By The Non Fiction Author
Published by The Non Fiction Author
Copyright ©2017 The Non Fiction Author
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Iceland is a land of extremes with icebergs floating near hot springs, desolation and luscious beauty, vibrant colors painted on empty expanses without a living plant or animal in sight. You can party until the sheep come home one night then watch the northern lights dance over your head while you try to decide if you believe that it is the result of particles from the sun hitting Earth’s atmosphere, or whether it is aliens saying “hello”.
Despite its remote location Iceland still draws more than a million visitors every year, three times the population of the country. The magnetic power of Iceland to pull tourists from their homes to its shores is found deep below the surface where the raw planetary crust is slowly splitting apart along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the source of many mountains and earthquakes in Iceland. While there many geologically active volcanoes generally they are not continually spewing lava, though you could experience the explosive nature of the volatile earth during your visit if there has been a recent eruption, or you are lucky enough to be stranded in Iceland during one.
There are numerous other attractions not involving molten lava, from waterfalls to fjords and the Icelandic cities and towns. The capital, Reykjavík, is on the southeastern coast of the country and is home to nearly a third of the population with an abundance of museums, bars, cafes and gift shops. Nearby to Reykjavík you can go on a whale watching tour, second only to Húsavík in northern Iceland. You can (and should) make a day trip to see the highlights of the Golden Circle including drifting Þingvellir National Park, tremendous Gullfoss, and the explosive geysers. While Reykjavík may seem like a small, quiet metropolis, it is in fact the largest city in the country. Other small villages are scattered around mainly on the coast but in some places you can drive for hours without seeing another car or person.
The biggest highlight of Iceland for most visitors lies beyond the city limits, so get out of the urban and into the rural wonder. Stunning national parks, immense glaciers, and vivid landscapes await those who explore into the interior and up into the highlands. The natural side of the country is a draw for most visitors who seek an escape from paved roads and honking cars. Though it is only accessible during the summer the central regions are home to impressive scenes and popular hiking routes, both day trips and multi-day excursions.
As you circuit the island you will see the coast and countryside change from sandy to cliff faces, rolling hills with snow perched on top and islands poking out of the white capped waves. If the sight of snow chills your blood you can stop in the natural hot springs to warm up, or take a swim in the local swimming pools which are often geothermally heated as well.
Though your options for exploration are limited in the winter months there is the increased likelihood that you could catch the spectacular Aurora Borealis giving the show of a lifetime. Winter is also a good time to tour one of Iceland’s glaciers, a major draw for tourists who enjoy strapping on crampons, grabbing an ice axe, and trekking up onto the frozen, barren expanse. Any time of year it is a good time to visit Iceland.
Culturally Iceland shares much of its history and roots with Scandinavian countries like Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Today there is a wealth of written material and the surviving records date from when Iceland was first inhabited in the tenth century. There are stories chronicling the first few centuries of settlement and these sagas about the Middle Ages remain popular today. You can read the translated versions about the Icelandic Commonwealth to learn more about the genealogical histories of families whose ancestors often still live in Iceland today. The most popular sagas are Njál’s saga about a blood feud and Eirik’s saga detailing the discovery of Greenland and Newfoundland.
The storytelling tradition is still prevalent in Icelandic culture today, so common that approximately one out of every ten Icelanders will publish a book during their lifetime. Book lovers are also rampant so you will find many bookstores in the cities with Icelandic books and their English translations.
Icelanders are undoubtedly creative in the arts, producing well known musicians like Björk, Sigur Rós, the jazz band Mezzoforte, and Quarashi. There are a range of popular genres but generally hard rock, folk and pop, and indie rock are big sellers. Traditional art is notably full of natural scenes, giving the stark beauty of the landscapes a romantic feeling. The main artists that have shaped modern art include Þórarinn Þorláksson, who was followed by Ásgrímur Jónsson.
Icelanders regularly rank themselves as some of the happiest people in the world and they enjoy a very high quality of life. Politically Iceland is progressive and egalitarian, and it was one of the first countries to legalize gay marriage in 2010. Generally speaking Icelanders work hard and value independence with self-sufficiency, yet communities remain an integral part of their lives. Historically Icelanders have faced harsh climate changes, sweeping disease, and isolation but they have still thrived in spite of the challenges against them. Many immigrants have made Iceland their home in the last decade and even more in recent years, totaling to about 7-10% of the population in Iceland. They come from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia looking for jobs and a higher standard of living.
