On a recent visit to Philadelphia and New York City I remembered how intimidating it can be to visit a new city/country for the first time. When I was younger I would jump on a plane without giving it much thought (I once decided to move to England on a Thursday and was there on the following Tuesday) but nowadays I have to know certain things about my destination before I commit to anything. In case there are any kindred spirits out there I compiled this list of five things that is good to keep in mind for first time visitors in Iceland.
1) Drink the Icelandic tap water
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: If you’re one of those tourists that go straight from the plane to the supermarket to buy 10 liters of water for your stay – we will secretly make fun of you behind your back. Drinking the Icelandic tap water is completely safe and there’s nothing in it you have to worry about. You don’t need to filter it and you most certainly don’t need to buy water. The reason you can even buy water at the supermarket is that someone has caught up on your water insecurities and is trying to gain from it financially. It’s the same water!
You may find a smell that many say resemble rotten eggs (where have all these people been in contact with rotten eggs is my question) but that’s the smell of the geothermal hot water (sulfur to be exact) and not the cold. If you can smell it when you run the cold water just wait a few seconds and you should get rid of it. In some areas the cold water will smell a little, like in Borgarnes for example, but even when it smells it’s still safe to drink
2) Icelandic money
The currency in Iceland is called Icelandic króna, written ISK or sometimes (incorrectly) IKR. The Euro, despite popular belief, is not an official currency in Iceland. Many tourism companies will only display their prices in Euros (which I believe is illegal according to Icelandic law but that’s a different story) but that’s mostly for your convenience. Once you’re in Iceland you’ll have to use Icelandic krónur in most places.
Icelanders are not big on carrying money though so our preferred payment method is either debit or credit cards. Many people, myself included, hardly ever use money and you will be able to use your cards almost everywhere. The only exception I can think of right now are the city buses where you’ll have to pay the exact amount as they can’t give change.
Because there are not a lot of banks outside of Iceland that carry the Icelandic króna you’ll be happy to know that there’s a bank and an ATM at Keflavík Airport where you can exchange your currency into ours. .
3) Buying alcohol
You can’t buy alcohol in supermarkets in Iceland. In fact the only places you can buy alcohol are the state owned alcohol shops called Vínbúðin. You can find small Vínbúðin outlets in many towns around the country but if you are staying in downtown Reykjavík the closest one is Vínbúðin Austurstræti, across the street from the Laundromat Café. There’s another one in Kringlan Shopping mall (Smáralind also) but the exact locations of the alcohol shops can be found on Vínbúdin’s website.
4) The whole showering naked debacle
I’m sure you’ve heard, either from you horrified friends that visited before you or at one the many sites that offer information about Iceland, but if you want to soak in one of those super nice Icelandic geothermal pools you will have to shower naked before entering. My advice is to just get over it because there’s no way around this.
I for one hate the walk from the showers to the pool more than the showering part (when my wobbly bits are on display for all to see, not just the women who happen to be showering at the same time as I) and I don’t really see the big deal with other women possibly catching a glimpse at my lady-parts. It’s not like a bikini covers much anyway.
After visiting America again earlier this year I also find it kind of funny that it’s mostly Americans that complain about this but they all happily use the public bathrooms in America with their gaps in the stalls where everyone can see you do your business (seriously, what’s up with that?). If I had to choose between peek-a-boob and peek-a-poop I’d happily flash every time.
5) Abandoned baby carriages
Last but not least, if you see a seemingly abandoned baby carriage while strolling down Laugavegur, fully equipped with a sleeping baby, don’t call the police until you’ve made sure its parents are not sipping coffee at a nearby coffee house. It’s completely normal in Iceland to leave a sleeping child outside (most Icelandic children sleep outside every day from a young age) and rest assured there is someone watching that baby, either through a window or a baby monitor. It’s not child neglect, nobody is going to steal that baby and all is well with the world.