Iceland is an active volcanic island, which originated only about 16 million years ago and is therefore one of Europe’s youngest regions. Unique is the landscape with her fjords, impressive waterfalls, bubbling geysers and gigantic glaciers as well as the willful, uninhabited highland, partly resembling a moon landscape.
The country has a total area of 103,000 square km. The coast line runs along 6,000 km, the distance between North and South is around 300 km, between East and West ca. 500 km. The length of the Ringroad, national road number one, is 1339 km long.
Iceland has around 310,000 inhabitants, of which around 180,000 live in Reykjavik and its surroundings.
The Icelanders are very open and progressive, they voted for the first democratically elected woman as their head of state in 1980 Mrs. Vigdis Finnbogadottir. The standard of living in Iceland belongs to one of the highest in the world. Icelanders educational standard is high and literacy is 100%. Although they are technically advanced and modern they indeed believe in their old myths and "sagas". In general Icelanders are helpful and show hospitality towards visitors.
Iceland possesses probably the purest drinking water in the world, originated in clear springs that lie 10-140m deep in the ground. Drinking water tastes good and is free of charge in hotels and restaurants.
Iceland is one of the hottest geothermal spots in the world, which allows the inhabitants to heat the houses with hot water. Hot water from the springs has been used in daily life ever since the first settlement: for washing, cooking and bathing. Today it is also used to create electricity. The water in the hot springs is up to 240°C, deep down in the earth, but when entering the houses it is below 60°C and one has to be careful when opening the hot water cranes. The hot water in Iceland is rich of sulphate and has sometimes a strong (bad) sulphate smell.
This hot water plays a major part in the national tradition of bathing in warm swimming pools and hot tubs. When travelling in Iceland there is always a natural or man-made hot tub at close range, to warm your body and soul if the weather has been tough.
The language spoken in Iceland is Icelandic, a Germanic language, originally Norwegian as the first settlers came from Norway. Isolation in the former days and the old "sagas" have protected the language so there is hardly a difference between Icelandic language spoken today and that spoken during the first settlement.
With the Schengen agreement, entry into Iceland has been facilitated; nevertheless you should always carry a passport or personal id, which is good for 3 months after your departure.
Luggage can weigh up to 20kg per person or as stated in your airline information.
The currency used in Iceland is the Icelandic Krone (“krona”), ISK. Information on currency exchange is available at all major banks or their websites.
Widely used are also the Euro/Mastercard and Visa credit cards. In larger towns/villages and airports it is easily possible to get cash through EC cash machines.
The international airport is in Keflavik, 50 km west of Reykjavik. There are two local airlines that fly internationally from Iceland: Icelandair and Iceland Express.
ICELANDAIR operates non-stop flights all year round from major European cities and the East Coast of the US, see map.
The regular mobile telephones may be used in Iceland. Up to the highland roaming service is good. Siminn and Vodafone GSM-telephone cards are also available at all gas stations. These two providers cover the biggest part of the island as well as all municipalities of at least 200 inhabitants. There you can also rent MNT mobile telephones, which cover almost all of Iceland including the highland.
Banks are open from Monday to Friday between 9.15 and 16.00. Bank machines can be found in the bigger cities.
In general shops are open Monday to Friday from 9.00 to 18.00 and Saturdays from 10.00 to 14.00. Some souvenir shops are also open on Sundays.
Tourist information in Reykjavik is open daily from 8.30 to 19.00 (01.05 – 15.09). Between 16.09 and 31.05 it is open on week days from 9.00 to 18.00 and on the weekend from 10.00 to 14.00.
Climate and clothes
Although the warm Gulf Stream has a positive effect on the climate, you have to be ready for all kinds of weather in general. In summer temperatures vary around 12°-15°Celsius, though they may go as high as 20°C. Rain showers are always possible, even if they do not last long. During the year, Reykjavik’s average rainfall is less than that in Munich for example. Temperatures in winter are around +/- 5°C; even though it can be very windy, it is not as cold as generally assumed.
Iceland: Swimming in a hot lake.
Daylight changes is one of the famous peculiarities of Iceland. Already in March, the days are longer in Iceland than in middle Europe.The midnight sun can be observed especially well from mid May to mid July during clear nights in the north of the country. From September until March you can admire the northern lights or Aurora Borealis that can only be seen close to the arctic poles. The days during the winter are not as dark as you may assume. In the winter months November to February there are still 5 to 8 hours of daylight.
Eating and drinking in Iceland
Generally the standard of food in restaurants is very good. The Icelandic specialties are tender lamb and fresh fish in all variations. Apart from these you can find something for every taste, whether it is Indian, French, Mexican, Italian or … or… or… With each meal fresh water is served for free. Soft drinks, beer and a big variety of wines is served upon request.
Hotels and guesthouses
The standard of hotels and guesthouses in Iceland is generally good. They are clean and cosy. There are no 5* hotels in Iceland.