Ultimate guide to travel on Iceland

Want to experience Iceland and sense some of its beauty? Iceland Portal will help you discover Europe’s best kept secret. Explore the useful article, beautiful photos and links of great services in low and attractive prices. Now, more than ever, Iceland is affordable to everyone. Plan your trip to Iceland now! Why Iceland? Anyone who ever visited Iceland can tell you. But beside the clean nature and unpolluted water and air, hospitality of Icelandic people and high security environment on an island in the middle of the Arctic sea. There is nothing that matches the nature of Iceland; it’s a country of great contrasts and powerful scenery and it’s there for you to explore. Enjoy Iceland!

Why Iceland?

Why Iceland? Anyone who ever visited Iceland can tell you. But beside the clean nature and unpolluted water and air, hospitality of Icelandic people and high security environment on an island in the middle of the arctic sea. There is nothing that matches the nature of Iceland; it’s a country of great contrasts and powerful scenery.

Visitors to Iceland can choose from a great variety travelling options, ranging from hiking the highlands to going on short sight seeing trips on the Golden Circle to experiencing the freedom of driving around Iceland in a rental car, not to mention one night stop over options around the capital area when flying through Keflavík International airport. The Majestic land scape of Iceland has very fe w alike in the world stretching from the beautiful coast line to the magnificent highlands and between you’ll find great places like the blue lagoon, Gullfoss and Geysir, The Glacier Lagoon (Jokulsarlon), Hekla, Vatnajokull (Europe’s biggest glacier), great fishing rivers, whale watching tours, open air geothermal swimming pools and the great semi wild Icelandic horse just to mention very few options. For those just looking to relax and enjoy the culture of one of Europe’s smallest capital, Reykjavik has great variety of options to choose from, great collection of museums and art galleries, being the saga island you can also find many of the oldest Nordic scripts and books in the Iceland Culture house. Then there is the infamous bar and night life, there are not many words to describe that, the best likeness we can offer is the power of the untamed geysers of Iceland, seeing is believing.

Before you go

Going to Iceland? Do you need a visa? Learn more about the visa requirements.

Nationals of the following countries do not require visas to travel to Iceland as visitors although they do require passports that are valid for three months beyond their intended stay:

United States of America, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong (applicable for those holding HKSAR passports), Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao (applicable for those holding MSAR passports), Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Great Britain (incl. Bermuda, Turks and Caicos Islands, Cayman Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat, British Virgin Islands, St. Helena, Falkland Islands and Gibraltar), Uruguay, Vatican and Venezuela. Nationals of all other countries require a visa to visit Iceland.

Iceland adopted the Schengen agreement on March 26, 2001. Travel between countries participating in the Schengen cooperation is allowed without formal passport control. Passports are still requested for those flying from Iceland to another Schengen country. The following countries participate in the Schengen agreement: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Germany.

Foreign citizens who must produce a visa upon a rrival in Iceland now also gain entry to the other Schengen countries. Schengen visas should be obtained prior to arrival in the Schengen territory. Danish embassies will handle visa applications on behalf of Iceland. A list of these embassies a nd further information is available on the Directorate of Immigration home page, www.utl.is.

Did you know…
Most Icelanders do not have a family name. So children have a given name and then father’s-name-son or father’s-name-daughter. Thus:

1. Jon has a son named Thor Jonsson and a daughter named Hafdis Jonsdottir.
2. Thor Jonsson has a son named Bjarni Thorsson and a daughter named Frida Thorsdottir.
3. And so forth.

Nature

Iceland is the world’s 18th largest island, and Europe’s second largest island following Great Britain. The main island is 101,826 km² but the entire country is 103,000 km² (39,768.5 sq mi) in size, [ … ]

Climate

The climate of Iceland’s coast is subpolar oceanic. The warm North Atlantic Current ensures generally higher annual temperatures than in most places of similar latitude in the world. Regions in the w [ … ]

Few plants and animals have migrated to the island or evolved locally since the last ice age, 10,000 years ago. There are around 1,300 known species of insects in Iceland, which is a rather low number compared with other countries (over one million species have been described worldwide).

