Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean just south of the Arctic Circle. It lies about 970 kilometers west of Norway and about 287 kilometers southeast from Greenland. Iceland is geologically a part of both the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate. Sice about 103.000 square kilometrers
The History of Iceland
The first people believed to have settled in Iceland were Irish monks who came in the eight century AD. They left, however, upon the arrival of pagan Norsemen, who came in 874 to seek freedom from Norway’s oppressive king Harald Fairhair. In 930 the Icelanders founded the Althingi, their supreme general assembly – the oldest parliament in the world. Christianity was adopted in the year 1000. In 1262, Iceland became subject to Norwegian control and in 1380 came under Danish control, along with Norway. After the granting of a constitution (1874) and with an improving economy, Iceland, in 1918, finally became an independent sovereign state under a common king with Denmark. The Republic of Iceland was formally declared on June 17, 1944.
Languages in Iceland
The country’s written and spoken language is Icelandic, a Nordic language very similar to the language spoken by Iceland’s first settlers. Icelandic is one of the oldest living languages in Europe. English and Danish are mandatory subjects in school.
Most Icelanders speak fluent English. In fact, they welcome the opportunity – so never be shy about approaching an Icelander.
The Icelandic Population
The Icelandic population was 319.368 the first of January 2009, there are about 4 times that many sheep in Iceland. Iceland is the least populated country in Europe (seventh in the world). Most of the people are of Norwegian descent, with some admixture of Celtic blood from those who came from Ireland and the Scottish islands from the time of settlement.
Iceland is not considered a warm place by any normal standards, but thanks to the Gulf Stream temperatures are usually moderate all year round. Average temperatures in July are usually about 12 °C in Reykjavik and it is usually a bit warmer in the north and east of Iceland. It doesn’t snow as much in Iceland as many people think, especially in Reykjavik where there is usually very little snow to be seen, even during winter. However in the north and east of Iceland and the West Fjords, there is more snow during winter. A big factor in Icelandic weather is that it is unpredictable, you never know what is going to happen next. A beautiful day can suddenly turn windy and rainy (and vice versa), and you can expect to see every weather imaginable in a couple of days in Iceland, especially in late autumn and early spring.
The daylight in Iceland is from mid-May to mid-August and the sun only sets for around 3 hours per day, and there is effectively light for the whole 24-hour period. In midwinter, there are around 5 hours of effective daylight. These long and short periods of daylight add drama to the atmosphere with lingering twilight.
Reykjavik is the capital and the largest city of Iceland. It is located in southwestern Iceland on the southern shore of Faxafloi bay. Reykjavik is known worldwide for its wonderful amalgamation of unique boutiques and shops. A sense of fashion is central to the charm of the city, and the creative products that consistently originate from Reykjavik ensure that it remains at the cutting edge of art, culture and style. Reykjavik means “steamy bay” in Icelandic. It received this moniker as a result of the geothermal steam witnessed by the country’s first settler, Ingolfur Arnarson.
- 61% of Icelandic population lives in the Reykjavik area
- Reykjavik population: about 120.000
- Greater Reykjavik area population: about 202.000
- There are 180 licensed pubs in Reykjavik
Monetary unit in Iceland
The Icelandic monetary unit is the “krona” (plural “kronur”) (ISK).
Coins are in denominations of: 100 kr, 50 kr, 10 kr, 5 kr, 1 kr.
Bank notes are in denominations of: 5000 kr, 2000 kr, 1000 kr, 500 kr.
All major currencies can be exchanged at the airport, banks and currency exchanges. Visa and MasterCard are accepted almost anywhere, and ATMs are easy to find.
Icelandic electrical standards are European (50Hz, 240 volts) so many North American electrical devices will require converts. Plugs are generally two-pin, so devices brought in from the UK and North America will require adapters.
Alcohol and smoking
Icelanders drink less alcohol than most other Scandinavians (the Norwegians drink less). Icelanders and Norwegians are in the group of Europeans that drink the least. Strong beer was prohibited in Iceland for more than 80 years until it was permitted in 1989, and consumption has increased steadily since then. Consumption of spirits fell during the same period. Many believe that the country’s drinking culture has improved in recent years and there is now less drunkenness. Modern Icelanders have a growing taste for fine wines. People are more likely to drink wine with their food. Icelanders drink more heavily when they travel abroad, where prices are invariably lower than at home. They are also different to most other cultures in that they drink little during the week, choosing to indulge themselves more at weekends. 22% of Icelanders smoke. As in most Western countries, the number of people using tobacco has fallen in recent years. It is prohibited to smoke in restaurants and cafes, similar to that now in force in Ireland and Norway. Icelandic women smoke more heavily than women in most other countries.
A refund of local Value-Added Tax (VAT) is available to all visitors in Iceland. The refund will result in a reduction of up to 15% of the retail price, provided departure from Iceland is within 3 months after the date of purchase. The purchase amount must be no less than ISK 4000 (VAT included) per store. All goods (except woolens) need to be shown at customs before check-in. At Keflavik airport this applies only to tax-free forms whose refund value exceeds ISK 5000.
Service and VAT are invariably included in prices in Iceland and tipping is never required. However, if you are very pleased with provided service, Icelanders are generally not offended if they are offered tip.
