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Introducing Iceland

By Samantha Fergusson

The land of fire and ice calls to travellers from all walks of life.

Bird watchers direct their binoculars at the bright puffin colonies gathered on the fjord cliffs; hikers scale the foothills and crags of slumbering volcanoes to look down upon creaking and groaning glaciers; divers revel in dropping into the gloom between two tectonic plates; lovers relax in natural hot springs and gaze skywards at the rippling northern lights; culture vultures explore historic turf houses, remote lighthouses and the hidden corners of Reykjavik; photographers hover beside waterfalls and geysers, or wander the iceberg-studded black sand beaches, waiting patiently for the perfect moment in the perfect light; families hop aboard sturdy native horses and ride across wild country… there really is something for everyone.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall in the midnight sun

Here, we’ve gathered together a little introduction to Iceland for any prospective traveller.

Country facts

Despite the scale of its landscapes, you may be surprised to learn that Iceland is just over 100,000 square kilometres in size – that’s a little bit smaller than England – and the distance from the north coast to the south measures just 300 kilometres, east to west only a tad more at 500 kilometres. The population comes in at just over 330,000 inhabitants, most of whom live in and around Reykjavik, leaving much of the countryside wild, uninhabited and unbelievably beautiful.

Reykjavik reflected in Lake Tjornin, winter

You can see most of Iceland’s most spectacular sights by hiring a 4x4 and setting off on a tour around the island’s famous ring road (speak to our local experts who can organise this all for you completely hassle-free.) That being said, some of the best experiences can also be had by heading out on foot into the wilderness – for example, you could leave the roads behind and scramble into a fissure to explore the naturally warm waters of the cave, Grjótagjá, or go on a guided expedition onto one of the ever-changing glaciers. If you have any questions about getting off the beaten track in Iceland, then simply send an enquiry to our local partners who will be delighted to help.

Best time to visit Iceland

Despite what you may think, Iceland’s climate is relatively moderate - the winters aren’t nearly as cold as those in New York, nor are they as dark as people expect, and the summers are pleasantly warm. Therefore, the best time to visit Iceland rather depends on what you want to do there.

Northern lights over Godafoss

Generally, the average temperature over the winter months (November to February) falls between -5°C and +5°C and while you can see snow in October or April, it rarely hangs around for long. Despite many travellers’ preconceptions, the winters are not as gloomy as those on the poles and even the darkest months still have 5 to 8 hours of daylight. The best time to see the northern lights in Iceland falls over the cooler months too… if seeing the aurora borealis flickering across the sky is on your bucket list, then make sure you visit between September and March.

Summer in Iceland

Summer is a glorious time to visit Iceland, with temperatures sitting between a comfortable +10°C and +15°C. Head to the north of the country from mid-May to mid-July to be there at the time of the midnight sun, where the sky simply blushes beautiful colours around midnight before steadily brightening again. If you’re after comfortable temperatures and long days on your holiday, then travel between May and September.

Icelandic cuisine

The quality of Icelandic food is generally very high, and for those of us visiting, this can be reflected in the cost. If you are careful, however, you can still eat well without blowing the budget completely out the water.

Icelandic seafood is particularly spectacular, whether you like it dried, smoked, marinated, cured or grilled, and this tends to be more affordable than the products that have to be imported. The rivers are riddled with salmon and trout, and herring are fished in huge numbers from the seas around the island. The country’s second speciality is lamb, which may well be some of the best you will taste. The sheep themselves have spent their time roaming semi-wild through the Icelandic countryside, nibbling on all sorts of aromatic shrubs, and these delicious flavours are reflected in their meat. Vegetables are grown year-round in greenhouses warmed by geyser steam – the processes required to produce them means that they are comparatively expensive to what you can get in the UK or USA – but what a novelty knowing your broccoli has been nurtured using geothermal energy.

Icelandic foodWine (and nearly all spirits) are imported - the Icelandic countryside and climate not really lending itself to viticulture - so naturally have a price tag reflecting this. If you want a tipple but wish to keep the costs down then you should try Brennivin, the local potato schnapps. It’s an acquired taste, but you never know! Coffee lovers will be in heaven, as the Icelandic people adore coffee. In most cafes you buy your first cup and are then able to enjoy unlimited refills for the rest of your visit to the establishment.

To give you a rough indication of the cost of eating in Iceland, if you were to visit a restaurant at lunchtime you could probably expect to pay about £20 to £30 for a soup starter and fish main. A two or three course restaurant dinner (without wine) could set you back anything between £30 and £60 depending on whether you are ordering meat or fish. You won’t be disappointed with the fare - Icelandic food is truly fresh and delicious - so just make sure you are prepared and allocate enough budget for food and drink in your holiday plans and there will be no unnecessary surprises.

Travelling to Iceland

Here are some key little bits of information that are useful if you are planning a trip to Iceland:

  • As our local partners will tell you, you don’t need a visa to enter Iceland from the UK, USA, Canada or Australia as long as you are planning to leave again within three months; you only need to have a passport that is valid for at least three months after the start date of your holiday.

  • The native language of Iceland is, naturally, Icelandic, but Danish, English and German are also widely spoken so you needn’t worry too much about your Scandinavian pronunciation.

  • The currency is the Icelandic Krone (ISK) - pronounced “krona” - but Mastercard and Visa are widely used and accepted across Iceland. At the time of writing this blog (Feb 2018) 1 GBP = 141 ISK and 1 USD = 100 ISK.

  • Public transport in Iceland is minimal compared to most countries. There’s a great bus service in Reykjavik which makes getting around the city a dream, but there is no train service in Iceland. Instead (if you don’t fancy driving long distances) you can look at getting on one of the internal flights between Reykjavik, Egilsstadir, Akureyri, Höfn and the west fjords. The international airport is located in Keflavik, 50 kilometres west of Reykavik.

Walkers by geysers, Iceland

Make it happen

If you are wanting to plan a trip to the land of fire and ice, then get in touch with our local partners. They are experts on Iceland - it’s their home after all! – and they can plan your perfect holiday there, whether that’s tailor-made or as part of a group tour. For more interesting articles about Iceland, check out our Inspiration Area, and if you would like to speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, then please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.