11 Books From Iceland You Must Read

A man reading in a book shop corner.

What are considered to be the best books from Iceland? How can they teach us about Iceland today? And are the Icelandic people truly as prolific in their writing as it is claimed? Read on to find out all of this and more.  

Let’s begin by clarifying Iceland’s historic contributions to world literature. Almost everyone knows about the mediaeval sagas. These were epic tomes that speak of courageous settlers. Reigning Scandinavian kings. And vengeful Norse Gods vying for power. 

In short, there is a deep tradition for storytelling here. Modern-day Icelanders continue to write engaging and original works of fiction. In doing so, they sculpt a new place for themselves in the realm of words, grammar, and publishing. 

After all, it is said that one in ten Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime. An admirable stat for such a diminutive population. So what are the reasons behind their affinity for weaving such fanciful tales? Is it that the dark winters provide for plenty of time to sit at the proverbial typewriter? Or maybe their passion for narrative is so ingrained as to be inescapable? 

How do Icelanders celebrate their literary roots?

Iceland Publishers' Association 2023 book fair
Photo: Golli. Iceland Publishers’ Association 2023 book fair

Whatever the case, cultural events like Jólabókaflóð (The Christmas Book Flood) and the Reykjavík International Literary Festival demonstrate just how deep this devotion to the written word has become. And by taking just a small stroll around Reykjavik, you will also spot plenty of bookshops, many of which remain wholly independent and offer a wide selection of titles in both English and Icelandic. 

For the sake of this article, let’s focus solely on books that have been translated into English and have made a significant cultural impact. So, what are the most widely celebrated novels to have come out of Iceland over the last century, and what prescient insights about this island’s culture can we glean from their pages?

1) Independent People (1934) by Halldor Laxness 

Halldor Laxness and his wife
Photo: Gljúfrasteinn / Laxness Museum

If there is one author who towers above all others in the pantheon of Icelandic writers, it is Halldór Kiljan Laxness. Born in 1902 in Reykjavik, Laxness began writing at an early age, his imagination inflamed by the poetry sang to him by his grandmother. 

His first published works appeared in the newspaper, Morgunblaðið, in 1916. His first novel, Barn náttúrunnar (Child of Nature) was released only three years later, beginning what would be a hugely influential, sometimes controversial, but ultimately incredible literary career.

Laxness’ best known work is Independent People, the story of an impoverished farming family struggling to overcome the inhospitality of the landscape, and the prison-bars laid down by a burgeoning capitalist nation. 

Originally, the novel was released in two parts and deals with themes of social realism and what, if anything, should be willingly sacrificed to ensure independence of the individual. Presenting a rather bleak view of rural life in Iceland during that time, it is still often said that Independent People is one of the greatest books of the 20th Century. 

Quite deservedly, it was Independent People that secured Halldor Laxness the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955. He remains Iceland’s only Nobel Laureate. 

Laxness Museum
Photo: Gljúfrasteinn / Laxness Museum

Where can you learn more about Halldor Laxness?


Laxness wrote many other critically-acclaimed books, including
The Fish Can Sing (1957) and Salka Valka (1931). While not overly appreciated in his time, another of his books, The Atom Station (1948), was an early example of an urban novel set in Iceland, cementing the framework for later works based in Reykjavik. 

You can discover more about Halldor Laxness at Gljúfrasteinn hús skáldsins, his former home and now museum on the leafy outskirts of Mosfellsbær. This cosy building is a great place to not only learn more about Iceland’s most acclaimed author, but see firsthand how the man lived and worked. Your tour will begin with a brief documentary about his life and output, and audio guides help explain the exhibitions inside. 

Evocative and inspiring for anyone interested in making writing a career, the house is very much as the great man left it. Even if his shoes and ties can be seen hanging in the cupboard! 

2) Angels of the Universe (1993) by Einar Már Guðmundsson

 

 

Angels of the Universe has left its mark on Icelandic literature in ways that most other books have not. 

Written by Einar Már Guðmundsson, the semi-autobiographical work tells the story of Paul, covering everything from his early childhood to his death. The book was acclaimed for its incredible balance between comedy and tragedy. It quickly found a devoted audience both in Iceland and abroad. 

Guðmundsson won the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize in 1995 for his novel. Five years later, Friðrik Þór Friðriksson directed a feature film adaptation of the same name.

The film won countless accolades upon its release, including Best Film and Director of the Year at the prestigious Edda Awards. 

3) Jar City (2000) by Arnaldur Indriðason

Author Arnaldur Indridason
Photo: Arnaldur Indridason

Written by renowned crime-fiction author, Arnaldur Indriðason, the premise of Jar City is not for the faint of heart. Detective Erlendur investigates the corpse of an elderly man, found dead in his flat, and apparently killed by a glass ashtray thrown at him in a moment of passion. 

A mysterious note, plus a photograph depicting a girl’s gravestone, are the only clues as to what may have happened. Little by little, Erlendur pieces together that, forty years before, the deceased escaped conviction for sexual assault. 

Those with a deeper inside knowledge of Icelandic enterprise will, no doubt, recognise that much of the book is a steadfast criticism of deCODE genetics, a biopharmaceuticals company based in the capital. 

In 2006, a film was produced from the novel, directed by Baltasar Kormákur. 

4) The Blue Fox (2003) by Sjón

An arctic fox on a beach in Hornstrandir, Westfjords.
Photo: Golli. An arctic fox on a beach in Hornstrandir, Westfjords.

Taking place in 1883, this short and surreal story by the acclaimed writer Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson – better known as Sjón – follows two morally complex characters trying to survive in rural Iceland. 

The first is a priest who is doggedly hunting down an elusive blue fox. The second is a herbalist forced to bury a young woman following discovering her in a shipwreck. 

Throughout the events of the book, the changing nature of reality is a common motif, putting readers on edge as they too try to comprehend just what in the story is true, and what is conjured up in the imagination of its protagonists. 

Critics describe the book as a piece of magical-realist fiction, and it earned Sjón the Nordic Prize for Literature in 2005.

5) Hotel Silence (2016) by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

Writer Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
Photo: Wikimedia. CC. Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir’s novel follows a divorced, forty-year-old man struggling with a midlife crisis as he travels through a war-ravaged Balkan country state. As readers soon discover, the reason for his being there is that he hopes to be killed, saving the possibility that his Icelandic daughter might discover his body should he commit the act at home. 

Despite the heavy subject matter, the book is rife with lighthearted witticisms and tender reflections on what it means to be human. Hotel Silence is just as capable as being tragic as it is hilarious, intimate, and powerful.

Having published three novels and countless poems, Auður is one of Iceland’s most esteemed writers, having won many literary awards both at home and in France. In 2018, she received the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize for her work on Hotel Silence

Two years after, Auður published another well-received novel called Miss Iceland that focuses on the conservative nature of 1960s Iceland, and a determined woman attempting to break the mould by becoming a writer. 

6) I Remember You (2012) by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

 

 

A spine-tingling ghost story by acclaimed children’s and crime author, Yrsa Sigurdardottir. It follows three friends as they renovate an abandoned and isolated house. After a short while, it becomes obvious that something malevolent within the house is trying to make them leave. 

As you can imagine, the permeating horror and eldritch themes in this novel does not make it suitable for young readers.  

The central mystery of I Remember You creeps up slowly. A doctor in a nearby town uncovers how the suicide of his former patient began with an obsession she had with her vanished son. How these two seemingly unrelated events intertwine sets the scene for what becomes a truly terrifying read. 

In the past, Yrsa’s penchant for horror has been compared to masters of the genre like Stephen King. 

7) The Fires: Love & Other Disasters (2020) by Sigríður Hagalín Björnsdóttir

Meradalir eruption, August 2022
Photo: Golli. Meradalir eruption, August 2022

A sharp rise in earthquakes and eruptions demonstrate that Iceland is likely entering a new chapter of volcanic activity. These events have been limited to the Reykjanes Peninsula, and there is no indication that Iceland’s population is in danger. 

Of course, those living on the peninsula – such as the former residents of Grindavík – have had their lives turned upside down. There is great sympathy both at home and abroad for how they have been affected. But still, the point remains. By and large, Icelanders remain safe from incurrent lava flows. 

However, in the world of fiction, Sigríður Hagalín Björnsdóttir explores the worst case scenario. In her new novel, The Fires: Love & Other Disasters, she asks the question. What if Iceland was to be made unliveable by a catastrophic volcanic eruption?

