I’ve lived in Iceland for just over a year now. Iceland is a stunning, otherworldly place to call home, but there are definitely things I like and dislike about living here.
Below are my 10 favorite things about living in Iceland.
Iceland is beautiful, and I still catch myself marveling at its beauty.
There are breathtaking mountains, volcanoes, highlands, glaciers, waterfalls, fjords, geysers, lava fields, and a variety of coastlines.
Iceland is the land of fire, ice, and everything between. You can even stand between two continents when visiting where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.
There are also very few trees here and the elevation changes quite frequently. This means there are almost constant, epic 360-degree views to enjoy.
With a population of around 200,000 in the city and surrounding region, Reykjavík is the perfect size. It’s also a really fun, quirky city.
You can walk much of the downtown area and see a variety of sights in a short amount of time, including Harpa the concert hall and Hallgrímskirkja the church.
Also make sure to visit Tjörnin, which is the famous pond of Reykjavík. Some of the most beautiful, large, and historic homes are located along the banks of Tjörnin.
Reykjavík is charming with its colorful, cute houses. Graffiti and street art are also quite common, and there are a variety of beautiful murals, especially by the harbor.
The nightlife in Reykjavík is also really fun. Bars stay open late on weekends, and Icelanders party well into the morning. Bars tend to play fun dance music or Icelandic folk songs, and by the end of the night, everyone will be singing along.
Iceland has a small-town feel. If you’re here long enough, you’re bound to run into someone or several someones you know pretty much anywhere you go.
Within a week of living here, I’d run into everyone I knew who lived here. True story.
Another huge part of Icelandic culture is going to the pool.
Almost all towns or communities in Iceland have their own geothermally heated pool complex. They all look different, but usually consist of a pool, several hot pots, saunas, shallow lounging pools, and sometimes even waterslides.
Hot pots are a great place to relax and discuss tíðarandi, or “the feeling of society at the time.” You can also swim in the pool, and some complexes are located near a gym.
When the weather is cold and dark, there’s no better place to be than the pool.
One of my favorite memories from last winter is relaxing in the shallow, warm pool and watching the Northern Lights dance overhead.
This might not be on most people’s top 10 list, but I really like the climate in Iceland.
The Gulf Stream keeps the climate temperate, with temperatures usually falling between 30–60°F (-1–15°C), depending on season and location.
I come from Minnesota, where it’s extremely cold in the winter and pretty hot in the summer. So Iceland is right in the middle, which agrees with me.
However, while I really like the climate here, the weather isn’t always great. It can be quite windy or rainy, in addition to being dark for several months of the year.
This is another item that might not make everyone’s list, but I like the food here.
Iceland isn’t known for its cuisine, but there are many amazing restaurants in Reykjavik — and around the country — that serve truly delicious food.
Many restaurants serve Nordic cuisine, with an emphasis on tasty fish and lamb dishes. You won’t find a huge variety of restaurants, but what selection is here is done well.
Additionally, Iceland has skyr, which is technically a cheese but functions as a tasty, thick yogurt. Some restaurants even serve skyr as a dessert, and there is not much better than fresh skyr and blueberries with homemade blueberry sorbet.
Bakeries are also big here. They serve a variety of Iceland breads and pastries, including kleinur (Icelandic doughnuts) and vínarbrauð (custard-topped, frosted pastries).
One of the most unexpected and wonderful things I experienced when moving here was a total shift in work culture.
For starters, many people enjoy flexible hours. People often make appointments during the day or run errands when they need to. There’s even an Icelandic word for this — skreppa.
Vacation is also taken very seriously, and most people take a month-long summer holiday.
The basic concept is work hard, get your work done, but then enjoy your life. I dig it.
Since this is my personal top ten list, Icelandic horses have to be included. I grew up riding Icelandic horses in the U.S., so am partial to these small, fuzzy, personable horses.
For hundreds of years, Icelanders relied on these horses to make living here possible. They rode these small, hardy horses from place to place, used them as packhorses, and even for food. The nickname for the Icelandic horse is “the most useful servant.”
No horses have been allowed into Iceland for over 1,000 years, making the breed one of the oldest and purest in the world. Centuries of selective breeding have resulted in a horse that is sturdy, smooth, dependable, and really happy to be your best friend.
Icelandic horses are also a gaited horse, meaning they have gaits in addition to walk, trot, and gallop. They have a smooth running walk called the tölt, which makes riding over the uneven Icelandic terrain comfortable. Some horses also have a 5th gait called flying pace.
Horses are still a huge part of Icelandic culture. More than 80,000 horses live on the island, and there are many competitions, treks, and riding events.
Iceland is a safe place with little crime. The police officers don’t even carry guns.
Kids ride the city bus unaccompanied, and parents don’t seem to worry about their kids being out and about. Kids in Iceland are very independent.
The crime rate — especially for violent crimes — is also very low here.
Iceland has a Nordic social welfare system, which provides universal healthcare.
College education is free, and paid maternity leave is 3 months for mothers, 3 months for fathers, and an additional 3 months that can be split how you choose.
Icelanders are also highly educated and the society is progressive.
Iceland was the first nation to elect a female president; Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was elected in 1980 and stayed in office for 16 years. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir was Iceland’s first female prime minister and the world’s first openly gay female head of state.
Both did a lot to advance women’s rights in Iceland. Additionally, gay marriage is legal in Iceland, and Reykjavik Gay Pride is a huge, family-friendly festival that is widely attended.
There are no mosquitoes in Iceland. It’s amazing.