16 Things Everyone Learns While Traveling in Iceland

As Iceland basks in the glory of its otherworldly landscapes, an increasing number of visitors arrive to explore its natural wonders of glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, geysers and volcanoes. In 2017, this country of 330,000 people expects tourist numbers to reach 1.45million.

So whether it’s having your mind blown by the sheer intensity of Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall or finally being able to pronounce the names of streets and neighborhoods, here are some things you’ll learn while traveling in Iceland.

What You Learn While Traveling in Iceland

Pin it!

NATURE IS BOTH INCREDIBLE AND UNFORGIVING

Ondverdarnes: Things you learn while traveling in Iceland

Powerful waves at Ondverdarnes

While exploring the Icelandic landscape, you’ll not only be introduced to nature at its finest but also at its wildest. You’ll see waves five times your size crash into gigantic cliffs in Öndverðarnes and on the shiny black beach in Reynisfjara, struggle to hold your own against the strong, persistent wind at Dyrhólaey, stare in disbelief at the views at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, get drenched as you tread on the precarious ledge behind Seljalandsfoss and develop a real appreciation for glaciers as you hike on Sólheimajökull while being careful not to fall into a crevasse.

THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS BAD WEATHER, ONLY BAD CLOTHING

Things Everyone Learns While Traveling in Iceland

Dress right for Iceland

You’ll quickly realize that this oft-repeated phrase in Iceland is actually true. To truly enjoy traveling in Iceland, whether in summer or winter, you’ll want to dress sensibly in layers, wear a hat, scarf, gloves, solid waterproof jacket that also keeps the wind chill away and sensible shoes that can take you everywhere from a glacier hike into the heart of a lava tube. If you’re planning a trip this year, here is my complete guide on what to pack for Iceland.

‘ÞETTA REDDAST’- EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY

Icelanders are generally a calm and cool people (please excuse the pun). Their relaxed and laidback attitude is aptly expressed by the phrase ‘Þetta reddast’, a sort of national motto, which means ‘Everything will be okay’. This attitude might be a result of essentially being a resilient people that have learnt how to harmoniously co-exist with the unfettered forces of nature in a remote geographical location. Famously, this country of creative, intelligent and highly literate people has also weathered the storm of the 2008 financial collapse with flying colors, only reconfirming their own belief in this old saying.

IF YOU DON’T LIKE THE WEATHER, WAIT FIVE MINUTES

Things you learn while traveling in Iceland

Iceland is beautiful even in winter but the weather can change quickly

When you go from being gently caressed by snowflakes to being smacked in the face by a ferocious wind in less than five minutes, you know that this line is not an exaggeration. The weather and wind direction can change with little warning and this can turn a four-hour journey into a six-hour one. You’ll also realize that the weather and roads forecast website is your friend.

AND WINDOW WEATHER IS A THING

You know the kind of weather that looks great from the window of a comfortable room with a cup of steaming hot chocolate but is completely unappealing for you to even consider stepping out of the door? The Icelandic language has a word for it- ‘Gluggaveður’ or window weather and you’ll be surprised by how often you’ll want to use it.

THE ICELANDIC LANGUAGE MIGHT BE DIFFICULT BUT IT’S BEAUTIFUL

Things Everyone Learns While Traveling in Iceland

Kirkjufell in winter. Kirkjufell translates to ‘Church Mountain’.

Listening to locals speak in this enchantingly beautiful language might cause you to believe that Icelandic was meant to be the language of spells and magic (hence the effect on the foreign listener). Although ‘Eyjafjallajökull’ sounds like a rather tricky tongue-twister with hidden sounds like ‘lt’ in the end, but if you pay attention, it’s easy to make sense of the names of churches (kirkja), mountains (fjall), waterfalls (foss), glaciers (jökull), and streets (straeti) which are often just a combination of two words such as Kirkjufell or ‘Church Mountain’.

ICELANDERS REALLY RESPECT NATURE AND YOU SHOULD TOO

Things Everyone Learns While Traveling in Iceland

Sigöldufoss

In a landscape as dramatic and magnificent as in Iceland, you won’t be surprised to see that the locals have a real respect for nature and pride for their country. You’ll see them talking passionately about geysers, lava fields, glaciers and volcanoes and frowning as they pause to pick up trash left behind, presumably by a tourist, on a trail or by a waterfall. Soon you’ll find yourself questioning the ignorant mindset of those who leave behind plastic trash and cigarette stubs on a glacier.

