Facts About Iceland for the Visitor

I don’t know about you: but I like to research a county before traveling there.  I like to know what I’m getting myself into – but more importantly, I want to figure out what makes that country tick: to learn about its history, traditions, and culture, in order to enhance my own experience and understanding of that country.  So in that spirit, here are some facts about Iceland for the visitor, that I hope will enhance your understanding of this beautiful country.  

Facts About Iceland for the Visitor

Gorgeous Godafoss Waterfall, in northern Iceland.

Facts About Iceland for the Visitor

  • The population of Iceland is 331,000 (as of 2016), & the majority is concentrated in & around the capital, Reykjavik.  In a country roughly the size of Ohio, what does that mean for the traveler?  It means there’s a whole lot of wide open space.  Traffic is pretty much non-existent, except for right around Reykjavik.  The towns dotted around Iceland all have that “small-town” feel.  It’s a country filled with nature ~ not people!
  • When you fly into Iceland from the States, you’ll be flying into Keflavik International Airport ~ not Reykjavik.  This causes confusion for some travelers, who assume they’re flying directly into Reykjavik.  However, the airport in Reykjavik is used predominantly for domestic flights within Iceland.  Keflavik International Airport is located on the peninsula just south of Reykjavik, & is approximately an hour drive to the nation’s capital.  Keflavik is also located close to the world-famous Blue Lagoon, which is only about a 20-minute drive away.  
    Facts About Iceland for the Visitor

    Watching the sun set at the Blue Lagoon…

  • The Northern Lights are one of the main reasons people travel to Iceland, but not everyone sees them!  To increase your chances of seeing them, travel between the months of September-April.  It’s possible, but not likely, to see them as early as August.  The Lights are typically inactive for several days ~ but then, they’ll be really active for a day or two.  So if they’re active on a Monday night, chances are good they’ll be active again on Tuesday as well.  But if it’s raining or there’s major cloud cover, it will reduce your chances of seeing the lights.  For the Aurora Borealis forecast, click here.

Facts About Iceland for the Visitor

  • Weather in Iceland is highly variable.  It’s not unusual to experience sun, wind, rain, hail, & snow ~ all in one day in Iceland.  Pack accordingly.  Layers are your best friend here.  
  • Speaking of weather, no matter what time of year you’re visiting: expect it to be chilly.  The highest average temperature you’ll find in Iceland (in July) will be around 60 degrees; the lowest average temperature (in January) will be around 32 degrees.  But the wind often makes it feel MUCH colder.
  • One of the most important facts about Iceland for the visitor is to know beforehand how WINDY it is there!!  And not just blustery ~ I mean, WINDY.  Winds are so strong, that at times, it felt like we could blow off a cliff.  During my four-week stay, two days were perfectly calm, with no wind at all.  Otherwise, it was WINDY!  Bring a warm scarf at all times when you’re outside, especially if you plan to explore.   
  • Coffee is the unofficial drink of Iceland!  Given their chilly climate year-round & the high price of alcohol, this makes perfect sense.  You can find great coffee everywhere, so take advantage!
    Facts About Iceland for the Visitor

    Grab a coffee & peruse Icelandic books at the famous Laundromat Cafe, in Reykjavik.

  • Iceland is the ultimate nature trip: its landscapes will leave you in awe.  If you’re more of a “city” person though, & nature isn’t really your thing, I wouldn’t recommend a trip to Iceland!  Perhaps try a long weekend there, en route to Europe, & enjoy the sights around Reykjavik & the Blue Lagoon.
  • Credit cards are accepted everywhere.  In a four-week trip, I didn’t take cash out once.  For being a large volcanic rock out in the middle of the ocean, Iceland is actually a very wired country.  Everywhere from the local hot dog stand to the neighborhood B&B will accept your credit card.  
  • Speaking of being wired: if you have an international phone plan (such as T-Mobile), your phone will work just about everywhere in Iceland ~ even on random mountaintops!  What does this mean for the traveler?  It means that I could use my phone for accurate directions, & send & receive texts.  If you don’t have an international plan, your phone may only work when on Wi-Fi.   

Facts About Iceland for the Visitor

  • Iceland is expensive.  Here are some typical prices: $4 for coffee, $32 for a 2-mile taxi ride, $25 for salad,$55 for a “cheap” bottle of wine, $25-50 for a hostel stay, $150+ for hotel rooms in Reykjavik, & $60-90 for entrance to the Blue Lagoon (local nature baths are significantly cheaper).  At the time of our trip in 2016, gas prices were roughly $7/gallon in Iceland. Because pretty much everything needs to be imported to Iceland (including alcohol), prices are high.  

