September 25, 2019

A Beginners Guide To Iceland: Facts and Fiction

by Ragnheidur Harpa
Ragnheidur studied anthropology with a minor in media so it might not come as much of a surprise that she is curious about the nature. She loves educating others about her findings or her home country, Iceland. Ragnheidur is into country living, traveling, Icelandic horses, the Icelandic naming system, plants and all things having to do with food and beer. Her favorite places in Iceland are the Westfjords and the South Coast but she has lived in downtown Reykjavik for the last few years.
A Beginners Guide To Iceland: Facts and Fiction

Icelanders are only about 360,000 but we have our own currency, language, independent government, and we are pretty darn proud of it. There are about a million interesting things to know about Iceland, ranging from the unique geology of Iceland, historical moments like when Iceland elected the world’s first female president to the belief in elves.


Iceland is unique, to say the least, but you probably know that since you are here reading this article. Whether you are a first time visitor, have been many times or are simply reading due to curiosity, the points in this blog will help you have a better understanding of the country. This is after all a beginner’s guide to Iceland! 

Useful Facts About Iceland

  • Iceland is often nicknamed the land of fire and ice
  • Iceland’s capital is Reykjavik which is home to about two-thirds of the population.
  • In spite of the country having its own language, Icelandic, the great majority of the Icelandic population speaks fluent English.
  • Icelanders drive on the right side of the road
  • Iceland has its own currency called the Icelandic Króna or ISK.
  • Most Icelanders solely rely on credit/debit cards and cash is rarely seen.
  • The countryside and small fishing villages have similar prices to Reykjavik. 
  • Alcohol is very expensive! 
  • The drive from the airport to the capital is about 45 minutes. 

Where do I take the Flybus to Reykjavík?

  • Taxis are very expensive and Iceland doesn’t have Uber – try the public bus when traveling around in Reykjavik, they have a very convenient app! 
  • You can drink the water anywhere in Iceland, in fact, you shouldn’t drink anything else. It truly is the best! 
  • Iceland has a special safety app called Safe Travel where you can submit your travel plans. Later you can check in to let the Search and Rescue team know that you have made your destination. If you don’t check in actions will be taken to make sure to locate you. Especially great for those hiking in the wilderness, traveling off the typical route, etc. 

Common Beliefs About Iceland That Are Not True

  • All Icelanders believe in elves. A tale as old as time. Let’s clear it up once and for all. Yes, some Icelanders believe in elves. No, they will not admit it readily. 
  • If you visit Iceland in winter you will see the northern lights. The northern lights or aurora borealis are a natural phenomenon, occurring only under special circumstances. We cannot “turn them on”, although we are asked that frequently. However, many guides in Iceland have been trained to seek out the best locations and timings to see them. This is why booking northern lights tours have proven so successful. Follow the experts! 
Kirkjufell northern lights
  • Iceland is so small, I don’t need to make bookings. Actually, it is precisely because the island is so small, or much rather the population, that you need to make a booking for restaurants in advance. There are fewer options in smaller venues and the visitors are many. Make a booking just to be sure. It’s a shame to miss out due to taking chances. 
  • Iceland is always cold. Actually, Iceland’s climate is rather mild. Surely we don’t get any sky-high numbers in summer but the drop is also not that low in winter. Why is that? The warm North Atlantic currents ensures higher annual temperatures than in most places of similar latitude in the world.

See Weather in Iceland by Months and Handy Tips for Each Month! 

Common Beliefs About Iceland That Are Actually True

  • Icelandic babies sleep outside. This has been making it into a lot of articles lately and frankly, I think Icelanders are just as shocked as the rest. However, that’s because we thought the practice was considered the norm!
  • Icelandic is the old Viking Language. Due to Iceland’s remote location, there wasn’t as much outside influence to the language as the other Scandinavian languages experienced. The original Viking settlers kept speaking the same language and even just made up new words using their old language when new things come along, instead of picking up words from other languages. This tradition is still practiced today!  
  • Icelandic People are all related. One of the first things you get asked as an Icelander is about the viral story of the dating app which shows how much someone is related. Let’s just clear this up. Icelanders have this amazing ancestry where everyone’s ancestries are traceable back to the year 800. Therefore can family connections can be traced farther back than any other nation. This is why we say we are all related because we have proof. I can see if someone is, for example, my 8th cousin simply by logging onto my ancestry page and searching for their name and birthday. You might be sitting next to yours and just don’t know it!

The Icelandic Language

As mentioned before, the Icelandic language is very unique. Not only in its ancient ways but also through its creativity in making up new words using the old Viking language. Let’s take computer or helicopter as an example. The other Scandinavian languages simply use the English names but Icelanders looked deep into the language and made up the words tölva and þyrla. Tölva is made up of the words tala (number) and völva (a predictor) and Þyrla is short for Þyrilvinda (wind-swirler).

Lava Center Hvolsvollur

You will probably not be able to master the language if you staying for less than 5 years so let’s just start with the basics.

Icelandic Words and Phrases

Other very common words you might hear during your time in Iceland are jæja, einmitt (exactly), akkurat (certainly) and geggjað (great/rad). The reason I don’t have a translation for jæja is simply that it means about 1000 different things. Anything from “let’s not talk about this anymore” to “let’s get back to work” or maybe even “you have now overstayed your welcome.” Even though you might never fully understand it, it is still fun to try to listen out for it. It will probably sound to you more like yaya.

Most Popular Sights and Attractions 

There is no shortage of amazing sights and natural wonders to visit in Iceland. Actually, the problem is usually trying to fit them all in.

To try to help, if even just a little bit, I have put together a list of the most commonly visited places in Iceland. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.


Skogafoss Waterfall


Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

The Golden Circle: Gullfoss, Geysir and Thingvellir National Park

Geysir on the Golden Circle

The Blue Lagoon

Blue lagoon

Mt. Kirkjufell

Kirkjufell mountain

Hallgrimskirkja Church



Reynisfjara and Reynisdrangar

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Glacier Lagoon

More information about What you need to know before visiting. Ideal for those who are at the second stage of planning!

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