|Country Information & Lifestyle|
The Land of Fire
Come and experience a unique country and see the Auroa Borealis, Northern Lights, in the Land of the Midnight Sun. Iceland is nature at it's very best, full of heritage, beautiful scenery, glaciers, magical lakes, towering waterfalls and wonderful people.
Iceland, the second largest island in Europe, is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in the North Atlantic Ocean about midway between New York and Moscow and just south of the Arctic Circle. Iceland has numerous islands around the coast some of them inhabited, the largest being the Westman Islands in the south, Hrisey in the north and Grimsey on the Arctic Circle.
Iceland is volcanic-ally and geologically active on a large scale and this defines the landscape. The interior mainly consists of a plateau characterised by sand fields, mountains and glaciers, while many glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Warmed by the Gulf Stream Iceland has a temperate climate and on the whole the weather is quite changeable and is much milder than might be expected considering the northerly location.
For two to three months in summer there is continuous daylight and the Midnight Sun is especially prevalent in June. During the really dark period from about mid-November until the end of January there are only three to four hours of daylight. From October to April, when the weather conditions are favourable, you can see the kaleidoscopic Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, a spectacular phenomenon not to be missed.
The Icelandic nature is unspoiled, exotic and mystical with its spouting geysers, active volcanoes, tumbling waterfalls, towering mountains, vast lava plains and magical lakes. Iceland's fjords, glaciers and highland plains present visitors with some of the most beautiful and enchanting places you will ever see, as well as a rare feeling of utter tranquillity.
The island's interior, the Highlands of Iceland, is a cold and uninhabitable combination of sand and mountains. The major towns are the capital Reykjavik, Kopavogur, Hafnarfjorour, Akureyri and Reykjanesbaer where the international airport is located. Rivers are numerous in Iceland and relatively voluminous due to the heavy rainfall and abundant glacial melt water, but none of them is navigable owing to swift currents.
Icelanders, while achieving a high standard of living and education, have kept true to their Viking heritage, traditions, history and folklore. The Icelandic countryside is dotted with habitats of elves and trolls and every region has a plethora of myths and legends, many of which are kept alive by monuments and plaques.
Icelanders are proud of their heritage and still speak the ancient language of the Vikings but they certainly do not live in the past. You will experience wilderness and wildlife, energy and total calm within easy reach including Europe's largest glacier the Vatnajokull, fantastic fjords, romantic shores, waterfalls, clean air, hot springs, bizarre lava landscapes to terrain where US astronauts rehearsed for walking on the moon. The Central Highlands are uninhabited, uninhabitable and unforgettable and there is an astonishing success rate for whale sightings.
Fish is the mainstay of the Icelandic diet and fresh fish can be had all year round. Iceland has a range of traditional foods called thorramaatura which can be enjoyed especially in the period from January to March. These preserved foods include smoked and salted lamb, singed sheep's heads, dried fish, smoked and pickled salmon, cured shark and other delicacies such as smoked puffin, guillemot, reindeer, washed down with Icelandic moonshine Brennivin known as Black Death.
There is a wide range of quality restaurants in Iceland serving specialties including freshly caught seafood, meat from naturally reared animals and prize game from the unspoiled countryside. Icelandic restaurants are at their densest in Reykjavik centre and nearly every type of cuisine is available from fast food to traditional Indian or Oriental food. Cafes are abundant and since coffee is the unofficial drink of the nation it is easy to find a great, cosy spot to while away a few hours and relax.
Cafe culture caught on strong in Iceland and there is everything from bakeries to snack shops to dimly lit coffee houses with great character. You can people-watch to your hearts content over a latte and a kleina Icelandic crullero. There is a wide range of cheese with over 80 types, Skyr which is something between yogurt and the German quark, and mysa whey are specialities that have been made in farms through the centuries in Iceland.
April-October is whale watching season with thousands of whales just off its shores, May is bird watching time with Puffins, Arctic terns and rare migrant birds zoom in, and the ancient Solstice Festival from the times of the Vikings is celebrated at the end of June, in the Midnight Sun. This longest day of the year celebrates the ancient Viking age with gatherings, craft market, song, dance, midnight walks and of course food and drink. The Viking Festival in Hafnarfjorour is where more than 100 Vikings from ten different nations get together with about 60 Icelandic Vikings for a weekend of endless happenings and entertainment.
In early August is the flight of the Puffling a sight not to be missed in the Westman Islands off the south coast when millions of baby puffins leave their nests and take wing for the first time. September is sheep round-up a colourful time and lively time with plenty of song and merriment all around the countryside.
Christmas in Iceland is an enjoyable and festive time with 13 separate Santa Clauses called the Yule Lads who play pranks and sing in the beautifully illuminated streets. These cheeky, hungry Icelandic fellows are named after what they love to do or eat and during the Advent you can meet the Yule Lads at their cave in Dimmuborgir every day until Christmas, and they might also be spotted in the streets of Reykjavik during the Advent.
