The Vikings brought sheep to Iceland over a thousand years ago. Now, the humans didn’t wear horns, but some of these four-legged Vikings did! And they have adapted and flourished into hardy, fluffy mainstays for Icelanders. They provide wool for our iconic sweaters. Their meat and milk are the base for many of our favorite foods. As the Icelandic sheep roam the countryside, they are an integral part of our landscape. And of course, they are the inspiration for a yearly tradition that turns into a party!
Your Friend in Reykjavik wants to show you how our sheep are as Icelandic as we are. Maybe even more so! And when you visit Iceland, keep an eye out for these fluffy Vikings!
They are prone to crossing roads in the countryside without warning, so keep that in mind if you are driving on your own.
Icelandic Sheep Are Unique
Icelandic sheep are a type of Northern European short-tailed sheep. But after a thousand years, they are pure Iceland. They are all direct descendants to the first animals brought over all those years ago because importing sheep has been against the law in Iceland for generations.
Because they are experts at finding food in our rocky, rugged terrain, they are genuinely free-range animals. With no lice to be treated and muscular by breeding, they need no chemical or antibiotic treatments. So, they are truly organic. Which, for non-vegans, is one of the reasons they are delicious.
Sheep for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
With not much farming and only so much fish a person can eat, Icelandic sheep became vital for the human inhabitants. While today we may see more beef and cow’s milk, our traditional food showcases our beloved sheep. We eat everything from the Icelandic sheep, from the head to the toes…
For breakfast, we still love Skyr, once also made from sheep’s milk, but today from cow’s milk. A cross between soft cheese and yogurt, it’s fantastic with some milk and sugar. The Skyr is also perfect to put into a smoothie with some fruit. Absolutely delicious and full of protein, so it’s nutritious too! Icelandic Lamb soup, or Kjötsúpa, is perfect as a comfort food or a hearty lunch. It’s simple to make, but the star is always the Icelandic lamb, with a mild flavor that even people who usually don’t like sheep or lamb will love! And for the adventurous foodie, may we suggest Svið or Singed sheep’s head. Yes, we said sheep’s head.
If you join us on our Reykjavik Food Tour, we will always have a hearty bowl of Kjötsúpa for you! (We’ll let you decide if you want a peek at some sheep’s head or maybe Sour Rams testicles?)
Take-Home a Piece of Iceland in a Lopapeysa
Iceland has formidable lands and weather, but our sheep, just like us, have learned to live and enjoy it! Icelandic sheep have two layers of wool for double protection: a tough, weather-proof outside and a soft, lush inside. Combined into our unique Lopi yarn, you get the beginnings of a fantastically comfortable piece of clothing!
Icelandic sheep may be one big family, but they come in different colors – black, white, grey, brown. So, you don’t even need to dye the wool. And while the Lopapeysa is the traditional keepsake to keep you warm wherever you go, our sheep’s wool is exceptionally versatile. You can find it in everything from hats to socks here.
Come in the Fall for a Réttir!
Seeing them on the moorlands, you may think them more goat than sheep as they appear independent and light on their feet. Some of them even have horns reminiscent of goats. With such a temperament, most sheep farmers let their animals roam free through the spring and summer. But as fall nears, they need to be herded back to shelter before winter hits. And, to lure in help, of course, there’s a party! We’re talking about the Réttir and following Réttaball!
Around every September, you’ll see farmers, along with family and friends rounding up their sheep from the countryside to their farms and enclosures. Even visitors can get in on the action for a hands-on (or sheep-on) experience. Or you can just watch the farmers on their horses in action, with their trusty sheepdogs helping the herd home. And once all the sheep are back and sorted, which they do by using a unique signature mark on the ears of each farm sheep stock, it’s time to celebrate with a round-up ball! There are traditional songs and dance and plenty to eat and drink.
Your Friend in Reykjavik Loves our Sheep
Whether you make it to a Réttir or not, Your Friend in Reykjavik will share sheep tales with you in the city. Try some Icelandic lamb soup on our Reykjavik Food Tour or ask what will happen if you dream of white sheep on our Reykjavik Folklore Walking Tour. Or keep an eye out for some perfect shopping spots for some sheepskin or wool souvenirs to take home with you on our Reykjavik Walking Tour, Walk With a Viking!
Fun fact! Did you know there are more sheep in Iceland than people? Yup, there are around 365.000 people on this rock but about 500.000 sheep.