In a recent survey, it was found that many Icelanders genuinely believe in elves, and even the non-believers feel that they’re an important part of contemporary culture. Known as huldufólk or “hidden people” in Icelandic, the elves are said to be mythical creatures that live in secret dwellings and communities across Iceland. But, interpretations differ wildly when it comes to exactly what they look like – some are dwarf-like, some are more like trolls, and others basically look like humans. All are invisible, of course.
The beliefs originated from a mixture of 19th-century Faroese folklore and biblical tales during times when there was a tiny population of Icelanders, so they essentially doubled their population with stories of ‘hidden folk’. It’s also said that Iceland’s dramatic storybook scenery and volatile, volcanic landscape contributed to supernatural stories of the elves. And when you experience the active bubbling geysers, huge waterfalls and panoramic landscapes on our Golden Circle tour, it’s easy to see how the magical stories came about.
Even in contemporary times, these strong beliefs impact daily life and general Icelandic superstition. Construction projects have been postponed and diverted to avoid damaging protected elf habitats, and throwing stones is frowned upon in case you hit the elves. The sulphuric smell from the volcanic landscape is said to be the ‘elves dirty bathwater’ and even Bjork has mentioned that record companies prefer to sign Icelandic musicians who admit to believing in elves.
Elves live in rocks amongst the natural landscape and specially built houses – but they can be found almost everywhere, you just have to know where to look. Hafnarfjörður town is said to have the largest settlement of elves and mythical creatures which you can visit on our Blue Lagoon excursion and Thomson Cruises excursion. You can also book your stay at the Klettur Hotel in Reykjavík which is a legendary elf habitat, and features a rock bursting through the wall on the first floor which they weren’t able to disturb while constructing the property.
Four Icelandic holidays have a special connection with huldufólk – Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Twelfth Night and Midsummer Night. So if you visit during these times you can expect to see some elf-themed festivities such as the Elf bonfire on Twelfth Night. Elves are rumoured to hold secret wild parties during these times so keep your ear to the ground for those underground festivities. There’s even an Icelandic Elf School in Reykjavík which organises five-hour-long educational excursions for visitors.
If you really want to see the storybook version of Santa’s little helpers – it might not be Iceland’s hidden folk you’re after. However, in Lapland, Santa’s very own home, you’ll have the chance to enrol into Elf School to become one yourself or get involved in Santa’s workshop and see them in action. Check out our day trips to Lapland for the proper Christmas Elf experience.
Klettur Hotel - 2 excursions included is close to the capital's scenic harbour, and comes with its own friendly little bar stocked with Icelandic beers.
The ultra-modern Storm Hotel - 2 excursions included is right in the centre of town, just five minutes’ walk from the city’s main shopping and nightlife strip.
The best base for an Icelandic adventuremoon, Reykjavik Lights - 2 excursions included sits on the edge of the capital. Each of the rooms are filled with art designed to capture the natural wonders, like the Northern Lights and Golden Circle, which you'll see on your travels.
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