In the Neighborhood

In the town of Eyrarbakki:

The House at Eyrarbakki (Húsið) – The Árnesinga Folk Museum
Maritime Museum of Eyrarbakki
Eyrarbakkakirkja, the Eyrarbakki Church
Black sand beach
Eyrarbakki Campground, run by Björgunarsveit Björg Eyrarbakka
Aurora hunting from Eyrarbakki
Bakki Hostel & Apartments

Less than 10 minutes away:

Stokkseyri (swimming pool, hunting museum, Draugasetrið Ghost Center, petting zoo, kayaking)
Þorlákshöfn (golf course, swimming pool)

10-25 minutes away:

Kerið volcanic crater
Raufarhólshellir lava tube cave
Selfoss (movie theater, swimming pool, golf course, hotel)
Hveragerði (natural hot spring, swimming pool, golf course, hotel, horse riding)

Less than an hour away:

UNESCO World Heritage Site Þingvellir National Park (hiking, waterfall, snorkeling, scuba diving)
Geysir Hot Spring Area
Gullfoss waterfall
Seljalandsfoss waterfall
Laugarvatn Fontana Spa
Búri lava tube cave
Bláfjöll ski area
Leiðarendi lava tube cave
The Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa
Inside The Volcano
Reyjavík

Activities

There are three golf courses nearby, at Þorlákshöfn, Selfoss, and Hveragerði. Bakkahestar in Eyrarbakki offers horseback riding tours on the beach for riders of all ages and experience levels. The tour company Iceland Activities, located in Hveragerði, can help arrange hiking, biking, and surfing tours nearby. For scuba diving and snorkeling tours at Þingvellir National Park, contact Dive.is. For caving tours, contact Extreme Iceland. For glacier hikes, river rafting, and canoeing, contact Arctic Adventures.

Accommodation

There are several guesthouses and vacation rentals in Eyrarbakki and nearby. Check out:
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Bakki Hostel & Apartments, a delightful property just steps away from the seaside and just a few minutes’ walk from The Red House. They have three apartments that each sleep up to four and a brand-new 36-bed hostel that opened May 2015.
Seaside Cottages has two cottages that sleep 2 and 4 people.
AirBnB.com
Cottages & Summer Houses for rent – bungalo.is
The nearest hotels are in Selfoss, which is a 15 minute drive away and easily reached by taxi.

Eyrarbakkakirkja, the Eyrarbakki Church

The church in Eyrarbakki, right nextdoor to The Red House, was inaugurated in December of 1890. Before that, the people of Eyrarbakki attended services in the neighboring village of Stokkseyri, but as the population of Eyarbakki grew, reaching 702 in 1890, it was time for Eyrarbakki to have its own church. The church seats 230-240 people.

Eyrarbakkakirkja 2009.

The church of Eyrarbakki’s main proponent was the Reverend Jón Björnsson, and he was pastor of the church from its opening until 1892. The church was designed by Jóhann Fr. Jónssyni, the chief carpenter in Eyrarbakki from 1880 to 1890, but he died before the church’s completion.

The alarpiece, painted by Queen Louise of Denmark, 1891.

One of the main points of interest is the church’s alterpiece, on which is painted a picture of Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4, 13-14). “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him, he will never be thirsty.” The Reverend Jón Björnsson sailed to Denmark to obtain building materials for the church, and while there he was given an audience with King Christian IX and Queen Louise. They liked him so well, that the queen gave him the church altar, which she herself had painted. The altarpiece bears her name and the year 1891. The Queen was quite an artist and her work is also found in three churches in Denmark: in Gentofte, Klitmøller og Lundø.

Other items of interest are the candlesticks from Kaldaðarneskirkja, the church in Kaldaðarnes, which was closed in 1902. The candlesticks, inscribed with the year 1780 and the letters E.S.S. Stjakarnir, are clearly Icelandic craftsmanship and all hand-made. The chandelier also comes from Kaldaðarneskirkja.

In 1918, a bell was added in the tower, which rang twice an hour. It was a gift from the Danish merchant James A. Lefolii in memory of the many decades of the Lefolii family in Eyrarbakki.

The baptismal fountain, created by the artist Ríkharður Jónsson, was a gift to the church on its 60th anniversary in 1950. The Christening bowl, by the goldsmith Leifur Kaldal, was given to the church in the memory of the midwife Þórdís Símonardóttur at her 100th birthday.

