Or the Hidden people

It is common knowledge that Icelandic people are superstitious by nature. I was raised in a family where the Elves were like part of the landscape and life in general. My mother used to tell me stories about the elves she played with when she was growing up, and there is even one elf story related to when I was born, but I’m going to save that for our Reykjavik Mythical walk together ;).

Galadriel
The most common Elves in Iceland are called the Hidden People. They are very similar to us but just a little bit taller, thinner and more beautiful. The Elves straight from the Lord of The Rings by Tolkien. It is not common knowledge, but he was influenced by the Icelandic Sagas and Folklore when he wrote his stories, but that is another story. According to the Icelandic Elf School, there are over 50 types of Elves in Iceland and yes in case you were wondering I have a graduate degree from the school, so I’m qualified to talk and write about the Icelandic Elves.

How did the Elves come to be?
The Genesis or the creation story of the elves is according to the story that God was coming to visit Adam and Eve. Eve was washing their children before the visit to make them presentable, and she did not finish before God knocked on the door, so she hid the rest of the children. When God found out what Eve had done he made the declaration “What man hides from God, God will hide from man” and so the Hidden people came to be.

We Believe
There was a survey done in 1998 that showed 54.4% of Icelanders believe in Elves and then 10 years later or 2008 another survey showed that the percentage was up to 62%. so the belief in Elves in Iceland doesn’t seem to be diminishing. To be totally honest today most Icelanders actually don’t believe in Elves so to speak but it’s more that they don’t dismiss the possibility.

Don’t disturb the Elves of Iceland
There are still roads that are being built that go around elf houses and elf churches instead of just bulldozing the road straight through because people here are more like, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Just two months ago I saw a piece on the national tv station RÚV regarding a condominium that was going to be built on top of an elfstone. When the constructors discovered this they made the house a little smaller so the stone would be outside the building and not be “harmed”. There are many many stories like this. We actually visit an elf house or stone and pay our respects to the elves on both our Reykjavik Walking Tour – Walk With a Viking and Icelandic Mythical Walk.

When are you most likely to see an elf in Iceland?
There are four Icelandic days said to have a special connection with Elves and the hidden people: January 6 (The Thirteenth), Midsummer night, Christmas night and finally New Year’s Eve. On January 6th the mythical creatures of Iceland show themselves and there are Elf bonfires to celebrate them in many places.
On Midsummer Night, folklore states that if you sit at a crossroads, traveling elves will attempt to seduce you with food and gifts and you will turn mad if you are seduced by their offers, but you get great rewards from the Elves for resisting. It is customary in Iceland to clean the house before Christmas and to leave food for the huldufólk and during Christmas, There are many Icelandic folktales about elves and hidden people invading Icelandic farmhouses and holding parties. On New Year’s Eve, it is believed that the elves move to new locations, and Icelanders leave candles to help them find their way.






The graduate degree from the Icelandic Elf school
The Degree from the Icelandic Elf School as proof
The weather changes every five minutes in Iceland but this helps

Here is a list of the top 10 apps I recommend for your trip to Iceland

The five first ones are kind of vital especially in winter time here on this rock

1) The official Icelandic weather app = Veður
– On Android
– On Ios

Kind of goes without saying that this is needed in Iceland but still…

2) Offical app for Icelandic emergency service = 112
– On Android
– On Ios

This app sends an SMS to the Icelandic emergency service 112 with the phones GPS location before calling 112

3) Official app for road conditions = Vegagerðin
– On Android
– On Ios

Displays various road data

4) Google Maps = Yes you need a map in Iceland and not just because the Icelandic street names are a bit tricky
– For Android

5) Appy Hour = Because Alcohol is very expensive in Iceland
– On Android
– On Ios

Every Happy Hour in Reykjavik in your pocket

6) Walking app = Wapp
– On Android
– On Ios

All kinds of trails you can walk in you own time and you get interesting pop-up facts, stories and photos from the area.

7) The official Bus system app = Strætó
– On Android
– On Ios

Public transport authority for the Reykjavik area

8) The parking app for Reykjavik = Leggja
– On Android
– On Ios

Just for Android but a little bit cheaper and easy option for parking in the Reykjavik city center

9) A new Icelandic coupon app because food & stuff is expensive in Iceland = Icelandic Coupons
– On Android
– On Ios

10) If you are hunting for the Northern lights then this can be very useful (I primarily use the Northern light forecast of the Weather app: Vedur).

