Skiing in Iceland: Bláfjöll Ski Resort

Skiing resort Bláfjöll, skiing in Iceland

Iceland is famously referred to as the country of fire and ice. Fittingly, there are also some great ski resorts to discover. Luckily, the biggest ski resort in Iceland “Bláfjöll”, is right next to Reykjavík. We have compiled everything you need to know before heading on the wintery journey, from ‘How can I get there?’ & ‘Where can I find the best equipment?’ to ‘What slopes can I expect?’

The best thing about skiing in Iceland? – The ocean view!

As most ski resorts are (naturally) close to the island’s shores, it is likely that you can enjoy the most beautiful ocean view while gliding down the powdery mountains. If you are used to skiing or snowboarding in the European Alps, this is something quite peculiar! In total, Iceland has about 9 skiing resorts, with most of them located in the northern part of the country.

Bláfjöll Ski Resort: Wintersport adventure close to Reykjavík

Iceland’s biggest ski resort, Bláfjöll (“The Blue Mountains”), is just a 30-minute drive away from Reykjavík and perfect for a sporty pit-stop in between exploring Iceland’s sights. During the season from late November to early April (depending on the weather), skiers and snowboarders alike can enjoy 15 kilometres [10 mi] of slopes and 14 ski lifts. 

Bláfjöll ski resort opened in 1970, according to operating manager Einar Bjarnason, and has been the place where many Icelanders stood on skis for the first time in their lives, as the resort started out as a ski school. Just in the fall of 2023, the resort got two new chairlifts and snow-making machines in the hopes of making the season longer and more predictable.

Skiing resort Bláfjöll
The view from Bláfjöll mountain, photo: Alina Maurer
What you can expect?

Generally, when it comes to skiing in Iceland, don’t expect huge resorts with hundreds of kilometres of slopes, like in popular skiing areas in Austria and Switzerland. The views do make up for it, though! 

Most slopes in Bláfjöll are blue (easy), there are some red slopes (intermediate level) and even one black slope – which was actually fairly easy to ski on. The area is, therefore, perfect for beginner and intermediate ski enthusiasts and more than enough for just a day out on the slopes!

Skiing resort Bláfjöll, skiing in Iceland, Einar Bjarnason, operating manager
Einar Bjarnason, operating manager at Bláfjöll ski resort; photo: Alina Maurer

Before planning your visit, you should always be prepared and check the resort’s website or Facebook page. Icelandic weather can be unpredictable, so they make their decision whether to open the area on a day-to-day basis. On the weekends, the slopes are open from 10:00 AM to 05:00 PM. During workdays, you can ski from 02:00 PM until 09:00 PM in the evening with floodlights, which is a pretty cool experience. If you’re racing down the slopes is a bit too adventurous, you can also head on a cross-country-ski adventure at the foot of Bláfjöll.

If you are lucky, you can even watch the sunset right above the ocean as you’re skiing down, which is pretty unique! Many Icelanders make use of the long opening hours during the week to cool off after work on the slopes and send their kids to ski school in the evenings.

Skiing resort Bláfjöll, skiing in Iceland
Skiers shredding down the Bláfjöll slopes in the dark with floodlights, photo: Alina Maurer
How can you get there?

If you’re renting a car, you take the ring road (No 1) in the direction East to Hveragerði. After about 20 minutes, you will see the sign “Bláfjöll 11 km”. You take a turn to the right side, and then it’s only about 10 minutes until you reach the slopes.

There is also a bus commuting directly to the ski resort from the N1 Gas station, close to the BSÍ central bus terminal in Reykjavík and from other locations in the Reykjavík suburbs. The return ticket costs about ISK 4,000 [€ 26 / $ 28].

Where can you get the best equipment & ski passes?

Whether you are a skier or a snowboarder, you can rent all of your gear on-site, including ski helmets and snowsuits. A pair of skis, boots and poles costs about ISK 7,000 [€ 46/$50] per day. A snowboard and boots are the same price. Cross-country skies run for ISK 6,230 [€ 42/$45] per day. You can always get a helmet for free—which you should definitely wear safety-wise!

An adult ski pass for one day runs for about ISK 5,940 [€ 40/$ 43] – when compared to American prizes, that is a definite bargain! 

Children’s day passes are ISK 1,320 [€ 8.85/$ 9.61].

Skiing resort Bláfjöll, skiing in Iceland
Snowboarders at the peak of Bláfjöll during sunset, photo: Alina Maurer
What should you wear?

The simple answer is layers

While you tend to be moving while skiing or snowboarding, you should still make sure that you are dressed warm enough! It can get pretty frosty on top of the mountain, especially with strong and ice-cold winds blowing straight in your face. Make sure to check the weather forecast and dress accordingly. 

Generally, it is great to wear long woollen undergarments, thick wool socks, a fleece or woollen sweater, a ski mask, ski goggles for visibility, snow pants, gloves, and a thick anorak. During our visit to Bláfjöll, the temperatures reached about -18 °C [-0.4°F] on the top and even with many layers of clothing and a ski mask, the adventure got a bit chilly after a while. Luckily, the resort has a small restaurant right next to the ticket hut, where you can get some treats to warm up!

Skiing resort Bláfjöll, skiing in Iceland
Photo: Alina Maurer, the restaurant at Bláfjöll ski resort
What can you eat at Bláfjöll Ski Resort?

The small restaurant right at the bottom of the slopes is the perfect spot to warm up and gather more strength for the next descent. You can buy sandwiches, traditional Icelandic flatkökur (pancakes) with smoked lamb meat and butter, bagels, fries, hotdogs and sweet pastries. They also offer sodas and hot drinks from a vending machine, which tasted pretty good and helped to warm up quickly again. 

The prices are quite affordable, with a hotdog costing ISK 700 [€4.70/$5] and a hot chocolate running for ISK 500 [€3.35 / $3.64], which is even cheaper than in some downtown Reykjavík places.

