Iceland holidays

Experience Iceland

Best Places to Visit

Iceland is a remote and rugged island destination in the North Atlantic with landscapes and seascapes incomparable to anywhere in the planet. The first stop for any tourist to Iceland is, of course, the capital of Reykjavik.

This is where more than half of the country's population live and it is the centre of culture and commerce, featuring museums such as the National Gallery of Iceland. The city is known for its peaceful atmosphere and colourful houses and is an exciting shopping and entertainment destination with an exceptionally lively nightlife.

The areas in the south of the country are where most of the tourist attractions are located. A good place to begin is Eyrarbakki, a picturesque fishing village which gives visitors a look into rural Icelandic life.

Upcountry Árnessýsla, also in the south, is popular with visitors because it has some of Iceland's most famous attractions, such as Geysir, an actual hot spring geyser that lent its name to all other geysers in the world. Inland, visitors will find Landmannalaugar, a beautifully bleak mountainous area where visitors can camp out in the summer.

To see Iceland's icy landscapes, a visit to Jökulsárlón is a must. This lagoon is considered the best place to visit to see icebergs floating in the cold blue waters. As for glaciers, it doesn't get better than Höfn, a town in Iceland's south-east which is famous for its easy-to-explore snow-capped mountains, glacial rivers and glaciers.

In the north, close to the Arctic Circle, is Akureyri, a charming coastal town which is considered the capital of northern Iceland. The town is an excellent hub to launch explorations to more remote destinations in the region, such as Mývatn Lake, an area known for migrating birds, small and relatively active volcanic craters and unearthly lava formations.

Many visitors to Iceland come to see the famous Northern Lights. To catch a glimpse of this natural phenomenon in the best conditions, travellers will usually have to venture away from the city lights and lit-up roads to the more natural landscapes of Iceland’s countryside. There are several rural spots around the country that benefit from catching a clear view of the Northern Lights, including spots along the Golden Circle route, Höfn in the south, Grímsey in the north, Stykkishólmur in the west and Seyðisfjörður in the east. There are many hotels in these towns, although night-time Northern Lights excursions are easily arranged for those staying in the capital, too.

Top Landmarks

It is only natural that for a country known for its great outdoors, most of the landmarks associated with Iceland involve nature spots and sceneries.

The first tourist spot most visitors head to is the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa situated close to the capital, Reykjavik. Unlike most of Iceland's attractions, the lagoon is not natural, as the warm mineral-rich waters here are the by-product of a geothermal power plant right next to it.

Although no longer active, Geysir is another landmark worth visiting in Iceland. This actual geyser used to spout hot water before 1935. The geothermal park surrounding it is dotted with other (working) geysers, hot springs, steaming vents and mud pits, more than making up for the lack of eruptions at the original.

Close to Geysir is another landmark in the form of a waterfall. Gullfoss, also known as Golden Falls, is a spectacular sight to behold as white raging waters barrel down the Hvita River. Another spectacular waterfall worth visiting is Seljalandsfoss. This postcard-perfect place sees water plummet down from an expansive cliff.

As far as Icelandic national parks go, the best-known is Þingvellir National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage site is popular with tourists as the area features valleys and fissures formed by the movement of the North American plate and the European plate in their drift away from each other.

Vatnajökull National Park is another landmark worth visiting as this national park is where many Icelandic landmarks can be found. It has Iceland's largest glacier, Vatnajökull, and highest peak, Hvannadalshnúkur.

Entertainment

Reykjavik, being the centre of culture and commerce, and hosting more than half of the country's population, is where most of Iceland’s entertainment options can be found. After exploring the capital's eclectic architecture, it is recommended to experience the great cultural traditions of this Nordic country.

There are many art galleries, music venues and theatres in the city. Harpa is home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, which plays at the venue every Thursday. The Icelandic Opera is also based here. The National Theatre of Iceland, meanwhile, is the premier venue for Icelandic stage performances. A light show featuring Icelandic folklore and music happens at the National Theatre every July through August.

Nightlife in Reykjavik is remarkably lively in the summer. During this time of the year, daylight can be experienced until late at night, so pub crawls, locally known as runtur, start very late. Laugavegur is the district in the capital city where most pubs and bars can be found. The upmarket crowd prefer to get their night-time entertainment in high-end hotels and restaurants.

Iceland is home to musicians such as Bjork and Sigur Ros. Thus, live music venues are especially popular in this country which has produced some of the best-known musical artists in the world. The Iceland Airwaves music festival in October is a great event at which to catch famous and up-and-coming artists.

Culture Night in August is the event of the season, with cultural events starting in the morning and going on well into the night. The live concerts are capped off with a stunning fireworks show at Reykjavik's harbour.

Dining Out

Iceland is considered to have one of the healthiest national cuisines in the world, with a diet low in processed foods and rich in vegetables, fish and meat. Popular meat and fish dishes include hangikjöt (hung, smoked lamb), pickled herrings, ptarmigan (a grouse-like bird that is Iceland’s equivalent to a Christmas turkey dinner) and harðifiskur (wind-dried haddock or cod), which is simply peeled apart and eaten as a snack.

Visitors lacking the palette for the Icelandic cuisine are very well catered for in the popular areas of Reykjavík and Akureyri, which also offer Mexican, Thai, Italian, Chinese and French restaurants to name a few. Fast food is also available in the form of hot dogs, burgers, pizza and sandwiches.

Alcohol is expensive in Iceland and often hard to find outside of bars and restaurants. Beer is the most common alcoholic drink and is available in the form of strong lager and less-expensive low-alcohol pilsner.

Tipping for food and drink service in Iceland is not expected, and all bills will include gratuity already. Icelanders won’t think any less of you for tipping, of course, and one way to show appreciation is to round up the bill.

Parks

A visit to Iceland isn’t complete without exploring the spectacular remote landscapes of its many national parks. Þingvellir National Park is where visitors will see the effects of the continental drift in the mid-Atlantic. The otherworldly landscape of Snæfellsjökull National Park is the setting of the Jules Verne classic, Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Finally, Vatnajökull National Park has the country's superlatives in terms of mountains, glaciers and waterfalls.

Romance

Seeing the Northern Lights in the middle of winter while you cuddle up with your loved one will surely fulfil the requirements of a romantic getaway in Iceland. The warm water of the Blue Lagoon is also a good place to relax with your partner. With some of the finest restaurants in the world, a meal in a fine-dining restaurant in Reykjavik is yet another romantic activity in Iceland.

Family

A good activity for families on a fun-filled holiday in Iceland is a horseback riding tour of the outskirts of Reykjavik. Children will surely enjoy riding the small Icelandic pony. To enjoy more of Iceland's majestic creatures, a visit to Reykjavík Domestic Animal Zoo should be in every family's Iceland itinerary. Outdoor geothermal pools are also popular with the little ones as most facilities feature kiddie sections and slides.

Adventure

The rough and rugged landscape of Iceland spells adventure to most people. Apart from the many hiking and trekking opportunities in Iceland's national parks, one good option for an adventure-filled holiday is to travel by car hire from Reykjavik in the southwest or Akuyeri in the north to the sceneries nearby, which feature glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls. Whale-watching in Húsavík, in the north, and at Faxaflói, near Reykjavik, is another popular adventure activity.

Need to know

Language

The primary language spoken in Iceland is Icelandic, which is called Islenska by locals. This Norse language which uses the Latin alphabet is related to other languages in Scandinavia like Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Faroese. Danish and English are required subjects in schools, so nearly all Icelandic natives are proficient in these two languages. Islenska isn’t the easiest language to learn, and English-speaking tourists should not have a problem in speaking to locals in English, even outside of the tourist hotspots.

Currency

The official currency is the Icelandic krona (ISK, KR), which was revalued in the early 80’s due to hyperinflation. It's hard to exchange krona outside Iceland, so it is best to head to a bank or exchange bureaux upon arrival. Credit cards are widely accepted, not only in big establishments but also in taxis, souvenir shops and petrol stations. Travellers' cheques are difficult to exchange outside of the major cities. It is ideal to carry a combination of cash and credit cards while in Iceland.

Visas

Iceland lies within the Schengen zone thus nationals of Schengen countries need only present their national ID card to enter Iceland. Likewise, EU and EFTA nationals, including British citizens, can enter with just a passport for a stay of unlimited length. The same goes for nationals of the US, Australia and Canada, but they need to present a return ticket upon arrival and can only stay for a maximum of 90 days.

Climate

Despite its latitude, Iceland has a cold climate that is tempered by warm the Atlantic Gulf Stream. Summers are mild, with highs around 20 to 25°C. June and July see the most amount of daylight, nearly 24 hours. Tourists can visit anytime from September to March to see the Northern Lights, although it can get bitterly cold at this time. In fact, Iceland is popular as an end-of-year or winter break because of its excursions and attractions, which are suitable to enjoy during this colder period. Icelandic weather is changeable; it is possible to experience warm sunlight and heavy rains on the same day.

Main Airports

The primary gateway to Iceland is Keflavik International Airport, 50kms northeast of Reykjavik. The airport is connected to flight hubs in mainland Europe, the UK and North America, although not all flights run year round.

Flight Options

The main carrier at Keflavik International Airport is Icelandair, which flies to London-Heathrow, Manchester, Amsterdam, Paris, New York, Boston and many other destinations in Europe and North America. WOW Air and easyJet are low-fare airlines operating the London to Keflavik route. The former flies from London-Gatwick while the latter flies from London-Luton. A direct flight from London to Keflavik takes around 3 hours.

Travel Advice

Keflavik International Airport should not be confused with Reykjavik Airport, which mainly serves as a domestic flight hub for the capital. It is best to watch out for package deals covering flights, hotels and car hire as these deals are usually a good way to save on fares. The cheapest fares can be had in winter (except at Christmas and New Year’s Eve).

Other Transport Options

Those visiting from Europe anytime from April to October may want to take a ferry from Hanstholm or Esbjerg in Denmark, passing through Torshavn in the Faroe Islands. The service is run by Smyril Line and can take both passengers and vehicles. While it may not get you there as fast as a plane, it is a romantic way to arrive in Iceland as it offers scenic views along the way. The ferry's docking destination is Seyðisfjörður, on Iceland's east coast.

Boats are also an option for travel around Iceland’s islands, archipelagos and peninsulas. Herjolfur ferries sail from Þorlákshöfn and Landeyjarhöfn on the mainland to the Westman Islands off the south-west coast. Seatours services the Westfjords and the Snaefellsjokull peninsula.

Getting Around

Air travel is popular and offers breath-taking views of the country. Buses are reliable, with European standards in comfort. There are no railway networks in Iceland. Boat travel is possible to islands and outlying peninsulas. Car hire is a good way of exploring, but safety during challenging winter weather must be of primary concern.

Bus

Buses in Iceland are punctual and reliable, with comfort standards on par with other European countries and buses able to navigate through some of Iceland's rough terrain. The bus network connects BSI bus station in Reykjavik to major cities and even small towns.

Driving remains a popular means of exploring the country. Safety should be of the utmost importance as some of Iceland's terrains feature raging rivers and winding, narrow rural roads, and unpredictable weather can make driving a challenge.

Ferry

Iceland is surrounded by water on all sides and boats are an option for travel to Icelandic islands, archipelagos and peninsulas. Herjolfur ferries sail from Þorlakshöfn and Landeyjahöfn on the mainland to the Westman Islands off the southwest coast. Seatours services the Westfjords and the Snaefellsjokull peninsula.

<div class="xml-data-title">Air</div> <p>This is a good way to travel as there are a lot of breathtaking aerial views along the way. The domestic airport in Reykjavik connects to major towns within the country.</p>

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FACTS

  1. Icelanders use a traditional Nordic naming system, where their last name is comprised of one of their parents’ first names in front of the suffix -dóttir (-daughter) or -son. First names that have not been used before must be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee.
  2. Visitors won’t find any McDonald’s restaurants in Iceland. However, despite their healthy cuisine, Coca-Cola is very popular in Iceland, and their consumption of it per capita is one of the highest in the world.
  3. Don’t worry about packing the mosquito repellent – mosquitoes are also non-existent in Iceland, which is good news for seasoned travellers.

FACTS

  1. Icelanders use a traditional Nordic naming system, where their last name is comprised of one of their parents’ first names in front of the suffix -dóttir (-daughter) or -son. First names that have not been used before must be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee.
  2. Visitors won’t find any McDonald’s restaurants in Iceland. However, despite their healthy cuisine, Coca-Cola is very popular in Iceland, and their consumption of it per capita is one of the highest in the world.
  3. Don’t worry about packing the mosquito repellent – mosquitoes are also non-existent in Iceland, which is good news for seasoned travellers.

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