The only native land mammal when humans arrived was the Arctic Fox, which came to the island at the end of the ice age, walking over the frozen sea. There are no native reptiles or amphibians on the island. Phytogeographically, Iceland belongs to the Arctic province of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the WWF, the territory of Iceland belongs to the ecoregion of Iceland boreal birch forests and alpine tundra. Approximately three-quarters of the island are barren of vegetation; plant life consists mainly of grassland which is regularly grazed by livestock. The most common tree native to Iceland is the Northern Birch Betula pubescens, which formerly formed forest over much of Iceland along with “Aspen” (Populus Tremola), “Rowan uot; (Sorbus Aucuparia) and “Common Juniper” (Juniperus communis) and other smaller trees. Permanent human settlement greatly disturbed the isolated ecosystem of thin, volcanic soils and limited species diversity. The forests were heavily exploited over the centuries for firewood and timber. Deforestation caused a loss of critical topsoil due to erosion, greatly reducing the ability of birches to grow back. Today, only a few small birch stands exist in isolated reserves. The planting of new forests has increased the number of trees, but does not compare to the original forests. Some of the planted forests include new foreign species. The animals of Iceland include the Icelandic sheep, cattle, chicken, goat and the sturdy Icelandic horse. Many varieties of fish live in the ocean waters surrounding Iceland, and the fishing industry is a main contributor to Iceland’s economy, accounting for more than half of its total exports. Wild mammals include the Arctic Fox, mink, mice, rats, rabbits and reindeer. Polar bears occasionally visit the island, travelling on icebergs from Greenland. In May 2008 two polar bears came only two weeks apart. Birds, especially seabirds, are a very important part of Iceland’s animal life. Puffins, skuas, and kittiwakes nest on its sea cliffs. In Iceland commercial whaling is practiced along with scientific whale hunts.

Climate

The climate of Iceland’s coast is subpolar oceanic. The warm North Atlantic Current ensures generally higher annual temperatures than in most places of similar latitude in the world. Regions in the world with similar climate include the Aleutian Islands, Alaska Peninsula and Tierra del Fuego although these regions are closer to the equator. Despite its proximity to the Arctic, the island’s coasts remain ice-free through the winter. Ice incursions are rare, the last having occurred on the north coast in 1969. There are some variations in the climate between different parts of the island. Very generally speaking, the south coast is warmer, wetter and windier than the north. Low-lying inland areas in the north are the most arid. Snowfall in winter is more common in the north than the south (there is ca 50% chance of a white Christmas in Reykjavík but ca 70% in Akureyri). The Central Highlands are the coldest part of the country. The highest air temperature recorded was 30.5 °C (86.9 °F) on 22 June, 1939 at Teigarhorn on the southeastern coast. The lowest was -38 °C (-36.4 °F) on 22 January, 1918 at Grímsstaðir and Möðrudalur in the northeastern hinterland. The temperature records for Reykjavík are 26.2 °C (79.2 °F) on 30 July 2008, and -24.5 °C (-12.1 °F) on 21 January 1918.

Shopping in Iceland

Hip fashions, designer jewelry, cutting edge music and sturdy outdoor wear – Iceland’s got it all Reykjavik may very well be the best-kept secret of the cosmopolitan shopping enthusiast. Despite rumors that Reykjavik is an expensive city, its prices are generally on a par with those in New York. And when it comes to high fashion or designer wear, Reykjavik prices are almost always more reasonable. What gives? Well, in Reykjavik the markup is lower, thanks to reasonably priced retail space and lower overhead. Add to this the 15% tax-free refund for tourists – off a minimum purchase of 4,000 ISK (less than US $60) – and you may wind up with some excellent buys indeed. Incidentally, price tags in Iceland always include sales tax.

The selection of goods available is also impressive. From warm woolens to beautifully crafted pottery and glass to resilient outdoor wear, you’ll find it all here. The nation’s best buys include:

Outdoor wear: If anyone knows how to make outdoor wear practical, durable and fashionable, it’s the Icelanders. Brands like 66 Degrees North and Cintimanni create great looking and hard wearing outdoor clothing that you can use on any of your hikes or just when you need to be warm. Stock up on everything from fleece to hiking socks (highly recommended!)

Wool wear: The traditional Icelandic lopapeysa, a knitted wool sweater with special design at the top and on the sleeves, is now a must-have fashion item. Worn for practical reasons by farmers and fishermen, the sweater (or its variations, including button or zipped cardigan) is one of the trendiest items around. You can also buy high quality woolen scarves, gloves, hats and blankets, all made from Icelandic wool.

Fashion and accessories: Iceland is home to many great fashion brands you are already familiar with, as well as some smaller, more specialized, ones. Stores likes Flex and Kron have great independent labels from all over the world, as well as jewelry. There are also a number of shops where you”ll find eyewear, shoes, handbags and more, all in some very creative designs!

CDs and books: You have probably heard of Björk and the Sagas. But Iceland has a lot more to offer the worlds of literature and music. You can buy some of the best up-and-coming Icelandic music here at a fraction of the import price you would pay back home. Impress your friends with music from the hippest acts like Sigur Rós, Singapore Sling and Mugison. There are also terrific photographic books on all things Icelandic, as well as English translations from well-known authors, including the Nobel Prize winning Halldór Laxness.

Jewelry: Local designs have been celebrated as of late for their observation of Celtic and Old Norse patterns. Artists often incorporate gold or silver with materials found in Iceland, like lava rock, and the effect is very eye-catching. You can also commission your own design. This is very popular for wedding rings, which many people buy in Iceland.

Icelandic Couture: Reykjavík is full of boutiques and shops which feature the unique work of Icelandic designers using a variety of styles and materials. Great for finding a really unusual, yet incredibly stylish, piece of clothing. You can find something for all ages, shapes and sizes.

Artwork: Artists in Iceland often take their inspiration from the country’s outstanding nature and surroundings, or from its literary history. From paintings to sculptures to pottery and glass work, you’ll find all sorts of creative designs here, both small and large.

Icelandic summer houses

Summer houses are widely spread all around Iceland, if you already traveled in Iceland you probably spotted those small brown houses standing on the side roads along or in a small cluster. It is the Icelanders favorite gateway and many Icelanders own one of their own. Travelers who prefer the connection pure nature might find that the Icelandic summer house is exactly what they were looking for. Based on your budget there are many types of summer houses to choose from, some are simple yet cozy and others have a luxurious interior design, the latest accessories and an outdoor hot pot.

Important to know:

Summer houses are usually rented for a wee k at the time but it is possible to rent a summer house for a weekend.

Guests must bring food and leave the summer house clean and tidy.

In an Icelandic summer house there is not much to do but sit back and relax.

Outdoor activities

Since 1980, there has been a vast increase in entertainment and leisure activities for tourists in Iceland, such as horse riding, boat trips, snowmobiling on glaciers, organised hikes and bike trips, winter tours by 4×4 and whale watching. The popularity of whale watching continued to increase in 2009, attracting an estimated 90,000 people.

Trekking on horseback continues to attract large numbers, and the popularity of winter trips in 4×4 vehicles has greatly increased. About 60% of tourists visit museums, swimming pools and the Blue Lagoon. About half of foreign tourists travel into the interior to experience the extraordinary variety and peace of the highland wilderness. As the number of off season tourists has risen, more emphasis has been placed upon promoting arts and entertainment in Reykjavík. The Reykjavík Arts Festival is an annual event as are the Reykjavík Jazz Festival, the Airwaves music festival and the international cookery event Food and Fun. the vast majority of visitors to Iceland are very pleased with their trip and they are prepared to recommend the country to their friends and relatives.

South Iceland

Nowhere on earth is the junction be-tween the European and American tec-tonic plates in the Earth’s crust as clear as on the Reykjanes peninsula in the southwest, and at Þingvellir: the plates diverge here by as much as 2 cm per year. But the gap is constantly being filled, as volcanoes have been erupting regularly throughout Iceland’s history.

Several high-temperature geothermal areas are found on the Reykjanes peninsula, two of which have been harnessed to generate electricity, at Svartsengi and Hengill. A further two geothermal power stations are currently under construction: Hellisheiði Power Station and Reykjanes Power Station. At Svartsengi, the Gjáin visitor centre explains geological history, and nearby is the Blue Lagoon spa, whose mineral-rich waters are internationally known for their curative powers.

From early times, habitation on the Reykjanes peninsula has been confined to the coast, and the population lived by the fisheries. Museums in Grindavík, Sandgerði, and other locations uphold the region’s seafaring traditions.

Purple landscape
Purple landscape

Farther east, history echoes in every footstep: this is where the Saga of Njáll, one of the most famous Icelandic sagas, took place. The Icelandic Saga

Centre in Hvolsvöllur tells the story. Other museums in the region include the Skógar Museum, one of Iceland’s leading folk museums; and Draugasetrið, the Ghost Centre at Stokkseyri, a unique museum dedicated to the phenomenon of the Icelandic ghost.

Þingvellir is by far Iceland’s most famous historic site. The Alþingi, or general assembly, first met there in A.D.930, and continued to do so for nearly nine centuries, until 1 798. Various important events in the Icelandic Sagas took place at Þingvellir, and in 1930 it was declared a National Park. In 2004 Þingvellir was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Not far away is the old episcopal seat of Skálholt, which was the centre of the church and Christianity in Iceland from the mid-11th century until the end of the 18th.

But the region has other attractions: places of outstanding natural beauty include magnificent waterfalls, of which Gullfoss (Golden Falls) is the best known. In many geothermal areas villages have grown up, where exotic fruits and vegetables are grown in greenhouses heated by hot springs.

The best known hot spring is Geysir, from which derives the English word “geyser” for spouting hot springs: the big Geysir is surrounded by many more springs of all shapes and sizes.

A little farther east are two of Iceland’s most active volcanoes. Mt. Hekla has erupted about 20 times in Icelandic history, and Mt. Katla, under the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, is almost as active. Many years have now passed since Mt. Katla last erupted, and according to geoscientists it is overdue for another eruption.

