How to Read Icelandic Maps

How to Read Icelandic Maps

Whether you live in Iceland or you’re just visiting, it’s important to understand a little bit of the language so that you can quickly figure out what you’re interested in seeing and where you’d like to go. Thankfully, you don’t have to take a crash course in the Icelandic language just to get from point A to B. The terminology that is used in a landakort, or Icelandic map, isn’t particularly difficult to learn.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Moonbow meets the Northern Lights over the Godafoss waterfall in Iceland
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Whenever I travel to another country, I aim to figure out beforehand any common words that represent landmarks or roads. This makes it easier to identify places on my trusty map so that I can plot my route for the day or the journey ahead.

A basic understanding of key words in Icelandic will enable you to examine any map for particular areas of interest that you might like to check out.

Below, I’ve collated some of the most common words that are an indicator of natural features or other landmarks. For example, the Icelandic word ‘foss’ translates to mean ‘waterfall‘ in English. So when you stumble across a location on your map, such as Seljalandsfoss, it’s a dead giveaway that you’ve found a waterfall. Similarly, the Icelandic word for a lake is ‘vatn’, so this will give you a clue what Mývatn in the north of Iceland is all about.

I hope that these lists will help you to quickly work out how to read an Icelandic map, so that you can minimise your travel time and get to where you need to be.

Please understand that what I’ve collected below is not exhaustive. I am still learning Icelandic so as I come across new words in my studies, I’ll be sure to add them here ☺️

Directions

Icelandic English Translation Example
norður
north
Norður til Fugloyar
suður
south
Suðurland
austur
east
Austur-Meðalholt
vestur
west
Vestfirðir

Road Terminology

Icelandic English Translation Example
braut
course / way
Miklabraut
brú
bridge
Skeiðarárbrú
gata
small street
Njálsgata
gatnamót
intersection
Gatnamót Borgartúns og Kringlumýrarbrautar
göng
tunnel
Vaðlaheiðargöng
skarð
mountain pass
Kerlingarskarð
stígur
path
Skólavörðustígur
stræti
street
Ingólfsstræti
vegur
road
Laugavegur

Geological Terminology

Icelandic English Translation Example
á
river
Tungnaá
bakki
riverbank
Eyrarbakki
bunga
rounded peak
Bárðarbunga
dalur
valley
Mossfellsdalur
eyja
island
Vestmannaeyjar
eyri
sandbank
Háeyri
fell
small mountain
Kirkjufell
fjall
mountain
Bláfjall
fjara
beach
Reynisfjara
fjörður
fjord
Hvalfjörður
fljót
large river
Markarfljót
foss
waterfall
Skógafoss
gígur
crater
Þríhnúkagígur
gjá
chasm / rift
Eldgjá
gljúfur
canyon
Fjaðrárgljúfur
heiði
heath / moore
Sandsheiði
hellir
cave
Vatnshellir
höfn
harbour
Sundahöfn
höfði
promontory
Hjörleifshöfði
hólmur
islet
Stykkishólmur
hraun
lava field
Eldhraun
hver
hot spring
Gunnuhver
jökull
glacier
Snæfellsjökull
klettur
rock
Kálklettur
laug
thermal pool
Landbrotalaug
lón
lagoon
Jökulsárlón
mörk
forest / woods
Heiðmörk
sandur
sands
Djúpalónssandur
skagi
peninsula
Tröllaskagi
skógur
forest
Vaglaskógur
staður
place
Núpsstaður
stapi
bluff
Arnarstapi
strönd
beach
Skagaströnd
tindur
mountain peak
Þúfutindur
tjörn
small lake / pond
Álftatjörn
tunga
tongue of land
Trollatunga
vatn
lake
Mývatn
vík
small bay
Straumsvík
vellir
fields
Hveravellir
vogur
inlet
Kópavogur

Place Terminology

Icelandic English Translation Example
bær
farm / town
Reykjanesbær
bensínstöð
petrol station / service station
Bensínstöðvar OB
búð
shop
Vínbúðin
borg
city
Reykjavíkurborg
flugvöllur
airport
Keflavíkurflugvöllur
gestamiðstöð
visitor centre
Gestamiðstöð Snæfellsjökulsþjóðgarðar
hreppur
municipality
Hrunamannahreppur
kirkja
church
Hallgrímskirkja
kot
small farm
Bakkakot
markaður
market
Grillmarkaðurinn
safn
museum
Listasafn Reykjavíkur
stofa
office
Samgöngustofa
þjóðgarður
National Park
Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður
torg
square
Ingólfstorg
tjaldsvæði
camping ground
Tjaldsvæðið á Þingeyri
verslun
store
Geysir Verslun

Have you come across any Icelandic words that you think would be useful to add to this list? Leave a comment below and help others learn how to read Icelandic maps!

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