Don’t be that tourist who litters, and for the love of humanity, don’t be the idiot that gets dragged away by a massive wave because you were busy taking a selfie in a spot where you weren’t meant to be.

YOU HAVEN’T EXPERIENCED TRUE RELAXATION UNTIL YOU’VE DONE IT THE ICELANDIC WAY

Things Everyone Learns While Traveling in Iceland

Don’t forget your swimwear for the hot springs

Hot springs are the ultimate relaxation therapy, especially in winter and luckily Iceland has so many- not just the famous Blue Lagoon, but natural hot springs in the middle of nowhere that are great and free to use, and if you’re lucky free of other tourists.

THE NORTHERN LIGHTS ARE NOT LIKE THE PICTURES

Visiting Iceland in Winter: Things Everyone Learns While Traveling in Iceland

Watching the Northern Lights in Iceland

If you’ve never seen the Aurora Borealis before, be prepared to have your mind go completely blank as you struggle to recollect everything you learnt about photographing them.

Now on a low activity day, the Aurora appears as a barely there faded green dancing light in the sky and unlike most pictures you see of the Northern Lights that are enhanced. The ISO in those images is usually cranked up so you can see the foreground- the houses or churches or the landscape, but in reality, it’s pitch dark, it needs to be so you can see the Aurora clearly. What you see from the human eye is different from what a camera lens sees but it’s fascinating nonetheless.

On a strong activity night, you’ll watch, mouth agape, as the green waves sway and swirl serpent-like above you, and it will be magical. But bear in mind that you’ll freeze your ass off and your fingers will go numb as you try to operate the camera and set up your tripod. Take a minute to not do that and just enjoy the show.

YOU’RE ALMOST ALWAYS SAFE

Best Things to do in Reykjavik: The Complete Guide for First-Timers

Reykjavik Old Harbour

Iceland is one of the safest and most peaceful countries in the world; it does not have an army, only a coast guard. You’ll mostly feel safe here- whether it’s walking alone in the streets of Reykjavik at 3am or leaving your car unlocked at a gas station as you step into the supermarket to stock up on supplies. But don’t leave your common sense in your Airbnb or hostel when you step out. No place in the world is a 100% crime free, not even Iceland.

In fact, come to think of it, you’re most likely to suffer consequences in Iceland from being a stupid tourist floating off on a piece of ice at the Glacier Lagoon, driving off trail or worse, on a glacier, being somewhere that’s closed off to visitors, or being ignorant about weather warnings.

Iceland, one of the most gender-equal countries in the world, is also extremely safe if you’re a woman traveling alone. In fact, I even wrote about why I love Iceland as a feminist.

 

IT’S POSSIBLE TO TRAVEL AROUND ICELAND ON A BUDGET

A trip to Iceland does not have to break the bank if you’re willing to make small compromises. Stay at a hostel, Airbnb, or guesthouse instead of a hotel.

Eat on the cheap at local Pylsa (hot dog) stands, supermarkets that sell delicious sandwiches and small bakeries. Here’s a post I wrote about where to eat in Reykjavik on a budget.

Best places to eat in Reykjavik on a budget/ Things you learn while traveling in Iceland

Eating on the Cheap: Curry Sandwich at Nonnabiti

Drink the tap water like the locals (it’s clean and completely safe) and refill your bottle from natural springs when you’re outdoors. Buy your alcohol at government-run liquor stores instead of bars and pre-drink before a night out. If you’re traveling by yourself, hitchhike and check the local rideshare website Samferda.is to request and book rides between towns.

 

THE ICELANDIC SENSE OF HUMOR IS FANTASTIC

From jokes about the financial crisis to the popularity of a new local dating phone app for incest-prevention, what makes the Icelandic sense of humor so great is the rare ability to laugh at things that make the culture unique, fascinating and sometimes a bit strange. “We’re a little weird but we like it,” is something you hear more than once and you cannot help but agree. While in Reykjavik, try to go watch a stand up comedy at one of the pubs in town or at Harpa that might be running shows of the comedy ‘How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes’.

 

GIANT ROCKS AND CLIFFS ARE MORE THAN GEOLOGICAL FEATURES

Londrangar Snaefellsnes: Things Everyone Learns While Traveling in Iceland

Londrangar- You might be looking at a troll without even realizing it

You’ll repeatedly hear of unusually shaped rocks, boulders and cliffs being described as trolls frozen in time, supernatural beings that were up to mischief looting ships or making merry and couldn’t make it back home before sunrise only to turn into stone. Some Icelanders believe in supernatural beings or hidden folk- elves, trolls, fairies, mountain spirits and angels, and they play an important role in legends associated with places. You can’t be blamed if you find yourself believing that the cliff you’re looking at really is an elf-church or a troll face, after all, there is something magical about nature in Iceland.

