Lava Flows on active volcano aerial view, Mount Fagradalsfjall, Iceland.jpg

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT ICELAND

LEARN THE BASICS

YOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT ICELAND

#1-HOW´S THE WEATHER IN ICELAND?


The weather in Iceland is unpredictable. If you’re renting a car, taking a hike, or only plan to walk around and sightsee, be prepared to possibly experience a bit of wind or rain on any given day. Packing waterproof pants, a windbreaker jacket (with a hood!), and gloves are all smart items to find room for in your suitcase.




#2-CAN I USE CREDIT CARDS?


Do not fret about having to exchange your money for Krónas. Fortunately, you can use your credit card for almost everything in Iceland. A few situations where you might find cash useful would be paying some old parking meters or buying something from individual cash-only vendors at the flea market. But again, Iceland is a country of plastic money.




#3-CAN I USE MY PHONE IN ICELAND?


If you use a smartphone, an Icelandic mobile sim card can be purchased to access Iceland’s 3G network, which is extremely helpful since it works even in the most remote areas, away from cities. If you don´t want to change sim cards, but you still need the Internet all the time, you can rent a portable WIFI device. Iceland is part of the EU agreements, and many rules applied to the country. For example, travelers from Europe, don´t pay for roaming and can use their personal data plan and voice calls like in their home country.




#4-CAN I TIP IN ICELAND?


Tipping isn't mandatory or customary in Iceland, but it is always appreciated. The standard rate of tax on Icelandic products is 24%. If you’re happy with the services provided by waiters, drivers and other service workers, leaving a small tip is a good way to show your appreciation. For reference, between $40-$80 (per tour) is consider a nice gesture, and everything more than $80 is a great tip. While it may not be customary to you, it’s of great significance to the people who take care of you during your travels. Tipping also encourages excellent service in the future and is an entrenched feature of the tourism industry across many destinations.




#5-WHY THE HOT WATER IN ICELAND SMELLS BAD?


Sulfur smells like rotten eggs, and you’ll learn this fast enough when you turn on the faucet in Iceland. The fact is, the water smells because it’s heated by geothermal energy, which stems from the Earth’s belly. Therefore, what you’re really feeling is the scent of sulfur at the core of Earth. You’d be surprised to learn that water that reeks this badly is truly one of the cleanest water to drink in this world. I’m not saying that knowing this fact makes it any easier to consume (or the stench any easier to inhale), but it apparently does save you a hell of a lot of money on bottled water (which, surprise, surprise, isn’t cheap at all).




#6-IS IT SAFE TO DRINK TAP WATER IN ICELAND?


In Iceland, we drink cold water straight from the tap. But we don´t use the tap hot water to prepare tea or drink, because of the high amount of sulfur. Hot water is the one we use for a shower and clean the dishes and swimming pools and natural pools. It contains many minerals and is very good for the skin. If you buy a water bottle for some reason, you can always refill it with tap water. Remember, it is the same water everywhere around the country. DO NOT OVERPAY FOR WATER!.




#7-WHAT KIND OF CHARGER DO I NEED IN ICELAND?


If you plan on bringing electronics or appliances, make sure to bring an adapter. Iceland uses the Europlug/Schuko-Plug, which has two round prongs, so find a converter that will accommodate the 220 volts, and you should be good to go. Finding a compatible adapter can be harder for a hairdryer, so it’s recommended you leave yours at home instead of buying a cheap one locally or seeing if your hotel carries one.




#8-DO ICELANDERS BELIEVE IN ELFS?


The 54.4% of the Icelandic population believes in the existence of magic folk, which essentially means that 1 in every 2 Icelanders you meet will most likely believe in creatures of the netherworld. Just as how topics about politics and religion and sex and salary are sensitive to the rest of the world, this folklorish one, in particular, is especially susceptible to the Icelanders too. It unmistakably isn’t something they feel comfortable discussing with outsiders, and theories about why they seem prone to such superstitions center on their earliest settlers’ struggles to endure their isolated existence in such a majestic yet unpredictable landscape. With half the nation in on this one, the perceived existence of these magical people is dangerous enough to spark nationwide environmental protests to this very day – and if that doesn’t tell you not to mess with their superstitions, I don’t know what will.




#9-DO ICELANDERS SPEAK ENGLISH?


Everyone in Iceland speaks English. Also, Icelanders are sharp, quirky, and full of wit, so do not be surprised if they hit you with flashes of biting Brit-styled sarcasm faster than you can say, “Oh, so you do speak English!”




#10-HOW EXPENSIVE IS ALCOHOL IN ICELAND?


Alcohol is sold in bars, restaurants, and cafes, but never in supermarkets because, believe it or not; this country once had a total prohibition on alcohol right up till 1989 (which isn’t that long ago if you think about it). The ban has been lifted since, but you’d be lucky to find anything stronger than 2.25% in supermarkets, except at the state-owned alcohol chain called Vínbúðin (meaning “the wine shop”). Shop selling alcohol is deliberately few and spaced out, with restrictive opening hours, especially the weekends. Icelanders used to run after work on Fridays to buy the alcohol for the weekend. There is also a strange Icelandic attitude to alcohol: while the legendary Icelandic weekend all-night partying is somewhat accepted, there is also the stereotype that anyone drinking anything at all for the rest of the week must be an alcoholic.




#11-ARE BIG BRANDS IN ICELAND?


When you’re a frequent traveler, you tend to get used to seeing familiar brand names no matter where you go, like McDonald's and 7-11s, and the occasional Starbucks even. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), Iceland has none of the above. This resplendent nation is so inherently homegrown that you’d be hard-pressed to find anything commercialized or remotely mainstream here. However, in its place is an endless string of quirky businesses dominating the country’s retail scene. We opened a few places like Costco, H&M, Hard Rock Cafe, and some other international brands in the latest years.




