Do’s & Don’t’s of Iceland

Iceland is a highly unique country that is both the bridge between the continents of Europe and North America and also a nearly totally isolated island. Because of this, Iceland is able to maintain its own distinct culture while still being connected globally. This large island has an unusually small population—sheep outnumber the people, who fall just short of 335,000—which makes Iceland full of resilient people, closely tied to their traditions and nature. Iceland is the perfect place to connect with the natural world and truly experience a simplified life so different from most other countries. Here we’ve compiled a few tips to help you adjust to the difference, and make the most of your trip!

Do

  1. Bring bottled water. Though Iceland has some of the cleanest tap water in the world, with many enriching minerals, it would be a good idea to bring some bottled water with you. Unlike in America, Icelandic water doesn’t contain any fluoride, which is useful to protect your teeth from decay and cavities.  
  2. Take a soak in a hot spring. While there are many fantastic places to swim and relax in Iceland, there are two of particular note. The most famous hot spring is the Blue Lagoon, just a short ride away from the capital. It is a geothermal spa and one of the most visited attractions in Iceland, with waters rich in minerals said to have healing powers. In Reykjavik, you can find Laugardalslaug, an Olympic-sized indoor pool. The facilities also include outdoor pools, a saltwater tub, steam back, winding 86 meter water slide, and a stunning seven hot tubs, one big enough for 50 people.
  3. Try pylsur. What is it? Surprisingly, a hot dog—the best in the world if its fans are to be believed. The best kind comes from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (translating to Best Hot Dogs in Town), in Reykjavik, where you can order “eina með öllu” (ane meth alt, or “one with everything”). In return, you’ll receive a sausage of organic, free-range, grass-fed, hormone free lamb, beef, and pork, in a warm bun topped with raw white onions, crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs.
  4. Bring your rain gear. Iceland’s position so close to the Gulf Stream allows it to enjoy a cool seaside atmosphere that tends toward the cold and often has icy and wet weather. We suggest you bring raincoat and boots to ensure your visit is as comfortable as possible!
  5. Tap into your inner environmentalist. Iceland is a very eco-friendly country, and environmental conservation is one of its top priorities. It focuses on sustainability, recycling, and lessening environmental impact in almost every aspect of living. We do suggest you bring small bottles of shampoo and soap since hotels do not provide this, to avoid plastic waste from the bottle.
  6. Learn a few words in Icelandic. It’s always useful to know a few words before traveling to a country, so you can better connect with the locals. Although everyone in Iceland speaks English, they will surely appreciate the effort you put into experiencing their language. Some words to know are
    1. “Halló” (Hello), pronounced ha-loh
    2. “Takk. / Takk fyrir” (Thank you), pronounced tak / tak fi-rir
    3. “Fyrirgefðu” (Sorry), pronounced fi-rir-gev-dhu
    4. “Já” (Yes), pronounced yow
    5. “Nei” (No), pronounced nay, and
    6. “Ég heiti…” (My name is…), pronounced yekh hay-ti.

Don’t

  1. Eat whales. Fin whales, which are used to create the Icelandic dish hval or hvalur, are endangered. Since 35-40% of whale consumption is tourists, it would be a good idea to help the people of Iceland preserve their natural species by abstaining from trying the dish. 80% of the minke whale, another whale that is commonly eaten, is thrown out after the meat is gathered for consumption, which also creates a lot of waste in the country.
  2. Try hákarl. The Greenland shark, which is used to make the dish, has a conservation status of “near threatened.” You can help Iceland save the species by not trying this food out. Most people wouldn’t want to try it anyway! Chef Anthony Bourdain famously said hákarl is “probably the single worst thing I have ever put in my mouth.” The shark is so inedible it has to spend six months rotting underground before it is able to be eaten, and it has an aftertaste that stays with you for hours.
  3. Bring fancy shoes. Iceland’s landscape is shaped by its weather and extreme forces of nature, creating many hills and a wide-open countryside, with wintery and icy grounds to walk on. High heels and most delicate materials will likely not last long if you decide to take a stroll through the countryside or hike through the hills. We suggest you bring very comfortable shoes for walking because you’ll want to do so much of it!
  4. Expect to live in the lap of luxury. Iceland is famous for its minimalist culture. Luxurious things and decadent decor are left behind in favor of simplicity and recycling, creating some beautiful and surprising spaces. A great example of this is the Reykjavík Art Museum, which is housed in an old warehouse and fishery. It is now the home of the works of established contemporary artists, with an emphasis on the progressive and experimental. By the end of your visit, we hope you will have visited this amazing feat of modern aestheticism and many more in the beautiful country of Iceland!
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