Visiting Iceland

Posted in Travel on August 2017

The axiom about Iceland is that it’s expensive and relatively cold—even in the summer. Those are two things of which most people are already well aware. However, there are many aspects that vastly changed my preconception of the country after visiting the land of fire and ice. For background purposes, I stayed in Iceland for eight days in Reykjavik and drove to several towns, like Selfoss, Reykholt, and Vík. Because of my predisposition’s revision, I want to share my experiences that I find most intriguing about Iceland.


I’ve stated in previous posts that, when traveling overseas, I make a point to visit museums. I love museums because they unravel unique stories from that particular country’s perspective. Unfortunately, Iceland’s museum exhibits were very underwhelming. It’s a country that’s still trying to find their mark in history. It’s not a country that has great tales of victories in the World Wars nor major political highlights. For so long, and in many ways still is, it was a country of farmers, hunters, and fishermen. Therefore, creating a compelling narrative has fallen short due to the lack of “interesting” storytelling. I fully believe their country’s history can be spun into something great, though. Their museums dabbled in brief Viking histories, settlement stories, and the infamous Sagas of Icelanders. Not to sound like a museum snob, but most of their museum exhibits are poorly executed. The inability to developing a unique narrative has created disjointed recounts. With that being said, there seems to be new breath in their storytelling as they build new attractions. For instance, the best exhibit was in the Perlan Museum. Their glacier and ice cave exhibit was a great, hands-on experience. Not only was it unique exploring inside a man-made ice cave, but their interactive exhibit regarding glaciers was extremely informative. The Perlan is diligently working to create more exhibits, which gives hope to better experiences.

Perlan museum
Perlan Museum

To no fault of their own, there weren’t classical Icelandic painters. Thus, the few painters from the nineteenth and twentieth century take center stage, but there’s still not much work. The other issue is that Iceland can’t compete with the likes of the Louvre in Paris and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. Meaning, they don’t have a collection of famous works. Now, that’s not entirely a bad thing. A lot of famous art, in my opinion, is overrated. Works from local artists can easily triumph those of famous painters. Finally, because there isn’t an overflow of famous or classic art from Iceland, their art museum exhibits were overflowing with modern art. A style, I’m not too fond of seeing. However, if modern art is your preference, then you’ll find it interesting.

As Iceland is trying to find its voice, I sincerely believe it’s only a matter of time before their museums flourish with incredible work. Their newly renovated Perlan is already making great strides and I hope the rest will learn from their achievements.

Economic Climate

Without a shadow of doubt Iceland’s economy is built around tourism, while it continues to build for tourists. Their main income is from foreigners visiting the country. I didn’t meet a single Icelander who couldn’t speak English—young or old. Although taught a second language at an early age, they are well aware that most people visiting can’t speak Icelandic. English is also the bridge language when speaking with people from China, Germany, France, etc. There are a plethora of excursions, from whale watching to hiking inside a dormant volcano. If you can think of a unique trip to do while in Iceland, they probably have an excursion for it. Consequently, Iceland is ready and willing to accept tourism.

Because of tourism encouragement, I found two very interesting things while visiting. First, when traveling outside of city limits, there’s a chance you’ll have to pay to use the bathroom. I don’t mean restaurants or gas stations, but within remote parks. I visited countless places that required you to pay before using their facility. Now, as bad as that might sound to some, it does makes sense. Having thousands of tourist using bathrooms everyday requires cleaning, toilet paper, soap, etc. That means someone needs to be hired for upkeep. However, I also encountered places were I had to pay to park AND pay to use the bathroom. To me, that was too much. In a country that’s already very expensive to visit, it felt like you were hemorrhaging money at every turn. Second, is building infrastructures for tourists. At the apartment I stayed in, a fuse blew and the building lost power. While searching for the fuse box, I found a lady and her husband who helped locate and turn the power back on. We chatted for a while about the building and how rain will short circuit wiring, thus blowing fuses. The husband explained that they needed an electrician to fix the wiring, but Iceland has a shortage. The reasoning, all electricians were working on building infrastructures for tourists, like hotels. They are at a deficit in carpenters, plumbers, and electricians. They seemed to be comfortable knowing issues wouldn’t be quickly fixed, though. Maybe because they knew tourism is what is keeping jobs and the economy afloat. Or maybe because Icelanders are relatively laid-back.

Eight Days Later

Eight days is only a brief snapshot of life in Iceland. It’s certainly not enough time to fully evaluate, explore, or even properly describe daily life. Iceland is a country that’s still trying to find their identity. It’s an expensive country that has some of the most beautiful and well preserved landscape in the world. Because of that, tourism is their lifeline. This influx gave way to MANY people from the United States—not something I’ve seen much when traveling. A significant difference with tourism in Iceland is that it’s a family affair. There was an overwhelming number of families visiting. Most of the children were young—ranging from 7 to 15 years old. Our flight to Reykjavik initially proved this as the flight had many children on-board. In retrospect, it makes sense bringing children to Iceland. It’s safe and there’s enough sights and small hikes to keep them entertained. However, I can’t image their total cost for the trip because, once again, it’s very expensive.

Albeit nearly all Icelanders can speak English, their country’s language is Icelandic. The unique Icelandic characters and long words still gave the country a foreign feel. Also, if you think you can pronounce any of their Icelandic words, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Street signs, towns, and food on the menus were severely butchered with foreigners trying to pronounce. However, all the menus I viewed had a side in Icelandic, and a side in English. The museums had roughly 95% of the literature on exhibits and pamphlets in both Icelandic and English as well. I debated with myself whether I enjoyed that everyone spoke English or if it hindered the experience of visiting a foreign country. I even took time to learn, as best as possible, a few words and phrases to make the visit a bit easier. Regardless, it was certainly easier that a language barrier didn’t hurt the visit.

Icelandic Road Signs

Despite the expensiveness of Iceland, it’s a beautiful and friendly country. A country that I would ultimately like to revisit and experience during the winter. If you’re debating about traveling to the land of fire and ice, you won’t be disappointed.

Back To Top