7 things to do in Iceland in the rain

As awesome as the great outdoors are in Iceland, locals will tell you to expect at least six seasons in one day. Here’s what to do when it’s the rainy one

6 mins

1. Help locals finish Iceland’s version of the Bayeux Tapestry

Embrodiering the Vatnsdæla Tapestry (Peter Moore)

Embrodiering the Vatnsdæla Tapestry (Peter Moore)

You’ve probably heard of the Bayeux Tapestry. It’s the 12th Century tapestry that is an embroidered account of the Norman conquest of England. Well, in the tiny northern Icelandic town of Blönduos, they’re making their own version depicting their history. And they’re inviting visitors to help them embroider it.

The Vatnsdæla Tapestry is 45-metres long and will tell the tale of Vatnsdæla Saga, the history of the people of Hof between the 11th and 13th Centuries. It’s full of battles, betrayals, love lost and found, and polar bears.

The tapestry was the idea of Jóhanna Erla Pálmadóttir. Most of the embroidery is done by local women who gather regularly to stitch and gossip and pass the time on dark winter days. But tourists are invited to contribute to this incredible endeavour as well.

For 1,500 Icelandic Kroner an hour (approx. £8.50), Jóhanna will teach you how to embroider and give you your own section to complete.

She also notes your name, the date and the section you worked on so you get credited in the book that will be published on its completion.

More information: refill.is/hafasamband

2. Listen to Icelandic sagas beside a flickering fire

Bjarnheiður Jóhannsdóttir stands in the doorway of Eiríksstaðir (Peter Moore)

Bjarnheiður Jóhannsdóttir stands in the doorway of Eiríksstaðir (Peter Moore)

Eiríksstaðir is an old turf house at the end of a lonely dirt road in Dalabyggð in West Iceland. Here, dedicated locals like Bjarnheiður Jóhannsdóttir, will greet you in traditional Viking clothing, usher you into the gloom and introduce you to what life was like back in medieval times.

After lighting a fire, Bjarnheiður tells you tales from the old sagas in the darkness as the fire crackles and rain patters on the sodden roof. She points out the craftsmanship that went into making the hut and the clothing they wore and entertains you with tales from the Icelandic sagas, particularly that of ‘Lucky’ Leif Eiriksson who is said to have discovered America, centuries before Columbus did.

According to Bjarnheiður, retelling the sagas helped people pass the time during bleak winters. It will help you through a rainy afternoon too.

More information: eiriksstadir.is

3. Defend a village in medieval Iceland

A VR battle at the 1238: The Battle of Iceland museum (1238:TheBattle of Iceland)

A VR battle at the 1238: The Battle of Iceland museum (1238:TheBattle of Iceland)

The Sturlung Era between 1220 and 1264 is the bloodiest and most violent era in Icelandic history. What started as a clash of family clans turned into a civil war, which in turn saw the Danes get involved, eventually leading to Iceland losing its independence for hundreds of years.

1238: The Battle of Iceland museum in Sauðárkrókur tells that the story of that period in new and innovative ways. As well as the usual timelines and audio-visual displays, the museum uses the latest in virtual technology to put you right into the heart of the battle, immersing you completely into the time and place. You can almost smell the sheep dung.

Like most things in Iceland, this is VR done right. Whenever I’ve used VR in museums before I ended up losing my balance and getting motion sickness. But at 1238: The Battle of Iceland I was immediately and completely immersed in what I was seeing.

So much so that when I saw the enemy approaching our tiny sun-dappled village, my first instinct was to look for a place to take cover. I didn’t walk into a wall. I didn’t stumble and sway. But I did manage to pick a rock up off the ground and knock a Viking off his horse with it. Result!

More information: 1238.is

4. Immerse yourself in the Icelandic sagas at the Settlement Center

An artistic diorama at the Settlement Center in Borganes (Peter Moore)

An artistic diorama at the Settlement Center in Borganes (Peter Moore)

The idea of the Settlement Center in Borganes is simple enough. It consists of two exhibitions. One details the first tumultuous years of the settlement of Iceland. The other, transports you into the fantastic world of the warrior poet, Egil Skalla-Grimsson.

Both use a series of dioramas and displays that tell the story and an audio guide to lead you through it. But like most things in Iceland it is done in an impressively sophisticated and thoughtful way.

