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Holidays in Iceland

Understanding Iceland

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 gloom and 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 11PM Early or late winter, however, can be surprisingly good times to visit In late January, daylight is from about 10AM to 5PM, prices are lower than in the high season, and the snow-blanketed landscape is eerily beautiful Some sites are, however, inaccessible in the winter

People

Iceland was settled by Nordic and Celtic people in the 9th century AD - tradition says that the first permanent settler was Ingólfur Arnarson, a Norwegian Viking who made his home where Reykjavik now stands The Icelanders still basically speak the language of the Vikings Iceland has received a great number of immigrants over the last 10 years In the last 5 years the population of immigrants has doubled Most of these people from Eastern Europe and South East Asia come for employment Immigrants in Iceland are now well over 10% of the population, giving Iceland a larger proportion of immigration than Norway, Sweden etc Icelanders also continue to use the old Norse patronymic system, which was formerly in use in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Faroe Islands well into the 19th century, until their governments decided that their people should adopt a surname

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 fifteen minutes!' It's the kind of place where it's not unusual to get rained on and sunburnt 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

Talking in Iceland

The official language of Iceland is Icelandic íslenska, which remains very similar to, although not quite the same as 13th-century Norse 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 eg 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" Speakers of Scandinavian languages like Danish, Norwegian, Swedish or Faroese will be able to figure out many written Icelandic words, but are unlikely to understand the spoken language

Most people there can speak and understand English and Danish these are taught in elementary school, other Scandinavian languages, basic German, some Spanish, and some French Icelandic college students choose a "third language" to study, usually Spanish, German, French, or Italian Many students can also opt to study a fourth language Even though the majority of Icelanders are fluent in English, English-speaking visitors to the country should take the time to learn "please" and "thank you" in Icelandic for their trip

Icelanders use the comma instead of the decimal sign for integers, ie 12,000 means 12, not twelve thousand, whereas 12 000 or 12000 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 use this form to avoid misunderstanding Dates can be seen abbreviated in a number of ways, but the order is always DAY-MONTH-YEAR; 12708, 120708, or 120708 is equivalent to July 12, 2008 Monday is considered the first day of the week, while Sunday is the last 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 "Jarð hæð", like in the US Levels are then counted 1, 2, 3 etc

Consult the Icelandic phrasebook for more information

What to see in Iceland

  • The Blue Lagoon 18 is a geothermal spa and the most famous sight in Iceland For passengers departing or arriving on afternoon flights Reykjavík Excursions 19 offers airport transfers which include a visit to the Blue Lagoon from 3400 ISK

A bus 20 from the Main Bus Station in Reykjavík takes 40 minutes and costs 5500 ISK, including admission to the Blue Lagoon They have a fantastic system in place at the Blue Lagoon When you pay your entry you can rent swimsuits and towels You are given a bracelet with chip technology that you use to operate the lockers in the changing rooms, and also records the amount of anything you wish to buy while you are there - lunch, drink, souvenir, disposable camera - and when you turn in the bracelet as you leave you then pay for the day's fun You could easily spend an entire afternoon, or this makes a great stop on the way to or from the airport

For an out of the way drive rent a car and travel along the southern part of the ring road to the town of Vík with its magnificent black sand beaches, rock outcroppings, glaciers, and lava fields

South-central Iceland, easily accessible by car or tour from Reykjavík, has a number of sights;

  • The Gullfoss 21 waterfall is quite spectacular
  • Geysir 22, 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

The rest of Iceland also has amazing sights;

  • 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
  • Near Dyrholaey, there are several places that have horses for rent at a very reasonable price
  • In the colder months, one may frequently get stunning views of the Aurora Borealis, aka Northern Lights anywhere away from city lights
  • Husavík is home to the Icelandic Phallological Museum 23
  • The Iceland Saga Trail Association 24 is an association for those involved in history- and saga-related tourism in Iceland The members offer museums, exhibitions, heritage sites, festivals and the sites of certain sagas

What to do in Iceland

  • Iceland offers many hiking opportunities Hiking in Iceland is no easy business, strong walking boots which support your ankle 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
  • There are some good opportunities to go mobiling and this can provide access to otherwise inaccessable areas

Buying stuff in Iceland

The local currency is the Icelandic króna ISK, and its value collapsed quite dramatically during the 2008 economic crisis As of May 2010, 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 As at March 2009 we found the only method was to find old stock at Bureaux de Change which carried it in stock, such as Marks & Spencer This may have to be ordered in about a week in advance though

Costs

Getting to Iceland can be done very cheaply: Icelandair and Iceland Express both offer many excellent fares and promotions 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 the world, particularly for items such as food and alcohol 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 Card25, operated by the Norden Association of Iceland, and Reykjavik City Card, operated by the City of Reykjavik

When shopping for food or other necessities, look for Bónus or Krónan shops, as they offer considerably lower prices than the others This is at the expense of quality, of course

Expect to spend around 600 to 800ISK on a beer or a glass of wine, 2500ISK on a pizza for one person, or 270 ISK on a city bus ride

Cigarettes cost around 850 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 26, Hera 27, 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

Food and eating in Iceland

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 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
  • 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 lyfrapylsa only with the sheep's blood mixed into it

Iceland is famous for its whale meat, being one of the few places in the world where it is possible to eat Minke whale Whilst many westerners may have strong feelings about the morality of the hunting and eating of whale, it is advisable to read up on both sides of the arguments before making your mind up Whaling has long been a tradition of Icelanders and is a proud part of their heritage, so do not rush to judge 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 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 200 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 2008:

  • ISK 400 - 1500 for a hamburger
  • ISK 150 - 250 for a hotdog
  • ISK 1500 - 3500 for a three-course meal in a restaurant

Drinking in Iceland

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 600 Liquor can be purchased at licensed bars, restaurants, or VinBud 28, the state monopoly 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 29: Lite, Gull, Pilsner, Premium, El Grillo
  • Vífillfell 30: Thule, Gull, Lite, Víking
  • Bruggsmiðjan 31: Kaldi
  • Ölvisholt Brewery 32: Skjálfti

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 20 for all alcoholic beverages

Accommodation in Iceland

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

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 very clean and well maintained, light and airy with nothing at all that could even remotely be considered 'dingy' They are expensive though Fosshotels 33 is a chain of tourist class hotels The chain focuses on friendlier atmosphere Fosshotels are situated all around Iceland, close to the island's most treasured nature spots Icelandair Hotels 34 which include the Edda 35 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 downtown 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

The members are farmers who offer accommodation to travellers 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

Iceland has many hostels throughout the entire country They can be found on Hostelling International Iceland 36

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 500-1000 Kr 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, I would also highly recommend thick pyjamas and a warm hat! A bedding roll is also useful as you may end up sleeping on very rough groundand that's just not very comfortable at all! 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

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 only be accessible 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

Working in Iceland

Unemployment in Iceland is rising and the wages are crashing, right now Iceland is not a place to come in hopes of finding work 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 As of May 1, 2006 there are no restrictions on the latest entrants into the EU

Work permits can be very difficult to get if you do not come from any of the aforementioned countries, as Iceland has a relatively strict immigration policy

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 unionized society with over 90% of the workforce in labour unions

A great resource is the Directorate of Labour 37 website

Cities in Iceland

akranes  akureyri  bildudalur  blonduos  bolungarvik  borgarnes  dalvik  djupivogur  drangsnes  eyrarbakki  flateyri  grenivik  grindavik  hafnir  hella  hellissandur  hjalteyri  hnifsdalur  hofn  hofsos  holar  holmavik  husavik  hvammstangi  hvanneyri  hvolsvollur  keflavik  kirkjubaejarklaustur  kopasker  kopavogur  laugarvatn  litli-arskogssandur  olafsvik  raufarhofn  reykholar  reykholt  reykjavik  selfoss  skagastrond  stokkseyri  stykkisholmur  vestmannaeyjar  vogar  

What do you think about Iceland?

How expensive is Iceland?
(1 ISK = 0.01 USD)
Meal in inexpensive restaurant0.93 ISK
3-course meal in restaurant (for 2)10.23 ISK
McDonalds meal0.96 ISK
Local beer (0.5 draft)861.58 ISK
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 752 ISK
Cappuccino434.09 ISK
Pepsi/Coke (0.33 bottle)296.3 ISK
Water (0.33 bottle)220.34 ISK
Milk (1l)118.59 ISK
Fresh bread (500g)299.03 ISK
White Rice (1kg)349.09 ISK
Eggs (12) 506.56 ISK
Local Cheese (1kg) 0.97 ISK
Chicken Breast (1kg) 1.8 ISK
Apples (1kg) 401.41 ISK
Oranges (1kg) 271.12 ISK
Tomato (1kg) 513.28 ISK
Potato (1kg) 237.11 ISK
Lettuce (1 head) 362.75 ISK
Water (1.5l)234.58 ISK
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) 1.98 ISK
Domestic Beer (0.5 bottle)299.82 ISK
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 299.33 ISK
Cigarettes0.94 ISK
One way local bus ticket386.75 ISK
Monthly pass for bus8.37 ISK
Taxi start620.4 ISK
Taxi 1km242.6 ISK
Taxi 1hour waiting5.52 ISK
Gasoline (1 liter) 240.61 ISK
Utilities for a "normal" apartment13.3 ISK
Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend) 3.32 ISK
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre 145.46 ISK
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre 109 ISK
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre 192.7 ISK
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre 180.73 ISK
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