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.
|Southwest Iceland |
Home of the capital, Reykjavík and the majority of the island's population
|West Fjords |
Sparsely populated, rugged geography with dozens of fjords surrounded by steep hills
|West Iceland |
Snæfellsjökull glacier, the islands of Breiðafjörður and more
|North Iceland |
Dramatic lava fields, turbulent waterfalls
|East Iceland |
More fjords and the only international passenger-ferry terminal
|South Iceland |
Home to the most popular tourist attractions, including the Golden Circle
Cities and towns
- 1 Reykjavík (REYG-ya-veeg) — The capital of Iceland and the largest city
- 2 Akureyri (Ahk-oo-rey-rih) — Capital of the North and the largest town outside the Southwest
- 3 Egilsstaðir (AY-yill-stath-ihr) — Main town in the East, has some of the best weather Iceland has to offer
- 4 Hafnarfjörður (HAP-nar-FYERTH-er) — Cozy town on the outskirts of the capital region
- 5 Höfn (HEP'n) — Main town on the southeastern coast
- 6 Húsavík (HOOS-ah-veek) — One of the world's most reliable whale watching sites during the summer
- 7 Ísafjörður (EES-ah-FYERTH-er) — Largest town of the Westfjords of Iceland
- 8 Selfoss (SEL-fos) — South Iceland's largest town, hub of the main agricultural region
- 9 Stykkishólmur (STICK-is-hole-mur) — Main town on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, gateway to the islands of Breiðafjörður
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.
- 1 Þingvellir National Park (pronounced "THING-vet-lihr") - National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. 30 to 50 km (19 to 31 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.
- 2 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 (4,600 sq mi), covering about 12% 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.
- 3 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.
- 1 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.
- 2 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).
- 3 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
- 4 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.
- 5 Jökulsárlón (the Jökulsár Lagoon) - The majestic glacial lagoon in southeast Iceland located near Höfn on Route 1. Breiðamerkurjökull glacier retreated 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.
- 6 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.
- 7 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 accessible only by truck or bus: it is a good idea to inquire about trips to Þórsmörk at a tourist information center.
|Currency||Icelandic króna (ISK)|
|Population||357 thousand (2018)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 (Europlug, Schuko)|
|edit on Wikidata|
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 23:00. Early or late winter, however, can be surprisingly good times to visit. In late January, daylight is from about 10:00 to 16:00, prices are lower than in the high season, and the snow-blanketed landscape is eerily beautiful. (Some sites are, however, inaccessible in the winter.)
- 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.
In 1264 the parlament of Iceland made an agreement with the Norwegian king, to become his subjects in return for regular sailing to the island. 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. The United States took over the occupation in 1941, while they were still neutral in the war. In 1944, Iceland declared its independence from Denmark, and the Alþing again became a sovereign legislature.
Iceland has had little immigration since the Viking Age. The greatest single influx of foreigners was the Allied occupation during World War II, when British and American soldiers outnumbered Iceland's adult men. Many of them had families on Iceland.
The economy of Iceland is mainly based on fisheries and aluminium smelters. Electricity and heating in Iceland come from 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 again one of Europe's strongest economies, with tourism now being a major pillar of Iceland's economy.
Norse 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. Icelandic retains many features from Old Nordic at the time of first settlement and many Icelanders can retrace their lineage to one of the early settlers on at least one side.
Immigrants in Iceland now make up well over 10% of the population, giving Iceland a larger proportion of immigrants than Norway and Sweden. In the last five years, the number of immigrants has doubled. Most immigrants are from Eastern Europe and South East Asia, and come for employment.
For names, Icelanders use the old Norse patronymic system. (This was used in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Faroe Islands well into the 19th century, until their governments decided that their citizens should adopt a surname.)
Despite its name, Iceland has mild winters for a country at its latitude - owing to the warming effect of the Atlantic Gulf Stream - especially in comparison with the Russian climate, or even that of New England or the US Midwest. 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, Iceland's 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); 20-25°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). The entire country, including all public transportation, pretty much shuts down on those days.
- 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 (the Friday before Easter), Easter and Pentecost (49 days after Easter). The following days have Icelandic traditions:
- Bolludagur - Held on a Monday, 7 weeks prior to Easter. A festival in which 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 a puffed bun instead.
- Sprengidagur - Held on a Tuesday, 7 weeks prior to Easter. A festival during which Icelanders are expected to eat salted meat and yellow peas.
- Öskudagur/Ash Wednesday - Held on a Wednesday, seven weeks prior to Easter. On this day, children dress in costumes and sing for candy. This is the Icelandic equivalent of the US Halloween.
- Sjómannadagurinn (Seamen's day): Held on the first Sunday in June. A national holiday when 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 a 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.
Iceland is in the same time zone as the United Kingdom, Ireland and Portugal (GMT). However, unlike those countries, Iceland does not observe Daylight Saving Time, making it the only country in Western Europe not to do so.
- See also: Icelandic phrasebook
Icelandic writing uses the Latin alphabet, but with two characters long ago lost from English: eth (Ð, ð), pronounced like the voiced th of "them", and thorn (Þ, þ), pronounced like the unvoiced th of "thick". Materials in English often substitute "dh" and "th" respectively, so e.g. Fjörður is written Fjordhur and þingvellir is written Thingvellir.
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 and Norwegian), although it is barely mutually intelligible. Faroese and Icelandic are mutually intelligible to some extent. 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 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 gymnasium (high school) students choose a fourth language and often a fifth 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 to use this form to avoid misunderstanding. Dates can be seen abbreviated in a number of ways, but the order is always day-month-year; 12/07/19, 12.7.19 or 120719. 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.
Visas and immigration
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.
However, as Iceland is not part of the European Union, all travellers entering Iceland, including those from EU countries, are required to undergo customs inspections on entry.
Iceland is easily reached via air and the main international airport is Keflavík Airport (KEF IATA), in the south-west of the country about 40 km (25 mi) from Reykjavík and serves around 30,000 passengers per day in high season. The airport itself is spartan; if you have a lengthy layover you should bring books or other forms of entertainment. Better yet, make sure you can leave the sterile area and explore the country a bit.
Passengers arriving from outside Iceland (including from EU countries) 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. There is a duty-free store in the arrivals baggage claim area where you can purchase duty-free products when in transit to the European mainland. Those coming from countries in the Schengen agreement don't need a separate visa and there are no immigration checks if arriving from other such countries. Airlines will still ask for some form of ID even on flights to/from other Schengen countries.
Passengers travelling on Icelandair between the Americas and Europe are entitled for a stopover of at least one night in Iceland, without additional airfare charges. Icelandair allows up to 7 nights on each leg of the trip.
An airport transfer bus service (called the FlyBus) runs between the airport and Reykjavík BSÍ Bus terminal (kr 3000 one way, 45 minutes; kr 5500 return, as of May 2019). For kr 4000 one way (kr 7000 return; as of May 2019) 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. 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+ option you may avoid a taxi ride.
A metered taxi from the airport to Reykjavík costs about kr 16,000 (as of May 2019).
The following airlines fly to Keflavík:
- Nonstop flights on national carrier Icelandair are available at the best value from the US and Canada, with gateways in New York City (JFK), Seattle, Boston, Halifax, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Toronto, Denver 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.)
- Delta Air Lines operates between New York City (JFK) and Keflavík.
- EasyJet, offers low-cost flights from the UK: London, Manchester Airport, Edinburgh and Bristol, and to Switzerland: Geneva.
- eurowings, has seasonal flights from Cologne.
- WizzAir has cheap flights from the Baltics
- SAS offers direct flights from Oslo, with connections to Stockholm and the rest of Scandinavia.
- Norwegian offers direct flights from Oslo.
- British Airways flies from Heathrow Airport in London.
Smyril Line sail once or twice a week from Hirtshals in Denmark, via Torshavn in the Faeroe Islands (where a stop-over can be made), to Seyðisfjörður on the east coast of Iceland with their ferry Norröna. This costs more than flying, but check the different language versions of the Smyril website (.fo, .dk, .co.uk, .de, and .is) for the best deals. Smyril no longer sail to Shetland or the Scottish mainland.
But at Seyðisfjörður the journey is only half-done: there's no car hire there so you have to catch an occasional bus to Egilsstaðir, then another to Akureyri, then another to Reykjavík. This takes at least two days, is more expensive than a domestic flight, and isn't compatible with much sight-seeing along the way. However, as Norröna is a car ferry it's possible to travel from mainland Europe to Iceland with your personal car and use that to travel the country and do some sight seeing on the way. See Seyðisfjörður for more on the practicalities.
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.
