Imagine a land where folklore flirts with reality and myths breathe life into the landscape. That’s Iceland for you, a country where tales of elves, trolls, and ancient spirits aren’t just bedtime stories but a part of everyday life.
Icelandic folklore is a world where the supernatural meets the ordinary. Elves, believed to live in rocks and hidden corners, share the stage with trolls—not the internet kind—but the massive, ancient beings believed to roam the wilderness.
Now, let’s not forget the hidden people – the Huldufólk. These mysterious beings are rumored to be invisible to most but occasionally reveal themselves to those with a keen eye. Iceland is the only place in the world where entire road construction plans have been altered to avoid disturbing their rock dwellings!
So, when you’re road-tripping through Iceland, you’re not just exploring a country; you’re driving on enchanted roads where reality and myth magically meet.
Hraunfossar and Barnafoss: The Tragic Children’s Falls
Nestled amidst Iceland’s rugged terrain, you’ll find the legends of Hraunfossar and Barnafoss.
Hraunfossar, meaning “Lava Falls,” is a series of cascading waterfalls emerging from ancient lava fields.
Adjacent to Hraunfossar, you’ll find Barnafoss, or “Children’s Falls.” Legend has it that Barnafoss earned its name from a tragic tale of two children who, against their parent’s wishes, ventured across a natural stone bridge spanning the falls. In a heartbreaking turn, the bridge collapsed, claiming the lives of the siblings. Since this tragic event, the falls became known as Barnafoss – a grim reminder of the consequences of disobedience.
This tale isn’t merely a children’s story in Iceland; it’s a living part of the culture as locals share these stories with reverence and caution, stressing the importance of respecting nature’s beauty while acknowledging its dangers.
For the best experience at Children’s Falls, sturdy footwear and raingear are recommended for those eager to explore the nearby trails. You might even spot some fairies in the tree trunks!
Dimmuborgir: Where Elves and Trolls Dance
Deep in the volcanic wonderland near Lake Mývatn, Dimmuborgir emerges in a tower of lava formations, earning its name as the “Dark Cities.” Locals believe this extraordinary structure is the doorway to an eerie world of elves and trolls.
Legend has it that Dimmuborgir is the playground of the mischievous Yule Lads, a group of 13 Icelandic “Santas” with distinct personalities.
Dimmuborgir also serves as a venue for cultural events and festivals celebrating Iceland’s rich folklore. If you’re lucky enough to visit during the holiday season, you might get a glimpse of the Yule Lads taking center stage in local festivities. Visitors can witness traditional celebrations, including music, dance, and storytelling, featuring—of course—elves and trolls!
As you explore the trails of the well-marked area, note the must-see landmarks of Kirkjan (The Church) rock formation, with its arching windows and cavernous spaces, the dramatic “Hole of the Cat” and the imposing “Lava Cave.”
Skogafoss: Iceland’s Roaring Majesty
Along the southern coast of Iceland stands the powerful Skogafoss waterfall with its thunderous roar as it crashes from a height of 60 meters. The sheer power of Skogafoss makes it one of Iceland’s most iconic and visited cascades.
Skogafoss, steeped in folklore, tells the legend of a Viking settler named Þrasi who, centuries ago, hid a treasure chest behind the waterfall. Folklore tells a story of two young boys trying to pull the trunk out of the water, but it vanished, leaving them only with a golden ring. The tale says those brave enough might discover this hidden fortune if they venture behind the cascading waters.
Visiting during the off-peak hours can provide a more intimate encounter—and possibly a better chance of finding the elusive treasure.
The nearby Skógar village also offers amenities such as cafes and museums for a deeper dive into Icelandic folklore and culture.
Snæfellsjökull National Park: Journey to Adventure
On the western tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Snæfellsjökull National Park is a place of cultural and literary significance that has inspired tales and adventures for centuries.
