Difference between revisions of "Iceland"
Revision as of 14:23, 6 November 2005
Although most visitors don't stray far from the capital city, this is a shame as some of the most memorable sights of Iceland are further afield.
There are many excursions offered by tour companies and are readily available from any of the main centres such as Reykjavik and Akureyri. They will fly you around and take you on to the glaciers and to the big volcanos for a reasonable price.
Iceland is a stunningly beautiful place if you enjoy strange and desolate landscapes. Lava fields, lava tubes, plains of fractured rock, ice, fire and steam.
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 maintains another Norse tradition: the custom of using patronymics rather than surnames (an Icelander's given name is followed by his or her parent's first name (usually the father's) and the suffix -son or -dóttir, e.g. Guðrún Pétursdóttir (Guðrún, daughter of Pétur). Members of the same family can therefore have many different "surnames", which can sometimes create confusion for visitors! Because of the patronymic last names Icelanders primarily use first names, e.g. phone books are alphabetised by first name rather than last name. This also applies when addressing an individual. Icelanders would never expect to be addressed as Mr. or Ms. Jónsson/-dóttir no matter how important they might be.
Bits of Info
£1 = 112 ISK (4.8.2005) $1 = 63.4 ISK (26.8.2005)
The airport itself is quite barren; if you have a lengthy layover you should make sure to bring books or other entertainment.
A transfer bus runs between the airport and Reykjavik bus terminal via various hotels (1150 Kr, 45 minutes). Another great option is to take the bus which stops at the Blue Lagoon either to or from the airport, then continues every half hour or so to Reykjavik.
Be warned, a metered taxi costs about 9500 krona (roughly US$140).
Another option is the low cost airline Iceland Express which flies from Copenhagen and Stansted (close to London) to Keflavik (with additional service during the summer month to Frankfurt Hahn, Berlin Schönefeld, Friedrichshafen, Alicante, Gothenburg and Stockholm Arlanda). The Icelandic travel search engine dohop.com finds low cost flights to Reykjavik from 200 cities in Europe.
Getting to Iceland by boat takes longer than by plane but has the advantage of allowing you to take your own vehicle.
In the summer, Smyril Line's MV Norunna sails to picturesque Seyðisfjörður in a week round trip from Hanstholm in Northern Jutland (Denmark) via Tórshavn (Faroe Islands), Lerwick (Shetland Islands) and Bergen (Norway).
The website is slightly vague on the costs and doesn't show many special offers, so it's worth calling their friendly sales office in Shetland. In July & August 2005 a return ticket from Lerwick could be had for ~£50.
Aircraft in Iceland are like buses or trains elsewhere - they're the main form of internal travel other than the roads. Be warned though, that the ride can be a bit bumpy if you're coming into one of the fjords like Akureyri.
Scheduled service to domestic destinations, including Greenland and Faroe Islands, is provided by Air Iceland.
Driving in Iceland is on the right-side of the road. There are car hire booths for Hertz and Avis in the airport, as well as a local company, Alp. Hiring a car can be extremely expensive, especially for four-wheel-drives. Renting cars on-location is reportedly cheaper than doing so in advance.
Be aware that car rentals - also at the airports - are not open around the clock.
Icelandic roads are adequate or at least tolerable if you are driving in populated areas (see this map of paved roads marked red). The interior of the country is a different matter and a good four-wheel drive vehicle is essential even if you stay to the "roads", you might have to cross many rivers and fords, some of which can be over 4 feet (1.2m) deep - especially if it has been raining.
The DUI limit in Iceland is 0.05%.
BSI Travel Runs regular bus service to most parts of the country, especially around the Ring Road (Route 1).
Special offers include 1-4 week unlimited bus travel round the Ring Road (optionally with travel round the West Fjords); one time-unlimited breakable journey around the Ring Road in either direction.
Hitchhiking is a cheap way of getting around in Iceland. The country is among the safest in the world and people are quite friendly. Along the main road in the western region (road # 1 that more or less follows the coastline) it is not a problem to get a lift. In remote areas, even on the road #1 around Höfn, it can be difficult to get one though; take enough time, enough to eat and drink, and it's still possible. The weather can be awful and sometimes spoils the fun of this way of traveling.
Most Icelanders appear to speak English at least a little, but, as is the same everywhere, it doesn't hurt to be aware of your 'please and thank yous' to make things go a little more smoothly.
Many people have basic knowledge in German, Danish and/or Swedish, and some in Spanish and French.
Consult the Icelandic phrasebook for more information.
Iceland has a huge number of great little craft shops that sell everything from musical baskets and wonderful weird porcelain sculpture to paintings, glasswork, and jewelry. An interesting note is the National Galleries tend to carry the same artists work in the gift shops rather than the usual mass marketed product carried at so many other museums.
Icelandic wool goods (hats, gloves etc.) are soft and warm; don't just buy them for other people if you plan to visit the interior.
There is also a plethora of interesting local music CDs (beyond just Björk) worth hunting for. Obscurities worth picking up include Hera, Worm is Green, Múm, and Bellatrix.
Beware of the fact that almost everything is very expensive in Iceland. Specifically, fresh vegetables (especially organic, if you can find them) and beer (minimum 500 Kr / pint).
Most Icelandic cuisine involves lamb or fish in some form or other, so a liking for one (or both) of these is an advantage. A vegetarian diet can be tricky to maintain and veganism will require you to self-cater.
Distinctively Icelandic foods include:
Food is no problem for Westerners in the cities; there is the usual compliment of eateries and restaurants for your delectation. Some of the hotel restaurants are very good indeed but if you're looking for a bite to eat on the move you can't really beat a 'Subway' or a very long bag of chips (fries) from the drive-through cafe near the airport in Akureyri. They are fabulous! (NB. Icelanders usually don't use ketchup as a condiment with chips, but rather use an unholy cocktail of ketchup and mayonnaise that they call kokkteilsósa. Make sure you try this)
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 170 kr, and is sold in every one of the small convenience stores/eateries/video rentals/sweet shops that litter Icelandic towns.
Vid fjorubordid is a gourmet restaurant located in Stokkseyri by the south coast of Iceland specializing in lobster. Stokkseyri is about 40 minutes drive from Reykjavík
Alcoholic drinks are very expensive compared to the UK and USA. Liquor can be purchased at licenced bars, restaurants, or VinBud, the state monopoly.
There are three local brands of Iceland beer: Egils, Thule, Viking.
Each year on Beer Day Icelanders celebrate the lifting of prohibition on March 1st, 1989.
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 up on arrival.
If you're visiting in summertime, you won't regret bringing an eyemask with you. There can be as little as 4 hours of darkness.
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 considered 'dingy'. They are expensive though.
Chains of hotels are run by Hotel Edda and Icelandair and there are lots of small, family-run guesthouses around.
Outside of Reykjavik, one of the best hotels in Iceland is Hotel Budir on the Snaefell Peninsula.
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.
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).
The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa. For passengers departing on afternoon flights Reykjavik Excursions offers airport transfers which include a visit to the Blue Lagoon. A bus from the Main Bus Station in Reykjavik takes 40 minutes and costs 2750 ISK, including admission to the Blue Lagoon.
For an out of the way drive rent a car and travel along the southern part of the ring road to the town of Vik with its magnificent black sand beaches, rock outcroppings, glaciers, and lava fields.
South-central Iceland, easily accessible by car or tour from Reykjavik, boasts a number of sights: Gullfoss, the largest-volume waterfall in Europe, is quite spectacular; Geysir, the namesake of all geysers, and its neighbor Stokkur which erupts every five minutes or so; and Thingvellir, a beautiful landscape of water-cut lava fields, which is historically important as the site of Iceland's parliamentary government circa 930 AD.
In the colder months, one may frequently get stunning views of the Aurora Borealis, a.k.a. Northern Lights anywhere away from city lights.
BSI Travel (Vatnsmýrarvegi 10) rents mountain bikes. Reykjavik has a fairly extensive network of bike paths
Blue Biking (+354 565-2089) offers day tours from Reykjavik and multi-day biking and hiking tours.
Ultima Thule Expeditions (+354 567-8978) provides sea kayak and ski day trips from Reykjavik and multi-day trips for groups. No scheduled individual tours.
Icelandic Mountain Guides (+354 587-9999) offers a variety of hiking, ice climbing, and ski tours.
Ishestar Riding Tours (+354 555-7000) has a variety of day tours around Reykjavik or multi-day trips.
Destination Iceland (+354 591-1020)
Unemployment in Iceland is low and wages high. It is relatively easy for foreigners to find some form of work that Icelanders don't want to do.
Driving around Iceland can be difficult or even dangerous. Inform yourself on local conditions and make sure your vehicle and driving skills are up to the task. Check out the following website for up-to-date road-condition information: http://www.vegag.is/vefur2.nsf/pages/fu_fv_faerdogvedur_eng.html
The medical facilities in Iceland are good and available free to European Union citizens with a valid E-111 form or it's replacement ID card. Scandinavian citizens must show valid passport and medical insurance to be treated.
Infectious diseases aren't a problem in Iceland. Inoculations aren't required except if you are arriving from countries that suffer from infectious diseases like cholera.
The biggest threat to your health is likely to be accidental injury or bad weather. Always make sure you have more than adequately warm and waterproof clothing. Exercise extra caution in geothermal areas.