However despite the influx of immigrants most Icelanders can trace their ancestry back generations. In fact with such a small and isolated population of people it is not uncommon for an Icelander to be related to friends and neighbors. There is a national database tracking the ancestry of all citizens which was used to create an app for mobile phones called Íslendingabók. This way two people can see how closely or distantly they are related, a useful feature for blind dates to make sure you’re not accidentally taking your cousin or half-sibling out for dinner and a movie.
It is not very obvious what family people belong to as they do not have a family surname. The system is patronymic, meaning passed on by and based on the name of their father. For example, a man named Thor (spelled Þor in Icelandic) has two children, a boy, Gunnar, and a girl, Anna. The suffix, -son or –dottir, is attached to their father’s first name and that is the children’s last name, making the boy’s name Gunnar Þorson and the daughter’s name Anna Þorsdottir. Thus many Icelanders can have the same surname but not be related and family members often have different surnames, so generally people are addressed by their first name.
Culinarily Icelanders are resourceful and historically have made use of what was available to their cooks at the time, which is apparent in the local cuisine today. Traditionally Icelandic food included a significant amount of lamb or fish as the main dish owing to the abundant supply of these two dietary staples. However in the last few decades the options have expanded as greenhouse farming has grown in popularity and it is much easier to find fresh produce and vegetarian cuisine with an Icelandic twist. Newer ingredients include salmon and trout, blueberries, rhubarb, Icelandic moss, wild mushrooms, wild thyme, and dried seaweed.
One of the popular Icelandic tastes include skyr, a cousin of the yogurt cup with similar protein and health benefits to Greek yogurt and often complimented by fruit or cereal. For the meat lovers try some harðfiskur, dried fish with butter or coleslaw, or hangikjöt, smoked lamb, and svith, sheep’s head. You will find many variations of the same two meats cooked, boiled, smoked, pickled, salted and dried so don’t be afraid to try something new every day. These were typical preservation methods that kept Icelanders fed through the long, bitter winters.
Although it is tradition in Iceland to hunt whales it remains controversial to consume the meat as most species of whales are classified as endangered or threatened. You can still find Minke whale meat served in restaurants if that is your taste but make sure to eat it in Iceland rather than bring it home because it is illegal to export to most countries.
Seasonally Icelandic food undergoes some variation. From late January to early February is the celebration of winter called Þorrablót, when Icelanders eat an array of traditional cuisine like hákarl, putrefied shark cubes, svithasulta, sheep’s head cheese, lundabaggi, sheep’s fat, and hrútspungar, pickled ram’s testicles, a daring choice for the truly gutsy traveler. Similar food is also served around the winter holidays on December 23, when cured fish is the highlight of the menu.
Today the Icelandic breakfast shows a heavy European influence serving a range of coffee, pancakes, cereal, and fruit. Lunch is more of a buffet of different dishes called a hlaðborð, while dinner maintains its origins with a meat base for the main feature, usually lamb or fish.
Icelanders love a good drink (or a few) after a meal and they often turn to brennivín, a nationally distilled spirit similar to the Scandinavian akvavit, also made from potatoes. Informally it is known by its menacing nicknames which translate to “burnt wine” and “black death”, for its vodka-like flavor and high alcohol content usually around 40%.
Alcohol is generally quite expensive and the nightlife is thumping in Reykjavík so be sure to budget for a few nights out on the town. To spare your wallet but still get the full experience you can go to the liquor store for a few beers before hitting the bars later in the night, in true Icelandic fashion.
Once you’ve had your fill of the beer and spirits make sure to drink plenty of water. Iceland is proud to have some of the cleanest tap water in the world, though it may smell a little funky at first. The rotten egg odor is merely traces of sulfur minerals in the water source and it is usually only present in the hot water. Just run the cold for few moments and it should disappear.
Whether you are heading to Iceland for a night of partying or a quiet escape through the mountains, Iceland is an extraordinary place with sights, sounds, smells and tastes to delight any traveler. With excellent record keeping you can learn about Iceland’s history and later walk the same hills and trails that thousands have before. Though it is a small country it is home to countless waterfalls, ice caps, and sunsets, and a tranquility that will enchant you forever.