The story focuses on a determined volcanologist named Anna Arnardóttir. As a true scientist, Anna places great importance on clear and rational thinking. She does so often at the expense of allowing personal feelings to cloud her views. But, as the threat of a large volcanic eruption threatens to destroy the Icelandic nation, she finds herself faced with another dramatic obstacle – love!

For those rare, but die-hard fans of romantic-disaster stories, Sigríður’s book is the perfect choice. Though it might make you irrationally fearful about Iceland’s molten underbelly, this novel contains plenty of fascinating science that will provide a clear understanding of the volcanic forces that characterise this island. 

8)  Öræfi: The Wasteland (2014) by Ófeigur Sigurðsson 

Sólheimasandur
Photo: Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck

Once known as Litla Hérað (Little District,) Öræfi is among Iceland’s most barren regions. It has lain deserted since the violent 1362 eruption and glacial flooding at Öræfajökull volcano. As far as dramatic settings go, it is a fitting place. One that can serve as a blank canvas upon which the author can experiment with literary styles and influences.  

In Icelandic, Öræfi translates to “desolation” or “wilderness.” While this might at first strike you as a somewhat bleak and depressing title, this expansive literary work is as filled with lighthearted comedic moments as it is profound drama and illuminating scientific theories. 

The major event of the book is when its title character – an Austrian toponymist by the name of Bernharður Fingurbjörg – falls headlong into a glacier. However, given the interweaving threads that make up this epic novel, it’s an incident that almost seems inconsequential to the plot, but one that instead allows for Ófeigur to explore countless subjects and lines of inquiry. 

9) The Woman at 1000 Degrees (2011) by Hallgrimur Helgason

 

 

The Woman at 1000 Degrees caused widespread and controversial coverage upon its release in Iceland in 2011 due in large part to the fact that many of its characters and events were taken directly from real life. Hallgrimur Helgason left a note at the beginning of the book stating what follows is a work of fiction. However, claims suggest that surviving family members do not appreciate the depiction of their relatives.. 

Scandals aside, this story is as enthralling as it is personal, strange, and quirky. It showcases Hallgrimur’s flair for writing in its most biting and unsentimental form.

As is often the case with Icelandic novels, the premise begins on a dark note. It is narrated in the first-person from Herra’s perspective.

She is an elderly woman nearing the end of her life. We begin by knowing that she has scheduled her own appointment at the crematorium. In roughly two weeks’ time, they will cook her body at a scalding 1000 degrees.

Hence the title of the book. 

While waiting for this self-imposed finale, she recounts various experiences from her life. First we learn that she is the granddaughter of Iceland’s first President. She also once kissed a member of the Beatles. Her father fought in the Second World War on the side of Nazi Germany. She once married and was a mother to children. She even lived through the financial crash. We learn all this and more, right up until where we find her in the novel. Having mastered the internet and living in a small garage smoking endless cigarettes. 

10) Heaven and Hell (2010) by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

fishing lumpfish net
Photo: Golli. Lumpfish being caught in East Iceland

Described as ‘Like an oyster – a glinting treasure in a rough shell,’ Heaven and Hell is the first book of Jón Kalman Stefánsson’s widely-lauded trilogy. 

It is set in the harsh reality of 19th-century Iceland. This superb story explores how the tumultuous ocean relates to the lives and deaths of those who dare brave it. Fishermen struggle against monolithic waves. Tempestuous storms. And unruly companions as they fight to earn a meagre living.So, people compare the intensity of reading this novel to the drama and inhospitality of Iceland’s own coastal waters.

The novel’s protagonist – known only as ‘the boy’ – sets sail on a cod fishing boat with a strange crew. But he soon becomes disillusioned upon observing their callous reaction to a tragedy aboard the vessel. Abandoning his crewmates, he heads back to land. As expected, he is uncaring as to whether he survives the perilous journey or not. But once he reaches shore, he realises that circumstances are not much better there than they were at sea…

The next two books The Sorrow of Angels and The Human Heart continue to follow the story of the title character. Both delve into the interplay between the forbidding nature of Iceland and the stoic lives of those who endure it.  

11)  A Fist or a Heart (2019) by Kristín Eiríksdóttir

 

 

As Kristín Eiríksdóttir’s first novel translated into the English language, A Fist or a Heart makes for a fantastic introduction to one of Iceland’s most celebrated modern authors. Here in Iceland, she has been a huge name in the local literary scene since releasing a collection of short stories, Doris Dies, in 2010. 

The main character of A Fist or a Heart is Elín Jónsdóttir, a lonely seventy-year-old woman who creates gruesome props for a theatrical company based in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. Aside from busying herself with work, Elín becomes increasingly interested in who she deems to be a fellow outsider. A young, upcoming playwright named Ellen Álfsdóttir. 

As the story progresses, we as the reader learn that these two characters share many experiences. Troubled childhoods. Struggling to remain independent within their respective creative visions. And yet, the harder Elín attempts to unravel the parallels, the more her connection with reality wanes. This confusion lays the groundwork for an intricate and emotionally-astute novel. One that deals with themes of isolation and creativity on its own terms. 

Large Drop in Asylum Applications

deportation iceland

Applications for asylum in Iceland dropped by 56% in the first two months of 2024 compared to the same period last year. Only 410 applications were submitted during January and February, with 925 submitted during those same months in 2023.

Costs to go down substantially

If this trend continues, authorities will process between 2,000 and 2,500 applications from asylum seekers this year, a drop of 40-50% from last year, Heimildin reports. This would mean that the cost of asylum services, which has been heavily criticised in the Icelandic political sphere in recent months, would drop by a third, from ISK 17.7 Billion [$130 Million, €119 Million] this year to ISK 11.5 Billion [$84 Million, €77 Million]. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour expects costs to drop even further if the speed of processing applications can be increased.

Most applications from Ukraine and Venezuela

In 2023, 4,155 people applied for asylum in Iceland. The vast majority were arriving from Ukraine and Venezuela. Both of these groups were given additional protection during the process due to conditions in their home countries. Additional protection for people arriving from Venezuela, however, was revoked last year. Due to this decision, many Venezuelans were left without a work permit in Iceland, but received financial support from the state while the decision to revoke protection was in appeals process. Outside of these two groups, only 951 applications for asylum were submitted last year.

Hera to Represent Iceland in Eurovision

A screenshot from RÚV. Hera Björk during the Söngvakeppnin final, March 2, 2024

Ríkisútvarpið (RÚV), The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, has decided that singer Hera Björk will represent Iceland with her song Scared of Heights at the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö in Sweden this May. According to an announcement from RÚV, Hera was the undisputed winner of Söngvakeppnin, Iceland’s preliminary competition.

Only two days ago, RÚV launched an independent inquiry into the voting process of Söngvakeppnin. Several voters reported glitches in RÚV’s voting app. Some who attempted to vote for Hera’s main competitor, Palestinian Bashar Murad, shared screenshots of error messages or indications that their vote had gone to Hera instead. The songwriter for Bashar’s song, Wild West, submitted a written request for an independent inquiry into the error.

Few votes in question

RÚV says that both songs were affected by the voting app glitch and that Hera’s victory was dominant as she received some 3,500 more votes than Bashar. According to the voting app’s developers, only 748 votes were in question. “The votes possibly affected due to this glitch were even fewer than originally thought and it’s clear that this had no impact on the final results,” RÚV’s announcement read. “Hera Björk is the undisputed winner of Söngvakeppnin 2024.”

Saddened by the discourse

Iceland’s participation in Eurovision has been criticised in light of Israel’s ongoing participation in the competition during its military action in Gaza. Bashar’s participation was seen by many as a statement to oppose the war, but he was also subjected to racist comments during the process. Hera’s songwriter, Ásdís María Viðarsdóttir, known professionally as Ásdís, said that she wanted Bashar to represent Iceland and that her conscience didn’t allow her to participate further.

Hera said that she was saddened by the discourse. “Both in terms of how people talked about me and my supposed viewpoints, but even more so about how Bashar was treated,” she said.

Program Director Skarphéðinn Guðmundsson said that RÚV was aware of the discourse surrounding the competition. “We encourage everyone to support Hera and her team,” he said. “She will be a fantastic representative for us.”