A stop for an Icelandic hotdogThe Icelandic Hotdog is an absolute top ten Icelandic food you must try. There is no fast food that comes close in popularity to the Icelandic Hot Dog. We call them Pylsur or Pulsur. The best hot dog you find are the ones sold at Bæjarins Bestu. That literally means The Town‘s Best. And it‘s actually true. And that, of course, is where we stop in our Reykjavik Food Tour.

So how to order a hot dog? The easiest thing to do is to order „one with everything“. That means you will be served a hot dog in a soft bread bun with raw onions, fried onions, ketchup, lightly spiced mustard and remoulade. Remoulade is a mayonnaise that has been mixed with gherkins and capers. Bill Clinton came to Iceland some years ago and asked for one with just mustard. We call it the Clinton. But I for one think he made a serious mistake, it is just so much better with all the other stuff. No decent Icelander would have just the mustard!

The hot dog itself is made with mostly lamb but also pork, and beef. Its rich in flavor and at the Town‘s Best they are rumored to be braised in beer.

The Town‘s Best is one of the oldest companies in Reykjavik, serving hot dogs now for over 80 years. It is a family run company and they have been selling hot dogs for over four generations now. They have stalls in six places, one of them in the center of Reykjavik just by Kolaportið, the Reykjavík Flea Market. You can read our blog on the market here. One of the reasons they have maintained their status is that despite much success they never went posh. They have in fact stayed exactly the same, never extended their menu or even changed the hot dog stand. They just stick to what the people love, a good old Icelandic hot dog. And people queue in all kinds of weather and stand outside in the cold to enjoy that delicious bite of a warm hot dog.

For many generations now Icelanders have taken a drive with their families to the center and stopped at the hot dog stand, ended their evenings of beer drinking at the hot dog stand, their Saturday or Sunday walk at the hot dog stand or a walk with the dog, who also would enjoy a bite at the hot dog stand. I for one have grown up doing all of that.

The opening hours are also quite good or on Sundays through Thursdays from 10 am – 2 am and Fridays and Saturdays from 10 am to 04:30 am so perfect during the weekends after a couple of beers.

One hot dog should be enough but honestly, a lot of people go for the second. Even if that means queuing again. Don‘t miss out on trying this delicious treat. By joining our Reykjavik Food Tour you will definitely enjoy an Icelandic Hot Dog, and so much more of what Reykjavik has to offer for your taste buds.

Rye Flatbread newly baked

Rye Flatbread is a traditional Icelandic food and definitely one of the top ten foods to try in Iceland. Every time I ask Valur if he needs anything from the store the answer is always flatbread. He really loves it and actually, so do I and our three year old. It‘s a part of our every day diet. We have it with butter and cheese or butter and smoked lamb. I had it once with both and that really got Valur going. Cheese and smoked lamb together – how could I! Well honestly, that and so much more is excellent on flatbread. Restaurants are starting to appreciate it in greater numbers, offering it with various salads, smoked salmon and more.

In our Reykjavik Food Tour, we stop by Reykjavik Flea Market: the Kolaportið, if the tour is on during the weekend (As the flea market is only open from 11am to 5pm on Saturday’s and Sunday’s). You can read our blog about the Kolaportið here. There we have rye flatbread with butter and smoked lamb and you can also buy some in the food stalls, as well as many other traditional Icelandic delicacies.

Rye Flatbread is the poor man‘s bread. It is a thin rounded bread traditionally made only with rye and water. Sometimes barley or moss instead of rye. Rye has little gluten and lacks lifting qualities making the bread only about 2 millimeters thick, which explains the name flatbread. Prior to modern cooking methods, the bread was baked in a pot or directly on a stove. The bread is round shaped and is normally cut in half or four pieces. Today other ingredients have been added such as flour, salt, and even sugar.

The Icelandic Rye Flatbread goes back centuries  – even back to the settlement of Iceland in 874 AD. The Icelandic climate is not favorable to growing corn so bread was not a big part of the Icelandic diet. People had butter on dried fish, not bread (and we still do sometimes!). But Rye can be grown in cold climates. That is why flatbread was so common and has very strong roots in our culture. For example, it plays a big part in the Thorrablót, the Icelandic mid-winter festivals. The festivals are held across the country throughout the month of Thorri, which begins on Husband’s Day in January and ends on Woman’s Day in February.

