Honningsvåg is situated at a bay on the southeastern side of the large island of Magerøya, while the famous North Cape and its visitors center is on the northern side of the island. Honningsvåg is a port of call for cruise ships, especially in the summer months. The ice-free ocean provides rich fisheries and tourism is also important to the town. Even at 71°N, many private gardens in Honningsvåg have trees, although rarely more than 3 to 4 metres tall.
The famous dog Bamse came from Honningsvåg.
Honningsvåg is one of the main stops of the Hurtigruten coastal ships on their lengthy route along the Norwegian coast between Kirkenes in the north and Bergen in the south. The northbound ships to Kirkenes dock in the port from 11:15 to 14:45, generating heavy tourist activity in the city. The southbound ships to Bergen make a short stop around 05:30. Honningsvåg Airport, Valan, located 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) north of the town, provides flights mainly to Tromsø.
The area was first settled in prehistory, as much as 10,300 years ago. The sea was probably the main food source.
Honningsvåg was declared a town in 1996 by the municipal council of Nordkapp. National legislation was passed in 1997 that states that a Norwegian city must have at least 5,000 inhabitants, but since Honningsvåg was declared a city in 1996, it was exempt from this legislation. This makes it one of the smallest cities in Norway.
The status of Honningsvåg as a city is a point of contention between the inhabitants of Honningsvåg and Hammerfest, which many foreigners may find strange, given the small size of both of these places. In Norwegian the word "by" can mean both town and city and Norwegian does not distinguish between the terms in the same way as English or other languages do. The translation of the word into English is thus ambiguous and can be chosen as one sees fit. If both Hammerfest and Honningsvåg were to be defined according to British tradition, neither of them would be considered cities, as neither has a university or a cathedral. Both of them would, however, be considered towns, given their status as municipal centers and function as economic hubs of their respective surrounding areas.
The Old Norse form of the name was probably Hornungsvágr. The first element is then the genitive case of the (hypothetical) name of a mountain, Hornungr, which has since fallen into disuse. Hornungr could have been an older name of mount Storefjell (literally "big mountain"), a tall and hornlike peak near Honningsvåg, which would imply that the name was derived from the word horn. The last element is vágr, which means "bay". The full name thus means "the bay lying beneath the mountain Hornungr."
Even though Honningsvåg is located at the northernmost extreme of Europe, it has a subarctic climate, thanks to the Gulf Stream. Also, there is no permafrost because the mean annual temperature is 2 °C (36 °F). The July 24-hour average temperature is just over 10 °C (50 °F). Weather in winter is softened by the ice-free ocean, and the average temperature is not as low as that of most other locations around this latitude. In fact, winters at Honningsvåg are warmer than those of Oslo Airport, 1400 km (880 mi) to the southwest and eleven degrees of latitude farther from the north pole. Summers are cool and short. Mean annual precipitation is 765 millimetres (30.1 in). The wettest months are from October to January, with 85 millimetres (3.3 in) average precipitation per month, while the driest months are from May to July, with 43 millimetres (1.7 in) average precipitation per month. The sun is up for 24 hours per day between 13 May and 31 July, and remains below the horizon continuously from 21 November to 21 January.