The Best Zip lines in Iceland

Zip lining over a glacier

Where can you go zip-lining during your visit to Iceland? What is the longest zipline in the country, and is it safe? Read on to learn all you need to know about zipping over the land of ice and fire! 

Attached to a harness, visitors soar down a predetermined route that allows for incredible perspectives over natural landscapes. Given the spectacle and absolute beauty of Iceland’s countryside, zip-lining is one activity that is going from strength to strength with each passing year. 

Sure, excursions like glacier hiking, ice caving, horse riding, or snowmobiling might take the top spots on the wishlist for travellers to Iceland, but zip-lining not only takes less time commitment but also offers a burst of adrenaline that can rival any of those mentioned before.

The mega zipline in Iceland
Photo: Mega Zipline with transfer – Conventional Ride

And, good news for those impulsively inclined. Zip-lining needs very little in the way of preparation. Just make sure to bring with you a hefty dose of courage, the thirst for a challenge, and some warm attire to help combat the passing wind. With these in your back pocket, you’re sure to engage in one of the most exciting and newest activities available in the country. 

But first, a quick diversion, if you’ll allow it… 

Zipline at Hljómskálagarður Park in Reykjavík, Capital Region 

Reykjavík pond
Photo: Golli. Tjörnin pond.

With no name and no company that operates it, this is your classic, beginner-level zipline that can be found in children’s play parks all across our planet. It is not large, nor impressive, nor does it offer incredible aerial views – but it exists. Those enjoying the pleasant green ambience of Hljómskálagarður Park might notice it while strolling by Reykjavík’s city pond, Tjörnin, and on impulse, consider taking a quick ride to help break up your day. 

So, why then is this particularly non-descript zipline included in a travel article such as this one? Well, the compulsion to write up this entry was strong for admittedly no other reason other than the amusing reviews found on Google. For example:  

  • A bit stiff to begin with but after a while it was the ride of a lifetime!
  • A nice zipline in the park.”
  • “Nice shoulder strap, but the access to it is a complete shame. A steep ramp with three rails to get up to the starting platform. Very slippery in the wet and no railing to lean on. Access for all is thoroughly broken here. It’s a scandal that it’s done like this at this time. The swing itself is high-quality and cool, but this ramp puts everyone who came to this to shame!”
  • Very difficult to get to the platform, and no handrail. No steps, just a steep ramp with some rails. As promising as this is, it’s just unusable for a large group of people.

All joking aside…

 

One hates to be so dismissive, or to possibly suggest that all of us are not entitled to an opinion… But this is a playground zipline.

A zipline reviewed, it would appear, by disgruntled or overly-enthused adults capable – and, indeed, eager in this case – to share their thoughts on a computer. 

I do understand that, sometimes, everything is not to a person’s liking.

Even so, I conclude that comments like ‘it was the ride of a lifetime’ and ‘this ramp puts everyone who came to this to shame’ are slightly at odds with sane criticism. At the end of the day, it’s a zipline that might amuse you for five minutes if you’re travelling by this Reykjavík park with children. 

Speaking of Reykjavík zip lines, one was temporarily open at Perlan Museum and Observation Deck, built to complement its wonderful viewing deck. However, the activity was closed in recent years due to both the weather-related and logistical challenges that came with operating it at Öskjuhlíð

There are no plans for the zipline to reopen, but the observation deck remains a fantastic place to gain impressive views over Iceland’s capital city and its gorgeous surrounding scenery. 

Zipline in Vík, South Iceland

A zip liner ready to ride
Photo: Zip line Iceland

Now, let’s get down to the real deal when it comes to extreme zip-lining in Iceland. Iceland’s South Coast is renowned for its incredible aesthetics; waterfalls, canyons, black sand beaches, and ancient cliff sides. No surprise then that one of the best zip lines in the country is located nearby to the pleasant seaside village of Vík í Mýrdal

After booking the zipline adventure in Vík, you will meet your guides in base camp at Víkurbraut 5. After a five-minute drive, and then a five-minute hike, you will arrive at the take-off platform for your first zipline of the day – Little Rush! Once there, you will listen to a safety briefing, be fitted with a harness and a helmet, and then before you know it, you’ll be flying through the air over a scenic canyon. 

But this is just the beginning of your adventure. Not long after your feet are back on solid ground, you will hike just around the corner to the next zipline, this one called the Gentle Giant. This is the longest – and some say, prettiest – of the South Coast’s zip lines, coming in at 240 m long. 

More than a single zip line…

After that, you will hike for ten minutes through the beautiful, but ominous-sounding Grafargil (Grave Canyon). Take time to appreciate the intricacies of its unique rock formations. Here, you will find the excursion’s smallest zipline, Leap of Faith. As the name implies, the operator does things a little differently here. We won’t spoil the surprise. Just know that this might be where you need to summon up as much of your courage as possible. 

Finally, you will ride one more zip line before ending the day with a scenic hike back to base camp. This one has been dubbed Big Rush and sees guests soar over the cascading waters of the 25 m high Hundafoss (Dog’s waterfall). 

Given that this excursion requires some hiking, make sure to come equipped with a sturdy pair of boots, as well as rainproof outerwear. Depending on the group size and the weather conditions, you can expect this breathtaking tour to take anywhere between 1.5 – 2 hours – more than enough time to experience the stunning South Coast in a way that many do not! 

Be aware that you must be a minimum of 8 years old to ride, and weigh between 30 – 120 kg. (65-260 lbs.) It is also important to remember that you will be hiking around 3 km. (or 1-2 miles) over rocky terrain, so make sure you’re ready for a small amount of physical excursion too. This tour offers daily departures between Easter and Xmas, making it a fun activity in both the summer and winter months. 

Zip-lining in Akureyri, North Iceland

Zip-lining in Akureyri
Photo: Zip Line Akureyri

Iceland’s north is closer to the Arctic Circle than any other part of the country and thus is known to be colder, more mountainous, and generally more of an extreme place to visit. Its largest town, Akureyri, is a settlement rich in culture, history, and natural splendour, as well as serving as the home base for those looking to take part in the great variety of activities on offer here. 

One such tour is that offered by Zipline Akureyri! This operator offers five zip rides over the 2 hours you’ll spend with them discovering the regal nature of the north’s woodland countryside. One of the great appeals of zip-lining here is that it brings you in close contact with forested landscapes, which is something of a rarity in Iceland. 

As with other zip lines elsewhere, you will be accompanied by experienced and certified guides who will not only take you through all of the necessary safety precautions but are also sure to share with you fascinating information about the fairytale environment in which you find yourself.    

Mega Zipline in Hveragerði, West Iceland

Zip lining in Iceland
Photo: Conventional Ride (Free as a bird!)

At exactly 1 km long, this fast and thrilling zipline near the simmering geothermal town of Hveragerði is the longest and fastest ride in the country. If you’re looking for the best zip-lining experience in Iceland – and one fairly close to the capital city – then Mega Zipline in Hveragerði would be the one! 

To be more precise, this operator offers two zip lines that run parallel to one another, allowing for simultaneous rides. Two by two, guests soar over the dramatic Svartagljúfur canyon, starting their journey atop the Kambar plateau. Svartagljúfur is well-known for its trickling waterfalls, rocky embankments, and grass-laden hillsides, thus offering quintessential views of the Icelandic countryside that, almost always, are best seen from above! 

 

If the splendid nature was not reason enough to visit, how about an enticing souvenir proving your time there? Automatic cameras are positioned all along the zipline, capturing photographs and videos of your ride. Not to mention the thrilled or terrified expressions that come with it. After your flight is over, you will hike back to base camp. There, you can see these recordings for yourself. And you can even purchase them to always remember the experience. 

Hveragerði is a beautiful visitor’s location in itself. It is famed for its smoking hot pots,  ambient hikes, and scenic horseback riding trails. Nearby, you can find interesting locations like Reykjadalur Hot Spring, a popular spot for bathing in naturally warm waters. Another stop might be the colourful underground lava tunnel, Raufarhólshellir

Glacier Zipline in Vatnajökull, South Iceland 

Ready for a zip line adventure in Iceland?
Photo: Zip Line + Ice Cave Adventure Winter

Zip-lining over dry land might be thrilling enough for some. But there are always ways to make the experience just that bit more daring. True daredevils will want to take part in a glacier zipline at the Vatnajökull ice cap! 