More winter sport adventures in Iceland

If skiing or snowboarding in a regular ski resort isn’t enough adrenaline for you, you can always head on a guided winter expedition to one of Iceland’s many mountain tops for the ultimate endorphin rush. After an exhausting but thrilling 9 to 13-hour hike to Rótajallshnúkur, you are awarded by descending the mountain by skiing back down. If that sounds like the right adventure for you, make sure to check out this tour here.  If you are a cross-country ski enthusiast, make sure to check out our magazine feature on our expedition to Kerlingarfjöll in the midst of the Icelandic highland. 

Skiing resort Bláfjöll, skiing in Iceland
The ocean view from Bláfjöll, photo: Alina Maurer

The Land of Fire and Ice – Where is Iceland?

Kirkjufell mountain on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Located in the North Atlantic Ocean you will find a captivating Nordic island known for its breathtaking natural wonders: Iceland. The island boasts a unique geographical location that has captivated travellers worldwide. So where exactly is Iceland?

 

The geographical location of Iceland

On the world map you will find Iceland northwest of the United Kingdom and southeast of Greenland. It is positioned just below the Arctic Circle at 66°north and is home tho the northernmost capital of the world.

Iceland occupies a unique position bridging the continents of Europe and North America along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This places it squarely on the dividing line between the Eurasian Plate and the North American Plate, rendering it one of the planet’s most geologically active regions.

For curious travellers, a visit to Þingvellir National Park offers a unique opportunity to stroll amidst the geological marvel of Almannagjá gorge, where the rupture between the two tectonic plates vividly illustrates Iceland’s geological makeup. Here, one can quite literally walk between continents!

For those seeking an even more thrilling adventure, a dive in the Silfra River with its crystal-clear waters, gives the opportunity to explore the landscape beneath the surface. This way adventurers can marvel at the power and beauty of the tectonic plates from an entirely new perspective.

 

Laugavegur hiking trail in the Icelandic highland
photo by Golli

 

Iceland’s climate

Despite its name, Iceland’s climate is milder than one might expect. Iceland has a cool, temperate climate with refreshing summers and relatively mild winters due to the warming effects of the Gulf Stream. 

However, its landscapes are anything but temperate. From cascading waterfalls and majestic glaciers to geothermal springs and lunar-like volcanic fields, Iceland is a testament to the powerful forces of nature at work.

 

Geothermal activity in Iceland

If you´re planning to travel to Iceland you will probably know about Iceland’s most iconic feature: its abundance of geothermal activity. Iceland is home to numerous geothermal hot springs and geysers as well as the majority of homes being geothermally heated. 

The geothermal activity of the country has also shaped its culture and traditions. For centuries locals have not only used geothermal resources for central heating and cooking but it has also fostered a significant spa-like culture, with Icelanding swimming pools and geothermal spa´s being a prominent part of the local culture. 

 

5 interesting facts about Iceland

 

Northern lights in Iceland
photo by Golli

 

1. The Northern Lights in Iceland

Due to Iceland’s position near the Arctic Circle it is an excellent destination for viewing the Northern lights. Make sure you plan your travels during the winter months and you might get lucky to witness the breathtaking phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis dancing over the beautiful, snowy mountain scenery. 


2.
From the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow

Iceland is not only known for its beautiful landscapes, hot springs and glaciers. During the summer in Iceland you will experience the midnight sun as the sun remains visible for 24 hours over the course of a few months. This makes for an excellent opportunity to explore the island’s most famous locations in the middle of the night while still being able to take amazing pictures. Conversely, during the winter months, the sun won’t rise above the horizon for days on end – making the winter months quite dark but cosy.  


3.
Language Preservation

Icelandic is the native language of Iceland. This Norse language has remained mostly unchanged since mediaeval times. Icelanders are very committed to language preservation and even have a yearly celebration to remember the importance of preservation and keeping this unique language alive. 


4.
Unique flora and fauna

Due to the remote location of Iceland the island boasts a relatively isolated ecosystem which has resulted in the evolution of unique flora and fauna. Iceland is home to a variety of plants and animal species that have adapted to its harsh and rugged terrain. 


5.
A highly variable climate

Since Iceland is positioned between the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and the cold currents of the Arctic Ocean it has a highly variable climate as well as having a far milder climate than one might imagine. Temperatures can fluctuate quite dramatically between the seasons and the weather famously changes every five minutes. 

 

A Quick Guide to Hiking in Iceland

A group of people hiking in Landmannalaugar.

With endless mountains, natural wonders, and out-of-this-world sceneries, Iceland was made for hiking. No matter where in the country you are, a great hike is waiting for you just around the corner. Some are short and sweet, others are long and adventurous, but they all offer a serene experience of the magnificent Icelandic nature. If you’re headed to the mountains or Highland for an adventure, our guide to hiking in Iceland is here to help make the journey as safe and enjoyable as possible. 

Before you go

Never leave for a hike without telling someone where you’re going and for how long. Submit your travel plans to Safe Travel so that authorities can provide you with assistance as quickly as possible in emergencies. Make sure to have the Icelandic emergency service number written down and a phone to call them. To minimize the chances of getting caught in extreme weather, check the forecast on vedur.is before you leave for your hike and be on the lookout for weather warnings.

Get the lay of the land. How long is the hike? What’s the expected elevation? What’s the terrain like? Do some basic research online or get yourself a book about hiking routes in Iceland. That way, you’ll know what to expect and whether the hike is suitable for you. To ensure safety and protect the ecosystem, always follow a marked trail.

If you want to go glacier hiking, book a tour. While incredible places to hike, the glaciers can be extremely dangerous if you don’t know your way around them, so having a guide is imperative. The tour office will also provide you with the necessary equipment.

Hikers getting ready for Sólheimajökull glacier hike.
Photo: Golli. Hikers getting ready for Sólheimajökull glacier hike.

How to dress for hiking in Iceland

Dressing for hiking in Iceland can be tricky, as you never really know what the weather has in store for you. It’s always ready to catch you off guard with strong gusts of wind and unexpected rain, especially up in the mountains. The combined power of precipitation, wind, and cold temperatures is frequently underestimated, which can lead to hypothermia. 

In the Icelandic climate, layers are your best friend. They will allow you to adapt to changing conditions and be prepared for the unexpected. Wear:

  • A base layer of wool or synthetic thermal underwear.
  • A middle layer for insulation, wool or synthetics. 
  • A wind and water-resistant, but breathable, outer layer.

