The majority of Icelanders believe in, or at least refuse to the deny the existence of elves, trolls, and other hidden beings. Cut off from the rest of the world for centuries, Icelanders developed a rich storytelling tradition and stories about elves and hidden people are still part of their heritage today. We spent most of our time independently exploring Iceland, but when we did venture out with a guide, stories of Iceland elves and trolls were shared to explain many of Iceland’s otherworldly formations. Because we love this quirky side of Iceland, we’re sharing a few of the amusing tales of Iceland elves and trolls we’ve been told.
Huldufólk: The Hidden People
Huldufólk are elves or hidden people in Icelandic folklore and Icelanders believe they are everywhere. People often even build álfhól (tiny wooden elf houses) in their gardens for elves to live in. Iceland road builders take elves very seriously and since they live in rock outcroppings, consult with an elf expert before routing a new road or highway through rock piles that may be elf habitats. We spotted a field strewn with large rocks and at least ten colorful wooden álfhól
Vík’s Ship-dragging Trolls
Just offshore from the black sand beach in Vík, the balsalt rock formations, Reynisdrangar, stick up out of the Atlantic like fingers. As the folklore goes, these spindly rock formations are actually trolls frozen in time.
You see, trolls are night dwellers. They were trying to drag three ships ashore when they were caught in the sunlight and turned to stone.
The Partying Trolls of Dimmuborgir
Dimmuborgir, located in Myvatn in the north of Iceland, literally translates to “Dark Cities”. As we explored Dimmuborgir with our guide, Ólafur, he pointed at the rock formations.
“Do you see the troll faces?”
A long time ago, a couple of trolls that were living in the area decided to have a big party during the dark period and invite trolls from all around Iceland. The trolls partied so much and for so long, that they forgot the sun would shine again. It is said that the unusual lava pillars are really trolls that turned to stone when the sun came up.
Grumpy Guðrún, the Poltergeist
This one is actually the story of a very grumpy, mean old ghost who had to be trapped for eternity lest she continue to terrorize the people of the Reykjanes Peninsula. You see, Guðrún Önundardóttir was a real woman who rented from a rich farmer. When she didn’t pay her rent one day, the farmer evicted her with her sole possession: a cooking pot.
Guðrún was furious and vowed to kill him. She was actually so enraged, that she just dropped dead on the spot. She was carried in her coffin to the cemetery to be buried, but the men carrying the coffin realized it became increasingly lighter as they trudged on.
Apparently Guðrún made good on her threat, because the farmer was found dead with broken bones the very next day. And she continued to terrorize the people of the Reykjanes Peninsula until a priest named Eiríkur set a trap, and she stumbled over in to a geyser with her cooking pot in hand.
The Gunnuhver Hot Springs, named for Guðrún, are the largest bubbling mud pot in Iceland. Some say if you watch very closely through the steam, you can sometimes see Guðrún trying to stop herself from falling in.
The Giantess, an ogress from the mountains, moved into the Black Cave at the marina in Gróf. Skessan, as she’s called, is a friendly troll that we visited, though she’s sound asleep snoring in a rocking chair in her kitchen.
As the tale goes, a little girl named Siggi was sent out to the mountains to play while her mother prepared a surprise sixth birthday for her. Siggi found a giant shoe, which of course belongs to a troll. She wasn’t afraid of the troll, though, and they became fast friends. The Mayor was so impressed with the troll’s friendliness, he built a home for her in the cave in 2008 and she’s resided there ever since.
Elf house or just a shed? Sauðhúsvöllur was built in 1948 by the farmer living on the farm tucked back from the road and the purpose was to shelter milk cans in it. Since the road conditions can vary greatly, the milk truck couldn’t be counted on to deliver at a certain time. Instead, the milk truck would place the milk cans in the shed and the farmer could retrieve them later. But maybe elves took shelter here too? In Iceland, that’s probably the case!
The Elf School
If you’re keen to learn more about Iceland’s elves, hidden people and trolls, then you might like attending the Elf School – or Álfaskólinn in Icelandic. It’s located in Reykjavik and you can take a 3-4 hour course, complete with a 70-page text book that is yours to take home, to learn about this folklore. We’ve not personally taken the class, but students rave that it’s an afternoon they never forget on their trip to Iceland. Considering this is a country with take-your-breath-away beauty and unforgettable adventures, that’s the highest of compliments.