You heard us right. It’s now possible to experience Iceland’s glaciers from above in a way that does not require flying in a helicopter or light aircraft! 

Visitors will meet their guides at the crystalline Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, found at the base of Breiðamerkurjökull outlet glacier. This lagoon is a beloved, photogenic location in itself thanks to its gently floating icebergs and spectacular scenery.

 

From this stunning waterbody, you will ride in a 4×4 vehicle to Vatnajökull itself. On the ride, take in the splendour of its vast icy panoramas and beautiful blue and white hues. All the while, listen as your guide explains how such scenery was formed. 

Upon arriving at your destination, you will take part in a glacier hike. Next, you will visit an ice cave, then fly over a vertical ice wall – or moulin – aboard their zipline. Throughout the experience, there will be plenty of opportunities to snap photographs. And, of course, appreciate the beauty of the scenery around you.

This tour takes place on a glacier, so dress appropriately in rainproof outerwear and thermal layers. Your guides will provide you with all of the important equipment, from helmets to crampons and walking poles. For those who want to experience this tour without taking part in the zipline itself, there are options available that allow them to simply enjoy the landscape and observe fellow travellers take part in the aerial portion of the excursion. 

In Summary 

A boy zip lining in Iceland
Photo: Conventional Ride (Free as a bird!)

There may not be many zip lines across Iceland, but it is fast becoming one of its most popular activities. It does not require an enormous time commitment from its guests. And it provides for unforgettable views and feelings of adrenaline that can be found hardly anywhere else. So, at some point during your time here, include a spot of zip-lining in your itinerary. You will not regret it! 

The Best Museums in North Iceland

Akureyri Iceland

Why should you pay a visit to the museums in North Iceland? What can you learn about the history of this spectacular region? Let’s read more about some of North Iceland’s most prestigious museums.

Given that Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavík, is where most visitors will begin their journey, it is completely understandable that North Iceland is less visited than the south. 

In some respects, this is a shame, while in others, it maintains the north’s secretive majesty. But however you look at it, the region is well-worth exploring. 

 

Closer to the Arctic Circle than any other part of the country, the landscape is known to be wild, mountainous, with deep fjords and stretching peninsulas. Unsurprisingly, this stunning place is a favourite amongst those who enjoy sightseeing, as well as breathtaking wildlife tours. 

Aside from the gravitas and splendour of its nature, the north is a domain rich in culture and history. Its people are proud of their place in the world – not to mention the distinction they hold amongst fellow Icelanders – and they are eager to share as much with visitors. 

You’ll discover so much fascinating information to learn about this amazing place in the region’s many museums, so make sure to break up the sightseeing by shifting your attention to some cultural highlights. 

Akureyri Museum

A historic photo of Akureyri
Photo: Minjasafnið á Akureyri / Akureyri Museum

For those looking for a comprehensive introduction to the North’s history, Akureyri Museum should be your first stop. Two permanent exhibitions – Eyjafjorður from Early Times and Akureyri: the Town on the Bay – display artefacts related to the history of the north’s two major settlements, including those from the Viking period and the Middle Ages. 

With information boards in English, Danish, and German, you will find their litany of facts highly accessible, allowing you to gain deeper insights into this most fascinating of regions. 

Akureyri Museum also operates a number of other establishments, including the likes of Nonni House, Museum Church & Garden, Akureyri Toy Museum, Davíðshús (Davíð Stefánson’s writers museum) and Laufás heritage site. Actually, Laufás is especially worthy of an extra note – it is a beautiful farmstead that perfectly captures how rural Icelanders once lived in the area. 

Address: Aðalstræti 58, 600 Akureyri

Opening Hours: 11:00 – 17:00 1. June – 30. September 

13:00 – 16:00 1. October – 31. May

The Icelandic Aviation Museum

Flight in Iceland
Photo: Photo: Flugsafn Íslands – The Icelandic Aviation Museum

Iceland does not have a military; no Army, no Navy (aside from their Coast Guard), and – most importantly in this context – no Air Force. 

Still, this small island does have a complex and fascinating history of aviation, especially in regards to their arduous but successful development of commercial airlines. 

Founded May 1 1999, Flugsafn Íslands, or the Icelandic Aviation Museum, is located in a hangar at Akureyri Airport. The museum was established due to a lack of hangar space at the airport, with many of them filled with older planes that were no longer in use. These aircraft were then moved to be permanently displayed in an exhibition that would detail how Icelanders first took flight. 

Inside, you will find aerial machines of all kinds, from old bi-planes to gliders, and even smaller models that hang decoratively from the ceiling. Each has an important place in this fascinating story – a tale that began in 1919 with the creation of the first Icelandic airline, to the powerful passenger jets and rescue helicopters that make up this nation’s air-fleet today. 

Flying over Iceland
Photo: Flugsafn Íslands – The Icelandic Aviation Museum

But it’s not all just reading and observing stationary aircraft. 

Visitors can actually look around inside the Coast Guard plane, TF-SYN, gaining a deeper insight into the inner-mechanics of such incredible works of engineering, and even see some of the aircraft in action during the museum’s exciting flight day, held each year in June. 

Address: Akureyri International Airport, 600 Akureyri 

Opening Hours: May 15th to Sept 15th: Open daily 11:00-17:00

Sept 16th to May 14th: Saturdays 13:00-16:00

Ystafell Transportation Museum

Cars at Ystafell Transportation Museum
Photo: Ystafell Transportation Museum

In 1998, married-couple Ingólfur Kristjánsson and Kristbjörg Jónsdóttir founded the Ystafell Transportation Museum, a natural extension of Ingólfur’s semi-compulsive collecting of mechanical parts. 

In fact, many guests attest that the reason as to why visiting is so memorable comes down to Ingólfur’s passion, dedication, and knowledge of the fascinating machines on display.  

Not only does the museum display the largest collections of automobiles in the country, but also many transportation types other than cars, including tractors, aircraft, or snowmobiles. 

Address: Ystafell III, Norðausturvegur, 641 Húsavík

Opening Hours: May 25th ­- Sept 25th: 11:00 -­ 18:00 

The Herring Era Museum

fishing in Iceland
Photo: Golli. A fishing boat in Iceland

Plans to open a heritage museum in Siglufjörður date back all the way to 1957, when newly elected town-council members recognised the need to preserve equipment, artefacts, and photographs related to the local fishing industry. It was not until 1989 that the Herring Era Museum finally opened its doors, allowing visitors the chance to learn more about why fishing – and fishing Herring, particularly – was so important to the town’s development. 

Renovations continued over the next decades, transforming an old fishermen’s shed, Róaldsbrakki, into a bonafide exhibition space, complete with a boat house and two large museum buildings. Today, it attracts over 30,000 visitors a year, as well as hosts countless events, including art shows and music festivals.

As is the case with so many islands, the Icelandic nation is built on fishing. Herring was once called ‘the silver of the sea,’ and is, to this day, considered to be one of the founding pillars of Icelandic society. This is because Iceland’s herring fishing took off at a time when much of the world was experiencing a financial depression, and thus it played a huge role in securing Iceland’s economic independence and stability. 

In fact, one could go as far as to say that the importance of Herring was among the major drives behind Iceland breaking away from Denmark in 1944. 

No other place in Iceland was so influenced by what’s known as the Herring Adventure than Siglufjörður. However, countless other towns developed primarily due to the hunting down and catching of this common fish species, including Dalvík, Akureyri, Seyðisfjörður, and many others. 

Address: Snorragata 10, 580 Siglufjörður

Opening Hours: June – August: 10:00-18:00

May – Sept: 13:00-17:00

Akureyri Art Museum

Akureyri Art Museum is one of the top museums in North Iceland
Photo: Golli. Exhibition at the Akureyri Art Museum

Akureyri Art Museum has a revolving door of exhibitions, showcasing a wide range of creative disciplines from watercolour paintings to contemporary art and even scenography. In short, it is one of the best places in the country to appreciate just how diverse Icelandic artists can be. Each Thursday, a guided tour in English allows visitors the chance to gain some insider knowledge about the artworks on display. 

The museum itself is designed in the Bauhaus-style of architecture, making it immediately noticeable when walking through Iceland’s second-largest city. Its stand-out appearance is quite notable given the building used to be home to a simple dairy. 

