Chasing Elves in Iceland

Iceland elves

Did you know more than 50% of Icelanders believe in elves?

As if Iceland wasn’t beautiful, majestic, stunning and mystical enough, it is also a helluva quirky place, which suits me just fine because I LOVE quirky.

And let’s be honest here, who doesn’t want to believe in the existence of elves? Nobody that’s who. Elves are awesome.

The Huldufólk, the Hidden People, are elves in folklore, and they are an inherent piece of the Icelandic psyche. And if you look hard enough in Iceland, you will see traces of them everywhere.

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Driving around Iceland, it’s not hard to imagine where these beliefs came from. It certainly is a freaky landscape, to put it mildly.

Gazing at jagged green mountains that disappear into the mists without a single person or animal in sight, it’s pretty easy to believe in elves, at least for me, and probably because I WANT to believe in them. But let’s not talk about that. Though I am glad I’m not the only one who has come to this conclusion.

The reason is of course perfectly clear. When one’s life is conditioned by a landscape dominated by rocks twisted by volcanic action, wind and water into ferocious and alarming shapes… the imagination fastens on these natural phenomena.  By B. S. Benedikz

As you might easily imagine, I basically spent my entire time in Iceland on the lookout for elves with Tiny Iceland. As you do.

On the full 7 days on our Iceland Challenge expedition, I continuously and furiously kept my eyes peeled for the Hidden People. But it wasn’t until we arrived in the mysterious far eastern fiords where it began to feel truly magical.

So come with me on our journey looking for elves in Iceland

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

1. Getting started in Höfn

We entered the land of the elves, that is to say, entered MORE into the land of the elves after leaving the iconic and mystical glacial lagoons and headed east. This is an area of Iceland often overlooked by travelers and tourists.

Get greeted by a bunch of preteens, we made our way under the midnight fog to Hotel Edda Höfn to get some shut eye, but not before we heard the legend of the troll wives of Skaftafell. Trolls too? I love Iceland!

This is a story about two farmers at Skaftafell, Bjarni and Einar, and the troll-women they were familiar with. A troll-wife lived in a cave above the Skaftafell Woods. One winter she assisted Bjarni in killing a savage who was the only survivor from a stranded ship. Her cave is said to exist today. Einar is said to have known a certain troll-wife and the latter part of this story is about their crossing the Skeidara river and other activity. Einar made a good copper gun, which still exists at Skaftafell.

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Photos courtesy of Laura Hundersmarck

2. Marvelling at the oddities of Djúpivogur

An hour or so driving through insane fog on the Ring Road east brought us to the “town” of Djúpivogur – I’m sure you all have heard of it. Quirky doesn’t even begin to cover this tiny little village.

We were greeted by 34 giant stone eggs dotted along the harbor, each of which represent one of the local species of bird, which I am totally cool with since becoming a devoted #BirdNerd.

Further along was an even quirkier cabin that sold fossils, rocks, bones and was in general a bizarre cross between shop and anthropologic museum. Which of course we loved. Just another reason to love Iceland!

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

3. Finally hitting the sunny eastern fjords

As we journeyed further east, it literally felt like we passed through a curtain into another world.

We went from dense, pea-soup fog to sunny blue skies in 3 seconds flat. It was so bizarre! Weaving in and out of different fjords the further and further east we headed, we would also dip in and out of heavy cloud. Iceland really does have some of the most bizarre weather in the world. I blame the elves.

Yelling for Inga to pull over every five minutes for photos, it took us ages to finally reach the east. But it was worth it!

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

4. Stepping back in time at Skriðuklaustur

Try saying that five times fast!

Skriðuklaustur is a cultural center and artist residence that was once the home of writer Gunnar Gunnarsson and before that a monastery and before that a medieval viking settlement! Pretty cool!

One of my favorite things about historical sites around the world are ones that are not only in use today, but also ones where you can experience multiple layers of history, like at Skriðuklaustur. Walking around the historic halls, it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like to live in such a remote place hundreds of years ago! No wonder they believe in elves!

They also have an amazing cafe with even more Icelandic cakes, yum yum!

Iceland elves

Photo courtesy of Laura Hundersmarck

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Photo courtesy of Laura Hundersmarck

5. Getting a taste for reindeer and hunting for sea monsters in Egilsstaðir

Confession – I ate Rudolph. And I didn’t hate it either.

