The island nation Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean and considered part of Nordic Europe. Despite the name, Iceland isn´t all that cold at all, thanks to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream, which allows for winters of about the same severity as in New England, despite the latitude. Iceland is a visual treat for anyone who is into vast and eerie landscapes of unearthly beauty. Due to its proximity to the Arctic Circle, the sun sets only briefly each day at the height of summer, and during winter there are up to 20 hours of darkness. However early or late winter can be a great time to visit, as you still get about 7 hours of daylight but the prices are much lower than in the prime of tourist season. Iceland is split into various regions, with Southwest Iceland being home to the capital Rekjavik and most of the island´s population, and South Iceland featuring most of the tourist attractions, including the Golden Circle. To see dramatic waterfalls and impressive lava fields, head to North Iceland, while West Iceland is where you can visit the Snæfellsjökull glacier and the islands of Breiðafjörður.
- Beer was illegal in Iceland until 1989!
- Icelanders exclusively address each other by their first names, even to the Prime Minister
- Iceland has the highest rate of cinema attendance in the world.
- The first democratically elected female head of state was in Iceland.
- 60% of the population live in Rekjavik.
- The Icelandic language has remained virtually unchanged for 1,000 years.
Things to Do
1) Landmannalaugar is an area of amazing beauty that is situated close enough to Rekjavik to justify a day trip by bus (or by 4x4), as it gives a good idea of what the rest of the less accessible and rugged interior area of Iceland looks like.2) Þingvellir National Park is worth a visit to see where the longest running parliament was and is held, and also to see the location of the rift that is tearing apart the North American and European continental shelf plates. It lies 20 - 30 miles to the North of Rejkjavik.3) Glacier hiking is one of the most popular things to do for tourists in Iceland. The most popular area for this is Skaftafell in the Southeast. White-water rafting is another well-loved activity, with North Iceland has some of the best rivers for rafting such as Vestari, Austari and Jokulsa.
Iceland´s Food DelightsIcelandic cuisine has evolved a lot lately, as it used to primarily feature lamb or fish in one form or other. Nowadays there are a number of vegetarian restaurants to be found in Rekjavik. There a however a number of typical Icelandic dishes that are worth looking out for and trying (if you can stomach them!). These include:
If you are in Iceland from late January to early February, you may be invited to a Þorrablót, which is a gathering at which Icelanders enjoy a selection of traditional cuisine which may contain the following: hrútspungar (pickled ram's testicles), hákarl (putrefied shark cubes), Lundabaggi (sheep's fat) and Sviðasulta (brawn [head cheese] made from svið). Don´t be afraid to politely refuse some of the more unpalatable delicacies as many Icelanders will choose not to eat them either. There will be plenty of more “normal” foods there as well, just ask.
Getting Around Iceland
The main international airport is Keflavik, located about 25 miles from Rekjavik. To get to the city, it´s best to take the Airport Express which shuttles between the airport and various hotels in the city. Even if you are not staying in hotel accommodation, one of them may be situated close to where you are going. There is also a bus (eg. Netbus) which stops at the Blue Lagoon on the way from the airport and continues on to Rekjavik every half hour or so. You can also reach Iceland by ferry from Denmark via the Faroe Islands.
The best way to get around Iceland is by car. There is no railway service, and long distance bus trips can be more expensive even than flying. Flying is another popular way to get around the island, and is widely used by the population. Be careful however if you´re entering one of the fjords, it can make for quite a bumpy ride.