Dimmuborgir, Iceland – The Elvish City Inside a Lava Labyrinth

The lava field of Dimmuborgir, meaning black castle, is an amazing landscape that was created over 2,000 years ago. The contorted lava formations are made up of volcanic pillars, columns and arches, some extending as high as 20 metres. Known as the ‘Dark Cities’, the lava formations resemble an elvish city, complete with a cathedral.

It is said that the Icelandic Yuletide Lads live in the mountains around Dimmuborgir. They are the 13 sons of Grýla and Leppalúði, vicious trolls that live in a big cave in Lúdentarborgir. The boys were all given strange names that refer to their preferences of food or interests, such as ‘Spoon Licker’, ‘Sausage Swiper’, ‘Door Slammer’ and ‘Skyr Gobbler’.


Every Christmas the dreadful ogress Grýla and her 13 sons come down from the mountains; Grýla in search of naughty children to boil in her cauldron and the boys in search of mischief. Grýla may only capture children who misbehave but those who repent must be released. During the 13 days preceding Christmas, Icelandic children place a shoe in their bedroom window. Each night one Yuletide Lad visits leaving sweets and small gifts or rotting potatoes, depending on how the child behaved the day before. During these visits the Yuletide lads are also known to steal and cause mischief.

In the summer months the Yule Lads are rarely seen, as they use this season to rest and spend most of the time sleeping in caves. As winter approaches they begin to prepare for Christmas. Visitors can hope to meet the lads in Dimmuborgir during the months leading up to Christmas by walking the path from Hallarflöt and shouting ‘Jolasveinn’ (meaning Yule Lad).


The lava field was formed when lava spilled over a water-filled depression or marshland, forming a lake. The surface layer solidified and the magma continued to heat the water in the sub-surface layer, creating steam at the water’s surface, below the lava. The steam burst up through the vents, while the surrounding magma solidified. The surface crust subsided as the molten lava flowed between the steam vents and out into the lava channel. The columns, ridges and remains of the steam vents were left standing and between them are the dykes and gaps, where the lava flowed.


In the early 1940s the area was silting up with wind-blown sand and some sections had already become totally submerged. A conservation programme was initiated and the owners of Dimmuborgin, who were at the time farmers of Geiteyjarströnd, handed over ownership to the Soil Conservation Service. Stone barriers were erected and lymegrass was sown throughout the southern part of the area. Over the years the lymegrass has extended and effectively reduced the problem of silting; as a result most of the area has been reclaimed. Birch trees are also now commonplace and have spread over the area.

A viewing platform looks out over the expanse and a number of walking paths, complete with bridges and steps when needed, have been laid out throughout the lava labrynth. Routes vary in length and intensity from a small 570 metre, 10-15 minute circular route to a 3.4 kilometre, 1.5-2 hour hike. Paths lead through the black rock walls that tower above, past haunting arches, caves and natural tunnels towards Kirkjan, a cave that resembles the doorway of a Gothic Church.



  • http://yulelads.com/names/
  • http://www.iceland.is/the-big-picture/news/celebrating-christmas-with-13-trolls/7916/
  • Information provided by Cruise and Maritime Voyages
  • Insight Guides: Iceland
  • Information provided by signs at Dimmuborgir
  • Information provided by tour guide on Cruise and Maritime Voyages excursion


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Dimmuborgir, Iceland – The Elvish City Inside a Lava Labyrinth

by Uncover Travel time to read: 2 min
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