Leave your cotton clothes at home. They won’t keep you warm when they get moist from sweat or wet from snow and rain. Additionally, you should have thermal gloves, headwear, and hiking socks made from wool or synthetics. Even when the weather is great, bring the layers along in your backpack. 

On a good summer day, short hikes on well-kept trails, such as trails leading up to popular waterfalls, can be made in your average trainers. For longer hikes or hikes made in cold or wet conditions, sturdy hiking boots are essential. 

A person looking over a valley on Laugavegur trail, one of the longer hikes in Iceland.
Photo: Berglind. A person looking over a valley on Laugavegur trail, one of the longer hikes in Iceland.

What to have in your backpack

In addition to having the appropriate attire, there are several things you should have in your backpack:

  • Should there be snow, bring crampons. 
  • A GPS device, map, and compass. Even on well-marked trails, you might get caught in a snowstorm or heavy fog and lose your sense of direction. If you get lost and can’t situate yourself with the help of your equipment, call for help, sit down and wait. When using a map on your phone, make sure to download it.
  • A charging bank so the phone won’t run out of battery.
  • A first aid kit for minor accidents and emergencies.
  • Liquids and food, even for short hikes – you never know what might happen. 
  • If you’re headed out on a multi-day hike, don’t forget your camping equipment and extra clothes!

If you don’t have all the equipment you need or the luggage space to bring it, you can rent anything you might need, from gloves and boots to tents and GPS devices.

People hiking in fog on Hornstrandir.
Photo: Golli. People hiking in fog on Hornstrandir.

Crossing rivers

Having to cross rivers while hiking is common in Iceland. They vary hugely in size and current strength, so it‘s important to assess each river carefully before crossing. If your trail has a large river that you can‘t wade without getting your hiking shoes soaked, bring wading shoes, sandals or trainers. These will be better for crossing than going barefoot. 

Make sure that you don‘t have anything tied tightly to you, and loosen the straps on your backpack. If you fall into a river that is deep or has a strong current, it‘s better to be able to quickly let go of your things. 

The best place to cross is often where the water is more spread out, as narrower parts are usually deeper and have a stronger current. Don‘t follow the same path as a jeep without making sure it‘s a good place to cross on foot – it might not be. After finding a suitable path, it‘s advised to make the crossing three or four together, with arms clasped at the elbows. 

White Sahara

kerlingarfjöll cross-country skiing

Cold reception

The west-facing windows of our superjeep – or, more correctly, supervan – have turned to ice, blasted by the sharp winds coming off the highland. Inside, it’s warm, and the loud mechanical whirring of pneumatic pistons mingles with the sound of ice crunching under our vehicle’s heavy, well-studded wheels. It is -12°C [10°F] outside, and the visibility is decreasing quickly.

“So, who here has already been to Kerlingarfjöll?” our guide Brynhildur asks. Nearly all present raise their hands. “And who here has been here in the winter?” Brynhildur asks. Again, nearly all hands go up. I’m starting to get an uneasy feeling in my stomach.

highland base camp kerlingarfjöll

The journey is long. Even with the considerable horsepower of our van, the wheels lose their grip here and there, and we free ourselves either by rocking back and forth or by a tow line from another member of our convoy. During one particularly arduous stretch, we cover just 500 m [0.3 mi] in one hour. The powerful pneumatic system located a short distance behind my skull empties and fills our tyres on demand. Anyone who’s seen a polar bear hunt in a nature documentary will know the principles at play here: to avoid breaking through a thin crust of ice, the bear flattens itself out, spreading its weight. Our supervan struggles on, inching up steep slopes and ploughing through metres-deep snow drifts. Finally, as the sun sets over the highland, we crest a final hill and look down at the warm lights of the Highland Base – a new hotel and one of the largest-ever developments in the highland. It is a welcome sight, and we are among the first travellers to see it.

kerlingarfjöll highland base
kerlingarfjöll highland base winter

One step at a time

It’s 9:00 in the morning, and I’m still wiping the sleep from my eyes as we stand next to our skis, limbering up. We’re standing in the hotel hallway in full gear, practising the basics: adjusting our poles, clipping and unclipping from our skis, and recovering from a fall without disrupting the skiers behind. In a moisture-wicking base layer, thick socks, fleece, and windproof shell, I begin to sweat. I’m eager to get outside.

kerlingarfjöll highland base

“It’s just like learning to dance,” our ski instructor Brynhildur cheerfully informs us as we shuffle outside. This is advice that has generally not boded well for me. 

But as we get into it, I see that the dancing bit is not entirely inaccurate. It is not the poles, after all, that generate the forward momentum. It is one’s legs. One can, in fact, cross-country ski without poles, though I wouldn’t recommend it. The trick is finding a rhythm between pushing off with your legs and letting yourself glide. Sounds easy enough, but finding the rhythm in between hard patches of ice, wind gusts, and generally uncoordinated limbs can prove difficult.

kerlingarfjöll highland base
Our cross-country ski instructor, Brynhildur.

Still, sure enough, after some laps around our practice track, I get into the swing of things. Next, we move on to proper pole usage. The poles are never to be out in front at an angle, I’m told. The trick is to keep them vertical and then fully extend them behind. Those who quickly mastered handling their poles then graduate to an advanced gait, which involves a rhythmic cycle of gliding, shuffling, and kicking. I regret to report that I was not nominated to graduate to the advanced gait, but I was soon enough confidently punting my way around the practice track.

To round off the day, we begin learning the basic techniques of cross-country skiing downhill. When braking, for example, one is never to hold the poles out in front. Brynhildur mimics being impaled. Noted.

