Iceland’s location on the Mid-Atlantic Range makes it a geologically active island and a prime research locale for volcanologists. A steady stream of pressure is released all across the island through craters, geysers and other outlets, including the water spout known simply as Geysir, the oldest known geyser in the world after which all others are named. Much of the island is uninhabitable. But its rocky coasts, black-sand beaches and starkly beautiful landscapes are home to a rich abundance of birdlife and the ubiquitous Icelandic sheep.
All that energy bubbling up from below the earth’s surface provides an ideal supply of power for the islanders. Geothermal and hydroelectric power are harnessed as renewable resources for heat and electricity. Iceland is a democratic parliamentary republic and its capital is Reykjavík.
Icelandic is Iceland’s official language. While knowledge of the local language is not necessary, you may want to learn some fun and useful phrases to use during your walking tour. The effort seldom goes unappreciated and by trying some greetings and salutations with a smile, your interactions are likely to grow into rewarding exchanges. See BBC Languages for helpful hints. Country Walkers also recommends a phrase book or two in our Reading Guide that you’ll receive after you reserve.
Life in Iceland
According to legend, the Norse gods guided Iceland’s first Scandinavian explorer, Ingólfur Arnarson, to settle in the region of what is now Reykjavík, meaning “Smoky Bay,” which he named for the billowing geothermal steam he saw rising from the ground. Geothermal energy is Iceland’s most valuable sustainable resource, used for heating homes and the many outdoor pools throughout the capital city. A variety of pools, spas and “hot pots” offer swimming, soaking and beauty treatments. For information, visit www.visitreykjavik.is.
Shopping and banking hours: Shops and stores are generally open Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. or 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to early afternoon. Banks are open from 9:15 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday to Friday.
Meal times: Breakfast is served at hotels from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. In restaurants and cafés, lunch is served from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. and dinner is usually served from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Tipping: Tipping is not practiced in Iceland for service in restaurants, cafés, or taxis. If you wish to tip, you will not offend anyone, although it may be politely refused.
Iceland public holidays: Iceland’s public holidays, festivals, or calendars of events may affect your travel planning. Visit the Iceland tourist board’s website.
Icelandic cuisine is a blend of traditional Scandinavian dishes and Continental cuisine, and has become increasingly innovative in recent years, particularly at the many fine restaurants in and around Reykjavík. With a thriving fishing industry, fresh fish and seafood dishes are ubiquitous on menus, including salmon, trout, arctic char, and lobster. Adhering to strict quality standards for purity, Icelandic meat is grass-fed, free-range, and delicious, especially lamb. Similarly, Icelandic beef is high-quality and tasty. Dairy products, such as cheeses and the yogurt-like skýr, are equally excellent. And lastly, despite Iceland’s climate, much of its produce is locally produced in geothermally heated greenhouses. Typical sweets and desserts are licorice, chocolate (or a combination of the two), and snudur (frosted pastries).
Iceland’s weather is notoriously changeable and windy, although the country experiences relatively mild temperatures year-round. The Gulf Stream and prevailing southwesterly winds carry warm, tropical air and moisture northward, producing frequent but brief showers.
Average high/low temperatures in Reykjavík in the summer months are: June – 54°F/45°F; July – 60°F/50°F; August – 57°F/48°F.
U.S. citizens: Passports are required and must be valid for at least three months beyond the dates of travel. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days. For more information, see travel.state.gov.
Iceland uses the kronur (ISK). The current exchange rate is 1 USD = 1 ISK. Exchange rates can vary greatly month to month, so we recommend you visit oanda.com for the latest.
Many businesses in Europe will no longer accept credit cards without PIN numbers (chip and pin cards). Contact your bank or your credit-card company for details on fees and card use when travelling, and to inform them of your travel destination and dates so they do not freeze your accounts when they see charges appear from a foreign country.
We recommend having a variety of payment options readily available to help you start your trip: ATM card(s), credit card(s), some U.S. dollars to exchange, and some euros in small denominations.
No immunizations are required to enter Iceland. Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC: cdc.gov/travel; 800-232-4636), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.
Electricity: Alternating current of 220V and 50Hz is used in Iceland. Outlets have two round holes. For a full listing of electrical outlets worldwide, see electricaloutlet.org. If you are bringing your own hair dryer or other electrical device, you will need a travel converter, available at most hardware, travel, or consumer electronic stores. For laptops or an electronic device with a dual voltage switch, you will only need the adapter plug, not the converter.
Phone: Iceland’s country code is “+354.” Cell phone coverage throughout Iceland is extensive, but we cannot guarantee adequate signals on all American phone models or while on walking trails or in remote areas. For more information regarding international phone use, please refer to this blog post.
Internet: Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages; however, all of the hotels used on our tours do not necessarily provide it, or they provide it at an additional cost. Details regarding Wi-Fi availability in each hotel are available in the Itinerary Overview that you’ll receive once you’ve reserved.
Iceland is in the Greenwich Mean but does not observe daylight savings time. Throughout the summer, Iceland is Eastern Standard Time plus four hours, and during the winter, Iceland is Eastern Standard Time plus five hours. For more information on worldwide time zones, see: worldtimezone.com.
A wealth of travel information is available at visiticeland.com.
International flights arrive at Keflavík International Airport (kefairport.is), sometimes called “Leifur Eiríksson Air Terminal” or “Reykjavík Airport,” about 30 miles outside the capital of Reykjavík (which also has a small, domestic airport in the city proper). A network of domestic flights connects to smaller cities within Iceland and is a fast and fairly economical way to travel within the country.
International Airports in Iceland
- Akureyri – Akureyri Airport
- Reykjavík – Keflavik International Airport
Iceland does not have a rail system, but does have an extensive long-distance bus network made up of several private companies; information about all bus lines, schedules, and fares is compiled by one company, BSÍ (bsi.is).
Renting a car is also a popular way to get around Iceland and most major car rental agencies have offices at airports and there are local agencies in city or town centers. If you do rent a car, be aware of rules and regulations for two- versus four-wheel-drive vehicles. Taxis are available and can be reserved in advance (your hotel can usually provide assistance). For more information contact Country Walkers, or go to visiticeland.com.