travel

7 things that will surprise you about Iceland

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The land of fire and ice. Literally.  It has recently risen to the top of almost everyone’s bucket list, including mine, due to the Northern Lights and the extreme and stunning landscapes.  Having said that there are a few things that will definitely surprise you about this beautiful country, at least it surprised me.  I wanted to put together a list of surprises I received while recently traveling Iceland to help any future travelers heading that way.  If you are planning a trip to Iceland anytime soon, this list is for you.

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Toilets

Oh yeah this definitely has to be the first on the list.  There are a couple surprises that have to do with toilets.  The first being, they aren’t always separate.  This is semi normal in the U.S. when there is only one stall in the bathroom and you go in and lock the main door behind you.  In Iceland, a couple of times, Drew and I stood in line together for the washroom, and even had stalls next to each other in the same washroom.  Definitely a little awkward, at least the first three times.  The other surprise is there are places where you have to pay to use the washroom.  If you are on a tour, the guide is always helpful in letting you know that there will be a toilet you have to pay for, but it’s still a surprise to see the turn style when you walk in the door…and yes they take credit cards for the toilets.

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Money

I won’t go too into detail about how expensive Iceland is, because with all the reviews on the country, quite honestly this wouldn’t surprise very many people.  I will say the first few times you hear “thousand” or “hundred” is a little shocking.  Ever go to Subway and hear the total being 3400?  Yep that happened and they do say the word thousand, so prepare yourself.   The other shock with money was the ATMs.  I have traveled to quite a few countries, and I know about finding an ATM with the PLUS or STAR symbol, and how to use foreign banks, etc, however I couldn’t find ANY ATM that worked.  I repeatedly saw people walk up to the ATM and their card get denied.  We tried countless ATMs while we were there, an none of them worked.  Luckily we could run the card as credit (and credit cards are excepted EVERYWHERE even washrooms), and we had brought quite a bit of cash so we could go to the currency exchange instead.

Driving

Ahhh driving.  “What snow?” about sums up this entire section.  We did not get a rental car and opted for tours or buses for our means of transportation and quite honestly I am very happy we did! With the snow on the roads, people were driving like the roads were clear!  Our tour guide even pointed out tourist saying “see that one…yep tourist just by the speed of the vehicle…”.  Iceland does not salt their roads, but I did see some plows.  These plows, however, just make the snow a small layer and take off the majority…no need to clear the roads completely.  We got onto a bus to take us to the airport and the driver was going around the roundabout so quickly I almost slid out of my seat, thank goodness for seatbelts.  Now having said that, my tour guide also told us that the rental car companies lose about a third of their cars every year to tourist, so if you chose that route…get the chains and BE SAFE!  Also, I just want to throw in there, this goes for the planes as well.  I was shocked when we landed and I looked back at the plane and saw it parked on a sheet of ICE.  Mad kudos to Iceland’s pilots…I know in the U.S. they close airports if the runway is icy.

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Wind

Since we went to Iceland in February, we packed our very best winter coats and thermals so we could stay warm, only to find out that did not help us at all.  I saw people walking around without coats and just hats and scarves and heavy sweaters, and me being me had to ask how they got by without a coat.  Wool was the answer.  You see wind cuts through most clothes and winter gear quite easily, so to actually stay warm you have to wear wool or some form of rain gear that the wind can’t get through.  Piling on more clothes will not keep you warm and if you need help finding something to help you stay warm ask the locals.  This brings me to…

Language

I was honestly worried about communication.  I downloaded an Icelandic language app and had all my favorites saved…coffee, toilets, check, etc…and yes coffee was at the top because to me it’s the most important.  Did we ever need it…no!  Everyone spoke a little English and most spoke English like it was their first language.  This was a huge surprise considering what I had read about Iceland, but with tourism booming, don’t worry about the language barrier…in fact what language barrier?

Sun

The warmth was the surprise for me.  I know this sounds a little silly, but it really is amazing the temperature difference between standing in the sun or standing under clouds.  In the same day, with the same temperature outside, Drew and I went from commenting on how we didn’t really need all this winter gear (standing in the sun) to teeth chattering couldn’t get warm and cursing ourselves for not packing more winter gear.  Sunny days do make a difference.  A BIG difference.

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Transportation Time Tables

Going to Iceland, our flight was delayed, which didn’t bother us that much since we were running late to the airport.  Landing in Iceland we jumped on a bus to take us to our tour location, and the bus was late leaving the airport and late arriving at the tour hub (majorly late, like an hour and a half due to a traffic jam).  Our tour was late leaving the tour hub, and late returning to the hub.  The bus that picked us up to take us to another bus hub for our ride to the airport was late.  Our flight back to the U.S. was delayed for 2 hours (waiting for another plane to land so the passengers could transfer to our flight)…Be prepared to wait.  Transportation time tables are more of a suggestion.  At least in the winter time, I haven’t been during the summer but let me know if you found the summer time tables to be more on time!

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14 comments

  1. I NEVER EVEN THOUGHT ABOUT THE LANGUAGE OUT THERE!! Ha! My husband and I have been talking about going for a long while so I really appreciate this list and I HAVE BEEN WARNED about those bathrooms! LOL!

  2. Iceland is on travel bucket list as well, my husband and I are itching for an overseas trip. The bathrooms are crazy! I have heard of paying for bathrooms before, but never with a credit card and a turnstyle. That’s hilarious!

  3. These are some really interesting things I got to know about Iceland. I do have Iceland in my bucket list and these will be very helpful tips. Icelandic language app sounds great and also the tip about wool is perfect.

  4. I know very little about Iceland, save for the fact that the country has subarctic climate and you can witness the gorgeous Northern Lights here. I’m glad that I got to know more about Iceland through your article.

  5. This was an interesting post. I learned a few new things about Iceland here. It sounds like a lovely place to visit with the unexpected sun!

  6. Well, I think Iceland just got a little bit real for me in the end, I always find the whole place dreamy for lack of a better term. Good thing I have a great wool set, all I have to do now is to plan the vacation trip itself!

  7. Iceland is the country number one on my bucket list right now! I was mostly thinking about its beauties though, totally ignoring the practical aspects of the journey planning …. so these insights are very useful, will help us avoid a lot of trouble, thank you

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