From 1470, the Hanseatic League merchants began sailing to Iceland. Originally, they came only from Bergen in Norway, but soon they also started coming from the German Hanseatic cities of Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen. In 1468, the King had granted the Hanseatic League merchants trading licenses in Iceland, and this led to a great deal of competition between the English and German merchants for use of the best harbours. Sources from 1475, for instance, describe the conflict in Hafnarfjörður between them. The conflict continued for a number of years, until around 1480, when the Germans succeeded in pushing the Englishmen out of Hafnarfjörður. The German merchants were much more popular than the English, especially because they were peaceful and offered a cheaper and more varied product than the others had done. Only a small part of the conflict over Icelandic trade concerned the imports. First and foremost, the Icelandic stockfish was sought after in order to maintain control of the European stockfish markets. Hafnarfjörður was the main port for the Hanseatic League merchants in Iceland, and towards the end of the 15th and all of the 16th century, it can be said that it was a German town.

The Hanseatic merchant shops in Hafnarfjörður were on the so-called Háagrandi, which was the eastern-most part of Hvaleyrargrandi. In Háagrandi, there was a strong need for permanent housing, as the Hanseatic ships had large crews, with up to 60 people in each ship. The German merchants’ shipping reports show that they moved a lot of construction materials to Iceland, for the construction of shops and warehouses, as well as lumber for church buildings.  German merchants were known for building churches in foreign ports, and they did so in Iceland as well. The church that that the Hanseatic merchants built in Hafnarfjörður was the first Lutheran church in Iceland, and it was a tall wooden church with a copper roof. The establishment and building of the church was organised by the merchants and ship captains who sailed to Iceland, and they were part of a religious brotherhood called “Die Islandfahrerbrüderschaft”. In 1602, the King of Denmark issued a monopoly trade directive that banned anyone other than Danish citizens from trading with Iceland. This ended the German merchant influence in Hafnarfjörður and the direct trade relationship between Hafnarfjörður and Hamburg. The King also issued a directive in 1608 that all the Hanseatic captain buildings in Hafnarfjörður should be demolished.

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Facts & Figures

Icon Founded


Year 1908

Icon Location


64.07252 latitude and -21.9841 longitude

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What is the city known for?

Krýsuvík Geothermal Area

Harbour Area