Local traditions and culture in Iceland

  • Concert on Arnarhóll hill.
    Concert on Arnarhóll hill.
    by Regina1965
  • Dikes on bikes.
    Dikes on bikes.
    by Regina1965
  • Concert in Lækjargata.
    Concert in Lækjargata.
    by Regina1965

Most Viewed Local Customs in Iceland

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    Trolls or Rocks??

    by sue_stone Written Jun 19, 2005

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    Icelanders believe their country is populated by hidden races of small people such as trolls and elves, who are responsible for bizarre rock formations that are dotted all over the country.

    I do have to agree that these formations look pretty unusual - like some one has been standing in lava fields stacking up piles of various size rocks.

    I have also read that they say some of these odd rock formations were actually trolls that were caught at sunrise doing something evil and were therefore turned into stone....

    The stone piles in the photo are located in a lava field in the middle of nowhere, on the road between Vik and Skaftafell. Very strange!

    Rocks...or perhaps trolls?
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    Icelandic Vehicles

    by sue_stone Written Jun 19, 2005

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    How silly did we feel in Iceland in out tiny hire car.....when the locals were driving scary looking 4WD's crossed with monster trucks!!

    Take a look at the photo for the typical type of vehicle we saw in Iceland. HUGE tyres are a must, which makes sense due to the arctic conditions for most of the year, coupled with the fact that many of the roads are unsealed.

    Some of the cars we saw were pretty funny - looked like they had taken a standard "city 4WD" and added the largest tyres available. Everywhere we went we saw troops of these cars, though I must say they did look a little out of place on the streets of Reykjavik!

    Ice Cool... Big Wheels! mean looking
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  • Regina1965's Profile Photo

    Þorramatur - The old Icelandic food.

    by Regina1965 Updated Mar 7, 2014

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    The period we call "Þorrinn" starts in the 4th month/thirteenth week of winter somewhere between the 19th and 25th of January. Then it is a tradition to eat the food our ancestors, who didn't have a refrigerator, had prepared for the winter.

    "Þorramatur", the food, consists of singed sheep-heads, sheep-head-jelly, smoked lamb, blood-pudding and liver-pudding (like haggis), various soured meat, made sour in whey, like ram-testicles, breast-of-lamb, and seal-flippers. Then we have dried-fish, rotten shark, and beaked whale, cooked rye bread and rye pancakes.

    The younger generation usually only eats dried-fish, rye pancakes, rye bread and smoked lamb out of the whole selection of Þorramatur, but there are exceptions to that (when I was a little girl I loved rotten shark).

    "Þorramatur" is an aquired taste, so if ever you are visiting Iceland at this time of year, end of January-beginning of February, and somebody asks you to "Þorrablót", i.e. when we gather together and eat "þorramatur" or you go to a restaurant and want to try "þorramatur", you are hereby warned what you are getting yourself into ;) Þorrablót as we celebrate them today started in the latter part of the 19th century amongst the upper class.

    But if you are up for trying something "new" here are the names in Icelandic and English:

    Svið=singed sheep-heads
    Sviðasulta=sheep-head-jelly
    Hangikjöt=smoked lamb
    Blóðmör=blood-pudding
    Lifrarpylsa=liver-pudding
    Hrútspungar=ram-testicles
    Bringukollar=breast-of-lamb
    Selshreifar=seal-flippers
    Hákarl=shark
    Hrefna=beaked whale
    Flatkökur=rye pancakes
    Seytt rúgbrauð=cooked rye bread
    Harðfiskur=dried fish
    Ýmis súrmatur=various soured meat.

    Þorri was a winter wight who was worshipped in the old Norse religion. When Icelanders converted to Christianity it was forbidden to worship Þorri. Þorri is described either as being fierce and hard, but in other tales as being an attentive supervisor of the farmers´ hay. He was greeted with generous amounts of food.

    Sour ram-testicles. Different variations of ��orramatur. Sheep-heads. Rotten Shark. Sheep-head-jelly.

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    SKYR - a fat-free dairy product.

    by Regina1965 Updated Dec 10, 2013

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    Skyr is a dairy product which used to be unique to Iceland and very popular here. The Vikings settlers brought the knowledge of skyr-making with them when they came over from Norway in ca 874.

