Hella is a small town of around 781 people (as of 2011), located in South Iceland, around 94 kilometres (58 miles) from the capital. It is an important regional centre for the area.
Hella’s history dates back to Iceland’s earliest days. Sitting by the river Ytri-Ranga, it was a source of freshwater and a wealth of salmon for the first settlers to come here. In this case, it is not thought they were Norse, but Irish monks.
It is suspected that they lived in caves by river. Due to Iceland’s harsh climes, and the fact that the Irish monks often did not stay in Iceland for prolonged periods of time, many caves were used as makeshift homes during this time.
Hella was not officially ‘founded’, however, until 1927, when a store was built beside the bridge at Ytri-Ranga. The man who brought this establishment to the town was called Þorsteinn Björnsson, and a memorial to him was built in the prospering village on its fiftieth anniversary.
Most notable of these are those on the Golden Circle (Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Þingvellir National Park) and those along the South Coast (such as the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, Reynisfjara beach and the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon).
Because of this boom in tourism, Hella’s economy now relies as much on services as it does its more traditional trades, of industry and agriculture. There is, therefore, a wealth of amenities for travellers, and a wide range of options for accommodation, from cosy guest houses and bungalows to hotels.
Many recreational activities are offered from Hella. As mentioned, the Ytri-Ranga is great for salmon fishing, but guests can also enjoy horseback riding, dog-sledding, and sightseeing tours.
Hiking is also popular from the settlement, particularly in the direction of the notoriously explosive volcano, Hekla, which is within clear view. Many also use Hella as a base before taking multi-day hikes, such as those between Þórsmörk and Landmannalaugar.
The south-west of Iceland is geothermally very active, and the heated waters are used in the town’s swimming pool, which has several hot-tubs, slides, and facilities for children. Those who want to bathe in geothermal waters more in nature need not travel far, as the Secret Lagoon is nearby.
Please note, however, that you will likely have to book your Secret Lagoon tickets in advance, whereas at Hella’s swimming pools, you will be fine just showing up.
In July, Hella hosts a festival that is fun for all the family.