Iceland Local Customs

  • 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

Iceland Local Customs

  • Icelandic food

    Reykjavík Region Local Customs

    Don't be fooled, the only time someone eats sheepheads and shark are at the "Thorrablot", annual festivals in january/february to celebrate the month of Thorri (according to the old calendar). Then people eat that as well as some other things and drink brennivin. (picture from:

  • Language

    Reykjavík Region Local Customs

    Icelandic is considered difficult and archaic - the least developped of the modern Germanic languages (to which, among others, belong the Scandinavian languages, German, Dutch, Afrikaans, Frisian and English). The University of Reykjavík, however, recently posted a free online beginner's course in Icelandic on the internet! Very neat site I must...

  • Festivals/ Holidays

    Reykjavík Region Local Customs

    Reykjavík is probably not the first place people think about when looking for special places to ring in the New Year, but other major cities have nothing on the small capital of Iceland. Around 8:30 p.m., bonfires ("brenna") are lit up at different places in the city. Locals gather around these fires and sing traditional Icelandic songs. Around 10...

  • Fishing

    Reykjavík Region Local Customs

    Fishing is Iceland's most important industry. There economy depends heavily on fishing yet only a small percentage of the population actually work in the fishing industry. Nonetheless, almost every coastal town, city, or village has a fishing fleet. An amazing figure is that about 75% of Iceland's population lives in Reykjavik and the economy which...

  • Icelandic horse

    Reykjavík Region Local Customs

    The ICELANDIC HORSE - A completely pure breed. Horses from other countries may not enter Iceland, nor may horses return once they leave the country. Horses are seen everywhere including the city and riding is a popular sport. The Icelandic horse is unique in that it may have up to 5 gaits, most other breeds have 3.

  • Head-lights on 24/7 and more traffic...

    The highway code here in Iceland is that the head-lights need to be on 24/7. Even during the bright summer time the lights must be on. This is a good thing, cars are more visible like this and we are so used to this that I have noticed that if a driver has forgot to switch on the lights I don't notice the car.There is a fine for driving while...

  • Adopt a Settlement chicken.

    There is a stock of very colourful chicken in Iceland, called "landnámshænan" or the Settlement chicken, as these are descendants of the chicken the Vikings brought with them to Iceland.This stock of chicken was nearly extinct by 1970 and an Icelander, Stefán Aðalsteinsson, travelled across Iceland to collect the Settlement chicken to save it from...

  • Þorramatur - The old Icelandic food.

    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...

  • The Icelandic rescue team.

    During the Festival of the Sea The Icelandic search and resque organizations display jeeps and other resque equipment. On Fishermen's day the coast guard’s helicopter demonstrates rescue operations from the sea with the search and resque organization. Their resque achievements both at sea and on land are beyond words and we are VERY grateful for...

  • Rye-bread baked in hot springs in...

    It is an old tradition to use hot springs here in Iceland to steam/cook rye-bread. The photos I include are from bread-baking in the hot springs by Geysir and by Laugarvatn.The recipe for the rye-bread is 2 kilos rye, 300 gr sugar, 2 table-spoons salt, 5 tea-spoons dry yeast and 1,75 litres water. Knead the dough and put into an empty milk-carton....

  • Íslenski hundurinn - the Icelandic dog.

    The Vikings brought the Icelandic sheep-dog with them to Iceland back in ca 874. The Icelandic dog is unique. It is obedient, playful, kind, active, curious and does have a know-how.The Icelandic dog is a sheep-dog, so the only drawback for it being kept as a pet is that it barks a lot when guests come for a visit. The Icelandic dog is trained for...

  • Whaling in Iceland.

    There is a lot of controversy on whaling in the world. And some misinformation. Icelanders hunt some types of whales, f.ex. the small mink whales. We have a quota for hunting 145 finbacks (langreyður) out of 20.000 around Iceland, but haven´t used that quota. Finbacks are now on the watch list of IUCN, as there was massive overfishing of finbacks...

  • SKYR - a fat-free dairy product.

    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...

  • Icelanders are called the book-nation.

    We Icelanders love reading books and are called "bókaþjóðin" or the book-nation. Ca 2.500.000 books are sold here each year - and we are a nation of only 318.200 people (give or take a few). So that means that Iceland sells more book per capita than any other nation in the world.Most of the books are published before Christmas - we call it The...

  • Iceland is the best place in the world...

    According to a research Newsweek made Iceland is the best place in the world for a woman to live in. We got 100 out of 100 for justice.90,5 for health.96,7 for education.88 for economics.92.8 for politics.In Iceland is the lowest infant deaths in the world (it didn't used to be this way though).And 14,7% children in Iceland are born by a Caesarean...

  • Icelanders and foreigners.

    Until ca 1998 there were few foreigners in Iceland. Iceland is remote and foreigners living here were mostly spouses of Icelandic people, whom Icelanders had got to know while studying abroad. And there were fugitives here from former Yugoslavia and Vietnam. Then ca 12 years ago Iceland experienced a big wave of migrant workers. Times were good and...

  • Brennivín - "Black Death"

    This alcoholic beverage is our local ... It is called Black Death and is made from potatoes and seasoned with Caraway seeds. It is a very strong drink and always served chilled. The bottle is put in the freezer. The taste is very strong and it is traditionally drunk with fermented shark at Þorrablót.When I was younger and partying down-town...

  • The diet of the Vikings.

    There is a new research (winter of 2010) which shows that the diet of the Vikings seemed to have been both healthy and slimming. They apparently lived on fish, especially salmon and trout from the rivers and herring. They ate reindeer meat and wild-berries and they grew cabbage.Now this new research doesn´t seem to fit what the Vikings ate here in...

  • Religion in Iceland.

    The Icelandic nation is mainly Christian, we are not avid church-goers on the whole though. Apart from going to funerals, Christenings and weddings. But there are some more devout than others.Here is a list of how the nation is divided in their beliefs (2010 and 2011):The Established church: 183.697 (77,2% of the population in 2011)The Catholic...

  • The belief in the old Nordic gods.

    The Vikings who came to Iceland in ca 874 were mostly "ásatrúar", i.e. they were pantheists and believed in the gods Óðinn, Þór etc. In the year 1000 Christianity was adopted here in Iceland, and the belief in the old Nordic gods was forbidden by law. But even now there is an authorised religious organisation called Ásatrúarfélagið which practices...

  • Iceland and swimming

    Iceland has a real 'bathing-culture'.No matter how small a town is, there's bound to be a swimmingpool with a hotpot.Whereas in other countries people meet up in bars/pubs, Icelandic people tend to go to the pool and soak in a hotpot to exchange the latest news and chitchat.Almost all of the pools we've seen so far were outdoor, sometimes with a...

  • Washing before bathing

    Icelanders love nothing more than chatting in an outdoor hot tub so there are pools & spas everywhere. You must strip & wash thoroughly in the shower before being allowed in.This will not surprise anyone from Denmark, Norway or Sweden but it may come as a surprise/shock if you're from the UK, France or Italy. None of that 1/2 second 'shower' with...

  • The Icelandic national costume.

    The historical data of the Icelandic national costume date back to the 16h century. There are 5 types of national costumes here for women; the bodice (upphlutur), "faldbúningur", "peysuföt", "skautbúningur" and kirtle (kyrtill). I think the "skautbúningur" is so beautiful, my mother got married to my father in such an a beautiful blue...

  • The most common Icelandic names.

    The most common male name here in Iceland is JÓN and the most common female name here is GUÐRÚN.Other male names on the top of that list are: Sigurður, Guðmundur, Gunnar, Ólafur and Einar.And other female names on the top of that list are: Anna, Sigríður, Kristín, Margrét and Helga.Now the younger generation is giving different names to their...

  • Pure Icelandic water.

    Although our hot water is geothermal water and has a distinctive smell, our cold water is very pure. You can drink our cold water from the tap and we have big reserves of pure cold water. Iceland has got the biggest water reserves in the world.So you really don't have to buy bottled water here, if you have bought a bottle at the airport f.ex., just...

  • Many more custom tips.

    I have only added a few Icelandic custom tips here on my Iceland pages. But I have added many, many custom tips on my Reykjavík pages f.ex.: drinking habits, homosexuality in Iceland, Icelandic, gender equality, different festivals, Christmas traditions, big trucks and many more.So please look up these pages if you want to know more about Icelandic...

  • Icelandic surnames.

    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....

  • A few facts about Iceland and the...

    Our main export is not fish but aluminium. Iceland is in the 17th place of the largest fishing nation, catching 2% of all the fish caught in the world. 39% of our export earnings come from fish.6,8% of the population in Iceland were foreign citizens (January 1st, 2010).Most foreign citizens travelling through our international airport are British...

  • The Icelandic language.

    Icelanders speak Icelandic, a language so similar to what the Vikings spoke that the Vikings and the modern Icelander could easily have a conversation. The Vikings who came here in ca 874 were from Norway, so Icelandic is old Norwegian. The Norwegian spoken in Norway today is quite different from the language which has been preserved here, and we...

  • Cod liver oil - a good source of Vitamin...

    Seeing that Iceland is so far north and that the winters are dark - and not too much sunshine during the summer time - we need to take cod liver oil to get our Vitamin D. When I was little cod liver oil was given to us in school, everybody had to stand in a row and wait their turn for their daily dosis of Vitamin D. Nowadays Icelanders eat less...

  • The old children toys.

    The old Icelandic toys for kids are in Icelandic called "leggur og skel" animal bones and shells. These included also stones, sticks and horns. I include a photo of a poem in Icelandic about how these things were turned into horses, dogs etc. Bones were used for horses, jaw-bones were used for cows and guns, conches were used for dogs etc.I saw...

  • Take off your shoes

    In all the guesthouses and hostels that we stayed in you were expected to take off your shoes at the door to help keep the house clean, and everyone is walking around on socks or flipflops. This was a bit strange at first and can be a bit inconvenient if you have just laced up your hiking boots only to realise that you have forgotten something in...

  • Icelandic weather.

    What is said about Icelanders is that they never get tired of talking about the weather. Which is no wonder seeing that we very often have a kind of a sample's weather. So one never knows how to dress - in one day you can get sunshine, wind, clouds and rain, then sunshine, clouds, heavy rain again etc. So on clear and sunny days we bring a coat...

  • The reason for the Beer ban...

    I was asked to clarify the reason why there was alcohol in Iceland, but beer was banned until 1989. Here is my reply:The origins of the ban are somewhat murky. I know that when I was growing up in Reykjavik, the "Good Templars" were an organization whos main apparent issue was alcohol prohibition. They were adamant about the prohibition of beer....

  • Modern Art

    We visited a lot of museums while in Iceland and it became apparent that the Icelanders have a great love of modern art. It was all quite nice but some of it left me scratching my head - especially the Erro collection (whoa!!!). Anyway, the Reykjavik Museum of Art has many sites, each displaying different art forms so I'd recommend that and also...

  • The Icelandic horse

    The Icelandic horse is unique and much admired. It is descended from the horses the Norwegian viking settlers brought with them to Iceland in the 9th century. There are many good websites on the Net containing information on the Icelandic horse. Here is a small list: Horse colours, Icelandic horse magazine Online (Eiðfaxi),, Eldhestar...

  • We hunt and eat shark.

    There is a tradition here in Iceland to eat shark. It is hunted or gets entangled in the nets of fishermen. The shark-meat is poisonous, so it has to be processed. The meat is buried in a pile in crates and allowed to ferment for 6-8 weeks. Then it is hanged up for 4 months. It is fermented during the winter time, when it is cold outside and hanged...

  • The wasp and Icelanders.

    Before 1973 we did not have any wasp here in Iceland. They came here uninvited with imported bananas in 1973 and the first wasp's nest was found in Reykjavík in 1977. And now there are 4 species here!!Life was easier here without the wasp, which we call "geitungur". We don't mix well at all and this Icelandic wasp is now very tough after 37 years...

  • Planting of the Alaska-lupina.

    Seeing that the Icelandic sheep has all but destroyed our vegetation here in Iceland we needed to do something about this, so that the land would not be blown out to sea. So the solution to this sand and barren ground all over the place was to plant a lot of Alaska-lupina. This proved to be a good idea, seeing that the lupina spreads like crazy. So...

  • Fermented skate on the mass of St....

    It is a tradition to eat fermented skate/ray on the 23rd of December in Iceland. We call that day "Þorláksmessa" or the mass of Saint Þorlákur (who died on the 23rd of December 1193). In older days when Iceland was still a Catholic country people were supposed to fast (not to eat meat) until 24th of December, so fish was eaten. And only what was...

  • Iceland has no army.

    Iceland has no army of its own. We are a nation of only 330.000 people, so it is impossible for us to have an army I think.Iceland used to be defended by NATO until October 30th 2006, when the Americans decided to evacuate their base in Keflavík, after having stayed here for 55 years. Iceland was occupied by the Brits during WW2 and after the war...

  • Grýla - the mother of the Yulelads.

    Here in Iceland we have 13 Yulelads, which are quite different from Santa Claus, but now we have all but adopted the American Santa Claus. There are records of names of 80 Yulelads, but somehow these 13 Yulelads have stayed with us until the modern times.Our original Yulelads were spranksters and all of them have their special name. 13 days before...

  • Our relationship with the raven.

    We have a special relationship with the raven. We leave them alone and they leave us alone, until recently. One raven tried to attack people so they had to flee into their house. The raven stood on their porch and was ready to attack. The poor people had to call for help. Since then we are not quite sure what to think of the raven.The raven here in...

  • How to get to know Icelanders.

    Seeing that we Icelanders live so far up north on a remote island we don't mix that easilly. There is an equal sign between the nordic nations not being so outward and the southern nations being outwardly warm and welcome. The cold weather has made us introvert and sarcastic I guess. But once you get to know us then you will see that we are totally...

  • Sniffing is not considered rude here.

    Now, this is a story I heard of a business meeting between Icelanders and foreigners abroad. The meeting went very well but the foreigners were totally put off by the Icelanders´ sniffing. I had not thought about this before reading about this, but we do sniff - and that is not considered to be rude, so bear with us :) The winter lasts for a long...


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