Each diorama is created by a local artist, each one using different materials and different techniques to tell the story. The audio guide was created by a renowned theatre director so that the pace never wanes and the story telling is informative and intriguing.

As with the 1238: Battle of Iceland museum, the Settlement Center at Borganes is another example of Iceland taking a common idea and taking it to another level. While you’re there you can also download an app that uses the GPS on your smart phone to alert you to important places from the sagas as you’re driving along.

The vegetarian buffet at the attached café is highly recommended too.

More information: landnam.is

5. Have your fortune told at the Skagaströnd Museum of Prophecies

Þórdís the fortune-teller (Peter Moore)

Þórdís the fortune-teller (Peter Moore)

Chances are that if you’re in Skagaströnd, you’re there to climb the majestic Spákonufell.  But if the weather turns and you’re stuck in town cooling your boots, you could do worse that visit the local Museum of Prophecies.

The museum is dedicated to Þórdís the fortune-teller. Þórdís lived in Skagaströnd in the late 10th century and wasn’t averse to using the dark arts to keep locals away from her prime grazing land.

The museum is run by Sigrún Lárusdóttir who tells Þórdís’s tale with a theatrical flourish. Sigrún is also a clairvoyant herself, or a spákona as they are known in Iceland.

As part of the experience you can have your own fortune told through runes, Norse oracle cards, palm reading and other methods favoured by medieval Icelanders. I chose to have my future prophesised by lamb knuckles. I asked them if I was going to win the lottery that night and the way they landed suggested that I wouldn’t.

The lamb knuckles were right.

More information: sagatrail.is

6. Marvel at the life of Snorri Sturluson in Reykholt

Snorri's work (Peter Moore)

Snorri's work (Peter Moore)

Snorri's hot tub (Peter Moore)

Snorri's hot tub (Peter Moore)

Standing in the small village of Reykholt, gazing towards the mountains across green fields where sheep graze, it’s hard to imagine that the entire Marvel universe can be traced back to here. And the Lord of the Rings. And, basically, any modern cultural experience that has anything to do with Vikings.

In fact, it can all be traced back to one man: Snorri Sturluson. Sturluson was a poet and politician who lived in these parts during the Middle Ages. When he wasn’t brokering peace deals between the Norwegians and the local clans, he was studying the old Norse language and jotting down the mythology of medieval Iceland. His writings have proved invaluable to modern scholars and a source of inspiration to film makers and writers around the world.

His legacy is celebrated in Snorrastofa, a cultural and medieval centre, set in a complex that includes the striking new church built in 1996.  Here you’ll find a fascinating exhibition about the life of Snorri Sturluson, which was a colourful and dramatic as the sagas he wrote about, and a research library where scholars from all over the world come to study his works. If you’re lucky, Sigrún Þormar will be giving one her informative lectures about Snorri in the sitting room up the back.

Just outside you’ll find the hot spring where Snorri relaxed and gathered his thoughts. Take a dip and see if you’re similarly inspired.

More information: snorrastofa.is

7. Experience 18th century farm life at Glaumbær

The sitting room inside the Glaumbær turf farmhouse (Peter Moore)

The sitting room inside the Glaumbær turf farmhouse (Peter Moore)

People have been farming in the lush green valley of Glaumbær since 900 AD. One of the most famous is Snorri Þorfinnson who, according to the sagas, was the first person born to European parents in North America, centuries before Christopher Columbus made his famous journeys.

These days Glaumbær is best known for its perfectly preserved turf farmhouse, parts of which back to the mid 18th century. Imagine a hobbit house with a distinctly Scandinavian aesthetic. The farmhouse is built of stone and timber with pieces of turf layed up in a herringbone pattern to form a roof.

Inside, the farmhouse has changed very little since the 1800s. The sitting rooms at the front are light and bright, with views across the valley and an organ that provided family entertainment on long dark winter nights. But as you move to the back of the house towards the kitchen and the pantries, it becomes gloomier and moodier.

Walk through the threshold on a rainy Icelandic afternoon and it’s like you are stepping back in time.

More information: glaumbaer.is

Drop by visitIceland.com for ideas and inspiration about visiting Iceland. For more information about exploring Iceland’s Saga Trails and the country’s Viking history, visit sagatrail.is

Related Articles