    Skyr is really thick, made from pasteurized skim-milk which is cultured and concentrated. It contains no fat, but a high percentage of protein. It comes with all kinds of different flavours now, see my photos. When I was younger we bought a very thick chunk of skyr, unblended, and added sugar and water or milk to it and mixed it. It was traditionally eaten with milk or cream and sugar on top and it was/is a stable in the Icelandic diet. Sometimes skyr is called the Icelandic cheese ;)

    There are always new and new skyr products coming on the market, the latest idea being sea-weed/blueberry/honey skyr :) It is made with 100% Icelandic ingredients.

    And now there are assorted chocolates made from skyr, white chocolate with skyr fillings.

    Skyr can now be bought in some places in the USA now, have a look at their website for information on where it can be bought. And Icelandic skyr is becoming increasingly popular in Norway, from where the Vikings came to Iceland. In 2009 Norwegians ate 284 tonnes of skyr, but last year they ate 2.000 tonnes of skyr!! It seems like skyr making died out in Scandinavia, but stayed strong in Iceland (maybe it stopped being popular and the Vikings didn't hear about it, seeing that they were so isolated here on this island).

    Now skyr is being sold in the USA under the name of Greek Yogurt.

    "We" Icelanders eat ca 2.000 tonnes of skyr annually and export ca 5.000 tonnes of skyr. In the year 2013 skyr export increased by 56% in Scandinavia.

    Skyr is either exported from Iceland or produced abroad with a special permisson from Iceland.

    Do try it, it is both healthy and yummy. Unfortunately I became allergic to dairy products when I was 19, but I remember the taste well.

    The traditional plain skyr from MS. Skyr from MS with added fruit. Skyr from MS with added fruit. Skyr from KEA with added fruit. Skyr-drink from MS with added fruit.

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    Grapevine

    by bpwillet Written Jul 25, 2004

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    The is a free periodical which can be found in many different cafe's and especially the locak bookstores lining Laugavegur and the BSI Bus Terminal. It is in English and it lists local happenings, calendars of events, articles profiling local people and exhibits. Worth a look through if you are hoping to catch some local events.

    Local knowldege

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  • marielexoteria's Profile Photo

    Flavors of Iceland: skyr

    by marielexoteria Updated May 16, 2008

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    I have read about it while preparing for my trip and perhaps so have you. Skyr is a dairy product that has a slightly thicker yogurt like consistency, and according to a guide I got in Iceland it's a fresh cheese. I tried 2 different flavors from the brand skyr.is: vanilla, strawberries and one from KEA: blueberries and raspberry. The best one of the three was the latter. The vanilla flavor had a heavy aftertaste of soap, while the strawberry one had a less soapy aftertaste. In my opinion, this is (1) an acquired taste or (2) a love it or hate it snack hehe.

    Skyr
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    Icelandic: pronunciation guide and useful phrases

    by marielexoteria Updated May 24, 2008

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    Let's face it, Icelandic is weird at first sight (no offense people!). Fortunately for us, most Icelanders speak (very) good English but if you want to learn how to say that street name you're asking for, take a look at the picture called "pronunciation guide".

    Also, here are some phrases for you to try on:

    How old are you? = hvað ertu gamall? (male); gömul? (fem)
    My name is. . . = ég heiti. . .
    I don't know = ég veit ekki
    What is your name? = hvað heitir þú?
    Good day = góðan dag, góðan daginn
    Good evening = gott kvöldið
    Good night = góða nótt
    Goodbye = bless
    What will it cost? = hversu (mikið) kostar það?
    How much or is this? = hvað kostar þetta?
    I like that = Þetta líkar mér
    I don't like that = mér líkar þetta ekki
    Where is the. . . ? = hvar er. . . ?
    I am lost = ég er villtur
    Yes/no = já/nei
    What time is it? = hvað er klukkan?
    Welcome = velkominn
    Hello = halló
    Cheers = skál!
    Have a nice day = hafðu það gott
    Thank you = takk, takk fyrir
    You're welcome = það var ekkert
    Help! = hjálp!
    Excuse me = afsakið!, fyrirgefðu!
    I'm sorry = mér þykir það leitt.

