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Exploring the Mysterious World of Trolls and Elves in Iceland

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

Elves and Trolls in Iceland are not just characters in books or movies. In Iceland, people love telling stories about these magical creatures. These stories have been told for many years and are a big part of Iceland's traditions.


Imagine growing up hearing your parents whispering about hidden elves and tricky trolls every night before bed. Exciting, right? Well, it is in Iceland. Icelanders believe that elves and trolls exist in their land, and they have been telling stories about them for centuries.


This guide will explore the mysterious world of trolls and elves in Iceland. We will discuss the origins of Icelandic folklore, how these mystical creatures have shaped the landscape, and answer some frequently asked questions. So, let's step into this fun and magical world of Icelandic folklore together!


Elves and Trolls in Iceland

The Rich Tapestry of Icelandic Folklore: Origins and Influence


Long dark winter nights in old Iceland were the perfect backdrop for the most popular form of entertainment - storytelling. Passed down through generations, these stories of elves and trolls in Iceland formed the backbone of local folklore. Each region spun unique tales, bringing color and warmth to the cold winter nights.


The storytelling tradition, dating back to the 12th century, found its muse in the stark, challenging, yet utterly captivating landscapes of Iceland. They mirrored the unique natural environment. From thunderous waterfalls to the mesmerizing display of the Northern Lights, every feature of the land had a tale to tell.


Serving a purpose beyond entertainment, these tales also played an educational role. They were tools to teach survival skills, helping children understand and navigate the wilderness. Simultaneously, they nurtured an awareness of the unseen world, fostering a belief in the existence of magical beings and their unseen cities, effectively marrying the perceptible and imperceptible into one harmonious existence.


Icelandic Folklore

Understanding The Trolls in Iceland


Icelandic folklore is rich and diverse, with Trolls in Iceland playing a vital role in the narrative tapestry. These mythical creatures are often portrayed as large and a bit clumsy, but also capable of performing magical deeds. They're traditionally said to reside in the rocky highlands of Iceland, and according to legend, they turn to stone when sunlight strikes them.


These stories are vividly brought to life in various natural formations across the island, appearing as petrified trolls under the sun's rays. A striking embodiment of these tales is the Troll Garden in Iceland at Fossatún. This unique location was conceptualized by the owner and storyteller, Steinar Berg. Drawing inspiration from these rich narratives, Berg penned an enchanting children's book titled 'The Last Troll,' offering visitors an immersive experience into troll lore.


Even in the modern cityscape of Reykjavik, the legends of Trolls in Reykjavik leave a profound imprint. From public art installations to the folklore associated with city landmarks, the indelible influence of these fascinating mythical creatures on Icelandic culture is evident.



Icelandic trolls

Iceland Christmas Trolls


The holiday season in Iceland is marked by a unique tradition rooted in Icelandic troll folklore—the arrival of the Yule Lads or the Iceland Christmas trolls. These thirteen brothers are sometimes confused with Icelandic Christmas elves which they are not since they are descended from trolls. They were once notorious for their mischievous pranks in rural communities.


Each had a name corresponding to their particular brand of mischief, such as 'Door Slammer,' 'Sausage-Swiper,' and 'Candle-Stealer.' Today, these brothers have assumed a more benevolent role, akin to Santa Claus in other cultures. On the thirteen nights leading up to Christmas Eve, each Yule Lad takes a turn to leave gifts or rotten potatoes in children's shoes, based on the child's behavior throughout the year.


Yet, not all elements of the Yule Lad lore have been softened. Their mother, Grýla, and the Yule Cat still maintain their reputation for punishing disobedient children—Grýla by stealing and eating them, and the Yule Cat by preying on those who didn't receive new clothes for Christmas.


Icelandic Yule Cat

Icelandic Troll Stories


Icelandic troll stories are captivating in the country's folklore, with one particular tale tied to the remarkable Reynisdrangar rock pillars. These majestic pillars, visible from the black sand beach of Vik, serve as the backdrop for a popular troll story. In this legend, a storm-damaged schooner sought refuge near Vik.


As the sailors brought it ashore, a curious troll approached, requesting passage on the vessel. However, the sailors, wary of the supernatural, rejected the troll's plea and sailed away. Unfazed, the troll enlisted a companion to steal the ship. Together, they waded into the sea, intent on dragging it to shore. But as daylight broke, the trolls and the ship instantly turned to stone, forever frozen in their failed endeavor.


These Icelandic troll stories carry profound moral lessons. They caution against arrogance and greed, reminding us of the consequences of denying help or exploiting others. The petrified trolls serve as a poignant reminder of the importance of compassion and empathy.


Icelandic Troll Stories

Where To Go Troll Hunting in Iceland


The thrill of troll hunting in Iceland is an adventure that has captivated the minds of locals and tourists alike. Armed with curiosity, imagination, and perhaps a sprinkle of bravery, people embark on an exciting journey to discover the hidden corners where trolls are believed to reside.


