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
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 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.
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
For a list of exempt countries, visit Project
not participate in the Euro, so be prepared to acquire and use the Icelandic
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.
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
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.
Akurey Island (Puffin Island) - see puffins a half
mile off shore from Reykjavik. They nest from May to
August. It's a 15 minute boat ride from Reykjavik. The
shore is too rocky to land, so boats typically circle the
island. Take the Puffin Express Cruise to Akurey from Reykjavik.
Lagoon (Bláa Lónið) - The most popular attraction in
Iceland is located 47 km from Reykjavik. The blue geothermal pools turn you milky white.
Try Blue Lagoon Spa Roundtrip Transport from Reykjavik.
For late flights out of Reykjavik, check out of your hotel and bus to
the Blue Lagoon, where baggage storage is available. Spend the
day at the lagoon and then collect your luggage and bus to the
Take the Golden Circle Tour from
Reykjavik in a loop through the southern island with Viator,
Excursions or a rental car. The Golden Circle does not
circle the island. This popular tourist activity
(Þingvellir) National Park to see geological
evidence that the North American and European plates are splitting
apart from each other. The ruins of the original parliament for
Iceland are located in the park. Next it's on to the spectacular 1,000 foot
waterfall at Gulfoss. Other stops include Stori Geysir
and Strokkur geysers, Kerið volcanic crater lake, Hveragerði greenhouse village, Skálholt
church and the Nesjavellir geothermal power plant. For a shorter
version, take the Gullfoss and Geysir Express Half-Day Trip from Reykjavik,
which also includes Thingvellir and the Kerid volcanic crater.
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.