It is the home of one of the largest aquariums in Europe, the Nordsøen Oceanarium. It was built in 1984 as Nordsømuseet, The Norths Sea Museum. It got its present name after it was expanded in 1998 with a fish tank containing 4,5 million liter water, making it the largest in northern Europe. The Oceanarium has in its collection 70 different species. A fire in December 2003 destroyed the new expansion, but the Nordsøen Oceanarium was rebuilt and reopened in July 22, 2005.
The town's 35 meter high lighthouse, Hirtshals fyr is a local landmark. Building was begun June 28, 1860, and it was first lit on January 1, 1863. It is constructed of red brick, and covered with Dutch tile.
Fishing plays a big role for the town, as does tourism and the renting of summer homes.
Hirtshals is Danish hometown for the Norwegian ferry company, Color Line. Each year thousands of Norwegian, German and Dutch tourists travel back and forth from Hirtshals to Norwegian cities Kristiansand and Larvik. Color Line previously also offered trips to Bergen, Stavanger and Oslo, but decided to stop operating these routes in early 2008. The shops in Hirtshals thrive on the excessive number of especially its Norwegian visitors, who shop regularly in the small town all year long.
Until January 1, 2007, Hirtshals was also a municipality (Danish, kommune) in North Jutland County. The municipality covered an area of 196 km², and had a total population of 14,088 (2005). Besides Hirtshals it covered the villages Tornby, Vidstrup, Asdal, Tuen, Bindslev, Tversted, Emmersbæk, Lilleheden and Horne. Its last mayor was Knud Størup (independent).
Hirtshals municipality ceased to exist due to Kommunalreformen ("The Municipality Reform" of 2007). It was merged with existing Hjørring, Løkken-Vrå , and Sindal municipalities to form an enlarged Hjørring municipality. This created a municipality with an area of 92 km² and a total population of ca. 67,816.