Après ski

In fine alpine fashion, we conclude the day of skiing with champagne in the loft of the Kerlingarfjöll hotel. The Icelanders discuss an upcoming winter expedition across the Fimmvörðuháls pass, a trail connecting the popular Laugavegur hiking trail with the South Coast, while a German and an Australian wax poetic about the surroundings. It’s hard to blame them; the panoramic view of the winter highland is all the better after a day of hard work on the slopes.

kerlngarfjöll highland base
kerlingarföll highland base

After a dinner of fillet mignon and sorbet, we relax in the natural hot springs and stargaze. Cross-country skiing is fun and all, but I’d be perfectly content if the trip consisted of nothing more than this. Later in the evening, we join a traditional kvöldvaka, an evening of drinking and song. Such nocturnal revelries have their roots in the early days of the ski school here, when Kerlingarfjöll was a much humbler place. Young people would cram into the loft of the old lodges here, strum guitars, and drink schnapps late into the night. Tonight, our accommodations are considerably more sumptuous than those of a generation or two ago, but something of that spirit is clearly in the room as we raise our glasses and voices into the cold, clear night.

kerlingarfjöll highland base

A brief history of Kerlingarfjöll

The highland area known as Kerlingarfjöll is located between the glaciers Hofsjökull and Langjökull, some 50 km [31 mi] northeast of Gullfoss waterfall, as the crow flies. This proximity to Gullfoss waterfall, with its cafés and gift shops, may make it sound relatively accessible, a quick stop on a day tour of the Golden Circle. But even in the summer, the rough track can be difficult to navigate; in the winter, nothing but the largest, most powerful superjeep will do. 

kerlingarfjöll highland base

To the traveller approaching Kerlingarfjöll, the mountain range appears as nothing so much as a highland fortress. From the banks of the Hvítá river, a long plateau gently rises to the north. Atop this motte sits a bailey of jagged peaks, including Fannborg, Hverahnúkar, Snækollur, Snót, and Loðmundur. All of them are among the hundred highest in Iceland.

This complex of peaks is a mature volcano, characterised by diverse eruption patterns, geothermal springs, two prominent craters, and striking rhyolite colours. During the summer, the rhyolite gives the area a distinctive and vibrant colour, much admired by the hikers, mountain bikers, and social media influencers who come here in droves. The oldest rock formations at Kerlingarfjöll are about 336,000 years old, with volcanic activity prominent during the last glacial and interglacial periods. Minimal seismic and volcanic activity has been recorded here in recent years, making the area about as calm as it gets on a volcanic island. 

The captain

Daði is known informally as the captain of Kerlingarfjöll, and though it’s partly a tongue-in-cheek title, it’s not entirely. The day-to-day of managing a highland-base-camp-cum-luxury-hotel, after all, requires Daði to be equal parts mountain guide, receptionist, and all-around handyman. “An average day here is nothing like the ordinary,” Daði tells me. “There’s always something you have to figure out. I need to take care of the whole area, and it’s like a small village. In the summer, a typical day begins with me waking up early and setting up the breakfast buffet. Then, around 10:00 or so, I might have to fix a tyre. I’m always fixing tyres,” he adds ruefully. “Then in the afternoon, I might need to fix a window and take care of our customers until dinner. So it’s always something.” He tells me that working here in the winter is much the same, except that the snowmobiles also need looking after.

kerlingarfjöll highland base

Daði also explains that simply getting visitors to Kerlingarfjöll is its own challenge. “We’re always sure about how many people we’re expecting, and if they don’t arrive, then we need to go out and find them. Sometimes, a jeep might get stuck, and then it’s up to us to assist them.” Incidentally, this is a duty of Daði’s with which I’m already familiar. Despite the horsepower of our supervan, we stranded briefly on the rough highland track. It was Daði in his superjeep, Emma, that ultimately guided us to the warmth and comfort of our lodgings.

kerlingarfjöll highland base

Such difficulties remind one that despite the luxurious lodgings and elegant atmosphere at Kerlingarfjöll one is, indeed, in the middle of nowhere. I can think of no better illustration of this tension than our fellow guests for the weekend – a corporate group holding a private party that seemed to have much more to do with the clubs of downtown Reykjavík than the Icelandic highland. It is a curious dynamic that leads me to wonder: who, exactly, is Kerlingarfjöll for these days? 

“I think the highland has been quite accessible for many years now,” Daði goes on. There have of course been superjeep enthusiasts and international mountaineers who have frequented the area for some time, but the area is undeniably gaining in popularity among a new kind of traveller who doesn’t necessarily have the same kind of experience or gear as these other types. “We see a lot of people who want a real adventure,” Daði says. “They come here to see the mountains, to experience the weather in a way that you just can’t on television or social media. You can actually feel it on the skin. You can come here, and you can stay in the hotel – you don’t even need to leave the hotel if you don’t want to. Some people just want to experience the dark nights and see the aurora, for instance.” 

kerlingarfjöll highland base

The beauty of the new Highland Base at Kerlingarfjöll seems to be that travellers no longer have to choose between extreme outdoor adventure and the comfortable luxury of hot springs, saunas, and champagne. As more and more people find out about this hidden jewel of the highland, it’s inevitable that this area will see quantities and kinds of visitors previously unheard of in this region. As Daði says, “I think there is so much at Kerlingarfjöll for everybody, and I think it’s only going to grow in the years to come. But it’s also important to take care of the nature here. And maybe the best way to do this is to educate the people who come. That’s really important to us. We always have guides on the premises to talk to everybody, to teach them how to best view the surroundings. Maybe that’s the best way to take care of what we have here.” 

Destination: Kerlingarfjöll

It is only relatively recently that Kerlingarfjöll has become known as an outdoor destination. Prior to the 21st century, local farmers had little reason to explore the highland area, and most thought it the haunt of outlaws and trolls. Indeed, the name Kerlingarfjöll might be best translated as the Hag Mountains, a reference to the traditional connection between uninhabited places and the supernatural. Many peaks, glaciers, and valleys here had no names until recently.

The first human construction in these mountains was a small hut raised by Ferðafélag Íslands (The Icelandic Touring Association) in 1937. In 1961, a ski school was founded in Kerlingarfjöll that operated during the summers until the turn of the century, when the area stopped receiving consistent snowfall in the summer.

kerlingarfjöll highland base

With the growing popularity of the region, Kerlingarfjöll also saw a rising demand for services. Original plans for the Highland Base detailed some 120 double rooms, but after calls by concerned environmentalists, the hotel was scaled down and redesigned to better blend in with the landscape. At a total cost of ISK 2-3 billion [approximately $20 million, €17 million], the Highland Base at Kerlingarfjöll is the largest-ever investment in the Icelandic highland, with the exception of hydropower plants.