 

FERMENTED SHARK IS NEVER A GOOD IDEA

This traditional ‘delicacy’ is quite unlike anything you’ve ever tasted.

You won’t, for the life of you, be able to understand why anyone would include this absurdity in their diet. The younger generation of Icelanders mostly agrees with you but they’ll still point and laugh.

 

ICELAND IS STILL GETTING USED TO THE TOURISTS

Best Things to do in Reykjavik: The Complete Guide for First-Timers/ Things you learn while traveling in Iceland

Reykjavik: The streets are much busier with tourists in summer

Icelanders, in general, are a trusting and laidback people and they’re slowly coming to terms with their country being in the tourism spotlight. This means that guesthouse owners won’t always ask you to pay for accommodation upfront and bus drivers might not check if you actually bought a ticket for the journey. They aren’t suspicious and trust you to do the right thing.

 

YOU’LL NEVER BE AS MULTI-TALENTED AS AN ICELANDER

How do you even begin to compete with an economist who writes fiction novels, sings in a local band and is also a part-time landscape photographer? And that’s just one person in a 325,000 strong population of artistically gifted, creative, smart, witty, funny and eloquent people.

 

Looking for more Iceland resources?

Here’s my First-Timers’ Guide to Reykjavik and Iceland Travel Blog.

 

41 Comments

  • diana says:

    now this was really a “COOL ” post in literal sense. iceland is on my list, will recall every word of this post if i happen to be there once. amazing summary of icelandic life. thanks and cheers

  • Via Bella says:

    Omg! This makes me want to go to Iceland. I love this article the optimism and truth in it!
    ~ http://viabella-thebeautifullife.blogspot.com/

  • I think I would definitely feel safe and happy in Iceland. Your post has really convinced me to make visiting Iceland a priority! I love how you mentioned the difference between a low activity and high activity day for the Northern Lights!

  • So far I only used to check the gorgeous pictures of Iceland, but I got to know so many interesting things about this country! Good to know about the people and their culture apart from the incredible landscapes!

  • Love this perspective! WOW Airlines is opening up a base in Chicago so I see Iceland in our near future. So excited to explore it and learn all of these things firsthand!!

  • Elizabeth O. says:

    I have never been to Iceland and I sure would love to explore and travel to that beautiful place! I’ve been hearing so much about it!

  • What a uniquely creative post! i’ve never read anything like it! so awesome
    Makes me wanna et on a plane right now lol

  • Vicki Louise says:

    I can’t believe that the tourism numbers expected are more than 4 times the population! That’s insane! But I can totally see why! The landscapes are incredible – and I love that they have a word for ‘window weather’!

  • stacey veikalas says:

    We are so ready to se Iceland! The beauty, the sights and the glaciers oh my! I am really trying to find a way to get there!

  • I’ve settled that I want to go to Iceland for my new year break at the end of 2017 and this has made me even more excited x

  • Iceland is on our bucket list for sure. I think that is great that they locals are trusting and laid back – makes for a great experience I would think. Hmmm Fermented Shark – does not sound good yuck – but everything else looks amazing !

  • Kimberly C. says:

    OMG you had me with that picture of the hot springs. Gorgeous and I so want to be there. I love learning about new countries and this one has now been added to my bucket list of places to visit.

  • Ana Ojha says:

    Iceland is on my bucket list! Hope to visit there soon and experience Northern Lights from my eyes. Have pinned your post for my reference!

  • Fermented shark? Oh no! LOL Window weather, I am going to remember that one. 😉 Iceland has some really amazing nature to offer. I had hoped to see it last year and had to cancel last minute. I mostly missed seeing the waterfalls and soaking in the baths.

  • Ali Rost says:

    Iceland is high on the list of places my husband and I would like to visit. Especially after the New York Times wrote an article about their pools. Breathtaking .. as are your photos!

