Iceland Mag

4 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


10 Useless Icelandic phrases you should not bother to learn

By Jón Kaldal

  • Can I have a real horse instead of a pony? Although the animals are small, even pony-sized, they are in fact horses and not ponies. This rider is enjoying the spectacular colours of Jökulgil canyon, in the Landmannalaugar region in the central highlands. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

While visiting Iceland it's useful to know some key phrases in Icelandic, like góðan dag/good day, takk fyrir/thank you and matseðilinn takk/the menu please. Then you have some you should not bother with. Here are ten.

1. Hvar er næsti McDonald’s? / Where is the nearest McDonald’s? 
Nope, no Big Mac for you. There are no MacDonald’s restaurants in Iceland. The fast food chain used to run three outlets in Iceland for a while, but they closed their doors in 2009, the owner maintained it was due to the economic crisis. We believe it was because local burger joints beat off the competition with their tasty burgers (you don’t’ find Starbucks either in Iceland. The local cafes whip up much better coffee drinks).

2. Hvar er næsta lestarstöð? / Where's the closest train station? 
There are no trains in Iceland. Domestic travel is by car, plane, boat, bike or foot.

3. Hvernig verður veðrið í kvöld? / How will the weather be tonight?
The weather in Iceland is notoriously unpredictable. You better pack both shorts and a raincoat. And it is not unusual to experience the wind blowing from all directions within the same hour.

4. Er þetta besta verðið sem þú getur boðið? / Is that your best price?
There is absolutely no culture of haggling in Iceland, neither in restaurants nor in stores. Prices are fixed and therefore the amount you pay is the number listed on the menu or price sticker.

5. Hvað er venjulega gefið í þjórfé? / What is the standard tipping rate?
There is no tipping in Iceland. Prices on the menu are all inclusive, same goes for taxis and other services. The unions are strong and people in the service sector do not count on tipping as part of their salary.
Please keep in mind that we at Iceland Magazine are not discouraging tipping. If you want to tip to reward for exceptional service, go ahead, it’s just never an obligation.

6. Hvar fæ ég ódýrt áfengi? / Where is the cheapest place to buy alcohol?
Alcohol is never cheap in Iceland but after the depreciation of the króna, buying alcohol as a foreign visitor does not inflict as much damage to your wallet as it did. Note that alcohol is only available for purchase in stores run by The State Alcohol and Tobacco Company of Iceland, Vínbúðin, of which there are 48, as well as in licensed bars and restaurants.

7. Hvar byrjar röðin? / Where does the line start?
Well this is maybe not a completely useless phrase, but  is a kind of sore point as Icelanders are notoriously ill disciplined when it comes to form an orderly queue. We are bad at shops and truly horrible outside bars and clubs during weekends. 

8. Er heitt vatn í boði í allan dag? / Do you have hot water all day?
Because of the abundant geothermal energy in almost all parts of the country, most places have a reliable source of hot water so you can spend all day in the shower, if that is something you enjoy, without raking up a huge energy bill. This brings us to next phrase.

9. Get ég fengið venjulegt vatn í sturtuna hjá mér? /  Can I have regular water in my shower? 
Sorry. Almost all houses in Iceland have naturally heated geothermal water running through their pipes. And a strong sulphur smell usually comes with it (some describe the smell similar to rotting eggs, but that’s definitely laying it on thick).

10. Get ég fengið alvöru hest frekar en smáhest? / Can I have a real horse instead of a pony?
The Icelandic breed of horse was developed in Iceland. Although the animals are small, even pony-sized, they are in fact horses and not ponies. Due to risk of disease, Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported and those exported are not able to return meaning  that only Icelandic breeds exist in the country.

Do you have some useless phrases in Icelandic to add to the collection? Please send us an email at


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