With only 350,000 human residents, some people think Iceland lacks a diversity of opinion. But at Iceland Unwrapped, we have what it takes to seek out local expertise where it can be found.
For a thoroughly different perspective, we interviewed Hrútur Ærson, Iceland’s oldest sheep, for a special perspective on the place he has called home since 930.
IU: You’re very old for a sheep.
HÆ: Yes, I know. I’ve been roaming around Iceland since end of settlement 930.
IU: How have you managed this?
HÆ: Iceland isn’t the biggest country and I know all the good hiding places by now.
IU: So you’ve seen all of Iceland?
HÆ: No. Haven’t been to the Blue Lagoon yet. Or the Westman Islands because I’ve never been able to stow away on the ferry
IU: But you have been everywhere else?
HÆ: Yes – certainly everywhere a visitor can get with an SUV. I used to be more adventurous, but then again, I am several hundred years old.
IU: What are your favorite places to visit?
HÆ: I usually walk the Ring Road every two or three years. The main thing is to do it in opposite directions, because the look and feel of everything changes based on the direction, time of the year, and the amount of light at any time. The amazing thing about the ring road is that the scenery is constantly changing. In a couple of hours’ walk – or ten minutes drive time – the landscape is unrecognizable. Mountains change to desert to prairie. I always love that trip. The Highlands of Iceland are also extraordinary. Only important to get down from there before winter arrives or you are toast. Or as we sheep say – A toast with smoked lamb.
IU: What do you do in the years you don’t walk the Ring Road?
HÆ: I really like the Snaefelsnes Peninsula. It has a varied landscape, and it’s a bit grassier than the Ring Road, which I find quite satisfying. The glacier is also a wonderful place to chill.
IU: What do you recommend for visitors to eat?
HÆ: DEFINITELY THE FISH
HÆ: I’m a sheep. You can figure out the math.
IU: OK, I’ll keep quiet about the lamb.
HÆ: Thank you.
IU: Do you think Iceland has too many visitors?
HÆ: Not too many, yet. It depends on how people visit. It’s always nicer to see Iceland on one’s own, but you have to really look out for the environment. Don’t leave a mess. Listen to the advice of us, the locals. Stick to the tap water and respect the rights of sheep, horses and wild animals.
Have you ever dreamed of opening up a bottle of wine by the ocean?
A friend of mine inspired me by writing down one hundred things she wanted to do or accomplish in her life. I followed her example and did the same. I started of with the most obvious things (like meeting Beyonce and climbing Mount Everest) but after writing around thirty things, my idea bank started running dry. Then came the fun part, I had to be creative and come up with a lot of less significant things, I remember writing things like cooking a three course meal, sleeping under the bare sky and knitting a scarf. My favorite one was definitely opening up a bottle of wine by the sea. It had that romantic feel to it and I was very excited about doing it.
A friend of mine from the Check Republic told me he was coming for a short visit to Iceland and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to check this thing of my list, we could open a bottle of wine up together by the sea. He had one night in Reykjavík before he would go driving around the country, so the day was set and I bought the bottle of wine. The day arrived but unfortunately it was an extremely windy one, definitely not an ideal time to go and sit by the ocean.
I had a decision to make, to be defeated by the weather or to be stubborn and go anyway. I chose the ladder, it was an absolutely crazy idea. We went to Ægissíða together with some friends, where there is a small hot tub for our feet and we all huddled up there together, fighting off the wind and opened up the bottle. The bottle went from one person to the other and we were laughing so hard at what we were doing. It didn’t have that romantic feel that I was hoping for but it was perfect anyway, even better then what I had imagined.
Later my friend told me this was the best thing he did in Iceland.
Have you ever dreamed of visiting a remote place , only reachable by sea in Iceland?
Can you think of a remote little town in Iceland?
Now think of an even smaller one and way more remote. That is Hesteyri. There are only few houses there, a run down whaling station and a cemetery. No one lives there any more except for a few people in the summer. To get there from Reykjavík you first have to drive to Ísafjörður, threading all the fjords on the way and once you’re there, you have to take a small boat to get to the final destination, a one hour boat trip organized specially on request.