Akureyri Art Museum is also responsible for the A! Performance Festival, held in October each year. This fun and unique event draws in eclectic visual artists and weird, experimental theatre-projects of all kinds, transforming the city streets into a bohemian wonderland for a few days in the month. Aside from that, it also hosts the Iceland Visual Arts Awards, having done so since 2006. 

Address: Kaupvangsstræti 8-12, 600 Akureyri

Opening Hours: June – August: 10:00 – 17:00

Sept – May: 12:00 – 17:00

Safnasafnið – The Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum

Safnasafnid
Photo: Daniel Starrason. Safnasafnið

The Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum might be described as a true artist’s museum.

That is because this establishment – founded in 1995 by Níels Hafstein and Magnhildur Sigurðardóttir – displays work by creatives who have, for one reason or another, have been classified as working outside of the mainstream. 

Therefore, guests can expect to see not only the work of professional artists, but also that of amateurs and autodidacts.

Photo: Safnasafnið

Such a strange, diverse array of collected pieces adds a real sense of unexpectedness and curiosity to visiting here, as well as allows for a deeper glimpse into the often peculiar minds of Icelandic creators. 

Address: Hverfisgata 15, Hverfisgata 15, 101 Reykjavík

Opening Hours: May – Sept: 10:00 – 17:00 

The Museum of Prophecies

 

 

Þórdís the fortune-teller is the unlikely star of this strange and otherworldly museum in Skagaströnd. She was the first inhabitant of the region, and it was claimed she was a magic-woman, of sorts, capable of reading the future and unafraid of starting feuds with the settlers who came after her. In other words, Þórdís was a truly independent spirit, so revered in her time that she had a mountain – Spákonufell – named after her. 

Visitors to the Museum of Prophecies will learn about Þórdís’ life story, as well as the role that fortune-telling has played in Icelandic culture over the centuries. Aside from that, they can also have their own fortunes told as part of an informative guided tour.  

Built within a former army barracks, the museum is not large by any means. Still, it boasts incredible replicas of old Icelandic homes and famous people from folktales, and also has a decent gift shop which sells local handicrafts and a small cafe to purchase refreshments.   

Address: Oddagata 6, 545 Skagaströnd

Opening Hours: June – Sept:  13:00 – 18:00

In Summary 

Two people walking along Akureyri coastal path.
Photo: María H. Tryggvadóttir. Two people walking along Akureyri coastal path.

Those in the North should take time to step away from appreciating the spectacular surrounding nature to take-in the history and artwork that help make the region what it is. 

Given the breadth of cultural establishments one can explore, there is simply no other way to get a full sense of why it remains one of the most enticing and fascinating parts of the country. 

Icelandic 101: Learn Basic Phrases and Sayings in Icelandic

Icelandic language education course

Iceland is the home of a language as unique as its natural wonders: Icelandic. The Icelandic language is rooted in the Old Norse and has a strong literary heritage. It has changed little from the country’s settlement in the ninth and tenth centuries, maintaining its linguistic purity and is therefore considered a cultural treasure. 

Icelandic has a reputation for being an especially difficult language to learn, with challenging grammar and linguistic complexity, which does, however, add a poetic depth to the language. A few words and phrases can go a long way for tourists travelling to Iceland, as locals greatly appreciate the effort. Although, there is no need to worry as most Icelanders understand and speak English.

Nevertheless, below, you will find a crash course in the language to help you learn basic phrases and sayings in Icelandic.

 

Learn basic words in Icelandic

 

Thank you/Thanks: Takk fyrir/Takk

Yes:

No: Nei

Please: Vinsamlegast

Little: Lítið

A lot: Mikið 

Cheers: Skál

Good: Gott

Help: Hjálp

 

English Word

Thank you/Thanks

Yes

No

Please

Little

A lot

Cheers

Good

Help

Icelandic Word

Takk fyrir/Takk

Nei

Vinsamlegast

Lítið

Mikið

Skál

Gott

Hjálp

Icelandic Pronunciation

Tah-k fih-r-ih-r / Tah-k

Y-ow

Ney

Veen-sam-leh-gahst

Lee-tith

Mih-kith

Sk-eow-l

Goh-t

H-eow-lp

Learn basic phrases in Icelandic

 

Excuse me: Afsakið 

My name is: Ég heiti

Nice to meet you: Gaman að kynnast þér.

How are you: Hvernig hefur þú það?

I’m good thank you: Ég hef það gott, takk.

How much does this cost: Hvað kostar þetta?

I’m sorry: Fyrirgefðu 

I’m looking for: Ég er að leita að 

Can you help me: Getur þú hjálpað mér

I don’t understand: Ég skil ekki

English Words

Excuse Me

My name is

Nice to meet you
 

How are you?

I’m good, thank you

How much does this cost

I’m sorry

I’m looking for

Can you help me

I don’t understand

Icelandic Words

Afsakið

Ég heiti

Gaman að kynnast þér

Hvernig hefur þú það?

Ég hef það gott, takk

Hvað kostar þetta

Fyrirgefðu

Ég er að leita að 

Getur þú hjálpað mér

Ég skil ekki

Icelandic Pronunciation

Af-sah-kith

Yeh-gh hey-tih

Gham-ahn ah-th kihn-ah-st th-yeh-r

kveh-r-nih-gh heh-f-ih-r th-uh th-ah-th

Yeh-gh heh-f th-ah-th goh-t, tah-k

Kv-ah-th coh-stah-r theh-tah

Fih-r-ih-r-gef-thu

Yeh-gh eh-r ah-th lay-t-ah ah-th

Gay-th-ur th-uh h-eow-lp-ah-th m-yeh-r

Yeh-gh skee-hl eh-k-ee

Learn basic greetings in Icelandic

Hello: Halló  

Hi: 

Good morning: Góðan daginn

Good evening: Gott kvöld 

Goodbye: Bless

Bye: Bæ 

English Word

Hello

Hi

Good morning

Good evening

Goodbye

Bye

Icelandic Word

Halló

Góðan daginn

Gott kvöld

Bless

Icelandic Pronunciation

Hah-low

Hi

Go-thah-n die-in

Goh-t kv-eu-ld

Bleh-s

Bi

What language is closest to Icelandic?

Icelandic is a North Germanic language, meaning it’s related to languages like Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Faroese. Icelandic is further rooted in the Old Norse and remains closest to Norwegian and Faroese.

Are there Apps or Websites that Can Help Me Learn Icelandic?

Whether you reside in Iceland, plan to visit, or simply hold an interest in the Icelandic language, numerous online resources are accessible to aid your learning journey. Here you can find a list of resources to help you learn Icelandic.

 

A summary of the Icelandic language

Overall, the Icelandic language is unique, with a rich cultural history and background. The preservation of the language is a point of pride for Icelandic people, and despite it being challenging to learn, many foreigners have been able to grasp it. The above words provide a good starting point for learning the language. Still, to fully immerse yourself in learning Icelandic, many schools offer classes, such as Mímir language school and The University of Iceland.  

Euthanasia Bill Presented in Parliament

landspítali hospital

Five MPs from the Reform Party have presented the first ever bill in Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, concerning euthanasia, Morgunblaðið reports.

Katrín Sigríður J. Steingrímsdóttir, a reserve MP for the Reform Party, presented the bill on her colleagues’ behalf. “I think most of us have experienced having loved ones with terminal illness and dealing with pain,” she said, adding that euthanasia, or the assisted termination of life, should be one option of many. “I think this option should be available for people in this situation, as this is a matter of personal freedom and a humanitarian issue at the same time, and I think it’s very important that Alþingi has the chance to have experts submit reviews on this issue.”

Guiding light of liberal politics

Katrín Sigríður added that the people affected by the issue need someone to fight for their rights and that she wanted to introduce the subject during her temporary service in Alþingi as a reserve MP. “Euthanasia has been a cause close to my heart for many years, so I wanted to champion it,” she said. “A subject like euthanasia is at the core of my politics, combining liberalism and a humanitarian view, which is my guiding light politically.”

Doctors could opt out

Euthanasia is legal in many European countries, such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Germany. Katrín Sigríður said that her bill is based on the Dutch law and that there are many ethical questions that need to be answered. “That’s why I thought it important to add a clause to the bill allowing doctors to opt out of providing this assistance and that they would be in their right to choose whether to help with euthanasia or not,” she said, adding that she wanted to respect people’s convictions if they objected on religious or moral grounds.

