Husavik © Nick/Flickr

While Reykjavik and the south of Iceland hold many charms, incorporating an itinerary with summer stops along the northern region guarantees a better understanding of the people who live on this volcanic rock nation.

Surrounded by the North Atlantic – the sea defines Iceland. It provides subsistence, livelihoods and a major reason for tourists to flock to her coastline.

Several museums, close to the Arctic Circle, from Husavik to Siglufjördur and down the Vatnsnes peninsula highlight the diversity, balance and fragility of the marine ecosystem.

“The Whale Spotting Capital of The World” is the rightful name of Husavik, located on Skjálfandi Bay’s eastern shore. Where once the mammals of the sea were hunted, their sagas of are now told at the Husavik Whale Museum. The visitor gains knowledge with the help of interesting displays and videos, Did you know the blue whale was the world’s largest animal on Earth? Which small baleen whale possesses a white diagonal stripes across their flippers? A northern hemisphere minke is the answer.

Iceland whale © Francisco Moralejo/Flickr

The waters of Iceland attract a high concentration of whale pods, particularly from June to August, and the odds are in the visitor’s favor for spotting minkes, fins, humpbacks in addition to white beaked dolphins and orcas onboard one of many whale watching tours from April to October.

Called Gudsgjöf, or God’s gift, silvery schools of herring were once a mainstay of Northern European diets from Scandinavia to Scotland. Processing plants, across northern and eastern Iceland were established, by the Norwegians in the 1903. Called the second Norse invasion, the first being 10th century Vikings, the town of Siglufjördur, north of Akureyri, on the Eyjafjordur Fjord was the first factory.

The herring industry is now concentrated elsewhere, however “Siglo” tourists can easily imagine a vibrant boom time town when the hundreds masts from moored herring ships pierced the skies below the mountains, and smokestacks belched around the clock as fish were smoked.

Icelandic Era Herring Museum © N/A/Flickr

The Icelandic Era Herring Museum is dedicated to keeping the past alive. Four floors, within a former salting factory (Róaldsbrakki) , highlight the halcyon days of the herring. Old movies and photographs give life to the real people who might have inhabited the reconstructed lodgings for young female workers and the boss’ office.

Outside the Róaldsbrakki, along the wharf, costumed actors reenact the process of salting fish on weekends. Tourists are encouraged to join in the fun, including dancing to a spirited accordion.

Herring is a favorite of harbor seals too. Preferring it raw, rather than salted, the mammals dot the Icelandic coast. Harbor seals are one of two species, the other being grey seals, to pup on the island.

The Icelandic Seal Centre, has been hailed as one of the country’s most innovative tourist attractions.

Iceland Sails

Interested visitors can join guided talks or walk nature trails along the Vatnsnes peninsula for a rare chance at seeing the seals in their natural summer environment. While great care is taken in educating the public ensuring the non-disturbance of the animals’ habitat is paramount! A new seal-viewing hut, at the Illugastaðir farm, is scheduled for a late June opening.

Do not forget your binoculars!