It wasn’t until the 1990s, when a group of volunteers (mainly teachers from the local high school) rallied together to restore the abandoned old salting station and create the museum, did the town start to rebound. And after winning a European Museum Award in 2004, it solidified Siglo’s position as a must-visit stop along North Iceland’s scenic Arctic Coast Way driving route.
Visitorship to the museum is steadily increasing. And with 2022 set to be its busiest year yet, according to Elefsen, Siglo is experiencing a second boom – this time because of tourism.
“Even though we don’t fish for herring anymore, preserving and sharing our history has made us capable of somehow rising again and turning into a popular destination,” she said. “People from all over the world now come here year-round.”
Icelanders see the value in it too, with many of the historical items on display in the museum – from record players to vintage dresses – arriving by way of donations from former herring girls’ families. More than 20 years later, the museum still receives at least one new item per week.
While Siglo was once difficult to access, a tunnel through mountains now connects it to the city of Akureyri and the rest of north-eastern Iceland, making it easier to reach. Meanwhile, expedition cruise ships bring in history lovers by the boatload.
New ventures in town are popping up to meet this growing interest in Icelandic history. Next door to the museum is Segull 67, a brewery located inside an old fish freezing plant that offers tastings among antique machinery. And in the restored marina village, brightly painted buildings house cafés like Hannes Boy, named after a local legend and fisherman, and the charming Siglo Hotel, whose nautical-themed rooms have views of the surrounding mountains. While they’re in town, adventurous travellers often head to the peaks of Tröllaskagi (Troll Peninsula), a mecca for backcountry and heli-skiing in the winter and hiking and horseback riding in the summer.