I went there for the first time with a group in 2016 to work on building a small hydro power plant to provide the summer habitants with renewable energy. Almost all house in Iceland rely on renewable energy but there are a few exceptions, some places are so far away from the grid that they have to rely on oil or gas. Hesteyri used to be one of them until 2017 when the power plant was ready.
I had never heard of the place before I went there. Because I was going there to work I didn’t have a very glamorous image of the place in my head. But I couldn’t have been more wrong! As soon as I stepped off the boat I fell in love with the place. I remember seeing tall angelica’s and a field of purple and yellow flowers, I had never seen anything like it before. In Iceland it is quite uncommon to see a field filled with flowers and I didn’t realize right away why in Hesteyri flowers grow so wild. The answer lies in the remoteness; not even the sheep can get there. They are known to waltz freely around the entire country in summertime, eating all the grass they stumble upon and making no exceptions for beautiful flowers.
While staying there I picked up a book from the shelf calledÉg man þig (I remember you). It’s a ghost/horror story that takes place in Hesteyri. A group of people go there for a week and strange things start to happen. The scenery is perfect, abandoned houses with no electricity or phone connections. I recommend the book but I’m not sure I can recommend reading it there. I definitely had some nightmares.
Before that people stayed in fisherman villages and on farms and made life work for themselves, using folktales among other things to entertain themselves during rest hours and evenings.
Imagine being on a farm in Iceland, surrounded by lava fields, extraordinary nature and the colors and power of the mountains everywhere you look. As you can imagine the possibilities of story telling about natural phenomena such as lava formations surrounded by geothermal smoke, fog and lack of sunlight during the winter months could encourage creative minds to form stories and tales through the centuries.
The book nation Iceland is known for having shelves filled with books by Icelandic authors and sometimes specially chosen foreign ones. In recent years this has changes a lot and the selection of books in the Icelanders shelves has changed from being Icelandic to being more international.
When I was growing up there were at least two Icelandic authors that were in every shelf in every home in Iceland I dare to say. One was our Nobel Price literature author Halldor Laxness. The other selection of books I was especially scared of and excited about at the same time as a child, were the folk tales collected by Jon Arnason
These books were so exotic, scary and exciting at the same time, about trolls, elves, hidden people, ghosts and other unexplained creatures. Enough to scare the hell out of everyone or at least get you wondering what was real and what was not.
And where did these stories come from? Yes they came from people living in extraordinary landscapes where the formation of the lava when the sun was setting or rising could be anything from a troll to an elf or a Christmas cat (yes there is such a thing in Iceland).
When asked if I believe in elves, trolls and hidden people, I always say that I don´t know if they don´t exist so why not believe and make your reality a bit more colorful and exciting. You can even get a guided tour and hear tales in areas where elves and hidden people have been living. That is a very exciting experience to try.
In modern times the Icelanders have integrated the believes in hidden people, trolls and elves into daily life such as during Christmas, New Years and midsummer celebrations when these creatures appear for some people to see..and some not.
You don´t need a huge imagination to understand where these tales come from if you have experiences being outside in the fog on a mountain surrounded by lava fields and no sound..
…until you hear something…..
(Helga Stina – Founder and owner of Iceland Unwrapped)
If you want to know more about unwrapping Iceland and get a personalized travel plan for you and those who travel with you contact Helga Stina
When asked to unwrap my Iceland, I immediately thought about the opportunities I have had to show visitors around the country and provide them with insights into the culture. What a privilege that has been. That is why I admire the services offered at Iceland Unwrapped, where tailor-made itineraries often include interaction with locals and cultural insights that are sure to leave an imprint.
Iceland has become a highly popular destination in the past few years. But what does this remote volcanic island, in the middle of the Atlantic, really have to offer?
Soft moss like green puddles in the midst of lava fields. White glaciers and black sands bathed in blue light. The Northern Lights dancing in the skies above magnificent mountains and rocky highlands. These are all parts that together make the mystic Icelandic nature. But how does a nature this unique mold the character of those who live on this remote island in the middle of the Atlantic?
Shaped by the elements of nature
Some say that the constant fight with the elements of nature shapes one‘s character. If that is true, than it must be true for those who live in Iceland. The strong winds build fortitude as one fights a daily battle to get from one place to another.
The stark contrasts between the dark winter days and the summers when night and day are joined by endless light, creates a carpe diem mindset. You are bound to seize the day, whether your body is filled with the endless energy of summer or challenged during the gloom of winter.
Get to know the people of Iceland
Nordic people are often said to be cold (much like the weather) and distant, but under the cool facade, molded by the harsh nature, you will often discover colorful characters.
At the risk of generalizing, the people of Iceland love telling stories. After all, storytelling is ingrained in our DNA, with folklore and Sagas being a part of our cultural heritage.
We also love swimming, which explains the number of geothermal pools and hot tubs around the country. For Icelanders, going to the pool is as much a social event as it is a healthy ritual. Political debates and business deals are often conducted in the hot tubs in public swimming pools around the country.
If you have visited Iceland during the winter months, it may seem that there are more pools than there are people, but that is not true. Most people just spend more time indoors during the winter.
The people of Iceland are indeed quite a small group. Although the population is growing, it still only counts around 350.000 people (yes, that is the total number of people living on the whole island!)
The land of singing
The music scene in Iceland is quite versatile. According to Interkultur, a website dedicated to the international choral scene, Iceland has more than 300 choirs with more than 9000 members. I think it is safe to say that we love singing!
Many renowned musicians have roots in Iceland. Of monsters and men, Bjork and Sigur Ros are worth mentioning, along with many more. If you love music, be sure to ask your Iceland Unwrapped travel expert to include a musical event in your itinerary.
The Vikings were avid travelers and had a lot to say about hospitality and being a gracious guest. Havamal, the sayings of the Vikings (you can get a copy in most bookstores in Iceland) are a wonderful read. The following are two verses with instruction on how to treat guests.
Fire is needed by the newcomer
Whose knees are frozen numb;
Meat and clean linen a man needs
Who has fared across the fells,
Water, too, that he may wash before eating,
Handcloth’s and a hearty welcome,
Courteous words, then courteous silence
That he may tell his tale. 
Dining with the locals
Traditionally it is considered a true privilege to be able to share moments with visitors. Particularly when it provides them with an inside into the daily life in Iceland. In the past few years, I have been involved in hosting a summer school in Iceland, so I have had the chance to unwrap my Iceland to groups of university students.
We have had quite a few vegan and vegetarian students and I have been pleasantly impressed with the food options available to them. But if you are neither vegan nor vegetarian, the local favorites are fresh fish, organic grass fed lamb and our dense, yogurt-like, fresh cheese called Skyr. When you dine with the locals, you will typically be given a taste of those.
I recommend asking your Iceland Unwrapped expert to book you a dinner with locals, so you can get a direct experience of what is hidden under the mystic facade of the people of Iceland.
The author is a leadership coach and responsible business management consultant atEddaCoaching
Originally from Iceland, she is a seasoned expat but spends several weeks a year in Iceland.
Are you kidding me? That‘s what came to mind when I visited a travel presentation market in Iceland this week.
Entrepreneurship in Iceland is extraordinary, in my opinion, for three main reasons:
First of all, as there are only 330.000 people living in Iceland, the need for people who can wear multiple hats is immense. When I used to work with young people in the municipality of Reykjavik many years ago, we used to hire really multi skilled people. The engineer and mountain bike geek, the actor and social worker, the musician and journalist and I could talk forever about the diversity of these combinations.
In Iceland you need to wear many hats to make things work. You need to be able to take a chance on trying new things, be brave and believe in yourself. That is why, in almost every tiny town in Iceland, (sometimes with less than 500 inhabitants) we have a swimming pool, restaurants, choirs, acting groups, reading groups, schools, shops and so much more.
This facts makes it common that the Icelanders use the term „Þetta reddast“ (which means ‘all will work out’) often when things look impossible. You can always find someone, somewhere who can help.
This is what makes entrepreneurship accepted and treasured atop this rock in the Atlantic. People need to help each other, finding solutions and putting on different hats.
Secondly, entrepreneurship is important and common in Iceland due to resources.