#12-CAN I FIND FREE WIFI IN ICELAND?


Free Wi-Fi is everywhere, and Iceland is a wired country, and virtually every business or institution offers free Wi-Fi. Even roadside gas stations on remote stretches of highway throughout Iceland can hook you up. Google maps work great in the entire country.




#13-HOW´S THE GOVERNMENT IN ICELAND?


Iceland was the first democracy to elect a female president way back in 1980. Equal rights don’t certainly seem to be a thing in Iceland because men and women are exactly that, totally the same, so they don’t need to have the never-ending conversations about equality. Bit be aware, after 1:00 AM, the party begins.




#14-DO ICELANDERS CELEBRATE A HUSBAND´S DAY?


We celebrate Husband’s Day. At the end of January, all the ladies treat their partners to a slap-up meal and spoil them rotten for the day.




#15-IS ICELAND A PEACEFUL PLACE?


Iceland is a very peaceful place. But did you know that, according to the 2016 Global Peace Index, Iceland is officially the most peaceful country in the world? The index looks at violent crime, political instability, and the percentage of people in prison. Locals are so comfortable with how safe their country is that they’re more than happy to leave their babies outside shops and restaurants while they’re inside. You can learn more about the Global Peace Index here. Finally, remember that layering is important while dressing in the Icelandic winter. Also, note that people in Reykjavik are smartly dressed. Though the vibe may be laid back and casual in restaurants and pubs, you don’t exactly want to look like you just showed up from a day-long hike. So pack at least a few neutral colors, basics, and multifunctional pieces. If it were summer, I’d probably pack one nice dress or a skirt that I could wear under a sweater and over leggings for a slightly more glamorous look.




#16-DO ICELANDERS LIVE LONGER?


Icelanders live more than ten years longer than the global average. Possible answer?. For generations, Icelandic babies have napped outside in freezing temperatures. Today, parents are not worried about infectious diseases when they put their children to rest outside. Most Icelanders feel that their children also take longer and better naps when they sleep outside, undisturbed by noises from inside the house. You can learn more about this topic here.




#18-CAN ICELANDERS NAME THEIR OWN BABIES?


There’s lots of superstition and particular requirements around naming babies. There’s an official list of names that Icelanders can use for their newborns, and if they’d like a name that isn’t on the list, they have the get it approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee. It’s unusual to reveal a baby’s name before christening because it’s thought to be bad luck. So a child could end up being called ‘Baby’ for a few months.
Surnames are created by using their father’s name – or sometimes their mother’s, but this is rare -followed by a suffix doctor for a girl and a son for a boy. So my name would be Monica Colindottir (my dad is called Colin). Not a great name.
Because of this, people don’t address each other as Mr or Mrs (Colindottir); they just use first names. Even in proper circumstances, you’d be treated by your first name.




#19-DO ICELANDERS LIKE TO READ?


Iceland has a literacy rate of 100%, and they’re big on their books. They have an old saying that translates to, “It’s better to be barefoot than bookless.” For such a cold country, you can see how much they must love books! Iceland publishes the greatest number of books per capita in the world.
Iceland actually has a great cultural scene, too – maybe to pass those long, dark winters. Virtually every Icelander seems to play in a band, and most can play a musical instrument. Unsurprisingly, Reykjavik became a UNESCO City of Literature in 2011.




#20-DO ICELANDERS EAT WHALES?


Commercial whaling resumed in Iceland in 2006, much to the consternation of environmentalists and most people worldwide. Much of the whale meat is exported or goes towards feeding curious tourists. Most locals support whaling as whales are thought to harm the fishing industry, which is vital to many people’s livelihoods.
There is a high ‘Meet us don’t eat us’ campaign launched by the Icelandic Whale Watching Association to stop the whaling.




#21-DOES ICELAND CELEBRATE A ODIOUS FOOD FESTIVAL?


Iceland celebrates the sacrificial midwinter festival “Thorrablot.” It was abolished during the Christianization of Iceland but resurrected in the 19th century as a midwinter celebration that continues to be celebrated. The festival's timing coincides with the month of Thorri, according to the old Icelandic calendar, which begins on the first Friday after January 19th (the 13th week of winter). On this occasion, locals come together to eat, drink and be merry. Customary, the menu consists of unusual culinary delicacies, known as traditional Icelandic food. These will include rotten shark’s meat (hákarl), boiled sheep’s head, (svið) and congealed sheep’s blood wrapped in a ram’s stomach (blóðmör)! This is traditionally washed down with some Brennivin - also known as Black Death – a potent schnapps made from potato and caraway.
After the Thorrablot dinner, traditional songs, games, and storytelling are accompanied by dancing and, in true Icelandic style, continue until the early hours of the morning! If you fail to receive a personal invitation to a family feast, local restaurants will often add Thorrablot color and taste to their menus.




#22-DOES ICELAND HAVE EQUAL PAY AND RIGHTS FOR WOMEN AND MEN?


Equal pay standard and Rights for Women and Men. On June 1st, 2017, Alþingi, the Icelandic Parliament, passed a law mandating that all companies and employers with 25 or more employees prove that they pay men and women equal wages. The legislation, which is now in effect in Iceland, requires companies to prove that they pay men and women equally by obtaining an equal pay certification using the Equal Pay Standard. Employers who fail to undergo certification are faced with daily fines.




#23-WHAT´S THE EMERGENCY NUMBER IN ICELAND?


In Iceland, the emergency number for the Fire department, hospital, and accidents are 112. An operator will transfer you to the right department. You can also download the official emergency app and have it handy while you travel.