Iceland is an island in the North Atlantic. It is home to the largest glaciers in Europe, as well as some of the world's most active volcanoes. It is widely known as "The Land of Fire and Ice", but It is also the land of light and darkness.
Its location, just below the Arctic Circle, makes for long summer days with near 24-hours of sunlight; offset by short winter days with very little sunlight at all. Fortunately, while winters in Iceland are dark, they are relatively mild and play host to one of nature's most spectacular exhibitions of beauty; the Aurora Borealis.
Iceland remains largely uninhabited, with more than half of its 320,000 inhabitants living in the capital city. It is an ideal location for those that love the outdoors and adventure. Although there are now a handful of upscale retreat and spa accommodations, it is not know as a destination for luxury vacations.
Reykjavik is a city with a small-town feel. Walking tours are available and a great option for understanding the history and culture of Iceland. Whale watching and horseback riding (with Icelandic Horses bred only on the island), are conveniently located to Reykjavik. Also located on the southern part of the island is the Golden Circle, a day trip from Reykjavik. This includes the Strokker Geysir, which erupts every few minutes, the Gullfoss Waterfall, and Thingvellir National Park, a historical and geological heritage site. The Ring Road is a beautiful and rugged road that forms a ring around the entirety of the island. In the North is Akueyri, a town of 18,000 people, and the nearby scenic Lake Myvatn area. Hiking is plentiful as is Icelandic culture and history no matter where you travel.
This can vary greatly based on activities and the time of year. With four to five days it is possible to see Reykjavik, Vik, and the Golden Circle. For full enjoyment of driving the Ring Road, 8 days or even more depending on your pace is recommended to experience glaciers, hot springs and volcanoes.
Know Before You Go
The currency in Iceland is the Icelandic króna, written ISK. Preferred payment is either debit or credit cards. Cash is not as frequently used.
In Iceland the power sockets are Type F (two-prong plug). The standard voltage is 220 V. An adapter and/or converter is necessary to use small appliances from the United States.
Iceland is a party to the Schengen Agreement. This means that U.S. citizens may enter Iceland for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. Your passport should be valid for at least three months beyond your planned date of departure. No vaccinations are necessary.
Icelandic. Most Icelanders speak English, especially in Reykjavik and larger towns.
Iceland is continuously subjected to the fickle weather of the North Atlantic, and travelers should pack for all four seasons no matter the time of year. Summertime can reach levels of T-shirt comfort, and many visitors are surprised to discover that winter temperatures may be milder than America’s northeast. But don’t underestimate the wind factor: it’s the key element that can transform a sunny day into a bitterly cold one. The country’s winds can transform the weather more than a dozen times in a single day. Whatever you do, don't forget to pack a swimsuit and a towel. The geothermal energy under your feet is used to heat more than 170 public swimming pools around the country and pulling over on the side of a gravel road to find one of Iceland's natural hot springs tucked away just out of sight is recommended.
Travelers Who Require Accessibility Assistance
Many stores in the old downtown area in Reykjavik, such as around the popular shopping street of Laugavegur, are not wheelchair accessible. Many sidewalks in downtown Reykjavik lack curb ramps, and the streets are steep. Hotels outside Reykjavik and smaller hotels in the capital are not all accessible to individuals with disabilities. Larger hotels in the capital are wheelchair accessible, as are most museums, malls, and large shopping centers in the area. The public bus system and taxis provide transportation services for individuals with disabilities. There are very few paths or marked trails at natural attractions found outside urban areas.
The average flight time from the East Coast of the United states is 5.5 hours. Average flight time from the West Coast of the United States is 9 hours. Icelandic Air and WOW airline are the two airlines of Iceland. There are many non-stop flights from the United States. Iceland is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which is five or six hours ahead of the Eastern time zone, depending on the time of year. The country does not go on daylight saving time.
Iceland’s major international airport is Keflavik International Airport (KEF), located roughly forty minutes’ drive outside of Reykjavík. Car rentals are available, and beneficial if you plan to do exploring on your own while in Iceland. Bus shuttle transport is available to hotels in Reykjavik as well. Tickets can be purchased at the airport. While discussing the journey between the airport and the city, it would be remiss to not mention the world famous Blue Lagoon. Most travelers to Iceland visit either on their day of arrival, just before heading into the city, or on their day of departure, just a few hours before their flight. The Blue Lagoon is a roughly fifteen minutes’ drive from Keflavík Airport and half an hour from Reykjavík.
Iceland has an extensive network of domestic flights, which locals use almost like buses. Domestic flights depart from the small Reykjavík Domestic Airport, not from the major international airport at Keflavík.
Several year-round ferries operate in Iceland. All major routes carry vehicles on the ferry.
From roughly June to mid-September regularly scheduled buses run to most places on the Ring Road, into the popular hiking areas of the southwest, to larger towns in the Westfjords and Eastfjords, and on the Reykjanes and Snæfellsnes Peninsulas.
Driving in Iceland gives you unparalleled freedom to discover the country and, thanks to (relatively) good roads and (relatively) light traffic, it’s all straightforward. The Ring Road (Rte. 1) circles the country and, except for a couple of small stretches in East Iceland, is paved. Beyond the Ring Road, paved road or gravel stretch out to most communities. Driving coastal areas can be spectacularly scenic, and incredibly slow as you weave up and down over mountain passes and in and out of long fjords. ‘F’ stands for fjall (mountain). F roads only support 4WDs. If you travel on F roads in a hired 2WD you'll invalidate your insurance. F roads are indicated on maps and road signs with an 'F' preceding the road number (F26, F88 etc.). Inland mountain roads are closed during the winter season.
Interesting (and important) Facts
Iceland is an incredibly safe country; the crime rate is low and solo travelers are frequent. Visitors should take extra precautions when driving, especially in the winter. Like the weather, the driving conditions change frequently. Know where you are going by using a GPS and always leave information with a host or tour operator if venturing out on an extended road trip, especially to the interior of Iceland. The 112app enables you to contact the Icelandic emergency services, and allows them to locate you, if trouble occurs.
Since the 12th century, the story of Iceland has been told through the Sagas, and include history, supernatural occurrences (including regular appearance of trolls and elves), family genealogy, and descriptions of early life on the island. The written tradition of the Sagas still play an important role in the culture of Iceland.