Every season has it´s resource needs and you need to work fast in making the most of each season. If it is blueberry picking in fall, mussel picking in all months that have the letter R in them (September, October, November, December, January, February, March, April), trout fishing in the summer, getting wool from sheep in the fall. The summer months are crucial, and the winter months as well, where you can use the time to smoke products, preserve them in sour, and so on.
This means again that people have to work fast together to make the most of things, to be innovative from how to preserve food so you can enjoy it all year round, to how you can create different uses for products (like opening a beer spa at a brewery).
Thirdly, Icelanders are a bit crazy. We believe in ourselves. We rely on our abilities to make things work and we have Viking blood inside so we are eager to explore both new worlds and new possibilities around us.
I invite you to come see for yourself and to experience the entrepreneurship of Iceland in its many forms.
When I was growing up in Iceland, I was surrounded by powerful women. My mother came from the “West fjords” in northwest Iceland where life was harsh, nature was brutal and women often had to lead the fight for their families´ survival.
My grandmother on my father’s side came from the relatively isolated Snaefellsnes peninsula. In most coastal areas in Iceland, the main livelihood at the beginning of the 20th century came from fishing the treacherous North Atlantic. My great-grandfather, Adalsteinn, had bought his own fishing boat to provide for his family: my great-grandmother Helga, for whom I am named, and my grandmother Kristin for whom I also named. Adalstein’s ship tragically went down on the coast, visible to the village where he had been born and in front of his wife and two-year-old daughter.
The day after, the officials of the area came to collect all of the belongings of the family to pay for the boat that had just gone down so tragically.
Fortunately Helga had a good friend, a woman, who agreed before the officials arrived that it would be best that Helga would give her belongings to her, to prevent them from being taken from her. A powerful act by a powerful friend who managed to save family treasures, some of which still belong to the family. When my wonderful Aunt Helga (also named after our grandmother) told me this story, I was impressed by the power of this incident and the kindness and courage shown by my great-grandmother’s friend in those days.
Since I was a young woman, my group of friends and I have shared stories of our foremothers in Iceland. We have talked about great women heroes of ours, like the first woman president of the Republic of Iceland, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, Audur Laxness, the wife of our Nobel prize winner, the women settlers and Viking women who went through tough situations, took risks, and found a way to survive powerfully in making the world more tolerable to those around them. We have made trips to honor these women, visited their places of birth and so on and so forth.
Now I want to take this concept even further and to connect international women and men and Icelandic women and men together with an inspirational trip to Iceland.
The idea is to join together men and women from around the world, to connect, share past and present stories, develop new contacts and possibilities in a wonderful, powerful and inspiring location in Iceland, and to interact with women leaders (and male leaders) in a country with a long and continuing commitment to equality and empowerment.
This is possible all year round and for groups with 4 to 15 members, and combines well with visits to many of Iceland’s natural treasures and other cultural highlights.
Involving both men and women in the process of gender equality is essential for future sustainability.
If you are interested in joining a group of friends or your workplace and get to know the power of equality in Iceland please contact Iceland Unwrapped
A few reasons why September is a good month to travel to Iceland.
So let´s imagine a day.
You are hiking in the mountains with the farmers in a little fjord helping with collecting the sheep.
On your path you taste fresh blue berries straight from the bush.
You get a drink of water from a creek after a long day of hiking in your Icelandic wool sweater.
At the end of the work day you have a wonderful “Kjotsupa” – meat soup, with the locals followed by the dairy product Skyr and blueberries for dessert.
After dinner you lay down in a beautiful warm geothermal pool, with a view of a lifetime hoping to see the Northern lights dancing in the sky.
Sounds like a dream to me.
The fact of the matter is, that this is possible. All of it or parts of it.
This is possible in Iceland at the end of august and in the beginning of September.
Autumn in Iceland is beautiful in so many ways and it´s very precious to be a part of nature when summer is almost over.
The sunsets are unbelievable and one of the biggest events of the year takes place, when the sheep get collected from the mountains before winter starts.
In the old days and to a certain extend in modern times, the autumn is the time of collecting as much food as possible for the hard winter months in Iceland.