The scale of the project also sparked the political will to formally protect this area of the highland. In 2020, 344 km² [133mi²] were designated a conservation area, in what many, including then-Minister for Environment and Natural Resources Svandís Svavarsdóttir, celebrated as a win for the environment. 

Ásgarðsheiði

Early next morning, we are treated to a generous breakfast buffet that was rather inexplicably – to me at least – paired with the sound of Taylor Swift. The pineapple in the fruit salad seems somehow fresher than the stuff I buy in town, and heaps of sliced cheeses, deli meats, scrambled eggs, and pain au chocolat greet the browsing skier. Some shot glasses are arranged on an elegant tray next to the canisters of water and orange juice. It seems a bit early for that kind of thing, but as I later see, the shot glasses are intended for the doctor’s recommended intake of lýsi – cod liver oil. I see our guide, Brynhildur, doing a bottoms-up with the other guides. Health-wise, they might be on to something, but I can’t help but stifle a reflexive retch from childhood memories of the stuff.

kerlingarfjöll highland base

Not long after, we clamber into Daði’s superjeep, Emma. As we soon learn, Emma is a minor celebrity among offroad vehicles. Along with her driver, Daði, she was the first vehicle to cross Greenland from East to West and then back again. It took some three to four weeks each way, Daði tells me. With 120,000 km [75,000 mi] on her odometer, Emma has also driven on every major glacier in Iceland. Outfitted with 44-inch wheels, she sits atop three separate fuel tanks, carrying a total of 240 litres [63 gallons] of diesel when fully topped off. The pressure of each tyre is individually controlled through an app on a smartphone mounted to the dash.

We are driving across a mountain plateau known as Ásgarðsheiði, the Asgard heath. It is an area that feels mythological, and Daði tells me that two crows are known to live here. He has named them Huginn and Muninn. Thought and Memory – Odin’s ravens.  

kerlingarfjöll highland base
kerlingarfjöll highland base
kerlingarfjöll highland base snowmobile

Our mission today is to catch a glimpse of the Hveradalir geothermal valley and then rendezvous with our ski group. In the summer, Hveradalir is known for the vibrant colours of its rhyolite cliffs and mineral deposits from the geothermal springs. Now, in the middle of winter, it’s a white Sahara. White cliffs against a white sky loom over us; white snow drifts snake across the white ground; even the sun, in its blinding clarity, appears white.

We stop on a ridge that overlooks the valley. The river that flows through it is some of the only water in this region that remains unfrozen in the winter, heated by the many geothermal vents and springs that dot the valley. It is a spectacular sight, but the wind is picking up, and we re-embark into Emma.

Switchbacks

The ski group comes into view as we descend Ásgarðsheiði, brightly coloured Gore-Tex shells standing out in sharp relief to the blasted white surroundings. As we disembark from Emma, I sense a charge in the air. Walkie-talkies crackle and click in the wind. We are surrounded by expert guides and experienced skiers, but this windswept heath is not a place anyone wants to linger. 

The wind is picking up as we strap on our skis. Before us, at the northeast edge of Kerlingarfjöll, stands Loðmundur mountain, the so-called King of Kerlingarfjöll. At 1,432 metres [4,698 ft], it is not the tallest peak here, but its distinctive shape has earned it a place in the hearts of mountaineers. It is also the most technical peak to summit in this range, skirted by steep slopes on its sides, its top ringed by near-vertical cliffs.

loðmundur mountain kerlingarfjöll
Loðmundur, the king of Kerlingarfjöll.

“Everybody warm? Good to go?” Brynhildur yells atop the wind. We can’t afford to stop at length; cross-country skiing in this environment is a delicate balance. Stay still for too long, and you cool down; overheat, and you sweat through your layers – a potentially dangerous situation in extreme temperatures. The current temperature is -15°C [5°F] with wind gusts up to 30 m/s [67 mph].

A long, broad slope extends before us. A switchback trail cuts zigzags through the snow, and the more advanced skiers have already pushed off. With little time to lose, I begin my descent.

There is an art to cross-country skiing downhill. While downhill skiers can simply form a “pizza” shape with their skis to slow down, it’s important for cross-country skiers to remain in the ruts that have been cut in the ice-crusted snow by their fellow travellers. This means that conventional braking methods are out the window, and I must instead time my descent such that I lose momentum where the switchback turns, dragging my poles in the snow if need be. Once stopped, I cut my slope-facing foot into the side of the hill and with the other, I take a conspicuously large goose-step and turn my foot in the other direction. Once secure, I repeat the procedure with the other foot and then it’s downhill again. Through the constant rebalancing and readjusting, I discover muscles in my feet previously unknown to me.

kerlingarfjöll

It is a relief when we reach the bottom, where we resume our shuffling and kicking. After a brief respite, we head out again across the flats of the plateau. Loðmundur is at our back, and a sharp wind picks up from the northwest. 

The wind is unrelenting, but, fortunately, there are times when it’s at our backs, catching our shells in the wind like sails. The temperature is dropping, and we have several kilometres to go before we return to base camp. The group sinks into the silence of grim determination, pushing on through ice patches, snow drifts, and uphill slopes. During particularly sharp blasts of wind, a burst of mad laughter picks up along the column. It’s infectious, and I join in, howling at the wind. By the time we return to base, I can honestly say this trip has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done; it also happens to be one of the best days spent outdoors in my life.

Another world

As I sit in the supervan bound for civilisation, I think about distance and time. From Gullfoss, the nearest outpost of civilisation, it is only some 50 or 60 km [some 35 mi] to the Highland Base at Kerlingarfjöll. But on the icy highland tracks, it takes five or six hours to traverse these kilometres, making this corner of the highland just as far removed from Reykjavík as London or Paris. A traveller may well wonder – why come to Kerlingarfjöll at all? The answer, it seems to me, is simple. On any other weekend, I could have visited another city, another country. But out here, I’ve visited another world.

kerlingarfjöll highland base

Laufey: From Icelandic Sensation to Global Fame

Bewitched / From the Start

Laufey Lín Jónsdóttir, simply known as Laufey [Lay-way, lœy:vei], is a Grammy winning singer-songwriter from Iceland. With her unique voice and musical talent, she has captured the hearts of listeners worldwide. 