Billions Lost through Foreign Gambling Websites

currency iceland

Icelanders spend an estimated ISK 20 Billion [$146 Million, €134 Million] on foreign gambling websites every year. This leads to a tax revenue loss of up to ISK 7 Billion [$51 Million, €47 Million], according to the CEO of one of Iceland’s six legal gambling operations.

Addiction a problem

In an interview with Morgunblaðið, Bryndís Hrafnkelsdóttir, CEO of HHÍ, a gambling operation whose proceeds fund the University of Iceland, said that foreign gambling websites like Coolbet, Bet365, and Betsson operate without public oversight and that their proceeds do not benefit Icelandic society.

“Authorities need to take on illegal gambling, which has been allowed to happen in Iceland for too long,” Bryndís said, adding that gambling addiction is a big problem in Iceland, especially among young men. “The problem doesn’t disappear if we introduce harm reduction for addiction and will only increase if nothing is done. The gamblers will find another way and move from legal gambling to the illegal foreign sites which will cause money to stream out of the country instead of going towards good causes domestically.”

Profits for social causes

HHÍ has been operating for 90 years and funds the building and maintenance of the University of Iceland’s campus. Six Icelandic companies have a license for gambling operations in Iceland and their proceeds all go towards social causes, such as education, youth groups or sporting activities.

Do’s and Don’ts When Visiting Iceland

A man walking down a rainbow-painted road in Iceland

Regarding Do’s and Don’ts, what helpful advice can Iceland Review offer travellers heading to Iceland? What are some of the most essential things to do here, and in contrast, what are the social taboos? Read on for tips during your time in the land of ice and fire. 

All told, Icelanders are friendly and welcoming people. Be they tour guides, service staff, or the average person on the street, most are happy to offer advice, a helping hand, and share the passion they hold for their homeland with international visitors. 

Akureyri party-goers
Photo: Golli. Party time in Akureyri!

With that said, the rise of tourism over the last fifteen years has come with its drawbacks. And while the majority of those who arrive to these subarctic shores treat their time in Iceland with respect and reverence, a few bad apples have fed into the misconception that visitors are more hassle than they’re worth.

And so, with that in mind, it can be helpful to know a little of what is expected of new arrivals in terms of manners. However, this article is not intended merely as a means to police behaviour, but also as an invitation to take part in experiences and activities that the Icelanders are sure to appreciate. 

DO try the local cuisine

A delicious dish of Icelandic cuisine
Photo: The Reykjavík Food Walk

Icelandic food has come on leaps and bounds since the early days where sourcing and sustenance was the main priority. Looking at traditional dishes like Svið (a roasted sheep’s head cut unceremoniously down the middle), one might not think so, but trust us when we say that Iceland has more to offer peckish foodies than they might at first realise. 

As you would expect from a Nordic island, seafood is internationally known to be the Icelanders’ speciality. At the same time, Icelandic lamb has such a stellar reputation that it’s impossible to decide which they cook better. Ultimately, you’ll have to take a look at the menu and decide what you fancy on the night! 

Experience global cuisine in Iceland

And it’s not just lamb and seafood! Reykjavík in particular is host to a countless array of restaurants that focus on dishes from all around the world. Nowhere is this more obvious than the myriad of popular food halls that now dot the city, with Hlemmur Mathöll and Pósthús Food Hall & Bar being two of the most sought-after canteens to grab a quick bite to eat. 

Enjoying Icelandic hot dogs
Photo: The Reykjavík Food Walk

If you fancy Pakistani food, for instance, then Shalimar is your go-to eatery. If you’re in the mood for delicacies from the far east, then Ban-Thai has you covered. What about the all-American burger and fries? Nothing is a better fit than Lebowski Bar’s Burger of the Month. Better yet, stop by the famous hot dog stand, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, to try this delicious Icelandic take on an American classic. 

Taste-testing certain delicacies has become something of a trend over recent years. Fermented Greenland shark, known locally as Hákarl, is one we would suggest avoiding… unless your desire to taste concentrated ammonia is something you simply cannot resist. For those that refuse to stray towards culinary cowardice, there are a plethora of other local options, from harðfisk (dried fish), Icelandic cheese, and even horse. 

DON’T stop to take photos on the road 

A wide open road in Iceland.

We all know that Iceland is one of the most stunning countries on the planet, be it its dramatic mountain ranges, picturesque farmlands, glistening glacier tongues, or jet black deserts. While it’s more than understandable that guests want to snap pictures left and right, some places are better than others. 

One location that has become of particular issue is the middle of the road

It doesn’t matter what road – by default, it’s often the Ring Road – but many tourists are in the bad habit of pulling over whenever it suits them, getting out of their car, and shooting the surrounding landscape as if they haven’t just created a dangerous obstacle of themselves on a major highway. 

There are plenty of places in Iceland where it is safe and encouraged to take photographs, but the nation’s most well-driven routes is not one of them.

DO experience the local nightlife

Dancing in an Icelandic nightclub
Photo: Golli. People enjoying Iceland’s nightlife.

Given the words that are often used to describe Reykjavík – quaint, charming, quirky, old-fashioned – it does come as a surprise to some that the capital city can be quite boisterous in terms of its nightlife, especially on a Friday and Saturday night.

With its often freezing temperatures and long winter nights, it should be obvious that many Icelanders enjoy a drink, finding community and comfort in the city’s eclectic bars and public houses. 

There are many styles of drinking establishments on offer, ranging from the dive-bar style at Dillon Whiskey Bar or Lemmy, to the more refined presentation of Cernin Wine Bar or Apótek Restaurant.

A nighttime pool party in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Not all parties happen at the bar!

To the shock of no-one, drinking in Iceland can quickly become expensive, so do make use of the Happy-Hour deals you’ll find across Reykjavík.     

And while we understand that it’s easy to get into the spirit of things – and, let’s face it, sometimes get carried away – it should be stressed that drinking responsibly would do you well here. By and large, Reykjavík is a safe city for partygoers, but unsavoury incidents do still occur from time to time.

DON’T walk on the moss

A woman takes a photographer at a waterfall.
Photo: Golli. Iceland’s moss is very fragile, so tread carefully!

There are a number of reasons why walking atop this iconic flora is forbidden. 

Many travellers are quick to compare Iceland’s landscape to the lunar surface of the moon. In fact, it is more like it than they know. For one, footsteps trodden into the fragile moss leave a lasting impression, forever altering its natural state. 

Another reason is that there are many places where blankets of moss have covered large cracks and natural holes in the ground. It might be hard to believe, but there have been several cases where unsuspecting hikers have fallen through moss into some dark and inhospitable crevasse. Not only does this put unwarranted strain on Iceland’s Search & Rescue teams, but such falls can deal a nasty injury… and, sometimes, worse. 

Try to think of Icelandic moss as something akin to an icy lake, where those trotting atop it are unaware of which parts are too thin to support their weight. 

DO learn some Icelandic phrases

Icelandic kids wearing 3d glasses
Photo: Golli. Some basic phrases will help you meet locals!

Icelandic, a North Germanic language, is remarkably unchanged from Old Norse; the very same tongue that the ancient settlers spoke when they first arrived to this strange and mysterious land. 

Given that fact, it should come as little surprise that the Icelandic language is notoriously difficult to pick up. Fortunately, most Icelanders speak excellent English, meaning that communication between them and their overseas guests is usually a simple affair. 

Still, the Icelanders are rightfully proud of their unique and poetic mother-tongue, and it is filled with gems that linguaphiles will, no doubt, find deeply fascinating. 

As one example, the Icelandic word for computer is ‘Tölva,’ derived from the words ‘tala’ and ‘völva’, which makes up the direct translation ‘number witch.’ Unsurprisingly, this term was invented by a scholar of the Icelandic sagas, Sigurður Nordal. 

Skating in Reykjavík
Photo: Golli. Skateboarders in downtown Reykjavík

But the basics will always be helpful, even if it’s sometimes easier to speak in English. Here are a few very simple phrases to get you started:

Hello – Halló / Hæ

Good morning – Góðan daginn

Good evening – Gott kvöld

Goodbye – Bless / Bæ

How are you – Hvernig hefur þú það?

I’m doing well – Ég hef það gott 

Thank you – Taokk / Takk fyrir / Þakka þér

Once again, no one is expecting guests to have any real knowledge of Icelandic, but the locals do appreciate those who have taken an interest in learning more about it. 

