Undoubtedly, one of the loveliest and most novel museums I’ve ever visited, is the Herring Era Museum in Siglufjörður, in North Iceland. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before or since.

Northern Iceland, Siglufjörður, The Herring Era Museum
One of the buildings comprising the Herring Era Museum

The Herring Era Museum is an experiential museum. Unlike traditional museums, you do not go into a boring room with four walls and some artefacts on display in glass cages. Instead, you are immersed into the world of the items on exhibition.

Northern Iceland, Siglufjörður, The Herring Era Museum
While most of the fishing boats are within the main museum hall, you can see this one just outside it

The museum is separated into five buildings, the very same buildings that were used for the purposes now on display.

Northern Iceland, Siglufjörður, The Herring Era Museum, Apothecary interior
The chemistry lab in one of the buildings

For example, the factory building which had dorm rooms for the “herring girls”, who worked there in the summer, descaling, gutting and canning the fish, really was a factory.

Northern Iceland, Siglufjörður, The Herring Era Museum

Northern Iceland, Siglufjörður, The Herring Era Museum

Northern Iceland, Siglufjörður, The Herring Era Museum

The rooms in the upper floor, in which the girls lived while they worked, have been refurbished. You can enter the rooms and experience the space as they did. Every details is meticulously thought out and touched with a little bit of Icelandic humour.

Northern Iceland, Siglufjörður, The Herring Era Museum
One of the main dorm rooms, seemingly frozen in time

The other exhibit I really loved was the one in the boathouse, which is home to a couple of Icelandic fishing boats. You can enter the boats, wonder around in them and feel the spaces out for yourself. It was really exciting being in a real fishing boat that had sailed in the arctic waters!

Northern Iceland, Siglufjörður, The Herring Era Museum
The idea of a wood-burning stove on a wooden ship has always been a bit scary for us

There was one boat in particular, the SK-33, which stood in the middle of the museum, that had an interior room you could enter. That was truly fascinating. The boat had a little antechamber on the deck level which you could enter to climb down into the living quarters below.

Northern Iceland, Siglufjörður, The Herring Era Museum
Perhaps not a very comfortable, but actually a very cozy cabin

There was, quite surprisingly, a lot of stuff below. In addition to a number of simple beds, there was a cooking stove and storage cabinets.

The whole thing was very civilised. I suppose a fisherman or woman might need all the creature comforts one can get when out fishing in these cold, windy waters, and we know how cold it gets out there at sea because we had gone whale watching.

Northern Iceland, Siglufjörður, The Herring Era Museum

Northern Iceland, Siglufjörður, The Herring Era Museum

Northern Iceland, Siglufjörður, The Herring Era Museum

Wandering around the boats and the museum in general, you soon get a sense of how difficult life was back then for the inhabitants of the island. That said, anyone who is in the business of food gathering and processing, still doesn’t have it easy, despite the technological improvements. At the end of the day, if you are an Icelandic fisherman, you still have to get kitted out against the elements, and head out into the cold expanse of the ocean for a catch.

Northern Iceland, Siglufjörður, The Herring Era Museum
Some old rusty drums reflecting perfectly in the water-logged grounds around the museum

Herring were a great source of prosperity for Iceland and also many of the other Nordic countries. In the middle of the twentieth century, fishing technology allowed Icelandic fishermen to exploit rich waters that surrounded the country – and the fish they caught were used for many things.

Northern Iceland, Siglufjörður, The Herring Era Museum
Some hardy Icelandic man doing the regular maintenance – it was actually a rather cold day 🙂

No part of it was wasted, from their flesh, which could be eaten, their bones, skin and other parts, which were ground up for meal, and their oil. Everything that could be extracted from the fish was extracted.

Now, sadly, in 1969, the herring failed to appear. This was the consequence of overfishing. The once bustling Herring town of Siglufjörður soon lost its attraction. Today though, this town and its fascinating history, tucked safely in the fjords that surround it, draws lots of visitors who are interested in reliving the golden age of Icelandic fishing.

Northern Iceland, Siglufjörður, The Herring Era Museum
A detail from one of the buildings, one really gets the feeling of being back in the 50ies

About The Author

Danijel is a professional travel and music photographer and video producer.

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