Nauthólsvík, a little paradise

Posted on 14. Apr, 2016 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs


Building a Sand Castle by Helgi Halldórsson at Flickr.

Warm sea and golden sands don’t probably come to mind as the first thing when thinking about Iceland. Yet despite everything, mostly due to the Icelandic spirit of “why not?” we do have both… in one location. Both equally artificial too, since the north Atlantic is not warm by any standard at any time of the year and usually most of the Icelandic beaches are lava sand and therefore black (with a few exceptions in the north-west Iceland).

Icelanders don’t exactly lack in warm swimming places to begin with either. All swimming halls in this country are so well heated you’ll feel tired very soon if you try actually swimming in them. The locals use swimming halls a great deal for soaking in hot tubs instead, it’s a form of relaxation and a perfect chance to exchange the latest gossip. An occasional foreigner will be immediately questioned about their origins and most importantly what they think about Iceland. And yet, in the year 2000 someone had an idea and all of a sudden Nauthólsvík in Reykjavík had the aforementioned beach.


Íslandsmót Securitas í sjósundi by Helgi Halldórsson at Flickr.

Nauthólsvík, originally a farm built in 1850 that was burned in the beginning of 1900 due to typhoid fever breakout, had already been a swimming area long before the 2000’s. The WW2 saw much military action in the area when it was used f.ex. as an airport for hydroplanes, and as a result the sea became so polluted that swimming in the area was banned for health reasons. The idea of using Nauthólsvík as a beach had already surface though, and for a while Nauthólsvík did have a little hot spring pool that was indeed quite popular, until 1985 when it was closed… but not for long. The seaside was cleaned and Nauthólsvík re-opened for sunbathing and swimming. The golden sand was imported, and as such creates a strong contrast between Nauthólsvík and the surrounding lava sand beaches. Best of all, there’s now both an open air hot tub and another one that’s used for warming up the water in a small, man-made lagoon.

While sea water tends to stay at 12-16°C/54-61°F, the hot tub stays a comfortable 38°C/101°F. It’s easy to locate too, just check where most of the people are crowded! The water is actually first used for warming up houses in Reykjavík and is then sent to warm the beach. Right next to the hot tub opens the lagoon with water noticeably warmer than the sea sitting just behind it. Besides sunbathing and swimming the area is excellent for jogging and, obviously, sailing. Swimming in the sea is in fact popular throughout the year here, even during winter when the sea temperature is much lower than 12-16°C.

We visited Nauthólsvík just last weekend! The tide was out so swimming was out of question, but the beach is a beautiful place for walks and excellent for just relaxing and killing time.


The water was so low that the edge of the lagoon was visible. If the tide was higher this part would be underwater.


The view out to sea. A little way away all that light, golden sand turns back into familiar black lava.


This rope is here to help people both descend and ascend from the lower part. There’s a small yet steep drop and the wet rocks are slippery. When the tide is in water comes up all the way to the top of the seaweed growth on the rocks.


Another look at the rocks. Above the seaweed layer is a layer of barnacles, I was thinking of coming back here when the tide was up just to see how different the place would look. It would also be fun to swim here – well, maybe, I’m really bad with cold water… 😀


I found an awesome starfish! Alas, it was dead, but at least I got a great photo with it. I also found a few pretty shells.

What to keep in mind when swimming in Nauthólsvík

  • Don’t let children out of view; it’s banned to let small children alone for even a moment here
  • Don’t stay in too long and always swim along the beach, never directly out to sea
  • A lot depends on the tide. When it’s out the lagoon is almost drained, when it’s in it brings more cold water from the Atlantic, lowering the temperature of the lagoon

Some beach vocabulary. With Icelandic you can easily broaden your vocabulary by selecting a few “target words”, f.ex. sjór or sund, and then find out as many compound words that start with those two as you can.

Sjór = sea
Haf = sea
Sjávarloft = sea air
Hafgola = sea breeze
Sjósund = swimming in the sea
Heitur pottur = lit transl. hot pot, a hot tub
Sundbolur = bathing suit
Sundbuxur = swimming trunks
Handklæði = a towel

Iceland’s Prime Minister scandal.

Posted on 04. Apr, 2016 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs

“We all protest”.

By now I’m sure most of you already know what’s going on in Iceland right this moment, but for those who don’t, Reykjavík Grapevine has summed it all up really well here. Icelanders’ immediate reaction was of course anger and not just that, anger that called for action. Anger that called for pots and pans, just like in the 2008 massive demonstrations. A huge protest was organized in less than a day and despite Mr. Sigmundur’s lofty prediction that the attendance would probably not be as large as it seemed like, it actually was a pretty big demonstration. 22 000 people, says this estimation. Here‘s an awesome aerial comparison of Austurvöllur before and during the demonstration.

Naturally I went there too, this entry is mostly just photos from the protest so strap yourselves in, here we go!


I’m really short so taking crowd photos was a challenge to say the least, especially since all good climbing places were already fully claimed.


Like always, anything that makes a loud sound is appropriate. The point is to make everyone inside the Parliament House hear you at all times.