Hanging in the church is a model of a traditional 12-man rowing vessel. The original on which the model is based in preserved in the Maritime Museum of Eyrarbakki.

Extensive renovations to the church were carried out from 1977 to 1979. A new 11-pipe organ by Björgvin Tómasson was put into service on Christmas day, 1995.

Pipe organ by Björgvin Tómasson 1995.

The pastors of the church have been the Reverend Jón Björnsson 1890–1892, followed by  Ólafur Helgason 1893–1904, Gísli Skúlason 1905-1942, Árelíus Níelsson 1943–1952, Magnús Guðjónsson 1953–1973, Valgeir Ástráðsson 1973–1980, Úlfar Guðmundsson 1980-2008. From 2008 through the present day, the church in Eyrarbakki has been presided over by the Reverend Sveinn Valgeirsson.

© Inga Lára Baldvinsdóttir / Magnús Karel Hannesson

The Story of Eyrarbakki

eyrarbakki1890
For ages, Eyrarbakki was “the” town in the minds of farmers along the entire south coast and the region as a whole. This is where the largest warehouses were built and the Episcopal See of Skálholt had its harbour and kept its ships. The fate of thousands of people was decided by the news that arrived, or did not arrive, with the spring ship—-the first ship that arrived after a long hard winter.

For centuries, the harbour at Eyrarbakki was the main port in the south of the country, and Eyrarbakki was the trading centre for the whole of the southern region extending from Selvogur in the west to Lómagnúpur in the east. By about 1925, however, Eyrarbakki lost its importance as a trading centre. The latter part of the 19th century saw a great increase in the number of oared fishing boats. In fact, although trade and fishing were the main occupations in Eyrarbakki, the natural harbour conditions were not good, and after the bridging of the river Ölfusá near Eyrarbakki, the harbour fell into disuse.

The oldest timber house in Iceland, called simply “The House” (Húsið), was built in 1765 from a kit shipped from Norway. It is the oldest preserved timber dwelling house in Iceland. Now home to a folk museum, it stands a little east of the church, just a few doors down from the Rauða Húsið. The House soon became the centre of a blossoming culture and art activities in the area, mostly from Denmark, since Eyrarbakki was the first port of call for foreign influences in music, literature and art, and was the largest trading centre in the country for a very long time.

Eyrarbakki has played a critical role not just in Icelandic history but also in world history: Bjarni Herjólfsson, who lived here in Eyrarbakki in the 10th century, sailed occasionally to Greenland to trade. On one such voyage his ship was blown off course and Bjarni and his crew were the first west Europeans to sight the east coast of a continent that later came to be known as the New World. After his return, Bjarni told Leif Eiríksson his tale and sold him his ship. Leif followed Bjarni’s path and discovered America in the year 1000 and named it Vinland. In 1968, at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, ruins of houses were found that proved the old tale of Leif’s voyage and settlement in the New World.

The primary school, established in 1852, was the first in the country. The building still stands, though the school has been relocated.

The church in Eyrarbakki, next to The Red House was built in 1890; its altarpiece was painted by Queen Louise of Denmark, wife of King Christian IX, great-great-grandfather of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and King Harald V of Norway.

In 1915, total alcohol prohibition was enforced in Iceland. A multitude of farmers then started their secret operations all around the country, but none was as clever as Höskuldur Eyjólfsson. His homebrew was considered best to none and the authorities never managed to shut down his operation. When big gatherings were held, he had bottles buried all over the fields and then he told each client where his bottle was hidden. Once he went on a sales trip to a large sheep-gathering and hid many bottles under a cloth on his horse. He then joined the sheriff on the road to the gathering to avoid arousing any suspicion. All over the country, homebrew was referred to as “landi” (country product) but in the south region it was called “Höskuldur” in honour of this Robin Hood of the prohibition years.

Thjórsár-lava is the largest lava stream to have emerged in a single eruption since the end of the last Ice Age, some 8,700 years ago. A monstrous eruption took place when a 30 km long fissure opened close to the Veidivötn district in the east. The lava flow spread westward and ended here in the ocean off the south coast, about 140 km from the eruption site, and is between 15 to 40 meters thick. Eyrarbakki and Stokkseyri village stand on the edge of Thjórsár-lava, so this is the best place to see it, but also at the Urridafoss waterfall, which falls down the eastern edge of the lava flow.