Difference between revisions of "Höfn"
Revision as of 12:23, 14 October 2011
Höfn, also known as Höfn í Hornafirði  is a town in East Iceland, right on the south-eastern corner of the country. Höfn sits by the lagoon (or fjord) Hornafjörður which is also the name of the large municipality of which the town is the centre and covers the entire area of the county Austur-Skaftafellssýsla. This guide covers both the town itself and the surrounding municipality, excluding the westernmost part which forms one of the main gateways to Vatnajökull National Park. For tourism purposes, the area calls itself the Vatnajökull Region, and there is much truth in this: Nowhere else is quite as dominated by Europe's largest glacier, nowhere else have people learned to live in such close quarters with the huge sheet of ice.
In spite of substantial territory, the population of the Hornafjörður area is only around 2400. Höfn is by far the largest settlement with around 2000 inhabitants. The rest of the population is spread along the very narrow patch of arable land between Vatnajökull and the Atlantic Ocean. Höfn's economical activities mainly revolve around fisheries, and the town is especially known for lobster which can be found in abundant quantities in the fishing areas surrounding the southeastern coast.
Despite its name which indicates a fjord, Hornafjörður itself is a very large glacier lagoon. The 40 square km lagoon is formed by interactions of the Atlantic Ocean and the Vatnajökull glacier, which by its constant movement produces clay and sand, carried by the glacier rivers and ending up as sediment in the lagoon. The lagoon is shallow, but nevertheless navigable by large ships and the town of Höfn (the name means harbour) is located at the first natural harbour on the south coast after Þorlákshöfn hundreds of kilometers to the west.
The area is dominated by large mountains and wide rivers, as well as the ever-present Vatnajökull glacier. All of this has combined to make the area one of the most remote in Iceland until the last few decades of the 20th century when roads were significantly improved.
Höfn and the Hornafjörður area, being on the Eastern coast of Iceland, are on the leeward side of prevailing winds. While it might be windy, less precipitation falls in this area making it part of the closest thing to being a low desert in Iceland (the high desert being the area East of Mývatn).
The Ring Road is the main road (and in places, the only road) through the entire Hornafjörður area, but Höfn is a few kilometers of the Ring Road is connected to it by road nr. 99. Höfn is a little over 450 km from Reykjavík and between 200 and 250 km from Egilsstaðir, depending on which route is taken.
A bus from BSÍ bus terminal in Reykjavík leaves at 8:30am and gets in around 5pm, having stopped at many points of interest in southern Iceland. In the summer there is also a bus from Egilsstaðir, leaving at 1:30pm and getting to Höfn at 5pm. The bus stop in Höfn is the N1 gas station just off the main road leading into town.
Eagle Air flies between Reykjavík and Höfn most days. Note that the airport is some distance outside the Höfn itself, so you'll have to figure out a way to get into town.
If you have a car, its easy enough to get around and quite difficult to get lost. Without a car, matters are more complicated. The only means of public transportation is a single taxi which can be ordered by calling +354 865 4353. Organised tours with some of the many tour companies based in Höfn may be the easiest way to get around the area, and the safest way to explore the glaicers.
Höfn's Glacier Museum.
The seafront is quite pleasant to walk around, if you don't mind the smell of fish from the harbour.
The region's main itineraries are 1)The spectacular national park, Skaftafell (around 200 km west of Höfn), 2) Jökulsárlón (literally the Glacial River Lagoon) located approximately 100 km east of Skaftafell and 3) The Vatnajökull Glacier to which there is a road, around 50 km east of Jökulsárlón and 4) Lónsöræfi, one of Iceland's most beautiful mountain area, only reachable by foot.
Visit the Ice Sheet at Jokulsarlon.
There are daily tours to the top of Vatnajökull departing from the N1 garage, though these can be pricey - up to 250 Euro if you go for the full Ski-doo experience.
The arts and crafts scene is very active in Höfn and some good souvenir shopping is possible if you keep your eyes open. A few artists have workshops and galleries in Mikligarður, an old building by the harbour. For day-to-day needs, head to the Miðbær mini-mall in the centre of town by Hafnarbraut.
Eat and drink
Höfn is one of the most important harbours for lobster fishing in Iceland and many of the town's eating options include lobster dishes as the local speciality. The only supermarket is Nettó, in the Miðbær mini-mall in the centre of town, which is also the location of the local alchohol store.