Busting the myths about Iceland


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Next month I’ll be enjoying a bit of culture in Iceland, which has been top of my bucket-list for too long, and I cannot wait. I’ve been reading loads of blogs about the place, so feel as though I know it well already. Although it’s a really popular destination now, there are plenty of people who ask “what are you going there for?” – it’s too dark, cold, and expensive they say. Well I hope to prove them wrong…

1. It’s too cold

You may think there’s a clue in the name. But according to legend, the country’s Viking settlers who had fled Norway liked it so much they decided to call it Iceland to dissuade outsiders from turning up. Some people have a saying “Greenland is ice, Iceland is green”. Whether this is true or not, I’m expecting it to be pretty nippy in March, maybe not too different to a UK winter.

The Gulf Stream passes the south of the country warming things up, so although the interior, the north and the east are going to get a bit parky Reykjavik shouldn’t be too bad. Lonely Planet even says the south west tip of Iceland gets “hot summers and mild winters”. Regardless, I’ve got a new woolly hat, thermal gloves and thick socks, and am considering getting long-johns just in case.

2. It’s too dark

As Reykjavik is the world’s most northerly capital, on the edge of the Arctic circle, days can be very short. If I was going in January, I’d have less than five hours’ daylight – the sun would rise after 11am and set before 4pm. In summer it’s the opposite, getting dark at midnight, and then light again at 3am – my trip in March shouldn’t be anywhere near these two extremes, and close to what I get back home.

One upside of the dark days is the chance to see the Northern Lights. If I’m very lucky with weather conditions and light pollution, I might get to see this strange phenomenon of bright colours sparkling in the sky.

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3. It’s too expensive

This is the one I’m a little nervous about, and fear it may be true. Having said that, flights and accommodation are both very reasonable. Iceland’s Keflavik airport is on the budget airline route with easyjet and wowair flying there, while IcelandAir have just launched flights from my local airport, Birmingham. I was surprised to find hotels are a lot cheaper than other European cities, with lots of hostel options too – could Reykjavik be a budget traveller’s destination?

I doubt it, and am dreading the high booze and restaurant prices. I’ve heard a lot of people advise stocking-up on alcohol from duty-free, but for me one of the joys of travel is to drink local beers in local bars (this will be my epitaph). It sounds like I might need to extend my Visa card’s credit limit, or take advantage of happy-hours.

Hopefully the effects of the financial crash of 2008 will have a positive impact on my wallet, but I’ll have to wait and see.

4. The food is horrendous

Being so isolated, Iceland tries to be self-sufficient and relies on its own produce rather than importing where possible. This means lots of lamb (not my favourite meat) and sea-food, with as little waste as possible. Sheep’s head with mash and whale-meat on a stick, anyone?

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But any country where there are precisely zero McDonalds is doing something right. Apparently the last ever meal bought at Reykjavik’s branch (before it closed due to the economic problems) is now on display at one of the city’s hostels – one tourist attraction I might skip.

I’ve heard good things about the hot-dogs, fish and chips and lobster soup, so I won’t waste away over there.

5. They’re rubbish at football

This is one myth I can bust before I go. You may not have heard of the top domestic clubs Valur and KR, but you’ll probably know some Icelandic players who have played in England such as Siggi Jonsson, Joey Gudjonsson, Gylfi Siggurdson and Eidur Gudjohnsen.

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For a country with a population of 320,000 (about the same as Coventry), Iceland punches above its weight at international football, and narrowly missed out on a place at the 2014 World Cup by losing a play-off against Croatia. They have a decent chance of qualifying for Euro 2016, having already beaten The Netherlands and Turkey in qualifying.

With six Reykjavik clubs in the premier Úrvalsdeild division, I’d love to get to a game, but as the season runs from May to October I’ll be out of luck.  Bizarrely, the league’s top goalscorer for the past two seasons has been an Englishman, former Middlesbrough trainee Gary Martin.

I’ll be happy if some myths I’ve heard are true: unbelievably fresh air, the best tasting tap water around, no crime, everyone’s in a band, legendary nightlife.

Whether I can bust the other myths or not remains to be seen, but one thing for sure is I’ve never looked forward to a trip as much as this one. Iceland seems to be one of those countries everyone falls in love with and vows to return to again and again.

***Do you have any tips for me?***

***Is it really that expensive?***

***Which football team should I support?***

***And should I get those long-johns?***

Photo credits:

1: Letuva @ Flickr

2: Ian Bullock @ Flickr

3: Wikipedia

4: Justin Green @ Flickr

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Categories: IcelandTags:

42 comments

  1. It is much more affordable since the 2008 crash. It certainly didn’t make my eyes water last time in went (2013). Beer is about £5 a pint which isn’t all that bad. You can get local bottled and canned beer at the airport. As I previously recommended – Harry’s bar for good food and drink at reasonable prices.
    You’ll have a whale of a time but don’t order one for main course!

  2. We went quite a while ago. Wonderful place. Had pan fried guillemot – in a restaurant called Jonathan Livingstone Seagull – I wonder if it’s still there. The Gulfoss falls are not to be missed and I’m sure you’ll get a chance to plunge into the Blue Lagoon – take it – it’s crazy!