Tourists in the region can experience its varied and picturesque natural landscape through such activities as horseback riding, white-water rafting, and glacier trips.

Greater Reykjavik area

The Greater Reykjavík area is the metropolitan area of the Icelandic capital Reykjavík, with a population of 202,000 inhabitants, about 64% of Iceland’s population. Reykjavík and its neighbouring municipalities are:

Reykjavík

Reykjavík is the capital and largest city of Iceland. Its the world’s most northern national capital with the exception of Nuuk, Greenland. With a population of around 120,000 (and over 200,000 in the Greater Reykjavik Area) it is the heart of Iceland’s economic and governmental activity.

Reykjavík is believed to be the location of the first permanent settlement in Iceland, which Ingólfur Arnarson is said to have established around 870. Until the 18th century, there was no urban development in the city location. The city was founded in 1786 as an official trading town and grew steadily over the next decades, as it transformed into a regional and later national centre of commerce, population and governmental activities. Today, Reykjavík is the centre of the Greater Reykjavík Area which, with a population of 202,000, is the only metropolitan area in Iceland. As a highly modernized capital of one of the most developed countries in the world, its inhabitants enjoy a first-class welfare system and city infrastructure. Its location, only slightly south of the Arctic Circle, receives only four hours of daylight on the shortest day in the depth of winter; during the summer the nights are almost as bright as the days. It has continued to see population growth in past years as well as growth in areas of commerce and industry.

Reykjavík was ranked first on Grist Magazine’s “15 Greenest Cities” list.

Hafnarfjörður

Hafnarfjörður is a port city located on the south-west coast of Iceland, about 10 km south of Reykjavík. It is the third most populous city in Iceland, after Reykjavík and Kópavogur, with a population of 26,003. The population of Hafnarfjörður reached 25,000 in February 29, 2008.

As the third largest city, Hafnarfjörður has established local industry and a variety of urban activities, with annual festival events. Activities: The town is the site of an annual Viking festival, where Viking culture enthusiasts from around the world display reconstructions of Viking garb, handicraft, sword-fighting, etc. Tourists with a New Age mindset enjoy a guided tour of the habitats of elves and other hidden people in the town area. Hafnarfjörður is now arguably considered to be the rock n’ roll capital of Iceland (a title that once belonged to Keflavík). Popular Icelandic bands such as Botnleðja, Jet Black Joe, HAM, Kátir Piltar, Sign, Úlpa, Vicky, Lada Sport and Jakobínarína all trace their origins to the town of Hafnarfjörður.

Kópavogur

Kópavogur is Iceland’s second largest city, with a population of 30,180. It lies immediately south of Reykjavík and is part of the Greater Reykjavík Area. It is largely made up of residential areas, but has a lot of commercial and industrial activity as well.

The name literally means Seal pup bay. The town seal contains the profile of the church Kópavogskirkja with a seal pup underneath. Kópavogur’s main sports clubs are Gerpla, Breiðablik UBK and HK. The mayor of Kópavogur is Gunnsteinn Sigurðsson, a member of the council for the Independence Party. The majority of the council since 1990 has been formed by the Independence Party and the Progressive Party. The tallest building in Iceland is located in downtown Kópavogur. The building is called Smáratorg tower.

Garðabær

Garðabær is a municipality in the Greater Reykjavík area of Iceland. As of 2008, its population was approximately 10,000. The municipality is the location of a 5067 m² TV studio, where the LazyTown children series is recorded. It contains one of the most advanced HDTV facilities in Europe, with LazyTown being filmed there.

Mosfellsbær

Mosfellsbær is a town in western Iceland, situated some 10.6 miles (17 km) north of the country’s capital, Reykjavík. It has a total area of 76.1 square miles (197 km²) and its population as of July 1, 2008 was 8,479. The famous author Halldór Laxness spent part of his childhood growing up in Mosfellsbær. Egill Skallagrímsson supposedly buried his silver treasure near Mosfellsbær.

Activities:

The local sports club Afturelding was founded in 1909. Today the club has about 3800 members. About 1200 people train and compete on behalf of the club in 11 divisions. There are only two employees working in the main management but over 40 trainers and other employees work inside the division. Over 100 volunteers work for Afturelding in leadership and divisions. The club has a lawful domicile in Mosfellsbæ and is its residence in Varmá. The Kjölur golf course is located outside the town in the Hlíðar neighborhood just by the ocean. The Kjalarnesþing Lions Club started meeting here in 1965, changing its name in 1989 to the Mosfellsbær Lions Club.