DON’T get close to the waves at Reynisfjara Beach 

Reynisfjara - Vík - suðurland
Photo: Golli. Tourists at the popular Reynisfjara beach, South Iceland

Nestled beside the picturesque village of Vík í Mýrdal on the South Coast, Reynisfjara is celebrated as one of Iceland’s more beautiful black sand beaches. This in large part thanks to its enormous basalt sea stacks, Reynisdrangar, that rise from the ocean like the hardened tentacles of a petrified kraken. 

While this stretch of shoreline is certainly dramatic in terms of aesthetic, the danger that comes hand-in-hand with it is important to realise before arriving.

 

There are a number of signposts on the beach that tell of Reynisfjara’s unpredictable waves, and it would do any traveller well to pay attention to them. One minute, the shore looks calm and distant; the next, its sullen grey waters are gushing ferociously over the sand, pulling back anyone and anything unlucky enough to be there. 

This is not mere hyperbole – there have been many incidents of observers being swept into the seas here, including a number of fatalities. While it is not pleasant dwelling on such things during your time at Reynisfjara, it is certainly better than finding yourself a victim to Iceland’s temperamental nature.     

DO make a budget 

Shoppers in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Shoppers in downtown Reykjavík

Over the last year, a joke has been circulating among residents in Iceland – “Buying a bell pepper is a sign of extortionate wealth.” This may be exaggerated for comedic effect, but there is some truth to its implication.  

If there’s a common thread regarding what people say about Iceland, it’s that the country is expensive. Unfortunately, this is the reality of island life given that so many products must be imported. Even so, having a thorough rundown of what you’re likely to spend during your time here can help you mitigate unnecessary expenses. 

In other words – prepare your budget! 

Shopping in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Make sure to plan your budget for shopping!

Make sure to consider how much you’ll spend, be it on food, transportation, accommodation, and any tours or activities you’re interested in. 

While travelling here is sure to make more of a financial dent than you’re comfortable with, there are still opportunities to lessen the payload. For one, be sure to cook at home, shopping at the cheaper supermarkets like Bonus or Kronan, rather than the local convenience store, 10/11. 

Then there is the matter of purchasing tours and activities. Instead of opting for private tours, instead choose to travel within a larger group on multi-day tours, forgoing any need to purchase gas or a rental car. 

By making adaptations like this, you may be pleasantly surprised that your trip to Iceland ends up costing less than you first imagined. So, do your bank-balance and favour by keeping your expenditure in the black with a ready-made budget!  

DON’T drive off-road 

Cars trapped on the road
Photo: From archives

There are many reasons why driving off-road is prohibited in Iceland. Aside from the safety concerns associated with taking a vehicle off-road, there are a plethora of environmental issues to take into account. 

Iceland has a very fragile ecosystem, and thus protecting the native flora and fauna is of paramount importance. Driving off-road not only damages plantlife to such an extreme that it is never able to repair itself, but whirling tyres are a grave threat to nesting birds, as well as the habitat of other species. 

On that note, Iceland is a volcanic island, meaning that soil erosion can be a huge problem. Vehicles are easily capable of scraping away the top-soil. This leaves the land beneath exposed to water and wind, which can further hamper the earth’s ability to foster life. 

As they should be, Iceland’s government is zealous when it comes to enforcing their rules regarding protecting Iceland’s natural landscape. As such, off-road driving is completely illegal in Iceland. Anyone who chooses to flounce this law can expect hefty fines, or even more serious legal consequences.

In Summary 

Öskudagur celebrations
Photo: Golli. Icelandic kids enjoying Öskudagur

As expected from a lighthearted travel article such as this, our list of do’s and don’ts is not definitive. There are many more things that one certainly should DO when in Iceland. For example, experience the Golden Circle tour, hunt for the Northern Lights, or chat with the locals. 

On the flipside, the various things that should be avoided are also extensive. But, more often than not,  these fall into the category of following your common sense. A couple of examples might be discarding your litter in the proper fashion. Or, demonstrating an air of patience should tour schedules divert from what you, at first, expected. 

Of course, we have no urge to patronise our guests. By default, we trust one’s ability to act according to their manners. The simple fact that you’ve read this far proves how seriously you take the matter of respecting others cultures. So, well done, you! 

Those who have shelled out for a trip to Iceland are rarely looking to misbehave for the sake of it. On the contrary, people relish the chance to show this unique and culturally-rich location the respect that it deserves.

Tourist Traps in Iceland… And How To Avoid Them

Akureyri sign post.

What infamous tourist traps in Iceland should you avoid during your time in the country? What activities might take advantage of a visitor’s naivety, and how can you ensure the best value of money throughout your trip? Read on to learn more about the tourist traps you should avoid on an Iceland vacation! 

The Icelandic tourism industry is adept at permeating the myth that operators – no less, Iceland itself – can do no wrong when it comes to providing their visitors with a faultless and memorable vacation experience. 

Don’t hold this against them – whereas once it might have been the catching of fish, it is the snaring of tourists that now drives the engine of Iceland’s economy. Given the wealth of fantastic natural sights, and the fascinating cultural hubs this island boasts, one can hardly blame the Icelandic people for capitalising on what the Norse Gods have bestowed them.

túristi tourist ferðamaður tourism
Photo: Golli. Tourists at Fjallsárlón glacier lagoon

A word of warning – while this article is, of course, intended to attract visitors to Iceland, it may poke fun at the innocence some cannot help but demonstrate while exploring the land of ice and fire… as raiding marketeers have deemed it.

Do not take offence, for you, surely, are not the type of person to be so willfully drawn in by what amounts to be snake-oil salesmen dressed in horned helmets. 

Keeping an open mind in Iceland


There is no need to read this article suspiciously. Most of the time, no lies are told about the absolute majesty on offer here. But sometimes – and, rarely – foreign guests might realise they have been oversold on aspects of the
essential Icelandic experience.

There is no need to sit in the Blue Lagoon feeling you’ve been had! It might be a wonderful spot, but if it’s not for you… you should not go. 

The Blue Lagoon Iceland
Photo: Golli. Blue Lagoon

As stated, tourism is what drives Iceland’s economy – much like a Scandinavian version of Disneyland, if one might be so bold as to suggest it – and it is not unwise to realise that it does the Icelanders, or anyone who call the country home, extremely well to ensure guests are provided, or sold, the best experiences possible. 

If you were to believe such promises without once questioning the validity of your purchase – bless your naivety. 

Again… don’t get us wrong. Iceland is an incredible place to visit, filled with wonder of nature and cultural highlights that can be found nowhere else on the planet. This is so true that validating the fact is completely asinine. But, we would be doing an enormous disservice to guide you into purchasing packages that do not suit you, or that you may regret upon experiencing them. 

Having been around since 1963 – long, long before the tourism boom of the 2000s – you best believe that Iceland Review has your (and Iceland’s) best interests at heart. So, now that we’ve qualified our respect for the country we call home – and you, of course – let’s take a look at a few realities that you should avoid during your time here. 

Don’t shop at 10/11 convenience stores 

Nettó Hagkaup Bónus Iceland Fjarðarkaup
Photo: Golli. Bónus supermarket

For anyone with the luxury of choice, 10/11 sells nothing of importance; let’s get that out of the way from the beginning. Understandably, your instincts might be different upon spotting the luminous green and white of their logo, but do not be fooled… 

Should you desire a packet of biscuits, toilet paper, potato chips, candy, shampoos, chocolate bars – there are always, always, places that will sell you the exact same product for much cheaper. Sure, it might very well be easier to stop at 10/11… after all, it’s right there… but you would be doing yourself a disservice.

Prices at 10/11 are elevated beyond belief, as though it were designed specifically for the purpose of deceiving foreign visitors. 

Shoppers in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Shoppers in downtown Reykjavík

Aside from the typical convenience store items on sale, 10/11 also sells a range of hot products, including pastries, hot dogs, and pizza. Now, we understand better than anyone that, sometimes, hunger defies financial awareness, but know that these warm treats are not generally of the best quality. 

(The one exception could be Sbarro pizza, which is only sold at 10/11 in Iceland, and in truth, is rather delicious if you’re inclined towards guilty culinary pleasures.)

