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Iceland Travel Guide

Updated on February 4, 2013
Drangey Island
Drangey Island

Iceland is a big island in the North Atlantic, close to the Arctic Circle, characterized by a wild and colorful landscape, with black lava, red sulfur, blue geysers, green waterfalls and valley, and the coastline is laced by countless gulfs and fjords. If you’re interested in nature, then Iceland is the perfect destination. During summer, many companies offer guided tours by bus throughout the country. You can also go hiking on your own, around areas like Thorsmoerk, Snaefellsjoekull and many others. Another alternative is horseback riding.

Iceland is one of the most attractive countries due to its volcanoes. Hekla, in the south, erupted 16 times, described by priests to be “the gateway to hell”. In the coastal region though, the civilization rules, especially around Reykjavik, where half of the country’s population lives. Reykjavik is located in a large gulf, surrounded by mountains and it’s an area of thermal springs that create a natural heating system, with no damage to the environment. The capital city is a crowded center, with buildings that combine the old fashion architecture with the modern one. Even though it’s a small city, Reykjavik has a lively nightlife, with hundreds of racketeers.

Eyjafjallajkull, Iceland
Eyjafjallajkull, Iceland

Iceland's Tourist Attractions

  • Take a trip to the Golden Circle, in Thingvellir, the place where the old Icelandic parliament is located, Gullfos, the most famous waterfall in the country, with a 30m height and Geysir, the place where thermal springs originated from.

  • Walk on a black sand beach on the southern coast near Vik, and then visit the folkloric museum in the small village of Skogar.
  • Relax in Westfjords. In this spectacular landscape you’ll find the most remote villages in the country. Latrabjarg, the northernmost point in Europe, is the biggest rock in the world with birds, at the altitude of 400m.
  • Discover the mysterious landscape that consists of mud steam, volcano craters, lava fields and stretches of grass and water, where the birds wander, at the lakeMyvatn, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.
  • Follow James Bond’s footsteps and visit the glacial lagoon Jokulsarlon, a place favorite by photographers and film directors where the floating glaciers create an unreal landscape.
  • Join the nature lovers that come every spring in the WestmannIslands, to see the puffins’ return to their nests, after spending the winter in the sea. In August millions of puffin chicks leave the nest for the first time and learn to fly.
  • Explore Landmannalaguar, the pearl of the central superior territories. This landscape colored in green, yellow, orange and red is dotted by many hot springs and lakes and represents a true paradise for the artists and hikers.
  • Visit Akureyri, 60km away from the Arctic Circle that has a gorgeous location, at the end of the Eyjafjordur fjord, the longest one in the country. Explore the GrimseyIsland.
  • Bathe in the turquoise waters of the Blue Lagoon. Located in a lunar landscape created by lava fields, the lagoon is renowned for its healing properties and the geothermal water that is rich in minerals.
  • Watch the whales! The waters around Iceland are one of the best places in the world where you can spot a variety of whales.
  • Go hiking – from the SkaftafellNational Park to Westfjords and SnaefellnesPeninsula.
  • The Icelandic horses are a species perfectly adapted to the territory, riding through the lava fields and deserted beaches being a popular sport.
  • Spend the New Year in Iceland. Hundreds of camp fires and thousands of fireworks mark the crossing into a new year, in the capital Reykjavik.
  • Ride the snowmobile on glaciers. Adrenaline is guaranteed.
  • Take part in one of the most impressive nature performances – from September to March you can see the Boreal Aurora.

Reykjavik At Night
Reykjavik At Night

Icelandic Cuisine

The food in Iceland is mainly based on lamb meat and fish and has many Scandinavian and European influences. The fish represents 70% of the country’s exported good. Also, many vegetables are grown here, in natural heated glass houses, with help from the geyser steam. In coffee shop you will pay only the first cup of the coffee, the next ones are free.

Salmon is a great delicacy in Iceland and it’s served in many ways. Other national specialties include hangijot (smoked lamb meat), hardfiskur (dried fish) and sild (marinade herring in diverse flavors). Another stranger delicacy is the rotten shark meat. The local beverage is Brennivin, an alcoholic drink made out of potatoes.

Iceland's History

The first inhabitants of Iceland were Irish monks that left the island in the 9th century when the pagan Nordics arrived. In 930 a constitution was established that created a form of democracy and guaranteed an “Althing”, the oldest legislative formation in the world that still functions today. The island’s history is recorded in the Iceland’s sagas from the 13th century.

In 1262-1264 Iceland came under Norway’s rule, then Denmark’s rule, by the unification of Norway, Sweden and Denmark that took place in 1397. In 1874 created its own constitution and in 1918 its independence was recognized by Denmark. However, Iceland was formally controlled by the Danish monarchy.

As long as Denmark was occupied by Germany, during the Second World War, Iceland was successively occupied by British and American troops, which used it as a strategic aeronautic base. On 17th June 1944, after a referendum, Althing proclaimed Iceland as an independent republic.

What You Should Know

Iceland has a homogenous population, concerning the classes, and a strong literary tradition. The way to address is by the first name, because the name is composed of the father’s name plus “son” or “daughter”. For example, John, the son of Magnus, will be called Magnusson, and his sister Mary will be called Magnusdottir. Fru means Lady and Herra means Sir.

If you happen to lack a conversation topic with a Icelandic, mention the weather. The locals are happy when the tourists wonder about the short winter days and the absence of the nights from May to August.

Credit cards are accepted everywhere, except the Reykjavik city hall. Be prepared to be asked several times what you think about Iceland. It’s better to have a prepared answer. The Icelandic are very proud of Iceland and the nature around here, and if you said good things about them, opportunities for guided tours and other services will immediately show up.

A popular belief that has been preserved in Iceland refers to the hidden people that live inside the rocks and caves. Bigger rocks are often avoided, not to offend the inhabitants. Some Icelandic claim to have seen these creatures and there is even a museum in Reykjavik dedicated to the hidden men. Even those who don’t believe in these creatures avoid talking bad things about them.

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