Iceland

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Introduction to Iceland

The country with the chilly name is rapidly becoming one of Europe's hottest destinations. Much of Iceland's popularity is due to its natural features, which include glaciers, hot springs, geysers, active volcanoes, portentous peaks and vast lava deserts.

In addition to its expansive landscape, it has a rich history and folklore tradition. However, Iceland's appeal is tempered by the most expensive prices in Europe. That doesn't mean it can't be visited on a shoestring, but it does mean that budget travellers will have to work a little harder.

Few visitors leave Iceland without a sense of wonder - it's that sort of country. It's relatively easy to get around (in summer at least) and see the striking natural features, there's a growing range of accommodation and a wide range of activity options. Ecotourism - such as whale- and bird-watching - is developing, and airline links to Europe are more plentiful; while all this is making Iceland more accessible, you'll still require a sense of adventure.

Full country name: Republic of Iceland

Area: 103,000 sq km

Population: 281,000

Capital City: Reykjavik

People: 97% Icelanders

Language: Icelandic, English

Religion: 95% Evangelical Lutheran, 3% other Protestant denominations, 1% Roman Catholic & some followers of Ásatrú, an ancient Norse religion

Government: constitutional republic

Head of State: President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson

Head of Government: Prime Minister Halldór Ásgrímsson

GDP: US$8.44 billion

GDP per capita: US$30,200

Annual Growth: 1.7%

Inflation: 1.9%

Major Industries: Fishing, aquaculture, aluminium smelting & geothermal power

Major Trading Partners: EU (esp. Germany, Norway, UK, Denmark, Sweden), USA

Member of EU: No

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Western Europeans and citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore and at least two dozen other countries do not require visas. Tourist stays are granted for up to three months and can be easily extended at local police stations.

Health risks: hypothermia (Hypothermia is something you want to be aware of if you're trekking in Iceland. It occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it and the core temperature of the body falls. It is frighteningly easy to progress from very cold to dangerously cold due to a combination of wind, wet clothing, fatigue and hunger, even if the air temperature is above freezing. If the weather deteriorates, put on extra layers of warm clothing immediately: a windproof and/or waterproof jacket, plus wool or fleece hat and gloves, are all essential. Have something energy-giving to eat and ensure that everyone in your group is fit, and feeling well and alert. Symptoms of hypothermia are exhaustion, numb skin (particularly toes and fingers), shivering, slurred speech, irrational or violent behaviour, lethargy, stumbling, dizzy spells, muscle cramps and violent bursts of energy. Irrationality may take the form of sufferers claiming they are warm and trying to take off their clothes. To treat mild hypothermia, first get the person out of the wind and/or rain, remove their clothing if it’s wet and replace it with dry, warm clothing. Give them hot liquids – not alcohol – and some high-energy, easily digestible food. Do not rub victims: instead, allow them to slowly warm themselves. This should be enough to treat the early stages of hypothermia. The early recognition and treatment of mild hypothermia is the only way to prevent severe hypothermia, which is a critical condition)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC 0

Dialling Code: 354

Electricity: 220V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

The largest nationwide festival of the year is Independence Day (17 June), a time of colourful parades, street music and dancing, outdoor theatre and general merriment. Other nationwide celebrations include: Sjómannadagurinn (first week in June), which is dedicated to seafarers and has participants competing in swimming contests, tugs-of-war and sea rescues; Midsummer (24 June) - tradition has it that Midsummer Night's dew possesses magical healing powers and that to roll in it naked will cure 19 different health problems; and Sumardagurinn Fyrsti (the third Thursday in April), a carnival-style celebration of the first day of summer. Among the local festivals is Pjóđhátíđ (August), an earth-shaking event of immense bonfires, outdoor camping, dancing, singing, eating and getting uproariously drunk. Elsewhere in Iceland Verslunarmannahelgi (August) is celebrated with barbecues, horse competitions, camping out, family reunions and excessive alcohol consumption.

