The Elves of Iceland

Updated on June 30, 2020
Rupert Taylor profile image

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.


While belief in elves has disappeared in most places, it’s hung on in Iceland where the sprites are known as huldufólk, or hidden people. These are not jolly little dwarfs with pointed ears and red hats, such as those that work for Santa or lurk near the petunias in gardens.

Huldufólk are the same size as humans, it’s just that most people can’t see them. Others say they range in height from a few centimetres to three metres.

They are said to have black hair, wear grey clothes a couple of centuries old in style, and live in boulders. Apparently, they don’t like electricity but they do like farming and fishing. They are usually peaceful unless their habitat is disturbed—then watch out, they can get downright snarky.

Elves in Iceland

Iceland is a place of bleak volcanic landscapes often under lowering slate-grey skies. Dark hills are shrouded in mist.

Puddles of mud bubble, geysers shoot gouts of steam and water into the air, the earth shakes with seismic tremors, occasionally there are fiery rivers of lava, and the Northern Lights frequently throw curtains of colour across the night sky.

It’s the sort of place where you’d expect elves to hang out.


Icelanders engage elves in a circle of annual celebrations. At Christmas, 13 Yule Lads put rewards or punishments into the shoes of children. New Year’s Eve is the time when elves move so Icelanders leave candles alight to help them find their way.

Sitting at a crossroads on Midsummer Night will attract elves bearing gifts. Those who accept the presents will suffer badly; those who resist the temptations will receive great rewards.

Origins of Huldufólk

Many north European societies have believed in the existence of creatures from the spirit world. The word alfar, or elf, first appears in Viking poetry dating back more than a thousand years. Pagans treated elves as minor gods associated with fertility and nature.

Skeptics and killjoys suggest the earliest settlers in Iceland were incredibly lonely and created the huldufólk to keep them company.

Stories about them and their activities flourished about 500 years ago, and some of them get quite dark.

This road in Kopavogur narrows because it is believed elves live in the rock at right.
This road in Kopavogur narrows because it is believed elves live in the rock at right. | Source

That brings us to the road building. The idea was to build a new road connecting the Alftanes peninsula to the capital, Reykjavik.

But elf watchers said the route would disturb an elf habitat. In particular, danger was one of their chapels, which to the untutored in matters elfish looks like a four-metre high lump of lava rock.

Hundreds of people descended on the project to block the advancing bulldozers.

The problem was resolved by a local lady who is in contact with the elves. She negotiated a compromise that involves moving the 70-tonne rock to a new site. This would ensure that road-building machinery did not break down and that workers escaped injury.

The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration prefers to take a neutral position on elves and has created a standard five-page reply to media inquiries on the topic. In part, the organization says “It will not answer the question of whether employees do or do not believe in elves and ‘hidden people’ because opinion differs greatly on this and it tends to be a rather personal matter.”

Elves Save a Life

Árni Johnsen is a member of the Icelandic parliament who came to grief when his SUV hit a patch of ice. His car hurtled off a small cliff and came to rest near a large boulder. He escaped serious injury but his vehicle was a write off.

He called in elf expert Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir who said the boulder was inhabited by three generations of elves.

The MP credits the elves with saving his life and pushed to have the boulder moved closer to his home. The 30-tonne rock now stands in a grassy area (the elves wanted to keep sheep) with the window side facing a nice view.

Road-building, again, was also involved in the removal of the boulder.


Cashing in on Elves

There’s money to be made out of the spirit world.

Iceland’s official tourist organization offers a 14-day trip for $2,500 around the island entitled “Elves to Icebergs – Family Circle Tour.” It rather coyly refers to “stories of mythical beings” – mythical? Hmmm.

Tourists can visit Reykjavik’s Elf School, which is run by Magnus Skarphedinsson. There, visitors get a three-to-four hour lecture on elves. The $64-fee includes “The 80 pages studybook in English (or German or Swedish), - the coffee or tea, - the best bread in the country, - and pancakes with jam and wipped-cream for thouse that like that (belive us, everybody loves that ...).”

And, of course, a certificate of competence in elfish study is handed out; wouldn’t be right not getting a certificate.


There’s a museum in Stokkseyri (about an hour from Reykjavik) dedicated to elves, trolls and the Northern Lights. Then, of course, there are the souvenir shops. The ever-popular tea towels ($13) and aprons ($24) decorated with elves sell well.

Plastic elf critters ($5-$20) come in all shapes and sizes—none of them resembling the accepted description of Icelandic elves.

However, the must-have item for the sophisticated world traveller is the “I had sex with an elf in Iceland” T-shirt ($20).

Real classy.
Real classy. | Source

Bonus Factoids

According to the BBC, “80% of the population of Iceland refuses to rule out the existence of elves.”

“Love is a perky elf dancing a merry jig and then he suddenly turns on you with a miniature machine gun.” – Matt Groening


  • “Icelandic MP Moves Elves’ Boulder to His Home.” Iceland Review Online, January 30, 2014.
  • “Why So Many Icelanders Still Believe in Invisible Elves.” Ryan Jacobs, The Atlantic, October 29, 2013.
  • “Why Icelanders Are Wary of Elves Living Beneath the Rocks.”Emma Jane Kirby, BBC Magazine, June 19, 2014.
  • “Iceland’s Elves Delay Massive Road Project: ‘Hidden Folk’ Advocates Say Construction Disturbs Elf Church.” Associated Press, December 23, 2013.

© 2016 Rupert Taylor


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      9 months ago

      Iceland is the only country with a college on Huldufólk, Rejavik Elf School.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)