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 who wish 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 go up during the festival days.
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 composing 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, which tourists have not yet heard about, but Icelanders are very reluctant to give away their location. So if you have a local friend, ask him about secret bathing spots. Maybe you will be offered a nice, secluded spot.
Iceland: travel information
Iceland is a part of the Nordic countries together with Finland and Scandinavian countries: Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
The main island is above the Arctic Circle and is on the border of the Arctic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The nearest country is Denmark.
Iceland is 287 km from Greenland and 420 km from the Faroe Islands.
The capital of the country and at the same time the northernmost capital of Europe is Reykjavik .
Iceland: travel information
Geologically, Iceland is the youngest region of the continent .
Why is it called the “land of ice and flame”? About 11% of the surface of the country is covered by glaciers – the largest of them and second in Europe is Vatnajökull, covering 8.3 thousand. square km. Other glaciers are Langjöküdl, Hofsjöküdl, Myrdalsjöküdl and Drangajöküdl. In turn, the “flames” are connected with the volcanic activity of the island. This is evidenced not only by geysers or hot springs (including Geysir), but also by numerous active volcanoes, including Hecla, Askja, Katja, Grimsvöttn and Hvannadalsnukur (the highest peak in Iceland). Huge geothermal energy is skillfully used to heat homes.
The “interior” of this highland and mountainous country resembles a desert. Sands, lava fields and ice fields prevail here. Iceland’s coastline is well developed. It consists of many fjords and bays, where settlements of various sizes have sprung up. There are thousands of picturesque waterfalls on the island, and new ones form every year as the glaciers melt. It’s worth a trip to Gudlfoss, Glymur, Heifoss, or Dettifoss.
The weather in Iceland is extremely variable . This is because the warm moist air from the south meets the cold and dry polar air. Not for nothing do Icelanders say that if the weather is bad, just wait 15 minutes.
In theory, there are four seasons on the island . In practice, it looks a little different – summer is usually autumnal conditions, and winter weather can be so variable that one day you will feel the climate characteristic of each season.
Summers in Iceland are quite short and not hot. In turn, winters are long, but not always frosty. It snows in summer and rains heavily in winter. August is considered the least rainy month.
Because of the changing climate, tourists traveling to Iceland should arm not only an umbrella, but also windproof and waterproof clothing. Also useful are Icelandic sweaters, hats and handmade gloves. Do not forget about insulated waterproof shoes.
The best time to visit Iceland is from June to August . However, keep in mind that even during this period the temperature can drop below zero.
Flora and fauna
Because Iceland – is primarily glaciers and volcanoes, the country is not particularly planted with trees . Because of this there is a local saying: if you get lost in the Icelandic forest, all you have to do is get up off your knees.
The local woody vegetation is mostly moss birch, willow, juniper and mountain ash. As for birch forests, the largest are near the town of Akureyri. However, the most common in Iceland are tundra and grasslands.
The island also does not provide favorable conditions for wild mammals. There are foxes and a few species brought into the country from other places: rabbits, mice and reindeer (imported in the second half of the 18th century).
Iceland is mostly associated with native species of ponies, small but hardy and strong horses.
Many species of cetaceans and seals live in the local waters .
The country’s location in the middle of the ocean also contributes to the abundance of birds – Iceland is inhabited or periodically visited by about a hundred species of birds, the most characteristic of which is the “stumpbill”.
Important information for all tourists (especially campers): there are no mosquitoes in Iceland !
Flora and fauna
There are about 330,000 people living in Iceland . It is estimated that there are four times more sheep than people. Not only that, but three times as many tourists visit the island every year as the population.
About 60% of Icelanders live in and around Reykjavik.
Because the island is isolated from the rest of the continent, immigration is hard to come by.
More than 93% of Icelanders are native Icelanders . The second ethnic group is Polish, with an estimated 7,000 to 12,000 people. In third place are Lithuanians (more than 1,500), with no more than a few hundred representatives of other nationalities.
Culturally, Icelanders belong to the Scandinavian group – they speak Icelandic, which is one of the Scandinavian languages. Most people also communicate in English. “Manners.”
Icelanders are very nice and helpful people. At first they may seem a little cold and aloof, but once they open up, they radiate warmth.
Their way of life is similar to other Scandinavians – they are characterized by calmness and equanimity. According to surveys, Icelanders are some of the happiest people on the planet!
Everyday customs do not differ much from the general European customs – you just have to follow the elementary rules of culture, and you will not commit any unforgivable mistakes. However, there are interesting habits of this nation…
In many ways Icelanders are absolute record-breakers – it’s the nation that eats the most fish and drinks the most cola per capita. At the same time there are many books published here and life expectancy is one of the highest in the world (men live an average of 76 years and women 81).
Of the special holidays worth mentioning is Jokulsarlon (the lake adjacent to the largest glacier on the island). It takes place in mid-August. People set up bright lanterns in the surrounding mountains. In such a magical landscape, residents spend time until late at night.
Iceland has a patronymic – so if someone introduces himself to you as Eidur, his son will be named Eidurson and his daughter Eidurdottir.
Before Christianization in the 10th century, the pagan Nordic religion prevailed in Iceland . In 1550 the island broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and became Lutheran. To this day, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is the dominant religious organization, and in 1874 a law on full religious freedom was passed.
The Icelandic Lutheran Church unites 75.1% of the population of the country . Other smaller groups on the island include Catholics (3.5% of the population), Pentecostals, Neo-Pagans, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox, Baha’is, Buddhists and Muslims.
According to the 2010 survey, Icelanders are not as religious as the above statistics show. Only 31% admit to believing in God. Forty-nine percent said they believed in a life force or undefined spirit, while 18% chose atheism.
The first settlers in Iceland were Scottish and Irish Celts, as well as Norse Vikings. They did not reach the island until the 9th century. Thus, in 874, Iceland became the last inhabited area in Europe.
Where Tingvellir National Park is located today, the “Althingi” (Icelandic Parliament) first met in 930 . The Icelandic parliament is considered the oldest in the world.
Writing was commonplace in Iceland – old manuscripts and other writings from long ago can be seen in the Sanyane collection.
The island remained independent for 300 years. Only in the 13th century did it come under Norwegian rule and later under Danish rule. Iceland received partial autonomy in 1874, but we can talk about its independence only since 1918. The Danish king then held the position of titular head of state.
During World War II the country declared neutrality . However, in 1940, the British invaded Iceland to protect the island from Germany. In 1944, Iceland broke a personal union with Denmark, after which it declared itself a republic.
Right-hand traffic on the island has been in effect since 1968.
Iceland is an ideal place for people who appreciate active holidays. Here there are suitable conditions for all forms of outdoor activities – mostly in summer.
On the island you can swim in swimming pools, enjoy hiking or horseback riding. More extreme activities such as glacier hiking, snowmobiling on the glacier, dog sledding and kayaking are also possible.
Travelers are encouraged to hike from May through September . However, the best conditions for hiking in the mountains are created by midsummer.
It’s important to be prepared for frequent weather changes and stick to the designated trail – you can camp anywhere, as long as you’re not on private property or in a nature preserve.
Outdoor pool lovers will feel like they’re in paradise in Iceland . Swimming in the blue water of the Blue Lagoon, a bathing beach nestled among fields of gray lava, will give everyone an unforgettable experience. The water temperature here is about 40 ° C, even if the air temperature is below freezing.
Fans of the water world will be happy as well. First of all, Iceland is the best place to relax, during which you can go on a cruise and watch the dolphins and whales (including the giant blue whale). Secondly, fishing is thriving on the island and the rivers are rich in salmon, trout and other fish. Before taking a fishing rod, you should make sure that you have a fishing permit (you can ask the tour company you are visiting about it).
Also, tourists who go to the island from October to April, can admire the sky with the most famous attraction of the north – the Northern Lights.