Berries are used for all kinds of delicacies, mushrooms are collected and dried, fish is caught from the rivers, potatoes, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables, that manage to grow in Iceland, are picked from the ground and we make something called Kjotsupa.
It´s a celebration of food.
Kjötsúpa is a wonderful dish. Lamb soup with vegetables of the autumn, warm and delicious on wet autumn nights. Some people even have Kjotsupa for every meal in the autumn they say.
At the moment the Icelanders are in a dream, after the Icelandic football team managed to get a space in the World Cup in Russia this summer 2018.
It‘s an unbelievable results for a nation of a bit over 300.000 people.
I have been thinking since I saw one of the games of this team in France last year at Euro 2016, how it was possible for these guys to manage to get to where they are and I think that is a very important story to tell.
The fact is that the guys who are playing for Iceland in the World Cup this summer are known for a good group spirit where no link is more important than any other. This is an ideology and management approach used in many workplaces in the world with success.
But why are these guys so humble? Why are they not flying around in a cloud of self love and arrogance because of their acheivements?
I think the answer is that they have had to work for it and they know that football isn´t life.
I have a personal experience, where I actually was the boss of one of these players. He was 21 years old at the time and starting his career as a starter for his team. To be able to keep on playing, he had to attend two practices every day. One in the morning and one at noon because they had games in the evening. To be able to do this meant he had to get special permission from his boss to attend these trainings. It wasn´t easy to make it work but boy I am glad that I gave him that permission.
Distances pay a big role too. If it takes only five minutes to get to your training location from work, it makes everything easier. That is the case in the Reykjavik area and in most other towns in Iceland.
This has been the reality of these players to work and play football as well in any kind of weather. At the time there were not many possibilities to train inside, like there are today as a result of Iceland‘s investment in indoor football training facilities, so these guys who now are entering the World Cup are truly modern-time Vikings, and the joy of playing and community in the team is their trademark.
Nevertheless, indoor facilities are not accessible everywhere for all clubs in Iceland, so many of these guys and girls have to play outside in all weather possible on this rock in the North Atlantic.
They take this task seriously but they are also aware of that this is the time to enjoy the game, the challenge and the friendships with their fellow team members and other players at the World Cup.
I have my favorite team already and, you guessed it, it´s Iceland. Fee free to join team Iceland. We would love to have you.
If you can’t make it to Russia I think being in Iceland for this event is going to be an adventure of a lifetime.
To organize a custom Iceland Football Tour, or attend a match of the National Team or one of the country´s top club teams during your visit, contact me on www.helgastina.com
Tell me a bit about yourself and your background both personally and in connection with wool, design, knitting and the arts.
I‘m Icelandic. I was born in Reykjavik and grew up in Isafjordur. In my teens we moved back to Reykjavik. I have always been fascinated with fiber, whether it is in clothing or interior textile. And I truly loved dressing my Barbie dolls when I was little. Around the age of 13, I started to design and make my own clothes. I liked being different in my teenage years, acting out my emotions through my clothes.
Living abroad and Inspiration
Somehow I knew early on that I was going to live abroad later in life. I studied Fashion & Textile Design at the Hogeschool voor de kunsten in Utrecht, NL & obtained a European Master of Arts at the Institute de la France in Paris. I live and work in Utrecht, and travel regularly to Iceland for inspiration and work at my studio in Reykjavik. Family is very important to me. The love of my husband Bas and my two daughters, Nina and Julia, fire me up to make things happen, but also keep me grounded when needed.
Inspired by the raw Icelandic nature, I use different types of wool in combination with other textiles to create items that bring the feeling of nature into our lives and homes. My love affair with wool started when I did my internship at Istex in Iceland. There I saw endless possibilities in working with wool. My graduation collection was my first with wool, mainly made from felted wool – and was selected for the Barclay catwalk as well as for the Hyeres Fashion Festival. Together with Ullarvinnslan in Iceland, I helped set up a felting studio in Seydisfjordur with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture.
The felting adventure begins.
