10 Things To Know Before Visiting Iceland

BY NICOLE ALBERTSON

Nicole spent 10 days in Iceland.

Iceland Silfra
Nicole Albertson

The best part of traveling is learning and experiencing a new culture; it’s the opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and open up to another part of the world. But there are some things to know ahead of time that will keep you a respectful and prepared traveler.

Check out a few things to know ahead of time for your trip to Iceland!

1. It’s cold.

Sure it’s been said that Iceland is green and Greenland is icy. And that’s still pretty true. (#globalwarming) But ya know what, Iceland is still cold and it’s worth noting again and again. Make sure to pack layers and more layers so you feel comfortable transitioning from day to night. Depending on the time of year you visit, the sun can be out till 10:30p or setting at an early 3:30p. Don’t worry, it’s still chilly in the sunny spots as the wind can suddenly pick up and make a drastic temperature drop, but Iceland sure does sparkle when those rays come through.

2. Gas stations are acceptable food stops.

With such long distances between townships, gas stations have become regular food destinations while on the road. Serving up more than just sugary snacks, they make a good pop in to load up on sandwiches and munchies before heading back out towards the horizon.

3. More expensive than you think!

Iceland is an island. A remote island. A cold island. While the dramatic and GOT-inspiring landscapes are beautiful, they prove difficult for growing produce and keeping livestock. Icelanders must import a large portion of their goods, including alcohol. Many bar-crawlers pre-game drinks at home before going out for the night to cut back on high priced cocktails. As the cost of living rises, so do the typical travel expenses. Don’t be surprised when a casual lunch or airport taxi rude can set you back ~$100USD depending on the exchange rate. Be prepared to do some serious math before making a purchase.

4. Most people speak excellent English.

Communicating in a new country can be stressful if there’s a strong language barrier, and with Icelandic it would be an extreme. Icelandic is considered one of the most difficult languages because of its archaic vocabulary and complex grammar. It has minimally changed since ancient times so Icelanders can still read and understand ancient Icelandic texts. But have no fear, English is taught as a second language throughout school and almost everyone is fluent. Icelanders easily switch between their native tongue, and have mastered the skill of multiple dialects easing the complication of traveling across the isle.

5. Icelanders have a wicked dry sense of humor.

When it’s cold, and dark, and windy, and stark, you’ve got to find the humor. And Icelanders have honed in on how to take the piss out of it all. Get ready to compete in a sass-off, come with your A-game and don’t take anything too seriously. Cause if you do, they’ll just mock you endlessly.

6. Calling all night owls.

Reykjavik comes alive at night, quiet cafés transform into chic bars and live music floods the streets. The streets may be deceptively quiet on the weekends, but head home for a cat nap and reemerge around 11P to see the city-goers bouncing (and dancing and singing). Bars are open on the weekends till ~4a and weekdays ~1a.

7. Rental car is key.

Iceland has seen a huge tourism boom over the past few years and is only expecting it to increase as WOW Air offers amazing flight deals. Opt to grab a rental car and self-tour the country to stay ahead of the tour buses. Scenic drives are one of the best way to discover hidden hot springs, glacier hikes, local eats and stores, as well as pop around the top attractions like the Golden Circle.

8. Animal meats are … different.

Native Icelanders made the most of their surrounding seas to harvest fish and wildlife for food. Nowadays there is a large import business that brings in a plethora of other options, but the traditional, exotic meats are still available. Check for fermented shark, puffin, whale meat, and occasionally horse meat hiding under the menu header. These are mostly consumed by tourists looking to sample a rare or controversial delicacy and less likely eaten by locals. While it is up to every traveler to decide what they’d like to participate in, it’s worth keeping in mind that since most of these are harvested for tourism, abstaining from eating them will help sustain the local populations.

9. Worth bringing a telephoto camera lens.

Hopefully you’re ready to take some amazing pictures of your adventures throughout Iceland! There is no shortage of beautiful spots that you’ll want to remember (and Insta) for years to come. Might be time to invest in a telephoto lens to capture the overwhelming landscapes and hone in on small gems across the plain.

10. Book event tickets in advance.

Just because Reykjavik has a small population, doesn’t mean shows don’t sell out! Harpa is a world famous concert hall known for its amazing beehive architecture, but also amazing shows. Don’t be fooled into guaranteed rush tickets as these are hot items that give an escape from the cold, but also nourish the soul.

 

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