Opening hours of stores
Shopping hours are generally from 10:00 until 18:00 Monday to Friday. On Saturdays most shops are open from 10:00 until 16:00. Opening hours of stores vary greatly between places, especially in the countryside. Office hours are generally from 09:00 to 17:00 and opening hours of banks and post offices are generally from 09:00 to 16:00.
There are post offices located in all major communities in Iceland. General hours are: Monday to Friday 09:00-16:30. Many post offices in Reykjavik are also open during the weekends.
Icelanders enjoy a healthy life, thanks to clean air, water and quality fish. Water is safe to drink throughout Iceland. Pharmacies are called “Apotek” and are open during normal business hours. Many are open at night. Reykjavik has many great general practitioners, as well as specialists, many of whom will receive patients at short notice. There are also many Health Centers in Reykjavik, with officially appointed family doctors who receive patients at short notice during the day.
There are medical centers and/or hospitals in all major cities and towns in Iceland. The emergency phone number (24 hours) in Iceland is 112.
Health insurance policy
Citizens of Scandinavia must show a passport in case of medical emergency. Citizens of EEA countries must have the E-111 form, otherwise the patient will be charged in full. Citizens of other countries will be fully charged.
Internet access in Reykjavik
To check your e-mail or surf the net, drop in at one of Reykjavik’s Internet cafes or cafe hot spots with free wireless Internet service. Internet service is also available at the Tourist Information Centre on Adalstraeti, and at all branches of the City Library.
Mobile phones and computers
Mobile phones and computers are widely used in Iceland. There are over 280,000 mobile phones in the country — almost one per person. Every Icelander over preschool age has a mobile phone and many have two. The Danes own on average 0.83 mobile phones, the Irish 0.68 and Germans 0.81. 81% of Icelanders use the Internet as apposed to 77% in Sweden and 75% in Norway. Half of all Europeans use the Internet. There are computers in 86% of Icelandic homes and four of every five homes have an Internet connection. Icelanders are quick to adopt new technologies and determined to keep up with their neighbours
Mobile phone system
There are a couple of GSM operators in Iceland: Siminn and Vodafone are the largest ones. Together they cover most of Iceland including all towns and villages with over 200 inhabitants. These telephone companies both sell pre-paid GSM phone cards and offer GSM/GPRS services. Pre-paid cards are available at petrol stations and shops around the country.
The telephone code into Iceland from overseas is +354 and then a seven-digit number. There are no area codes.
A passport or other travel document accepted by Icelandic authorities valid at least three months beyond intended stay is required for visitors to Iceland
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon — a health spa on the Reykjanes Peninsula, surrounded by volcanoes and lava. This is one of the most popular tourist spots in Iceland. Relaxing in the hot water of the lagoon is an unforgettable experience. People began bathing in the pool around 1980 and soon discovered that the water, with its high mineral content, had a beneficial effect on many skin disorders. Apart from bathing in the Blue Lagoon, guests can enjoy a hot shower in water drawn from deep in the Earth’s crust, steam baths, saunas, skin treatment or a relaxing massage. The Blue Lagoon is uniquely situated in clean, natural surroundings. The soothing water contains nutrients that soften the skin, while silicon granules give it a smooth, attractive sheen. Skin cream made from the waters and minerals of the Blue Lagoon has cleansing, protective, nutritious and beautifying properties. Bathing in the Blue Lagoon can be a natural treatment for psoriasis. The magnificent surroundings, fresh air, clear water and Blue Lagoon skin products are all important factors in the treatment.
Icelandic cuisine, the cuisine of Iceland, has a long history. Important parts of Icelandic cuisine are lamb, dairy, and fish, due to Iceland’s proximity to the ocean. Popular foods in Iceland include skyr, hangikjöt (smoked lamb), kleinur, laufabrauðand bollur. Þorramatur is a traditional buffet served at midwinter festivals called Þorrablót and containing a selection of traditionally cured meat and fish products served with rúgbrauð (dense dark and sweet rye bread) and brennivín (an Icelandicakvavit). Much of the taste of this traditional country food is determined by the preservation methods used; pickling in fermented whey or brine, drying and smoking.
Modern Icelandic chefs usually place an emphasis on the quality of the available ingredients rather than age-old cooking traditions and methods. Hence, there are a number of restaurants in Iceland that specialise in seafood and at the annualFood and Fun chef’s competition (since 2004) competitors create innovative dishes with fresh ingredients produced in Iceland. Points of pride are the quality of the lamb meat, seafood and (more recently) skyr. Other local ingredients that form part of the Icelandic chef’s store include seabirds and waterfowl (including their eggs), salmon and trout, crowberry, blueberry, rhubarb, Iceland moss, wild mushrooms, wild thyme, lovage, angelica and dried seaweed as well as a wide array of dairy products.
Animal products dominate Icelandic cuisine. Popular taste has developed, however, to become closer to the European norm, and consumption of vegetables has greatly increased in recent decades while consumption of fish has diminished. Fresh lamb meat remains very popular while traditional meat products, such as various types of sausages, have lost a lot of their appeal with younger generations
What to do on a free day
Rome around in Reykjavík or
- Walk along the coast there
- cramponing or glacier hiking
- horse riding
- whale watching
- Helicopter or airplane tours
- Visit the Blue lagoon(could need to order)
- Visit some local swimming pool
Can usually all be arranged after the arrival to the country