Viewing animals in their natural environment is a great experience far beyond seeing animals in a zoo, especially if you can see them gathered in numbers.  Illugastaðir farm is a place where you can view seals and their natural environment, their quarrels and their love for each other.  A place where the animals are free to leave if they don't like to be looked at or even put on a show if they are interested in putting on a show. You can sit and watch their life in a place where nothing has changed in hundreds of years. This is precisely what you can do at the Illugastaðir seal colony.

Seals at Illugastadir farm in Iceland

A great place to take kids on a Iceland tour

When is the best time

If you don't intend to spend a lot of time at the seal colony, you might want to take the advice from the Seal Center at Hvammstangi town nearby.  It is recommended that you arrive at Illugastaðir two hours before low tide and you will have a good possibility of viewing seals in numbers until two hours after low tide.  During this time seals spend time chilling on the rocks, sleeping and relaxing. If you want to take photos near seals, you need to be careful and walk slowly and keep distance and use a telephoto lens. Most of the seals are quite social in their behavior but most of the time not eager to meet humans. But if they do, you are in luck and  “keep calm and still until the seals’ natural actions have taken it away from your vicinity,” as is stated in the Code of Conduct in the Advice For Sustainable Wildlife Tourism in Iceland.  At Illugastaðir you will find excellent facilities to see and view seals and can easily spend hours to enjoy this spectacular place of seeing animals in their natural homes.

A great place to view seals in their natural environment.

A great place to view seals in their natural environment

How to get to Illugastaðir Seal Colony

Illugastaðir is an old farm located approximately 30 kilometers from the Ring Road in the northwestern region in Iceland. So the tour from the main road is about sixty kilometers and you need to allow for one to one and a half hour for driving as most of the road is a gravel road. You take a turn north on the road Hvammstangavegur Nr. 72 and once to are passed the small town you continue on the road Nr. 711.  And on your way back you must stop at the Seal Center in Hvammstangi and also enjoy some of the nice cafés and restaurants the charming small town offers.  Hvammstangi also has one of the best camping areas in Iceland if you are traveling by car and camping, which is a great idea if you are traveling with kids during summer. 

Illugastaðir farm is a place where you can view seals and their natural environment


Practically on the Ring Road in Húnavatnssýsla district in the northwestern region of Iceland is an interesting place called Þrístapar or Triple Hillocks.  Although this part of the area is well known for its cone-like hillocks called Vatnsdalshólar (Water-valley-hillocks), most of the small hillocks are on the south side of the road. Hundreds (or some say thousands) of them in a cluster called Vatnsdalshólar scattered over a five square kilometer area.   Þrístapar on the other hand, which consists of three adjoining small hillocks, is on the north side of the road.  Around them are only two or three other smaller ones. So they stand out when you look to the north when driving the Ring Road.

The last execution in 1830

But the Triple Hillocks stand out for another reason. On a cold day at the beginning of January in 1830, a double beheading took place at Þrístapar, when Agnes Magnúsdóttir and Friðrik Sigurðsson were executed.  They had been sentenced to death for murdering Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson at the farm Illugastaðir, located on the west side of the Vatnsnes Peninsula.  The slaying took place two years before in March 1828 and was quite brutal as both men were knocked through the skull with a hammer, stabbed multiple times, and burned when the farm was put to flames after the atrocity.  As the district commissioner at the time of execution was of the opinion that vandalism was far too frequent in his jurisdiction, he decided to make the execution an example and a warning.  After the beheading, the two heads were put on a stick on top of Þrístapar for display, and the corpse buried in the field nearby.

Þrístapar and the magnificent story of Agnes

The story of Agnes the alleged killer and Natan the victim, their alleged love affair, the murders, the social background behind the story, the prosecution, the verdict and the aftermath has both fascinated and haunted Icelanders since the events at Þrístapar.  Much has been written about these events, and disputes have risen among writers, local people, and academia. So it is not surprising that Þrístapar along with Illugastaðir farm has become symbolic of the story.  The setting of the story is a rather large area within the district.  Because of the heinous nature of the crime, the corpses were ditched in the ground nearby Þrístapar after beheading without a blessing.  It wasn't until June 1934 that the remains of Agnes and Friðrik were put to rest in the cemetery at Tjörn, including the heads that were found in a rather mysterious way decades after the sticks and the heads disappear a few days after the execution.

The hillock where Agnes and Fridrik were beheaded

On a cold day at the beginning of January in 1830, a double beheading took place at Þrístapar, when Agnes Magnúsdóttir and Friðrik Sigurðsson were executed

Will the pauper and abundant child Agnes become a historical celebrity?

Agnes Magnúsdóttir was, without doubt, a witty and intelligent woman but from the time she was born, underprivileged and poor. She was left at a farm and abundant by her mother at an early age and became a pauper living at the mercy of others.  In her time she was hardly noticeable but had the drive and intelligence to crave for something more, to move up the social ladder.  Ironically she is becoming one of the best-known persons from these parts of Iceland and might be on her way to gain international fame.  Her story has received more attention after Hannah Kent published her debut historical novel Burial Rites in 2013 about Agnes and the event leading to her execution. Especially after the announcement that a movie is in the making and Jennifer Lawrence is to play Agnes.  So if you are traveling the Ring Road in Iceland or visiting the seal colony at Illugastaðir or Hvítserkur stack on the beach by Vatnsnes, you should stop at Þrístapar.

Þrístapar hillocks near Vatnsnes Iceland norhern-region


Illugastaðir, a scene of a crime in the early nineteenth century. Photo by: ©MICHAEL LEVY - INTERNATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER