I think people have the wrong idea about Iceland. I think they picture Iceland as this land filled with outrageously tall, bleach blonde, drop dead gorgeous Vikings who eat puffins and believe in elves. Ok maybe the drop dead gorgeous part is real, but everything else is only a half-truth. With Iceland becoming a tourist hotspot, it is easy for misconceptions and stereotypes to arise. Let’s clear the air, and look at the top misconceptions about Iceland that need to end.
Myth #1: Icelanders Equal Vikings
Viking myths and history are heavily intertwined with the culture of all Nordic peoples. However, through modern media and television, Vikings are more often than not portrayed as bloodthirsty, violent criminals. These negative connotations of our ancestral forerunners become inherently tied to modern Icelanders. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Vikings did not solely pillage and burn. They did much, much more.
Men in traditional Nordic cultures were not limited to war and violence. The majority of men and women who went on these war parties spent their daily lives as fishermen, ironsmiths, farmers, and the like. Outsiders tend to overlook this fundamental aspect of our culture, and as such Viking myths are rampantly sensationalized. While we are proud of our heritage, it doesn’t define us. Icelanders are warm, highly-educated, empathetic people. We don’t want to sail to your shores, take your riches or plunder your villages! We are plenty happy here in our North Atlantic winter wonderland.
Myth #2: The Northern Lights Are On-Display Year-Round
Sorry everyone! The Aurora Borealis, more commonly known as the Northern Lights, are dazzling and mind-numbingly beautiful. The feelings elicited with this natural light show are visceral and awe-inspiring. But, they are fickle and capricious. The Northern Lights are not easy to come by, due to their unpredictability. I think a lot of people have this notion that they will step off their flight in Keflavík and they will be greeted by a heavenly display of emerald waves of light pulsating through the sky. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. This is especially true during the summer. You need clear, dark skies to see the Aurora Borealis in Iceland (or anywhere) and the Midnight Sun will prevent that. The best time to try to see the Northern Lights is from mid-September to mid-March.
Myth #3: You Don’t Need Sunscreen in Iceland
Hundreds of thousands of visitors travel to Iceland every summer chasing Instagram-breaking photos and breathtaking landscapes. But, they never think to bring sunscreen. Iceland is one of the cooler countries in the world, with regards to both temperature and just being a pretty neat place. On a typical summer’s day the temperatures range from 20-25 °C (high-60s to mid-70s °F), so you don’t have to worry about sweating to death. However, here on our quaint Nordic island, we experience almost more tangible daylight than any other place in the world.
So, if you are planning a trip to Iceland for your own personal Scandinavian adventure please, for me, remember to pack sunscreen. Most regions in Iceland experience over 14 hours of sunlight during any given day during our high season. Heck, during June the sun never technically sets in the north! We don’t want you returning home from your trip to Iceland with a bad sunburn. We want you feeling refreshed and relaxed after your pilgrimage to our island in the Atlantic.
Myth #4: Icelanders Only Eat Fermented Shark and Whale Blubber
Our culinary traditions in Iceland are based on a utilitarian need for sustenance. We ate what we had, and food can be scarce in an environment as harsh as ours. As such, we made due with what was around, and that was fish. A lot of fish. Our dishes from the past weren’t confined to fish; we also used to eat sharks and whales regularly. That isn’t the case anymore, sorry to burst the proverbial bubble. While it is true that we do sometimes eat them, but it is more about preserving our heritage than personal enjoyment. Have you smelled fermented shark?! Yeah, I could think of about a million other things I would choose to eat over that. Some Icelanders do have a penchant for devouring our aquatic finned friends, most of us don’t. In fact, I would argue that tourists consume the lion’s share of our of these meals.
Myth #5: There Are No Bugs In Iceland
Again, hate to burst your bubble, but it’s not true. Negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full. This misconception is raised from the fact that we famously do not have any mosquitoes here in Iceland. I have encountered mosquitoes several times abroad. You can keep ‘em. They are horrible little things. While we are spared the terror of having to deal with those flying bloodsuckers, we still have plenty of bugs and insects here. If you have ever driven through Iceland than you can attest to the validity of my claim. After a long drive through Iceland during the summer, your windshield looks like a Jackson Pollock painting of slain pests.
Myth #6: The Best Time To Visit Iceland Is During The Summer
Iceland is currently dealing with the positive and negative repercussions of tourism. While I am still of the mindset that currently the positives heavily outweigh the negative aspects of tourism, we could be headed for trouble if we don’t curb overtoursim. Overtoursim occurs when too many tourists visit a specific location within a small window of time. The stress on our infrastructure, environment, and our cultural future are distressing. This all stems from the fact that travelers prefer to visit Iceland during the summer. I recommend that the best time to visit us is in actuality right after the high season (high season is basically the summer months).
By coming to Iceland at the tail end of the high season, and into the beginning of fall you will have a much more authentic Icelandic experience. Fewer tourists are clogging the streets, prices for accommodation are lower, and you will generally have a more enjoyable time. If you are hunting the Northern Lights, they don’t appear until mid-September or so. By deciding to trek to Iceland at the beginning of fall or even early spring, you effectively are saving Iceland! Our off-season guests help deter overtourism, which in the long run keeps Iceland, well, Iceland!
Untrue Stereotypes About Iceland
I know, I know. I never addressed the height or blonde misconception. We are all relatively tall, but hair color is actually pretty diverse here. This is due to our Celtic and French ancestors. Misconceptions and myths surrounding Icelanders and Iceland appear to be running rampant through both word of mouth and social media. Before you get the wrong idea about Iceland (and, for instance, come here in the summer expecting the Northern Lights), you should do your research. We have a unique, diverse, and robust environment and culture here. Don’t get caught up in the myths mentioned above. And if all else fails, come and visit us so you can come to your own conclusions. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!