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Iceland’s pretty capital city, with its neat, narrow streets and gleaming multicolored buildings, curves around the wide, flat expanse of Videyjarsund bay. The settlement’s stunning location was chosen in the 9th century by the country’s first settler, Norseman Ingólfur Arnarson, who bestowed it with a name that fittingly means “Smoky Bay.”

The northernmost European capital, today Reykjavik is a modern city and a thriving cultural metropolis lined with grand churches, meticulously groomed gardens, historic museums, trendy stores, and innovative art galleries.

This hub of cosmopolitan restaurants and chic nightspots is set amid an amazing variety of natural splendor; in a day from the city, you can easily climb glaciers, hike to geysers, and watch live volcanoes, then dress up, dine well, and party all night.

Blue Lagoon & Swimming Pools

A rough-hewn, sky-blue lake surrounded by rocky lava outcrops provides a natural setting for the posh Blue Lagoon resort, southwest of Reykjavik. The warm, serene waters – actually mineral-rich runoff from the nearby Svartsengi power plant – create the country’s most popular hotspot for relaxing and rejuvenation.

Curved metal bridges stretch over the geothermal heated lagoon, while cedar sunning platforms, private pools, and a hidden sauna inside a cave add to the attractive, ethereal ambiance. While you’re here, look around: the lagoon’s refreshing, skin-healing properties and the luxury spa treatments attract international celebrities and glitterati.

Icelanders also love swimming, and several first-class pool facilities can be found in and around Reykjavik. The largest is at Arbæjarlaug, a lovely resort with indoor and outdoor hot tubs, water slides, and nearby walking paths. The city’s oldest pool, Sundhöllin, is indoors and especially suitable for mid-winter exercise, while Laugardalslaug is conveniently located near such summer spots as the Botanic Gardens, the Farm Zoo, and picturesque forests.

The beach at Nauthólsvík has a stretch of coastline where thermally heated water is mixed with the ocean, so you can take a seaside dip any time of the year. Aside from the capital, most cities in Iceland have similar heated swimming pools, spas and natural hot springs.


Jökulsárgljúfur National Park

A breathtaking expanse of greenery stretches far below the sheer brown rock faces of Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, where ásbyrgi canyon was legendarily stamped into the earth by the flying steed of a Viking god.

Slim waterfalls hiss over tumbled sections of rock, while murky ponds churn with the splashing and diving of duck colonies. This is terrific hiking and camping terrain, with cliff-side trails, soft meadows of heather, shadowy forests of tall stone columns, and expansive glacial views.

In the park’s southeastern corner is the massive Dettifoss, the largest waterfall in Europe, which thunders over chunky, mud-grey walls of hardened lava.

Snæfellsjökull Glacier

Jutting out like a dragon’s head above the Faxaflói bay north-west of Reykjavik, the snow-covered Snæfellsnes Peninsula is centered on the Snæfellsjökull Glacier.

Fishing villages have survived in the remote locale and rugged environment over the centuries, but the many ships that are strewn about the razor-sharp lava beds that line the shores bear testament to the precariousness of their existence out here.

Surrounded by angry seas, the coasts have been thrashed into natural arches and cupcake-like promontories, while the frosty interior tickled the imagination of author Jules Verne, whose Journey to the Centre of the Earth began in these bare mountain slopes.

Today, this is a top skiing and hiking region, as well as a place to explore Viking legends.

Thingvellir National Park

Set around Thingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest lake, the wildly beautiful Thingvellir National Park is framed by an army of imposing volcanic peaks. The park is also one of the country’s most important historic sites, the chosen location for the original Althingi (National Assembly) when it was founded as the core of the country’s government in 930AD.

Gathered at the northern end of the lake is a collection of buildings and historic landmarks, including the flag-topped Lögberg (Law Rock), the flat expanse where the legislators and courts once conducted their annual mid-summer business. Also in the park are such geologically significant sites as the gaping Almannagjá crevasse, which marks the separation of two giant tectonic plates.

The island-studded Öxara River, which winds through the park, shelters Arctic bird colonies, and the land is popular for pony treks, hikes and free ranger-guided walks. Thingvellir is open May-Sep.


Half of this small, secluded island, which hangs above Iceland, is within the boundaries of the Arctic Circle. It’s one of the world’s best and most beautiful landscapes in which to view the pulsating rainbow of Northern Lights.

Originally a 10th-century Viking settlement, the island expanded into a key fishing point and farming region, albeit with only around 100 permanent residents. The chiseled coastal cliffs are prime bird-watching territory, while you’ll often spot seals, whales, and other sea creatures beneath the churning waters.

Vestmannæyjar Archipelago

Bird life and Icelandic seafaring history are the attractions of the volcanic Vestmannæyjar (Westman Islands) Archipelago. The sole settlement of Heimaey has plenty of traditional folklore attached to it, from tales of the original Westman (Irish) slaves who murdered the first Norwegian settler Ingólfur Arnarson’s half-brother here in the 10th century, to the Algerian pirates who raided the island six centuries later.

Around Heimæy, it’s also a hotbed of volcanic activity: The town was evacuated in 1973 during an eruption of a nearby volcano and the eastern part of the town was buried under ash and lava.

You can still see semi-engulfed buildings, parts of them now literally encased in solid rock. Today, Heimæy’s annual Puffin Festival attracts thousands of Icelanders, who flock here to help return lost chicks to the sea.

Geysir and Strokkur

Crusty, golden earth etched with white mineral residue surrounds the world’s original “geyser”, from which all other gushing hot fountains were named. Southeast of Reykjavik, the park is actually the site of two spouting, sulfurous cones, Geysir and Strokkur (the churn), as well as numerous little ponds of steaming, azure-colored water.

Walking trails meander between bubbling mud pools and billowing vents, while horseback and hiking paths cut through the adjacent Haukadalur Forest – all ample attractions to explore while waiting for Stokkur’s 20-meter (66-foot) expulsions of scalding water that occur up to 12 times an hour. A hotel and camping spot, visitor center, folk museum, riding stables, and a restaurant are also on site.

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Iceland Travel Information and Tips

Iceland is an associate member of the Schengen Agreement, which exempts travellers from personal border controls between 22 EU countries. Note that for residents of countries outside the Schengen area, a valid passport is required for the duration of your stay.

Icelandic is the national language. English is spoken by most Icelanders and is the official second language taught in schools. Danish is the official third language taught in schools in Iceland.


If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes. This little pun is often told at the expense of the Icelandic weather. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, Iceland enjoys a cool, temperate maritime climate; refreshing summers and fairly mild winters.

The weather is also affected by the East Greenland polar current curving south-eastwards round the north and east coasts. As a result, sudden weather changes are common and travelers should prepare accordingly.


When traveling in Iceland you should bring along lightweight woolens, a sweater or cardigan, a rainproof (weatherproof) coat and sturdy walking shoes. Travelers who are camping or heading into the interior will need warm underwear and socks, rubber boots and a warm sleeping bag.

Phones and Mobile Service

The code into Iceland from overseas is 354 plus the seven-digit number. Long-distance calls can be made to Europe and the USA by dialing 00 plus the country code and the telephone number you wish to reach. Four GSM service providers operate in Iceland: Siminn, Vodafone, TAL and Nova. Together they cover most of the Island, including a large proportion of the unpopulated area of the country. All these companies sell pre-paid GSM phone cards and offer GSM / GPRS service. You can also purchase credit refill cards at most gas stations or convenience stores in Iceland.
You can also rent a Portable WiFi or iPad at Trawire and use it anywhere you go in Iceland. Connect to the Internet with fixed price & unlimited data usage. Up to 10 mobile devices or laptops can be connected via 3G and 4G without changing SIM card in your current mobile device.

Useful numbers and services

Emergency number: 112
Police: 444 1000
Medical assistance: 1770
Dental emergency: 575 0505
Information: 118
Telegrams: 1446

Value Added Tax (VAT) may be refunded to persons resident abroad on goods that they have purchased in this country, subject to the conditions of regulations.

VAT in Iceland is 25.5%, or 7% on special goods. To get a refund you must have a permanent address outside of Iceland. Minimum amount spent on a single receipt in order to be eligible for tax-free shopping is ISK 4,000. Goods must be exported within three months from date of purchase. Maximum refund is 15% of the retail price.

In order to obtain a refund, all of the following conditions must be met:

  1. The buyer will bring the goods out of the country within three months of the purchase.
  2. The purchase price of the goods with VAT is a minimum of ISK 4,000.
  3. The articles along with required documents are produced at departure.

On departure from the country through Keflavik International Airport, the buyer shall produce the articles along with a refund check to the refund service provider, who will purchase it subject to the fulfillment of all the conditions of this regulation. The refund provider may not purchase the check unless the buyer supplies sufficient proof that s/he is a permanent resident abroad. If the amount of the refund exceeds ISK 5000, the customs authorities shall confirm the export of the goods with a signature on the check.

The National Bank of Iceland in Leifur Eiriksson Terminal is responsible for refunding VAT. The bank is located on the second floor after passing through weapons control in Customs.

Have a Safe Journey

Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world. Crime rate is extremely low and medical care is excellent. However, it is necessary to take precaution when traveling in Iceland due to natural hazards caused by weather and nature, where conditions can change at a moments notice.

Nature is one of Iceland’s many attractions for travelers, and while beautiful, it can also be harsh and unpredictable. Therefore it is important to be prepared, and aware of possible dangers, and know how to react in—or preferably prevent—difficult situations. The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue operates a useful website for travel in Iceland.

Icelandic weather is notoriously unpredictable and variable between regions, so always pay attention to weather forecasts and traveling conditions. This applies especially on the highlands and in winter, but caution should be exercised everywhere at all times. The Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) and the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration (IRCA) provide more information.

Always bring appropriate equipment. Hiking requires special equipment, glacier exploration another and jeep safaris yet another. Your tour operator should provide information regarding equipment for group travels and guided tours. For lists of equipment for different types of activity, visit safetravel.is. These, without exceptions, include warm clothes and a communication device.

When traveling in the Icelandic interior, it is crucial that someone knows your exact travel plans. A travel plan can be reported through safetravel.is. Alternatively, make sure you leave a plan with your host or tour operator. A map, a compass and a GPS are important, particularly in isolated areas. Such travels should not be undertaken without consulting experts. Knowing where to direct can be of vital importance in rough conditions.

Stick to the Plan

The Icelandic emergency number is 112. The 112 Iceland app also enables you to contact the Icelandic emergency services, and allows them to locate you, if trouble occurs. Never hesitate to use this number.

Do not be distracted by your surroundings. Losing oneself in the other worldliness of Iceland is easy, but always remember to watch your step and keep your eyes on the road. Should you get lost, do not wander off. Staying in the same place will make it easier for rescue teams to locate you.

Above all, always prepare before traveling to and within Iceland. Familiarizing yourself with the conditions will optimize your chance of a safe travel experience in Iceland.

Ring Road Nr. 1 around Iceland is 1,332 km (827 mi). The general speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on gravel roads in rural areas, and 90 km/h on asphalt, rural roads.

When driving in Iceland, make sure the road conditions are good, as well as the condition of your vehicle. Also ensure that it suits your journey. For example, a 4×4 vehicle is essential in the highlands, where you might encounter rough terrain and unbridged waters. The highland roads are closed during winter and weather sometimes causes other roads to be closed as well.

Some roads in other remote areas of Iceland, such as the Westfjords and the East, are unpaved and should be navigated cautiously for your own safety and minimal damage risk to your vehicle. Strong winds can occur all year, causing difficulties for drivers so, again, always heed weather forecasts.