Iceland’s cinematic beauty is overwhelming. Mix in a fascinating Viking past, traditional villages, geothermal activity and a recently erupting volcano and you’ve a heady cocktail, never mind the isolation, long days of darkness, unpredictable landscape and local schnapps that have generated the nation’s reputation for eccentricity. The country is currently benefiting from the ‘Eyjafjallajokull Effect’, and upon arrival visitors find an unspoiled wilderness ripe for exploration and a country awash with adventure and magic.
Iceland is tipped to be one of the top destinations of 2012
More than half the population of Iceland live in it's capital, Reykjavik
Food is heavily based around fish. Aside from stomach-turning specialities such as putrefied shark meat, dishes include gravlax and harofiskur, wind-dried haddock. Icelandic lamb is also very good and readily available.
What to see
With a unique mix of traditional wooden houses and contemporary architecture, the vibrant capital city of Reykjavik is at the heart of a geothermal area that generates the city’s heating. Full of art galleries, museums and coffee shops, the city, Europe’s northern most capital and one of its smallest punches above its weight in terms of buzzing nightlife and lively music scene; look out for the week-end long runtur pub crawl that takes place every week.
The capital of the north has a fine fjord setting, picturesque parks and gardens and an intimate atmosphere.Westman Islands A small archipelago of islands that are home to vast numbers of puffins.
Classic circuit that takes in the hot water jets at Geysir, the double waterfall at Gulfoss and the ragged rift valley at Thingvellir.
Escape the classic routes by heading to this little-visited wilderness, which can only be accessed by boat or multiday hike, to discover some of the best walking and scenery the country has to offer.Westfjords Remote region that includes Europe’s westernmost point, which is sparsely populated by people but full of wildlife and large colonies of seabirds.
Top experiences / sites of particular interest
This unique, mineral-rich thermal pool is set amidst a black volcanic lava field. Waters reach 35˚C and are reputed to have beneficial properties for the skin.
Colourful rhyolite hills provide stunning scenery to trek through with the promise of hot springs to relax in afterwards. The four day hike from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmörk, hidden between two glaciers, is one of the world’s great walks.
Vatnajökull National Park
The national park here is Europe’s largest. At its heart is an enormous ice cap, Europe’s largest, which can be explored on foot by taking some of the exceptional treks or by skidoo. More leisurely types can simply admire it from the glacial pool at Jökulsárón. Skaftafell is the base for brilliant trekking amidst peaks and glaciers, waterfalls and twisted birch woods.
This otherworldly lagoon filled with icebergs and backed by sweeping glaciers is one of the country’s most scenic spots.
Idyllic lake set below an active volcano, with hot springs, lava flows and large numbers of birds to enjoy.Snaefellsnes Peninsula Home to a great peak and glacier that were the original setting for the classic Journey to the Centre of the Earth as well as wild beaches where you can escape the crowds.
Hitch a ride in a traditional wooden fishing boat in order to spot humpback whales just off the coast here.
When to go
Weather & Seasons: Iceland has mild summers from May to August, when the country gets almost 24hr daylight, with the short tourist season concentrated to the months between June and August. To reduce the number of people you encounter travel in May and September instead although some accommodation may be closed, some passes snowed over and some public transport not yet running. The winters, from November to March are cold and tourism outside the capital tends to grind to a halt. The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) can be seen from August onwards but are better in the winter.
Important dates and festivals: Independence Day in June and a pair of local events in August: Pjóöháö involves camping, bonfires and drinking whilst Verslunarmannahelgi features barbeques and horse riding competitions.
Getting there / around
Flights: There is an international airport, Keflavik (REK) some 50 km from the Reykjavik. There is a second international airport at Egilsstadir (EGS). There is a network of internal flights, which become the only reliable means of getting around in winter.
Rail & Road: There is no rail network and roads can become impassable. There is a decent bus service during the summer though and car hire is readily available.
Sea: Ferries operate on various routes to the fjords and outlying islands.
Short Trips: The classic golden circle takes four days. The 300km circuit is ideal for those on a short break as it gives you a chance to explore Reykjavik then venture out into the countryside in search of waterfalls, geysers, lava formations, geothermal pools and local myths.
Longer Trips: A lot of people travel around the country’s ring road, missing some of its less well known attractions. Take a week or two to explore Westfjords by arriving on the ferry and then heading to Europe’s westernmost point, Latrabjarg. Wiggle your way north along the fjords, taking in the seabird colonies to arrive at the Hornstrandir Peninsula before winding your way east to Holmavik, the coastal hot springs at Drangsnes and the geothermal pool at krossnes.
Detailed Country Guidebooks: Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Baedekker and Insight. Eyewitness produces a pocket-sized Iceland Top 10 guide.
City Guide: A city guide to the capital Reykjavik is available fromWallpaper.
Walkers: Pack the useful trekking guide, Iceland the Finest Valley and Mountain Walks, available from Bergverlag Rudolf Rother.
Nature: Pick up the Icelandic Bird Guide from Edda, who also produce a range of illustrated, coffee-table type books on aspects of Iceland. For a stunning look at the Eyjafjallajokull volcano and eruption check out Eyjafjallajokull, Untamed Nature from Icelandic outfit Uppheimar Publishing.
Road Maps: available from Landmaelingar, who also produce a detailed Iceland Road Atlas. There is also a good road atlas available from Mal og Menning.
Thematic Maps: including Iceland Tectonic Map, Iceland Geological Map and the Iceland Birdwatchers’ Map from Mal og Menning.
Street Maps: There is a Reykjavik & Environs map from the same publisher as well as a Reykjavik street plan from Freytag & Berndt.
Independent People by Halldor Laxness, the country’s best known writer is aheart-breaking novel, offering a gritty glimpse of rural Iceland in the early twentieth century
Voices, The Draining Lake, Arctic Chill and Hypothermia, or Last Rituals, My Soul to Take and Ashes to Dust are a series of crime novels that are make for a compelling read.
Sight & Sound
Film: The cult film 101 Reykjavik, full of black humour, was based on the book about a slacker in downtown Reykjavik, written by Hallgrimur Helgason. Jar City was also made into a watchable film. Iceland itself stars as the backdrop in any number of films including The Fifth Element, Tomb Raider, Die Another Day, Batman Begins and Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
Music: As far as the world at large is concerned, Icelandicmusic began with Bjork, but there is a long tradition of song here. Reykjavik has a lively music scene and some world class clubs.
Icelandic krona (Ikr), made up of 100 aurar.
UK and US citizens do not require a visa to enter the country.
There are no vaccinations currently required or recommended.
Safety, FO travel advice
The country is safe, warm and welcoming.
Useful Telephone Numbers
Icelandic country representatives can be found
in the UK at2A Hans Street, London, SW1X 0JE. Tel:- 020 7259 3999
and in the US at 1156 15th Street, Suite 1200, NW, Washington, DC 20005. Tel:- 202 265 6653.
There are no specific tourist boards in either country but in the US contact the Scandinavian Tourist Board at 655 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017. Tel:- 212 885 9700.
For more information visit www.iceland.org/uk, www.icelandtourist-board.com, www.visiticeland.com, www.goscandinavia.com or www.icetourist.is.
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