If you like to try it just pop into the next grocery shop. With a bit of luck, you can find it in some cafes and restaurants. Or simply join our Reykjavik Food Tour!

Reykjavik Flea market

If you like strolling through markets and see people from all walks of life the Reykjavik flea market is for you! It’s the biggest flea market in Reykjavik, it’s named Kolaportið and it’s very popular among the locals. It’s right in the center at Tryggvagata 19 (by the famous hot dog stand) and you can enter on opposite ends of the building and also the side facing the Harpa concert hall. This flea market has it all and is one of our food stops in our Reykjavik Food Lovers Tour if it’s open.
We also pass the flea market in our Walk with a Viking.

Reykjavik Flea market

From the food market inside the Reykjavik Flea Market

The market is a great place to go if you are hungry, cold, looking for something to read, a souvenir or a gift for someone. You can find all sorts of delicacies in the food stalls and beautiful hand-knitted goods made with Icelandic wool, often sold by the ladies who make them. It is a great opportunity to strike up a conversation and learn about Icelandic patterns and knitting. You can also find all kinds of arts and crafts, antiques, toys, clothes, and books. In one corner of the market, there is a café with a seating area which sells traditional Icelandic bread and pastries.

We recommend you visit the food stalls and try some licorice, dried fish and for the brave-hearted, fermented shark. We also recommend you have a seat in the café of the flea market situated in the corner closest to the Harpa concert hall and have some flatbread with smoked lamb, pancakes and fried dough (kleina). Then we, of course, can’t praise the Icelandic wool masters enough for knitting those beautiful sweaters, gloves, scarves, and hats that keep us all warm during winter. You can also find one of a kind vintage clothing, books in English and beautiful locally made jewelry.

It is wise to show up with some cash in your pocket as not everyone accepts bank cards. There is an atm/cash point by one of the entrances.  You can also try to haggle a bit, some of the sellers are there every weekend while others are just there for one time only and are willing to sell their things quickly and for cheap.

Kolaportið is open on weekends from 11 am to 5 pm (11-17).

For centuries Icelanders had to find ways to store food during long and cold winters. That was before refrigiators and modern technology. One of those „delicacies“ and one of Iceland‘s national dishes is fermented shark or kæstur hákarl, which we of course offer a taste of on our Reykjavik Food Lovers Tour. One way to know if you are being offered a fermented shark is the overwhelming smell that refuses to leave your nostrils for a serious amount of time. That’s why we tell first timers to pinch their nose while taking the first bite and be quick to wash it down with a shot of brennivín (very strong alcohol). Sounds good right!

Some of the most famous chefs in the world have come to Iceland and tried the fermented shark. Anthony Bourdain described it as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he has ever eaten and Gordon Ramsay simply spat it out. But each to his own, the shark is well appreciated among many. Well, at least many Icelanders.

The Greenland shark (or other sleeper shark) is cured with a particular fermentation process. The shark is gutted and beheaded and placed in a shallow hole dug in gravelly sand. The shark is completely covered with sand and piled stones on top for 6-12 weeks depending on the season.  This way the fluids are pressed out of the meat. The shark is than cut into strips and hung to dry for four to five months. The crust is removed prior to cutting the shark into small pieces and serving. Often served/sold in a small plastic container where it has been cut in small cubicles. That’s when a toothpick in your wallet comes in handy.

The meat is actually poisonous when fresh but may be consumed after being processed correctly so no need to worry, it’s perfectly safe to consume from the stores or markets in Iceland. You will be able to find it in most supermarkets. Few advices though. Do not open the container in your car. Do not open the container in your hotel room either. To be completely honest, it is best eaten outside.

It is great to drive around on your own time without any dependence on pre-fixed schedules or destinations. You can just enjoy the unique landscape of this rugged island on your own time. If that is what you have decided I‘m guessing you are an independent traveler. That‘s great, just make sure you know all about driving in Iceland before you start your trip!