Here are some of the famous spots believed to be home to these mythical creatures:


  • Fossatún: Known for its troll garden, this place is filled with troll statues and traces of trollish presence. It's an ideal starting point for any troll-hunting expedition.

  • Skessuhorn (Troll Woman's Peak): According to legend, this beautiful mountain in West Iceland is a petrified troll woman, offering an extraordinary destination for an adventurous hunt.

  • Tröllaskarð (Troll's Pass) in North Iceland: Another location named after trolls, where it is easy to imagine these giant creatures lurking.

  • Reynisdrangar: The three iconic sea stacks off the coast of Vik in South Iceland are believed to be trolls caught in the sunrise while attempting to drag the above mentioned ship to shore.

  • Hvítserkur Cliff in the Vatnsnes Peninsula:This site is a must-visit for any aspiring troll hunter as it is said to be the location where a troll turned to stone. This happened after the troll spent a considerable amount of time tearing down the bells of a monastery.

Each of these places offers a unique perspective on the enchanting world of Icelandic troll folklore, giving those who dare to explore an unforgettable taste of Iceland's magical, mythical landscape.


Troll Hunting in Iceland

Understanding The Elves in Iceland


The elves in Iceland, or the 'Huldufólk' (hidden people), have long been woven into the fabric of Icelandic society. The widespread Iceland elves' belief is deeply entrenched in the culture, influencing everyday life in many fascinating ways.


For many Icelanders, these ethereal beings are as real as the breathtaking landscapes of their homeland. Elves are perceived as guardians of the land, living in harmony with the rugged, often harsh Icelandic terrain. This belief in elves extends beyond the fantastical realm, affecting tangible, practical aspects of Icelandic life.


For instance, construction projects and road-building have often been adjusted or halted to avoid disturbing rocks where elves are said to reside. Notably, in the 1930s, a road project in the town of Kopavogur was diverted to protect an elfin dwelling. Similar instances have occurred numerous times, underscoring the respect for Iceland's hidden people and the nature they inhabit.



Where To Find Elves And See Iceland Elf Houses


The tradition of creating elf houses in Iceland adds a delightful layer of charm and whimsy to the country's rich folklore. These tiny abodes believed to attract the Huldufólk (hidden people), are a heartwarming representation of the deep connection between Icelanders and the mythical elves.


Famous spots in Iceland where elf houses are commonly found include:


  • Hafnarfjörður: Often referred to as the elf capital of Iceland, this town in the Reykjavik area is said to be home to thousands of elves. As a result, many elf houses have been built here as friendly gestures and offerings.

  • Djúpalónssandur: This stunning beach near Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a popular spot for elf houses. With its black sand and towering cliffs, this majestic place epitomizes the grandeur of Iceland's hidden people.

  • Kleifarvatn: This beautiful lake near Reykjanes Peninsula has many elf houses. Visitors have reported seeing glimpses of elves in this stunningly beautiful location.

  • Álfaborg: Located in Borgarfjörður Eystri in East Iceland, Álfaborg, or 'Elf Rock,' is considered the city of the elves and is presided over by the queen of the elves. Small elf houses can be seen near the rock, adding to its mystical allure.

  • Kópavogur: This town is home to a large elf stone where a tiny elf chapel has been constructed, demonstrating the residents' respect for the elves in Iceland.


These elf houses in Iceland are scattered across the country and serve as a fascinating cultural symbol, encapsulating the country's enchanting blend of myth, tradition, and respect for nature.


Elves houses in Iceland

Guided Tours of Elf Locations


In recent years, guided tours to elf locations in Iceland have become increasingly popular. These excursions offer a unique way to explore the country's mythical landscape and gain insight into its fascinating folklore. For the best chances of catching a glimpse of elves in Iceland, you can join one of these captivating guided tours and get a rare opportunity to spot some hidden people.


  • Your Friend in Reykjavik: This private Reykjavik walking tour with food offers a unique glimpse into the city's enchanting world of elves. With a visit to an actual Elf house, the tour integrates Icelandic folklore into the journey, making it a memorable and mystical exploration of Reykjavik.

  • Super Jeep Tour: The Super Jeep Tour takes adventurers to the mystical Snæfellsnes Peninsula, where folklore whispers of elf and troll inhabitants. The tour includes visiting captivating landmarks like Snæfellsjökull glacier, believed to be a gateway to another world.

  • Eldhestar Horse Tour: Immerse yourself in Iceland's rich folklore with the unique horse tour that takes you through areas populated by elves, the influential invisible inhabitants of the land. As you trot along the countryside, experience the thrill of discovering unseen worlds and learning about the mythical creatures who decide where roads and houses can be built.



