How to visit the Land of Fire & Ice like one of Tolkien's elves or hobbits.
It’s no secret that J.R.R. Tolkien (whose eponymous biopic is in theaters now) drew inspiration from Norse mythology for his fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. A native of Oxford, England, he learned Icelandic fables from his nanny who hailed from Iceland’s West Fjords. The epic trilogy is filled with characters who elicit comparisons to Norse gods and mythological creatures.
If not for the country’s short days and freezing temperatures, Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of the epic series would have been shot in Iceland instead of New Zealand.
But don’t let fleeting sunlight and bitter temperatures deter you from visiting the real Middle Earth. Here’s how you can see Iceland through Tolkien’s eyes and pursue a quest of your own.
Go Horseback Riding Like the Riders of Rohan
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Where: Skálakot Manor, Southern Iceland
Skálakot Manor, a hotel on farmland in the heart of Southern Iceland, is a pastoral paradise: fluffy sheep, a gold-red sunset cast over the highlands at dusk, horseback rides to nearby waterfalls, and cozy lodging.
The Skálakot farm has been in the same family for seven generations. While their ancestors focused on living off the land, today the family’s focus is primarily on hospitality and breeding Icelandic horses. Guests of the manor can take short day trips on horseback up and around the surrounding highlands and to nearby Seljalandsfoss waterfall.
During summer, they offer multi-day riding tours from four to nine days, where you’ll see glaciers, volcanoes, and stunning landscapes worthy of Tolkien himself. You don’t have to be as adept at riding as Aragorn; no prior experience is required.
Scale the Misty Mountains on the Way to Mordor (Hike a Glacier and Look Toward Mount Hekla)
Where: Solheimajokull Glacier
There’s a saying in Iceland: “There’s no bad weather, only bad gear.” While Samwise and Frodo’s journey to destroy the evil and all-powerful ring was challenging due to inclement weather and craggy landscapes, it’s actually easier to hike up a glacier than you might think—so long as you have the right guidance and gear. Suit up (think more along the lines of long johns and less like mirthril) and crampons, and book an Iceland Adventure tour with Classic Journeys. See if you can spot Mount Hekla, a volcano that last erupted in 2000 and the real inspiration for Mordor, in the distance.
The basalt columns of Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is also reminiscent of the Misty Mountains and other Middle Earth scenery.
Whisper: “Something Moves in the East” While Looking Skyward (Stargaze at Hotel Ranga)
Where: Hotel Rangá
Hotel Rangá is fit for a hobbit—its humble, lodge-like facade belies its majestic interior. Each room is uniquely furnished, and the four junior suites adhere to different themes: Asia, South America, Australia, and North America. Outside the rooms are several hot tubs, which you are likely to have all to yourself.
Aside from the warm hospitality, mouthwatering lamb dishes, and flavorful wines, what makes Rangá special is their stargazing shed, complete with a state of the art telescope. The hotel employs an astronomy teacher from Reykjavik, who drives up to the town of Hella almost every night to point out constellations to guests, just like Legolas would have done if he had spare time and a degree in astronomy. On especially wintry evenings, the hotel provides warm jumpsuits to wear when you venture outside.
INSIDER TIPInsider Tip: You can ask the front desk for a wake-up call if the Northern Lights become visible in the middle of the night. (The jumpsuits really come in handy then, too).
Nap Outdoors on the Shire-Like Moss-Covered Lava Fields
Along the Ring Road are The Eldhraun lava fields, completely covered in pillowy moss. Seriously: try lying down and you’ll feel like Pippin or Merry passing time in the Shire. For such a soft, bucolic landscape, it’s hard to believe Eldhraun was created by a devastating volcanic eruption causing the third largest lava flow on earth.
Say ‘Friend’ and Enter These Ice Caves
Assuredly safer than the Mines of Moria, caves and tunnels form throughout the winter all across glaciers, and it takes intrepid, fearless guides to trek through the landscape and discover new sites each season. Once you’re inside you’ll have a hard time believing that ice surrounds you. Luckily the melting process is slow enough that you won’t need to flee before they collapse.
Visit The Elves in Rivendell: Explore These Uncannily Beautiful Waterfalls
Where: Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss
If you’ve ever longed to visit the home of Tolkien’s elves, Iceland’s otherworldly falls are as close as you can get. At Seljalandsfoss falls in Southern Iceland, you can actually hike behind the falling water and look out (this also makes for a great photo-opp). Or hike to the top of Skogafoss, also in the south, where you’re likely to spot a rainbow even Arwen would appreciate.