Seltjarnarnes

Seltjarnarnes is an Icelandic township located within the Greater Reykjavík area. It took on its current political form shortly after the Second World War and was formally created as a township in 1947. It is the smallest Icelandic township by land (2 km²). There are two schools in Seltjarnarnes, Mýrarhúsaskóli and Valhúsaskóli. Seltjarnarnes is famous for Grótta. The Independence Party has had an overall control in the town’s council since proper elections started in 1962. In the last elections, which were held in May 2006, the part y received 67.2% of the votes and 5 out of 7 members of the council. The mayor is Jónmundur Guðmarsson.

West Iceland

The West Iceland region stretches from Hvalfjordur in the south to Gilsfjordur in the north. The eastern border reaches inland as far as the Langjokull glacier and the western extreme is the Snæfellsnes peninsula. The main towns in the region are Akranes, Borgarnes. Stykkisholmur, Olafsvik and Grundarfjordur. A range of rugged mountains forms the backbone of the Snæfellsnes penisula with several prominent mountains culminating in the magnificent snowcovered cone of Snæfellsjokull.

The geological structure of Snæfellsnes is unusually varied, with basalt, gabbro, granofir, rhyolite, volcanic tuff and various forms of lava from serveral different periods. A volcanic belt lies under the mountain range, but no erupiions have occurred in modern times. Only one lava flow in the region is thought to have run since the settlement, in Hnappadalur in the 10th century. Older lave flows are evident in many places, especially around the glaciers, some of them reaching down into the valleys below. One of the largest areas of lave is in the valley of Nordurardalur, emitted from the Grabrokar craters. Although a long time has passed since volcanic activity affected the region, there is geothermal heat in many areas. Many placce names reflect the presence of hot or warm water, such as Laugar (warm or hot springs), Varmaland, and names beginning with Reyk-, referring to the steam (although the word actually means smoke). There are more apas in West Iceland than in any other region; good examples can be found at Raudimelur and Stadarsveit. There are vast numbers of lakes and mountains tarns, most in the areas of Arnarvatnsheidi and Myrar. Almost all of them contain good stocks of trout. Some of the countrys bestknown and most fruitful salmon rivers are in West Iceland: the Rivers Hvita, Nordura and Thvera in Borgarfjordur, Haffjardara and Laxa í Dolum. West Iceland has been one of the most intensely farmed areas in the country since the days of the settlement despite having large areas of lava and rugged mountains. Areas of woodland add variety to the landscape. Undulating heaths provide good grazing around the lave fields.

Of the many high mountains in West Iceland, Snæfellsjokull Glacier is the best known and the highest. The glacier caps a volcanic cone with a 200m deep summit crater rimmed with cliffs of ice. The colcano has not erupted for several hundred years. Baula is a prominent, conical mountain of rhyolite, clearly visible from many parts of the region. The countrys second largest glacier, Langjokull, lies on West Icelands eastern border, coverint 950 km2 and reaching a height of 1,355m. Thorisjokull and Eiríksjokull are two smaller glaciers west of Langjokull. Two large bays lie to the noteh and south of Snæfellsnes, Faxafloi and Breidafjordur respectively. Several fjords cut into the coastline including Hvalfjordur, Borgarfjordur and Hvammsfjordur. There are many islands in Breidafjordur, and some of them for instance Brokey, Hrappsey and Akureyjar, were once inhabited. There are also many islands and reefs off the coast near Myrar, such as Hjorsey and Hafursey. The West Iceland landscape is uniquely varied and good ecamples of the distinctive geology can be found in the volcanic mountains, on the rolling heaths and arable lowlands, or along the rugged coastline.

Grundarfjörður

Grundarfjörður, a picturesque village right in the middle of the Snaefellsnes peninsula. Grundarfjörður is that kind of place that you wished you lived in. Nice and cozy houses, clean streets and perfect landscape as if its taken from Gods own scrapbook. From every corner of the town the mountain church is dominating the landscape. Kirkjufell 412m gives the village its special character and its also one of Islands famous icons. Like many towns in Iceland, every year the town holds a festival that drives people from all around Iceland and t ourist alike. Beer and music joined together in a weekend of a beautiful sunny summer. The town is divided to four color districts and each section is competing for the most beautifully decorated zone. Right in the center of the town, behind the fish factory lined in rows, picnic tables that are filled with happy people celebrating. Grundarfjörður is Iceland in its best. If you visit the town make a stop at “Kaffi 59” right on the main road. Get yourself a refreshment and something to eat and enjoy the town’s unique atmosphere. Try their delicious home made cakes, they are really good.

For those of you who are looking for adventure, ask the locals for the trail that will take you up to mountain Kirkjufell. You’ll get an amazing view of the area and special photo shoot opportunity from the top. During the summer there is an outdoor pool and hot pot right next to the sport’s center.

