Icelandic Language Blog

6 things Iceland doesn’t have. Posted by on Apr 28, 2016 in Icelandic culture


Cuando los sueños se hacen realidad by Andrés Nieto Porras at Flickr.

Even though Iceland has many awesome things to offer, some things you might take for granted it just doesn’t have. This might come as a surprise on many occasions so be prepared in advance because occasionally our lack of something may have a huge effect on your stay. Iceland does compensate for what it doesn’t have with what it does have, but it’s still good to know what is not here and whether or not you should take that into account.


Minør by Andrew Bowden at Flickr.


Public transport in Iceland means buses and buses only. There are no trains, let alone trams or underground trains, so just in case you thought to travel around using the public transport you may have to reconsider. Buses do take you around the island but they don’t run that often, are expensive and within Reykjavík often uncomfortable, and let’s not even talk about the connections. The connections don’t exist. My SO once considered taking a bus to work but gave up when he realized that a 10min drive would take more than half an hour on the bus and include one change of bus on the way.

If you’re planning on traveling on the countryside by bus, read the schedules carefully! Some days there may be a connection only halfway, so when you get to your bus changing stop you may have to wait for your connecting bus to the next day (I’m not kidding, if you’re traveling south coast further than Vík make sure you’re traveling on the right day or you’ll be stuck at Vík).


Isn’t it amazing that Ronald McDonald never has gained weight by Steve Baker at Flickr.


When Iceland’s economy went belly-up McD jumped ship first and has never been seen again. Most likely they were only happy to go, considering how fiendishly complicated Icelandic taxation is in comparison to the American one. I assume that it’s much for the same reason that we don’t have Starbucks either.

We do have Dunkin’ Donuts, IKEA and Lindex though! You should have seen the queues when they first opened.


Happy dog by scott feldstein at Flickr.


Wait, that’s wonderful news right? Right? Well, yes, as long as you don’t plan to move in and take your dog with you. The quarantine period for your friend is long, lonely and expensive, you have to prepare well in advance for it, make sure all necessary vaccinations are taken and within the time windows given, and book a place for your pet at a quarantine station. There’s no way around it.

There’s also nothing to compensate rabies with, unless horrible fairytale monsters count. They can also kill you and much, much faster! Trolls, skugga-baldurs and skoffíns and many, many more.


Royal Python by The Reptilarium at Flickr.

Snakes and lizards

Yup, we have none. Sadly this means you’re not allowed to bring in one either. What we do have is plenty of ground nesting birds and introducing any type of an animal that feeds on them might cause a disaster if it managed to escape.

This one we compensate by having a huge dragon/lake monster instead, but be careful if you happen to see it… it’s a 100% carnivore and occasional humans are an acceptable meal if old stories are to be believed.


Viking by Hans Splinter at Flickr.


No, Icelanders are not vikings by ethnicity, because being a viking was never an ethnicity… it was a job. Any person who decided to get on a longship and sail over to Europe was a viking, and once they came back they were no longer vikings unless the plan was to head out again. No one is going a-viking any longer (with the exception of some politicians, but even they rather take money out of the country than bring it in).  (This paragraph has been reworded a little for clarity, because Gina and Armann made a really good point in the comments section.)

What we do have instead are Medieval re-enactors! You can usually see them in any kind of a big gathering, holiday or a Medieval-related occasion, decked out in their best and teaching children the basics of axe throwing and sword fights. Best time to catch some of them is the annual Viking festival in the town of Hafnarfjörður right below Reykjavík at hotel/restaurant Fjörukráin (link).


Light Night Show by Andrés Nieto Porras at Fllickr.


Well, to be honest we do have aurora, we just don’t always have it. Summertime aurora cruises may be waste of money: first of all aurora are far more common during the winter and secondly it barely gets dark here during the summer. The night is nightless, so light that whatever aurora there might be would be completely light-hidden. Even in the winter there’s never any guarantee that they’ll be on, with aurora all depends on luck.

