Are you visiting north Iceland in winter? How about during the summer? There is an awesome Christmas Garden that is hidden in a valley close to Akureyri, and it’s open every day throughout the year.
The first time I heard about the Christmas Garden, or Jólagarðurinn, was in August 2014, just shortly after I had moved to the Eyjafjörður fjord in north Iceland. I was told by a local friend that the garden is not too far from Akureyri, the capital of the north, and that it’s open all year. I was intrigued, thinking this is brilliant, it’s only early August and there is Christmas stuff somewhere already. And apparently all year round.
The cutest handmade decorations in the Christmas House. Travelade/Mari
I head over to Akureyri and then drive down to the valley of Eyjafjarðardalur. After about 6 miles (10 km) I see the signs pointing to the right for the garden so I park the car and go through the white gate. On the right side, I’m greeted by a red gingerbread looking house with giant candy decorations on the roof, and icing sugar dripping down from the edges of the roof. On the left, there is a beautiful white house with gorgeous Scandinavian design and homemade food for sale inside.
A few jolly kids are running around, and a family enjoying a picnic on the tables under the trees. There is a little campfire by the gate and it already feels really festive there, even though it is still summer.
It’s a bright summer evening here in the north, close to the Arctic Circle, where the sun never really sets during this time of the year. Beautiful, colourful flowers are growing on the ground and birds singing in the trees, yet it all still feels very Christmassy.
Outside of the Christmas Garden is beautiful. Travelade/Mari
I walk up to the red house first, open the thick wooden door and immediately a little sense of joy travels through my body. What I see is something that I almost can’t believe. It’s like I stepped into another season - I’m hit with Christmas songs and the sweet smell of cinnamon, cloves and other sweet spices.
The first thing I see is a huge Christmas tree, with the most gorgeous decorations hanging down from the branches. There is a smell of fresh pine in the air, and I notice that the homemade candy and the cutest decorations on the wooden shelves, are all for sale. A leg of smoked lamb is hanging down by the counter. I can’t decide where to look, there are just too many beautiful things around. It really is Christmas in here, a real Christmas!
Christmas tree and delicious homemade candy in the Christmas house. Travelade/Mari
Who could resist these colourful Christmas candies? Travelade/Mari
My attention then goes to the little figures of the 13 Yule lads and their parents - mother Grýla and father Leppalúði, whom, by the Icelandic tales, are known to eat badly behaving children at Christmas time. Iceland doesn’t have one Santa Claus like many other countries, Iceland has 13 “Christmas dudes”, who all have their own little quirk going on and are very naughty.
The naughty Yule Lads, evil parents Grýla and Leppalúði, and the giant Christmas Cat. Travelade/Mari
The Christmas House is full of surprises and yummy scented candles. Travelade/Mari
“There is Grýla’s cave downstairs” the person working behind the counter says, breaking the silence.
I feel like a kid in a candy store. There is no way I’m missing this, I’m thinking whilst walking down the beautiful and wide staircase into another world of shining ornaments and decorations. There’s a real magical Christmas spirit in here, and I even witness some Icelandic kids visiting with their parents. That’s nice to see, it proves that this place is not here just for tourists.
The staircase leading downstairs to another floor of beautiful decorations. Travelade/Mari
You can find almost anything you want in the Christmas House. Travelade/Mari
I find Grýla’s cave in the corner of a small room and have a little peak in. There she is, this scary troll. She’s ready to come out on Christmas, pick up all of the naughty kids and make a stew out of them in her cooking pot. I’m looking around if I can see her cat, the Jólakötturinn, anywhere. This evil giant monster is also known to eat people, both children and adults, if they don’t receive new clothes for Christmas.
I don’t see the beast, but I do see something else that’s getting my full attention now - there is a Santa’s letter box in the corner with a notebook next to it, where kids can write down their wishes for Christmas. I flick through the notebook a bit, and there are wishes from kids from all over the world. A Finnish girl seems to have visited just a few days before, and is wishing for an Icelandic horse.
I feel you kid, I really do feel you. That would be my exact wish too.
A kids notebook for writing down their wishes for Christmas. Travelade/Mari
A beautiful Santa's letter box. Travelade/Mari
I walk around a bit more, sniffing all of the deliciously scented candles that come in every size imaginable. Before I know, I’m engaged in a conversation with a local lady, who explains to me, that many of the ornaments and decorations are made by local artists.
An elderly couple joins in to the conversation, saying that they are visiting from the USA, and that once they heard about the Christmas Garden, they had to come over.
They have a habit of collecting unique Christmas ornaments from their travels all over the world, and here they ended up picking two beautiful silver balls, with something festive written on them in Icelandic in a white shining glitter. I could not imagine a better place to pick up something Christmassy and memorable.
Stunning Christmas decorations and beautiful scented candles can be found everywhere in the Christmas House. Travelade/Mari
There is plenty of variety with the Christmas ornaments and decorations in the Christmas House. Travelade/Mari
I walk back upstairs and buy some of the homemade candy. Too impatient to get home before unwrapping the sweets, I shovel the candy into my mouth as I get outside to explore the garden a bit more. A mouth full of very sticky, but incredibly tasty candy, I find a tall grey tower behind the Christmas house. Once I start getting up the white staircase on the side of the tower, I learn that this is the largest advent calendar in the world. This is so cool, I’m thinking. If I was a local kid I would love to come here on a regular basis.
Ever since my first visit, I still go to the Christmas Garden at least twice a year. It’s always the same, but always so wonderful. I always feel just as excited as kids here, every time. It’s a wonderful place to get to know the Icelandic Christmas.
For an epic Lake Myvatn tour, where you can explore the lava formations of Dimmuborgir – the home of the Yule Lads, book HERE
To skip the rest of Myvatn, and focus on the area that is the home of the Yule Lads, book HERE
In the mood for searching for trolls, book HERE
Getting here is very easy. Just drive down road nr. 821, away from the town of Akureyri, towards the valley. The Garden will be on the right hand side after about 6 miles (10 km), and it’s impossible to miss the big signs there.
The Christmas Garden is open every single day throughout the year.
Open: June – August from 10am until 9pm, September – December from 2pm until 9pm, January – May from 2pm until 6pm.
Phone: +354 463 1433
The best travel recommendations come from locals. Check out these Wanderguides from Iceland by locals sharing their travel tips and hidden gems.