The most common question I get asked is: “what’s my favourite country?”
Normally this question puts travellers on the spot, but my quick gut reaction is always Iceland.
This remote Nordic country located in the far north of Europe only has a little over a population of 320,000 people. This might come as a surprise choice, but after a few visits I’m already hooked on the place and always left with the feeling that I have to return.
Here is a list of reasons why Iceland will always be my Number one destination and why you should visit:
1. Icelandic Locals
Icelanders are some of the weirdest bunch of people I’ve ever met, but that’s not a bad thing at all. What do you expect from people who are used to living in the middle of know where, live on a diet of Fish and candy and are used to not seeing the sun for most of the year? Would make anyone go crazy, this makes Icelandics very tough independent individuals. But saying that, once you get to know them, they our extremely friendly, fun people to be around. They do have a very dark humour surrounding their personality, but have an incredibly hospitable nature. They are very quiet people and will take some time to open up to you, but once the beer is flowing they are extremely funny.
Just by flying to Iceland is extremely cool to them as its not a very common thing to do, They are very interested in International visitors’ and telling old Saga stories over a few beers (they are great tales btw!). Even The president of Iceland invited visitors over to his house to try his wife’s pancakes. They are very interested in sharing their culture with others, so make sure you meet some locals on your trip, they are incredibly awesome people.
Also Good luck trying to learn the local language, Icelandic is one of the oldest languages in Europe and its extremely hard to master, after many attempts, I’m still only able to say, cheers and thank you, but these two words get you a long way.
2. Natural heated hot springs
Icelandics have one guilty pleasure and that’s enjoying the large network of affordable Hot Springs which can be found All over Iceland. Grab your swim trunks and enjoy a nice relaxing dip whenever you can, this was something I have to admit doing far too often but it was so nice I couldn’t resist.
Deep in the ground of Iceland is geothermal activity, the hot spring water is naturally heated by being pumped down deep into the ground, then pumped back up again. This method is Eco friendly and an extremely cheap process and most of the Hot water in Iceland is supplied in this way (that’s why your hot shower in the morning might smell of egg).
The Blue Lagoon is the most famous attraction and hot spring in Iceland and can be easily accessed from Keflavik airport, it’s rather expensive and crowded but if you’re short of time then it works. But if you visit the Blue Lagoon with a local they get in for free with your entrance ticket, it’s like a secret code that the locals know and will happily join you if you offer.
My best advice is to head to one of the Public springs around Iceland. Locals love them and often visit each week, in fact, every local has their favourite, ask for recommendations. Normally they will cost under €5 which is way more affordable than the Blue Lagoon and can be easily found close by.
Just a warning, because the water is naturally heated without the use of chemicals Icelanders take the pre-shower process in the changing rooms very seriously. Be sure to shower naked and clean areas in depth, in fact, many Public hot springs have attendants sitting in booths making sure you follow the rules, As funny as it sounds this is extremely true and if there is one way to piss off a local in Iceland that’s going for a shower in your swim shorts, they see it like dipping in their bath dirty, avoid making this mistake or you will be met with a pool of offended locals and one angry attendant shouting at you to take your trunks off (true story happened to my French friend, extremely funny).
Even better, If you’re lucky enough to be in contact with a local ask if they know of any secret hidden ones close by. Iceland is covered by old school traditional hot springs that have been in use for centuries, only problem is they are well hidden. Normally it’s a short drive into the middle of nowhere, over a fence, down a path and sometimes in-between a rock split. But locals have the inside knowledge and seem to know where to locate them, it’s a true local experience if you get the chance to grab it!
3. Icelandics believe in Elves, for real!
In Iceland this is a very serious topic and you will never get an Icelander to tell you elves are not real (Don’t say they are not real too, as Icelandics believe that an Elf dies every time you say it, Don’t piss them off!). Yes, maybe they will own up to father Christmas (They have 13 of them and they are all trolls, lucky kids!) But when it comes to elves, they will always stay strong and say they exist.
Driving down a straight road I found my Icelandic friend following the road and driving around a rock. Along a straight road, This was weird, I thought? He told me it was built like this as when they had plans to build the road the rock in question was occupied by an Elf so to avoid upsetting the elf they built the road around it. Basically the locals didn’t give planning permission to move the rock in order to build the road. Icelanders truly believe in elves, no bullshit, even the roads are built to accommodate them. Got to love that about Icelandics, interesting people. Hafnarfjördur is famous for having the largest population of Elves in Iceland, they even have a tour you go on where spottings have taken place in recent times, I’m not making this stuff up.
4. Icelandic candy is the best
Often when visiting an Icelandic home, you will spot a massive 2KG bag of factory defect liquorice, Icelanders eat this stuff by the mouth full so the cheaper the better. It’s an addiction that will never leave Iceland so make sure you get used to eating it, it’s loved by all young and old.
You will often find liquorice hidden in everything when visiting Iceland even chocolate bars (try Draumur my favourite!).
If you happen to be on a night out in Iceland you can Try Opal which is the alcohol form and it will clear all of your taste buds instantly, totally worth a try for its unique taste.
One candy tradition which is awesome in Iceland is every Saturday all Candy in 50% off, this is for Icelandic boys and girls who have been good that week and can buy candy with their pocket money. But it’s also for adults who are young at heart too and want to pick up a few bag fulls. This is a very Nordic tradition, but in Iceland they have so much weird candy to explore this can be a fun experience to do on your travels.
