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Meet the elves of Iceland

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A decade or so ago, a golf course was being built on the outskirts of Reykjavik. A rock believed to be the dwelling of elves was moved during the works. Suddenly, workers started experiencing strange injuries, machines begun failing, and so an apology to the elves was issued by the boss of the construction works. They promised not to trouble these tiny creatures again. In another occasion, the plan was to construct a direct connection between the Alftanes peninsula and a neighbouring Reykjavik suburb. However, an environmental group called Friends of Lava claimed that the roadwork was putting in danger an important elf church and so the road had to be relocated. These are just two out of many examples. Sounds crazy? Well, not to 54% of Icelanders who "wouldn’t deny that elves exist". 

photo: UT07
photo: UT07

Elves, or "hidden people" (Huldufólk in Icelandic) have been part of Icelandic history since the Vikings first arrived on the island in 1000 AD. These mysterious creatures are said to be barely visible; hiding between the rocks or lava. Apparently, they are very similar to humans, and even have similar lifestyle. They go to church on Sundays, wear 17th century clothing, tend to livestock, and pick berries. Some of them live in houses, and, if you leave them alone, they’ll generally mind their own business. Haukur Ingi Jónasson, a professor in project management at Reykjavík University, explained that "they are protectors of nature, like we humans should be". Invented or real, these creatures are still extremely important in Icelandic culture. Different Icelandic holidays have a special connection with them. For example, on New year's Eve, they move to another location and so people light candles to help them find their way. 

When traveling to Iceland keep in mind that not every Icelander will be ready to discuss openly the existence of elves. Some will just change the subject, others might give a diplomatic answer that does not say much. When asking around what makes them believe in hidden people the answers were different, from love for tradition to explaining their special connection with nature. 

photo: vannaweb
photo: vannaweb

If you are curious to learn more and go chase these creatures, there are several options. For an exciting glimpse into the world of elves and "huldufolk", you can enrol in Reykjavík’s Elf School, attend a 4-5 hours course and even earn an elf diploma, or take one of numerous Elf tours, such as The Elf Walk in Hellisgerdi Park or others. 

For more ideas about how to spend time in Iceland, check out the stories about aurora borealis, Icelandic food, the Golden Circle, and others.

Elfschool
Elfschool
Síðumúli 31, Reykjavík, Iceland
The elves of Hafnarfjordur
The elves of Hafnarfjordur
Hafnarfjordur, Iceland

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The author

Natacha Costa

Natacha Costa

Hello, I will tell you about the south of France, the Azores, Iceland, among other places, here on itinari. Traveling has taught me more than any school, and I am excited to be sharing this passion of mine with you!

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