Someone you know just went to Iceland. You looked at the unreal Instagram photos and thought, “I gotta go there.” You should. Iceland is an incredible place, full of unspoiled natural beauty, adventurous activities, a thriving nightlife and burgeoning food scene—in other words, everything you want in a vacation.

But because it’s such a new “must visit” place, there’s still a lot of mystery around it. Do people speak English? (Yes, for the most part). What will you eat? (Fish, mostly). What should you pack? (Waterproof everything).

So we went, and then we rounded up a list of 19 things you need to know before you go. Why now? Because the Aurora season—when you can see the Northern Lights—runs from October to March. Happy trails, and watch out for elves.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum is a real thing, and it’s worth a visit, purely for all the Instagram gold and the endless giggling you and your buddies will do while visiting.

1. Iceland is Europe’s most sparsely populated country.
With only 330,000 people living there (and 200,000 of them calling the capital city of Reykjavik home), Iceland’s entire population is smaller than that of Tampa. Yes, Tampa. At 39,769 square miles, Iceland is a bit bigger than Indiana, but 80 percent of the country is uninhabitable thanks to lava fields.

2. Don’t take shots of Black Death.
Or, do, I guess. It’s your life. Black Death’s proper name is Brennivin, an Icelandic schnapps made from potatoes, caraway seeds and other Icelandic herbs. Think of it as Icelandic’s answer to Jagermeister and absinthe, combined. Sound like a good idea? I didn’t think so.

3. It was illegal to drink beer in Iceland until 1989.
Seriously. While other spirits were legal from the 1930s on, beer was banned mainly because it was associated with Danish lifestyle during a time when Iceland was trying to assert its independence from other European countries. But since the ban was lifted, Iceland has cultivated a huge beer culture. Any beer geek will be impressed by how many different Icelandic beers there are on offer—make sure you check out Einstok and Borg Brugghus.


4. Iceland knows a thing or two about green energy.
Because the country is so volcanic, you’ll frequently walk by hot springs that are steaming from the ground. They’re nice for bathing, but even nicer for harnessing for cheap, green energy. In fast, 85 percent of Icelanders’ primary energy sources come from natural resources, with 66 percent geothermal.

5. Reykjavik is home to the most perfect place to make dick jokes.
The Icelandic Phallological Museum is a real thing, and it’s worth a visit, purely for all the Instagram gold and the endless giggling you and your buddies will do while visiting.

6. An overwhelming majority of Icelanders believe in elves.
A couple years ago, when the government was building a new highway that would require removal of a 30-ton boulder, they ran into a big problem. Many Icelanders believe that elves (or “hidden people”) live in rocks, so the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration called in an “elf negotiator” to ensure that the rock removal wouldn’t upset the elves living inside. After a few days of negotiations, the Administration agreed to move the boulder to a location deemed suitable by the elves so that the road construction could continue. This really happened.

7. Icelanders drink more Coca Cola products per capita than anywhere else in the world.
So, no need to worry if you’ll be able to get your Diet Coke fix while traveling. You will.


8. The best hot dog you’ll ever eat is not in New York or Chicago.|
It’s in Reykjavik, and it’s from a lowly stand called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, which translates to “best hot dogs in town” (they’re not humble because they don’t need to be). The stand has been operating since 1937, and almost always has a line, even when it’s raining. Order one “with everything”—actually, make that two. You’re gonna want two.

9. There’s no McDonald’s in Iceland.
But if you’re the type of person who seeks out American chains while traveling (WHY?), you’re in luck—you’ll find several KFC’s, Subways, way more Quiznos than seems necessary and a Dunkin Donuts that recently opened in the heart of Reykjavik.

10. You also won’t find a strip club.
Though Iceland has recently become a top destination for bachelor parties, in 2010, the government passed a law that made strip clubs illegal. So, think about what you really want out of your bachelor party before you decide on Reykjavik.

11. Don’t order Hakarl.
Iceland is an island nation with a thriving fishing culture, so when visiting, you’ll eat some of the freshest seafood you’ve ever had. That is, unless you order Hakarl, which is literally rotten shark meat. It’s supposedly a delicacy, but we’re not sure that anyone outside of grizzled fishermen and stupid tourists eat this stuff.

Aurora over Jokulsarlon

12. Depending when you go to Iceland, your internal clock will get f’ed up.
If you travel to Iceland during Summer and Winter Solstices (June and December, respectively), you’ll experience either 20(ish) hours of daylight or 20(ish) hours of darkness.

13. Iceland has an incredible music scene.
Bjork might be Iceland’s most famous musical export, but not for long. Bands like Sigur Ros and Of Monsters and Men are making their mark internationally, and the country hosts a ton of music festivals throughout the year, like Sonar, Bræðslan Music Festival, and Iceland Airwaves, which all draw famous headliners.

14. Iceland elected the world’s first openly lesbian head of government.
From 2009 to 2013, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir served as Iceland’s Prime Minister. She presided over the countrywide legalization of same-sex marriage in 2010.

15. There’s really no taxi culture in Iceland.
If you’re a lazy New Yorker who’s used to motoring around the city in a cab rather than taking public transit, you’re in for a rude awakening in Reykjavik. Taxis are few in number (and expensive), but the city buses are clean and reliable (but infrequent). Our advice? Get a bus pass and practice the art of waiting patiently, or get used to walking. Or rent a bike!

Hallgrimskirkja cathedral in reykjavik iceland

16. The best view you’ll get of Reykjavik is from the top of a church.
The Hallgrímskirkja is an impressive church in the center of downtown Reykjavik. Pay a few kronur to take an elevator to the top, where you’ll see incredible views of the entire city.

17. Nordic beauty is legit.
Three Icelanders have been crowned Miss World.

18. And so is Nordic fitness.
Three of the past five CrossFit Games individual female champs have been Icelandic women: Annie Thorisdottir (2011, 2012) and Katrin Davidsdottir (2015). And in 2015, the third-place male finisher, Björgvin Karl Guðmundsson, also hailed from Iceland.

19. The number of tourists visiting Iceland has tripled since the year 2000.
By the close of 2015, sources estimate that more than one million foreign visitors will travel to Iceland, so hurry up and book your ticket before everyone ruins everything.