Last year 400,000 people were attracted to Iceland's exotic scenery. Tourism is growing as the buzz gets out about what a stopover great destination this is. Never dull, a week or a weekend in Iceland will leave you wishing you had more time.
The Gulf Stream provides Iceland with a habitable environment and a temperate climate relative to its latitude. In Iceland the saying is, "there is no bad weather, only bad clothing". There were no howling winds or frigid temperatures in late May when ForAllEvents visited. Very fresh nippy air, but comfortable temperatures, and a few high clouds set up for an enjoyable stop over.
The 16th largest island in the world and a hotbed of volcanic and geothermal activity, Iceland has had 30 volcanic eruptions in the last two centuries. Bonus: Natural hot water supplies inexpensive, pollution free heating to most of the island!
Arriving at Keflavik International at 11 PM, the surrounding area seemed bleak, flat and uninhabited but that impression was modified once we learned to appreciate the island's unusual beauty.
10% of the country is covered in glaciers, including Vatnajokull, the largest in Europe. The glaciers are retreating by 100 meters each year due to global warming.
The interior consists of a high plateau characterized by wide deserts/sand fields, dramatic fjords, mountains, and glaciers, while many big glacial rivers stream to the sea through the lowlands. Forests that existed in the past are not here today. Growth in most natural areas is of the low growing type often not more than waist high.
Today's Icelanders, descendents of the Norse and Celtic tribes, are among the healthiest people on earth. Believing in the health giving properties of the local geothermal pools locals enjoy hot potting daily.
There are many alternative ways to know this place and various adventures to choose from - touring, biking, hiking, camping, strolling, riding an Icelandic horse, boating, kayaking, skating, skateboarding, or partying.
History buffs will value the country's rich history and legends. Recent archeological excavations have unearthed an ancient Viking longhouse dating from 930 AD. The turf walled structure, in situ, is open for public view at The Settlement Exhibition.
Anyone interested in medieval Icelandic literature and early history of island settlement can follow the SAGA TRAILS of ICELAND, which by linking 21 museums, exhibitions, heritage sites and festivals is a great vehicle for touring the island.
Drive around the island on the RING ROAD to discover Iceland by car. The 830 mile trip takes about 8 days and provides opportunity to see the fascinating geology; dramatic fjords, waterfalls, beautiful lakes, hot springs and lagoons. Along the black lava beaches you can visit fishing villages, meet Viking descendants at the farmhouse cafes, and traverse the lunarscape where astronauts trained for their moonwalk.
At the Fraedasetur Sandgerdi museum, only 10 kilometers from Keflavik International Airport, an impressive exhibition pays tribute to French Artic Explorer, Jean Baptiste Charcot. Widely considered a 20th century maverick, Charcot came often to Iceland on his South & North Pole explorations. He died during a storm when his vessel ran aground on the Rekjankes peninsula. A replica of his research vessel, Pourquoi-Pas, displays personal documents on loan from his family in France, and includes items recovered from the original sunken vessel. The museum's adjacent nature center is worth a visit.
Iceland is a fast growing economic powerhouse, growing at the rate of 5% a year. Its GDP per capita currently places it in the world's top five economies. Fastest growth areas are banking and IT but Iceland still exports aluminum and maintains fishing and fisheries product production.
The Althingi, founded in 930, still operates as the parliamentary government model. The old site of Althingi is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Capitol and largest city - Reykjavík. Habited since 874 when Norwegian chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson became the first permanent Norwegian settler on the island. He called the place Reykjavik, meaning "smoky bay," for the mists rising from the land.
Today, Reykjavik is party central - full of clubs, music venues,wonderful cafes, shops, restaurants,sturdy Nordic architecture, museums,and home to the government. 75% of Iceland's population lives here.
TO SPEND A DAY IN REKJAVIK, you will not need a guide and there won't be enough time to do and see it all. Knowing that, here are some ideas to consider
· Stroll through the compact central area to notice what makes this place unique. On Laugavegur, the main shopping street, breakfast on a "klienur" (donut) or a "vinarbraud" (Danish pastry) from the Sandholdt Bakery, get coffee to go from Kaffi Tar, shop for local knitwear, crafts and specialty clothing or people watch.
· At #11 Laugarvegur, stop to check the Internet for free at the Cintamani, Centre for Adventure.
· On weekends, shop the flea market at Geirsgate You'll learn much about culture and the people. Ice cream, especially soft ice dipped in chocolate, is very popular.
· That sign, EINA MED OLLU, signals hot dogs snack is available. Very good, an unbeatable quick bite and very light on the pocket.
· Order bottled ice cold "Moltol,"the non-alcoholic national drink. Tasting a little like Guinness Beer but sweeter and with a liquorish touch. It is very refreshing. The older generation believes it has supernatural healing qualities.
· During your stay, consume as many SKYR portions as possible. These are so much better than the yogurt you know,nutritious loaded with vitamins and protein but low in calories or apply as a lotion to cure sunburn!
· Lunch along the harbor. and order local specialties, whale kabobs or lobster stew. Sea Baron, Thir Frakkar, or the new Icelandic Fish & Chips are fun places to go.
· Didn't try so can't recommend another "delicacy", sheeps head, but if you're game it's available in the cafeteria at the BSI coach terminal.
· Hike up the hill and walk around the dramatic Hallgrimskirkja Church with its statue of Leif Ericksson. Every side and view is exciting. Try finding the minutiae gleaned from the Nordic landscape placed there by Architect Gudjon Dsamuelsson. Climb the towerto get a bird's eye view of the city, harbor, and mountains.
· Drive to Perlan, at one of the highest points in town, to orient yourself and view the city. Under the dome are many viewing levels, an inexpensive café, a white tablecloth restaurant, and an erupting geyser spouting water 3 stories high every few minutes.
· Walk through the interesting port area and around the Holfi House. Easy to guard, its location on an isolated bluff with only one entry point, assures the safety of international leaders who have met here. Not open to the public.
· Depending on the time of year, take in a festival - music Festival of Spring, art, and dance.
· Visit Reykjavik Art Museum (Harbour House Banch) or tour the National Gallery of Iceland or the National Museum of Iceland.
· Visit the Electrical Museum on the banks of River Elllioaar and next to the Power Station/Museum (free when open) see the wonder of the islands geothermal resources and emphasis on purity of the water.
· Hotpot or swim with the locals in one of the thermal pools. A free indoor pool Sundholl Keykjavikur is open every day. Most popular is Laugardalslaug, but Vestturbaejarlaug has a more neighborhood feel. If you want to catch the regulars having a chat in the hotpot, it's best to go in the early morning.
· See Iceland in 3D at the City Hall. Open May- Oct; take the buses 1,2,3,4,5,and 6.
· Dine on classic Icelandic cuisine at Laekjarbrekka, situated in the heart of Reykjavik in one of the oldest buildings in town or go to the trendy Seafood Cellar, which serves top range fusion seafood.
· After midnight, take in the "club" scene. Café Oliver, Kirjus, Kaffibarinn, Nasa, 101 Bar, and B5.