Lake Vífilsstadir, a Frozen Paradise


Lake Vífilsstadir, a Frozen Paradise

Watch this audio slideshow of Vífilsstadavatn, a small lake in Iceland’s capital region. On cold winter days when the lake is frozen children slide around on it and are sometimes tempted to use it as an ice rink. White frost covers the vegetation on the banks of the lake and glistens like crystals in the winter sun.

Photos and narration by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir [email protected].

Click here to download the slideshow.

Sources:, the guide 25 Beautiful Walks and information signs by the lake.


Vífilsstadavatn is a small lake located in a nature reserve in the outskirts of Gardabaer, a town in the capital region; the lake was once the town’s water supply. The bird and plant life around the lake is versatile and the lake itself is filled with fish.

The lake is named after the settlement farm Vífilsstadir. It was built by the slave Vífill who was freed by Ingólfur Arnarson, Iceland’s first settler, after Vífill found the seat posts which his master had thrown into the ocean. His plan was to found a settlement where they drifted ashore, which he did, and named his settlement Reykjavík.

In 1910 a hospital for tuberculosis patients was built at Vífisstadir, the largest building in Iceland at the time. Iceland had one of the most widespread outbreaks of tuberculosis in Europe—the disease was dubbed “white death”. Patients were quarantined at the hospital, often for many years.

In 1973, after the number of tuberculosis patients had dropped significantly, the hospital became a treatment center for all patients with respiratory diseases. A large dairy farm was also operated on site, but was closed down in 1974.

A treatment facility for alcoholics was operated at Vífilsstadir from 1976 to 2002 and after being refurbished, a nursing home opened there in 2004.

However, the home was closed earlier this year, on the hospital’s 100th anniversary, and it is uncertain what purpose the building will serve in the future.

The nature reserve is a popular outdoor recreation area for capital residents. People often take a walk around the lake—the path is only 2.3 kilometers—and there are many benches along the way to relax a bit and enjoy the view.

Dog owners like to walk their dogs around the lake but are asked to keep them on a leash. The area is also ideal for horseback riding, although riders should stick to marked paths on the outskirts of the lake.

On cold winter days when the lake is frozen, children slide around on it and are sometimes tempted to use it as an ice rink. In weather like this, white frost covers the vegetation on the banks of the lake and stalks, moss and bushes glisten like crystals in the winter sun.

In the darkest winter months, November, December and January, the sun hangs low in the sky, casting a yellowish glow on the surroundings.

The twilight hour begins in the early afternoon and after leaving pink and orange streaks behind in the sky, the sun disappears altogether, making room for sparkling stars and flashes of green and purple northern lights on clear winter nights.

In the summer, on the other hand, the sun hardly disappears at all. From April 1 to September 15, the lake is a favored location among anglers fishing for trout. The fish in the lake include Arctic char, brown trout, eel and tiddler.

The most common bird species around the lake include redwing, snipe and meadow pipit, while scaup, graylag geese, mallard and Arctic tern are often spotted swimming on the lake. The horned grebe is a frequent visitor in the fall and swans in the winter.

The use of motorized vehicles is banned but there are three parking lots by the lake. One of them is located close to a pretty little gazebo and walking bridge across the Vífilsstadalaekur brook—a good starting point for an enjoyable walk.

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