To help you plan your ultimate vacation this guide contains a broad range of information to use whether you are leaving tomorrow, in two weeks, or in two years. Each section has valuable insight on how to make the most out of your holiday with insider tips and background summaries on Iceland all in one digestible guide. There are so many destinations and attractions in Iceland that it can be difficult to decide which ones are right for you, and how to make the most out of your limited time and budget. This guide will help you narrow down what you want to see and do while providing advice on how to have the ultimate trip.
There is a wealth of information out there including formal guidebooks, personal travel blogs and official Icelandic websites. These existing tools in conjunction with this guide will help you plan and explore the possibilities.
Though in the last few years Iceland has faced some economic difficulties it is still a stable and exciting place to visit that attracts all sorts of travelers. This guide was written for all types, from Europeans on a week long holiday, backpackers visiting 25 countries in three months, couples on a romantic getaway, families with kids exploring new lands, and nature-lovers learning about the wonders of the world. Whether you prefer to book everything in advance or land and figure things out as you go this guide will help you find your way, rain, shine or snow.
To help you start the planning process, Chapter 3 provides an overview of things to know and how to get started with planning your trip. There is information about entrance requirements for immigration, what to pack, what NOT to pack, and other useful tidbits on places to go in the amount of time you have. There are plenty of hotels and hostels dotting the tourist circuit and flexible transportation options to take you from the cities to the mountains and glaciers. Since Iceland is quite a spread-out country you will have your choice of transportation to get around, from planes to buses to rental vehicles, or a combination of all.
As a country known for its outdoor attractions and nature, Iceland is a gem with many unique features that will astound you. Read on in Chapter 4 to learn about why the northern lights flash across the winter sky, or where Iceland’s volcanoes come from. As a young country Iceland still has a surprising amount of well documented history that is also covered in this chapter.
The lava fields lining the road to the airport and the rocking nightlife in Reykjavík will welcome you to Iceland in Chapter 5. The Golden Circle of popular attractions is within a day trip from the capital, including Gullfoss, Geysir, and Þingvellir National Park. Going north from the capital you will encounter the barren and rolling hills of the West fjords and to the south is the Heimaey island, and many exciting destinations in between.
Chapter 6 covers the less-visited but spectacular eastern and northern regions. You can visit Akureyri and the nearby Lake Mývatn, a geothermally heated body of water that attracts far fewer visitors than its cousin, the Blue Lagoon (see Chapter 5). From there you can continue the Ring Road and go whale watching, and later visit the Vatnajökull National Park and the glaciers within.
In Chapter 7 you will find an informative mix of helpful tips and tricks to having a great trip, covering a wide range of logistical and cultural facts about the country. Though Iceland is a safe country some of the laws and customs may be different than what you are accustomed to so read through in order to be prepared. It is also a colder country so there are some recommended precautions you should take when spending a lot of time outside no matter the time of year.
Finally Chapter 8 is a bonus section that covers the most useful Icelandic words and phrases that will help you ease your way around the country. The pronunciation can be challenging but the guide simplifies it considerably so that you can pick up a few words before you go. Once you arrive you can practice and learn even more from the native speakers themselves. You can also use it as a reference once you have arrived and forget how to ask for the location of the nearest toilet, always a good phrase to memorize.
Iceland is a naturalist’s dream with its rugged terrain, volcanic thrills and Nordic culture that is similar yet distinct from its historically influential Scandinavian roots. Your visit to this otherworldly island will be different than a weekend shopping in Milan or driving through the countryside of Wales, you will see many more sheep and snow-capped vistas next to bright azure lakes, a worthy tradeoff.
Though its name invokes images of blocks of ice and snow falling 10 months a year, Iceland has a surprisingly mild winter with temperatures never going too far below freezing. The summers are cooler and more temperate than locations at similar latitudes like New York City, so you can probably leave your tanning oil at home. The temperature doesn’t often go above 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and while you may spot Icelanders sunbathing it will likely be too chilly for you to join their swimsuit-clad relaxation.
Visas and Arrival
As a partner of the Schengen Agreement, Iceland welcomes visitors from Europe with open arms, though it is not a part of the European Union. For visitors from non-Schengen countries, like the United States, entry is still simple. You can visit Iceland or any other Schengen country for up to three months total in every period of six months. If you are planning to visit multiple countries in Europe make sure you don’t spend two months in France and a month in Spain before you arrive in Iceland, as you will have used up your three months of visa-free stay in the Schengen area and you would not be allowed in.