Driving in Iceland is not like driving in most other countries. It is important that you are an experienced driver and that you can react when conditions change such as weather, quality of the roads and so on. If you are well prepared and well informed, you should be able to have a worry free and an enjoyable trip. Here are a few tips for you to keep safe and understand the rules on the Icelandic roads:

  1. The Icelandic road system is fairly easy to navigate. Our most traveled route in Iceland is highway no. 1, often called the Ring Road. During winter it is sometimes necessary to close parts of it due to weather conditions. They usually do not last for more than a day or so. Many major roads are paved but a large portion of the road system is made up of gravel roads, particularly in the highlands. Gravel roads are often with potholes or washboard surfaces. Most of them though are in a fairly good condition although care must be taken while driving. Loose gravel can be difficult to drive in and always be careful when passing another vehicle. Furthermore, sand and small rocks can easily cause damage to cars, such as cracked windshields or a ruined paint job. While driving on gravel, slow down when an oncoming car approaches you. Also make notice that mountain roads are often narrow and not made for speeding. Same goes for bridges, which are often only wide enough for one car at a time.
  2. Make sure you check the weather before starting your trip. Driving in Iceland demands certain attention to conditions, especially if you are heading into the highlands. Also, be sure your car is a four-wheel-drive vehicle, so you do not get stuck in the middle of nowhere. There you can encounter rough terrain and unabridged waters. The highland roads are closed in winter times and weather sometimes causes other roads to be closed as well. Here you can find the weather forecast.
  3. A lot of people stop on the roads to enjoy the breathtaking views surrounding them. Some cross the roads walking, while looking around taking all this nature in. Please do not do this. This is very dangerous. There are plenty of stops on the roads designed for you to park, take a photo and enjoy the views surrounding you. There is no need to stop in the middle of the road putting yourself and others at great risk.
  4. Many rental cars have a GPS system where you can type in your destination and the GPS tells you where to go. That has not always worked liked it should for travelers in Iceland, as many towns have the same street names or old farms have the same names as town streets. That is why it is advisable to also have a map in your car to know which direction you should be going and compare it to your GPS. You can buy a map at tourist information centers, gas stations and book stores. That way you can be sure it is taking you the to the correct destination and you do not loose any time getting lost.
  5. Off-road driving is prohibited by law in Iceland. Because of our short summers the soil and vegetation can be very vulnerable. Please be respectful to the nature, treat it carefully and stay on the roads.
  6. Most gas stations are automated self-service filling stations. They are operated along the main roads and in the towns. Distances between the stations may vary so make sure you have enough fuel to reach the next one.
  7. Stay alert for warning signs which indicate danger ahead, such as sharp bends. Also take notice that there are generally no separate signs to reduce speed. It is your responsibility to choose a safe speed according to conditions. The general speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on gravel roads in rural areas, and 90 km/h on asphalt roads.
  8. For your safety, you are obliged to keep the head lights on at all times, day and night. You are also obliged to use safety belts. It is forbidden to drive under the influence of alcohol and driving while talking on a mobile phone.
  9. Most mountain roads are closed until the end of June because of snow and muddy conditions. When they open they are often only suitable for four-wheel-drive vehicles. You can check the conditions here.
  10. It is wise to let someone know where you are going. You can leave your travel plan with Safe Travel. If you ever find yourself in immediate danger or lost please dial 112 for emergencies and you should get immediate help or advise.

 

 

 

Icelandic cuisine has been changing and developing fast for the last few decades, proudly using local ingredients and creating new courses based on traditional Icelandic ones. This week one of the top restaurants in Reykjavik, Dill, earned a Michelin Star, the first one ever given to an Icelandic restaurant.

Icelandic cuisine is traditionally based on lamb and various fishes, such as haddock, cod and salmon. Often the food was cured, salted or fermented to store over winter. Today these old methods are still used to produce particular delicacies with a modern twist also to suit a more international crowd.

The meat or fish are often accompanied with potatoes, turnips, carrots or cabbage, which are often called winter vegetables. Than traditional milk products such as skyr, sour milk (kind of yogurt) and berries found in Iceland have been turned into delicious desserts.

We are so happy that Icelandic cuisine has now  been recognized internationally and would like to congratulate Dill on this great accomplishment.

 

 

 

It can be a bit stressfull travelling with children if you are not sure what to expect. We don‘t want you to be stressed so here are a few tips on what to bring and what to do in Reykjavik as a family.

While visiting Reykjavik you  probably want to walk around and get to know the city. If travelling with a small child bring a stroller with a rain cover. It just makes everything easier. Then you have to make sure the children are always warm. The best thing is to dress in layers. That also goes for grown ups. Even during summer it can get a bit cold. We highly recommend wool base layers, than clothes and overcoats according to the weather. There are many outdoor activity stores where you can buy warm clothes, for example at Ullarkistan on Laugarvegur. There you can find soft merino wool for both children and adults.

