Music & Art Nature & Environment Oct 12, 2016

Places in Iceland and Their Meanings

Guest post by Eunsan Huh

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Chances are, if you came to Iceland by air, you came through the airport at Keflavík. The town’s name literally means “driftwood bay.” Today it serves as a hub for travelers, but in its heyday it served as a military base for NATO, a refueling station for WW2 planes and a naval air station.


The capital city of Iceland was founded by Norse settler Ingólfur Arnarson. It is said that he cast of two pillars into the sea and decided to settle wherever the pillars washed up. When Ingólfur saw the smoke rising from the geothermic area beyond the shore, he named the land “Reykjavík,” which means “smokey bay.” Some thousand years later, the greater capital area is now home to nearly 2/3 of Iceland’s population.


If you are hanging around “smoky bay,” you cannot miss this landmark church. It’s an iconic figure in the capital city’s skyline and is named after the revered poet and minister Hallgrímur Pétursson. It is the biggest church in Iceland and has arguably the best view of downtown Reykjavík.


The “Golden Waterfall” is a part of the very popular Golden Circle tour route. It is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland, standing proudly at 32m (104 feet). It was formerly a privately-owned waterfall, but now belongs to and is protected by the state of Iceland so tourists can continue marvel at its powerful rapids for years to come.


Another popular tourist spot is Þingvellir which is home to the world’s first parliament, the Alþing. In fact, that is where its meaning, “assembly field,” comes from. Just imagine a bunch of bearded vikings gathering in an earth-shatteringly beautiful valley talking about politics.

Þingvellir is also geographically significant, as it marks the divergent boundary of the North American and Eurasian plates. The two tectonic plates are slowly drifting away from each other, which means Iceland is growing by a few centimetres every year!


This “glacial river lagoon” is called so because there is a glacier that is melting and the water pools into a lagoon. Very logical. Jökulsárlón has been featured in numerous blockbusters including The Batman Begins, 007: Die Another Day and Tomb Raider. There are some cute seals who live here too!


Saved the best for last! Eyjafjallajökull may look like a long and scary word, but like Jökulsárlón, it’s is also a very literal compound word (how convenient!); it means “island mountain glacier!”

If you want to learn how to pronounce more fun Icelandic words, check out @everysinglewordinicelandic on Instagram!