{{ message }}

Iceland

Iceland (Icelandic: Ísland) is an island nation in the north Atlantic Ocean. Iceland is one of the Nordic countries, and therefore culturally part of Europe. The name Iceland is a misnomer: while glaciers cover 10% of the land, climate is mild, and volcanic activity keeps the country warm. Settled during the Viking Age, Iceland has the world's oldest surviving parliament, the Alþingi. It is known as the Land of Fire and Ice.

Regions

Cities and towns

  • Reykjavík (REYG-ya-veeg) — The capital of Iceland and is the largest city
  • Akureyri (Ahk-oo-rey-rih) — Capital of the North and the largest town outside the Southwest
  • Egilsstaðir (AY-yill-stath-ihr) — Main town in the East, has some of the best weather Iceland has to offer
  • Hafnarfjörður (HAP-nar-FYERTH-er) — Cozy town on the outskirts of the capital region
  • Höfn (HEP'n) — Main town on the southeastern coast
  • Húsavík (HOOS-ah-veek) — One of the world's most reliable whale watching sites during the summer
  • Ísafjörður (EES-ah-FYERTH-er) — Largest town of the Westfjords of Iceland
  • Selfoss (SEL-fos) — South Iceland's largest town, hub of the main agricultural region
  • Stykkishólmur (STICK-is-hole-mur) — Main town on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, gateway to the islands of Breiðafjörður

Other destinations

It's a shame most visitors don't stray far from the capital as some of the most memorable sights in Iceland are farther afield. There are many excursions offered by tour companies, readily available from any of the main centres such as Reykjavík and Akureyri. They will fly you around and take you out to the glaciers and to the big volcanoes for a reasonable price. However, the cheapest option is to drive around with a rented car since none of these sites have entry fees.

National parks

  • Þingvellir National Park (pronounced "THING-vet-lihr") - National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. 30 to 50 km (20 - 30 mi) east of Reykjavík. Interesting for a number of reasons: it is the original site of the longest running parliament in the world (the name literally means 'parliamentary fields'), and it's where the North-American and European continental shelf plates are being torn apart.
  • Vatnajökull National Park (VAT-nah-yer-CUDDLE) - Iceland's newest national park was founded in 2008 and includes the former Skaftafell and Jokulsargljufur National Parks. Vatnajökull National Park is Europe's largest national park at 12,000 km2, covering about 12 percent of the surface of Iceland. The park is home to Iceland's highest mountain, Hvannadalshnúkur, largest glacier, Vatnajökull, and Europe's largest waterfall in terms of volume discharge, Dettifoss.
  • Snæfellsjökull National Park (SNY-fetls-yer-CUDDLE) - Located on the tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland, this park is home to the ice-covered volcanic crater that was the setting for Jules Verne's book Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Other attractions

  • Blue Lagoon - (Icelandic: Bláa Lónið) (BLAU-ah LONE-eeth) Famous outdoor pool and health centre. The spa is in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, south-western Iceland. It is situated approximately 13 km (8 mi) from the Keflavík International Airport and 39 km (24 mi) from Reykjavík. This geothermal spa in the middle of a lava field with its milky blue water is quite surreal.
  • Mývatn (MEE-fatn) - A lake region near Akureyri in the North of Iceland, Mývatn has an unearthly appearance owing to special types of volcanic craters throughout the lake. There are plenty of activities in this area: Smajfall (desert where sulphuric steam comes out of the ground) and Dimmuborgir (aka the Black City and the Gates of Hell).
  • Gullfoss - The Golden Falls. On the edge of the inhospitable Interior of Iceland about 100 km east of Reykjavík, the river Hvítá plunges down a double cascade to create what many people believe is the most beautiful waterfall in Iceland
  • Geysir - Geothermal hot spot located 10 km west of Gullfoss. Geysir itself (from which the English word "geyser" derives) is no longer reliably active, but fortunately Strokkur next door goes off every five to ten minutes.
  • Jökulsárlón (the Jökulsár Lagoon) - The majestic glacial lagoon in southeast Iceland located near Höfn on Route 1. Breiðamerkurjökull glacier retreated very quickly from 1920 to 1965 leaving this breathtaking lagoon, which is up to 190 m deep. Ice breaks off from the glacier keeping the lagoon stocked with icebergs all year round. The James Bond film Die Another Day was filmed here in 2002.
  • Landmannalaugar - A region of outstanding natural beauty reachable by bus (or 4x4) from Reykjavík. Situated in the Interior, it gives a taste of the uninhabited highlands at Iceland’s core.
  • Þórsmörk (Thor's Mark) - Tucked away between three glaciers, Þórsmörk is an incredibly beautiful and relatively isolated area. Icelanders enjoy camping there in the summer. There are many hiking trails all over the area, which provide breathtaking views of the surrounding glaciers and lava formations. It is only accessible by truck or bus: it is a good idea to inquire about trips to Þórsmörk at a tourist information center.

Understand

Iceland is a stunningly beautiful place if you enjoy strange and desolate landscapes. Because it is so close to the Arctic Circle, the amount of daylight varies dramatically by season. The sun sets briefly each night in June, but it doesn't get fully dark before it comes back up again. In the March and September equinoxes, days and nights are of about equal length, as elsewhere in the world. If you go in December, it's almost 20 hours of darkness. Summer is definitely the best time to go, and even then the tourist traffic is still mild. The midnight sun is a beautiful sight and one definitely not to be missed. It is easy to lose track of time when the sun is still high in the sky at 11PM. Early or late winter, however, can be surprisingly good times to visit. In late January, daylight is from about 10AM to 4PM, prices are lower than in the high season, and the snow-blanketed landscape is eerily beautiful. (Some sites are, however, inaccessible in the winter.)

History

See also: Vikings and the Old Norse

The first people to settle on Iceland were Vikings and sailors from Norway and Denmark. The first known settlement was Reykjavík, with remnants from AD 871. In AD 930 the settlers founded the Alþing, the world's oldest surviving parliament. Iceland was a bridgehead for Viking expeditions to Greenland and Newfoundland. Those settlements became extinct, though.

Norway ruled Iceland until Norway and Denmark were unified in the so-called Kalmar Union in the late 14th century. Iceland remained in the Kalmar Union until it was disbanded in 1814 and Denmark took control. In 1918, Iceland became a sovereign state within Denmark's realm. During the Second World War, one month after Germany occupied Denmark, British forces peacefully occupied Iceland. In 1944, Iceland declared its independence from Denmark.

Iceland has had little immigration. The greatest single influx of foreigners was the Allied occupation during World War II, when British and American soldiers outnumbered Iceland's adult men.

The economy of Iceland is mainly based on fisheries and aluminium smelters. Electricity and heating in Iceland comes from renewable sources: hydroelectric power and geothermal plants.

Iceland had a booming bank sector in the early 2000s, which was hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis. Through austerity, devaluation and change of government, Iceland recovered from the recession, and is once again one of Europe's strongest economies.

People

Nordic and Irish people were the first to settle Iceland in the 9th century AD. Tradition holds that the first permanent settler was Ingólfur Arnarson, a Norwegian Viking who made his home where Reykjavík now stands. It is thought that Irish monks had temporarily inhabited the island some years prior to this. The Icelanders still basically speak the language of the Vikings.

Iceland has received many immigrants over the last 10 years. In the last 5 years the population of immigrants has doubled. Most of these people (from Eastern Europe and South East Asia) come for employment. Immigrants in Iceland are now well over 10% of the population, giving Iceland a larger proportion of immigrants than Norway and Sweden. Icelanders also continue to use the old Norse patronymic system, which was used in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Faroe Islands well into the 19th century, until their governments decided that citizens should adopt a surname.

Climate

Despite its name, Iceland has surprisingly mild winters for a country at its latitude owing to the warming effect of the Atlantic Gulf Stream, especially when put into comparison with the Russian one, or even that of New England or the Midwestern United States. Iceland enjoys a maritime temperate climate; its winters are often compared to those of the Pacific Northwest, although the winter winds can be bitter. However, the rapidly changing weather has given rise to the local saying: 'If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes!' It's the kind of place where it's not unusual to get rained on and sunburned at the same time. Some Icelanders believe that if the winter is hard and long then the summer will be good and warm. The summers are usually cooler and more temperate than elsewhere at the same latitude (the effect of the ocean again); 20 to 25°C is considered quite warm.