Reykjavik has one crazy night life experience. For such a small city you wouldn’t expect it, but if you get the formula correct your in for a good night out.
Icelanders work extremely hard, often working multiple jobs just to afford living in Iceland (it’s extremely expensive). When the weekend finally comes to town they finally can let their hair down and go wild. Often you will see massive lines on a Friday around 19:50pm at the state run alcohol shop called Vínbúð, If you forget to pick up some booze before it closes you could be stuck. Buying a beer in a local bar can cost a small fortune so pre-drinking is king. Make sure you find a local who is kind enough to invite you over to their house for a crazy pre-drinking session. Pre-drinking is very popular in Iceland as many live out of town and head to the city to party with friends that live closer to the city centre.
Travel tip: stock up on booze when you arrive at the airport, this is the cheapest place in Iceland to buy booze.
If you’re not heading to a house party, you could be in for a surprise as often locals are drinking at house parties till 3am! It’s like a local code as everyone stumbles out of houses all together at the same time to hit the bars, its bizarre but fun to see from a high up balcony, it’s like the moment it hits 3am everyone is out. If you’re visiting and didn’t know this you might be wondering where everyone is around 1am?
Normally you have so much to drink you only end up buying a few beers in the centre so it works well if you’re on a budget.
The weirdest thing I noticed on a night out in Iceland was when Icelandics where hooking up they would check an app on their smart phone first to make sure they are not related, Iceland has such a small population that it’s common that you could be chatting up your relative by mistake without even knowing. (They have a app to make sure they don’t hook up with their cousin, how funny!) This means if you’re an international in Iceland you can try your luck without having to worry about this minor small point.
The most bizarre moment about the whole night out is leaving the last bar to still be greeted by sunlight, in the summer the sun hardly goes down and it seems like a scene from a zombie movie whilst everyone is walking around drunk trying to eat a hot dog.
6. Icelandic woolen Jumpers
The one item that will never go out of fashion in Iceland, the Icelandic Wollen jumper.
The locals wear them with national pride and they have often had them knitted by their grandmother and come in a variety of unique Icelandic designs. Everyone has one and they are perfect to wear for the Icelandic climate. I was lucky to have my knitted by a friend (Tuk Rakel!) and I often wear it around the house to cut my heating bill, they are very unique, comfortable and stylish and make a great souvenir of your time in Iceland. They can be expensive, so look out for tax free shopping or thrift shops, stores to pick one up if you plan on fitting in on your trip and looking like a local. You can if you wish, pick up some Icelandic wool, some knitting books and try it out yourself!
7. Creative Iceland: Music and culture
One thing I love about Iceland is the rich culture the country has, many Icelanders are writers or musicians, with such a unique language and all the old saga tales and craft skills from the Viking ages its rich in culture for such a small population. If you can, be sure to head out and see a local band perform, many bands perform in the city every weekend and the music can be interesting and amusing at the same time due to the language. A few years back, I was lucky to see Of Monsters and Men perform live in a Rekyavik music venue with only 30 other people, lots of great talent here to enjoy and worth checking out.
8. Unique food in Iceland
Due to its remote location Icelanders have to be creative with food, after all it’s hard to grow anything with its tough conditions. Fish is the main staple and you can often find dry fish in a bag which is a snack that is enjoyed all over, it’s not for everyone but worth a try. I grew rather fond of it after a while, takes some getting used to.
Even more unusual is rotten shark meat if you dare to give it a try. The process of how it’s prepared makes it most bizarre, it’s placed under the ground for 2 months to rot, but urinated on first to ensure it matures in the ground?? Yes, this is no bullshit, bon appetite!
The Most unique dish you can find in Iceland is Roasted Puffin, not many places around the world you can try that! The funniest thing I noticed was the restaurant that served this dish was next to the Puffin spotting excursion, so after you had spotted them you could eat them? Never understood this logic.
If all the above food has put you off visiting Iceland, not to worry, after the USA set up a NATO base in Keflavik many American influenced foods started to pop up in Iceland. I’m sure the locals were happy to finally have some food worth eating. The base has since been abandoned and was replaced by student accommodation and a pizzeria. You can find many burgers joints dotted around Rekyavik, Icelanders happily kept the American food tradition after they left (good idea).
Icelanders per capita are the biggest consumers of Coca Cola and you will often see locals drinking it in 500ml cans, Coca Cola tastes different all around the world but in Iceland for some reason its delicious.
But the most popular American dish that can be found in Iceland is the hot Dog, this is not just any hot dog the Icelandic take on the American hot dog can be found with crispy deep fried onions sprinkled on top with 3 different unique Icelandic sauces which make it a perfect snack for enjoying after a night out. Bæjarins beztu pylsur is the most popular Hot dog shake in the capital and you will often see a line here, it’s worth the wait!
Last but not least even in cold Iceland, Ice cream is enjoyed by all, you will find ice cream almost anywhere and you must try it dipped into chocolate its fantastic.
Thank you for reading my blog post and I hope you’re excited to visit Iceland, it’s an incredible destination to experience if ever given the chance to explore. Icelandair even offers affordable stop overs in Rekyavik when flying transatlantic, it’s worth looking into. If you have enjoyed this post and have shared a similar experience or would like to add something I might have missed which you enjoyed, feel free to post below in the comment section: