How to Survive a Long Weekend in Iceland

Bring layers.  It was never warm, but the weather changes from sunny, to windy, to snowy, to violent sleet in a matter of minutes.  You are never safe.  I imagine Icelandic weathermen have the toughest job in the world.


Don’t go to the bathroom alone.  The bathroom line is never without incident, and it’s mostly because the Icelandic youth is blind, sloppy drunk on Friday and Saturday nights.  You’re waiting and someone will try to cut you, mostly because they don’t even notice you’re there because they’re so drunk.  Then somebody tries to cut them and so on.  Nobody but you just waits.  They pound on the door — repeatedly and aggressively — even if the person just went in.  When the door finally opens, five stumbling people come out.  You return to your table feeling as if you’ve gone to battle.  Next time, take a friend.

Dress like a hipster.  No matter how drunk they are, they still look good.  Most guys are in suits.  Not the Wall Street variety.  Think Reservoir Dogs or Farnsworth Bentley.  Some guys even clip on animal tails to their backsides.  Girls avoid labels but run with an extreme mix of vintage fashion.

Overdose on seafood.  Lobster chowder is to die for and monkfish cheeks are my new love.


Overreact when you see your friend you just saw last night (or at the last bar).  A simple hug or kiss on the cheek is never appropriate.  Icelandic people like slaps, screams, yelps, jumps and even group huddles.  These are ebullient people.

Understand you are “The Yank.”  There are only 120,000 people in Reykjavik, and less that head to downtown on Fridays and Saturdays for the runtur.  Americans will be noticed and approached.  Icelanders will take you under their wing, talk about how they love The Office (the American version) and how the American prom they went to was the “best night of their life.”  They will usher you into their favorite bars saying, “The Yanks are with me.”

Don’t be overly concerned about personal space.  The dance floor, no matter how roomy, will always mean shoves, spilled drinks and squashed, throbbing feet.  This has nothing to do with you.  It’s just the aforementioned sloppiness and ebullience.   Get over it.


Discover Nova TV.  Unless you want to hear the hit  song Yippee Yippee Yay! for the 10th time, get to know Nova TV, which plays almost 24 hour music videos.  Remember when MTV did that?

Visit the 24-hour Market.  It puts NYC bodegas to shame.  The place is slamming, the aisles are picked over and messy and the cashiers are security guards in full uniform.  It’s called aggressive shopping.

Learn a bit of chess.  I knew when the travel guide mentioned the fact that the Icelandic Chess Club met at a particular bar as a reason to visit, that this wasn’t the chess-type we’re used to.  When I mentioned that chess was big in Iceland, the guy at the contemporary museum said, “Yes, well, we can’t really engage in too many outdoor sports.”  At the Art of Chess exhibit at the Reykjavik Art Museum featured one-of-a-kind chess sets created by artists including Barbara Kruger and Damien Hirst.


Rent a car with snow tires.  We went with the cheapest car (our worst move of the trip) to explore life outside Reykjavik.  Once the landscape changes from volcanic to icy, you only see mega all terrain vehicles  coming your way, and there’s so much snow you can’t see five feet in front of you, abort the mission and turn around, no matter how adventurous you are feeling.

Take naps.  You will stay out late.  You will wake up early.  You will need naps.

Be aware of business hours.  One store was open only from 2-4PM.  On our first day, we couldn’t find a place to get breakfast at 8AM to save our life.  The shops at the mall close at 5PM.  

Brave the weather to get to the Blue Lagoon.  It is a true oasis and one of the purest experience of my life.  



Posted by: Mariela


4 responses to “How to Survive a Long Weekend in Iceland

  1. i wanna go!

  2. I’ll add this arctic Blue Lagoon to the tropic Blue Lagoon on my must-travel-to list! Great post, welcome home!

  3. I’m so incredibly jealous.

  4. wow… lovely write up and beautiful pictures. d and i were there several years ago… seems not much has changed 🙂

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