From bewitching melodies to Grammy-success, her journey from the shores of Iceland to the pinnacle of the music industry is nothing short of extraordinary. Raised in a household immersed in music, Laufey started playing the piano and cello at a young age. She performed as a cello soloist with the Symphony Orchestra of Iceland at age 15, appeared on talent shows, studied music and singing at Reykjavík College of Music and earned a presidential scholarship to Berklee College of Music.

It was her debut single, ´Street by Street,´ along with her pandemic concerts on the social media platform TikTok, that propelled her to stardom. This marked the emergence of a true musical phenomenon, celebrated as the ambassador bringing jazz to the forefront of Gen Z culture.

 


Early life and influences

Born in Reykjavík on April 23d 1999, both Laufey and her identical twin sister Júnía, come from a mixed heritage, with an Icelandic father and a Chinese mother. Laufey speaks Icelandic, English and Mandarin, having grown up both in Washington DC and Iceland and spending her summers in Beijing. 

Central to the twins’ upbringing was a deep immersion in classical music, nurtured by their mother’s skill as a classical violinist and their grandfather’s legacy as a violin educator in China. The sisters embarked on their musical journeys at an early age, with Júnía finding her forte on the violin while Laufey studied both the piano and cello. 

Laufey has many times said that her classical background influenced her love of music greatly, but it was also her father´s jazz record collection, featuring artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, that inspired her musical career. 


Laufey´s rise to fame

Laufey´s musical journey took a significant step forward when she performed as a cello soloist with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra at just 15 years old. Her path to musical success continued as she appeared on Icelandic versions of popular talent shows like Ísland Got Talent, where she was a finalist, and The Voice where she made it to the semi finals. 

Following her graduation from Reykjavík College of Music in 2018, where she also studied singing, Laufey went on to continue her musical education. With a presidential scholarship in hand, she pursued further studies at Berklee College of Music, from where she graduated in 2021.

Surprisingly, a career in music was not Laufey´s goal all along. In an interview on the Icelandic talk show Vikan með Gísla Marteini, she told viewers that she initially intended to study economics at St. Andrews in Scotland alongside her sister Júnía. However, it seems like fate had other plans. Júnía explained that it seemed like the world kept interfering to redirect Laufey towards a musical career.

In 2020, Laufey´s career started taking off with the release of her debut single Street by Street. This was followed by her first EP, Typical of Me, in April 2021. A year later she reached yet another milestone with the debut of her first full-length album, Everything I Know About Love, which resulted in her being the most streamed jazz artist on Spotify in 2022.

 

Bewitched: From a record-breaking album debut to a Grammy win

Laufey accepting her 2024 Grammy. A screenshot from YouTube / The Recording Academy

Laufey´s musical journey reached new heights with the release of her second album, Bewitched, in September 2023. The album reached an all-time record, making history as the biggest debut for a Jazz album on Spotify. With over 5,7 million day-one streams Laufey´s Bewitched surpassed Lady Gaga´s and Tony Bennet´s 2021 Love For Sale album.

Laufey’s ascent to musical stardom soared to even greater heights after the release of  Bewitched, resulting in her first ever Grammy award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. This milestone marked a crowning achievement in Laufey’s career, affirming her talent and influence on the global stage.

Laufey´s success not only resonates with her global fanbase but also with her fellow Icelanders. Whenever someone from this small island in the North achieves greatness on the world stage, the whole nation swells up like a proud parent. Even though Laufey´s journey is just beginning, she serves as an inspiration, not only for aspiring musicians but for anyone with a big dream. As she continues to bewitch audiences worldwide, we eagerly await the next chapter of this extraordinary young artis. 

 

What ethnicity is Laufey?

Laufey is half Icelandic and half Chinese and mostly grew up in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Who is Laufey’s twin?

Laufey has an identical twin sister named Júnía. The girls are very close and even work together. Júnía is the creative director of Laufey´s brand and the two spend a lot of time together even with Laufey living in L.A. and Júnía in London.

How did Laufey get famous?

Laufey´s ascend to stardom has been fast. She started off by participating in the Icelandic versions of The Voice and Ísland Got Talent. During the pandemic she started performing on TikTok that quickly earned her a huge social media following from all over the world and she even caught the attention of famous musicians such as Willow Smith and Billie Eilish. After releasing her music, Laufey has appeared on talk shows such as Jimmy Kimmel Live! and collaborated with musicians like Norah Jones. She then won her first Grammy in 2024 for her second full-length album, Bewitched.

What is Laufey’s genre?

Though the exact genre of Laufey´s music is hard to pinpoint, jazz is very obviously her main musical influence. Her music also includes elements of pop, classical and bossa nova. Her genre has been described as jazz-pop or traditional pop due to the mixture of elements in her music. Laufey´s Grammy win was in the category of Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album where her fellow nominees were industry icons such as Bruce Springsteen and Ricky Lee Jones. 

 

The Icelandic Language Day

book bookstore Icelandic literature bækur

Icelandic language day has been celebrated on November 16 every year since 1996. The idea to have a special day dedicated to the Icelandic language originated from the Minister of Education, Björn Bjarnason, in 1995. He believed it was important to celebrate and make efforts to preserve Icelandic, which has been relatively well-preserved in its original form for centuries. 

November 16th was chosen as it was the birthday of Jónas Hallgrímsson, an Icelandic poet, author and naturalist who ardently advocated for Iceland’s independence from Denmark. He also significantly enriched the Icelandic vocabulary by translating numerous words that to this day are a part of everyday language. 

Icelanders take a lot of pride in their language as it is one of the most rare languages in the world. Even in this day and age, with increasing technology and influences from languages such as English, Icelandic has remained remarkably pure.

 

What is special about the Icelandic language?