  3. I have three posts on Iceland if you want to take a look. The Reykjavik one lists some bars and restaurants. We were there in June, so things were a bit different, but I can attest to a bit of chilliness even then, and I did indeed find the prices (especially beer, unfortunately) pretty high. In one of my posts, you’ll find a reference to eating in gas stations (yes, you read that correctly!); their N1s are clean and bright and have really decent food if you’re out in the countryside and want a bite!

  4. Currently in Reykjavik – do the walking tour with Martienn, he’s passionate and into his football too!
    A beer at the Italian restaurant we ate at last night was about a fiver, it’s not cheap that has to be said. Sadly.

  5. So envious! Iceland is high on my must-see list–I look forward to reading about your adventures! And please try all the local spirits you can find.

  6. I loved Iceland – the food was very good (especially the lamb so shame that’s not one of your favs) It does get cold especially outside of the city and can change drastically very quickly. Try the local shot Brennivin, translated as Black Death – it’ll keep you warm while you scouring the skies for those lights. For airport transfers take the Flybus or the Airport Express. Looking forward to hearing about your trip – v envious 🙂

    • Cheers, I’ll look out for the Black Death to warm me up! Did you book your transfer bus in advance, or just pay upon arrival?

      • They offer a similar service for a similar price but the difference is that the Flybus service connects with every flight while the Airport Express say on their website that transfers must be booked in advance for a guaranteed departure. On the other hand, Airport Express offers complimentary pick up and drop off service for all major hotels and guesthouses in Reykjavík while the Flybus charges 500 ISK extra per person for that service. If you are desperate for the internet after a long flight Flybus offers free WiFi on all their buses. I’d check out both websites. Enjoy your Black Death….

  7. Iceland is expensive, but you can help it buy shopping at bonus and cooking most your meals, and save up for a few good restaurants.

  8. I hope you get to see the lights, I’d love to see the photos. The Northern Lights are very close to the top of my wish list for next year. Have fun 🙂

  9. I really like your post 🙂 I also visited in March, back in 2010 and I saw the Northern Lights then so I hope you get the chance too! 🙂

  10. I bet you will love it – can’t wait to hear what you think. No suggestions from me, but I’ve been reading a lot about Iceland as a hub of creative design – lots of cool museums, boutique hotels and hipster cafes. Let me know if you spot any!

  11. Sounds you are ready to go! It is a destination I wish to visit someday. Looking forward to read your experience!

  12. Really excited to hear how you get on – we want to go to Iceland soon ourselves so I’m going to use you as a bellweather!

  13. Just returned from Iceland. Went in January and it was fabulous. It is not as cold as you would expect but the length of the dark mornings may surprise you. However you can do the Golden Circle easily in daylight. This is a fabulous trip. The scenery in the snow is awesome. Also as there are so few trees the white landscape stretches to the horizon.

    Every one does The Blue Lagoon and although expensive (£28) is a must do. There is an outdoor thermal pool in Reykjavik called Laugardalur (£3) which the locals go to which is worth a visit.

    We stayed opposite the Hallgrimskirja church which is a great location. Harbour, shops and bars nearby. We liked Kaffibarrin bar. Drinks everywhere not as expensive as you imagine. Pints are a fiver and if you get happy hour you get 2 for 1. Wine with meals is pricey though.

    Good luck seeing the Northern Lights. We did but don’t go just for that. A bit hit and miss to be honest. You need a fantastic camera and I imagine some of the pictures on Google are photoshopped. Most people on our trip spent the journey home deleting 60 odd photos of a pitch black sky.

    Have a great time
    .

  14. When I was in Iceland about 8 years ago it was pretty pricey, but seems to be a lot more reasonable now (better than Scandinavia for sure). We ended up hiring a car for the day to drive the Golden Circle at our own pace which was good, and loved the Blue Lagoon despite being ultra-touristy (the hot dogs there were fab!). Have a great trip.

  15. I hope you enjoy your trip! We loved Iceland, it’s a beautiful country. Check out Skaftafell, and look into rideshares to save some money, but ultimately have fun!

  16. Have a great time! I look forward to your posts about it.

  17. I wish you joy! 🙂 I think there must be something wrong with me because I haven’t got the Iceland bug yet! Mind you, I would like to see those lights.
    How long are you there for, Rich? A few happy hours will help out with the finances. Just think of that £50 you shelled out to Ryanair for baggage and it’ll seem a snip 🙂

  18. Expensive, dark and cold are all relative terms. We’ll be going to Iceland in July after living in Finland for a year. From what I can tell, Iceland is a budget option compared to Finland. You already mentioned the sunshine – you should have plenty of light in March and it will still be a bit cool then too – some winter wear would be good to take along, especially if you are coming from a warmer climate. I would also recommend doing a Ring Road tour. It takes you around the island in about 8 hours. There’s about 16 companies that do these tours – but be careful which ones you choose. You’ll need to do a little research on them to see which ones are ok. Hope that helps.

  19. We just got back and didn’t get chance to do a lot of things we wanted to, so we’ll definitely return one day. I hope you enjoy your July trip!

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