Holidays and festivals

  • Christmas: Follows the dates of the Western church. Stores are traditionally closed on Christmas Eve (24 December), Christmas day (25 December), New year's eve (31 December) and New year's day (1 January).
Icelanders have 13 jule lads. Historically, the jule lads were pranksters who redeemed themselves by giving children presents. Each jule lad has its own day, with the first one coming to town on 12 December. Epiphany (icelandic: Þrettándinn) is celebrated with bonfires and firework displays. On this day, Icelanders play the roles of elves and hidden people.
  • Easter: Follows the dates of the Western church. Stores are traditionally closed on Good Friday (friday before easter), Easter and Pentecost (49 days after Easter). The following days have Icelandic traditions:
  • Bolludagur - Held on an Monday, 7 weeks prior to Easter. An festival where Icelanders eat puffed buns filled with jam and whipped cream. Traditionally, children are allowed to spank their parents before they leave their bed and are given an puffed bun instead.
  • Sprengidagur - Held on a Tuesday, 7 weeks prior to Easter. A festival where Icelanders are expected to eat salted meat and yellow peas.
  • Öskudagur/Ash Wednesday - Held on an Wednesday, 7 weeks prior to Easter. On this day, children dress in costumes and sing for candy. This is the Icelandic equivalent of the U.S. Halloween.
  • Sjómannadagurinn (Seamen's day): Held on the first Sunday in June. A national holiday where Icelanders go to the nearest harbor to celebrate with seamen.
  • Þjóðhátíðardagurinn (Icelandic National day): Held on 17 June. Stores are traditionally closed on this day. The celebrations typically start with an parade and speeches, followed by less formal celebrations.
  • Verslunarmannahelgi (Workers weekend): Held on the first weekend of August. This is typically the largest holiday in Iceland. Shops are traditionally closed. Icelanders flock to outdoor festivals held across the country.

Get in

Visas

Iceland is a member of the Schengen Agreement.

  • There are normally no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most of the European Union and a few other countries.
  • There are usually identity checks before boarding international flights or boats. Sometimes there are temporary border controls at land borders.
  • Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.
  • Please see Travelling around the Schengen Area for more information on how the scheme works, which countries are members and what the requirements are for your nationality.

By plane

Iceland is easily reached via air and the main international airport is Keflavík (IATA: KEF), located in the southwest of the country about 40 km from Reykjavík. The airport itself is spartan; if you have a lengthy layover you should bring books or other forms of entertainment.

Iceland is not in the EU. This means arriving passengers arriving from outside Iceland whose final destination is Iceland or who have to recheck baggage will have to go through customs controls at the port of entry (usually at Keflavík), regardless of place of origin. However, a duty-free store is present in the arrivals baggage claim area, and one can purchase duty-free products when in transit to the European mainland.

An airport transfer bus service (called the FlyBus) runs between the airport and Reykjavík bus terminal (kr 1950 one way, 45 minutes; kr 3,500 return, as of August 2011). For kr 2500 one way (kr 4,500 return; as of August 2011) you can purchase a Flybus+ trip which includes drop-off (and pick-up, if requested the day before) at a select list of hotels in the Greater Reykjavík Area [1]. Even if you're not staying at one of these hotels they might be within walking distance of where you want to go, so depending on your destination using the Flybus as a personal taxi service may be economical.

Another great option is to take the bus which stops at the Blue Lagoon either to or from the airport, then continues every half hour or so to Reykjavík. (Netbus is the cheapest option.)

A metered taxi from the airport to Reykjavík costs about kr 9500.

The following airlines fly to Keflavík:

  • Nonstop flights on Icelandair are available at the best value from the U.S. and Canada, with gateways in New York City (JFK), Seattle, Boston, Halifax, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Toronto, Denver (May 2012)and Orlando (Sanford). Destinations beyond Iceland include most major European cities (i.e. Amsterdam, Bergen, Berlin, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Helsinki, London, Oslo, Madrid, Manchester, Milan, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Düsseldorf, and Stavanger), with Icelandair's hub-and-spoke network connecting via Keflavík in Iceland. (Some destinations are seasonal.) You can also have a stopover in Iceland en route to Europe at no additional airfare.
  • Delta Airlines operates between New York City (JFK) and Keflavík.
  • WOW Air, a new Icelandic low-cost airline has flights from KEF to several European destinations: Alicante, Barcelona, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart, Salzburg, Zurich, Warsaw, Vilnius, Milan, Amsterdam, Paris, Lyon, Copenhagen and London.
  • EasyJet, offers low-cost flights from the UK: London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Bristol, and to Switzerland: Geneva.
  • Germanwings, has seasonal flights from Cologne.
  • SAS offers direct flights from Oslo, with connections to Stockholm and the rest of Scandinavia.
  • Niki and Air Berlin also have seasonal flights to a few destinations in Europe.
  • Norwegian offers direct flights from Oslo.
  • British Airways flies from Heathrow Airport in London.

Scheduled service to Greenland and Faroe Islands is provided by Air Iceland and Atlantic Airways.

Due to lack of competition (especially in low season) or heavy demand (in high season), and the lack of any real low-cost airlines operating to Iceland, getting to Iceland is generally considered expensive. Flexible travelers might consider watching out for offers. The best way to do that is to subscribe to Icelandair's and WOW Air's newsletters. Both airlines tend to send out emails with offers once in a couple of months or so, where you can book somewhat affordable seats. These seats are usually bookable within 12 or 24 hours shortly after the email has been sent out. Besides, it is good to shop around as the other airlines flying to Iceland also have offers occasionally.

By boat

Smyril Line operate a weekly service from Hirtshals in Denmark. The ferry sails in two nights to Seyðisfjörður, on the east coast of Iceland, via Torshavn, in the Faeroe Islands. The price for a trip on Norröna (Smyril Line) can vary depending on where you book (a sales office or on one of their websites in different languages: .fo, .dk, .co.uk, .de, .is, that is the price is different on the different websites). Smyril line sails to Seyðisfjörður from where you can catch a bus to Egilsstaðir from where you can either catch a bus via Akureyri or fly directly to Reykjavík local airport. The bus connection through Akureyri to Reykjavík can only be made in one day on a few days in the summer, when there is an afternoon bus from Akureyri to Reykjavík. Besides, the bus trip will most often cost more than the air fare from Egilsstaðir to Reykjavík.

Get around

By plane

Aircraft in Iceland are like buses or trains elsewhere - they're the main form of internal travel other than the roads. Be warned though, that the ride can be a bit bumpy if you're entering one of the fjords like Akureyri.

Scheduled service to nearby destinations, including Greenland and Faroe Islands, is provided by Air Iceland , Atlantic Airways and Eagle Air.

By car

See also: Driving in Iceland

A car offers the most flexibility for travel around Iceland. Numerous agencies rent vehicles, and ferries allow individuals to bring their own car with them. Rental prices are high - expect to pay at least kr 4000 per day for a two wheel drive vehicle, and upwards of kr 12,000 per day for a four-wheel-drive vehicle; these prices include basic car insurance, but additional insurance may be purchased to protect against damage from gravel or other common mishaps.

There is only need for a four-wheel-drive car in the interior, which is only open in the summer. Renting cars in advance is often cheaper than doing so on-location. Off-road driving is strictly forbidden in Iceland and punishable with fines in the range of kr 300,000 to 500,000. Icelandic nature is sensitive and does not recover easily from tire tracks.

Driving in Iceland is on the right side of the road. Headlights and seat belts for all passengers must be on at all times. There is one main highway, Route 1-Ring Road, that encircles the country. Because of Iceland's ever-changing weather, one should keep extra food and know where guesthouses/hotels are located in case of a road closure.

Most mountain roads are closed until the end of June, or even longer because of wet and muddy conditions which make them totally impassable. When these roads are opened for traffic many of them can only be negotiated by four wheel drive vehicles. The roads requiring four wheel drive (and possibly snow tires) are route numbers with an "F" prefix, e.g. F128.

The general speed limit on Icelandic rural roads is 90 km/h on paved surface and 70 km/h on gravel, in urban areas the general speed limit is 50 km/h. Driving on gravel can be a challenge, and loss of control on cliff-side roads can easily be fatal. Speed cameras are posted around the country, and fines are kr 5,000-70,000. The blood alcohol limit is 0.05%, with a minimum fine of kr 100,000 - don't drink and drive.

Drivers in Iceland should familiarize themselves with road signs and be prepared for Iceland's unique driving conditions. The roads in Iceland are of a high quality, typically made from slightly rough black basalt. There are two signs in particular that foreigners should pay attention to. First, "malbik endar" means that the road changes from a paved road to a gravel road. Slow down before these changes, for one can lose control easily. Also "einbreið brú" means that a one-lane bridge is approaching. Arrive at the bridge slowly and assess the situation. If another car has arrived at the bridge first allow them the right of way.

If you are traveling by road a great site to check is the Iceland Meteorological Office [2] who have an excellent set of pages including the Icelandic Road Administration [3] on all of the main roads.

There are no road tolls on Icelandic roads, except from the Hvalfjardargong tunnel located approximately 30 km north of Reykjavík. For vehicles up to 6 metres, the price is kr 1000, 6-8 metre vehicles pay kr 1200 and drivers of larger vehicles than 8 metres pay kr 2300.

By bus

Scheduled trips between Icelandic towns are operated by Strætó bs. Tours to attractions are provided by scheduled buses from various companies, including Reykjavík Excursions [4], Trex [5], Sterna [6] and NetBus [7]. Long distance bus travel can cost several thousand kronur and is sometimes more expensive than flying. For example, a one way trip from Reykjavík to Akureyri costs kr 9240, while flying costs kr 7500 (as of September 2016). It is possible to go from the eastern part of the country to the western one via bus in one day, but only a few trips are served every day.

Some tours to the interior, in special 4x4 buses, can be cheaper and more relaxing alternative to driving and serve most major locations (e.g. Landmannalaugar, Thorsmork, Aksja). Tours to the interior are only scheduled for the summer months.

A Golden Circle tour is available from Reykjavík which will take you round the Gulfoss waterfall, geysers, the crater and the Mid-Atlantic rift/place of Iceland's first Parliament. Although you don't get much time at each stop, the guide will tell you about Iceland's history and some general information.

The capital area bus system, run by Strætó bs. [8], is an inefficient and expensive mess that can not be relied on. A single fare costs kr 420 (nearly $4). Bus drivers do not give back change, so if all you have on you is a kr 500 bill, do not expect to get the difference back. You can also buy a set of twenty tickets for kr 8,000 from major bus stops, also from the driver (as of September 2016). Once you have paid to the driver, you will not get a ticket, unless you ask for one. If you get a ticket, it is valid for any other buses you take within 75 minutes.

All buses stop running at midnightt, with some stopping earlier, some as early as 6:00PM. Buses start running at 9:30 to 10:00AM on Sundays. Fares to zones 2 and upwards (extending all the way to Höfn and Egilsstaðir) are higher, although all of Reykjavík, Garðabær, Hafnarfjörður, Mosfellsbær, Álftanes and Seltjarnarnes fall within zone one, where the regular fare of kr 420 is valid.

By bicycle

Cycling is a good way to experience Iceland, and provides a very different experience to other means of transport. You should bring your own touring bike, as buying a bike locally can be expensive. Traffic in and out of Reykjavík is heavy, otherwise, it's OK. You can cycle safely on the Ring Road, or take the bike on the buses (which are equipped with bicycle racks) serving the Ring Road and do side trips. However, if going self-supported, considering the weather and conditions, it is strongly advisable to have a previous touring experience.

When cycling in the winter use studded tyres and dress yourself up in lightweight but warm layers. Bicycle maintainance is typically not a concern, brake pads for example tend to last for 12 months or more, depending on the quality of the brakes.

For trips outside of an town or a city, bring food with you. Icelandic towns can be 100-200 km apart. Food that cooks within 10-15 minutes is preferred. Foraging blueberries and herbs is possible, but do not rely solely on that as an food source.

By thumb

Hitchhiking is a cheap way of getting around in Iceland. The country is among the safest in the world, people are quite friendly and the percentage of drivers who do give rides is high, especially in the off-season. However, low traffic in areas outside Reykjavík makes hitchhiking in Iceland an endurance challenge. Even on the main ring-road the frequency of cars is often less than one car per hour in the east. Nearly everybody speaks English and most drivers are interested in conversations.

Avoid hitching after nightfall, especially on Friday and Saturday night. Alcohol consumption is high and alcohol-related accidents are not uncommon.

Hitchhiking into the interior is tough, but everything works if you have enough time - calculating in days, not in hours. For longer distances or less touristic areas be prepared with some food, water and a tent or similar. The weather can be awful and sometimes spoils the fun of this way of traveling.

The HitchWiki website [9] has some advice for hitchhikers.

Carpooling

Check [10] for carpooling options.

ATVs

In the past few years, ATV travel has become popular among adventure travel enthusiasts. Several companies offer ATV tours of various parts of Iceland, check [11]

Talk

See also: Icelandic phrasebook

The official language of Iceland is Icelandic (íslenska), which remains very similar to, although not quite the same as 13th-century Norse (see Vikings and the Old Norse).

Loanwords are shunned, and new words are regularly made for concepts like computers, known as tölva ("number-prophetess"). Icelandic is related to the other Scandinavian languages (Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Faroese), although it is barely mutually intelligible. As Icelandic is a Germanic language like the other Scandinavian languages, speakers of German and Dutch would recognise many cognates, and even English speakers will be able to recognise the odd word or two with some effort.

All Icelanders learn Danish and English in school, though with the exception of the older generations who grew up under Danish rule, proficiency in Danish tends to be somewhat lacking. English, on the other hand, is widely spoken, with most younger people having near native proficiency. Icelandic college students choose a "fourth language" to study, usually Spanish, German, French, or Italian, but proficiency is most often nonexistent. Even though the majority of Icelanders are competent in English, attempts at speaking Icelandic are always appreciated, and learning some basic greetings and phrases in Icelandic will make your trip much smoother.

Icelanders use the comma instead of the dot as a decimal sign for numbers, i.e. 12,000 means 12, not twelve thousand, whereas 12 000 or 12.000 means twelve thousand. Icelanders use both the 24 and 12 hour system, speaking the 12 hour system and using the 24-hour system for writing. Icelanders do not use PM/AM to indicate morning and afternoon. In Icelandic, "half ten" ("hálf tíu") means half past nine (9:30). When speaking to a person not fluent in English it is best not use this form to avoid misunderstanding. Dates can be seen abbreviated in a number of ways, but the order is always day-month-year; 12.7.08, 120708, or 12/07/08 is equivalent to July 12, 2008. Icelandic calendars also indicate the number of the week 1 through 52.

Iceland uses the metric system only. There is limited knowledge of Imperial or US measurements.

In Iceland there is no concept of a ground floor as in the UK. Instead, the entrance level of a building is called the first floor ("jarðhæð"), like in the US. Levels are then counted 1, 2, 3, etc.

Foreign television programmes and films are almost always shown in their original language with subtitles. Only children's programmes are dubbed into Icelandic.

See

  • The Gullfoss waterfall is quite spectacular.
  • Geysir, the namesake of all geysers, and its neighbour Strokkur which erupts every five minutes or so.
  • Þingvellir National Park, a beautiful landscape of water-cut lava fields, which is historically important as the site of Iceland's parliament from 930 AD.
  • Vatnajökull glacier is in Southeast Iceland and is Europe's largest glacier.
  • Jökulsárlón, the largest glacier lake in Iceland, is located off Route 1 and part of Vatnajökull glacier.
  • In the darker months (September to April), one may frequently get stunning views of the Aurora Borealis, a.k.a. Northern Lights anywhere away from city lights.

Do

  • The geothermal spa Blue Lagoon is a popular sight and activity. Located between the capital and the main airport, it's also easily accessible to most visitors
  • Iceland offers many hiking opportunities. Should you choose to walk outside of walking paths, strong walking boots which support your ankles are recommended as the terrain is usually craggy lava rock or springy moss with hidden holes!
  • Iceland is not well known for skiing or big ski areas but the town of Akureyri in the north has a great little ski area and the mountains of the Troll Peninsula offer world class terrain for ski touring, ski mountaineering and heli skiing.
  • Ice climbing is great with world class frozen waterfalls and plenty of glaciers.
  • Glacier hiking is one of Iceland´s most popular tourist things to do with the area of Skaftafell in the southeast being the center of activity.
  • Whale watching available all year from Reykjavík and during the summer from Husavik.
  • There are some good opportunities to go snowmobiling and this can provide access to otherwise inaccessible areas.

Buy

Money

The local currency is the Icelandic króna, denoted by the abbreviation "kr" (ISO code: ISK). Although its value collapsed dramatically during the 2008 economic crisis, it has since recovered against the major world currencies. As prices of imported goods rose dramatically following the 2008 economic crisis but have not been reduced since the recovery of the króna, Iceland ranks among the most expensive countries in the world to visit, with some recent surveys suggesting that Iceland has surpassed Norway and Switzerland to become the world's most expensive country.

You will get a better rate of exchange if you buy and sell your króna in Iceland itself. Just about every establishment in Iceland will accept a credit card, including taxis, gas stations, souvenir stands, and even the most remote guest house, so it is not necessary to carry large amounts of Icelandic currency. However, due to the currency's instability some credit cards are still wary of króna transactions, so check with your bank before you go and don't rely entirely on plastic.

Following the 2008 economic crisis, foreign trading in the króna has been restricted, so you may struggle to get króna notes in your home country.

Costs

Getting to Iceland can be done fairly cheaply: Icelandair and WOW Air both offer many excellent fares and promotions, and Keflavík International Airport will soon welcome the European low-cost airline, EasyJet.

However, as soon as one steps off the plane the situation changes quite drastically - prices in Iceland can be vastly higher than in other parts of Europe due to the high import duties and the 25.5% VAT rate, particularly for alcohol, foreign foods, clothing, etc. For example, many retail goods can be 3-4 times more expensive than in North America.

The difference in prices between Iceland and the rest of Northern Europe is much less; petrol is cheaper, for example.

Useful discount card schemes exist for tourists, the most significant being Reykjavík City Card, operated by the City of Reykjavík.

When shopping for food or other basic necessities, look for the Bónus. Netto or Krónan shops, as they offer considerably lower prices than the others. Downtown Reykjavík is also home to several second-hand stores like Red Cross and Salvation Army, which can come in handy for buying cheap warm layers.

Expect to spend kr 700-1200 on a pint of beer or glass of wine, kr 1700-2200 on a pizza for one person, kr 350 on a city bus ride and kr 350-600 for a coffee or espresso drink.

Cigarettes cost around kr 950 for a packet of 20. Be aware that the law in Iceland states that cigarettes must not be visible in shops, however most gas stations, supermarkets and newsagents sell them.

Tipping

In Iceland tipping is not practiced. In rare cases an attempt to leave a tip may be seen as insulting, so instead consider offering verbal praise for a job well done. Some Icelandic companies have started having a tipping jar next to the cash register but these are generally ignored.

Shopping

Typical Icelandic products that make good souvenirs include:

  • Icelandic wool products. Icelandic sheep are a unique breed that produce a soft and durable wool, and Icelandic woolen goods (hats, gloves, etc.) are soft and warm; don't just buy them for other people if you plan to visit the interior.
  • Arts and crafts. Iceland has a huge number of great little craft shops that sell everything from musical baskets and wonderful weird porcelain sculptures to paintings, glasswork, and jewelery. The National Galleries tend to carry the same artist's work in the gift shops rather than the usual mass-marketed products found in so many other museums.
  • Local music. There is a plethora of interesting local music CDs (beyond just Björk and Sigur Rós) worth hunting for. Obscurities worth picking up include Eberg, Hera [12], Retro Stefson, FM Belfast, Worm is Green, Múm, Singapore Sling, and Bellatrix. Be warned that many of these CDs are often available back home as imports for much lower prices. CDs tend to cost kr 1500-2000.

Eat

See also: Nordic cuisine

Icelandic cuisine has changed a lot in the last few decades from involving mainly lamb or fish in some form or other, as the popularity of other types of food has increased. A vegetarian diet is more tricky to maintain but there are several vegetarian restaurants in Reykjavík and vegetarian dishes are widely available at other restaurants.

Distinctively Icelandic foods include:

  • fish
  • harðfiskur, dried fish pieces eaten as a snack with butter (also good with coleslaw)
  • skyr, a yoghurt-like cheese available in flavoured and unflavoured varieties all over the country. Low in fat and high in protein.
  • hangikjöt, smoked lamb
  • smoked lamb sausage
  • svið, singed sheep's head
  • Slátur, consists of lifrarpylsa, a sausage made from the offal of sheep, and blóðmör which is similar to lifrapylsa only with the sheep's blood mixed into it.

Iceland is famous for its whale meat, and is one of the few places in the world where it is possible to eat Minke whale. Whaling has long been a tradition in Iceland, albeit it has become a controversial issue in recent times. However, most restaurants that cater to tourists will sell whale meat, and if you are feeling a little more adventurous some places will serve grated puffin with it if you ask.

During the Þorri season (late January-Early February) many Icelanders enjoy Þorramatur, a selection of traditional Icelandic cuisine which usually contain the following: hákarl (putrefied shark cubes), Sviðasulta (brawn [head cheese] made from svið), Lundabaggi (Sheep's fat) and hrútspungar (pickled ram's testicles). Þorramatur is usually served at gatherings known as Þorrablót. If you find yourself invited to a Þorrablót do not be afraid to (politely) refuse some of the more unpalatable delicacies, as many Icelanders choose to do so as well. Don't worry about going hungry, though, as many of the more "normal" foods mentioned above are almost always available too. If uncertain which is which, do not be afraid to ask the caterers for assistance.

A similar event to Þorrablót is Þorláksmessa, celebrated on 23 December each year. During this day you might find yourself invited to skötuveislur where cured skate is served. As with Þorrablót, you can politely refuse to partake in the skate (other type of fish is usually served alongside it for the less adventurous). A word of warning though, the pungent smell that accompanies the cooking of cured skate is very strong and sticks to hair and clothing very easily. Do not wear formal (expensive) clothing at these gatherings, especially not clothing you intend to wear during Christmas.

Any Icelanders' first choice of fast food is usually the pylsa or hot dog. It is usually served with a choice of fried onions, fresh onions, ketchup, mustard and remoulade. It is cheap compared with other fast food staples at around kr 350, and is sold in every one of the small convenience stores/eateries/video rentals/sweet shops that litter Icelandic towns. At least in Reykjavik you can also encounter food trucks and carts selling piping hot lamb meat soup (kjötsúpa). They also have a vegetarian alternative - the same soup minus the meat.

Food prices are particularly high in Iceland - the following sample prices were accurate as of summer 2016:

  • kr 1000 - 2000 for a hamburger.
  • kr 350 - 500 for a hotdog
  • kr 3000 - 6000 for a three-course meal in a restaurant.

Drink

Tap water is safe to drink in Iceland and it is one of the countries with the cleanest water in the world. Coffee is easy to find and is comparable to what is found throughout Europe. Juices are generally imported and made from concentrate.

Alcoholic drinks are very expensive compared to the UK and US - as an example, half a litre of Viking beer in a bar will cost approximately kr 900. Liquor can be purchased at licensed bars, restaurants, or Vínbúðin, the state monopoly (locally known as Ríkið: "the state") liquor bought there is much cheaper than at bars, there you pay kr 350 for the same beer you paid kr 900 for at the bar. The local Icelandic drinks such as Brennivín ("Black death") contain a fairly high alcohol content, so pace yourself while at the bars.

The local beer brands are:

  • Egils: Lite, Gull, Pilsner, Premium, El Grillo
  • Vífillfell: Thule, Gull, Lite, Víking
  • Bruggsmiðjan : Kaldi
  • Ölvisholt Brewery: Skjálfti
  • Ölgerð Reykjavíkur: Gullfoss

For visitors arriving by air, there is a duty free store for arriving passengers where they can buy cheap alcohol (at least cheap compared to Iceland). To find the duty free store just follow the Icelanders. No Icelander in their right mind will pass the duty free store upon arrival!

Be sure to not exceed the allowance which is 1L strong alcohol and 1L light wine (less than 22%) or 1L strong and 6L of beer. The strong alcohol can be exchanged for either 1L light wine or 6L beer.

The drinking age in Iceland is 18 for all alcoholic beverages. But you'll have to be 20 or older to buy alcoholic beverages.

Sleep

If you're visiting in summertime you won't regret bringing an eye mask with you. During the height of summer there is no actual darkness and in the north, the sun might just dip for a few minutes below the horizon.

For travel during the high season (July and August), and even in September, reserving a month or more in advance can help ensure that you find suitable and affordable accommodation. Reserving later can put you at risk of having to take more costly accommodation.

The hotels are usually fairly basic around the island but you can usually get a room even in August just by phoning them up and reserving it before you get there. They are very clean and well maintained, light and airy with nothing at all that could even remotely be considered 'dingy'. They are expensive though. Fosshotels is a chain of 12 hotels located throughout Iceland, close to the island's most treasured nature spots and major cities of Iceland. The most popular hotel is Fosshotel Nupar, located in by the National Park Skaftafell. The accommodation in Fosshotel hotels is diverse and Scandinavian breakfast buffet is always included. Fosshotels are part of Hotels of Iceland. Icelandair Hotels include the Edda [13] summer hotels and the Icelandair hotels. Icelandair Hotels are upscale, Scandinavian style hotels located in most major cities of Iceland. Most notable is the Nordica on the outskirts of downtown Reykjavík.

Guesthouses are between hotels and hostels in prices and services. At some times if travelling in groups the guesthouses can be cheaper than the hostels. Guesthouses will usually have more space than a hostel with a shared bathroom that is cleaner and less crowded. Icelandic Farm Holidays: the members are farmers who offer accommodation to travellers in their homes, guesthouses, country-hotels and cottages. The association was founded in 1980 and from 1990 Icelandic Farm Holidays has been a fully licensed tour operator and a travel agent. The accommodation is diverse; made up beds in four different categories, with or without private bathroom, sleeping bag accommodation, cottages and camping. Some of the farms offer also various recreation; horse riding, fishing, hunting, sailing, swimming, glacier tours, golf, etc. You can grab their brochure from tourist information centres or find it on their webpage. It is very informative and lists all farms, the services they provide, at what time of the year and contact information. It is best to call in advance to book, especially in the summer.

Iceland has many hostels throughout the entire country. Thirty-seven of them belong to Hostelling International Iceland [14] and it is best it to buy the international membership card (if you do not have it already), if you are staying for four or more nights at HI hostels in Iceland or abroad within the next 12 months. Bring your bedlinen or sleeping bag to avoid extra costs.

If you're travelling on a budget, camping is your best bet. There are sites located throughout the country, especially at places you'd want to visit. They range from fully-equipped (hot showers, washing machines, cooking facilities) to farmers' fields with a cold-water tap. Expect to pay kr 500-1000 per person per night. If you intend to camp in Iceland you must be prepared for the cold, 3-season sleeping bags are essential and an inner. Thick pyjamas and a warm hat are also recommended! A bedding roll is also useful as you may end up sleeping on very rough ground. Don't wait until last minute to find a place to camp. Campers and mobile homes have become immensely popular among Icelanders and they take up a lot of space. You could arrive at a large camping ground that's so filled up with campers and mobile homes that you'll have no place to pitch your tent.

Trekkers will need to use some of the mountain huts, either government or privately-run. These range from dormitory accommodation to fully-staffed facilities. Booking ahead is likely to be necessary at popular times of year (and they may only be accessible in summertime).

Don't bother attempting to sleep in the Keflavík Airport overnight. It's far better to find a hotel in Keflavík or Reykjavík before arrival. If there are no flights to be serviced in the middle of the night (which is most often the case) the airport is closed for a few hours at night and you might have to stand outside in the rain and wind.

Work

Unemployment in Iceland is rising and the wages are crashing, right now Iceland is not a place to come in hopes of finding work. Work permits are required for citizens of most countries. The exceptions are citizens of the Nordic Countries (Greenland, Faroe Islands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Åland Islands, Finland) and EU/EEA countries. There are no restrictions on the latest entrants into the EU.

Work permits can be extremely difficult to get if you do not come from any of the aforementioned countries, as Iceland has a relatively strict immigration policy and employers are obligated to consider Icelandic or EU citizens above all other applicants. As a small nation, a great deal of emphasis is placed on family ties and personal relationships; therefore it can be difficult to find a job in Iceland without personally knowing someone in a company.

Beware of offers for contracted work in Iceland. Your wage levels may be lower than average and your rights may be affected. Iceland is a highly unionized society with over 90% of the workforce in labour unions.

A great resource is the Directorate of Labour website.

Stay safe

Emergency phone number: 112

Iceland is one of the safest places in the world, so there is almost no chance of getting robbed or harassed. This, however, excludes Reykjavík, which has begun to suffer instances of petty theft and night-time violence. Use common sense when sampling the night life and be alert.

Nature

The greatest dangers to tourists in Iceland are found in the nature. Always do what the signs tell you to do. If there are no signs, use common knowledge. Every year, quite a few tourists get hurt, even killed, in the mountains or on the seas, usually after given, unheeded warnings. For example, do not approach a glacier front, big waves on the coast, or a big waterfall unless you know what you're doing, and do not walk on glaciers without proper training and equipment. Iceland is a volcanically active country and you can get caught in an eruption, but chances of that are extremely low.

When hiking or skiing, be prepared for a sudden shift in the weather, as these can happen very quickly in Iceland. If unsure about conditions, ask locals or go on a guided tour. Icelanders are taught to respect nature's power and take care of themselves outdoors in the wilderness from childhood, so you usually won't find fences or warning signs even at the most dangerous places.

Driving

Driving around Iceland can be difficult or even dangerous. Inform yourself of local conditions and make sure your vehicle and driving skills are up to the task. Be aware that many roads (even parts of the main country road) are unpaved and can turn into slippery mud during the summer. There have been a number of instances where foreigners, unprepared for Icelandic roads, have had accidents, some of them fatal. Since the roads are very quiet and the distances between settlements great, some Icelanders abuse this by speeding considerably. Sheep sometimes roam near the roads or even on them, so always have your eyes open and be on the lookout for sheep, as they tend to wait for cars before crossing the roads.

Check out the following website for up-to-date road-condition information: [15].

Road numbers starting with an F are for 4x4 vehicles only, and are usually simple dirt paths made by a road scraper and it's not uncommon that river crossings are required. Many F-roads are closed due to extremely bad road conditions from October to mid-June. Non-4x4 vehicles are prohibited on these roads.

Speed limits on highways are 90 km/h on paved roads and 80 km/h on unpaved roads.

Rules and regulations

Rules and regulations in the traffic are generally the same as in the rest of Europe. Foreign visitors should be aware that police controls are common and that fines are very high, and should take special note of the following rules:

The give way rule is universal. On roads without the "Yellow Diamond" sign, all traffic from your right hand side has the right of way; you must yield to traffic from any road to your right, except from private areas such as parking lots. Headlights are mandatory even during daylight.

The general speed limit is 90 km/h in the country side and on motorways, and 50 km/h in urban areas.

There are no specific rules for change of speed limit (as in some other countries) when driving conditions change. The driver is expected to adjust speed downward to a safe level in for instance fog, heavy rain or snow.

Don't drink and drive. Your blood alcohol concentration must not exceed 0.05%. One small beer can be enough. This rule is strictly enforced and violators risk a minimum fine of kr 100,000, a long (or even indefinite) suspension of the driver's licence and prison time.

On typical Icelandic two-lane road with a narrow shoulder, overtaking is only allowed on long straightaways with plenty visibility. Overtake only if really necessary, consider alternatives like taking a short break.

Using one's vehicle horn is considered impolite and should only be used in an emergency.

Right turn on red is illegal.

Do not stop on a highway: find a pull-out (sometimes marked with a blue sign with a white 'M'), a designated parking area (blue sign with a white 'P'), a picnic area, or a farmer's road. Stopping on a road with a 90-km speed limit is dangerous and illegal, yet you are bound to see stupid tourists doing this.

Drugs

The Icelandic Narcotics Police has a very strict policy on drugs; minimum fine for possession of under 1 gram (3/100 of an oz.) of any illegal substance can result in a fine of over kr 70,000.

Stay healthy

The medical facilities in Iceland are good and subsidized for European Union citizens with an European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and passport. Scandinavian citizens must show a valid passport to get subsidised medical costs.

Should EU citizens not have the necessary documents then they will be charged for the full cost of the medical treatment. Citizens outside of EU should check if their travel insurance covers medical treatment.

Infectious diseases aren't a problem in Iceland. Inoculations aren't required except if you are arriving from countries that suffer from infectious diseases like cholera.

The biggest threat to your health is likely to be accidental injury or bad weather. Always make sure you have more than adequately warm and waterproof clothing. Selection of appropriate clothing is especially important in Iceland and can even be a matter of life and death. Exercise extra caution in geothermal areas: What may appear to be solid ground can sometimes not be so solid, breaking from underneath your feet with you falling into potentially deadly boiling water.

The water quality in Iceland is excellent and tap water is always drinkable.

The hygiene in public kitchens is very good, and food poisoning rarely happens to tourists.

Respect

  • Some Icelanders claim to believe in the hidden people — called huldufólk — and a few even claim to have seen them. They are analogous to elves, but are often considered separate. There is even a museum in Reykjavík devoted to the hidden people. This is an ancient Icelandic belief and most Icelanders respect the tradition. Skepticism thus can appear rude.
  • It is customary for one to take one's shoes off after entering private homes. In case your hosts do not mind, they will say so.
  • Punctuality is not as important in Iceland as it is in many other northern European countries. People may often not appear until 15 minutes later than the stated time, and even much later than that for parties or other social gatherings.
  • When speaking English, Icelanders may use the word fuck more often than expected by Anglophones. This is because brusque opinions are commonly expressed and should not be taken badly and also, the Icelandic equivalent of this word is not as strong a swear word as in English.
  • If you feel an urge to discuss the global economic crisis, keep in mind that it is an emotive issue - Iceland has suffered more than many in the banking crisis and ordinary people have lost a great deal of purchasing power
  • It is not uncommon for an Icelander to ask a foreigner for his or her opinion of Iceland as a first question. The standard question is: "How do you like Iceland?" This is in large due to Iceland being a very small country, but it is also a country-wide inside joke of sorts. It is often best to be positive, as many Icelanders are likely to be offended by negative views of their country and thus get defensive.
  • Iceland is one of only a few countries with an active whaling industry, and if you choose to assert an anti-whaling position expect some Icelanders to have strong pro-whaling opinions and be well prepared to argue the issue and do not expect to win the argument.

Connect

Telephone

In case of emergency call 112 from any phone.

Such calls are free and will be answered by an emergency services operator who will ask you which services you need (police, fire, ambulance, coastguard, rescue teams, civil protection and protection against child abuse) and for your location.

Phone numbers for non-urgent calls differ to where you are situated in the country. Calls for non-urgent medical services in the capital region should be made on 1770.

Directory enqueries (number lookup) of Icelandic phone numbers are provided by the Icelandic telecom, in the telephone number 1818.

The Icelandic country code is 354. When calling Iceland from overseas, dial your international access code (00 from most of Europe, 011 from the US and Canada or "+" from any mobile phone) followed by subscriber number. Iceland does not use area codes.

Payphones are not common, due to widespread use of mobile phones.

Costs for calls from a landline phone are based on a dial-up fee along with a fee for each minute. The dial up fee for all domestic phones is typically kr 3, each minute to landlines costs kr 10 and each minute to GSM costs around kr 21 (as of December 2014).

Mobile

Mobile phones are heavily used. The main networks are Icelandic telecom, Vodafone and Nova. The former two (Icelandic telecom and Vodafone) have use of 2G services, and all of them have use of 3G and 4G services. 2G coverage is very well developed, covering most of the country. 3G has less coverage and 4G covers only the most populated parts of the country.

Given that the call is from domestic numbers, there is no charge for calls that you recive on your handset.

Pay as you go (prepaid) plans are available. Credit the phone up with a top-up card, at an ATM or at the website of your telecommunications company; there is no contract and no bills. Some operators also offer packages which mix texts, phone calls and/or data at affordable rates. These packages can come with your intial top-up or deducted from your balance.

If you have an unlocked GSM-compatible handset (dual- and tri-band phones with the frequencies 800, 900, 1800 and 2100 MHz are compatible) you can purchase a SIM card from phone outlets.

Costs for calls from an mobile are based on a dial-up fee along with an fee for each minute. The dial-up fee for all domestic numbers is typically kr 10, each minute to all domestic phones costs kr 20 and kr 15 for each text message. The cost for internet access varies more: kr 6.6-13 per megabite (as of December 2014).

Internet

Internet hot spots can be found at resturants, cafés and airports. For the customers of those places, the internet is free of charge.

A large portion of Iceland is covered by 3G coverage. 3G data services should roam seamlessly onto Icelandic networks. USB data cards that offer connectivity to 3G or 4G are available from the icelandic telecommunications companies. 4G is also slowly being rolled out across larger towns in Iceland.

The Amateur Traveler talks to Dave Grenewetzki about his recent trip to Iceland. Taking advantage of the weakness of the Icelandic economy Dave and his family drove the ring road around Iceland and visited places with great names like the waterfalls Svartifoss, Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss and Gulfoss, Lake Myvatn and the dark castles of Dimmuborgir, the glacial lagoon of Jokulsarlon, the geysers of Geysir and Strokkur, the geothermal activity of Namaskard pass, the university town of Akureyri, the hobbit-like town of Glaumbaer. They went bird watching at Ingolfshofdi, took in the baths at the Blue Lagoon, took the free welcome walking tour of Reykjavik with Jonas, zigzagged between icebergs, hiked to Thingvellir, and took in the tourist attraction of the Midlina bridge.
For me, the beauty of travel is how even mundane days at home are enlivened by those memories. Random snippets of news or information send my mind to intriguing places I've visited and experiences I had there. When I noticed that my jeans were made in Jordan, my mind leaped to Petra, the city carved into rocks. I visited a couple of years ago during a trip to Israel. When I read a story about...

roundup

From the stark whiteness of Iceland in winter to the vibrant greens found in sun-kissed Bangladesh, it was all about colour in this month’s roundup of our Pathfinders’ top Instagrams.

Every month we share the most eye-catching and interesting captures from our Pathfinders community. Here are our selections for January.

Istanbul, Turkey

A photo posted by Macca Sherifi (@backpackermacca) on Jan 17, 2016 at 5:01am PST

‘Taken just days after the bombings in Istanbul, this is the everlasting beauty of the Blue Mosque, one of those places that you’ve just got to see with your own eyes regardless of what’s going on around you.’ – Macca, A Brit and Abroad.   Why we like it: We love the angle of this shot, and the way it captures the contrast of the warm glow of the lighting against a backdrop of moody shades.

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

 

A photo posted by Dan James | Travel Photography (@danflyingsolo) on Jan 11, 2016 at 9:29am PST

Iceland at the start of the new year was a blanket of snow. I thought it might wash the photos out but the beautiful blues of the rivers make for a stunning contrast.’ – Daniel, Dan Flying Solo.   Why we like it: There’s no doubt that Iceland has some epic landscapes to its name, and this aerial shot showcases just one of them. We like how the contrast in the deep blues against the stark whites help depict the full force of nature. It also makes us feel a little chilly!

Black Rock City, Nevada

A photo posted by A:M (@violetspring) on Jan 22, 2016 at 5:39pm PST

‘Amidst this grape-like haze, this magical moment was captured at Burning Man 2015. During this event, as dusk laid its blanket across the sky it would personify the calm before the storm- allowing moments of beautiful, quiet reflection before nights laced with wickedly wonderful behaviour. It was a personal and spiritual experience that will stay with me always and has taught me the essence of being completely consumed by the moment.’ – A, TRPN.   Why we like it: We love the shades of colour captured in this photo and how they progressively deepen, which gives us a sense of calm amidst the busy event.

Andalucia, Spain

A photo posted by A World to Travel (@aworldtotravel) on Jan 17, 2016 at 3:22pm PST

‘There is some magic in finding the right spot for sunset when you are road tripping your way around a new region. Gibraltar’s presence, a unique UK redoubt in the Southern tip of Spain, stands out as lights dim. So close and yet so far.’ – Inma, A World to Travel.   Why we like it: The contrast in the busy Spanish road against the darkness of the mountains and the (very still) rock of Gibraltar in the background, all bought together under a tremendous sunset. The colours really pop out of this shot.

Hum Hum Waterfall Park, Bangladesh

A photo posted by Alice Teacake (@teacaketravels) on Jan 13, 2016 at 6:35am PST

As we waded knee deep through the fresh waters of the park with our guide, our journey was full of joyous moments as the sun kept popping through the trees’ leaves in the sky. I kept back from the group for a minute to soak the natural beauty of Bangladesh up and snap this uplifting shot.’ – Alice, Teacake Travels.   Why we like it: This capture makes us want to reach for our passports, immediately. We love the way the sun filters into this shot which brings out out the gorgeous greens of the lush forestry and an overall element of fantasy.  

For your chance to be featured in our next round up, sign up to Lonely Planet Pathfinders – our programme for travel-loving bloggers and social content creators. In the meantime, you can get more Instagram inspiration by following @lonelyplanet.

Of all the places we get requests to run tours, Peru and Iceland and far and away the most popular.  I get emails almost every week asking when our next Peru travel photography workshop will be.  I get about the same amount of emails for Iceland.  So, it was just a matter of time before […]
Of all the places we get requests to run tours, Peru and Iceland and far and away the most popular.  I get emails almost every week asking when our next Peru travel photography workshop will be.  I get about the same amount of emails for Iceland.  So, it was just a matter of time before […]
Beyond outdoor exploits, Husafell offers a luxury hotel with a new wing of guest rooms that are ideal for family travel.
Skúli Mogensen of WOW Air spends a lot of time in the sky. Here is where he likes to go, and what he brings.
A figure with a surfboard

Photo: Chris Burkard

Driving around Iceland feels more like a rover-ride on a different planet than a different country, and as a rule of thumb, the further you get from Reykjavik, the better Iceland’s offerings become.

The route

The Ring Road is a windy two-lane road circumnavigates the entire island, and since Iceland’s attractions are based predominantly around its perimeter, (that is, unless you’re ready for the Highlands, which you aren’t), the Ring Road becomes a perfect round trip itinerary for checking off some of Iceland’s coolest stops.

Starting in Reykjavik, begin by heading southeast to Vík, where you’ll find epic waterfalls, black sand beaches, abandoned plane wrecks, natural hot springs, and herds of wild horses. From there, move east to Höfn for a glacier trek and an afternoon with the bobbing icebergs at Jökulsárlón’s lagoon of crystalline glacial runoff. Next, head north to Akureyri for a glimpse of the northern lights, with pit stops along the way at the Myvatn Nature Baths, and Góðafoss (the “Waterfall of the Gods”). Heading west from Akureyri, don’t miss the grass — roofed houses at Glaumbær on your way to the Westfjords, where you can climb around on beached oil tankers in Patreksfjörður or play with Iceland’s only native land mammal at the Arctic Fox Centre. Finally, take a drive around the bony Snæfellsnes peninsula and visit the fantastical Kirkjufellfoss or the iconic Búðir Black Church. From there, it’s only a short drive to Reykjavik.

Things to note

Driving the Ring Road is definitively best in the summer, as the days are literally never — ending and the driving conditions are easy-going. However, summer months mean crowded campsites and tourist traffic-jams, so consider driving the Ring Road in the early fall. Winter and early spring are no-go’s, as weather conditions often render parts of the Ring Road impassable. Finally, if you’re not diametrically opposed to “roughing it” in the slightest sense of the word, opt for one of the rental car agencies that offer sleep-n-go vehicles with cooking equipment included and a bed in the back of the car. This is doubly important given Iceland’s ‘Law of Survival,’ which states that you can camp on any man’s land for 24-hours and eat anything that you find growing on the property. That means no hotel bills and, if you’re really dedicated, no food bills either.

Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.

Reykjavik

 ReykjavikReykjavík, IcelandStart your road trip in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik. For the best views of the city head up to the top of Hallgrimskirkja and look out at the colorful rooftops spanning from the church square all the way down to the harbor. #free #history #viewpoint

Gljúfrabui

 GljúfrabuiVík, IcelandOn your way to Vík, make a pit stop at Seljalandsfoss to visit the waterfall. While Seljalandsfoss is a well-known and very popular tourist attraction, Gljúfrabui is tucked away behind a ravine only five minutes from its better-known counterpart, but sees only a fraction of the foot traffic.

Seljavallalaug

 Seljavallalaug, IcelandJust east of Vík, this quiet and well-out-of-the-way natural hot spring is heated by geothermal energy and open year round for those brave enough to hike to it.

Reynisfjara

 ReynisfjaraVík, IcelandOne of Iceland’s better known attractions, this black sandy beach is lined with geometric basalt columns that seem to defy mother nature’s predilection for smooth, round shapes. Great for photos, not so much for swimming.

Dyrhólaey Arch

 Dyrhólaey Arch, IcelandOne of Iceland’s most iconic viewpoints, the Dyrhólaey Arch looks out across a panoramic view of Iceland’s legendary Black Sand Beaches.

Solheimasandur

 Solheimasandur, IcelandJust off of Route 1, a few miles west of Vík, this abandoned plane wreck makes for a perfect spot to stretch your legs and snap a few highly-instagrammable photos before continuing east.

Kvernufoss Falls

 Kvernufoss Falls, IcelandSimilar to the always-touristy Seljalandsfoss but without a crowd, visitors to this waterfall can walk behind the falls and snap some tourist-free gems. If photography isn’t your thing, you can simply take in the view and keep the stray sheep company.

Fjaðrárgljúfur

 Fjaðrárgljúfur, IcelandThis windy riverbed ravine is about as old as the Earth itself, having been around since before the dinosaurs. The ravine is deep enough now that a hike along the southern edge will give even the most vertigo-immune a healthy fear of heights.

Svartifoss waterfall

 Svartifoss waterfall, IcelandA quick one-hour hike will lead you to this remote and mostly tourist-free waterfall lined with sharp-edged geometric basalt columns. Don’t miss the view of duel volcanos on the hike up!

Jökulsárlón

 JökulsárlónHöfn í Hornafirði, IcelandMassive icebergs float lazily in a lake of glacial runoff. To the south, car-sized rafts of ice drift down the river to the sea and wash up on the black sandy shores.

Stokksnes

 Stokksnes, IcelandBlack sandy beaches with towering, snow-capped mountains looming in the distance. There’s also an abandoned Viking village used for film sets a short walk down the beach.

Myvatn Nature Baths

 Myvatn Nature BathsReykjahlíð, IcelandWarm up in one of Iceland’s most famous (and most commercial) natural hot springs. The nature baths at Myvatn have all the appeal of the Blue Lagoon to the west, but without the crowds.

Góðafoss Waterfall

 Góðafoss Waterfall, IcelandIn Icelandic, Gódafoss means “waterfall of the gods,” which is a fitting name for this epic landmark.

Galumbær

 Galumbær, IcelandLovely little grass-roof houses with an anthropological museum tucked inside the ancient buildings.

Arctic Fox Centre

 Arctic Fox CentreSúðavík, IcelandThis museum houses two floors of information dedicated to Iceland’s only native mammal: the Arctic Fox. The real treat is the pen out back where you can play with the foxes yourself.

Patreksfjördur

 Patreksfjördur, IcelandThis beached ship is now a tourist landmark where you can stop to take photos and climb around the rusty shell of the ship (at your own risk, of course).

Búðakirkja

 Búðakirkja, IcelandIceland’s famous black church is more a photo-op than a cultural landmark, but don’t miss a quick pit stop here. Your instagram feed will thank you for it.

A figure with a surfboard

Photo: Chris Burkard

Driving around Iceland feels more like a rover-ride on a different planet than a different country, and as a rule of thumb, the further you get from Reykjavik, the better Iceland’s offerings become.

The route

The Ring Road is a windy two-lane road circumnavigates the entire island, and since Iceland’s attractions are based predominantly around its perimeter, (that is, unless you’re ready for the Highlands, which you aren’t), the Ring Road becomes a perfect round trip itinerary for checking off some of Iceland’s coolest stops.

Starting in Reykjavik, begin by heading southeast to Vík, where you’ll find epic waterfalls, black sand beaches, abandoned plane wrecks, natural hot springs, and herds of wild horses. From there, move east to Höfn for a glacier trek and an afternoon with the bobbing icebergs at Jökulsárlón’s lagoon of crystalline glacial runoff. Next, head north to Akureyri for a glimpse of the northern lights, with pit stops along the way at the Myvatn Nature Baths, and Góðafoss (the “Waterfall of the Gods”). Heading west from Akureyri, don’t miss the grass — roofed houses at Glaumbær on your way to the Westfjords, where you can climb around on beached oil tankers in Patreksfjörður or play with Iceland’s only native land mammal at the Arctic Fox Centre. Finally, take a drive around the bony Snæfellsnes peninsula and visit the fantastical Kirkjufellfoss or the iconic Búðir Black Church. From there, it’s only a short drive to Reykjavik.

Things to note

Driving the Ring Road is definitively best in the summer, as the days are literally never — ending and the driving conditions are easy-going. However, summer months mean crowded campsites and tourist traffic-jams, so consider driving the Ring Road in the early fall. Winter and early spring are no-go’s, as weather conditions often render parts of the Ring Road impassable. Finally, if you’re not diametrically opposed to “roughing it” in the slightest sense of the word, opt for one of the rental car agencies that offer sleep-n-go vehicles with cooking equipment included and a bed in the back of the car. This is doubly important given Iceland’s ‘Law of Survival,’ which states that you can camp on any man’s land for 24-hours and eat anything that you find growing on the property. That means no hotel bills and, if you’re really dedicated, no food bills either.

Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.

Reykjavik

 ReykjavikReykjavík, IcelandStart your road trip in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik. For the best views of the city head up to the top of Hallgrimskirkja and look out at the colorful rooftops spanning from the church square all the way down to the harbor. #free #history #viewpoint

Gljúfrabui

 GljúfrabuiVík, IcelandOn your way to Vík, make a pit stop at Seljalandsfoss to visit the waterfall. While Seljalandsfoss is a well-known and very popular tourist attraction, Gljúfrabui is tucked away behind a ravine only five minutes from its better-known counterpart, but sees only a fraction of the foot traffic.

Seljavallalaug

 Seljavallalaug, IcelandJust east of Vík, this quiet and well-out-of-the-way natural hot spring is heated by geothermal energy and open year round for those brave enough to hike to it.

Reynisfjara

 ReynisfjaraVík, IcelandOne of Iceland’s better known attractions, this black sandy beach is lined with geometric basalt columns that seem to defy mother nature’s predilection for smooth, round shapes. Great for photos, not so much for swimming.

Dyrhólaey Arch

 Dyrhólaey Arch, IcelandOne of Iceland’s most iconic viewpoints, the Dyrhólaey Arch looks out across a panoramic view of Iceland’s legendary Black Sand Beaches.

Solheimasandur

 Solheimasandur, IcelandJust off of Route 1, a few miles west of Vík, this abandoned plane wreck makes for a perfect spot to stretch your legs and snap a few highly-instagrammable photos before continuing east.

Kvernufoss Falls

 Kvernufoss Falls, IcelandSimilar to the always-touristy Seljalandsfoss but without a crowd, visitors to this waterfall can walk behind the falls and snap some tourist-free gems. If photography isn’t your thing, you can simply take in the view and keep the stray sheep company.

Fjaðrárgljúfur

 Fjaðrárgljúfur, IcelandThis windy riverbed ravine is about as old as the Earth itself, having been around since before the dinosaurs. The ravine is deep enough now that a hike along the southern edge will give even the most vertigo-immune a healthy fear of heights.

Svartifoss waterfall

 Svartifoss waterfall, IcelandA quick one-hour hike will lead you to this remote and mostly tourist-free waterfall lined with sharp-edged geometric basalt columns. Don’t miss the view of duel volcanos on the hike up!

Jökulsárlón

 JökulsárlónHöfn í Hornafirði, IcelandMassive icebergs float lazily in a lake of glacial runoff. To the south, car-sized rafts of ice drift down the river to the sea and wash up on the black sandy shores.

Stokksnes

 Stokksnes, IcelandBlack sandy beaches with towering, snow-capped mountains looming in the distance. There’s also an abandoned Viking village used for film sets a short walk down the beach.

Myvatn Nature Baths

 Myvatn Nature BathsReykjahlíð, IcelandWarm up in one of Iceland’s most famous (and most commercial) natural hot springs. The nature baths at Myvatn have all the appeal of the Blue Lagoon to the west, but without the crowds.

Góðafoss Waterfall

 Góðafoss Waterfall, IcelandIn Icelandic, Gódafoss means “waterfall of the gods,” which is a fitting name for this epic landmark.

Galumbær

 Galumbær, IcelandLovely little grass-roof houses with an anthropological museum tucked inside the ancient buildings.

Arctic Fox Centre

 Arctic Fox CentreSúðavík, IcelandThis museum houses two floors of information dedicated to Iceland’s only native mammal: the Arctic Fox. The real treat is the pen out back where you can play with the foxes yourself.

Patreksfjördur

 Patreksfjördur, IcelandThis beached ship is now a tourist landmark where you can stop to take photos and climb around the rusty shell of the ship (at your own risk, of course).

Búðakirkja

 Búðakirkja, IcelandIceland’s famous black church is more a photo-op than a cultural landmark, but don’t miss a quick pit stop here. Your instagram feed will thank you for it.

diving between tectonic plates in iceland

Photo by author

The Earth is broken into several gigantic landmasses, or “tectonic plates”. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge separates the Eurasian tectonic plates from North American tectonic plates. 

While about 90% of these tectonic plates (including the Mid-Atlantic Ridge) are usually an under-ocean phenomenon, there are a few rare places on Earth like Thingvellir National Park in Iceland where the plates extends above sea level, giving us an incredible opportunity to witness them with our own eyes as you can see from the picture we took above.

Getting there

The dive (or snorkel) is located in the Silfra fissure, in the middle of Thingvellir National Park. Thingvellir is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Whether you are just doing a stopover in Iceland or have set your base at Reykjavik, you don’t have to take a big detour for this adventure. It’s about a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik and 1-hour-and-15-minute drive from Keflavik International Airport. The best way to see Iceland is to rent your own 4×4 and drive around discovering places as you go. Tip: If renting a car is not on your agenda then don’t worry, most every diving tour company provides pick-up options from Reykjavik at a slightly additional cost. 

diving between tectonic plates in iceland

Photo by author

Why should you do this?

Finally, here are 5 reasons why we think this is a must do. It sure was one of the most memorable experiences of our Iceland trip.

Experience standing in between two continents.

You get to stand right in between two continents, North America and Europe! The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is causing the drift of Eurasian and North American tectonic plates every year by almost 6mm, a phenomenon you don’t get to see often above sea level. There are only a few places on Earth where it extends out of the surface of the ocean to be seen above sea level, one of which is Iceland. How cool is that!

Swim between the two tectonic plates and be able to touch them both.

Now imagine being able to touch these 2 tectonic plates at the same time…yes, you can! There are several fissures created due to drifting of tectonic plates and one such fissure called Silfra is a safe and convenient spot for snorkelers and divers to experience this amazing phenomenon. The temperature of the water in Silfra is around 35F (2°C) all year around. In other words, it’s freezing! Tip: Wear a warm under layer of clothing but thin enough to pull a drysuit over it.

Fret not about the freezing temperatures my friends, whichever diving company you decide to go with, they will pack you up in a dry suit which keeps your entire body insulated from the harsh cold temperatures and protect you from hypothermia. The only reminder of cold will be your face and hands which although provided with gloves does tend to get wet but that’s nothing you can’t brave for 30 minutes, right? Tip: To warm your face underwater, turn upside down and swim on your back for a change.

Crystal clear under water views with over 100 meters of visibility.

Another reason why I said you can brave 30 minutes of ice cold water are the splendid views which are like nothing you must have seen before. This will change snorkeling or diving forever for you…to be able to see things crystal clear as far as 100 meters and beyond is just incredible. The science behind the clarity of the water is the fact that the water from nearby Langjokull Glacier passes through many different mountains of porous lava rocks for decades before reaching Silfra. By the time it reaches Silfra fissure, the glacial water has gone through a rigorous natural filtration that provides amazing clarity to the stream. If you get to witness the worse of Icelandic weather as we did, don’t let it dampen yours spirits, rain or shine the beauty under water can brighten up any gloomy day above ground.

Drink the purest glacial water filtered by nature for millions of years.

The same science as above of water trickling through porous rocks applies here, hence creating the purest form of glacial water to reach Silfra fissure. Unlike sea snorkeling, don’t stop yourself from accidentally taking a gulp of water or two…you probably have never had fresh water like this before.

Once in a lifetime adventure.

If all of the above aren’t enough to convince you to jump into Silfra, whether it’s snorkeling or diving, then consider this — It is your once in a lifetime experience! These are the natural phenomenon that we petty humans have no control over and since Iceland is one of the most geologically active land on Earth if you don’t experience it now, then when? More like this: 22 epic photos of Iceland's beaches

A PHP Error was encountered

Severity: Warning

Message: Invalid argument supplied for foreach()

Filename: tpl/amazon.php

Line Number: 3

Backtrace:

File: /var/www/oldglh/GetLuckyHotels/www/dev/application/views/tpl/amazon.php
Line: 3
Function: _error_handler

File: /var/www/oldglh/GetLuckyHotels/www/dev/application/views/country.php
Line: 105
Function: include

File: /var/www/oldglh/GetLuckyHotels/www/dev/application/controllers/Country.php
Line: 49
Function: view

File: /var/www/oldglh/GetLuckyHotels/www/dev/index.php
Line: 293
Function: require_once

Exercise normal security precautions

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

The crime rate is low, but pickpocketing does occur. Be vigilant and pay attention to your surroundings at all times.

Road travel

Most roads in urban centres and national road no. 1 ("the ring road") are paved. Many inland roads are unpaved, narrow and lack shoulders. Roads in the highlands are only open during summer months. It is strictly forbidden to drive off tracks in the highlands.

For up-to-date information on road and weather conditions, dial (+354) 522-1000 to reach the Icelandic Road Administration

Public transportation

Rail service is not available in Iceland. Municipal bus services are generally not available outside Reykjavik and the surrounding towns. Ferries and long-distance buses operate throughout the country. Taxis are available in major cities and populated areas throughout the country.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

Natural attractions

Exercise caution when visiting volcanic craters, glaciers, hot springs and other natural attractions, since there are few warning signs or barriers.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations occur occasionally and have the potential to suddenly turn violent. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.

Trekking

Trekkers and backpackers should not travel alone or venture off marked trails. If you intend to trek:

a) never trek alone;

b) always hire an experienced guide and ensure that the trekking company is reputable;

c) buy travel health insurance that includes helicopter rescue and medical evacuation;

d) ensure that you are in top physical condition;

e) advise a family member or friend of your itinerary;

f) know the symptoms of acute altitude sickness, which can be fatal;

g) register with the Embassy, Consulate of Canada in Iceland; and

h) obtain detailed information on trekking routes before setting out.

Consult the website Safetravel.is (opens in new window) for advice from Icelandic search and rescue teams and to register your itinerary.

General safety information

Exercise normal safety precautions. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times. Never leave personal belonging unattended and never leave valuables in a car.

Emergency services

Dial 112 for emergency assistance.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of vaccination is not required to enter this country.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Western Europe. When in doubt, remember…boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!


Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Western Europe, certain insects carry and spread diseases like Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis, and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.


Malaria

Malaria

There is no risk of malaria in this country.


Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in some areas in Western Europe, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Iceland has excellent medical facilities.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Canada and Iceland are signatories to the European Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. This enables a Canadian imprisoned in Iceland to request a transfer to a Canadian prison to complete a sentence. The transfer requires the agreement of both Canadian and Icelandic authorities.

Illegal drugs

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences or heavy fines.

Some substances, such as khat, that may be legal in other European countries, are prohibited in Iceland. 

Driving laws

An International Driving Permit is recommended.  A Canadian driver's licence is valid in Iceland for six months. After that you must apply for an Icelandic driver's licence. Applicants must usually take a driving test but can request an exemption.

Penalties for drinking and driving are strict. Convicted offenders can expect heavy fines, confiscation of driver's licences and possible jail sentences.

Renting

Rental cars are available in major towns and airports.

Same-sex marriages

Icelandic authorities recognize same-sex marriages.

Money

The currency of Iceland is the Icelandic krona (ISK).

Visa and Europay cards are widely accepted but American Express cards are not as common.

When crossing one of the external border control points of the European Union (EU), you must make a declaration to customs upon entry or exit if you have at least €10,000 or the equivalent in other currencies. The sum can be in cash, cheques, money orders, traveller’s cheques or any other convertible assets. This does not apply if you are travelling within the EU or in transit to a non-EU country. For more information on the EU legislation and links to EU countries’ sites, visit the web page of the European Commission on cash controls.

Climate

Iceland is located in an active seismic zone, making it prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The climate can be unpredictable. Monitor weather reports closely. For recorded weather information from the Icelandic Meteorological Office, dial (+354) 522-6000 or (+354) 902-0600. Information is available in English, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.