The easiest and most common way to reach Iceland is by flying in to Reykjavík, the capital. The main international airport is in Keflavík located about 50km from Reykjavík. Once wheels are down you can take the FlyBus or Gray Line Airport Express to the city, or you can get a taxi but the convenience and luxury will have a hefty price tag for the ride. There is an airport in the city of Reykjavík itself but it is only served by domestic flights and flights to Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
There are many airlines to choose from including IcelandAir, Delta Airlines, WOW Air, EasyJet, SAS, Niki and Air Berlin, and more. Since Iceland is a considerably remote destination, 1200 miles from London and 2650 miles from New York, flights are generally expensive. To find the best deals you can watch the prices for a few weeks before deciding what season and which airline to fly on. Some airlines like Icelandic Air offer promotions regularly, for example you can have a week-long layover in Iceland at no additional cost to your airline ticket when you fly from North America to Europe.
There is an option to arrive in Iceland by sea if you have the time and interest. It leaves from Denmark and takes two nights on the Smyril Line, and it only runs once a week. So for most people going for a holiday your best bet is to fly.
Renting a car will give you the most flexibility for getting around the island and visiting destinations that are off the beaten track. However, rentals can be pretty expensive when you add in the cost of the recommended insurance, and the cost of gas is quite high, so grab a friend or two and split the price because more is merrier and cheaper. Make sure you and any other drivers are comfortable and experienced at driving in the winter if you decide to visit from September to March, though at any time the weather can be unpredictable and conditions can turn dangerous quickly. During the summer the weather is much milder and since most of the major roads are paved you shouldn’t have any trouble on your self-guided tour.
Car rental prices range anywhere from 4000 ISK to 12000 ISK per day, depending on what model and how much insurance you select. The cheaper cars are typically equipped with two-wheeled drive which is sufficient for visiting most tourist attractions and for traveling on the main roads.
The terrain is rugged in the center of the country and the roads often run through rivers and over broken, uneven roads. If you plan to drive on unpaved roads, especially in the interior, you will need to rent a car with four-wheeled drive in advance. It is best to have a lot of experience driving through similar terrain as Iceland is not a good place to learn, the roads are quite remote and the unpredictable weather can make them even more challenging. The mountain roads that require four-wheeled drive are marked with an “F” in their name, for example route F128. These are often closed through spring until June due to the poor driving conditions, and at other times may require snow tires in order to drive on them.
Whenever you see a gas station be sure to fill up as it could be more than 50 or 100 miles to the next station, especially in remote areas. Whenever you go for a long drive pack extra snacks, warm layers, and a reliable, paper map since you never know when the weather could catch you by surprise and your drive could last longer than expected.
There are many bus operators running around the country particularly out of the major cities, but prices are quite high as there is not a lot of competition. During the summer you may be able to find a good deal with weekly or multi-week passes for unlimited trips on the Ring Road and other special offers. There are some tours that are only offered during summer months though there are many operators who run trips year round.
As one of the safest countries in the world Iceland is a great place to stick out your thumb and catch a free ride. Icelandic people are very friendly and generally are happy to give a ride to visitors looking for a lift and some interesting conversation. This can be a great way for budget travelers to get around when you are short on money but have time to spare.
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The Iceland Traveler's Guide to Make The Most Out of Your Trip. Iceland is a land of extremes with icebergs floating near hot springs, desolation and luscious beauty, vibrant colors painted on empty expanses without a living plant or animal in sight. You can party until the sheep come home one night then watch the northern lights dance over your head while you try to decide if you believe that it is the result of particles from the sun hitting Earth’s atmosphere, or whether it is aliens saying “hello”. Despite its remote location Iceland still draws more than a million visitors every year, three times the population of the country. The magnetic power of Iceland to pull tourists from their homes to its shores is found deep below the surface where the raw planetary crust is slowly splitting apart along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the source of many mountains and earthquakes in Iceland. While there many geologically active volcanoes generally they are not continually spewing lava, though you could experience the explosive nature of the volatile earth during your visit if there has been a recent eruption, or you are lucky enough to be stranded in Iceland during one.