The fire glows and crackles in the fireplace, and Christmas melodies and aromas fill the air, not just at Christmas but all year round at the magical spot that is Jólagarðurinn (Christmas garden) just outside of Akureyri in Iceland.
Inside the red house, that resembles a cookie house you can discover two floors packed full of Christmas trinkets that include decorations, food, music, artworks, books, toys, homeware and ornaments.
It truly is the most magical and wonderful time of year when you visit Jólagarðurinn. And how gorgeous it looks in the deepest of snow that makes it ever more charming.
Many of the yuletide treats you can find at the Christmas shop are international, representing how cultures around the world celebrate Christmas.
However, what is particular special to see are the Icelandic products, with many authentic local handicrafts for sale.
Iceland Christmas Traditions
Whilst visiting Jólagarðurinn, it was also wonderful to explore Icelandic Christmas traditions. They surely are amongst the world’s most interesting and unusual!
Christmas is often known as ‘Jól’ (Yule) in Iceland and also includes the New Year celebrations. This Icelandic Christmas period is an intriguing mixture of religious practice and traditional folklore, beginning on the 23rd December and ending on Epiphany, the 6th January.
As many countries do, Iceland celebrates Chrismas with good food and gifts to loved ones, but unlike most countries that have a single Father Christmas character, Icelandic children are fortunate enough to be visited by 13 Yule Lads.
Other Christmas stories are rather bleak in nature, perhaps reflecting the harshness of winter and the isolation of the community in previous centuries.
One such story that Icelandic children are told is the story of Grýla, the ogress who lives in the Icelandic mountains. Grýla is a dreadful character, described as part troll and part animal and the mother of 13 precocious boys (the Yule Lads).
Every night one of these Yuletide lad visits, leaving sweets and small gifts or rotting potatoes, depending on how that particular child has behaved on the preceding day. Each Yuletide lad has a specific idiosyncrasy and will, therefore, behave in a particular manner.
Finally, there is the story of ‘The Christmas Cat’. Old Icelandic folklore states that every Icelander must receive a new piece of clothing for Christmas or they will find themselves in mortal danger. The tale also says that an enormous black cat prowls Iceland on Christmas Eve and eats anyone who doesn’t follow this simple rule!!
At Jólagarðurinn there are plenty of souvenirs that represent these fascinating Christmas traditions, and a cave on the ground floor with a sculpture of Grýla. The staff are also experts on Icelandic folklore and how it relates to the festive season, and are happy to answer any questions you may have.
Besides the Christmas Shop, you can find a tower with what is said to be the world’s largest advent calendar! The windows are numbered to reflect the days leading up to the 25th December with stunning walls that are beautifully painted with fairytale images, created by Icelandic artist Sunna Björk Hreiðarsdóttir.
Close by is then the ‘Eplakofin’, or the Apple Shed as pictured below where you can buy sugar glazed apples to help get into the festive season.
And if you’re sweet tooth is wanting more, you can find more sweet treats at Svarta Húsið, otherwise known as ‘The Black House’. This shop also sells a range of Nordic products, although they are not all Christmas themed. As an example of treats you can find, I picked up some magical Moomin sweets! Oh how magical this part of the world is.
The Christmas House is also home to the Christmas Garden, a truly beautiful festive space that looked so enchanting in a sheet of snow.
The garden has a miniature replica of an Icelandic turf church, recreated to represent how buildings looked across the country before industrialisation. It is also home to the Wishing Well of Unborn Children, where guests are encouraged to make a wish for future generations.
This darling spot in Northern Iceland holds so many treasures and I will forever remember my trip with such a heart full of enchanting memories.
Other than the town of Akureyri itself, there are a wealth of attractions in the North of Iceland that can be visited alongside the Christmas House.
One of the most well-known of these is Mývatn, a beautiful region of lakes, geological marvels and volcanic activity. It’s also where many of the scenes from ‘Game Of Thrones’ were filmed. There are also some stunning waterfalls, such as the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss, and the historic Goðafoss.
I’ll be gradually adding to my Iceland tab full of my adventures. But until then, I’m wishing you all the most magical Christmas from snowy Iceland holding the traditions that you cherish the most.
For all my travel adventures across the world head here.
How to reach the Christmas Shop from Akureyri:
To reach the Christmas Shop from Akureyri simply take Route 821 south from Akureyri, and you’ll find it to your left after about 10 minutes of driving. If you reach the village of Hrafnagil, you’ve gone slightly too far.