Akranes

Akranes is seaport town of 6,549 people (July 1 2008 est.) on the west coast of Iceland. The town started to form in the 19th century as a fishing village, and in 1942, it was formally chartered and in the following years, experienced the biggest surge in population in its history. Industry has been a big and growing employer: a cement plant has been operated in the town since the 1950s, and an aluminum smelting plant has been in operation near the town since 1998.

The fishing industry remains the town’s most important source of employment, but commerce is also a significant employer as Akranes acts as a service center for a large rural region surrounding it. The town is expected to grow further in the coming years because of growing industry and improvements of transportation to the Reykjavík area, following the construction of the 5.57 km long Hvalfjörður Tunnel which was opened in 1998, one of the world’s longest underwater road tunnels.

Snæfellsnes

The Snæfellsnes peninsula is situated to the west of Borgarfjörður in the west of Iceland. It has been named Iceland in Miniature, as many national sights can be found in the area, including the Snæfellsjökull volcano, regarded as one of the symbols of Iceland. With its height of 1446m, it is the highest mountain on the peninsula and has a glacier at its peak. “jökull” means “glacier” in Icelandic language. The volcano can be seen on clear days from Reykjavík, a distance of about 120 km away. The mountain is also known as the setting of the novel Journey to the Center of the Earth by the French author Jules Verne. It is one of the main settings in the Laxdœla saga, and was following this saga the birthplace of the first West Norse member of the Varangian Guard, Bolli Bollasson. Other historical people who lived in the area according to the saga include Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir, Bolli Þorleiksson and Snorri the Goði.

People believing in esoteric think the volcano to be the center of a special field of powers.

The area surrounding Snæfellsjökull has been designated one of the four National Parks by the government of Iceland. Local fishing villages and small towns on the northern shore of Snæfellsnes include Rif, Ólafsvík, Grundarfjörður, Stykkishólmur and Búðardalur. Near Hellissandur, lies the tallest construction in Western Europe, the Longwave Radio Mast at Hellissandur. Snaefellsnes Community has recently become the first Green Globe Certified Community in Iceland & Europe and only the 4th in the world. Snaefellsnes Community has been committed to the Green Globe Programme since 2003 and have successfully Benchmarked for the past 5 consecutive years. In June 2008, the Snaefellsnes Community reached certification status as a Green Globe Community.

The Westfjords
West Iceland and the Westfjords are two completely distinct regions, historically and geologically, with characters all of their own and abounding in contrasts too. Almost all visitors to the Westfjords go to West Iceland first and either heading by road for the looping fjord coast or the Strandir shore, or skirting the southern Westfjords after arriving by road or ferry. Whichever route is taken, it presents a stunning cross-section of scenery and culture.

The Westfjords are Iceland´s most sparsely populated region apart from the highlands. There, life means seabirds on rugged cliffs, Arctic foxes in their lairs, and little fishing villages huddled against sheer mountains where for centuries people have battled with the forces of nature to harvest the ocean´s riches. Ísafjörður is the main town, regional centre for services, scene of plenty of social and cultural activities and starting-point for many tours.

North Iceland

Flourishing villages and farming com-munities, soaring mountain peaks, off-shore islands and a landscape in forma-tion make the North of Iceland a unique world of its own. In the western part of the region, volcanic forces are no longer active, and since the end of the Ice Age the landscape has been moulded by rivers into smooth hills interspersed with some of Iceland’s finest angling rivers.

On either side of Eyjafjörður rise high, ancient mountain ranges opening here and there into valleys, and in the north, marine erosion has created splendid cliffs. This area is popular with mountain hikers.

The Midnight Sun is an extraordinary spectacle in these northern latitudes: around the summer solstice, the sun sinks down to touch the horizon before rising again in breathtaking tones of red and gold.

Farther east, other forces are at work: fresh lava flows, fissures and gullies are clues to recent volcanic activity. It is only a little over twenty years since the last eruption in the geothermal area adjacent to Mt. Krafla, and the unrest in the earth continues.

In ancient times a catastrophic glacial flood smashed through rock to gouge out the canyon of the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum and the huge sunken valley Ásbyrgi, which now form a magnificent National Park. Just a short distance away is the beautiful Lake Mývatn, famous for its picturesque natural surroundings, geothermal activity, and unique birdlife.

Most of the lowland areas have been inhabited since time immemorial by farmers and fishermen. In recent times remote spots such as the region east of Eyjafjörður, and Melrakkaslétta and Langanes in the far northeast, have become largely uninhabited, but they remain popular with travellers in search of peace and unspoiled nature.

Tourist services in the region reflect aspects of local history and ways of life. In Húnavatnssýsla and Skagafjörður visitors can see the sites of many of the important events in the classic Icelandic sagas. Seals can be observed at play offshore; the Selasetur seal center in Hvammstangi is an excellent place to gain insight into seals and their way of life.

