Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum in Iceland (Beware of the smell!)

Shark Museum in Iceland

With Christmas just around the corner let me start by wishing you all good tidings!

This post is special because it marks the finale of Museum of the Month. I’ve loved all the visits I’ve taken to various museums around the world and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them too. When I began this series last January I had no idea where I’d end up but fast-forward 12 months and we’re at the Shark Museum in Iceland. I think it’s an interesting museum to finish up on, and it captures the essence of why I decided to do this series: to rebuff the notion that museums are boring!

This museum is not like a museum at all. First of all it is nestled deep inside a spectacular landscape of lava fields not far from the fishing village of Stykkishólmur so it’s worth going for the drive alone.

Bjanarhofn, lave fields Iceland
Check out the awesome sign for the Shark Museum

It’s also worth mentioning that Stykkishólmur was featured in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty where bizarrely it was masquerading as Greenland! Then there is the arrangement of the Shark Museum which is unlike any ordinary museum – the arrangement being that there is no particular arrangement. You look at something and you’re left wondering if it’s actually part of the display or whether it’s just a bit of clutter that’s been pulled out from a desk drawer – the closest thing that describes the overall appearance of the Shark Museum is a random man’s garage. Later I would learn it’s a farm which is still functioning today.

I’m not really selling it, am I? Or maybe I am.

Its randomness and shabby appearance is a huge part of its charm. It feels homely, and nothing feels more homely to me than being greeted by a dog somewhere new. Yes, a dog at the museum! (Remember it’s also a farm so a dog really is nothing to be surprised about, but it didn’t stop me going all high-pitched and goo-goo eyed!). I was greeted with a sharp bark but as I drew closer it rolled onto the floor and started wriggling around on its back so I took the opportunity to give it a good belly scratch whilst I could. By now I didn’t even care about the museum, I could have stayed outside playing with this gorgeous Icelandic sheepdog all day.

Icelandic dog at Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum

Icelandic sheepdog

Prising myself away from man’s best friend, I walked into the museum and lo and behold what did I find? More furry creatures in the form of two cats mooching around the place. Again, my attention was diverted in favour of animal petting.

I was soon greeted by a jovial looking old man with thick arched eyebrows and red cheeks. He beckoned me into the main museum through hand motions waving back and fourth, it was then that I realised he couldn’t speak any English so we communicated with enthusiastic smiles, head nods and gestures. The museum is owned by his son but he wasn’t there so I was in the care of his father who I’m going to call grandpa because it sounds better than ‘old man’.

Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, Iceland
Grandpa

The room is filled with an eclectic mix of fishing tools, bones, dried shark skins, as well as taxidermy relating mostly to Arctic birdlife. I want to say now that sharks are not specifically hunted, it so happens that some might get caught in the net when other fish are being sourced.

Shark Museum in Iceland
See what I mean about it being more like a garage?

Grandpa put on a short video for us to watch which detailed the process involved in making fermented Greenland shark (also known as hákarl or rotten shark). Interestingly, I learned the drying process takes 4-5 months and also if eaten fresh it is poisonous!! The fermentation significantly reduces bacteria and rids it of ammonia. It hardly sounds appetising does it? But many Icelanders would disagree because it’s actually considered a delicacy. Other interesting facts about the Greenland Shark is that it’s not known to have any known predators, and one such shark was discovered with a partial polar bear leg in its stomach!!

Shark Museum, Iceland

After the video Grandpa ushered me over to a table and pointed to a plastic container and then pointed to his mouth. Whatever was in there he was inviting me to eat it. You don’t need me to tell you what it was: diced up samples of hákarl. The thing is, I stopped eating meat a year ago and whilst I still eat fish, and even though I know shark isn’t technically meat, I still felt hesitant about eating it. Even now, and probably more so now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t feel great about it.

Hákarl fermented shark

Grandpa was smiling at me as I took a small chunk of it and gingerly placed it into my mouth. I’m not one to usually hide my expressions, but even had I tried I doubt I would have been able to disguise the grimace that unfolded as soon as it hit my taste buds. He started to laugh and patted me on the back. It’s difficult to describe what it’s like but if you read the Wikipedia page for hákarl you will discover that the mere fact I managed to swallow is quite the achievement!

But cooler than my ability to swallow rotten shark is grandpa’s appearance on National Geographic’s exploration of the World’s Most Unusual Foods:

Once I had looked around the museum (which is just one large room) it was time to visit the drying shed around the back of the farm – this is something you cannot miss! Not only is it a slice into traditional Icelandic culture but you get to experience the smell. If you think it tastes bad then wait until you smell it in its full rotten glory!

Bjanarhofn, shark drying shed

Hakarl, rotten shark

 

Additional Information about Bjarnarhofn

How to get there: Approx. 20 minutes drive west from Stykkishólmur to Grundarfjörður
Admission fee
: 900 ISK
Opening times: 09.00 – 18.00 (in the summer should close at 20.00 but check their website beforehand)
Website: www.bjarnarhofn.is



A travel & culture blog specialising in Scandinavia and the Arctic, peppered with the rest of the world in between.


'Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum in Iceland (Beware of the smell!)' have 14 comments

  1. December 20, 2014 @ 10:58 pm Charlie

    Ugh, eating that little that little cube of hákarl looks pretty grim to me! Such an odd little museum, I’ve thought that about loads of quite good museums in my time though.

    Reply

    • December 22, 2014 @ 6:32 pm admin

      Haha Charlie, I think grim pretty much sums it up! An odd but interesting museum. I’d love to know more about some of the lesser known museums you’ve been to!

      Reply

  2. December 21, 2014 @ 8:32 am Danni @Leftnleavin

    I am SO bummed we missed that. Next time.
    I am seriously impressed that you kept that bad boy down. We spoke to some locals and half them said they won’t even touch it. So glad you shared this because I was sad I missed it.