Sigmundur’s new nickname is $1mmi, because he sold his share of Wintris to his wife for 1$.


This was just smoke by the way, there was no trouble at the demonstration.


There was a clear theme though: bananas.


Bananas everywhere! Bananas as fashion statements, bananas in hands, bananas flying through the air! Along with skyr, as you can see on the wall… skyr gets thrown around a lot at protests.


“Sigmundur psychopath, what now?” + a banana midair.


Looks dramatic but it’s only smoke.


Nearing the end of the protest there was still a lot of people and it looked like they were in no hurry to go anywhere.


Best view. These houses are on the side of Austurvöllur.


The original protester Jón “forseti” (= president, it was his nickname but he never actually was a president) Sigurðsson among protesting crowd of today. He can still lead them!


More interesting seating choices.


“Iceland, most corrupt in the world”. This is actually a joke on Thule’s old advertising campaign “Ísland bezt í heimi” (= Iceland, the world’s best)(link).


There were so many bananas everywhere, I can’t stress this enough. I almost got hit by a stray one when I went to take photos at the front of the crowd…

The protest may be over for today but there’s no telling if it was a solitary one. When Icelanders protest they’re thorough about it and have been known to protest daily for months if they’re angry enough, so… I’ll keep you all updated!

Golden plovers seen in Iceland!

Posted on 31. Mar, 2016 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic history


Heiðlóa by Brian Gratwicke at Flickr.

If ravens entering towns is a sign that winter is coming, sightings of a golden plover mean summer is on its way. The golden plover is a migratory bird that only spends the warm season in Iceland so it’s gained itself a reputation of a spring bringer, and each year people eagerly wait for its first appearance. It even makes the news, like shows here, meaning that this year the spring is already here and has been since the 26th of March. The news article points out that the bird’s yet to change its feathers to summer look, but also that it shouldn’t take long now. This year’s first sighting is a bit later than last year’s when the first plover was seen on the 19th.

The Icelandic name for a golden plover is heiðlóa, although usually people shorten it to simply lóa. After it arrives it bides its time and gets ready for the mating season by building a nest, lays eggs in May and the chicks hatch in a little less than a month. Once the chicks can fly the plovers gather up in huge groups and travel south at the end of July to spend the rest of the year on the British Isles, West and South Europe and North Africa.

Lóa is no doubt one of the most loved birds here on Iceland. Besides its role as spring bringer people also tried to foresee weather chances by them, and naturally they’ve a steady place in poetry and music. There are even spring songs that state the lóa has arrived, and especially in older times it was not unusual that children would start singing these songs when they spotted the first lóa of the year. Back before the migratory habits of birds became known people believed the birds simply went into hiding, or into winter nests somewhere, because that’s probably exactly what it seemed like: one day after a long winter they’d just appear as if they had popped right out of the ground.

Goldregenpfeifer by Ulrich Latzenhofer at Flickr.

As an interesting detail north Iceland preferred an early arrival for the lóa whereas south Iceland wished they’d arrive only after the snow had already gone. Their song was used to figure out what the spring weather would be like. If the lóa sang dirrinðí it meant good, sunny weather, if it only said bí, bí, bí there was a chance for rain and wind instead. According to Jón Árnarson there was also a belief that if the bird sang óhú óhú it was definitely foretelling bad weather. If it would fall entirely quiet it meant a bad storm was on its way. I found a good example of all three sounds here: first comes the bí, bí, bí -call, then óhú óhú and then dirrinðí.

The behaviour of the lóa was likewise observed as a sign of oncoming weather, as weather in Iceland was always notoriously unpredictable and changed very quickly. If the lóa gathered up in big groups that was a bad sign, especially if they gathered on a field during the hay gathering season – then they had come to warn people that it was high time to get the hay indoors! A flock of lóa at a riverside was however a good sign, or if they gathered up in the evening. That would mean good weather for a while.

Here’s a very popular song of the lóa’s arrival called Lóan er komin (= The Plover Has Come). You can listen to it here. Another popular one is Heiðlóarkvæði (= Golden Plover’s Poem) here, the lyrics are included in the description.

Lóan er komin

Lóan er komin að kveða burt snjóinn,
að kveða burt leiðindin, það getur hún.
Hún hefur sagt mér, að senn komi spóinn,
sólskin í dali og blómstur í tún.
Hún hefir sagt mér til syndanna minna,
ég sofi of mikið og vinni ekki hót.
Hún hefir sagt mér að vakna og vinna
og vonglaður taka nú sumrinu mót.

Páll Ólafsson


The Plover Has Come

The golden plover has come to sing away the snow,
to sing away the misery, that she can do.
She has told me that soon comes the whimbrel (another spring bringer bird),
sunshine to valleys and blossoming fields.
She has given me a piece of her mind,
That I sleep too much and don’t work at all.
She has told me to get up and work,
and, with hopefulness, welcome summer now.


Heiðlóa by óskar elías sigurðsson at Flickr.

Are there any beliefs regarding golden plovers in your home country? Do they tell the weather in any other country, or do they do that only for Iceland?