In this ongoing series, I’m sharing insider tips for traveling in Iceland. In my previous post, I discussed driving, dining, credit cards, and more.
Here are 5 more things I think you should know before traveling or moving to Iceland.
1. A Few Useful Icelandic Words
Most of the Icelanders you meet will speak English, but it never hurts to learn a few useful words and phrases. Here are a few good ones:
- Hello: Góðan daginn (go-then die-in) or simply halló.
- Goodbye: Bless, bless bless, or bæjó (bye-oh).
- Thank you: Takk fyrir or simply takk (tahk) for thanks.
- Cheers: Skál (skowl).
- Open: Opið.
- Closed: Lokað.
- Women: Konur.
- Men: Karl.
Pro tip: English is widely spoken and written in Iceland, but speaking some Icelandic — such as takk for thanks — never goes amiss.
2. There is No Fake Politeness
I’m from the Midwest, where people are generally very “nice.” We hold doors, we say “bless you” when someone sneezes, and we chitchat in grocery store lines.
That is not the case in Iceland. People in lines will not try to talk to you, and even restaurant waitstaff will not try to converse with you (unless they’re not from here).
No cashier will ask you “did you find everything?” And if someone bumps into you, they probably won’t say sorry. This is just how it is here and you should not be put off by it.
On the flip side, Icelanders view American politeness as fake and disingenuous. So if you find Icelanders rude, just remember that it’s at least an honest approach.
Pro tip: Don’t be offended if Icelanders don’t try to make small talk with you or if someone bumps into you on the street and doesn’t apologize.
3. Chase the Sun
The biggest tip I can give you is to not be too tied to your travel plan when in Iceland.
The reason for this is simple: Icelandic weather is quite fickle. For this reason, Icelanders are adept at adapting their plans to the weather.
When possible, keep your plans flexible. For example, if you’d planned to spend one day in Reykjavík coffee shops and the next day driving the Golden Circle but the first day is sunny, drop your coffee shop plans and hit the road.
Additionally, always keep an eye on the weather when driving. The weather here can be quite harsh with strong winds, so do your research and be smart on the road.
Pro tip: It’s definitely not always sunny in Reykjavík, so do as the Icelanders do and make your plans according to the weather.
4. A Few Tips About Drinking in Iceland
There are a few things you should know about drinking in Iceland.
For starters, it’s quite expensive and people tend to pre-game at home before heading to the bars. Downtown actually doesn’t get too busy until quite late, often after midnight. Icelanders like to party well into the wee hours of the morning.
Second, the drinking age in Iceland is 20. This is higher than in some other European countries, so be aware of this when visiting Iceland.
If you’re in your 20s, you may also want to carry your ID when going to the bar or liquor store. You won’t get carded often, but it does happen.
Lastly, Iceland takes a very strong stance when it comes to drinking and driving. There is zero tolerance, so do not drink and drive.
Pro tip: The name of the one chain of liquor stores in Iceland is Vínbúðin, so head there when looking for beer, wine, or spirits.
5. Get Naked Before Going to the Pool
While in Iceland, I recommend visiting a pool or ten. By “pool” I mean a heavenly outdoor complex of warm pools, saunas, hot tubs, wading pools, and more.
Almost every town (even the small ones) or community in Iceland has its own unique pool complex, and these are the perfect places to relax after a long day.
Just know that if you go to the pool, you’re going to have to shower naked before jumping in. There are separate locker rooms for men and women, but everyone is required to shower without a swimsuit before entering the pool area.
This comes as a shock to some travelers, but rest assured that everyone else in the locker room (unless your’re at a touristy pool like the Blue Lagoon) will be naked too and it’s really not a big deal. Pools here are not heavily chlorinated because you’re expected to shower.
However, if you really must shower alone, most pools have one shower with a curtain.
Pro tip: The pool is an inexpensive place take a shower and relax. Don’t be this guy showering at a carwash when you could take one (in warm water) at the pool down the road.