The Capital of the North is Akureyri, a centre of education, culture and services in Eyjafjörður fjord. Akureyri has a full summer programme of events, arts, entertainment and activities.

Akureyri

Akureyri is a town in the northern part of the Republic of Iceland. In terms of population, it is the second largest urban area after the Greater Reykjavík area but is the fourth largest municipality in Iceland after Reykjavík, Hafnarfjörður, and Kópavogur.

Akureyri has a population of 17,304. The city is nicknamed the “Capital of North Iceland.” The area where Akureyri is located was settled in the 9th century but did not receive a municipal charter until 1786. The city was site of some Allied units during World War II. Further growth occurred after the war as the Icelandic population increasingly moved to urban areas.

The area has a warm climate due to geographical factors. Akureyri is an important port and fisheries centre. It is a regional population center and has not lost population due to the city being a tourist center.

Things do to:

There is contiguous open area around Akureyri where the biosphere and landscape are extremely diverse, and vegetation in many places is especially lush. In the urban area there are also interesting natural features, and on the hills of Akureyri there are many intriguing plants.

Within the Akureyri town limits there are many interesting recreation areas and hiking paths. In this regard, the Óshólmur area of the Eyjafjarðará River south of the town, Krossanesborgir north of the Glerárthorp area and Kjarna Wood, which is part of a forested, recreational area planned to surround the Town of Akureyri. Walking paths lie throughout Kjarna Wood, and there is playground equipment, resting spots and barbecue facilities. Glerá River flows through Glerárdalur Valley, and its landscape is varied.

Those desiring longer, guided hikes can turn to the Akureyri Touring Club, which offers numerous, organised hikes during the summer and cross-country skiing during the winter. Also, horses can be rented for a special way to experience the area’s nature.

The Akureyri Botanical Garden is known far and wide for its beautiful walking paths and luxuriant flora. One of Akureyri’s gems, it was founded by women in 1911, and it contains nearly every plant found in Iceland as well as about 4,000 foreign plants.

Mývatn

Mývatn is a shallow eutrophic lake situated in an area of active volcanism in the north of Iceland, not far from Krafla volcano. The lake and its surrounding wetlands have an exceptionally rich fauna of waterbirds, especially ducks. The lake was created by a large basaltic lava eruption 2300 years ago, and thesurrounding landscape is dominated by volcanic landforms, including lava pillars and rootless vents (pseudocraters). The effluent river Laxá is known for its rich fishing for Brown Trout and Atlantic Salmon. The name of the lake (Icelandic “mý” = midge, “vatn” = lake; the lake of midges) comes from the huge numbers of flies (midges) to be found there in the summer. The name Mývatn is sometimes used not only for the lake but the whole surrounding inhabited area. The River Laxá, Lake Mývatn and the surrounding wetlands are protected as a nature reserve (The Mývatn-Laxá Nature Conservation Area). Around th e lake is the famous Mývatn Nature Baths.

Mývatn Natural Bath
Opened on the 30th of June 2004, Mývatn Nature Baths is the latest addition to the region’s many visitor attractions. Already during the first three months, 30 thousand guests have visited the Nature Baths and we are looking forward to welcoming 60 thousand in 2005.

No matter the season, Mývatn offers something for everyone. Despite its northerly location, the region enjoys a temperate climate, and the long summer days when darkness never comes can be surprisingly warm. As summer merges into autumn, the landscape becomes a panoramic patchwork dotted with shades of gold and brown, while winter brings its own tapestry of snow, sparkling frosts, and frequent opportunities to enjoy the unforgettable splendour of the Northern Lights.

A designated nature reserve, Mývatn is an area of fragile beauty where tourist services have been developed in such a wa y as to cause as little disruption as possible to what is a unique and highly delicate ecosystem.

Drawing on a centuries-old tradition, the tastefully designed complex offers bathers a completely natural experience that begins with a relaxing dip amidst clouds of steam rising up from a fissure deep in the Earth´s surface, and ends with a luxurious swim in a pool of geothermal water drawn from depths of up to 2.500 metres.

Containing a unique blend of minerals, silicates and geothermal microorganisms, the warm, soothing waters of Mývatn Nature Baths are beneficial to skin and spirit alike, creating a sense of wellbeing which lingers on as a lasting memory of your visit to this spellbinding area at Europe´s outer limits.

Facilities on offer include a reception area and cafeteria, changing rooms and showers for up to 120 guests, three natural steam baths accommodating up to 50 bathers at a time, and a 5000m2 geothermal bathing pool maintained at a constant temperature of 38-40ºC.

East Iceland

There are few places in Iceland where a human being feels as small and help-less as in the vicinity of Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier. Everything here is on a grand scale: the lofty mass of the ice cap, the spectacular moun-tain peaks, and all the signs of volcanic activity beneath the ice.

