Iceland travel guide
With its glassy glaciers, hot thermal springs, spectacular geysers, active volcanoes, lava fields, stunning waterfalls and snow-capped mountains, Iceland is indeed the original 'land of fire and ice'.
Iceland, the second largest island in Europe, lies close to the Arctic Circle northwest of Scotland and south of Greenland, and it is primarily the unique and wonderful natural phenomena that draw visitors to the country. The hardy Icelandic people, descendants of ancient Norsemen and Celts, are intriguing too, having spawned what is now renowned as the oldest-surviving parliament in the world (called the Althing), founded in 930 AD. Iceland also boasts a much-revered literary heritage of the best medieval works, mostly based on heroic sagas.
Most of the country's popular tourist features are in the south of the island near the capital, Reykjavik, and can be explored on the much celebrated 'Golden Circle' route. Top of the list for scenic splendour are the Gullfoss double-tiered waterfall and the spouting hot springs of Geysir.
Reykjavik means 'smoky', but in the case of Iceland's pristine capital (which is Europe's most northerly capital city) the smoke is not smog, but rather steam from the underground springs that warm the city. Reykjavik has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the cleanest, most invigorating cities in Europe, and boasts one of the highest standards of living in the world. The city may be small, but it is full of interesting attractions, from galleries and museums to thermal bathing spots, and the nightlife is second to none.
Iceland is steadily increasing in popularity as a travel destination, and offers so much to see and do that repeat visits may be necessary, particularly as the country seems so different in summer and winter. The summer weather enables all sorts of outdoor fun in the gloriously unique landscapes, but the icy winter months bring with them the spectacle of the Northern Lights, truly one of the most magical experiences the world has to offer.
The unit of currency is the Icelandic Króna (ISK). Iceland's three banks, Íslandsbanki, Landsbanki Ísland and Búnaðarbanki, all offer foreign exchange facilities and can be found in even the tiniest villages. Most have ATMs on their premises, available after banking hours, which are usually Monday to Friday from 9.15am to 4pm. Credit cards are widely used in Iceland for purchases and cash advances.
Language : Icelandic, but English is widely spoken.
Electricity : Icelands electricity supply is 230 volts, 50Hz, as it is in most European countries. Plugs and sockets are of the two-pin type typical of Europe.
Entry Requirements :
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay in Iceland. No visa is required for a stay of up to three months in any six-month period.
Passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, must be valid on arrival. British passports with other endorsements must be valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay in Hungary.
A visa is not required for British passports endorsed 'British Citizen' or 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), nor for holders of identity cards issued by Gibraltar, and endorsed 'Validated for EU travel purposes under the authority of the United Kingdom'. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days for holders of British passports with other endorsements.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay in Iceland. No visa is required for a stay of up to three months in any six-month period.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay in Iceland. No visa is required for a stay of up to three months in any six-month period.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay, and a valid Schengen visa, to enter Iceland.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay in Iceland. No visa is required for nationals from the Republic of Ireland.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay in Iceland. No visa is required for a stay of up to three months in any six-month period.
Passport/Visa Note :
The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all the aforementioned countries. Additionally, foreign passengers to Iceland must hold return or onward tickets, the necessary travel documentation for their next destination, and sufficient funds to cover their stay in Iceland. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Travel Health :
There are no specific health risks associated with travel to Iceland, and no vaccinations are necessary for entry. Medical care in the country is of high quality. Payment is usually expected in cash from visitors. Travel health insurance is highly recommended. A reciprocal agreement exists whereby British citizens are entitled to free emergency medical treatment provided they possess a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
Service charges are included in bills and tipping is not expected in Iceland.
Safety Information :
Iceland is an extremely safe country to visit, the only threats being a low level of petty crime and rapidly changing weather conditions, which necessitate keeping a check if you are on the road.
Local Customs :
Smoking in bars, restaurants and on public transport in Iceland is illegal. Penalties for the possession of drugs are steep. Travellers should note that although whale meat is legally available in Iceland it is not legal to bring it across borders into the UK or EU.