  • Rhonda Albom says:

    I haven’t been to Iceland, and now I want to more than ever. I love “no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” That really sums up so many complaints people have. Also, I would love to a bit of relaxing the Icelandic way.
    Rhonda Albom recently posted…Panoramic Views as we Ride the Alaska Railroad from Denali to AnchorageMy Profile

  • Haha window weather is exactly what I would call it. Despite the unpredictability of the weather I still think it is beautiful and would love to go to Iceland one day x

  • Emma says:

    I loved my trip to Iceland – I only wish I’d been able o see the Northern Lights though, they didn’t come out at all on our trip. Love the saying Gluggaveður – never heard it before but wish we had a word for it in English!
    Emma recently posted…Gambas Al Ajillo (à la Dan) – Garlic & Chilli Prawns/Shrimp)My Profile

  • Hugo Cura says:

    I’ve been to Iceland a few times and can definitely relate. Probably the most important one is to respect nature and the weather!

    Now I need to go back..
    Hugo Cura recently posted…6 must-visit temples in EgyptMy Profile

  • Nina says:

    Iceland has been on my mind for a while now. It’s such a fascinating place! I love what you said about there not being bad weather … just bad clothing. If you prepare, it should all work out!

    • Natasha Amar says:

      That’s true, how warm you are while traveling in winter in Iceland impacts the kind of stuff you can do while on your trip.

  • Haha I love the second one “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” haha so true! Never visited Iceland, but I know I would need to bring many layers in order to stay warm!

  • Barbara Wagner says:

    These photos make me want to go to Iceland. I like how comprehensive your guide is about Iceland. You not only describe the country and the places to visit, but also the language, the humour of the locals. Great post!

  • LeAnna Brown says:

    As budget travelers, we basically lived off of hotdogs during our week in Iceland! We drove around the island in a campervan. So, we also learned how to be REALLY cold at night!!!
    LeAnna Brown recently posted…Free Flights For FOUR (yes 4!) Years: The Southwest Companion PassMy Profile

  • Erin says:

    I went to Iceland last summer and loved it. I definitely noticed all of these things! I hope Iceland doesn’t change too much with all of the tourists because it is so great how it is. Definitely want to go back. PS My brother and dad tried the fermented shark and said it was literally the worst thing they have ever smelled or tasted. DON’T DO IT! haha

    • Natasha Amar says:

      He was right about the shark. I hope it doesn’t change because of the tourists too- because you’re right Iceland is wonderful as are the Icelanders. I hope they don’t get too annoyed by the many idiot tourists who treat their country as some kind of playground. That also applies to Justin Bieber who trampled Icelandic moss (it’s protected and you’re not supposed to walk on it and destroy it) while shooting his music video there.

  • Jennifer says:

    We’ve been chasing the Northern Lights for about seven seasons now and on a low activity period, the Aurora can appear even as a white or gray cloud that isn’t the least bit green to the naked eye. The camera lens is just capable of seeing a much broader color spectrum than our eyes are. It’s definitely different than what we see in photos or video, but still an amazing phenomenon.
    Jennifer recently posted…Diving Coron’s Wrecks and ReefsMy Profile

    • Natasha Amar says:

      Amazing if you have realistic expectations. Being out chasing in the lights in extremely cold weather only to see something you did not expect can be disappointing for some.

  • Gabby says:

    Lots of interesting things I never knew about Iceland. I’m hoping to visit this summer so this was a great teaser for me!

  • Ankita says:

    Those are some fabulous tips! You’ve put so much detail into this post. I’m visiting Iceland this year and bookmarked this already! Do you have more posts on Iceland? I’m off to check out more 🙂

    • Natasha Amar says:

      Hi Ankita,
      Thanks! I have tons of posts on Iceland from two long trips last year. Hope they can help you in your travel planning.

  • We’ve just come back from Iceland and I can safely say that we certainly did learn most of these things out there! Particularly the weather changing so rapidly — we experienced bright sunshine, snow blizzards and cloudy skies all in the space of a few hours. Also, good to know about the Northern Lights: I must confess that I’d been under the illusion of them being as bright as you see in professional photographs, but when we did see them, they were really quite faint… we nearly mistook them for clouds at first! Doh! Anyway, yeah good insights here… definitely worth reading for anyone considering visiting Iceland! 🙂

  • jo says:

    Stunning photos, it’s a place I would love to visit but I will avoid the fermented shark! It looks a great combination of exploring and relaxing with a city break thrown in – perfect!
    jo recently posted…AFTERNOON TEA AT THE MANOR HOUSE HOTEL, CASTLE COMBE, ENGLANDMy Profile

  • carla abanes says:

    Iceland is on my list, I really wish to visit soon maybe 2018. Thanks for sharing this!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge