Iceland

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Iceland, (Icelandic: Ísland) is a mountainous island nation in the north Atlantic Ocean, located between Europe and North America. Though not part of the continental mainland, the country is considered European. The name of the country - Iceland - may not be that appropriate: although 10% of Iceland is covered by glaciers, it has a surprisingly mild climate and countless geothermal hot-spots.

Population: 315,281 people
Area: 103,000 km2
Highest point: 2,110 m
Coastline: 4,970 km
Life expectancy: 81.11 years
GDP per capita: $39,900
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About Iceland

Climate

Despite its name, Iceland has surprisingly mild winters for a country at that latitude owing to the warming effect of the Atlantic Gulf Stream, especially when put into comparison with the Russian one. Iceland enjoys a maritime temperate climate and the winters are often compared with those of New England (though the winds in winter 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 Icelandic people also 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) and 20 to 25°C is considered quite warm.

Activities

  • Iceland offers many hiking opportunities. Hiking in Iceland is no easy business, 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 SE 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 mobiling and this can provide access to otherwise inaccessible areas.

Food

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 dairy product 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 an 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 chose 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 250 kr, and is sold in every one of the small convenience stores/eateries/video rentals/sweet shops that litter Icelandic towns.

Food prices are particularly high in Iceland - the following sample prices were accurate as of summer 2012:

  • ISK 800 - 2000 for a hamburger.
  • ISK 250 - 400 for a hotdog
  • ISK 2000 - 5000 for a three-course meal in a restaurant.

Drinks

Tap water is safe to drink in Iceland and it is one of the countries with 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 USA - as an example, half litre of Viking beer in a bar will cost approximately ISK 900. Liquor can be purchased at licensed bars, restaurants, or Vínbúðin [30], the state monopoly (locally known as Ríkið: "the state") liquor bought there is much cheaper than at bars, there you pay ISK 350 for the same beer you paid 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
  • Mjöður Brugghús: Jökull, Skriðjökull

Visitors arriving by air should note that 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.

Drinking age in Iceland is 18 for all alcoholic beverages. But you'll have to had reached 20 to buy alcoholic beverages.

Shopping

The local currency is the Icelandic króna (ISK), and its value collapsed quite dramatically during the 2008 economic crisis. As of Nov 2011, it trades at around 1 EUR = 160 ISK. This has also made local prices more affordable for the visitor, although the prices of imported goods have risen rapidly.

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. Nonetheless, as Iceland is recovering from the financial meltdown, bargains can still be found due to the low value of the currency.

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 two most significant being Norden Voyager Card [27], operated by the Norden Association of Iceland, and Reykjavík City Card, operated by the City of Reykjavík.

When shopping for food or other basic necessities, look for the Bónus or Krónan shops, as they offer considerably lower prices than the others. This is at the expense of quality, of course. 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 around 650 to 900 ISK on a pint of beer or glass of wine, 1500 to 2000 ISK on a pizza for one person, 350 ISK on a city bus ride and 330 to 500 ISK for a coffee or espresso drink.

Cigarettes cost around 950 ISK 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.

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. An interesting note is that 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 [28], Hera [29], 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 1500 to 2000 Kr.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Iceland on Wikivoyage.

Cities in Iceland

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Reykjavík is the capital and largest city of Iceland and with an urban area population of around 200,000, it is the home to two-thirds of Iceland's population. It is the centre of culture and life of the Icelandic people as well as being one of the focal points of tourism in Iceland. The city itself is spread ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Laugavegur
  • Hallgrimskirkja
  • Parliament House
  • National Cathedral
  • Reykjavik Pond
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Keflavík is a town in Southwest Iceland that is home to the country's international airport. The population is approximately 13,000.

Interesting places:

  • Viking World Museum
  • Reykjanes Art Museum
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Kópavogur is a city in Southwest Iceland, with a population of 30,000 (December 1. 2007).

Interesting places:

  • Kopavogur Church
  • Natural History Museum of Kopavogur
  • Viking Horses
  • Sundlaugin Versolum Swimming Pool
  • Salurinn Kopavogur Concert Hall
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Akureyri, with a population of around 18,000, is the largest town in Iceland outside the Southwest region, and the unofficial capital of North Iceland.

Interesting places:

  • Akureyri Church
  • Akureyri Botanical Garden
  • Jon Sveinsson Museum
  • Hlidarfjall
  • Sulur
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Hella is a village in South Iceland, located 97 km east of the capital city of Reykjavík. It's an important base for adventures into the highlands, to places such as Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk. Hella is a very tranquil village of only aprox. 750 inhabitants, situated on the South Iceland's interior ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Landmannalaugar
  • Hjalparfoss
  • Stong
  • Lake Thorisvatn
  • Kerlingarfjoll Mountain Range
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Selfoss is the largest town in South Iceland.

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Vík, also known as Vík í Mýrdal, is a village in South Iceland.

Interesting places:

  • Black Beach
  • Reynisdrangar
  • Dyrholaey
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Hafnarfjörður is a town in Southwest Iceland with a population of 25,000. It has a long history as a town (by Icelandic standards) but has today become a suburb of Reykjavík and the westernmost town in the contiguous urban area of the capital.

Interesting places:

  • Sudurbaejarlaug
  • Kopavogur and Gardabaer Golf Club
  • Oddur Golf Club
  • Hellisgerdi Park
  • Reykjanesfolkvangur Park
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Route 1-Ring Road is the main highway in Iceland.

Interesting places:

  • Namafjall
  • Viti Crater
  • Leirhnjukur
  • Myvatn Nature Baths
  • Hverfjall Crater
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Hveragerði is a town in South Iceland.

Interesting places:

  • Thingvellir National Park
  • Almannagja
  • Nesjavellir
  • Reykjadalur Valley
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Interesting places:

  • Strokkur
  • Gullfoss Waterfall
  • Geysir Hot Springs
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Route 1-Ring Road is the main highway in Iceland.

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Interesting places:

  • Icelandic Seal Center Museum
  • Chapel at Groef
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Route 1-Ring Road is the main highway in Iceland.

Interesting places:

  • Lagarfljot
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Interesting places:

  • Skogafoss
  • Skogar Open Air Museum
  • Solheimajokull
  • Eyjafjallajokull
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Interesting places:

  • Alafoss Waterfall
  • Lagafellslaug
  • Laxnes Museum
  • Skalafell Ski Area
  • Ulfarsfell Mountain
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Route 1-Ring Road is the main highway in Iceland.

Interesting places:

  • Skafkatell National Park
  • Graenalon
  • Skeidararsandur
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Route 1-Ring Road is the main highway in Iceland.

Interesting places:

  • Lonsoraefi Nature Reserve
  • Hofn Glacier Museum
  • Hornafjordur Art Museum
  • Huldusteinn
  • Silfurnes Golf Course
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Borgarnes is a town in West Iceland about 75km north of Reykjavík, with a population of around 2000. It stands by a fjord called Borgarfjörður and is the centre of a vast municipality, Borgarbyggð.

Interesting places:

  • Hraunfossar
  • Barnafoss
  • Deildartunguhver Hot Springs
  • The Settlement Centre
  • Grabrok
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Kirkjubæjarklaustur, often called Klaustur is a village in South Iceland. With a population of around 160, it is the closest thing to an urban area within a vast municipality called Skaftárhreppur, and it's the only proper service centre on the almost 300km stretch of the ring road between Vík and Höfn.

Interesting places:

  • Lakagigar Craters
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Suðureyri is a city in Westfjords, Iceland.

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Interesting places:

  • Husavik Harbour
  • Icelandic Phallogical Museum
  • Tjornes Lighthouse
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Interesting places:

  • Glymur Waterfall
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Interesting places:

  • Djupalonssandur Beach
  • Snaefellsjokull
  • Snaefellsjoekull National Park
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Interesting places:

  • Innra Hvannagil Gorge
  • Lindarbakki House
  • Bakkageroi Church
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Interesting places:

  • Skagafjordur Folk Museum
  • Blondulon
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Interesting places:

  • French in Iceland Museum
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Interesting places:

  • Kirkjufell Mountain
  • Grundfjordur Public Pool
  • Lighthouse Krossnesviti
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Interesting places:

  • Dalvik Church
  • Hamar Golf Club
  • Port of Dalvik
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Interesting places:

  • Petra Steinasafn
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Hellissandur is in Iceland.

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Interesting places:

  • Icelandic Wartime Museum
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Points of Interest in Iceland

  • The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa and the most famous sight in Iceland.
  • 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 colder months, one may frequently get stunning views of the Aurora Borealis, a.k.a. Northern Lights anywhere away from city lights.

Laugavegur - Reykjavik

Strokkur - Laugarvatn

Thingvellir National Park - Hveragerdi

Skogafoss - Skogar

Akureyri Church - Akureyri

Husavik Harbour - Husavik (Northern Iceland)

Black Beach - Vik I Myrdal

Namafjall - Myvatn

Hraunfossar - Borgarnes

Stykkisholmur Golf Club - Stykkisholmur

Skagafjordur Folk Museum - Varmahlid

Hveravellir Hot Springs - Sprengisandur

Godafoss - Laugar

Eldfell Volcano - Heimaey

Dettifoss - Skinnastadur

Seydisfjordur Harbour - Seydisfjordur

Gunnuhver Thermal Springs - Grindavik

Landmannalaugar - Hella

Hengifoss - Hallormsstadur

Bjargtangar Lighthouse - Hvallatur

panoramio Photos are copyrighted by their owners
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