But it is not only the craggy, rugged beauty of the region that is appealing. In places such as Lónsöræfi, Borgarfjörður eystri and elsewhere, the landscape exhibits an extraordinary palette of colors. In the realm of Vatnajökull, the land is greener, the glacier whiter, the volcanic sands blacker than elsewhere. This otherworldly environment has become a popular location for international film-makers and advertisers.

At the foot of the great glacier lies Skaftafell National Park, founded in 1967; this was Iceland’s first National Park founded purely for its nature (Þingvellir National Park has major cultural significance). Skaftafell is a popular tourist destination, with a full program of events for visitors. The Visitor Centre informs visitors about the remarkable natural environment of the park, while at Höfn in Hornafjörður there is a glacier exhibition. Activities include sightseeing cruises among the ice floes on the Breiðamerkurjökull glacial lagoon, and trips up onto the glacier.

The Central Highlands

Most of Iceland is an uncultivated, uninhabited wilderness of mountains, lava, sand and lakes. There are also several glaciers: Vatnajökull Glacier is the largest in Europe. The Central Highlands region is one of the most remarkable areas in the world, where breathtaking natural features fill the horizon in every direction.

The terrain is often difficult to cross and the weather can be harsh and wintry at any time of year. There are around 400 buildings spread over the entire region, from old shepherds huts to modern tourist cabins. Descriptions in ancient literature relate how the early settlers occupied the lowland and explored the rest of the country, looking for ways to cross the highlands. Many routes were known in the early centuries and some are mentioned in description of the campaigns fought by the warring families from North and West Iceland. In later centuries the Central Highlands became shrouded in mystery as fewer people crossed the high regions. Travelers returned with fantastic stories of oversize sheep and wanton maidens. There are many tales of shepherds who got lost and wandered into the wilderness where they found outlaw buildings where everything was several sizes larger than down on the lowlands. The mists gradually lifted, however, and Icelanders ventured more often into the interior. The whole country was eventually surveyed in detail. People now cross the highlands using many modes of transport, both in summer and in winter. The Central Highlands are a new resource, for tourism, geothermal hear and hydroelectric potential. New legislation now protects the whole area and limits its exploitation.

Activities

Iceland is an ideal tourist destination. Many activities are described below. There is a long tradition in Iceland of golf and fly-fishing. Golf courses are found in almost every small town and there are at least five courses in Reykjavík.

Many offer spectacular ocean scenery. Fly-fishing for trout and salmon is a unique opportunity in Iceland, but salmon licenses can be expensive. All fishing rivers are privately owned. Bird shooting for ptarmigan and geese is popular in the fall. The general public participates actively in sports like skiing, jogging and swimming – no surprise when you see the wonderful selection of swimming pools, which are heated from the country’s ample geothermal resources. Chronic fascination with cars is a widespread complaint that manifests itself in the most unlikely practices. The most popular form of motor sport is a kind of autocross where specially adapted 4 x 4 vehicles are pitted against each other on an almost impassable course of steep slopes, mud pits, sand and water. Huge crowds of spectators gather to watch the spectacle. Snowmobiling is also popular all year round, on glaciers in the summer.

Golden circle
The Golden Circle is the jewel of the daily trips going out from Reykjavík. The road leaving Reykjavík to east towards the center of Iceland and than completing a loop returning back to Reykjavík. Some of the most known tourist attractions can be found along the Golden circle day tour. In order of appearance the sites are: Þingvellir, Gullfoss, the valley of Haukadalur, with the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. Other important stops along the Golden circle are Kerið volcano crater, the church of Skálholt, and the Nesjavellir geothermal power plant.

The first stop is Þingvellir, a national park where the ancient parliament of Iceland was located, the Alþingi which was established at 930 and is considered to be the first parliament in the world. In Þingvellir the two tectonic plates of America and Europe are surfacing above the ground and are the only place on earth which this phenomena accrue.

Gullfoss (the golden falls), is one of Europe’s most impressive waterfalls. Follow the trail around the waterfall for a close view at the crevice.

The geysers site at Haukadlur valley containing the two grand geysers. The active Strokkur and Geysir, which gave its name to the geyser phenomena.

Þingvellir

Þingvellir (Þing: ‘parliament’, vellir: ‘meadows’), is the first stop at the Golden circle. Þingvellir is an historical site with cultural, and geological importance as well.

It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. In 1930 Þingvellir was the first national park to establish in Iceland.

The old parliament of Iceland or Alþingi was established at Þingvellir in 930 and remained there until 1789. The trail from the main entrance to the park passes between the two tectonic plates of America and Europe in a form a high wall of stone that surrounds the visitor from both sides. It is the only place on earth which tectonic plates can be seen above ground.