Are you thinking about going to Iceland? Here are some things about Iceland that you may have heard - some of them exaggerated, others are misconceptions and some are true... Have a read through and see what you think!
1. It’s ICEland, so obviously it's just a land of ice and cold all year round.
It may be called ICELAND - but in fact the climate is rather mild. Summers aren't very hot but winters aren't very cold either. It's colder in some of Europe and many places in North-America in wintertime than it is in Iceland! Berlin and New York get much colder than Reykjavík for example!
- Read more about the climate and weather of Iceland here
2. It's always windy.
Iceland sure gets windy - but we also have wonderful still days like you can see above. The photo above is taken at the Snæfellsnes National Park.
3. You can get killed by a volcano.
Although there are plenty of volcanoes in Iceland, none of them are near a major city or town. No-one has ever been harmed from a direct contact with a volcano in Iceland and in fact the eruptions have become an attraction, both for locals and tourists. Iceland has 30 active volcano systems and on average experience a major volcanic event very 5 years or so.
4. You hardly see the sun in summertime in Iceland.
Actually, you'll see more of the sun in summertime in Iceland than most other places in the world, as it hardly ever sets! It might not get very hot and the summer might be relatively short and cool in Iceland, but it is insanely colourful and beautiful...
- Read more about the Midnight Sun in Iceland here
5. Winter nights are nothing but darkness.
The sun doesn't come up for a long time during winters, especially during December and January. On the other hand, the Northern Lights may light up the sky for you instead. The auroras are unpredictable, which is a part of the fun, if I may say so. No two northern lights shows are the same, which means no two winter nights in Iceland are the same. It may be dark, but you may also be more than pleasantly surprised.
6. The beaches are black and grim.
Although there are several black sand beaches in Iceland (that are mysteriously appealing), you can also find white, yellow and red sand beaches in Iceland too! And one of the black sand beaches is even scattered with icebergs, making it look like a diamond beach!
This ice diamond photo is taken at the black sand beach opposite Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. You can go to Jökulsárlón all year long. Here's one summer option to go to Jökulsárlón in one day, one all-year option for a 2-day trip to Jökulsárlón with glacier hiking, 2-day trip to Jökulsárlón with ice caving, as well as a 3-day trip one.
7. The food is disgusting.
Actually, Icelandic ingredients have become known for being fresh, healthy and sustainable. Reykjavík is full of fine dining restaurants, many who offer exciting fusion cuisine that incorporate Icelandic herbs, seafood and lamb. 'Skyr' is also becoming more known internationally, a low-fat cheese that's similar to yoghurt. You can check out delicious Icelandic dishes at some of the best restaurants in Reykjavík. They won't require viking blood to swallow.
Traditional food on the other hand was often pickled, smoked or salted - and is not to everyone's liking nowadays. Some delicacies remain popular internationally though, such as gravlax (smoked salmon). If you on the other hand want to challenge your tastebuds, then have a read of this most disgusting food from Iceland article.
8. The nature is void of colour.
This couldn't be further from the truth. Iceland is the land of contrasts. Ice and fire. Glaciers and volcanoes. Mountains and lakes. Waterfalls and geysers. Black and white. Red, green, yellow, blue, pink and all the colours in between. Iceland has the whole colour spectrum going on.
These photos can prove my point.
9. The capital is so colourless.
The whole city of Reykjavík is made up of colourful houses, not just in one section of the city but all over! The same applies to the rest of the towns in Iceland. The picture above is of Reykjavík in wintertime from the top viewing platform of Hallgrímskirkja church downtown.
- Read through our Guide to Reykjavík here
10. It's too cold for flowers to grow there.
There are actually more than 5500 wild plants in Iceland and botanists keep finding new ones each year, adding to the flora of Iceland. All these plants help make Iceland an even more colourful country.
11. It's not that different from anywhere else.
You bet. The Moon, Mars, and some distant planet in the universe probably look just like Iceland.
Iceland has often been chosen as a movie or TV location for films that take place in outer space, in some dystopian future or in an imagined universe, such as in Game of Thrones. You can read more about Icelandic movie locations here.
- See more photos of Iceland from above
12. All you see is water...
Iceland has an astoundingly large number of beautiful waterfalls. It's even impossible to count them since new ones form from melting snow and ice each spring. The larger ones continue falling all year round though. Here you can read more about the Waterfalls of Iceland.
13. More water...
This is Gullfoss, the Golden Waterfall. This waterfall lends its name to Iceland's most popular tourist destination, the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle takes you to this waterfall, the geyser Strokkur and the national park Þingvellir.
- Find Golden Circle tours here
14. Even more water...
This is Dettifoss, Falling Waterfall, in the North of Iceland. This is the largest waterfall in Iceland, with the most volume. As you can see, you can get quite close to it - but be careful!
This waterfall was used to depict an alien planet in the opening scene of Prometheus.
