Iceland is not as exotic as people may think from the name. The nature is of course beautiful and unique but do not forget to see and think about how people live during your visit. The image Iceland and Icelanders get through media is more quirky than reality. This is may be due to the fact that for years the most famous Icelander abroad was Björk and also now Iceland is known for its art and artists.
Your first impression will usually be getting of the plane in Keflavik where the international airport is located. On your way to claiming your luggage you may see a very Icelandic behaviour: Stocking up at the duty free. This is due to the high prices on alcohol in Iceland. The store which sells it is the so called „vínbúð“ which is controlled by the government. So as a good Icelander it is a duty to use the allowed quota to the max. Also the duty free is a great way to pass the time until your luggage is transported from the plane to the terminal building. Once you have your luggage you simply walk out to see a lot of people holding signs for tours, transfers and car rentals.
Most people by one of these means or another start by getting to Reykjavik. Here you will try to get a place to stay in the center, the zip code 101. It has gone through some changes in the last years with more and more hotels. Still it is the cultural center with many artists living here. Most bars have live music on a regular base, so do not be surprised if you enter a bar and someone is hitting the tambourine while giving you their best version of „ these boots are made for walking“ while their partner plays the chords on the guitar.
But once you reach the parts outside 101 Reykjavik you will experience different parts which may even look familiar. The outskirts of Reykjavik for example are less quirky and more functional. Parts such as Árbær and Breiðholt house a lot of people in larger buildings or blocks where big part of the working class lives. Whereas in some new parts you will get a more suburban vibe with big new SUV´s outside of large houses where the financial elite lives. Cul de sac included.
Once you leave the capital area ( höfuðborgarsvæðið) and roll down Hellisheiði plateau towards Hveragerði to the south you will experience a more rural Iceland. Cities such as Hveragerði, Vík and Kirkjubæjarklaustur may be big stops on you journey but once you reach them you realise that is sometimes only a few hundred people living here. So you will encounter a larger gas station ( usually N1) and a small store next to it. To that you can add a store for food and maybe another store for clothing and everything else ( often just called kaupfélagið; the buying association). And that is it. This lead a few years ago when tourism was just taking off to the situation that in the town of Vík the south the local store ran out of bread early in the morning after a lot of tourists had done their shopping leaving nothing to the locals who were off to start the day a bit later. Now the stores of course order more but sometimes it is hard for them to get it right since tourist streams change from year to year. So if a month one year had little traffic the next year may see a huge increase or sometimes vice versa.
The only towns giving you a bigger vibe may be Akureyri in the North and Ísafjörður in the Westfjords. There you will find basically all services since they are the capitals and biggest towns in their respective areas. From airports to more than one supermarket.