Tours of Elf Locations

Interesting Facts About Elves in Iceland


There are some fascinating facts about elves in Iceland that make these mythical creatures even more intriguing. Here are some of the most interesting ones:


  • The presence of elves, or 'Huldufólk,' in Iceland dates back to the early Icelandic language, with mentions in Viking poems over a millennium old.

  • Unlike humans, Huldufólk is known for their love of coffee, while elves are not fond of the beverage.

  • Elves can vary in size, with the smallest believed to be a mere 8 centimeters/3 inches tall.

  • The daily life of an elf mirrors that of humans, with activities including keeping livestock, picking berries, cutting hay, and contributing to their society's economy.

  • Some elves choose to cohabitate with humans. They are harmless if treated respectfully.

  • Elves have sparked a unique ecological movement in Iceland. Groups actively protest against the development of certain areas, preserving them as elf habitats.

  • Icelanders traditionally leave out food for the elves during Christmas and ensure their homes are tidy for them to dance while they attend Christmas church service.

  • New Year's Eve in Iceland is considered the elves' annual moving day. Locals light candles to assist them in relocating to their new residence.


Elves in Iceland

What Is The Difference Between Huldufolk and Icelandic Elves?


When delving into Icelandic folklore, it's crucial to understand the distinct difference between Huldufolk and elves in Iceland, or 'Alfafolk.' The term 'elf' can be a bit misleading, as it conjures images of the Christmas elf-on-a-shelf type, complete with pointy ears, shoes, and hats adorned with jingling bells. However, in Icelandic culture, 'elf' is a broad term encompassing a variety of magical beings, including those that stray from this stereotypical image.


Among the most significant sub-categories under the elf umbrella is the Huldufolk, translating to 'hidden people.' These beings are said to bear a striking resemblance to humans but are considered taller, slimmer, and more aesthetically pleasing. They are believed to reside in a parallel world, hidden from our view. The Huldufolk origin story can be traced back to biblical times, with an unwashed group of Eve's children cursed to remain hidden from sight forever by God.


Even though the difference between Huldufolk and Alfafolk is evident, it's common for locals to use these terms interchangeably without raising an eyebrow. The fascinating world of Icelandic folklore encompasses a wide array of magical beings, each unique in their characteristics and stories.


Huldufolk

Understanding Iceland Fairies


Fairies in Iceland are captivating elements of the island's rich folklore. These mythical beings resemble popular characters we often see in global folklore and literature, such as Tinkerbell from the famed tale of Peter Pan. Despite this familiarity, their presence is not as prominent in Iceland's lore as compared to other mystical creatures like trolls or elves.


Fairies in Iceland are typically female, adding a unique dynamic to the island's narrative of supernatural beings. This prevalence of feminine representation amongst fairies weaves a different kind of enchantment into Iceland's cultural tapestry, offering a diverse range of characters that populate its mythical landscape.


Although they might not star in as many stories as their troll and elf counterparts, fairies certainly contribute to the charming mystique of Iceland's folklore. Their less dominant yet enchanting presence adds another layer of mystery and charm to the fascinating world of Icelandic mythical creatures.


Delving Into the Mysterious World of Iceland Trolls and Elves


Exploring the mysterious world of trolls and elves in Iceland is a captivating journey into the country's rich folklore and cultural heritage. The enchanting tales, rooted in Icelandic mythology, offer a unique perspective on the connection between nature and human belief systems.


To fully immerse oneself in this magical experience, booking a motorhome allows for flexibility and freedom to search for trolls and elves in the vast Icelandic landscapes. Whether encountering rock formations, secluded forests, or secluded valleys, the motorhome provides an ideal way to venture into the realms of folklore and uncover the hidden wonders of Iceland's mythical creatures.


Iceland Trolls

FAQs


Why did the people of Iceland believe in elves?


The belief in elves, or Iceland gnomes, arose from ancient traditions and a strong connection to the natural environment. These tales offered explanations for Iceland's unique landscapes, helped instill moral values, and provided a coping mechanism for the harsh conditions and unpredictable forces of nature.


How tall are elves in Iceland?


In Icelandic folklore, despite various depictions, it's often cited that elves or Iceland little people stand about 96 centimeters/36 inches tall. This height imbues them with a distinct charm, maintaining their elusive nature while being just the right size to dwell within the landscape undetected.


Where do the elves live in Iceland?


Elves in Iceland are believed to dwell in natural landmarks, especially in elf stones and hills. These homes, known as Iceland elf houses, are scattered across the island and are treated with the utmost respect by locals to avoid disturbing their hidden, mystical residents.


What percent of Iceland believes in elves?


There are no more than 5% of Icelanders who believe undoubtedly in elves. Most of the society holds a more neutral and skeptical position, and many cannot provide a definitive answer. The belief in elves exists within a gray area, making it challenging to determine a specific percentage.


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