Domestic flights from Reykjavik operate from Reykjavik Airport, a different airport located closer to the namesake town. Scheduled service to nearby destinations, including Greenland and Faroe Islands, is provided by Air Iceland, Atlantic Airways and Eagle Air.
- 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.
A four-wheel-drive car is needed only in the interior, which is open only 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 a single main highway, Route 1-Ring Road, which 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 be passed only 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. Some roads that were previously signed with an F have since been upgraded and assigned a number without an F. In general you can trust those designations in both cases.
The general speed limit on Icelandic rural roads is 90 km/h (56 mph) on paved surface and 70 km/h (43 mph) on gravel, in urban areas the general speed limit is 50 km/h (31 mph). 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 medium to low 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.
The Route 1 road that encircles the island nation is a staple for tourists who wishes to see the diverse geological features of Iceland, from waterfalls, icebergs, fjords, to volcanoes.
Scheduled trips between Icelandic towns are operated by Strætó bs. Tours to attractions are provided by scheduled buses from various companies, including Reykjavík Excursions (who also operate the FlyBus), Trex, Sterna Travel, NetBus and SBA-NORÐURLEIÐ. 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 10,340, while flying costs kr 8,925 (as of May 2019). 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. All public transport services are listed on PublicTransport.is.
Some tours to the interior, in special 4x4 buses, can be a cheaper and more relaxing alternative to driving and serve most major locations (e.g. Landmannalaugar, Thorsmork, Aksja). Tours to the interior are scheduled only for the summer months.
Golden Circle day tours are available from Reykjavík from many tour operators 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. Cheaper tours (~€55) will be a full-coach whereas more expensive tours (~€80) will be small minibuses or vans. The currency for booking tours can vary from euros, to dollar to krona, so double-check before booking.
The capital area bus system, run by Strætó bs., is an inefficient and expensive mess that can not be relied on. A single fare costs kr 470 (as of May 2019). 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 9,100 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 midnight, with some stopping earlier, some as early as 18:00. Buses start running at 09:30 to 10:00 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.
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 maintenance 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 a 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 a food source.
More information and routes can be found on Cycling Iceland.
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 has some advice for hitchhikers.
Check Samferda.is for carpooling options.
In the past few years, ATV travel has become popular among adventure travel enthusiasts. Several companies offer ATV tours of various parts of 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 darker months (September to April), there are frequently stunning views of the Aurora Borealis, a.k.a. Northern Lights anywhere away from city lights.
- The geothermal spa Blue Lagoon although being an artificial hot spring, it is a very popular sight and activity. Located between the capital and the main airport. Mývatn Nature Baths is another choice but is smaller and in the Eastern part of the country. There also are a lot of local hotpots around the country, but not all of them are safe.
- 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.
Exchange rates for Icelandic króna
As of January 2020:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The local currency is the Icelandic króna, denoted by the abbreviation "kr" (ISO code: ISK).
You will get a better rate of exchange if you buy and sell your króna in Iceland. 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.
Getting to Iceland can be done fairly cheaply: Icelandair has excellent offers, 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 – Iceland is generally a very expensive place to visit, due in part to the high import duties and the 25.5 % VAT rate. Retail goods can be 3-4 times more expensive than in North America while grocery prices are at least on par with the most expensive cities. Visitors to Iceland should budget at least as much money as they would for a trip to Norway or Switzerland.
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.
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.
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 woollen 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 jewellery. 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, Retro Stefson, FM Belfast, Worm is Green, Múm, Singapore Sling, and Bellatrix. Note that many of these CDs may be available back home as imports for much lower prices. CDs tend to cost kr 1500-2000.
With the exception of alcohol, accommodations and consumables, you can claim your tax refund at the Arion Bank in the arrivals hall opposite to the car rentals at the Keflavik Airport. Only purchases with at least 6000 kronas on a single receipt will be eligible for tax refund. Be sure to have your original receipts and the tax free form filled out by the store with you.
- See also: Nordic cuisine
Icelandic cuisine has changed a lot in the last few decades. It used to be based on staples that use lamb or fish in some form or other, but the popularity of other types of food has increased. A vegetarian diet is tricky to maintain in Iceland, but there are several vegetarian restaurants in Reykjavík, and vegetarian dishes are widely available at other restaurants.
Distinctively Icelandic foods include:
- 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 but also has sheep's blood mixed into it.
- Rúgbrauð, translated into English as "thunder bread", this is a type of rye bread that is baked underground making use of geothermal heat. Sweeter than regular rye breads.
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, though it has become a controversial issue. However, most restaurants that cater to tourists 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 contains 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 are 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 you're 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 (another 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 Icelander's 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.
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; 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 ("burning wine") 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 1 litre strong alcohol and 1 litre light wine (less than 22%) or 1 litre strong and 6 litre of beer. The strong alcohol can be exchanged for either 1 litre light wine or 6 litre beer.
The drinking age in Iceland is 18 for all alcoholic beverages, but the buying age is 20.
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 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 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 central 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 travelers 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 get their brochure from tourist information centers or find it on their website. 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 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 pajamas 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. It is however, not allowed to camp or park a mobile home anywhere other than these campgrounds!
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 be accessible only 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.
Iceland has eight universities, the oldest and most important of which is the University of Iceland. Public universities in Iceland are heavily subsidised by the government, and hence charge very little in tuition fees. The University of Iceland, for instance, charges only kr 75,000 annually in tuition fees for international students. However, be sure to factor in Iceland's high cost of living when planning your finances. Courses are generally taught in Icelandic, though some courses for exchange students are taught in English. The universities also conduct classes for foreigners to learn Icelandic.
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 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. The unemployment rate is however low, about 3% in 2019.
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 unionised society with over 90% of the workforce in labour unions.
A great resource is the Directorate of Labour website.
Iceland is one of the safest places in the world, so there is almost no chance of getting robbed or harassed. Isolated incidents have, however, been reported, especially in Reykjavík, so it pays to be take the usual precautions. Use common sense when sampling the night life and be alert.
Emergency phone number: 112
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. 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. Pay attention to radio, TV or government website for any volcanic eruption warnings. Aside from the lava, volcanos in Iceland are often capped by glaciers and will result in explosive eruption (the most violent type of eruption). Volcanic gas can be toxic to humans and animals. Large and heavy airborne fragments (called volcanic bombs) are launched into the air and can fall far away from the eruption site. Glacial outburst flood (jökulhlaup) often follow shortly after the eruption as the lava melts the glacier that was capping the volcano.
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 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. 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 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.
Because of its numerous mountains and relatively high humidity, visibility can quickly change from very good to foggy and road conditions from dry to wet rather quickly when ascending in elevation. Check out Vegagerdin for up-to-date road-condition information.
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 allowed only 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 be used only 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.
The Icelandic Narcotics Police has a very strict policy on drugs; minimum fine for possession of under 1 gram (3/100 of an ounce) of any illegal substance can result in a fine of over kr 70,000.
The medical facilities in Iceland are good and subsidized for European Union citizens with a 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 hot water coming from tap smells a bit like sulphur, because it is heated by geothermal energy, but it is also safe to drink.
The hygiene in public kitchens is very good, and food poisoning rarely happens to tourists.
Ms Pétursdóttir or Ms Guðrún?
Iceland maintains another Norse tradition: the custom of using patronyms rather than surnames. An Icelander's given name is followed by his or her parent's first name (usually the father's), in the genitive case, and the suffix -son or -dóttir, e.g. Guðrún Pétursdóttir (Guðrún, Pétur's daughter). Members of the same family can therefore have many different "surnames", which can sometimes create confusion for visitors. Because of the patronymic last names, Icelanders use first names in most situations, e.g. phone books are alphabetized by first name rather than last name and also listing their professions. This also applies when addressing an individual. Icelanders would never expect to be addressed as Mr or Ms Jónsson/-dóttir no matter how important they might be.
- 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.
- Although Iceland is officially a Lutheran country, only a minority of Icelanders practise the faith, and contemporary Iceland is for the most part rather secular. Nevertheless, even non-religious Icelanders tend to be proud of their churches, so you should always dress and behave in a respectful manner whenever you are visiting them.
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 enquiries (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 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, 3G and 4G all have equal coverage, covering most of the country. 5G has not been rolled out yet as of October 2020.
Given that the call is from domestic numbers, there is no charge for calls that you receive 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 initial 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 15, each minute to all domestic phones costs kr 25 and kr 15 for each text message. The cost for Internet access is kr 12 per megabyte (as of May 2019).
Internet hot spots can be found at restaurants, cafés and airports. For the customers of those places, the Internet is free of charge.
A large portion of Iceland has 3G coverage. 3G and 4G 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.