Instead we have a lovely night sky. Amazing all around the year when the weather’s clear, from the colourful autumn sunsets to winter stars to spring rainbows to summer light, the vast openness of this country and how far apart the towns are means that you’ll easily get a nice view. I recommend driving outside of the city for night sky viewing, especially the winter and Milky Way are a lovely sight!

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About the Author: hulda

Hi, I'm Hulda, originally Finnish but now living in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I'm here to help you in any way I can if you're considering learning Icelandic. Nice to meet you!


  1. Gina Conkle:

    What?!? “Icelanders are not Vikings and they don’t originate in Vikings…”

    Most of Iceland’s first settlers came from Norway. That sounds like “origination” to me.

    I don’t think your statement translates well to English.

    • hulda:

      @Gina Conkle Hello and nice to meet you! You’re right, maybe it came across a bit clumsy – English is not my first or second language so I do make mistakes. What I meant to say was that being a viking is and never was an ethnicity. It was a profession instead.

      So actually you’re right, you can say Icelanders originate in vikings if you mean the profession of sailing and that alone. Most likely everyone had at least one viking in the familyline somewhere, that is, a guy who decided to hop on a boat and sail somewhere. It’s true though that that’s the way people got here in the first place – could be best to reword my post a little bit.

      Thank you for the feedback! 🙂

  2. Armann:

    Well I dont think this is written in a very good way we do not have any other transportation than our own cars, taxi and busses and the public trasport system is very expensive.

    We nolonger have MCDonalds. But we have many burger plases that sell same quality burgers.

    Rabies is a good thing altho I see the problem with dog owners that would like to travel with there dog here.

    Snakes and lizards yes thats true we do not have any snakes or lizards but we have 2 types of scorpions “” here is an article about them in icelandic sorry could not find an english one fast….

    The vikings. The settlers of Iceland where viking so that makes them our ancestors and we vikings but that does not mean we go around killing people just for being vikings. But then again the vikings where also traders “” here is a wikipedia article about that. So I would say we are still vikings but we have changed and adapted to the world around us like any other people.

    And the arora borialis yes they can be hard to see specially if you are in the towns or city because of the light polution and summer time is too bright for people to see it. And you are more likely to see them the further north that you go.

    Greetings from Armann.

    • hulda:

      @Armann Hi Armann and welcome! You’ve got many good points in your comment and maybe I’m a little bit unfair about the public transport system… my previous home town (Helsinki) probably spoiled me a little. I also reworded my vikings -part a little because yeah, that was a bit haphazardly written and didn’t quite convey what I meant to say, thank you for the feedback. 🙂

      I had no idea about the scorpions, this sounds really interesting! I’m going to read up on them. And you’re right about the hamburgers too… who misses McD, I know I don’t. ANY hamburger bought anywhere in Iceland tastes far better than anything on the McD menu.

  3. Stefania:

    Actually, being a west Icelander, I thoroughly enjoyed your article
    and totally understand the difficulty with translation.

    Your article was witty and humourous and served its purpose well;
    to cause people to think a little before they jumped on the band wagon.

    As a hopeful visitor to my ancestral homeland one day, it is good to
    consider the information that you shared, particularly about the transportation situation.
    I have no interest in McDonalds, or taking my dog to Iceland (unless I
    decide to move there), and who knows someday I may consider this

    Common sense should clue one in about the lovely aurora borealis and
    cause them to plan their trip accordingly, should they like to witness this night magic

    As for snakes, I will quite happily do without them, scorpions for that matter, too

    Awww, vikings, a matter dear to my heart…. my ancestors are from both Norway and Iceland, so “viking” blood fills my veins…

    “Vikings” , however, are much more than the blood thirsty killers portrayed in modern drama

    They were ship builders and masters, explorers, metalsmiths, pioneers, survivors, farmers, scribes, entrepreneurs, scholars, scribes, family people, and so much more

    I am proud to be a descendant of these great peoples and look forward to visiting my ancestral homelands one day.