Iceland is a small island country roughly the size of the US state of Ohio, located in the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Europe. It’s considered a part of Europe, though it’s not a member or the European Union. Its name is a bit of misnomer – while 10% of its land mass is covered by glaciers, the country is much less frigid than its neighbor, Greenland. In fact, thanks to its latitude and the warming winds of the Gulf Stream, Iceland enjoys a relatively mild climate considering its northerly location in the Arctic Circle. During winter, days are short; during summer, the sun barely sets. And all year-round, the country is home to some of the most breath-taking landscapes on Earth.
Settled by Norse Vikings as early as the 9th century, Iceland’s isolation has meant its people have needed to be resourceful and rely on their own lands for survival. Today, that Viking spirit carries on. The vast majority of the food consumed in Iceland is produced on the island, and the people enjoy a diet rich in natural, organic foods. Even the electricity is natural. Most of Iceland is powered by geothermal electricity harvested from steam that comes from geothermal pools deep below the ground.
The vast majority of the country is very sparsely populated. In fact, 2/3 of the country’s population of roughly 300,000 lives in Reykjavik, the country’s only city.
- Reykjavik: The capital and only city in Iceland, Reykjavik is home to about 200,000 people. The city center, known as the 101, is quite compact and walkable. From Reykjavik, one can visit many of the sights Iceland is famous for, including the Blue Lagoon, Geysir, Gulfoss, and Thingvellir.
- West Iceland: Running along the west coast north of Reykjavik, west Iceland is a showcase of the country’s unique geological features. There are volcanoes, hot springs, rock formations, craters, waterfalls and glaciers. The area is a also a birder’s paradise and hosts three of the largest birdcliffs in Europe.
- The Westfjords: In the northwest corner of Iceland, the Westfjords are one of the country’s most sparsely-populated areas, at least when it comes to humans. Arctic foxes and seabirds abound here and outnumber the people. In the past, the area was believed to be the home of wizards and sorcerers.
- North Iceland: North Iceland is popular with hikers for its many valleys, mountains, and hills. Horse farms are abundant in the this area and popular activities include fishing, whale-watching, and white-water rafting.
- East Iceland: East Iceland is the place to go to see Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier. Skaftafell National Park sits at the foot of the glacier and is another popular spot for nature enthusiasts.
- South Iceland: Stretching across the bottom half of the country, South Iceland is a land of wild, windswept black-sand beaches, volcanoes (Iceland’s two largest are here) and geothermal hot springs. The Westman Islands are located off the coast and dozens of little fishing villages line the seashores.
- The Highlands: Iceland’s rugged, untouched, uninhabited interior can only be accessed in the summer, as that is the only time when the two roads that traverse it are open. Visitors who do come to the area will be treated to some of the most pristine wilderness – and most alien landscapes – on Earth.
Iceland is a member of the Schengen Agreement. For EU, EEA (Iceland,Liechtenstein,Norway) or Swiss citizens, a passport is sufficient for entry.A passport will also suffice for entry for citizens from Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Slavador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Hong Kong and Macau. Visitors from these countries may stay no more than three months out of every six without a visa. Visitors from all other countries will need a visa to enter.
Iceland Encompasses about 103,000 square kilometers, or about 64,000 square miles.
The currency of Iceland is the kronur, which famously devalued in late 2008 when the country went bankrupt. For the last year it has been trading at anywhere from 100 to 125 kronur per US$1.
Iceland is in the Western European Time Zone – UTC +0.
The official language of Iceland is Icelandic, which is a northern Germanic language related to Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, with Old Norse remnants. It’s very difficult for most Westerners to learn, luckily, many people in Iceland speak English. Young people are taught English in school and most, especially those in Reykjavik, speak it very well. You may run into a few other people in more remote areas who speak only Icelandic, but generally you can get around quite well without knowing any of the language.
Iceland adds a 24.5% VAT tax for most goods and services, with 7% applied to hotel stays and food. Visitors who spend more than 4000 ISK (about $40) can get 15% of the tax back before they leave the country. Just ask for the tax-free form when you make your purchase and then bring all the forms and your receipts with you to the airport, where you can receive your refund in kronur, dollars, euros or pounds.
Iceland is on the 220V/50Hz system and the sockets take European plugs.
Using the Telephone
The country code for Iceland is 354.
Photo by taivasalla