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Eyjafjallajokull erupting in 2010 Iceland
Eyjafjallajokull erupting in 2010, © Can Stock Photo / sumo

Iceland is a European island located between Greenland and mainland Europe, just below the Arctic Circle in the North Atlantic.  It is positioned directly on the Mid Atlantic Ridge separating the continents of North America and Europe, which creates an interesting and dangerous combination of frequent volcanic activity and glaciers.  The last major eruption was Eyjafjallajökull in 2010.  It created glacial flooding, while the ash plume significantly interrupted international air traffic.  Iceland was settled by the Norse in the 870 according to Landnámabók, the Icelandic Book of Settlement by the Norse.  The Icelandic language has a Germanic derivation from Old Norse.  Danish and English are commonly spoken today as well.  The country was ruled for centuries by Norway and then Denmark until it gained independence and became a republic in the early 1900s.  The population is under 400,000 and the island is serviced by a Ring Road covering more than 800 miles.  Reykjavik is the capital and largest city in Iceland.  It is located in the southwest of the island on Faxaflói Bay and has an urban population in excess of 200,000.  It is thought to have been settled by Ingólfur Arnarson.  Although historically one of the poorest countries in the world, Iceland built a strong financial services economy that made it extremely wealthy in the 1990s.

Icelandic Surnames:

Icelandic surnames are patronymic, but unlike other Scandinavian countries, they alter female names as well.  Also, other Scandinavian countries have been less isolated and the naming conventions were discontinued there, while they are still in place today in Iceland.  If Einar Sigurdsson has a son named Magnus and a daughter named Soldis, the children's legal names will be Magnus Einarsson and Soldis Einarsdottir.   There are very few Icelandic family names that carry forward through the generations and these have been strictly regulated since 1925.  Genealogical records in Iceland are very well maintained, but the naming conventions make for many duplications.  When two individuals have the same first and last name, the grandfather's name is then added.  In the example previously, Magnus would then be distinguished by the name Magnus Einarsson Sigurdsson.  Last names aren't that helpful in identifying people, so phone directories in Iceland lists individuals alphabetically by first name and to help resolve confusion, occupations are often listed.

Hallgrimskirkja Chruch, Reykjavik

Hallgrimskirkja Chruch, Reykjavik, © Can Stock Photo / frankix

Visas:

Iceland participates in the Schengen Zone and Schengen Visa requirements even though it isn't a member of the European Union.  This makes travel easy between participating members.  Some countries that are not members of the Schengen Zone require a Schengen Visa to enter Europe.  More than 40 countries outside the Schengen Zone do not require a visa.  Exemptions include citizens of Australia, Canada, Mexico, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.  Check the list of countries that require a visa at Iceland's Directorate of Immigration site or check your specific country at VisaHQ.  For a list of exempt countries, visit Project Visa.

Currency:

Iceland does not participate in the Euro, so be prepared to acquire and use the Icelandic krona.

Weather:

The climate of Iceland is influenced by the North American current, making it much warmer than might be expected for its northerly latitude.  At the height of summer in July and August highs average 57 F (14 C) while lows average 48 F (9 C).  In winter, from December to March, average highs are 39 F (4 C) while lows average 28 F (-2 C).  Precipitation is highest in the winter and lowest in the summer.  That makes July a good choice for a visit to Iceland.

   

Transportation:

Keflavik International Airport (KEF) is Iceland's primary connection to the rest of the world.  It's located on a peninsula about 45 minutes east of Reykjavik.  Not many international airlines stop in Reykjavik except seasonally in summer, but Icelandair operates year round international flights.  Iceland is a pleasant place to take a break on a transcontinental flight journey.  There are regular buses from the Keflavik airport to Reykjavik and to the Blue Lagoon.  Bus rates are quite expensive compared to other countries, but much cheaper than cab fares.

For travel around the island, rental cars work well but can be quite expensive.  There are many options for tour companies that will take you to the major attractions from Reykjavik, so having your own vehicle is not a necessity.  Smryl Line offers ferry service to Denmark.  Several cruise lines visit Iceland during the summer months.  They stop at Reykjavik and also other fjords on the island.

Blue Lagoon, geothermal pool, Iceland

Blue Lagoon, © Can Stock Photo / kjorgen

Attractions in Iceland:

Things to see and do:

Gullfoss Waterfall, Iceland

Gullfoss, © Can Stock Photo / DarrenBaker

Jokulsarlon Lagoon, Iceland

Jokulsarlon Lagoon, © Can Stock Photo / tupungato

  • Eyjafjallajökull - see how close you can get to Iceland's most recent and still active volcanic eruption.  See Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls nearby.

  • Langjokull Glacier - the second largest glacier in Iceland.

  • Godafoss Waterfall - in northern Iceland.

  • Take a short boat trip from Reykjavik to Videy Island, where there is a restaurant in Videyjarstofa House, the first stone and cement building in Iceland, built in 1755.  There are good opportunities to view seabirds too.

  • View the Northern Lights on clear nights from September to April.

Savor the Tastes of Iceland:

Be prepared for extremely high food prices in Iceland, as almost everything is imported to this island in the North Atlantic and the standard of living is high.  Food prices are higher than Switzerland and French Polynesia. 

  • Try eating whale, puffin, salt cod, mashed haddock, guillemot, rotten shark, warm potato salad and/or sheep's skull.  

  • Have Arctic char with warm potato salad and salsa at the Reykjavik Fish Restaurant.

  • Have a hot dog at Baejarins Beztu in Reykjavik across from the Harpa concert hall.  Many international celebrities have made the pilgrimage to this hot dog stand.

  • Skyr cake - classic Icelandic cheese cake.

Reykjavik Tours:

Hotels in Iceland:

Hotel Listings for Iceland

Keflavik International Airport - (KEF) - including a list of hotels with a shuttle.


View Iceland map


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