Pingdom Check
09/01/2020 | 9:00 AM

Iceland's réttir: sheep roundup and a country party

2020 update: COVID-19 has changed the way communities will perform réttir in 2020, with gathering bans in place and rules for maintaining social distancing. Still, we want to show you what September in the Icelandic countryside looks like in a regular year. Come join the action in 2021!


Sheep are integral to Iceland: some 800,000 roam the country, more than twice the human population, and they’ve sustained the island’s inhabitants for centuries. Best of all, they’re almost entirely free range. After lambing time in May, farmers turn their flocks loose to graze on the lush highland grasses and berries of Iceland’s interior.

September brings réttir—the nationwide roundup where people on foot, ATVs or Icelandic horses retrieve their stock from the mountains and valleys, aided by trusty sheepdogs. The grueling endeavor sometimes requires days in the saddle, and entire communities turn out in support.

The ancient tradition is followed by sorting at réttirs, circular pens with radiating sections where farmers separate their herds. It’s a grand country party, where friends, family, and neighbors come together to play music, picnic outdoors, and help each other marshal their sheep. Tourists are welcome to join in on the fun.

Below, images capture iconic moments of réttir in Skagafjörður, North Iceland.

A bird’s-eye view of Stafnsrétt reveals how the farmers’ sections radiate like spokes on a wheel. 
Photo by Ross Weinberg
Banner photo by Rebecca Stumpf

Children delight in the bustling excitement of the sorting.
Photo by Rebecca Stumpf 

Stafnsrétt, located in the valley of Svartárdalur, is a prime example of a traditional rétt for sorting livestock.
Photo by Ross Weinberg

The réttir is a group effort, with dozens of people on foot, horseback, and in support vehicles working together during each roundup to herd thousands of sheep.
Photo by Rebecca Stumpf

At Mælifellsrétt, sheep wait patiently beneath a blustery September sky.
Photo by Ross Weinberg

Sorting complete, members of Starrastaðir farm guide their flock home.
Photo by Rebecca Stumpf

Travel notes

Experienced horse riders can often join tours that are involved in the réttir, while spectators are usually welcome at events. The roundups are usually held around the country in mid-September, with local newspapers publishing the schedule ahead of time. 

Text by Karen Carmichael

Photos by Ross Weinberg and Rebecca Stumpf

This article first appeared in the Icelandair Stopover magazine, Summer 2018