Iceland is an island of the same name covering 103 thousand square kilometers, “lost” in the vast Atlantic Ocean between Norway and Greenland. Despite not the mildest weather conditions, the country continues to boom in ecotourism popularity due to the rugged grandeur of the Arctic nature. Black beaches and infernal vents of volcanoes, giant waterfalls and ice caves, epic fjords and geothermal vents are just some of the local locations which are worth the expense of a flight and a room in an Icelandic hotel.
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Icelanders are acutely aware of the geographical and aesthetic uniqueness of their homeland, which is reflected in the prices, which send even seasoned travelers into a state of mild shock. However, this is the rare case where the experience fully justifies the financial loss. Contributes to a pleasant exploration of the country and the low population density: the permanent population of the island is 350,000 people, of which a third – the capital’s inhabitants. Provincial communities are usually small, so while exploring the “land of the Vikings”, you can endlessly come across totally wild, unspoiled by human intervention.
South and south-west of the country have in the eyes of travelers magnetism increased because here is the capital of the state – Reykjavik. So if you do not want to deprive yourself of the benefits of civilization, it is advisable to settle in the main city of the island and even then get out to the volcanic lakes, waterfalls and ice caves. In the capital’s suburbs can also organize a pleasant spa vacation, splashing in thermal baths and relaxing in the hot lagoons.
The northern part of the country is more interesting to consider as a historical region – most Icelandic legends and sagas are set here. And the north of Iceland – Lake Miwatn, the waterfall Dettifoss and a lot of tiny national museums scattered in the cities of Akureyri, Skagafjordur, Husavik and others.
West of Iceland offers visiting guests volcanic valleys, roaring geysers, galloping bird markets, giant fjords and waterfalls – in general, everything for which the motherland of Bjork and the bulk of travel-bloggers rushes. Eastern Iceland also boasts epic Instagram scenery and endless opportunities for hiking. In addition, this part of the island is home to Europe’s largest glacier.
Glaciers Hvita River
The most curious can head to central Iceland, to the highlands of Landmannalaugar, to marvel at the dramatically changed landscape palette. Here all the mountains are painted in golden orange, reminiscent of the setting for fantasy movies. Another reason to visit the region – countless hiking trails in the most wonderful corners of protected areas, including the neighborhood of the volcano Askja, and plenty of hot springs, which is so pleasant to warm up after a long march through the valleys and foothills.
Cities of Iceland
Climate. Best time to go
Iceland has a subarctic maritime climate, which gives the island two distinct seasons, winter and summer. Short spring and hurried golden autumn also occur in this region, but to have time to notice them, you need to live in Iceland at least for a while. In terms of economy, go to explore the beauties of the “ice country” is better from November to February. Yes, the daylight hours will be short and the weather is unlikely to please the stability, but the more pleasant to get to natural wonders such as frozen waterfalls, ice caves and hot springs.
Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland
Northern Lights are also the prerogative of winter, as well as alien orange and purple sunsets. But you need not fear Icelandic frost. Because of the Gulf Stream, in January the thermometer does not fall below -2 ° C (mountainous areas are not included). Another reason in favor of a winter tour is a holiday Trettaundinn. On this day Icelanders escort their Santa Claus back to the mountains, launching fireworks in their honor and treating those wishing to delicacies of the ancient Scandinavian cuisine.
Spring in Iceland does not correspond to the European view of this time of year, because even with the advent of May in the vast country there is no sharp warming: +7 ° C – all you can expect from the spring days. Advantages of Icelandic fare are not so numerous, but they are weighty – a noticeable increase in daylight hours, the arrival of orange-billed buzzards and the opportunity to check into a hotel at a nice discount. By the way, the island for 74 years there was a dry law, which lost its force only in 1989, so in the spring you are also supposed to party at the Festival of Beer. It is worth bearing in mind that the prices of booze on festival days soar.
Summer in Iceland (lupine field) Winter Spring
Iceland in summer is much more expensive than in winter. Firstly, because, starting in June, tourists flock to the country. And secondly, because of the seasonal availability of natural attractions – from December to April to get to many iconic places because of the vagaries of the weather will not work. From the pluses of summer tour – unforgettable white nights, relative warmth (sometimes up to +20 ° C), the opportunity to hang out on Independence Day and the festival Sjomannadagurinn, and, of course, mind-blowing hiking in the most epic locations “of the Saga and Arctic fjords.
Note: you can’t wear shorts and a T-shirt in Iceland even in the peak summer season. The reason is piercing winds, bringing rain, and in winter even snow. So, no matter what month you choose to travel, grab an extra set of warm waterproof clothes – you can be sure it will not lie around.
History of Iceland
Historians continue to argue about who exactly discovered Iceland to the world. According to some versions, the Irish monks were the first to explore the island. At the same time archaeological finds allow us to suspect the ancient Romans. But fully populated the “land of ice and fire” began only in the IX century after the Vikings landed in Iceland, who liked the land so much that they decided to stay on it and establish their own state. As a result, the country entered the so-called Age of the People, a system of government that was unique for its time and was headed not by a king, but by an assembly of the people (the Althing).
At the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries, Iceland converted to Christianity, which did not prevent its inhabitants from being fond of writing heroic sagas and fearing trolls. And in 1262, Norway suddenly remembered the island, after which the locals had to recognize the authority of the Norwegian monarch. A hundred and a few years later Denmark joined the process of dividing the Icelandic lands, conquered the state and included it into its own territories, along with the same Norway. As a result, until the beginning of the 20th century Iceland remained a part of Hamlet’s homeland and only in 1918 could declare itself an independent kingdom, without finally breaking the union with Denmark.
In 1944 the island changed its political status from kingdom to republic, and in 1949 joined NATO. But the most serious test awaited the “ice country” in 2008, when the global crisis led the local economy, if not to the collapse, then to something very close. As a result, the financial situation in the state remained complicated and unstable until 2012.
Mentality and language barrier
Icelanders are strong-willed, athletic people, who pride themselves on their ability to remain calm in the most critical situations. At the same time, the ostensible seriousness and lack of communication that are sometimes attributed to the islanders, is only a defensive reaction. Icelanders prefer to reveal themselves to their compatriots rather than to foreigners. As for communication on a domestic level, the locals are markedly friendly and respond politely to tourists’ requests for a favor.
There are many jokes about unpunctuality of the Icelanders, and in such jokes there is some truth. In the harsh climate, not to work hard, but to find the right balance between work and rest is revered. But the tired clichés about the superstitions inherent in the descendants of the Vikings remain a beautiful, but exaggerated, exaggeration. Icelandic trolls and gnomes have long since ceased to harm anyone, having moved into the category of fairy-tale characters, which sometimes scare the naughty children.
The official language on the island is Icelandic, with which the average tourist is better not to try to get acquainted. Firstly, because it is as close as possible to the ancient Scandinavian with its unspoken vocabulary: the name of the famous volcano Eyjafjallajökull on the background of other words is not the most difficult option. And secondly, because 90% of the local population is fluent in English. At the same time natives of the island praise their native speech as something unique, and gladly invent new terms that have no analogues in other languages. For example, only in Iceland you can express a state of delight at having done someone a disservice with one single word – Pórðargleði.
The national currency of the country is the Icelandic krona (ISK). 1 ISK is approximately 0,51 RUB (exchange rate in November 2019). Money can be exchanged at the airport, bank branches and exchangers The Change Group, but the latter usually take a fee, the amount of which may be fixed, and depending on the converted amount. Bank branches in Iceland work on a five-day schedule from 9:00 to 16:00. If for some reason with banks failed, you can look into the major hotels and hotels, which almost always have their own currency exchanger.
ATMs are widespread, but there is no need to cash money in the cities as cards of international payment systems are accepted practically everywhere including camping sites and gas stations. In addition, a fee will be deducted for each transaction.
Sightseeing and Entertainment in Iceland
Iceland for tourists is a “wandering tale” that is best read outside of Reykjavik. Of course, in the capital of the country are also worth seeing, but the vast majority of them are architectural. But to see the land “before time” and the matchless creations of arctic nature is possible only outside the cities, which, incidentally, on the island, very little.
It is recommended to build a route, depending on the amount of time you have to spend in the “land of heroic sagas. If you decide to stay in Iceland for a couple of weeks, start with a tour along the coast, occasionally deviating inland, with the inevitable visits to fjords, volcanoes and waterfalls.
For those planning a short vacation, it makes more sense to drive to locations as far away from Reykjavik as possible. For example, go to Glimur Falls, which is considered the highest waterfall on the island (198 meters) and is located northwest of the capital. Or splash around in the Blue Lagoon, a natural geothermal pool about an hour’s drive from the capital. And of course don’t miss the magnificent Esja, a snowy massif just 10 kilometers from Reykjavík on whose slopes thousands of professional and extreme climbers and mountaineers scramble every year.
Glymur Falls Blue Lagoon
Almost next door to the capital is the famous Hval Fjord, also known as Whale Fjord, whose surroundings have been adored by generations of hiking enthusiasts. It is not necessary to walk around the entire fjord, which cuts into the land by a 30-kilometer “sleeve”, as there is a tunnel under it.
One of the most “hackneyed” tourist groups, but nevertheless romantic routes is the Golden Ring of Iceland. All who set out on this exciting route, waiting for the volcanic crater Kerid with ultramarine lake at the bottom, the valley Højkadalur with its giant geysers Geysir and Strokkur, and waterfall Gudlfoss with an interesting, though quite modern legend.
Another location in the Golden Ring and relatively close to Reykjavik is Tingvellir Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is where Icelandic statehood was born and where the Althingi was assembled to vote. Tingvellir is also home to Silva, the deepest rift in the Earth’s crust, formed by the collision of the Eurasian and North American lithospheric plates. Today the fissure is filled with crystal-clear water, so in summer it is literally “swarming” with divers and snorkelers of all stripes.
Hvalfjord Kerid Crater Geyser Strokkur Waterfall Güdlfoss Tingvellir Sylfa National Park
Travelers dreaming of rewinding millions of years ago and discovering what the planet looked like after it was “covered” by a glacier should venture away from the Icelandic capital and drive to Vatnajöküdl Park. The park’s meditative, snow-covered landscapes hide active volcanoes as well as stunning ice caves, so pack your hiking shoes and join a hiking group with an experienced guide. In addition, from June to September, visitors have the chance to hike to Dettifoss Falls, part of the Vatnajöküdl Nature Conservation Area. The rushing down from the plateau resembles the Niagara water cascades, although it is somewhat inferior in size.
Vatnajöküdl Dettifoss waterfall
Next door to Vatnajökull is another Icelandic wonder, the icy lagoon of Jökullsaurloun. You can’t take a steam bath here, like in the Blue Valley, for example, because the temperature is not the same. But it’s easy to fly over the blue surface on the boat and click a hundred fantastic shots with seals. Gatherers of local folklore, troll hunters, and just lovers of old-fashioned legends head south from Vatnajöküdl. A place where all the otherworldly forces of Iceland are concentrated is a village with a name impossible to pronounce: Kirkjubajärkljöistur, which traces its mystical history back to 1186.
Iceland’s third national park, Snaifelsjökull, is tucked away at the western tip of the island. The name Snaifelsjökull belongs not only to the park, but also to the glacier located in it. However, the world fame and tourist attraction to the place provided not he, and writer Jules Verne, who transferred the action of his novel “Journey to the Center of the Earth” on the volcano Snaifelds, which is located on the territory of the park zone.
Snaifelsjökull National Park
Architecture and monuments
The most curious creations of human hands are in Reykjavik. However, before the tourists the Icelandic capital “trumpets” mainly with modern structures, but it does not detract from its value as an object of research. Very unusual, for example, looks the building of the Concert Hall, resembling with its glass facades a bee honeycomb in section. In the city center the town hall is worth seeing. The concrete structure itself looks a bit foreign in the midst of ascetic houses, so don’t miss the opportunity to look inside to appreciate the giant 3D map of the island and plan a route to its non-mainstream attractions.
Reykjavik Concert Hall
At least a couple of minutes of admiring bewilderment will provide a tour of the facades of Hadlgrímskirkja Church. Outwardly, the iconic building looks like a rocket about to take off, although the building was designed long before the space age. If you want something more classical, walk to the cathedral of Landakotskirkja – it is an old familiar neo-Gothic building adapted to the Icelandic climate realities and made of reinforced concrete. By the way, they love to give churches an atypical look in Iceland, so if you happen to get to Akureyri and Kópavogur (part of the Reykjavik metropolitan area), walk around the original church buildings.
Reykjavik Town Hall Hadlgrimskirkja Landakotskirkja
The Perlan Cultural Center in Reykjavik is also a demonstration of the native Icelandic ability to combine the incongruous. In fact, the cyclopean flower-shaped building is nothing more than a geothermal boiler house that houses an entire entertainment center with concert halls, a winter garden, and a restaurant inside. Loyal John Lennon fans prefer to swim to Weedy Island, to the Peace Column, designed by Yoko Ono. At the same time, paranormal hunters and historians interested in epochal events love to wander around Hövdí Mansion. And of course, what would Iceland be without quirky symbolic sculptures, so don’t overlook the “Sunny Wanderer” monument, the “Unknown Official” sculpture and the corpulent “Waterbearer” figure.
Perlan Cultural Center with Reykjavik as a backdrop The Peace Column on Videy Island Hövdi House The Sun Wanderer sculpture
Where to get warm in Iceland except the Blue Lagoon
Bathing in the geothermal springs of the Blue Lagoon is pleasant, pathosy, but designed for the lazy tourist, and therefore – unreasonably expensive. At the same time on the island are full of cheaper, if not free alternatives to hyped spa complex in the open air. For example, you can warm your feet after a tiresome hike through the Icelandic valleys without spending a fortune in the hot river Reykjadalur – no further from Reykjavik than the well-publicized Blue Lagoon. If you don’t travel through the Icelandic countryside in winter, when the road situation is difficult, you have a good chance to relax in the thermal springs of Hveravellir – there are plenty of them.
The Grettisleig pools offer a chance to soak in hot water in complete privacy, but due to their remoteness, they are accessible only to the most persistent travellers. Those who don’t want to go outside Reykjavik are usually advised to soak their feet in the Kvika baths, natural stone “bowls” the size of a tiny basin. Moderately warm volcanic water (about +30 ° C) also fills the stone pool Seljavallaug. The only nuance: volunteers, who are assigned to the place, do not have time to monitor its cleanliness, so sometimes you have to swim in the company of algae in Seljavallaug. The area next door to Landmannalaugar Springs is more landscaped – there are changing rooms and showers, but there are also plenty of bathers in season.
Grettislaug Stone Pool Seljavallaug
A great substitute for natural springs are hot pools, many of which are free or expect visitors to make a token donation. For example, you can spend half an hour in the baths at Drankhsnes, Ostakarid and Hoffedl without emptying your wallet. There are some pleasant baths in the Western Fjords – Gudrunarleig, Krossnesleig and others.
FYI: there are a lot of wild and absolutely free geothermal springs on the island, of which tourists have not yet checked out, but Icelanders are very reluctant to give away their location. So if you have a local friend, ask him about secret bathing spots. You will probably be offered a nice, secluded spot.