Actually, Sbarro pizza might be the only reason to stop by 10/11, and only if you’re in need of a quick snack. Otherwise, you can find cheaper alternatives in other shops. The best options are called Bonus and Kronan; both supermarkets are the logical choice for those sticking to a vacation budget.  

Save your drinking for Happy Hour 

Cocktails in the making at Tipsy, Reykjavík.
Photo: Golli. Cocktails in the making at Tipsy, Reykjavík.

The wonderful – if not sometimes unfortunate thing – about drinking is that it lends itself to more drinking. 

Oh, what a surprise this is

Outside of Happy Hour, this can cost you a pretty penny in Iceland – and by that, we mean an absolute fortune – which, no doubt, is surprising upon looking at your bank balance the next day. 

Icelanders are very aware of this – after all, they like sipping on alcohol as much as the next heathen. The local way of getting around it is to drink plenty before even heading to the bars and clubs, but this does not tend to be the best way forward for visiting guests. After all, you have a snowmobiling tour booked for tomorrow… 

People partying in Reykjavík Iceland
Photo: Golli. Reykjavík nightlife

Hence the many Happy Hours on offer throughout the city. The vast majority of bars offer happy hour, which you can track through the Appy Hour app developed by local newspaper, The Reykjavík Grapevine. You can download it on Google Play and the Apple Store

If you’re not mobile savvy, it is wise to inquire as to whether you’re purchasing during Happy Hour or not, or at least, try to schedule your drinking within the timeframe. 

Don’t get us wrong; drinking too much will still cost you during your happy hour, but it may lessen the dent in your wallet. Ultimately, it comes down to how much fun you’re having, and how much money you’re willing to sacrifice for it. 

Skip taking an Airport taxi

Taxis at the airport
Photo: Golli. Taxis at Keflavík International Airport

Upon landing in Iceland, visitors will normally take a shuttle bus from Keflavík International Airport to their accommodation in the city. 

These handy shuttle services are operated by respected companies like Grey Line and Reykjavík Excursions, the latter of which runs the FlyBus. It is possible to book tickets for the shuttles in advance, at the airport itself, and sometimes during your flight. 

However, be aware that taxi cabs also hang around outside the terminal.

Somewhat akin to scavenging ravens, these privateers prey upon unsuspecting tourists who might have thought Keflavík was closer to the hotels, hostels, and AirBnB’s prevalent across Reykjavík. Of course, one shouldn’t blame the drivers, who themselves are only making the most of a ready-made opportunity – just don’t let yourself be that opportunity. Save yourself your trauma! 

While accepting their service is well within your rights, the cost of this forty-minute ride is sure to hammer your wallet, which is completely unnecessary straight after arriving in the country. You may as well invite yourself to your own mugging. So, do yourself a favour and prepare other, more financially savvy travel plans. 

Avoid buying pretend Icelandic Sweaters

icewear in vík

The famed woollen sweaters – Lopapeysas – worn by rural Icelanders have become iconic urban fashion wear over recent years. Never one to miss a trend, tourists are often eager to snag one during a trip. 

If you were to form a mental picture of your typical Icelandic fisherman or farmer, they would be wearing an Icelandic sweater everytime. 

Now, this article – or, this writer, at least – would never go as far as to say Icelandic sweaters are cool, but popular they are. That much cannot be denied. 

Some more forgiving people might say that it’s understandable why this clothing item has become synonymous with Iceland’s culture. The Lopapeysa is hand-knitted from new wool sourced from local sheep, then fashioned with cool patterned designs. 

Golli. Hjörleifur Stefánsson, farmer in Kvíaholt, and his sheep

While it might not be as trendy, as say, crocs, it is synonymous with an Icelanders’ perception of how people should dress in the 21st Century. Typically, you’ll find plenty of tour guides wearing them while taking visitors on exciting outdoor excursions across the country.   

Many shops across Reykjavík sell these iconic sweaters, but always make sure to buy them from reputable sellers. With the influx of souvenir stores across Iceland’s towns, some places might sell cheaper knock-offs that fail to fully capture just why the lopapeysa is so perfectly suited for winter wanderers. 

So, always check the label, and even go as far to inquire with staff should you suspect the quality is inauthentic. If you’re looking for places where you can leave doubt at the door, stop by such shops as the Nordic Store and the Handknitting Association of Iceland

Understand what defines a Volcano Tour… 

Meradalir eruption, August 2022
Photo: Golli. Meradalir eruption, August 2022

Iceland is an incredibly volcanic country.  It is sat atop an enormous magma plume that rests between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. 

By now, this fact is so well known that it almost defies belief someone would have the gall to patronise their readers so much. And yet… 

Lava fields spill out across a landscape carved with rocky fissures. A landscape dotted with ancient tunnels once filled with flowing magma. Wherever you look, the results of a prior eruption are apparent. 

Unsurprisingly, many activities are sold as Volcano Tours, dedicated to exposing guests to the volatile geological forces that have come to define this island. 

However, given that there have been many active volcanic eruptions over recent years, some visitors might expect that all of these so-called Volcano Tours will take them to a mountain currently blasting lava into the air. 

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One could not be blamed for getting confused. Volcano Tours might cover anything from experiencing a hollowed out lava tunnel to hiking over ancient lava fields. 

Still, some Volcano Tours will take you directly to an active eruption – granted that an eruption is actually happening and it is safe to approach! 

Ultimately, volcanoes are temperamental natural forces. So, these tours tend to be opportunistic, and only available during certain episodes of increased volcanic activity. 

The moment a volcano becomes active, expect a variety of helicopter, hiking, and Super Jeep tours to become on offer. Observing a volcano is a rare occurrence, so these tours are competitive in terms of seats available. 

There is no need to buy bottled water in Iceland

Goðafoss Waterfall, Iceland
Photo: Golli. Goðafoss Waterfall in Iceland.

This tourist trap is self-explanatory! Iceland has, arguably, the cleanest water you’re ever likely to find. It originates from the island’s pristine glaciers, travelling by way of lava-fields, where it filters naturally among the volcanic rock.

By the time it’s pouring out of your kitchen tap, Icelandic water is at its purest and most refreshing! You can theoretically drink from streams and freshwater rivers in Iceland without worrying about how safe it is. 

Still, you’ll find many places across the country still attempting to sell you bottled water. Sometimes, it will be under the guise of ease of accessibility, other times because sordid claims are made that particular brands are, somehow, even cleaner than what appears naturally.

Don’t buy into it – you’re far better off purchasing a dedicated water bottle, filling it up as necessary for free. 

Be realistic about how much you’ll see on your trip 

South Coast travellers
Photo: Golli. The South is one of Iceland’s most stunning regions.

Iceland is a big country. With the sheer amount and variety of natural and cultural attractions on offer, remain realistic. There is no chance you can experience everything without staying for a couple of months, or more.

It is much better to pick which attractions you want to see, then work them within your time frame.

For example, the popular Golden Circle sightseeing route can be experienced in a single day and is comprised of three major attractions – Gullfoss Waterfall, Þingvellir National Park, and Geysir Geothermal Area. It makes for a great choice regardless of whether you have two days in the country, or two weeks. 

Looking at the aurora borealis in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Travellers observing the Northern Lights in Iceland

If you are interested in visiting the North, the Westfjords, or the East, it will require more time and pre-planning. Almost all visitors start their journey in Reykjavík, which is in the southwest of the country. Therefore, it is important to stay aware of how much is possible with the time you’ve allotted yourself. 

One way to simplify this process is by purchasing a multi-day bus or SuperJeep tour. These excursions take guests to a handful of each region’s main visitor’s sites. They also provide an itinerary listing what attractions you’ll visit each day, and how long you spend at each. 

You can browse some of the various multi-day tours on offer before cementing your own schedule. 

In Summary 

Visitors at Gullfoss waterfall
Photo: Golli. Gullfoss waterfall in the wintertime.

For the simple fact that there are not many tourist traps listed in this article, rest easy. You must realise that, by and large, experiencing an Icelandic holiday comes with very little you should worry about.

All in all, Icelanders and Icelandic companies have a visitor’s best interests at heart. It is the best way to make sure this genial Nordic island maintains its reputation as an unforgettable holiday destination.

Still, wherever you choose to visit on Earth, there are little nuances that it’s wise to stay aware of! 

So, when you’re planning your trip to Iceland, just remember to tread lightly in certain places. Be it on the ice, or when navigating purchases and the logistics of your time here.