Whatever your interests, Reykjavik has something to offer, a young-at-heart city with a long history, encircled by mountains and sea, it lies just minutes from unspoiled landscape. Reykjavik has the reputation of being one of Europe's Hottest cities at night and has an excellent range of fine restaurants, exclusive shops luxury hotels and designer outlets. The Blue Lagoon health spa close to Keflavik has been a major tourist attraction in Iceland for years and its reported healing powers derive from silica mud, mineral salts and blue-green algae. There are charming historical buildings of stone and wood mingling with imaginative modern architecture and offers a variety of cultural and social happenings.
The magnificent countryside that surrounds the city also makes Reykjavik unique and provides the adventurous tourist with a wide variety of things to do. Salmon fishing, midnight golf, sailing, climbing, glacier trekking, horse riding and whale watching are all within easy reach of the capital and can easily be fitted into a day trip so that you can be back in the city in time for dinner.
Let us take you on a short trip around Iceland.
Almost all visitors visit West Iceland first where the magical Snaefellsjokull Glacier has not erupted for around 2000 years and it provided the setting for the novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne. According to several people the glacier has undeniable supernatural powers and it was an alleged landing spot for aliens a few years ago. Head by road for the looping fjord coast or the Strandir shore to West Fjords.
Whether you arrive at the West Fjords by road or ferry you will not be disappointed. The West Fjords are Iceland's most sparsely populated region apart from the highlands. Arctic foxes in their lairs, little fishing villages huddled against sheer mountains where for centuries people have battled with the forces of nature to harvest the ocean's riches. Through the centuries the West Fjords have been primarily a fishing region but today large areas are uninhabited such as the wild Hornstrandir which attracts many visitors.
Isafjorour is the main town where there is plenty of social and cultural activities and is the starting point for may tours. The West Fjords were renowned for wizards and sorcerers and Holmvaavik hosts an exhibition on witchcraft and with hunts.
Many of the Icelandic sagas took place in the West Fjords and historic sites in the region include Reykholt, home of the medieval chieftain/scholar Snorri Sturluson, and the town of Borgarnes with its Settlement Centre. Another intriguing destination is the reconstructed saga age farmstead at Eiraksstaair, home of Erik the Red. Eiraksstaair is also reputed to be the birthplace of Eirakura's son, Leif the Lucky, who founded the New World. In the West Fjords Latrabjarg cliff is the westernmost point of Europe the biggest sea cliff in Iceland and one of the most crowded bird cliffs in the world. The bird lover's paradise of Vigua is a tiny island where time seems to have stood still.
North Iceland has flourishing villages and farming communities, soaring mountain peaks, off-shore islands and a landscape in formation that makes it a unique world of its own. On either side of Eyjafjorour rise high, ancient mountain ranges opening here and there into valleys, and in the north, marine erosion as created splendid cliffs. The Midnight Sun is an extraordinary spectacle in these northern latitudes. Around the summer solstice the sun sinks down to touch the horizon before rising again in breathtaking tones of red and gold.
Farther east other forces are at work, fresh lava flows and fissures and gullies are clues to recent volcanic activity. It is only a little over twenty years since the last eruption in the geothermal area adjacent to Mt.Krafla and the unrest in the earth continues. Most of the lowland areas have been inhabited since time immemorial by farmers and fishermen. In recent times remote spots such as the region east of Eyjafjorour and Melrakkasletta and Langanes in the far northwest have become largely uninhabited but they remain popular with travelers in search of peace and unspoiled nature. Whales can be spotted off Eyjaforour and Skjalfandi bay and Husavik is home to a whale museum.
In the first half of the 20th century the Herring Boom brought unprecedented prosperity to many Icelanders and the atmosphere of those times is recreated at Sigluforour one of the leading herring ports of the time. Over the centuries Icelanders relied on the horse for all transport and farm work and Skagafjorour is especially famous for its horses and equestrian traditions and horseback tours are available all over the north. There is also the thrill of white-water rafting, and at the Icelandic Emigration Center at Hofsos visitors can learn about emigration to the New World in the 19th century when 20% of the population headed west in search of a better way of life.
The capital of the north is Akureyri. Jokulsargljufur National Park was established in 1973 and covers 150 km including a 35 km long stretch along the western side of the glacial river Jokulsa. One of the main attractions is the Dettifoss waterfall and a short distance away is the beautiful Lake Myvatn, famous for its picturesque natural surroundings, geothermal activity and unique bird life
East Iceland has rugged, craggy beauty and also the landscape exhibits an extraordinary palette of colours. In the region of Vatnajokull the land is greener, the glacier whiter and the volcanic sands blacker than elsewhere. Vik, in east Iceland, is the southernmost village and the black beach to the south has often appeared in movies and music videos. At the foot of Europe's largest glacier Vatnajokull, lies Skaftafell National Park, Iceland's first National Park. It is a popular tourist destination and activities include sightseeing cruises among the ice floes on the Breioamerkurjokull glacial lagoon and trips onto the glacier.
