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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Day 6: Visiting Húsavík, Iceland's Whale Watching Capital

Husavik Whale Tale Statue 
Day 6 was going to need some major replanning.  After a failed trip to Detifoss due to the awful conditions outside (wind, rain, repeat), we decided we were going to need to do something a little different.  Outdoor activities were basically out of the question given the weather and we now had a free afternoon with no plans and just the Ring Road heading west in front of us.  We looked at the map and made a last minute decision to take an unplanned detour off the Ring Road to Húsavík, Iceland's (and often quoted as all of Europe's) whale watching capital. Húsavík is an idyllic colorful little town in Northern Iceland full of good food, history, and some of Iceland's best whale watching.  It is a 45-minute detour off the Ring Road along Road 87 from Myvatn or if you wish to continue farther up the Ring Road and take Road 85 it's about 35-minutes north off the Ring Road.

Detour off the Ring Road (Route 1 to 87 and down 85)

If you know me, you know I am a sucker for anything about whales and a good whaling museum. If we go somewhere where a whaling museum exists (like Madeira for instance), there is a high chance we are making a detour.  Sidenote: I am ashamed to admit I have yet to visit the whaling museum here in my own backyard in New England in New Bedford, Massachusetts (it is on the list).  I was shocked to see that even the curator of this Husavik Icelandic whaling museum had been to my local museum (shame, shame).  

Whale watching tours at Husavik
We arrived in Húsavík midday, a town once known for its whaling industry, now known for its history and whale watching.  While I would have loved the chance to go out on a whale watching adventure, the conditions outside seemed far too miserable for these travel\lers who about had it with the rain.   In Iceland, events go on rain or shine and you just prepare for the elements.  We watched unhappy tourists layer up in zoot suits with close to zero mobility, hopping on their unsheltered boats in the wind and the rain in search of Iceland's native whales.  It took about one glance at these peoples miserable faces to decide that we were going to opt out of whale watching and find a more indoor friendly activity.  And so, our trip to the Húsavík Whale Museum was born. 

Miserable looking whale watchers getting ready for their tour in the wind and rain

Let me start by saying how impressed I was with this museum.  From the outside, it looks rather unimpressive and I had my silent doubts.  But the inside and the museum altogether was more than I expected.  From the Blue Whale exhibit to the amazing detailed signage and exhibits, this little town put together a fantastic museum.  There was also a great store/gift shop attached to the museum where we picked up a few souvenirs and gifts.

Let me also say that you should not get this confused with "WHALES OF ICELAND" a more touristy exhibit near Reykjavik with  23 man-made life-size models of the various whale species and some fancy virtual reality displays.  While I did not see both, the Whale Museum seems like a more authentic traditional museum and I am definitely glad I chose this one.

Art in Húsavík

If you chose to go whale watching, or are just curious about the types you can find in Iceland, humpback whales, minke whales, white-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises are commonly seen.  In addition, Húsavík is the only place in Iceland where you can expect to see blue whales. In 2012, blue whales were spotted on 12% of the trips.

Whale Museum in Húsavík

Tickets to the whaling museum 
Adults:  ISK 1900 ($18.31)
Adults (whale watching discount): ISK 1500 ($14.46)
Children:   ISK 500 ($4.82)
Seniors, students or disabled:   ISK 1500 ($14.46) (bring your ID!)
Family price (2 adults, 1-5 children): ISK 4000 ($38.56)

The Húsavík Whale Museum is a non-profit organization, founded in 1997.  Its foremost aim is to provide detailed and interesting information about whales and their habitat. The Whale Museum, along with the University of Iceland’s Research Center forms the educational component to the whale watching trips, enjoyed in Húsavík during the summer months.

There were so many fantastic exhibits in this museum ranging from educational facts on different types of whales and dolphins, rooms filled with information on famous whales in movies, local Icelandic whaling history, a room with a blue whale skeleton, and an entire lofted area with several different whale skeletons for you to view. One of the most impressive exhibits they have is a blue whale skeleton in its own room.  Why is this such an experience?  Blue whales are the largest animals ever known to have lived on Earth and to be able to see an example is quite rare. Back off dinosaurs #whalesrule

There was some fun cultural and artistic pieces and Thatcher is so interestingly sharing one with you all as a size comparison.  This log like looking structure is actually the jaw bone of a whale that was carved and decorated by a local artist.

