Iceland has a strong tradition of folklore and fairy-tale: every Icelandic person has grown up with stories of elves, trolls and the ‘hidden people’. Some tales are told at bedtime, while others are related to the seasons or different celebrations.
While most cultures have fairy tales that they tell their children, the surprising thing is that for Icelandic people, elves are much more than just a myth. A 2017 study conducted by the National Geographic found that over half of Icelandic people believe in elves, from strong believers to skeptics.
This belief in the magical and mysterious is one of the things that makes Icelandic culture so unique and interesting. In this article, we’ll be diving deep into the magical aspects of Iceland’s character with a special concentration on Iceland elf houses and where to find them. We’ll be covering the following:
- Elves in Iceland
- Elves and humans
- Where to find elf houses in Iceland
- Other magical creatures in Iceland
Elves in Iceland
The presence of Iceland’s elves and magical creatures such as trolls is very much tied to the natural world. It is often said that this is what gives Icelandic people such a strong connection to their land. From mountain caves to rocky sea stacks, stories of geological formations abound.
Iceland’s natural landscapes are magical enough in and of themselves. With volcanoes, glaciers, weird and wonderful geothermal phenomena and the ethereal Northern Lights dancing in the night sky, the existence of elves doesn’t seem like quite such a stretch amidst these wonders.
Elves and humans
So we know that Icelandic people believe in their elves. But how do they make their presence known in the human world? Well, there are certain areas right the way across the country where elven folk are known to live. And they are known too to be fiercely protective of their homes. So much so that they will try and scupper any encroachment by humans.
Because of this, many new town planning or road building projects will consult an elf expert before starting work. If a new road layout is set to disrupt an elven settlement, it will often be redrawn to avoid it. This has come about because of several bad experiences amongst road crews building in elf neighborhoods.
For example, a project in Gálgahraun lava field back in 2015 encountered all sorts of trouble. The machinery broke down suddenly and several workers encountered freak accidents. In the end, an elf expert was consulted and they found strong evidence of an elf settlement. The plans were subsequently rerouted and after that construction went completely smoothly.
Icelandic people are very fond of their elf neighbors and actively try not to upset them. Some people even build and install tiny wooden elf houses in areas they are known to live. On any road trip around Iceland, you are very likely to stumble across several of these. But we’ll also pinpoint a few for you on our Iceland elf houses driving itinerary.
Where to find elf houses in Iceland
So, let's begin our Iceland elf house itinerary in Reykjavík. Of course, everything kicks off in the capital city of Iceland where most adventures do. To get you started, we recommend enrolling in Elf School.
This is a three-hour intensive course in all things elven. The ‘headmaster’ is a true believer full of stories and tales of the elven people, their habits and history.
Hafnarfjörður – The elven capital
Not far from Reykjavík is the seaside town of Hafnarfjörður. Set just 10 km south of the capital, it’s a quick drive or easy bus trip. As well as being a cute fishing port, it is also known as the capital of Rock n’ Roll. However, above all, Hafnarfjörður is also Iceland’s elven capital.
Stroll around the town and you’ll see that many locals have built wooden elf houses in their gardens. There is also a lovely elf garden to enjoy set amongst striking lava rock formations- a magical place for a picnic. If you’re quiet enough, you might even hear elven voices amidst the rocks and trees.
Borgarfjörður Eystri – East Iceland’s elf centre
Located in East Iceland, the beautiful fjord of Borgarfjörður Eystri is home to only around a hundred people, but it is said to house hundreds of elves. A popular area for hiking, the route known as Stórurð, or ‘Giant Boulders’ is a particularly beautiful place to walk (and spot tiny elf friends).
If you are renting a car in Iceland for a road trip around the Ring Road, this is a great detour. Most people drive the Ring Road route from Reykjavík and then along the South Coast. From there, fewer people continue up the east coast to the north. This makes it a wonderfully quiet zone to explore.
Ásbyrgi Canyon – the true home of the hidden people?
The beautiful Ásbyrgi Canyon and forest is located in North Iceland. It is east of Húsavík and located close to the Diamond Circle road trip route.
It truly is an otherworldly spot in The Land of Fire and Ice, composed of a horseshoe shaped canyon filled with forest and rock formations. Steep-sided cliffs are said to provide homes for hundreds of elves, and there is certainly magic in the air here.
As it makes up part of the Vatnajökull National Park, there is lots more to see and do in the area. If you take a road trip up here, be sure to visit Dettifoss Waterfall and the Lake Myvatm. This whole area is perfect to explore after driving up the east coast of Iceland on the Ring Road.
Bjartmarssteinn – The elven trading post
Located in North Iceland in the Westfjords, Bjartmarssteinn is said to be one of the most enchanted places in Iceland. This is where elven folk come to trade their goods and to barter. A busy elven market, there is lots of magical activity to revel in here!
If you are driving around Iceland in summer, visiting the Westfjords makes a great road trip. In 2021, a Westfjords Ring Road route was completed, making it a much more accessible road trip destination. Of course, elf experts were consulted throughout, so the Bjartmarssteinn was unaffected.
You could add a tour of the Westfjords to your extended Ring Road route road trip. Alternatively, you could head straight here from either Reykjavík or Akureyri in the north.
Other magical creatures in Iceland
In addition to elves, there are other mystical creatures to encounter in Iceland. Most notable of these are the trolls. As you explore Iceland, you’ll see all manner of interesting rock formations and lava fields. Most of these boulders and rocks will have a story connected to them.
Trolls can only move about in the open at night; if they get caught in the sun’s rays, they automatically turn to stone. Since trolls are quite bumbling and simple, they are quite often caught out. So, you’ll see rock stacks and outcrops right across Iceland that are said to be trolls turned to stone.
Some of the most famous of these are at Reynisfjara Beach in South Iceland. Located close to the town of Vik, this famous black sand beach is a real beauty.
Some of the most famous of these are at Reynisfjara Beach in South Iceland. Turn your gaze out to sea and you’ll spot several large rock stacks being engulfed by waves. These are said to be trolls that were turned to stone as they tried to pull a boat to shore.
Do you want to know more? Well, you can dive deep into the rich tapestry of Norse mythology and Icelandic folklore by joining a guided tour. Expert guides will regale you with captivating sagas and tales of elves, trolls, and ancient gods, providing you with a unique insight into Iceland's cultural heritage.
A tour to Iceland Elf Houses!
Touring the hidden elf settlements in Iceland can be an otherworldly experience. In most of these places, a distinctive sense of magic can be felt, whether you believe in elves or not. We recommend visiting with your rental car and experiencing Iceland's folklore firsthand!