Since eastern Iceland has some of the best weather (why didn’t they put the capital over here?) we tucked into Icelandair Hotel Hérað for two nights of our trip to take it all in and enjoy the 24/7 sunshine. Hello perks of traveling Iceland in summer!

As soon as we walked into the hotel, 2 things sold me on it immediately. There was an awesome wooden statue of a reindeer (all of the Icelandair hotels have an iconic wooden sculpture) AND the lobby was pink. Hot pink. After bumping around in different hotels every night, I am always really happy to be in one place for multiple days. Call it my inner nonna talking.

Iceland elves

Photo courtesy of Laura Hundersmarck

And of course there is the local legend of the Lagarfljótsormur, or the Lagarfljót Worm, the Icelandic Loch Ness Monster which lives in the nearby lake and in which sightings have been going on since the 14th century.

While we didn’t catch a glimpse of the lake monster, probably because we were too much on the lookout for some paranormal elvish activity.

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

6. The terrifying drive into Borgarfjörður Eystri

In the furthermost eastern fjord in Iceland, over a dirt mountain pass road closed through part of the year, there is a town called Borgarfjörður Eystri, population 100 on a good day. It’s about as far east and as remote as you can get in Iceland today.

With our Sixt SUV, we slowly and painfully made our way over the pass with some car problems (damn elves!) stopping for a drink from the glacial streams and rivers, and of course, lots and lots of photos.

Iceland elves

Fresh Icelandic Glacial water

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

And in true Icelandic fashion the road around route 94 near Njarðvík is totally haunted by a half man half demon named Naddi. The scree slope (we all know how much I hate scree) Njarðvíkurskriður which caused many deaths over the centuries, blamed by Naddi who lived in the sea caves below; eventually he was defeated and pushed out to sea by a local farmer. Nowadays there’s a cross marking the spot  since 1306 and is supposed to offer travelers protection, which I guess worked more or less since we didn’t end up in the sea.

Well actually we did later on in town. Chilling out at the Blábjörg Guesthouse and Spa, we completed one of our Iceland challenges and all jumped off the docks into the sea. Here’s a hint, the ocean in Iceland is never warm, anytime of year.

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

7. Searching for the Elf Queen on the Álfaborg

Did I mention the Elf Queen on Iceland lives in Borgarfjörður Eystri?

If that doesn’t give you reason enough to drive all the way out there, I don’t know what will.

So in Iceland, the elves inhabit rocks, and in Borgarfjörður Eystri there is a massive rocky hill called the Álfaborg (City of Elves) and also where the town gets its name from. The trick with elves in Iceland is relatively easy – you have to respect them and they will respect you.

Don’t mess with the elves.

Iceland elves

Photo courtesy of Laura Hundersmarck

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

8. Visiting a local farm

Before flying over to Iceland, I knew I would love the chance to talk to locals about this fascinating history of the elves and the Hidden People, i.e., do people actually believe this stuff or is it more hype than fact?

Turns out they do!

Iceland is a tiny place, and as it turns out Inga knew the family that runs Desjamýri, a farm near Borgarfjörður Eystri. After we finished up our exploring, we were able to nip in for a quick visit and chat to Sessa, the grandmother of the family about the mysterious elves in Iceland.

Turns out she is a firm believer, telling us stories over Hjónabandssæla (happy marriage cake), kleinur (Icelandic donuts) and coffee.

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

9. Lunch at an elf cafe

Since Borgarfjörður Eystri is known to be home to the elves, it only makes sense that the most happening restaurant and cafe in town is called the Elf Cafe – Álfakaffi.

This place is seriously cute and kitsch and exactly what we needed to perk up for the afternoon. Bottomless bowls of fresh fish soup warmed us up and we sat in the sun sipping coffees to revive us on our elf mission.

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

10. And puffins

And as if Borgarfjörður Eystri couldn’t get MORE interesting, there is a puffin colony nearby. That’s right. Fat, cute, waddly puffins. 10,000 strong in summer.

Can I go back now please?

Is Iceland on your bucketlist? Do you believe in elves or mysterious folklore when traveling?

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Iceland elves

Many thanks to Tiny Iceland and Icelandair for hosting me in Iceland – like always, I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own, like you could expect anything less from me.

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