    Some times the smelly stuff is worth the exciting factor. The smell in the prosciutto factory we visited in Bologna was…unique. Haha

    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

    • December 22, 2014 @ 6:38 pm admin

      Ahhh interesting to hear about your conversation with the locals, I wonder who does actually like the taste of it? I’m yet to find someone!

      Oh gosh, when I ate meat I used to LOVE prosciutto ham. I bet the factory had such a pungent smell! Have you written about your experience of going there? I’d love to read it if you have.

      Reply

  3. December 24, 2014 @ 3:32 am Mike

    Good job (I think?) on eating and swallowing a bite of hakarl! Lordy, you had my gag reflex partially activated there. Then I watched the video and a really nice gag silently distorted my face. I can’t believe that girl with the short blonde hair put it in her mouth like it was candy! Yuck LOL 🙂 Anyhoo, this museum gets my #1 ranking for the obvious reason….you and the dog!!! Woo hoo!! Thank you for that 🙂 Merry Christmas to you and your family, Shing 🙂

    Reply

    • December 27, 2014 @ 11:39 pm admin

      Haha, I’m Chinese, I’ll eat anything 😉

      Ahhh the dogs! How can you not fall in love with them, eh? You’d have been in your element.

      Merry Christmas to you too Mike, I hope 2015 has lots in store for you!

      Reply

  4. December 26, 2014 @ 12:33 pm Tony Burgum

    Hello, I am off back to Iceland in March 2015, I done the usual trips last time now looking for something ‘different’. How far is this from Reykjavik? On the map could I include this with Geysir / Gullfoss as friends have not been there anyway or is it way, way out? Alternatively do restaurants in Reykjavik serve or allow you to try this?

    Reply

    • December 27, 2014 @ 11:22 pm admin

      Hi Tony! It’s pretty far from Reykjavik, approx 2h 30 mins give or take, so couldn’t be done in a day trip if you wanted to include the Golden Circle unfortunately. If you’re looking for places relatively nearby Reykjavik, have you been to the geothermal fields of Seltun or Gunnuhver? I wrote about them here if you’d like to know more: http://www.theculturemap.com/seltun-walking-mars-iceland/

      Hmmm, I’ve not eaten hákarl in Reykjavik but I’ve just looked online and seen that a restaurant called The Icelandic Bar serves it as well as several other Icelandic specialities. Here’s the website for more info: http://islenskibarinn.is/net/en/um-okkur/ Because I’ve not eaten here I cannot vouch for the quality, but if you click under the subheading on the menu it looks quite promising!

      Hope this helps, and have a fabulous time whatever you decide to do! 🙂

      Reply

  5. April 9, 2015 @ 1:06 pm Dan

    I always seem the end up here before I go somewhere 😉 Well I guess I pass on the hákarl but kudos to you Shing, I don’t know many women, if any at all, who would have eaten it.
    Up north this time in a couple of weeks, main location will be in Skagaströnd (hiking and property hunting…), also 2 nights at the Blue Lagoon Clinic with their fantastic private Lagoon and 2 days in good ol’ Reykjavik. 😉

    Reply

    • April 11, 2015 @ 1:56 pm admin

      Dan! My fellow Iceland enthusiast!

      I’ve never been to Skagastrond, and my knowledge of the area is really poor so I would love to get acquainted with it… and I’d also like to visit to Akureyri…. next time, next time – I must remind myself that there is no rush!

      Enjoy hiking and I hope the property hunting is successful!

      Mmmmm the Blue Lagoon is always a good idea 😀

      Reply

      • May 4, 2015 @ 11:15 am Dan

        No rush is always a good advice 😉 I really liked the south of Iceland but I love the North! Wow, so many nice places, unfortunately on the way up we had the worst snowstorm ever, visibility was ZERO in parts and it took a good 5 hours to drive from Skagaströnd to Siglufjördur, which is only a 150 km. But it was so worth it and after spending the first 4 days in deepest winter, which btw. is not normal for this time of the year, not even in Iceland, we were rewarded with sunshine and blue skies and we were finally able to see the beauty of it all. We also passed Akureyri which even has an international Airport with flights from and to London Gatwick and Berlin. But I strongly advise to either stay in the hering town of Siglufjördur or the Myvatn area. Look up LOFTHELLIR ICE CAVE, I am still speechless of what I saw there, one of the best experiences ever. If you like to see some pictures, let me know and I’ll send them over to you. And the best for last, I found a property! In the process of buying it right now, so the dream has come one step closer 🙂

        Reply

        • May 11, 2015 @ 12:47 pm admin

          Whoop that’s amazing news!! You found a property! I would love to know what you envisage it to be like… will it be a sort of guest house?

          Ok. Deep Breath. WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW!!! LOFTHELLIR ICE CAVES ARE OUT OF THIS WORLD!!! I’m speechless just looking at them never mind even going and experiencing it first hand! How have I not heard of them before? Thank you so much for passing on this info! I would LOVE to see some of your pictures, please can you send me some to look at?

          Reply

          • May 11, 2015 @ 1:48 pm Dan

            Of course I can send you some pictures. As for the property, self catering guest house equipped to a high standard in a stunning location with breath taking views would probably describe it best. You are still high up on the list of first visitors allowed to see it, after all how could I pass on the opportunity to have travel blog royality come to visit? 😉 Icelanders seem to be pretty chilled about selling property though, no rush whatsoever. I guess the whole process might take several weeks, if not months….
            I found Lofthellir just by googling for things to do in the North, worth every penny and so much more. Off to send you some pics 🙂

  6. September 7, 2017 @ 3:45 am heather.

    His name is Hildabrandi maybe you could have referred to him as that instead of ‘grandpa’

    Reply


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