Icelandic winters can be harsh. With six long months of darkness and crippling storms that close roads and bridges, much of the country becomes inaccessible from October to April. Seasonal depression can afflict the population, prompting many residents to vacation through the winter months.
Financial instability can often make these much-needed breaks impossible, as was the case during the Icelandic financial crash of 2008. Despite the economic uncertainty and hardships of winter, the northern city of Akureyri was determined not to lose spirit, and adopted a unique strategy for beautifying the city and boosting citizens’ morale: installing tiny, glowing hearts inside of all the traffic lights.
In a 2013 interview with the Huffington Post, the former mayor of Akureyri, Eiríkur Björn Björgvinsson, said the traffic lights were instigated after the financial meltdown to “remind the citizens what really mattered” and give people a reason to smile at crosswalks and intersections.
Whatever the motivation, visitors to Akureyri will be surprised and enchanted to see these whimsical traffic controls scattered throughout downtown, lighting up the streets and providing a warm and welcome glow to one of the northernmost cities in the world.
Visitors can also explore the huge heart that once “beat” in Mt. Vaðlaheiði on the opposite side of the fjord. The light installation was constructed by private electric companies around the same time as the traffic lights, and despite no longer working, it is still an impressive feat of artistic engineering; it consists of almost 400 lightbulbs and is about the size of a football field.
Know Before You Go
The hearts can be seen when the light turns red at all the stoplights in Akureyri.