The Icelandic language has not changed substantially since the 11th century, allowing modern Icelandic speakers to read and understand the original manuscripts of the sagas, written almost a 1000 years ago. 

With approximately 370.000 speakers (as of 2024), predominantly in Iceland, Icelandic is considered remarkably well-preserved despite its small speaker base. Recognising the challenge of preservation in this day and age, the government actively pursues language conservation. This is for example done by prioritising the creation of neologisms influenced by older Icelandic words rather than borrowing words from other languages. 

 

Preservation of Icelandic

The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies plays a crucial role as they preserve mediaeval manuscripts as well as studying the language and its literature. Additionally, a Language Council advises the government on language policies. The Icelandic Naming Committee, maybe the most controversial among locals, contributes to language preservation by determining whether given names that do not have a president in the Icelandic language are suitable for integration into the country’s language and culture. 


The celebrations

The festivities and promotions surrounding Icelandic Language day, or “Dagur íslenskrar tungu, aim to actively involve speakers and raise awareness. With diverse events ranging from poetry readings and cultural activities to the active participation of schools and the media, Icelanders are encouraged to grab the opportunity to celebrate the origins of their language.

Additionally the government presents an annual award in honour of Jónas Hallgrímsson to an individual who has significantly contributed to the Icelandic language in some way. 

 

Food Festivals in Iceland – From Traditional Feasts to Street Food

Enjoying Icelandic hot dogs

Travelling to a new country isn’t just about seeing the sights, it’s also about experiencing its vibrant culture and flavours. If you plan to visit Iceland, particularly during the spring and summer months, you’re in for a treat beyond the breathtaking nature. For the travelling foodies amongst us, here’s a list of the top food festivals in Iceland to spice up your stay. 

 

Food and fun festival

Each year, foodies flock to Reykjavík for the Food and fun festival. Over the festival weekend, a selection of the city’s finest restaurants flaunt their culinary talent, offering not only amazing food but also the opportunity to immerse oneself in Reykjavík´s vibrant nightlife – the ultimate fun night out. 

What sets the Food and Fun Festival apart is the collaborative effort between participating restaurants and internationally acclaimed chefs from around the globe. These culinary maestros engage in friendly competition, tasked with crafting a three-course meal using exclusively Icelandic ingredients.

Typically held in March, from Wednesday through Sunday, the festival sees approximately 20 restaurants participate each year, ensuring a diverse and tantalising culinary experience for attendees.

 

Götubitinn – Reykjavík street food festival

Street food has experienced a significant resurgence in Iceland recently. With food halls appearing on almost every corner, the passion for exceptional and diverse street food has soared to new heights. Annually in July, the Reykjavík Street Food Festival brings together the city’s food trucks, offering a weekend of exploration through various culinary delights.

The festival made its debut in 2019 and has since become a staple event, taking place every year in Hljómskálagarður park, nestled in the heart of Reykjavík city.

With nearly 30 trucks participating each year, there’s undoubtedly something to tantalise every palate. Live music, play areas and bouncy castles all form part of the festivities, alongside the opportunity to vote for your favourite bite and crown Reykjavík’s best street food.

 

The Annual Icelandic beer festival

Perhaps not your conventional food festival but The Annual Icelandic beer festival is an event that Icelanders hold in high regard. Spanning four days, this festival commemorates the legalisation of beer in March 1989, marking the end of the prohibition in Iceland, which had been in force since 1915.

Throughout the festival, all guests have the opportunity to immerse themselves in Iceland’s beer culture, trying out various beers and meeting the faces behind the breweries. The final event features live music, exclusive beers as well as a menu centred around beer.


Artisan food fayre

Twice a year in spring and winter, the bustling heart of Reykjavík comes alive with the aroma of freshly harvested goods and the buzz of excited chatter. Nestled within the grandeur of Harpa, Reykjavík’s Music and Concert Hall, local farmers, fishermen, and artisanal producers gather under one roof for a culinary extravaganza unlike any other.

Over the course of two days, this specialty food market unveils an array of locally sourced delicacies and artisanal treasures. From farm-fresh produce to innovative gastronomic delights, there’s something for every taste bud. Rub shoulders with the trailblazers of Iceland’s food scene and immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of local culinary traditions. 

 

Þorrablót – The Icelandic midwinter feast

Every year, from late January to late February, Icelanders honour the old Norse month of Þorri with a traditional midwinter feast known as þorrablót [θɔrraplouːt]. This celebration brings people together to raise a toast with Brennivín Icelandic liquor and indulge in traditional, yet unconventional, fare.

Throughout the month of Þorri, many companies and restaurants host these traditional feasts, serving the preserved foods of our ancestors. Smoked, salted, dried, pickled, and fermented meats and fish take centre stage, including delicacies such as fermented shark, ram’s testicles, and singed sheep heads.

If you find yourself travelling to Iceland during the winter months, be sure to keep an eye out for one of these authentic midwinter feasts to experience a taste of Icelandic tradition.


With these food festivals you will be sure to have a great taste of Iceland during your stay. If you are travelling outside of the big festival season,
here you can find a selection of both private and group tours that every foodie will be sure to enjoy.  

The Icelandic Horse – Man’s Most Hardworking Friend

The Icelandic horse has been an important part of Icelandic culture since it was first brought to the country from Norway in the 9th century. For hundreds of years it was a loyal servant of the Icelandic people as it provided the only means to travel across the harsh landscape of the country. As a result, the Icelandic horse evolved into a hardy animal that is capable of withstanding long, cold winters and due to having no natural predators, the Icelandic has a confident disposition and isn’t easily spooked. The Icelandic horse is one of the few horse breeds in the world that has five gaits, but aside from the usual walk, trot, and canter/gallop, it can perform an amble gait called tölt and a flying pace called skeið. The tölt is a comfortable, fast pace that is inherent in most Icelandic horses but  but the skeið is not present in all horses and individuals who can perform both gaits are therefor most prized. 

Photo: Signe. The Icelandic horse is a tough animal that can withstand harsh winters

Horse or Pony?