- Find tours to Dettifoss waterfall here
15. Water and rocks...
There are a number of interesting rock formations dotted around Iceland. This one is called Hvítserkur. Many of the rocks you'll see in Iceland have folklore and stories attached to them. Hvítserkur used to be an evil troll for example.
16. Water and ice...
If you get tired of looking at waterfalls, you can always head towards Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. This lagoon is very deep and contains a massive amount of large icebergs, that have broken from the nearby glacier. When the icebergs tip or break they reveal a beautiful blue colour that glints in the sunshine. This is also where the Diamond Beach is at.
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is one of Iceland's most popular movie locations.
17. There's even dangerous burning hot water spewing out of the earth!
The Icelandic hot spring Geysir is where the English word geyser comes from. It used to regularly spout up to 70 meters, which is 20 meters higher than the Old Faithful in the USA. Geysir no longer erupts but fortunately the geyser Strokkur is right next to it and Strokkur erupts up to 40 meters, every 5-10 minutes!
- Find Golden Circle tours here
18. The geothermal areas stink and are like ugly monsters.
Iceland is covered with geothermal areas, in all colours. The geothermal areas are rich in sulphur, that turns the earth colourful but also has a distinctive smell. Some people like (or LOVE) the smell, others dislike it and think it resembles the smell of rotten eggs. Which group are you in? Why don't you come over and find out?
- Find hot spring tours here
19. The terrain is so rough.
Most of Iceland is covered in lava - but most of the lava is covered in thick moss. The moss is very delicate and takes centuries to grow back, so be careful around the moss, however tempting it is to lie in it. Icelandic people are very protective of their nature - and we actually wrote a list of things you shouldn't do when you're in Iceland, called 7 things Icelanders HATE about tourism in Iceland !
20. You can't see the nature up close.
Hiking and camping is the most popular way to explore Iceland's nature in the summertime (although we wouldn't recommend camping inside an ice-cave - they can be very unstable and you should only enter one with a guide that knows the area well! The cave might break or get flooded, so you need to know what you're doing!)
There are a number of hiking routes available around the country, and you can also go hiking on the glaciers.
21. The nature in Iceland can literally stop air traffic...
Although the eruption at Eyjafjallajökull volcano stopped a lot of air traffic in Europe, it didn't really alter any flights within Iceland. One of the best ways to view the volcano was from a helicopter, although people also drove there on 4x4, hiked there or took a snowmobile to reach it! The eruption was quite the attraction, both for locals and tourists.
If you'd like to check out a helicopter tour, there are various ones available.
- Book your helicopter tours here
22. It is so easy to get lost. Can't even tell up and down.
The landscapes can provide some incredible vistas in Iceland. There are a number of different mountains, glaciers and volcanoes that look stunning when they're mirrored in nearby lakes or fjords.
- Read about Icelandic mountains here
23. Winter in Reykjavík is grim and dull.
You don't need to be put off from going to Iceland in the wintertime. There are plenty of things to do in Reykjavík and in the nature outside the city - and sometimes the snow covers everything in a beautiful white blanket.
24. You can see ice in so many countries. Iceland can't be that special.
There is ice and glaciers in many countries - but Iceland does have Europe's largest glacier, Vatnajökull - and it is very easily accessible. Additionally, during wintertime, natural ice-caves form in the glaciers. These ice-caves are only accessible between November and March, with a guide. In summertime they melt, break and get filled with ice - and you should only enter ice-caves with a guide that knows the area like the back of their hand. Entering an ice-cave though is an unforgettable experience and you'll see shades of blue that you didn't know existed!
- Book your ice cave tour here
25. So are volcanos. They don't only exist in Iceland.
Again, many of the volcanoes in Iceland are easily accessible. You can hike over them, to the top of them or even go inside of them! Þríhnúkagígur volcano is the only volcano in the world that offers tours inside its magma chambers where there used to be boiling lava - don't worry, the volcano is dormant now, there hasn't been an eruption there for 4000 years, so you'll be safe.
- Book a trip inside a volcano here
26. You will get bored soon enough driving around.
Iceland is not a huge country, you could actually drive the circle around it in around 16 hours (it's just under 1300 km around it). The landscape on the way though will always be changing, from grassy fields to black lava sands, waterfalls to views of glaciers, fjords between rugged mountains, picturesque villages, rivers, volcanoes, horses, sheep, birds... There is plenty to see. We actually recommend taking at least a week to drive around the country to check out everything it has to offer!
- You can rent a car here
27. It's too cold to go for a swim.
In fact, there is plenty of natural hot water that streams from the ground in Iceland. Various hot springs are suitable for bathing, the most famous one being the Blue Lagoon. There is also the Secret Lagoon in the south of Iceland and Mývatn geothermal baths in the North, amongst others.
Additionally, there are tons of swimming pools around Iceland and in Reykjavík, where the pools are slightly warm throughout the year and there is a variety of hot tubs to choose from when you just want to soak and relax.
