, in the heart of the town of Seyðisfjörður, since 1920.
In a town that is already quite picturesque, it stands out as its most notable landmark. The church is open on schedule for guests during summers. It is also home to a summer concert series that was started in 1998 by the Muff Worden and Sigurður Jónsson. If you’d like to know more about the blue church you can do so here.
The story of Randulffs Seahouse is well known here in East Iceland. To make a long story short, the house was built around 1880-1890 by a Norwegian herring entrepreneur named Peter Randulff. The house served as a base for his herring fisheries in Eskifjörður until one year sometime around 1920 the Norwegians didn’t return from their time in Norway.
After that, the house belonged to two local men who used it a net workshop and rarely did they allow anyone to enter it. It wasn’t until 2008 that the house was opened to the public. From the time the Norwegians were there until it 2008 little changed in the house and the living quarters of the men on the upper floor are as they left them. Personal artifacts they still there as they were left by the men worked almost a century ago. Today the house houses a fine restaurant that is open in summer and focuses on serving food made with local ingredients.
Iceland’s most famous author is the Noble prize winner in literature, Halldór Laxness (bare with me, I’ll get to the point soon). The award was given to him for his book, Independent People. The story takes place on a rugged highland farm were conditions are harsh and unforgiving (stick with it, almost there). When Halldór was a young man, he once traveling here in East Iceland and spent the night at the highland farm Sænautasel. Many believe that his experience that night later became the inspiration for his most famous book.
In later years, 1992 to be exact, the old highland farm at Sænautasel was rebuilt and can now be visited (BAMM!!! Did I deliver or what?). For a fair price, you can visit the farm and enjoy coffee/tea and traditional Icelandic lummur (think American pancakes except … totally different). You’ll find Sænautasel in the highlands of East Iceland.
The turf church at Geirsstaðir
Following an archaeological dig in the area it was discovered that during the Viking era, a turf church stood at Geirsstaðir. Following the excavation is was decided to rebuild the church in its original form. Today this beautiful little church stands by the side of the road for all those who want to visit it. There is a collection box inside if you want to support maintenance of the church. But there is no official entrance fee. Guest are kindly asked when they leave to close the door and to slide the handle behind them when they leave Geirsstaðakirkja.
The avalanche defense walls in Neskaupsstaður
The eastern fjords of Iceland have tall and imposing mountains towering over theme. As beautiful as they might be, in some of the fjords they pose a real danger when it comes avalanches and mudslides. The inhabitants of Neskaupsstaður know this all too well as the town has suffered its fair share of avalanches, the worst one coming in 1974. A walk along the top of the barrier (which consists of two separate walls) is both enlighting and frightening. The view is beautiful, but at the same time, it is hard not to feel small against the elements when overlooking these massive structures. At the edge of town sits a memorial comprised of 17 bluebells, one for each life lost in the avalanches in 1885, 1974 and 1978.
The Nielsen house in Egilsstaðir
Egilsstaðir is a quite young town, given Icelandic standards. It received its municipal charter in 1947 when it was deemed necessary by the government that a town would rise there due to the how central the location is East Iceland. Trought the power of the being the shortest point in all directions, it has become a center for services and commerce. The oldest house in this young town is the Nielson house. It draws its name from the Danish Oswald Nielsen who built it in 1944. Today it is home to a café that is open during the summers.
The turf house at Bustarfell
It bears reminding that although modern today, Iceland was for the longest time, not a developed country. In wasn’t until the second world war that our society started to move progressively to modernization. In Hofsárdalur, near Vopnafjörður sits a beautiful old house made of turf called Bustarfell. The house belonged to the same family for 500 years and was inhabited until 1966 when the family built a new house on the estate. Now Bustarfell houses a museum where you can step back in time and experience how life changed in Iceland from when the house was built 1770 until the inhabitants moved out in 1966.
The eggs in Gleðivík (Djúpivogur)
By the harbor in Gleðivík, you’ll find an exhibition comprised of 34 eggs replicating eggs from different birds in Icelandic wildlife. It is a strange and mesmerizing sight well in tune with the creative vibe that flows through the little town of Djúpivogur.
If you liked this post you might also like; Unique things about Austurland, 10 places to enjoy local food in Austurland, five must-see places in East Iceland, another five must-see places in East Iceland or Austurland – attractions and things to do in East Iceland.