Spotlight On: Travel to Iceland
Official Name: Republic of Iceland
Location: Northern Europe. Iceland is an island situated at 65 degrees north, between the Greenland Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of the United Kingdom.
Noteworthy Facts: Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice; a country of sharp contrasts where dark winters are offset by the midnight sun in summer. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, Iceland enjoys a cool, temperate maritime climate, with refreshing summers and surprisingly mild temperatures in winter. The country is also known for its volcanoes and geothermal waters.
Independence: Complete independence was granted from Denmark in 1944. In centuries past, Iceland has been ruled by Norway as well as having a period of independence for 300 years. Iceland claims the world’s oldest functioning legislative assembly, the Althingi, established in 930 after being settled in the late 9th and 10th centuries A.D.
Currency: Icelandic Króna (ISK)
Population: 329,100 (2015)
Size: Iceland is about the size of Pennsylvania, or bigger than Hungary and Portugal and a little bit smaller than Cuba.
Travel to Iceland
What to Do in Iceland:
Most travelers hit Iceland on a short stopover or a longer trip to properly give the island the time it deserves. Those with less time usually do the classic Golden Circle route, which includes Thingvellir National Park, displaying the rift of two tectonic plates, the extraordinary Gullfoss Waterfall, and Haukadalur, home to the famous geysers.
In addition to the Golden circle, other day trips can be made from Reykjavík including a road trip to the scenic Reykjanes Peninsula, up to Snaefellsjoekull National Park, or down the South Coast of Iceland. The ice cave day tour from Jokulsarlon is also becoming more popular.
Although the Blue Lagoon is mega-popular, there are cheaper alternatives and ones that connect you better with locals. Nearly every town in Iceland has a swimming pool and at every swimming pool, there are natural thermal baths. These local pools are your way into Icelandic society. There are at least eight in Reykjavik alone.
Ideally, if you have a week or more, you’ll want to rent a car and head out on the ring road, completely encircling the country. But drive slowly, the weather can get foul quickly, and the road is narrow. Renting a camper in Iceland would also be a really cool way to experience this country and its natural beauty.
If you visit Iceland from the fall to spring, you’re probably planning to see the northern lights. Along with Finland, Norway, Canada, and Alaska, Iceland is the finest place to see the aurora borealis. Prepare to be amazed.
Whatever way you do it, Iceland usually includes a combination of stunning scenery, hot springs, volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers, and the northern lights, depending on the season. Oh yeah, and a hot dog and coke are a classic Iceland eating experience.
How to Get to Iceland:
Direct flights are available from several destinations throughout both Europe and North America. There is a regular ferry schedule between Iceland and Europe, and several cruise ships make regular visits to Iceland. Iceland Air runs several convenient routes but for the cheapest fares, check out WowAir and Norwegian Air. Flights in the off-season (winter) are generally the cheapest.
Should you travel to Iceland?
Absolutely, yes. There is no place quite like Iceland. The climate and landscape extremes you’ll witness here will stay with you for a lifetime. Meeting the people that have navigated this remote country for generations will further your interest of Iceland. Any season you choose is bound to give you great adventures. But if you go in winter, taking the whole ring road may not be the best option. Although Iceland doesn’t get tons of snow, the roads are still messy and dangerous in winter.
Another thing to be mindful of are the costs associated with travel to Iceland. Since the 2008-11 financial crises, prices have been a little cheaper. Historically, Iceland has been a pricey place to visit, but if you go with the right knowledge, you’ll save money. See my money-saving tips for Iceland article.
Although not part of the EU, Iceland is a member of the Schengen cooperation which exempts travelers from border controls traveling between 26 EU and EFTA states (Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland). In addition to this, many other countries travel visa-free to Iceland including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and more. See the complete list here of countries that don’t need visas to enter Iceland.
Doe you want to travel to Iceland? Have you already been? What were your favorite activities and destinations? Would you return?
2 thoughts on “Spotlight on: Travel to Iceland”
I want to get up there so badly – everything I’ve ever seen from Iceland makes it look fantastic.
All those activities you’ve listed above are fantastic. We went several years ago during Spring Break and it was fabulous. While everyone else was broiling in the Florida sun, and slathering up with sticky sunscreen, we were getting stewed to perfection in the Blue Lagoon, and getting a full facial from the thermic mud. We rented an apartment just up the road from Halgrimmskirkja church in Reykjavík and rented a car. We traveled the Ring Road on our own, to many of the small towns. Had a blast. Enjoyed Seltún, a hot-springs area, with lots of bubbling mud pots. Stood in North America and Europe at the same time on a bridge over the two tectonic plates. We took a tour to Vik on the southern coast, with its lovely black sand beaches and strange basalt columns, petted some of the purebred Icelandic horses we met en route, went snow-mobiling on Langjoküll Glacier, and a bit of ice-walking, as well. Without the crampons. The museums are also worth mentioning – the Saga Museum is nice, the National Museum is incredible (we spent over 2 hours there, with a nine-year old in tow and kept him 100% entertained), and Vikín Maritime Museum, which details the entire fishing industry. All are in Reykjavík. Do try the Icelandic hot dog, because they don’t get any better, with the delicious sauce and unique combination of grilled onions and French-fried onion strings. Don’t bother buying the sauce to bring home – you simply can’t duplicate the taste without the frankfurter itself. Those fabulous hot dogs are also a good hedge against the meals at the super-expensive restaurants. With an apartment, we went to the grocery-store (the one with the giant PIG logo) and cooked our own meals – an entire leg of lamb, stew made with fresh horsemeat…get daring and try something new. And be sure to go to one of the local swimming pools. If you are modest, and I am, you’ll want to undress and shower in an obscure cranny of the huge dressing area…the lady in charge will check to make sure you got your naked body clean BEFORE you enter the swimming area. One perk though: after you finish ‘soaking’, they have a machine that dries your swimsuit in about 30 seconds. I want one at my house. Iceland is marvelous. I’d go back in a second, at a different time of year. We went in the winter and I know that summer would be lovely, with all the green pastures. And the puffins. Be sure to take your kids; if you can’t, make sure you buy them souvenir headdresses (he ones for the girls come with golden blond braids), so they can be Viking warriors too. Avoid the flea market (nothing special, except perhaps the food section) and don’t try the fermented shark. Unless you just happen to enjoy retching.