Eyrarbakki is a fishing village on the south coast of Iceland with a population of about 570 people, not including inhabitants of the prison located there. The village is founded on the Great Þjórsá Lava.
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.
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 nearby River Ölfusá, the harbour fell into disuse.
In 985 C.E., Bjarni Herjólfsson, a young merchant, sailed from Eyrarbakki headed for Greenland, but instead reached as far as North America. Upon his arrival in Greenland, Bjarni told Leif Eriksson of his discovery and sold him his boat, which Eriksson used for his own journey to North America.
The oldest building in the village, Húsið (“The House”), is a Norwegian kit home dating from 1765 and is the oldest preserved timber dwelling house in Iceland. It now houses the Árnesinga Folk Museum.
The church in Eyrarbakki 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.
The town is of great historical importance because of its role in fishing and trading history.
Today, Eyrarbakki is a quiet town with about 500 inhabitants. It is part of the Árborg municipality, along with the village of Stokkseyri and the town of Selfoss. Eyrarbakki is home to a folk museum and a maritime museum, a renowned restaurant, and many places to stay, ranging from a campground to hostel to homestays and B&Bs.
Throughout the town the roar of the sea can be heard, if not seen. A high sea-wall was built in the 1990s to protect the town from the ravages of the sea during fierce storms, so from street level, the sea itself isn’t visible. However, a walking path extends the length of the sea-wall, spanning the town, and is an ideal place to enjoy the sunset or observe the many sea birds that frequent the shallow coastal lagoons.
Flói Nature Reserve, just outside the town, is a breeding ground for many species of birds in the summer.