The East Fjords are a magnificent landscape of long, narrow fjords, steep mountains and jagged peaks. This is one of the oldest regions of Iceland which was shaped by glaciers in the Ice Age. The more remote fjords are now mostly uninhabited but hiking tours are available throughout these deserted regions of high mountains ridges and verdant valleys. Off the shore are grassy islands that can be visited by boat.
In the sheltered, sunny Herao district in the north of the East Fjords vegetation flourishes and the town of Egilsstaoir is the hub of the East offering a wide range of services for the visitors. Farther north the landscape changes yet again and there are many natural harbours, and in the 19th century this led to the development of fishing villages most of which still exist.
In South Iceland are two wonderful sights within 8 km of each other. Iceland's most famous waterfall the Gullfoss, and the Grat Geysir hot spring, surrounded by many more springs of all shapes and sizes. In the east history echoes in every footstep, this is where the Saga of Njall, one of the most famous Icelandic sagas took place, and the Icelandic Saga Centre in Hvolsvollur tells the story. At the Ghost Centre at Stokkseyri a unique museum is dedicated to the phenomenon of the Icelandic ghost.
Pingvellir is by far Iceland's most famous historic site. The Alpingi or general assembly first met there in A.D. 930 and continued to do so for nearly nine centuries until 1798. In 1930 it was declared a National Park and in 2004 was added to UNESCO World Heritage List. Just off the south coast are the Westman Islands, with their impressive natural beauty, abundant bird life, and eventful history.
A little over 30 years ago the islanders were forced to abandon their homes on Heimaey island when a new volcano erupted on the edge of the town but they returned as soon as the eruption died down, and visitors can see the effects of this natural disaster on the island and its inhabitants. Currently underway is the excavation of several homes that were buried by pumice and lava, with the intention of making them accessible to visitors under the auspices of a project called Pompeii of the North.
Jokuls is an extremely picturesque glacial lagoon in the southern part of Vatnajakull glacier on Route 1. Great blocks of icebergs constantly break off Vatnajakull glacier and drift on the lagoon before being carried to sea by a glacial river. Scenes for four Hollywood blockbuster movies (A View to a Kill, Die Another Day, Tomb Raider and the upcoming Batman Begins) and the popular reality-TV series Amazing Race have been shot at and around Jalulsrla, said to be one of the greatest natural wonders in Iceland.
Landmannalaugar, located in a geothermal area north of Arsmark, is a place of surreal landscapes, contrasting colors and stunning natural beauty. Famous for its hot pools, it is a popular place for tourists as well as locals. The hiking trail Laugavegur, south to Arsmark, is very popular, and the interior of Iceland is like nothing you have ever experienced. The mountainous centre of the island, with its rocky deserts, jagged mountain peaks, ice caps, volcanoes, hidden valleys and hot springs, is an awe-inspiring and untouched wilderness.
At Kverkfjall, steam rising at the edge of the glacier has melted bizarre ice caves. In the Dyngjufjll mountains, the lake Askjuvatn is situated in a large caldera, and the crater Víti is filled with warm water. Both lakes were created in the wake of a gigantic eruption in the Dyngjufjll mountains in 1875. The green, sheltered inland valley of Azarmark is a favourite with travellers, who camp here and hike into the surrounding mountains. Lake Hvatarvatn on the Kjaur highland road glints icy-blue at the foot of the Langjakull glacier, and in the barren black sands of Sprengisandur the Arctic river beauty blooms bright magenta in August.
The interior was long all but inaccessible. Outlaws hid for years at a time in the highlands, rustling sheep and keeping away from law-abiding citizens, while folklore tells of both natural and supernatural beings who lay in wait for unwary highland travellers. Travellers between north and south sometimes had to cross the highlands but journeys across the interior were never undertaken lightly.
Weather in the interior is always unpredictable, and fast-flowing glacial rivers are difficult obstacles. Today the interior is traversed by two mountain roads, via Kjalur and Sprengisandur, which are only open in summer, after the snow has thawed in the spring. While the Kjalur road is classified as passable by ordinary vehicles, it is still a rough road where four-wheel drive is useful, and for the Sprengisandur road an SUV is a necessity. Most highland routes, including the road into Azarsmark and the Landmannalaugar road, involve crossing unabridged rivers, which should not be attempted without advice, and preferably travelling in convoy with other vehicles.
We hope this has given you a taste of the beautiful island of Iceland and prompt you to make a visit and maybe stay awhile.