    Pronunciation guide

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  • Regina1965's Profile Photo

    Icelandic surnames.

    by Regina1965 Updated Mar 5, 2012

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    Icelandic surnames are a bit confusing to foreigners as our surname derives from our father's first name plus "-son" (son) and "-dóttir" (daughter). F.ex. my father's name was Ragnar so my surname is Ragnarsdóttir (daughter of Ragnar) and my brother's surname is Ragnarsson (son of Ragnar). So in my family only my sister and I have the same surname.

    When we Icelandic women get married we keep our surname, so my name will always be Ragnarsdóttir. But when foreign women get married to Icelandic men it becomes a little confusing as they often change their maiden name to their husband´s surname, and are thus called f.ex. Hjálmarsson (son of Hjálmar)!! Married couple not having the same surname, and their children not having the same surname as their father and mother, used to cause confusion abroad and I remember my Uncle telling me that when he went abroad once, many years ago, with his wife the hotel reception didn't want to give them the same room as they didn't have the same surname ;)

    This is the most common custom, but there are some variations to this, you can f.ex. get your mother's name if the mother is a single parent, my son would then be called Regínuson ;) There are also some family names in Iceland, my mother's family name is Thomsen, as her great-grandfather was Danish. But she had to be Christened by this name or else she would have been Pétursdóttir as her father's name was Pétur Thomsen.

    There are ca 9.000 family names in Iceland and ca 27.000 people are registered with family names. The most common ones are Hansen, Blöndal and Thorarensen.

    So when looking up an Icelandic person in the phone-directory you look them up by their first name.

    We are almost all -d��ttir or -son.

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    Automated Gas stations

    by bpwillet Written Jul 21, 2004

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    So technology has done wonderful things for us. As travelers we get the opportunity to see how "they" do things in "their" country. Something that is very common in Iceland are automated gasoline pumps. Instructions in Icelandic and English are given but it can be quite confusing - or maybe that was just me in a rush to fill up the rental car's tank. Essentially you go to the automated teller (kind of like an ATM machine) you put your card in and tell it what pump # you are at. Then you select the price. I am not sure if there was the option for "fill it up" but you will only get to fill up to the amount you selected and you don't get change back. Then you go to the pump and begin pumping. When finished you can leave or get a reciept. Keep in mind that many gas stations are like this and they are not all that central around Reykjavik center, but towards the highway.

    Pumping gas in Iceland
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    One more ford !

    by JLBG Updated Nov 27, 2004

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    The Sprengisandur track has a great many fords to pass. Most are very easy, as this one. Other require checking first to avoid deep waters. In any case, it is advisable not to drive to fast (just a little bit, for fun !) as that might send water in the engine and drown it !

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    Obsidian search

    by JLBG Updated Nov 27, 2004

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    A short trek (one hour) leads to a place where there is obsidian (volcanic glass). It is amazing to look at these perfect black splinters of natural "glass". Its edges are sharper than a knife and it is easy to understand why our ancestors used obsidian for their cutting tools.

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    What temperature ?

    by JLBG Updated Nov 27, 2004

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    At first, the water temperature is pleasantly warm. The air is about +4°C, the water around 30-32°C ! When you swim, you will find that in some places, there are underwater hot springs and water is becoming hotter. Swim slowly and don't go too close, you might get burned !

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    Icelandic Skyr

    by bpwillet Written Jul 21, 2004

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    Skyr is a type of yogurt that is served as a dessert in Iceland. Usually accompanied with blueberry sauce and maybe even some blueberry sorbet, it is a real treat. It is served in many restaurants around Iceland or you can even pick up a pint of it at a local convenience store or grocer.

    Skyr with blueberries

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    Svarta

    by JLBG Updated Jul 2, 2004

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    Under ''Local customs'', will appear the south-central part of Iceland : Svarta, Kerlingarfjoll, Sprengisandur, Tungnafell, Lodmundur, Laugar,

    The name Svartá means black river, and there are several rivers of this name in Iceland. This one is on the way to Sprengisandur.

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    Polygonal soil

    by JLBG Updated Nov 27, 2004

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    Polygonal soils occur when these permafrost soils are made of thin matter and are on flat areas. The alternation of frost/defrost makes some elements of the soil to migrate and draws clearly polygons.

    That is what occurs in Sprangisandur (elevation 400-600 m), as well as at very high elevations in the Alps (2500-3000m)

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