Culture, Conduct & Customs in Iceland

Iceland is without a doubt one of the most beautiful countries in the world, where a trip out of the city can feel like your car turned in to a rocket transporting you to another world.  The geology of Iceland has shaped it in to something I have never seen anywhere else, and can’t wait to return.  More importantly the global peace index in 2015 and 2016 rated this as the safest country (based on a 22 point system covering crime, internal conflict, involvement in outside conflicts, terrorism and much more – check the wikpedia page for more details) in the world!

Some things to point out:

Crime

Crime in Iceland, especially violent crime is very rare.  As an example in 2013 it was the first time ever that armed police had to kill some one – the murder rate in that year was a single individual…  That is even though for the 300,000 or so inhabitants of the island, there are 90,000 or so guns!  When in Iceland the lack of crime is clear and you can walk around, even at night and feel perfectly safe.  Obviously as with anywhere there are counts of burglary and pick-pocketing etc but keep your wits about you, and this is (as mentioned above) the safest place to spend your time.

reykjavik

Dress

The Icelanders are quite a liberal bunch and it is important mainly just to dress appropriate for the weather.  Obviously you can’t just walk around Reykjavik naked – this would still be illegal, just like in most places, however nudity in Iceland is something you can get away with in the right context.  For example you’re out in the country side and see a lake or hot pool, it is fine to going skinny dipping – lets face it, there’s a good chance that you’ll be the only one there anyway!  On the other hand when you go swimming and the pool has a sex divided changing room it is mandatory to shower before going in to the pool, and this has to be done naked – this includes the blue lagoon!

Drinking

Alcohol is a strange one in Iceland and I won’t go in to too much of the history here as many sites dedicate whole pages to this weird relationship the Icelandic people have with booze!  However the short of it is that whilst there was a public vote on prohibition in 1908 the law didn’t go in to effect until 1915, but was then again partially lifted in 1921 to once again allow wine (to please the Spanish who apparently didn’t have anything else to trade for Icelandic cod).  In 1935 a further part of the ban was lifted to allow the sale of spirits…  However beer over 2.25% was still banned, right up until 1898!

These days however you can buy spirits, wines and beer at the majority of restaurants and bars, however supermarkets still only stock beers under 2.25%…  If you want to buy stronger booze you need to visit a Vínbúðin (wine shop) which is state run, and often run at very strange hours.

The drinking age in Iceland is 20 and drink driving restrictions are very tight at just 0.05% blood alcohol level…  So basically, if you’re driving, don’t drink at all!

Drugs

As with the vast majority of places, drugs are prohibited in Iceland, and can incur high fines and possibly even prison time (even just in small quantities for your own use).  As seen above drinking is allowed in Iceland, so if you need to alter your mind to have a good time, its bets to stick to alcohol whilst avoiding drugs.

Money

The official currency is the Icelandic Krona however you don’t need to worry too much about bringing a load of cash or even carrying too much on you when travelling.  There are plenty of cash machines in Iceland, and the vast majority of places do take credit and debit cards (even hotels seem to take debit cards for room deposits which is nice as I generally don’t travel with a credit card).

Public signs of affection

The Icelanders are quite liberal, having an open mind about relationships (even being very tolerant of and allowing safe travel for same sex couples) so there is no problem with showing signs of affection for one another in public.  However as with every where have some respect, no one wants to see 2 people sucking on each others faces!

Iceland

Sex

The age of consent in Iceland is 15, and whilst it is not technically illegal for prostitutes to charge for sex (although they cannot work in groups, as this would constitute a brothel, which is illegal), it is illegal for someone to pay for the service.  At the same time as when paying for sex was outlawed, strip shows were also banned.

There are no laws prohibiting same sex relationships.

Smoking

Smoking in Iceland is banned in restaurants, cafes, bars and night clubs and you need to be at least 16 years old to buy or smoke tobacco products.

Tipping

In Iceland tipping is no compulsory but it’s a custom which is known and obviously appreciated over there.  Whilst you don’t have to tip, in such situations it is often good to use around 10% as a general rule of thumb for things such as table service and taxi rides.  For tour guides or other forms of transport (such as helicopter flights and boat tours etc), if you want to tip it’s best just going with what you feel comfortable with.

Mountaineers of Iceland

Markus

A lot of people enjoy going abroad without any real plans about what they will do whilst out there – however I am very much of the school of thought which says plan as much as you can and leave yourself some time for exploring (however make sure you always give yourself a chance to explore).

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