Common fears when visiting Iceland

Fully licensed travel agency & tour operator
September 19, 2014

Being a bit skeptical about going to a country that is still taking shape, can only be described as common sense. If fact, the newest island in Iceland arose from an underwater eruption in 1963! But it is important to know the distinction between actual threats and urban myths. We have gathered the most common fears among travelers, and hope our answers will ease your mind when choosing Iceland as your next holiday destination.

Volcanic Lava

No. 1: Will a magma stream of hot lava sneak up on me while I am in the hot pots?

It is a valid question, believe it or not. Iceland has about 130 volcanic mountains and the most active volcano area in the world. Since the settlement of Iceland 1100 years ago 18 of them have erupted.

Luckily, Iceland’s Meteorological Office has a special department called “Warning-Forecasting” which specializes in volcano eruptions among other natural phenomena. They monitor and analyse how all the volcanoes in Iceland are behaving and they give out notices before eruptions.

You can in other words relax when you are in the hot pots. Our suggestion is to turn the table and rather that YOU sneak up on the volcano! Even though Iceland has a lot of volcanic activity, it is not that often that the volcanoes erupt, so why not seize the chance and go on an eruption sightseeing flight to Bardarbunga

Wine and liquor

No. 2: What will I do if I am too late to go the liquor store?

You are not alone in asking this question; most young adults in Iceland have this fear every Friday and Saturday. Alcohol can only be purchased in the state-owned Vínbúðin (wine shop, loosely translated) and the stores close between six and eight o’clock from Monday to Saturday and they are closed on Sundays.

To some this might seem a bit harsh, but beer was actually banned nationwide in Iceland until 1989, so most of the population is very happy with this arrangement. But let’s get back to your question. So you are too late, and there really isn’t anything you can do with it. Luckily, bars, hotels and restaurants have a licence to sell alcohol, so why not go out and join the exciting nightlife in Iceland and grab a cold one?


No. 3: What if nobody understands me?

It might seem to be a too deep and existential question for this blog, but fear not: We are talking about the language this time.

Icelandic belongs to the Germanic language family, and it can remind you of other Scandinavian languages. The Vikings who settled in Iceland did not bother to go through the hassle of making up a new language (very understandable) and simply brought with them the language that was widely spoken in Scandinavia. For some reason the Icelanders have decided not to change anything about their language since, and people today can still read the first sagas that were written down without a lot of difficulty.

Icelanders have of course run into some bumps along the way. With globalization taking place, they have had to come up with new words for new inventions that weren’t around when the island was settled. The fantastic solution to this is to coin new words from ancient Viking roots. A classic example is the word for computer: "tölva". It is a hybrid formed from old words for number and prophetess.

But don’t worry. You don’t have to learn a lot of Icelandic since English is the official second language taught in schools, and it is spoken by most Icelanders.

If we were to recommend one sentence that you should learn in Icelandic it would be:

„I can't speak Icelandic [well]“: Ég tala ekki íslensku [svo vel]. (Yeh ta-la eh-ki ees-len-sku [svo vel].)

Polar bear

No. 4: What‘s the chance of getting attacked, eaten alive or being poisoned?

The simple answer: The chance of all that is small, almost non-excising.

First of all, there is a lot of wild life on Iceland, but most of it is not really interested in you. The biggest threat might just be the elves living in Iceland. It’s nothing to smile about - as many as 80% of Icelanders believe in the existence of elves. Even today, roads have been rerouted and building plans redesigned or abandoned to avoid disturbing rocks where elves are said to live. We don’t want them to get angry and revenge themselves on us (or on you).

Secondly, not many animals on Iceland have a big enough mouth to even eat you. Yes, you have the blue whale, but you are not even on the top 10 list over things blue whales like to eat. And Iceland is not the home of polar bears, so you are quite safe. In fact, the last polar bear to set it‘s paws on Icelandic territory was in 2010, and it was shot straight away. It is more dangerous to be a polar bear when visiting Iceland, in other words.

Camping in tents in Iceland

Thirdly, Iceland has one of the purest drinking waters in the world. In fact, it is so clean that it is piped into the city and to the kitchen taps without any treatment. So drink as much as you want without a worry.

When it comes to food, Iceland has a great cuisine: fresh seafood is all around and you will find mountain lamb so tender it will melt on your tongue in some of the great restaurants in Iceland

Icelandic barbecues in the snow

But we won’t lie; some of the cuisine is ... let's just say special. The traditional food was made with the only preservation methods available when people had to store up for the winter. That is, in the times before the refrigerator was invented. You will find delicacies like boiled sheep's head, pickled ram's testicles and loin bags. But worst of them all is the rotten shark. Rotten shark is chosen instead of fresh shark meat because the meat of the Greenland shark is poisonous when fresh. Then the shark is placed in a shallow hole in gravelly sand and which is then kept there for 6-12 weeks. So if you actually are afraid of getting poisoned, then this might be something to keep away from.

Dog sleds and huskies in the snow

No. 5: Am I allowed to bring my children to Iceland? And if no, what is the punishment for doing so?

If you can bring them on the plane, you can bring them to Iceland. The current government has no restrictions on bringing children into the country, and it is likely to stay that way for a long time.

Many seem to think that Iceland is so extreme that there is no point of bringing the first-born with them; that danger lurks behind every stone in the wild and that it is more a death wish that drives people to go to Iceland rather than the need for a relaxing vacation.

First of all, many children have been brought up in Iceland and they turned out just fine. Secondly, with the exciting nature so close, there is never a dull moment in Iceland, making it perfect for a family vacation. You don’t have to hike on a nine-day trail when you come here, you can simply go whale watching, ride quad bikes, ride a horse or try dog sledding, to mention some outdoors activities. Kids are more than welcome to Iceland, although they might have to be prepared for elderly Icelandic women pinching their cheeks and telling them how wonderful they look.

Beautiful Northern Lights and reflection

No. 6: Will I freeze to death?

It depends. Probably not, but the weather in Iceland is no joke. Since there are few trees in Iceland and the houses in the cities are only a few storages high there is not a lot of shelter to be found. In fact, from the Sagas in the 12th century they write about how people three hundred years before them had sailed into a green land covered with trees. This might be a sign that already in the 12th century trees were becoming scarcer. Now Iceland is the nation in the world which plants more trees per head than any other country. Each year 16 trees for every man, woman and child is planted, leading up to about four million a year. But that really won’t help you much when you are walking in the wind; we would rather suggest that you ask the question: What should I wear in Iceland? Then we can help you out.

But don’t forget the advantages the cold brings with it! You have to go this far north to be able to see the Aurora Borealis which makes up for every minus degree that may ever come to Iceland. 

Are you still afraid of coming to Iceland? Well, then don't hesitate to share your fears with us on Facebook, and we will try to answer you as well as we can!

Contributed: Elise Flåten Øygaren