Travel Tips for Iceland

Essential Icelandic Phrases and Customs for Travellers


Icelandic Flag Blowing in the Wind

 

If you’re planning on travelling to Iceland soon, it can be helpful to brush up on a few of the more prominent customs in Iceland, as well as learn a few words in Icelandic. Doing so will help you more easily navigate the country, especially if you’re going on a road trip, wherein you’ll likely need to interpret signage on the go.

That said, while this can be very helpful, you can rest easy that English is very well-understood in Iceland. However, just as you likely appreciate it when travellers come to your country and attempt to converse a bit in your home language, so do Icelanders appreciate it if you make the same effort to speak at least a few words in Icelandic.

Keep reading for a brief overview of the most helpful words to know in Icelandic, as well as some basic customs.

 

Basic Icelandic Words and Phrases

Knowing how to say “hello,” “goodbye” and similar can go a long way as you navigate the country. Consider learning some of these words in Icelandic:

  • Good morning/afternoon: Góðan daginn, pronounced “go-than-n die-in”

Technically, “góðan daginn” means “good day,” so you could use it at any time of day, as a basic greeting.

  • Hello: Hae or hallo

There’s also the more casual “hae” or “hallo,” which are pronounced just as they look, and which are equivalent to “hi” or “hello.”

  • Goodbye: Bless

Another Icelandic phrase that’s pronounced just as it looks, “bless” means “goodbye.” You can also repeat it twice, for the equivalent of “bye bye.”

  • Please: N/A

Interestingly, there’s no Icelandic word that specifically means “please.” Instead, Icelanders focus more on tone and other verbiage to denote politeness. So, if you want to display politeness while in Iceland, simply behave politely. Then, you can use the Icelandic phrase for “thank you!”

  • Thank you: Takk, pronounced “tah-k”

“Takk” is used all around Scandinavia and is simply the equivalent of the English “thank you.”

  • Sorry/Excuse me: Afsakið, pronounced “af-sah-kith”

If you accidentally bump into someone or need to squeeze by, you can use the casual Icelandic apology “afsakið.”

  • Yes/No: Ja, pronounced “yoh” and nei, pronounced “nay”

“Yes” and “no” are simple enough Icelandic words to remember. Just keep in mind that the Icelandic “ja” is pronounced “yoh,” rather than like the Germanic “ja.”

 

Travel Words in Icelandic

Direction sign in Iceland

There are a few Icelandic words that can be especially helpful to know if you’re travelling throughout the country. More specifically, when you're exploring by car, knowing these terms can help you navigate roads and interact with locals more effectively. You’ll be able to get directions if you’re lost, or ask for help if you happen to have a flat tyre or other issue.

  • Left: Vinstri, pronounced “ven-stree”
  • Right: Hægri, pronounced “high-ree”  
  • Straight ahead: áfram, pronounced “ah-from”
  • Bus: Strætó, pronounced “strigh-toe”
  • Car: Bíll, pronounced “beech”
  • Road: Vegur, pronounced “vee-wur”
  • Help!: Hjálp!, pronounced “help”
  • Where is…?: Hvar er...?, pronounced “vahr ir”

You’ll also want to learn a few of the words that you might see on roadway signs, as you drive around Iceland. For example, look out for:

  • Stopp: Stop
  • Hætta: Danger
  • Útgangur: Exit
  • Opið: Open
  • Lokað: Closed
  • Flugvöllur: Airport

One fun fact about the Icelandic language? You can look at longer words, specifically place names, and, based on the ending of the place name, you can make a pretty good guess at what that place is, such as a fjord, waterfall, glacier, etc. 

This is helpful to know as you drive around the country; for example, if you pass a sign that says “Godafoss,” and you know that place names that end in “foss” in Iceland refer to waterfalls, then you can make a safe assumption that Godafoss is a waterfall — and then you can decide to go check it out!   