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Best time to Visit

Every year after 31 August, someone puts on the brakes and Icelandic tourism grinds slowly to a halt. Hotels close, youth hostels and camping grounds shut down and buses stop running. Many late-summer travellers are disappointed to find that all the most popular attractions are practically inaccessible by 15 September, and by 30 September it seems the entire country, save Reykjavík, has gone into hibernation. Although it's safe to predict that the situation will change in coming years, for now it's a good idea to plan your trip with this in mind.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Icelandic Krónur

Meals

Budget: Ikr715-1000

Mid-range: Ikr1000-1500

High: Ikr1500-1800

Deluxe: Ikr1800+

Lodging

Budget: Ikr1400-3600

Mid-range: Ikr3600-5000

High: Ikr5000-7200

Deluxe: Ikr7200+

Because just about everything must be imported, food, accommodation and transport prices in the North Atlantic are high. In fact, Iceland is generally considered second only to Japan in its ability to deplete travellers means. If you can happily drop US$500 a day you won't encounter any problems, but those with finite means may have to put in some effort not to break the budget. If you're willing to give up some comforts and sleep in youth hostels, eat at snack bars and travel on bus passes, you'll probably be able to keep expenses down to an average of about US$50-60 per day. Europeans bringing a private vehicle to Iceland, especially a campervan or caravan, will be able to enjoy a bit more comfort while still keeping within a reasonable budget. Petrol prices are over US$1 per litre though, so be prepared.

Foreign-denomination travellers cheques, postal cheques and banknotes may be exchanged for Icelandic currency at any bank. A commission of about US$2.50 will be charged, regardless of the amount changed. Major credit cards are accepted at most places. Icelanders are plastic mad and use cards even for buying groceries and other small purchases.

Tipping is not required: finer restaurants will automatically add a service charge to the bill making further tipping unnecessary. Even so, those who feel compelled to tip for particularly good or friendly service will not be refused.

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Attractions

Reykjavik

Reykjavík boasts all the trappings of a modern European city, as well as an interesting old town, whitewashed wooden buildings, and rows of brightly painted concrete houses. Nearly everything of interest is within walking distance of the old settlement.

The barren lava fields that surround Iceland's international airport are an eye-grabbing introduction to this near-Arctic island, belched out of the mouths of volcanoes (some still active), awash in midnight sun from May to August, glistening with glaciers, geysers, hot springs and waterfalls.

Geysir

Geysir is the original spouting hot spring; all the others around the world are named after it. The great geyser debuted in the 14th century, blasting a jet of superheated water up to 80m (262ft) into the air, but has been mostly inactive since the 1960s. Luckily for visitors, Strokkur (the Churn), spouts up to 35m (115ft) and erupts every 10 minutes or so.

The great geyser ceased erupting after thousands of tourists tried to set it off by pouring in loads of rocks and dirt. When water levels inside the geyser were artificially lowered, it resumed activity. However, after earthquakes in June 2000, the geyser erupts to no specific timetable.

Gullfoss

Iceland's most famous waterfall tumbles 32m (105ft) into a steep-sided canyon, kicking up a sheer wall of spray. The spectacle depends on what the weather is like. On sunny days the spray creates shimmering rainbows over the gorge and Gullfoss can seem simply magical. On grey, drizzly days the falls retreat into the mist and can be slightly underwhelming.

The site was once slated for sale to international bidders for hydroelectric development, but has since been purchased by the government and set aside as a national monument.

Mývatn

Mývatn, in northeast Iceland, is considered one of the natural wonders of the world. Although most of the interesting sights are volcanic or geothermal topographical features, the reserve's centrepiece is a lovely blue lake teeming with birdlife.

Thanks to its location in the rain shadow of an enormous icecap, the reserve experiences some of the finest weather in Iceland. Travellers can relax and settle in, spend a week camping, or set out on excursions to the Kverkfjöll ice caves, Námaskaro or the Hverfell crater.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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