Reykjavik also has a variety of food and snack stops. Restaurants, cafés, small shops, bakeries and supermarkets are on every corner where you can pick up bread, yoghurts, fruits and other snacks. If you are looking for something familiar supermarkets have baby food by brands such as Ella‘s kitchen, Hipp and Semper. There aren‘t any McDonalds but you can find KFC and Taco Bell. There are excellent Icelandic fast food options though, such as Búllan (Burger Joint), Hamborgarafabrikkan,  Steikhúsið and several pizza and kebab places.

Restaurants and cafés in Reykjavík are generally very child friendly. If you are travelling with a small child you can be sure that the restaurant has a high chair for your baby. We like for example Laundromat Café which has a great play area on their ground floor where you can also get food service and the pizza place Eldsmiðjan on Suðurlandsbraut which also has a play area for children (a bit outside the center though). If you want to select your restaurant based on food rather than toys we would say that really all restaurants here claim to be family friendly and should be able to cater to your needs. There are at least 3-4 vegan restaurants around our main street Laugavegur, including one called Á næstu grösum. For you mommies that are breastfeeding, you can breastfeed anywhere, anytime, as breastfeeding in public is very much accepted. So please feel comfortable feeding your litle one without any worries about your surroundings.

For activity we love going to the public swimming pools. They are truly for all ages. Our baby boy was just a few months old the first time we brought him. Laugardalslaug is the largest one and the most popular, with many hot tubs, a good swimming pool, a large play area and a few slides for both the smallest and older kids. The pools are heated so don‘t let bad weather stop you, we go all year around. There are many pools scattered around the city so you can even go to more than one.

Just by Laugardalslaug you have The Reykjavik Zoo. There you will find domestic animals, seals and arctic foxes. Also a great family park with play area and rides. The coffee shop is open all year long. The zoo is very popular especially during summer holidays so often its better to show up early.

Public libraries are a great place to catch your breath. The downtown library is popular among the locals who bring their children to play in a small but lovely play area or to look at picture books, try on costumes or just read books. Great to meet other children as well. It is without any charge.

There are several open playgrounds in Reykjavik. There is one at Arnarhóll, the hill overseeing the concert house Harpa. Its hidden behind trees and bushes, is perfectly located and well maintained. Than there is Hljómskálagarður, the park on the opposite side of the pond (Tjörnin) from the city hall. Great for running around, playing ball and there is a small playground as well. A bit further out by the museum Kjarvalsstaðir you have Klambratún, a really lovely park with a fantastic play area, frisby golf, basket and volley ball courts, the museum and a coffee shop. Great for sunny days.

Another fun activity is to visit the Open Air Museum called Árbæjarsafn. It is a small village with more than 20 buildings which form a town square, a village and a farm. It was an established farm well into the 20th century. There you can learn about the life in Iceland, meet the animals, see the artwork, relax with a coffee and a traditional Icelandic pastry or shop in the two museum shops. Great place for children to run around and play and even learn some history on the way.

 

 

 

 

One of the best beers brewed in Iceland

The annual Icelandic Beer Festival will take place at KEX Hostel in Reykjavík, February 23-25 in 2017.

I totally love this concept because all the best Icelandic breweries, along with some exciting international breweries from Canada, Denmark, Sweden, UK and the United States will attend and help us celebrate beer for three days and nights.

Beer in Iceland was banned for 74 years (1915-1981) so each year after it’s legalization we celebrate Beer day on the 1st of March (beer was legalized 1st of march 1989) and as that’s on wednesday this year the festival takes place the weekend before that significant day for Icelandic beer lovers

“The Annual Icelandic Beer Festival is a rare opportunity for the common beer lover to meet the people behind bars to discuss the methods, spices as well as their brand philosophy. The festival pass gives you access to all three days of the celebration and also grants access to an exclusive final event in the city of Reykjavík that includes live music, exclusive beers and beer oriented menu.”

I’ve been to most of those festivals in the past and they have all been great, energetic, fun and I always leave them with a good buzz and a promise to myself to attend the next years festival.  If you are going to come then we have to meet over a beer 🙂

If you are going to come to Iceland for the festival then maybe this package is for you?
The Grands festival package includes the festival, a dinner and a daytour out of the country.. all with beer… what’s not to love?

Here is an article on last years festival which was by the way excellent
http://icelandmag.visir.is/article/lets-drink-beer-annual-icelandic-beer-festival