Icelandic horses come in numerous colour variations and one of the many pleasures of driving across Iceland is seeing all the different coloured horses scattered around the fields and hills. Their size is almost classified as pony size but just manages to be put in the horse category. Adding to that, the Icelandic horse’s characteristics, strength and personality are more closely related to horses than ponies. The Icelandic is a huge part of Icelandic culture and economy and is still used to herd sheep by farmers. But through the years its purpose has developed into more of a pleasure aspect as it’s used in competition, horse rentals and simply as a companion animal. For visitors, horseback riding has been a hugely popular activity ever since Iceland became a tourist destination.

Photo: Golli. Icelandic horses in various colours

Protecting the Breed

Horse breeders in Iceland have always been very protective of the breed and since the early days of horse breeding here there has been a rule that no horses can be imported into the country. That means that the Icelandic horse is extremely well protected from diseases but also extremely vulnerable should an infection breach the country. Also because of this rule, horses that are exported from Iceland to compete abroad are not allowed to return which can be an emotional endeavour for their owners.  

Photo: Golli. Icelandic horses in bushy winter coats

For animal lovers and adventure seekers there are countless options for horseback riding in Iceland all year round and it is an excellent way to get to know the country’s history and personality. Every area has its own history with the Icelandic horse and since breeders and farmers are extremely passionate about their horses they’ll be more than ready to educate visitors on their specific knowledge.

Captain-Less Iceland Takes on Israel in Euro Play-Off Match

Iceland football team

Iceland’s national football team captain, Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson, is sidelined with a thigh injury and will miss tonight’s UEFA European Championship play-off semi-final against Israel. If Iceland wins tonight’s match, the team will advance to the finals match of the playoffs, facing either Bosnia and Herzegovina or Ukraine, on Tuesday, March 26.

More serious than initially suspected

The Icelandic men’s national football team has suffered a significant setback as captain Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson is injured and will not participate in tonight’s UEFA European Championship playoff semi-final against Israel, RÚV reports.

Jóhann Berg has had limited involvement in the team’s training sessions, and it has now been confirmed that his injury is more serious than initially thought. In a press conference yesterday, Jóhann Berg revealed that he had suffered a thigh injury.

Mikael Egill Ellertsson will wear jersey number 7, usually worn by Jóhann Berg. As noted by RÚV, 23 players have been registered for Iceland’s squad by UEFA today, as opposed to the full 24 selected by coach Åge Hareide for the task, in light of Jóhann Berg’s injury.

Centre-back and vice-captain Sverrir Ingi Ingason is expected to lead the team into this crucial match against Israel tonight. If Iceland wins tonight’s match, the team will advance to the finals match of the playoffs, facing either Bosnia and Herzegovina or Ukraine, on Tuesday, March 26.

As noted on UEFA’s website, “the playoffs are all single-leg knockout matches. If ties are level at the end of normal time they go to extra time and, if required, a penalty shoot-out.” Iceland’s match against Israel tonight will take place at the Szusza Ferenc Stadium in Budapest, as UEFA has deemed it unsafe to host matches in Israel. The match is scheduled to start at 19:45 Icelandic time.

Goalkeepers:
Elías Rafn Ólafsson – CD Mafra – 6 matches
Hákon Rafn Valdimarsson – Brentford – 7 matches
Patrik Sigurður Gunnarsson – Viking FK – 4 matches

Outfielders:
Guðmundur Þórarinsson – OFI Crete – 13 matches
Kolbeinn Birgir Finnsson – Lyngby Boldklub – 9 matches
Daníel Leó Grétarsson – Sonderjyske Fodbold – 15 matches
Sverrir Ingi Ingason – FC Midtjylland – 47 matches, 3 goals
Hjörtur Hermannsson – Pisa SC – 27 matches, 1 goal
Guðlaugur Victor Pálsson – K.A.S. Eupen – 42 matches, 1 goal
Alfons Sampsted – FC Twente – 21 matches
Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson – Burnley – 90 matches, 8 goals (injured)
Ísak Bergmann Jóhannesson – Fortuna Düsseldorf – 24 matches, 3 goals
Arnór Ingvi Traustason – IFK Norrköping – 54 matches, 5 goals
Hákon Arnar Haraldsson – LOSC Lille – 15 matches, 3 goals
Kristian Nökkvi Hlynsson – AFC Ajax – 1 match
Jón Dagur Þorsteinsson – OH Leuven – 33 matches, 4 goals
Mikael Egill Ellertsson – Venezia FC – 14 matches, 1 goal
Mikael Neville Anderson – AGF – 24 matches, 2 goals
Arnór Sigurðsson – Blackburn Rovers – 20 matches, 2 goals
Willum Þór Willumsson – Go Ahead Eagles – 8 matches
Orri Steinn Óskarsson – FC Köbenhavn – 6 matches, 2 goals
Andri Lucas Guðjohnsen – Lyngby Boldklub – 20 matches, 6 goals
Alfreð Finnbogason – K.A.S. Eupen – 73 matches, 18 goals
Albert Guðmundsson – Genoa CFC – 35 matches, 6 goals

Authorities Combat Fake Volcano News

eruption, Stóra-Skógfell, Sundhnjúkargígarröð

Minister of Culture and Business Affairs, Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, has spent ISK 100 million [€670,690 / $725,584] on marketing to respond to and correct international news coverage on the volcanic activity in the Reykjanes peninsula over the last few months.

The current eruption has been ongoing since Saturday, making it the longest-lasting in the recent spell of volcanic activity on the peninsula.

Imprecise reporting

The Icelandic Tourism Board, social media influencers and others have received public funding from the ministry, Vísir reports. “It’s very important that the correct information gets out there,” Lilja said, pointing to a BBC online article which indicated that Iceland was in a “state of emergency”. This would be an imprecise translation of the civil protection alert levels which the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management decides on at any given time.

Effect on tourism

Other news articles have connected the volcanic activity to tourism and questioning whether anyone would want to go to Iceland. “Tourism is the industry responsible for most of our foreign currency income, around 35%,” Lilja said, adding that tourism was an important pillar in securing the stability of the Icelandic Króna, along with energy intensive industries, fisheries and the creative and tech industries.