Driving the Snæfellsnes peninsula, visitors encounter numerous small town. The small village of Hellissandur, Iceland is the most surprising. The reason for this are the numerous beautiful street art murals in Hellissandur are one of the surprise highlights of the Snæfellsnes.
While Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland, the beating heart of the island is in the countryside – places just like the Snæfellsnes. While there are far more street art murals in Reykjavik – larger, more impressive, and many more of them – the tiny little town of Hellissandur bills itself as the street art capital of Iceland.
What might have originated as a tongue-in-cheek proclamation, the tiny town has embraced this grand ambition. Any large wall in town has been covered in murals. Even local school children have gotten into the act painting their hands and birds along walls in town.
How did this town come to embrace street art?
Fortunes haven’t been kind to the village of Hellissandur, Iceland. This tiny town sits at the end of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. The village perches on a narrow sliver of hospitable land located between a vast lava field and the seashore. The town isn’t known for its weather, with strong winds, fog and lots of rain being a common occurrence.
Like much of Iceland, a once-prosperous fishing industry is nowhere to be found. These days, the village’s economic fortunes rest on the tourists who come to see the Snæfellsjökull National Park, whose entranence is located right outside of town.
In 2018, Kári Viðarsson, owner of the The Freezer hostel in the nearby town of Rifi, envisioned a massive, colorful transmation for the the bleak town of Hellissandur, whose fish factory had closed and sat abandoned. He saw a massive, blank canvas to transform into beautiful cultural works.
Working with town officials, he invited artists from around the world to come to the little village and paint the blank fish factory walls. The event was dubbed a ‘Street Art Festival’ and the artists did some. Over 30 major works were completed in the town that first summer and in subsequent years.
There was more to this project than just painting some walls. Kári, who grew up in Hellissandur, wanted to help transform the fortunes of the village and the region. Instead of people driving through on the way to the Snæfellsjökull National Park, give them a reason to stop and spend some time in town. And maybe they will spend some money at the local businesses. And, even better, leave the bigger cities and stay over in this remote village with its colorful mural.
Some highlight murals include:
The massive mural by Ljubomir Todorovic is absolutely stunning. The artist explained that the idea for the mural was inspired by the paranormal conspiracy theory back in the 1990s that aliens told people to gather at a glacier in Iceland. (The whole crazy story can be read here). No, the aliens never happened to visit and the the girl is still waiting.
What is interesting is that the girl is looking out to sea. Maybe the whole alien thing is a colorful diversion and maybe she’s waiting for her lover who is working on a fishing boat at sea. Or maybe, she’s not waiting for anything at all and has just sat down by the beautiful seashore to look at the view.
Bardur Protector of the Snaefellsnes
This work by Camilo Arias brings together lots of important imagery: the volcano, the seafaring heritage of the island, and wildlife like puffins and orcas. This is one of the most impressive and most detailed murals.
At the height of the “Game of Thrones invasion” of Iceland, Natalia Moguel created this mural of white walkers peaking out from behind Melisandre’s dress at the viewer. You can just hear her saying, “Death is coming for everyone and everything…”
There are many, many more awesome murals in Hellissandur to see at the fish factory.
After exploring the murals, why not check out the rest of what the area has to offer:
Snæfellsjökull National Park
This massive national park occupies the entire western edge of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The park is named for the cloud-shrowded Snæfellsjökull volcano, which towers over the area. The volcano also inspired Jules Verne’s The Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Located on the main road, the Maritime Museum is located far from the water, but has a couple of boats and also some turf buildings. The museum’s sculpture is a popular icon among locals.
Grab a Bite
If you don’t fancy another excellent hot dog at the N1 gas station (gas stations have great food!), it has some other options like sandwiches and pizza. The other alternative is the popular café known as Gilbakki Kaffihús. They feature fish soup, pastries and lots of good coffee.
And here’s a few other awesome murals in Hellissandur: