-Picturesque is an understatement for this Nordic island country between the Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic named Iceland. With a population of 329,100 inhabitants and Reykjavík as the capital city, Iceland is a gripping tale of nature that will leave you spellbound. Sparkling white glaciers, rocky lava fields, beautiful emerald valley, geysers spewing boiling water and volcanoes lurking forebodingly under a covering of pristine white snow—Iceland is a poetry in motion.
Although, Iceland is not a part of the European mainland, it is still considered a nation in Europe. Contrary to its name Iceland has a mild climate, and due to the close proximity to the Arctic Circle, you can also observe the gorgeous sight of Midnight Sun. In summers, sun is up till 11 PM and during winters nights are almost 20 hours long. So, just relax and get ready to lose track of time (quite literally) when you are in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Here’s an Iceland travel guide for a quick summary of what to expect in the land of glaciers and volcanoes.
What to do in Iceland?
Visit the Blue Lagoon: The most visited tourist attractions in Iceland—the Blue Lagoon—is a geothermal spa located in a lava field. Although a man-made lagoon with the water fed from the nearby geothermal power plant—Svartsengi, the Blue Lagoon is an experience of its kind.
Rich in mineral salt, blue-green algae, and fine silica mud, the Blue Lagoon not just exfoliates and conditions the skin, but also said to have medicinal properties for several skin conditions. Extremely popular among tourists, the Blue Lagoon has been developed with modern amenities like changing rooms and rooftop cafes.
Travel Tip: Try floating mattress for extra relaxation.
The Great Geysir: Active for almost 10000 years, the Great Geysir is the first geyser (spouting hot spring) known to Europeans and it is also the original hot water spout after which all geysers in Iceland are named. Erupting every 5-10 minutes, the Great Geysir is a unique sight and a must-visit in Iceland.
The Gullfoss waterfall: Gullfoss or the Golden Fall is the most famous waterfall in Iceland. The spectacular waterfall with double cascade gushes through a three step ‘staircase’ before finally plunging into a deep ravine. Inspiration for many writers and singers, you can find references of Gullfoss in the novella titled ‘The Odd Saga of the American and a Curious Icelandic Flock’. The Golden Falls also features in a music video by the band named “LIVE” and it appears on the album cover of British band Echo and the Bunnymen’s ‘Porcupine’.
Þingvellir National Park: Listed as UNESCO’s world heritage site, Þingvellir National Park is located 23km east of capital Reykjavík. Þingvellir, which was once the site of Iceland’s parliament was declared a national park in 1928. The most important historical site in Iceland, Þingvellir National Park has an exquisite landscape to offer to the visitors.
Explore Landmannalaugar: Located in Fjallabak Nature Reserve in the highland of Iceland, Landmannalaugar is nothing less than a dream full of vivid colour. Strikingly beautiful with multi-coloured mountains, lava flows, relaxing hot springs, and the perfect blue lakes—Landmannalaugar is one of Iceland’s most loved and unique destinations and a must-visit too.
Northern Lights: The most amazing and jaw-dropping natural phenomena of Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights is certainly not to be missed in Iceland. The experience is so profound and alluring that it can change the course of your life.
Shopping: Iceland is not a shopping destination, but there are plenty of souvenir shops to buy gifts for friends and family. Head to Kolaportio weekend flea market for an experience, not for the second-hand clothing items.
Accommodation: Iceland has a range of lodging options available from hotels, hostels, guest houses to camping. Hotels are expensive, offer fairly basic amenities but are clean, airy and well-maintained. Guesthouses are cheaper than the hotels and preferred by the travellers in groups. Between hotels and guesthouses are the hostels. Ideal for backpackers or budget travellers, hostels are all over Iceland. If you decide to stay in a hostel, bring your own sleeping bag and linen to avoid extra cost. There are government run mountain huts too, which are perfect lodging options for the trekkers. Camping is the most popular staying option in Iceland. You can pick fully-furnished camps with washing machine, hot shower and cooking facilities, or if you are on a shoe-string budget, go for farmer’s field with the cold water option. Camping can, however, expose you to harsh cold weather, be prepared with warm clotheing and bedding.
Transport: Air travel in Iceland is similar to buses or train travel elsewhere in the world. Aircrafts are the primary mode of conveyance from one city to another in Iceland. Buses are available, however, can be more expensive than air travel at times. Hitching and cycling are common modes of transport, but cars are the most preferred way to commute in Iceland. Traffic can be tiring though.
Food: When in Iceland, try the local cuisine and don’t miss the Minke whale meat. Most loved fast food in Iceland is pylsa or hot dog, usually served with fresh or fried onions and ketchup. Food in Iceland is expensive, however, fast food will cost you much lesser than the staple. Food trucks are a common sight. Expect to pay approximately ISK 800 – 2000(approx 6-15USD) for a hamburger, ISK 250 – 400 (approx 2-3 USD) for a hotdog and ISK 2000 – 5000 (approx 15-37 USD)for a three-course meal in a restaurant. Kolaportio weekend flea market is an ideal place to dig into some traditional and local delicacies such as fermented shark (hákarl), geothermally baked rye bread (rúgbrauo), and ‘sandwich cake’, a layering of bread with mayonnaise-based fillings (brauoterta).
Tap water in Iceland is the cleanest in the world. Alcohol is expensive, but you can buy the liquor for much cheaper prices from the state monopoly, locally known as Ríkio or the state. A beer which you buy for ISK 350 in the state monopoly shop will cost you around 900 at the bar.
Things to Remember:
Don’t laugh, when an Icelander talks about the hidden people called huldufólk. It is an ancient belief and the hidden people are believed to be similar to elves, therefore, separated from the rest of the world. A museum in Reykjavík is devoted to the hidden people and skepticism may be considered rude. Taking off shoes before entering one’s house is customary in Iceland. Four letter cuss word is common, so don’t get offended. Tipping is not in the popular culture of Iceland.
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