Perhaps you’ve read Jules Verne’s classic novel, “Journey to the Center of the Earth”? In this masterpiece, the journey begins with the characters descending into the glacial crater of Snæfellsjökull, believing it to be the entrance to the Earth’s core. Locals believe the glacier, a source of inspiration for poets and artists, is blessed with mystical energy.
The neighboring towns and villages often host cultural institutions celebrating Iceland’s rich heritage. Travelers can visit Stykkishólmur, where the Norwegian House Museum and the Volcano Museum offer rich insights into the region’s history and geology.
The Elf School in Reykjavik: Exploring Icelandic Mythology
In the heart of Reykjavik, you’ll find the charming and whimsical institution that might raise an eyebrow or two—the Elf School—a testament to Iceland’s deep-rooted belief in elves and hidden folk.
These mystical beings said to inhabit rocks, hills, and hidden corners, are an integral part of Icelandic folklore. Many Icelanders tread very carefully when it comes to disturbing the natural surroundings, fearing it might disrupt the homes of these unseen neighbors and cause them bad luck.
The Elf School is an immersive experience that bridges this belief system and those curious enough to examine the magic. Visitors can explore artifacts, illustrations, and stories of mythical elfin folklore. Guided tours, led by passionate experts, offer a deeper understanding of Icelandic mythology, sharing anecdotes about encounters with elves and hidden people.
The Settlement Exhibition in Reykjavik: Tracing Iceland’s Roots
This immersive museum, located just steps away from Reykjavik city center, invites visitors to explore the island’s earliest days of settlement with exhibitions seamlessly blending archaeology, storytelling, and cutting-edge technology.
The Settlement Exhibition allows you to connect with the characters and events that laid the foundation for Iceland’s unique cultural identity as it brings to life the sagas, narratives and journeys of the early settlers. The sagas, epic tales of gods, heroes, and everyday people, come to life through vivid multimedia presentations.
While wandering the museum’s halls, you’ll find exhibits featuring rich folklore and mythology that shaped the mindset of Iceland’s early inhabitants. With informative displays in multiple languages, including English, guests can navigate the exhibits at their own pace. The interactive nature of the collections, including touch screens and audio guides, provides a deeper understanding of Iceland’s fascinating settlement history.
The Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft: The Mysteries of Magic
In the quiet and unassuming village of Hólmavík on the remote Westfjords peninsula, you’ll find the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft. A gateway to the supernatural, this unique museum explores a time when sorcery and witchcraft, both feared and embraced throughout history, were integral to Icelandic history.
Icelandic folklore, filled with stories of magical practices, spells, and the elusive Huldufólk (Hidden Folk), aims to preserve the history of those accused of practicing magic by offering an understanding between the supernatural and the ordinary.
Through an intriguing collection of exhibits and artifacts, visitors can explore ancient grimoires, tools used in magical rituals, and artifacts associated with historical witch trials.
Don’t miss the eerie and mysterious “Necropants,” a pair of pants crafted from human skin that, according to legend, grants the wearer great wealth!
Thingvellir National Park: Where Nature and History Converge
At this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll find Iceland’s crown jewel. Situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Thingvellir National Park is a rift valley where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates drift apart.
Not just a geological wonder, the park is also a historical crossroads where Icelandic democracy took its first steps at Alþingi, the world’s oldest existing national parliament, founded in 930 AD.
Steeped in folklore, Alþingi hosted gatherings where chieftains and lawmakers across Iceland convened to discuss laws, settle disputes, and celebrate. The Law Rock, the symbolic seat of the Lawspeaker, is said to have echoed with the voices of ancient assemblies.
As you explore the park, keep an eye out for Oxarárfoss, a picturesque waterfall with a legend about a hidden treasure guarded by elves—and the Silfra Fissure, a crystal-clear glacial spring with secret worlds lurking beneath its surface.
Discover Iceland’s Enchanted Roads with Geysir
We hope you’ve been captivated by learning about the folklore and mythology of our magical country.Back