- Find tours to the Blue Lagoon here
28. There are no trees.
That is almost entirely true. The lack of trees means that you have views stretching as far as hundreds or even thousands of metres on clear days, allowing you to see all the nearby mountains, waterfalls and valleys.
And if it's trees that you want, you can always head towards Iceland's largest forest, Hallormsstaðaskógur in the East of Iceland or the second biggest forest, Vaglaskógur in the North of Iceland.
- Read about the lupine in Iceland here
29. It's just nature. Seeing it once is enough.
Difference between summer and winter is drastic. If you are into landscape photography then Iceland provides incredible settings - that can be drastically different depending on the season or the weather. You can be extremely familiar with a particular location, that can look almost unrecognisable on another day.
- Read more about photography in Iceland here
30. The highlands are just inhospitable deserts.
The terrain in the Icelandic highlands is tricky to cross and you will need a 4x4 to drive there. The highlands consist of deserts, lakes, craters, volcanoes, hot springs and glaciers. Most of the highlands are relatively unspoilt, there are not many roads, not many signs, no shops and hardly any people there.
Off-road driving is strictly forbidden and punishable with heavy fines as it damages the delicate nature. Hiking in the highlands is very popular though, although most people use a car to reach their starting location. Most roads are only accessible during summertime.
- Read this ultimate guide to driving in Iceland before driving in Iceland
31. So few people, so few animals.
Only 320 thousand people live in Iceland - but Iceland has the largest puffin colony in the world, around 10 million puffins reside in Iceland during summertime. There are a lot of other bird species in Iceland besides the puffin, you can read more about the birds in Iceland here.
Besides birds, Iceland has a few domestic animals, most notably the Icelandic horse, known for its extra gait.
- Read more about wildlife and animals in Iceland here
- Book your horseback riding tours here and
- Book your whale watching and puffin tours here
32. Nothing cute.
The arctic fox mainly resides in the Westfjords. The Westfjords are Iceland's most remote area and Hornstrandir are the Westfjords' most remote area, only accessible with a boat or by hiking for a few hours/days. That's where the arctic fox likes to hang out and curl up.
- Explore the wildlife in the remote Westfjords by booking this tour
33. Iceland is totally behind on modern architecture.
The above picture is of Harpa, Reykjavík's concert and conference hall. The glass panels resemble basalt columnar blocks, a popular element to be included in Icelandic design and architecture. The impressive Hallgrímskirkja church also resembles basalt columnar blocks and actual basalt columnar blocks are used as a decoration outside the National Theatre.
The glass panels at Harpa also have LED lights in them and at night the façade of the building has lights dancing across the building, courtesy of artist Ólafur Elíasson.
- Read more about Harpa, Reykjavík's concert hall, here
34. There is no art or culture.
There is actually a very high concentration of artists in Iceland, although the population is mere 320 thousand. Reykjavík is full of designer boutiques, art galleries, sculptures, fine art museums and artistic events. One in every 10 people will publish a book in their lifetime and Icelanders are avid theatre goers, with theatre companies such as Vesturport gaining international acclaim.
- You can read about Reykjavík's best art museums and galleries here
35. The music and fashion scene is terrible.
Such a small country with such a small population has produced an incredible amount of musical artists. Some of them have been very influential. Björk is by far the most recognised Icelandic artist, having influenced artists as diverse as Thom Yorke and Madonna. Björk is also known for her fashion sense, having worked with international fashion icons such as Alexander McQueen.
Icelanders are very fashion conscious and there are a number of fashion designers in Iceland. For the newest in fashion, you can check out Reykjavík Fashion Festival.
Björk is not the only international artist to come from Iceland, other notable artists and bands include Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men, Emilíana Torrini, MÚM, Ásgeir Trausti, Gus Gus and more.
(Photo credit: Saint Heron)
36. With so many rainy, windy, snowy days, your photos will forever look grey.
Except for those incredible days where the weather and the nature work together in complete harmony to make your pictures look like this. Fortunately, in between winter storms there can be long spells of crisp and clear still days - and the summertime often produces gorgeous weather for photography, albeit a bit cold. Icelanders call that weather 'window weather', where the weather looks fantastic but is colder than it looks.
37. Finally, Icelanders don't know how to party!
Reykjavík's nightlife is well known, as cafés turn into bars and nightclubs during weekends and stay open until 5 or 6am. There are also plenty of festivals going on all year round, all over the country. The picture above is from New Year's Eve, when literally everyone in the city lights fireworks from around 11pm until early morning. Most of the fireworks are lit between 11pm and 1am on New Year's Eve, although you'll see and hear fireworks going on a few days before and after.
If you still want to make your way to Iceland, you can find all the information you need here at Guide to Iceland. You can book tours, cars and accommodation, or you can send us an e-mail for a suggested itinerary and we’ll help you book your trip.