How to pronounce Icelandic place names
If there is something people love to do in Iceland, it is mispronouncing all the names of everything ever. But who can blame them? With names like Eyjafjallajökull, Bárðarbunga, and Þingvellir, Icelandic can be a tough nut to crack. But, do not worry, whether you’re planning your trip to Iceland or you’re just interested in Icelandic pronunciation, stick around, you might learn something interesting. Other than pronouncing the potential tongue-twisters, you will also learn something about those places and their importance for the Icelanders.
The second hard to pronounce name is also a volcano, one located under Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier. This is the easy one of the bunch: ð is pronounced like the english word “the” and á is basically an “a” followed by an “oo” sound. Even though it is a tongue-breaker, it was the focus of the attention of all Icelanders for a while. The latest eruption happened in 2014-2015, when the volcano produced a large amount of sulphur dioxide which greatly impacted the quality of air in Iceland. Since there was no significant amount of ash, there was no effect on flights outside the immediate vicinity of the volcano. Some of the most incredible photos of an active volcano were taken at Bárðarbunga. Judging by the recent seismic activity, Bárðarbunga is the next one to go off, so maybe we will get a new chance of taking some incredible photos soon.
What says Iceland better than an unpronunceable name of our most famous sacred ground? It’s about the pesky double-l again… and the weird Þ letter. The common mistake many people make is that they transcribe Þ to P. Please don’t do that 🙂 If you have to write it down without using that character, use “th” instead, after all it is pronounced as “th” in “three”. The double-l is already known to us, from Eyjafjallajökull. Þingvellir is a site of geological, historical, and cultural importance, and a part of the Golden Circle tour. It is a place where the icelandic parliament Alþingi was established in 930, where Vikings were passing law and judgement, and a place very worthy of your visit. It sits on the fault line between two separate tectonic plates and, if you visit, you can see the crack and even walk through it. The fault line is the separation between the North American and Eurasian plates, but with an added bonus: a small microplate known as Hreppar Microplate (translated as County Microplate, since it’s roughly the size of an Icelandic county), an entirely new tectonic plate that has broken off of one of the bigger ones. All in all, Þingvellir is incredible and well worth your time.
So many times have I heard this glacier lagoon’s name pronounced as Jo-cool-sarlon that if I had a króna for every time it happened, I would be able to afford an entire night of drinking overpriced Icelandic beer. “J” in Icelandic never makes the sound it makes in “John”, for instance. It makes the sound Y makes in “say”. This glacier lagoon is known for the surreal landscape that it creates. Gazing upon the lagoon from a nearby hill will make you feel as if you left this world and landed on another, frozen and alien, with floating icebergs and cool glacial water slowly carrying them around. If you feel like it, you can even hop on a boat that will take you to a sightseeing ride right between the icebergs. One of the highlights of the boat trip is the access to the purest ice you will ever touch in your life, and the guides are happy to fish it out and let you hold it. Also, did we mention there are seals splashing around between the giant blocks of ice? All in all, it is a trip not easy to forget.