For several years my focus was on Fashion and felted and knitted wool in clothing – all made in Iceland. I later moved back to Iceland, opened my own design shop, and sold my designs there as well as abroad. In 2013 we moved back to Holland and now I have a studio and shop with other artists and designers in the heart of Utrecht. My focus has altered towards interior textile design, as I always try to work instinctively and somehow have more breathing space within that area. I live and breathe textile. I think it is so important to use textile in interior for the calming of noise, as well as the feeling of warmth.
My desire in design is to liberate myself from all conventions and limits. Designing at my own pace and and on my own terms, doing what I love and not conforming to fashion schedules is how I work best.
Why would you recommend Iceland as a knitting exploration possibility?
Iceland has so much energy and fantastic raw nature where you can get endlessly inspired and feel at one with nature. The Icelandic wool is also very special, one of a kind really. The sheep have been roaming free since the settlement of Iceland in the ninth century. There are so many artists and so much creativity around Iceland to enjoy. Everybody can knit – with needles or just with your hand–and you can also make your own freestyle knit expression..no limits. Just enjoy being in nature and feeling creative.
The Icelandic Lopi wool is popular for knitting because of the dual-fibre structure that makes lopi garments warm, waterproof, and light. Whether you want to make a hat, scarf, or the famous Icelandic lopapeysa, Icelandic wool is easy to knit with, light and makes a beautiful fabric. Icelandic wool also felts easily, making it great for felting projects.
Where in Iceland do you feel best and why?
My favorite place at the moment is Borðeyri in Hrútafjörður. Once a flourishing trading centre, it has seen its population and level of service decline in the last couple of decades. This quiet place is located at what feels like the middle of nowhere, at the bottom of the fjord directly at sea. Looks like the calming sea is endless from here…magical. It´s a place where I can easily gather my thoughts and feel refreshed. For more excitement I choose Thorsmork in the South Highlands of Iceland between the mountain glaciers of Tindfjallajökull and the world famous Eyjafjallajökull– hiking in that area is quite the experience – and the view is breathtaking. An escape to the Highlands means travelling over rivers on bad roads and no wifi. Away from it all.
What do you like in Iceland that you cannot find anywhere else?
What I miss the most besides the nature in Iceland is the fresh fish. All the lovely fish shops with endless fish to choose from. And the outdoor thermal pools in Reykjavik with such a nice temperature. Going to the swimming pool in Iceland is a must, exercising, socializing and relaxing all in one.
What is special about the knitting and wool community in Iceland?
The Icelandic sheep breed is unique and for centuries its wool has kept Icelanders warm and almost everybody has something to do with knitting or Icelandic wool. A lot of people knit at home when watching tv, and a lot of groups come together to knit and eat and drink together. Knitting is such a part of the community and such a normal thing to do. An everyday thing.
Because of the special, loose way the wool is spun, when the yarn breaks it’s easily fixed as two yarn ends can be attached by twisting them together.
Hanna Pétursdóttir, Fashion and Textile Designer, has a BA degree from the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht (HKU) and a Master of Arts in European Fashion and Textiles Design from the Institute of Fashion Paris (IFM). Hanna has designed a number of clothing and product lines, with the main focus on the use of Icelandic wools in felting and knitwear. She has participated in numerous design and textile exhibitions along with sales exhibitions overseas and marketed and sold her own designs to stores across Europe, the United States and Japan.
HANNA felting is a Fashion & Textile label designed by Hanna Pétursdóttir based in The Netherlands. The process is slow, a collection of various designs in limited numbers inspired by the raw Nordic nature of Iceland with nature as a motive to work instinctively. Committed to prolonging the active lifetime of textiles. The look is natural and vibrant with mean edges in bright yet muted colors. The freshness and quality of each item is derived from the unique way of processing wool. The goal of HANNA felting is to combine design and value to create something beautiful, timely and long lasting. HANNA felting’s calling card is the creative use of wool. The designer, Hanna Pétursdóttir, works closely with local wool farmers and artisans to produce beautiful natural fabrics . Hanna’s artistic side then takes over as she plays with texture and shape to develop a style that offers an exciting approach to fashion. All designs are produced locally using ecological and up cycled materials all year round with no special seasonal collections.