Prepare yourself for this prior to your trip, otherwise you’ll be in for a shock.  

Facts About Iceland for the Visitor

The Hilton Hotel in Reykjavik, Iceland, will run you over $200/night.

  • There are 36 hostels in Iceland, most concentrated around Reykjavik.  Staying at hostels can help reduce the cost of your stay ~ but compared to hostels around the world: they’re expensive. The good news is: they’re some of the best, liveliest, & cleanest you’ll find.
  • Iceland is the #1 “Safest Country in the World,” according to the Global Peace Index.  This makes Iceland a great destination for solo travelers, female travelers, & families: as crime is virtually non-existent (there are less than 150 prisoners in the entire country).  Iceland is so safe, in fact, that mothers leave their babies on the street in strollers while they grab coffee!  Can you imagine American mothers doing that at your local Starbucks?!
  • Swimming baths, or “nature baths,” are an important part of social life in Iceland.  Given that Iceland basically runs on geothermal energy, you’ll find these baths all over the country: most famously at the Blue Lagoon & at the Myvatn Nature Baths, located in the northern part of the country.  There are also numerous public pools in Reykjavik, & nearly every town has a pool as well.  Personally, I think these baths are God’s natural gift to this chilly country!
  • Iceland has nearly 8,000 miles of roads!  Two of the most well-known circuits in the country are 1) The “Ring Road,” which refers to the highway that circuits the entire country.  This is a popular route for people who have at least 7-10 days. Taking this road will cover most of the country’s scenic highlights. 2) The other popular route is the “Golden Circle,” one of the most popular tourist routes in Iceland.  It’s close to Reykjavik (approx. a 45-minute drive), making it a popular day trip, good for people who only have 2-3 days in Iceland. The Golden Circle is much smaller than the Ring Road, & covers many popular Iceland attractions: including Gulfoss Waterfall, Geysir, Thingvellir National Park, & the volcanic Kerid Crater.
    Facts About Iceland for the Visitor, Girl Who Travels the World, Kerid Crater

    The incredibly turquoise Kerid Crater, located along the “Golden Circle” route in Iceland.

  • One in ten Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime ~ an astonishing number, & the highest per capita publishing rate in the world.  Peruse Icelandic books at the famous Laundromat Cafe, in Reykjavik
  • Icelanders are also tops in terms of longevity.  As of 2015, they were #6 in the world, with an average life expectancy of 82.97 years.  Possible reasons for this?  Some of the world’s most ridiculously pure air; wild-caught food; excellent public health care; & unparalleled preventative health care services.  

What You Need to Know Before an Iceland Trip

  • Iceland has long been at the forefront of women’s rights.  They were one of the first countries to introduce female suffrage in 1908.  And in 2009, they elected their first woman prime minister, Johanna Siguroardottir, who at the time, was also the first openly gay world leader.  
  • You’ll find no strip clubs in Iceland!  They were banned in 2010 by Siguroardottir, who cited that women must be treated “as citizens, rather than commodities for sale.” 
  • An interesting fact about Iceland is that 67% of children are born out of wedlock, which means there are many single mothers in Iceland; marriage isn’t necessarily a high priority.  Being a single mother also isn’t frowned upon in Iceland.  Rather, it’s a point of pride.  Strong social programs, high wages, & the willingness of neighbors & family to help with childcare make being a single mother perhaps more feasible than it is in other cultures.  
  • The racial make-up of Iceland is: three-parts Nordic, one-part Celt.  Genealogy is important in Iceland, & it’s said that by the tenth generation, everyone in Iceland is related ~ because the population is so small.  Though Iceland is a relatively homogeneous society, it’s also a tolerant one & generally free of racism.  
  • Finally, one last, interesting fact about Iceland: they have a strong belief in elves.  54% of the population, in fact, believes in them, according to a study conducted in 1998.  You can even go to school in Iceland to learn more about elves!  In Reykjavik, you can attend Elf School, where you’ll learn all about these mysterious, mythical creatures ~ who’ve been spotted by actual, living breathing mortals all over Iceland. 

And no ~ I didn’t see any during my stay!

Facts About Iceland for the Visitor

I hope these Icelandic facts help you gain a better understanding of this fascinating country prior to a visit.  The fact I most wish I’d known prior to my trip is how windy it gets there….I would’ve brought more scarves!

If you’re planning a trip there soon ~ enjoy this beautiful country….

xoxo Noelia 

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What You Need to Know Before an Iceland Trip, Girl Who Travels the World