Other exhibits included great information about diet, species interaction, behavior, and mating.  I found it quite entertaining to learn that grey whales use a "third party" to assist in mating.  Yep, the poor guy on the bottom has to hold up his frisky friends. I did some more research because you know, #science, and it turns out some sources confirm this and some state this third party may be more competition, not cooperation, and is a second male trying to mate with the female.  The world may never know.  Either way, this museum is full of interesting facts on various species of whales.

Did you know....Free Willy's killer whale "Keiko" was caught in Iceland's east fjords?  After spending more than 20 years in captivity, he was released in Iceland.  Unforuntaely, he was found dead in a Norwegian fjord one year later. 

I have to say, one of the most unique things we saw at this museum was a small reading station.  As you walk through the museum you can see a sign for a room stating 


What more could anyone ever want?  We made our way to a little library with couches, plenty of books, and hot coffee to take a break and enjoy this odd and wonderful addition to the museum.  It is now important that every museum needs a mini library with free coffee. 

The Blue Whale exhibit was really interesting to see and awesome to finally see a scale of the largest animal ever found on this planet.  This article explains more about the whale and how it was acquired (found washed up on the shore and how this 25 meter long and 4-6 meter wide blue whale skeleton was prepared for the exhibit). 

Upstairs, you can see the other skeletons of various cetaceans ranging from all the popular whales to the fun and funky like the Narwhal. 

Húsavík Whale Museum | Hafnarstétt 1 | 640 Húsavík | Iceland
Phone: +354 414 2800 | E-mail: | Kt. 460105-3740

June, July, August: 08:30 – 18:30 daily
May and September  9:00 – 18:00 daily
October: 10 – 16 daily
November – April:  10 – 16 weekdays

KW Worth the Visit?  Absolutely!
Overall, we really enjoyed visiting this little town.  Great little stores, good food, great museums, and lots of different whale watching operations if you chose.  I highly recommend this detour off the Ring Road to learn more about Iceland's whaling culture and the native species that can be seen right from this bay. 

Food:  Naustið Seafood Restaurant and "Fish & Chips" in Húsavík.

Naustið Seafood Restaurant:  
We had been hearing about this Icelandic Fish Soup for some time now and with the cold dreary weather, we decided today was finally the day to hunt some soup down.  Naustið Seafood Restaurant in Húsavík came highly recommended so we stopped in to grab some hot soup and a cold beer. I had the appetizer portion of the fish soup (1100 ISK) and Thatcher had the dinner portion of the fish soup (1750 ISK). Both came with bread and were absolutely delicious.  A hearty rich tomato coconut brother with various seafood mixed in.  I immediately tried to recreate this soup upon arriving home in the states. 
Address:  Ásgarðsvegur, Húsavík, Iceland

Fish & Chips on the dock:  
As we parked the car and walked around this little town, we noticed a building sporting the FISH & CHIPS logo.  For $16, we received a HUGE portion of fish and fries.   It wasn't the best fish and chips I have ever had but it was fresh, local, and a huge portion for a great price.  Hafnarstett 19, Husavik 640, Iceland

Kidagil Guesthouse
After leaving Húsavík, we traveled south down 85 to meet back up with the Ring Road.  From the Ring Road, we headed south down 842.  We spent the night off the beaten path at the Kidagil Guesthouse for $210 for 4 people (one family room with four twin sized beds, shared bathroom).  The room was one of the cheaper nights, but unfortunately, it did require a 25-minute detour (each way) off the Ring Road.  We followed a gravel road along this beautiful river before crossing a TINY bridge and arriving at our guesthouse.  We were surprised to discover that we had this whole rather large guesthouse to ourselves. The rooms were clean and we had plenty of bathrooms.  There was a large living room space but no kitchen where you could prepare your own food.  Breakfast was included and consisted of a large spread of Icelandic breakfast items.  The guesthouse also served as a museum about bandits and outlaws of Iceland and you could see various posters and exhibits throughout the halls.

For the days driving we covered about 230 km for about 3.5 hours of driving.


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