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IcelandView all tours
A small dot in the Atlantic between Scandinavia and America, Iceland has built an impressive tourist industry from its abundant natural wonders. Even financial collapse during the global economic crisis failed to hold back “the land of fire and ice” for long, and visitors are once again flocking to its wilderness parks and dramatic landscapes.
The fire in question, of course, comes from Iceland’s abundant volcanoes, which burst periodically into life, with sometimes costly consequences for European aviation. Elemental forces bubble just below the surface across the island, heating the water in Iceland’s taps and swimming pools, and creating otherworldly landscapes of twisted lava and rainbow-coloured mineral sands.
Volcanic tourism is big news, with trips to bubbling fumaroles, live lava flows and perhaps the world’s most reliable geyser at Geysir, which blows its top every four to eight minutes. Thermal springs surface everywhere, providing hot spots on the nation’s beaches and heating the waters of the iconic Blue Lagoon, a surreal open-air swimming pool surrounded by a landscape of tortured black lava.
Ice is Iceland’s other big draw (the clue is in the name) – more specifically, the dramatic glaciers which slice down towards the coast, calving icebergs into eerie lagoons. Glacier tours, by snowmobile, on foot, or on the back of a tiny Icelandic pony, are an integral part of the Iceland experience. In places, you can even tick off a glacier and a volcano on a single trip.
What lures many people back to Iceland a second or third time is the quirky nature of the Icelandic people. Eccentric, creative and fiercely independent, the Icelanders are simply a lot of fun to be around, particularly during the endless days of summer, when the runtur bar crawl rages through the streets of Reykjavik, the island’s miniature capital city.
So come trek a lava-field, gaze on a glacier, spot a whale or a puffin, sample one of Europe’s strangest national cuisines, and brave the snows in winter to glimpse the northern lights in their full glory, undimmed by light pollution in the least densely populated nation in Europe.
Iceland, one of the most volcanically active countries in the world, is a large island in the North Atlantic close to the Arctic Circle.
The most significant of its seismic features is found at Þingvellir National Park along the Almannagja fault. This rift in the rock shows the direct point on the earth where the Mid-Atlantic Rift runs through the island, where the North American and European tectonic plates are moving apart at an average of 2cm per year. The dramatic valley is clear on the land here, and is also visible in nearby Þingvellir Lake where divers visit the Silfra rift to see the crack between the tectonic plates in more detail.
Equally, volcano tourism is big business, with walking routes near the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, helitours over it and scenic trips to nearby Hekla, its hitherto most famous volcano, all popular.
Five-sixths of Iceland is uninhabited, the population being concentrated on the coast, in the valleys and in the plains of the southwest and southeast of the country. More than half the population lives in or around Reykjavík, the capital. Akureyri in the north is the country’s second city.
The whole of the central highland plateau of the island is a beautiful but barren and uninhabitable moonscape - so much so that the first American astronauts were sent there for pre-mission training.
Eleven percent of the island is covered by three large glaciers. Iceland's highest and most extensive glacier is Vatnajökull; at 8,500 sq km (3,280 sq miles), it is the largest in Europe, although it is now reported to be melting. Vatnajökull National Park, established in 2008, is Europe’s largest national park, encompassing its namesake glacier as well as volcanoes, waterfalls and wetlands.
There are several smaller glaciers in the country, including Snaefellsjokull, visible from Reykjavík, which sits atop an ancient cone volcano and was the setting for Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Only 1% of the land in Iceland is cultivated, with 20% used for grazing sheep, Icelandic horses and cattle.Government:
Republic. Gained full independence from Denmark in 1944.Head Of State:
President Ólafur Ragnar Grimsson since 1996.Head Of Government:
Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson since 2013.Electricity:
220 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs are two-pin.Timezone:
Icelandic krona (ISK; symbol kr) = 100 aurar. Notes are in denominations of kr5,000, 2,000, 1,000 and 500. Coins are in denominations of kr100, 50, 10, 5 and 1 and feature Iceland's many native fish species. It is often difficult to get Icelandic money abroad, though not impossible; there are several ATMs and banks at the airport on arrival.Credit Cards:
American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted.ATMs:
ATMs are available throughout the country.Travellers Cheques:
Accepted, although mainly in key urban areas. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in US Dollars.Banking Hours:
Mon-Fri 0915-1600.Currency Restrictions:
There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency.Currency Exchange:
Foreign currencies can be exchanged in all major banks. Most hotels also provide their guests with exchange services, which may cost more.Currencies: Exchange Rates:
- 1 AUD = 107.76 ISK
- 1 EUR = 147.53 ISK
- 1 GBP = 203.86 ISK
- 1 USD = 137.26 ISK
Best Time To Visit:
Iceland's climate is tempered by the Gulf Stream. Summers are mild and winters rather cold. The colourful Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) are best seen between November and February. In June and July, there are nearly 24 hours of daylight in Reykjavík, while in the northern part of the country the sun barely sets at all.Required Clothing:
Winds can be strong and gusty at times and there is the occasional dust storm in the interior. Snow is not as common as the name of the country would seem to suggest and, in any case, does not lie for long in Reykjavík; it is only in northern Iceland that skiing conditions are reasonably certain. However, the weather is very changeable at all times of the year, and in Reykjavík there may be rain, sunshine, drizzle and snow in the same day. The air is clean and free of pollution.
Lightweights in warmer months, with extra woollens for walking and the cooler evenings. Medium- to heavyweights are advised in winter. Waterproofing is recommended throughout the year. Umbrellas are not recommended because rain is very often accompanied by wind.