Here are all the place name endings that are worth knowing, as well as what kind of attraction they represent:  

  • -á: River - Example: Iceland river names include Hvítá, Þjórsá and Tungnaá
  • -bær: Farm, township - Example: Iceland township names include Garðabær, Mosfellsbær and Reykjanesbær
  • -fell: Mountain - Example: Kirkjufell, which translates to “church mountain”
  • -fjörður: Fjord - Example: Some of Iceland’s fjords’ names include Hvalvatnsfjordur and Hafnarfjörður
  • -foss: Waterfall - Example: Öxarárfoss, which translates to “ax river waterfall”
  • -gata: Road, street - Example: Street names in Reykjavik include Grettisgata and Hverfisgata
  • -holt: Small valley, hollow - Example: Reykjholt, which translates to “smoke hollow”
  • -hraun: Lava - Example: Some of Iceland’s most famous lava fields include Geirlandshraun, Eldhraun and Skaftáreldahraun
  • -jökull: Glacier - Example: Snæfellsjökull, which literally translates to “snowy mountain glacier”
  • -kirkja: Church - Example: Hallgrímskirkja, which is a church named after clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson
  • -lón: Lagoon - Example: Jökulsárlón, or “glacier lagoon”
  • -vatn: Lake, water - Example: Þingvallavatn, or  Þingvellir Lake
  • -vellir: Fields - Example: Þingvellir, which means “assembly plains” or “assembly fields”
  • -vík: Cove, bay - Example: Reykjavik, which translates to “Bay of Smokes”

For more help getting around Iceland, beyond just the words you ought to know, check out our full guide to driving in Iceland.

 

Accommodation and Dining Terms

Whether you’re showing up for a night at a hotel or a meal at a restaurant, if you have a reservation, you can let the staff know by saying “Ég er með bokað” or “I have a reservation,” which is pronounced “yehg air meth bo-kahth.”

Later, when you’re enjoying a drink, you can cheers your travelling companions with the Icelandic “skál” or “cheers,” pronounced “sk-ahl.”

 

Need-to-Know Customs in Iceland

Beyond learning a few words in Icelandic, it’s also good form to keep in mind some basics of Iceland culture, customs and etiquette. Though friendly, Icelanders are typically reserved and will appreciate your acknowledgement of typical Iceland customs and behaviour.

For example, more generally, keep your voice on the lower, calmer side, when speaking with others and out and about. Respect others’ privacy and don’t invade others’ personal space. If you need to take a phone call in public, keep quiet, especially if you’re on public transportation.

Be quiet in public places in Iceland

When dining out, customs in Iceland dictate that you round up the bill as a gratuity, rather than leave a separate tip. You can find more information along these lines in our guide to paying and tipping in Iceland. As you visit restaurants around Iceland, be sure to try some of the Iceland culinary specialties, from lamb to fish!

If you visit some of the Icelandic hot springs, pay careful attention to the posted rules, and take care to maintain the hot springs’ relaxing, peaceful environment. Additionally, to keep the pools and hot springs clean, take a shower without a swimsuit, before entering the water.

If you’re invited into a local’s home, it’s common to take your shoes off at the door, so as to not trek in any dirt or debris.

And, lastly, while not so much of a manners concern, keep the weather in mind while in Iceland, for your own comfort. Iceland weather can change quickly, so pack for your trip to Iceland with care, bringing all the necessary weather gear.  

 

Need More?

While you can rest assured that most Icelanders will be happy to speak with you in English, if you need it, if you want to read more resources on Icelandic customs and the Icelandic language, before your trip, we have a few recommendations.

One, have Google Translate handy on your phone. In the odd instance that you meet someone who doesn’t speak English, it can help. It can also help you translate signage on the go. As you do so, you’ll find that you probably pick up a few words here and there.

If you want further language lessons, you can use Icelandic Online or apps like Memrise and Drops.

Lastly, consider reading "The Little Book of Tourists in Iceland" to learn more about Icelandic culture.

 

Ready for Your Upcoming Trip to Iceland?

We can’t wait to welcome you! An amazing trip all starts with embracing the local language and customs, so you can really immerse yourself in the Icelandic culture to the fullest. For more on all things living and travelling in Iceland, be sure to check out the Lava Car Rental blog, where we have guides to everything from Icelandic traditions and holidays to gas and EV charging stations in Iceland.

Seydisfjordur: traditional town in Iceland

While you’re there, don’t forget to check out our full lineup of car rentals. Whether you need a large SUV to take the entire family on an Icelandic road trip or a small, economy car for just yourself and a friend, for a short summer getaway, we have you covered with all this and more.

 Rent your Car in Iceland 

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