Most business in Iceland tends to take place in the capital, Reykjavik. Business meetings are usually formal, with smart dress essential. It is worth handing out business cards, and initial greetings are usually accompanied by a handshake. Punctuality should be respected. Meetings are usually conducted in English when dealing with foreigners. It is worth noting that Icelanders generally go by their first name, and telephone directory listings are alphabetical by first name. Business hours are usually from 8am to 4pm (summer) and 9am to 5pm (winter). Most offices are closed on weekends.
The international country code for Iceland is +354. The outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). City/area codes are not in use. Note that Icelanders are listed by their first name in the telephone directory, not the last. GSM networks cover most of the island and there are roaming agreements with most international mobile phone companies. Iceland Telecom rents mobile phones to visitors. There are numerous Internet cafes around the country.
Duty Free :
Travellers to Iceland over 18 years do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes or 250g of other tobacco products. Travellers over 20 years are also allowed one litre spirits and one litre wine, or one litre spirits and six litres beer; or one litre wine and six litres beer; or two and a quarter litres wine; and food items up to three kg not exceeding ISK 13,000. Permits from Post & Telecom Authorities are required for cordless phones, remote controls or radio transmitters, but not for a GSM mobile phone. Prohibited items include narcotics and drugs, meat products, weapons and powdered or moist snuff.
Keflavik International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 31 miles (50km) southwest of Reykjavik.
Time: No GMT offset.
Contacts: Tel: +354 425 6010.
Getting to the city: The Flybus service leaves Keflavík Airport 35 to 40 minutes after the arrival of each flight, stopping first at the BSÍ Bus Terminal and then proceeding to Hafnarfjörður and Garðabær en route to the city. There are onward transfers aboard smaller buses available to all major hotels, the Youth Hostel, Laugardalur camping area and the domestic airport at the BSÍ Bus Terminal. Two taxi companies also operate from a rank outside the arrivals hall.
Car rental: Hertz, Budget, Europcar and Avis are represented at the airport.
Airport Taxis: There are a number of taxi companies operating directly outside the arrivals hall.
Facilities: The terminal offers an exchange bureau, restaurants, a children's playground, duty free stores, baby-changing facilities and an information desk. The terminal is designed for easy access for the disabled.
Parking: Short and long-term parking is available. Short-term rates come at a cost of ISK 500 for the first hour and ISK 750 per hour thereafter, with daily rates at ISK 5,000 per day. In the long-term lot visitors will pay ISK 1,250 per day.
As the name suggests, Iceland's climate is cold, but not as cold as might be expected because of the passing warm waters of the Gulf Stream, which regulate the climate. The summer temperatures in Reykjavík, between June and August, range from 41°F (5°C) at night to as high as 77°F (25°C) during the day. The average mid-winter temperature, in January, is 31°F (-0.5°C). The south is the wettest part of the country, but snow is rare. Coastal areas tend to experience winter gales and are generally windy. During the summer months there is almost continuous daylight; early spring and late autumn feature long twilights. From mid-November until the end of January, in the darkness of winter, the opposite is true, with the country only experiencing a few hours of daylight each day. The Northern Lights are often visible in autumn and early winter. The best time to visit Iceland depends on the desired activity: generally summer is the most pleasant time to visit but the Northern Lights are a big draw card in the colder months.
Reykjavik Tourist Information Centre, Reykjavik: +354 590 1550
United States Embassy, Reykjavik: +354 562 9100.
British Embassy, Reykjavik: +354 550 5100.
Canadian Embassy, Reykjavik: +354 575 6500.
Australian Embassy, Copenhagen, Denmark (also responsible for Iceland): +45 7026 3676.
South African Honorary Consulate-General, Oslo (also responsible for Iceland): +354 591 0355.
Irish Honorary Consul, Gardabaer: +354 554 2355.
Embassy of Iceland, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 265
Foreign Embassies in Iceland
Embassy of Iceland, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland) : +44 (0)20 7259 3999.
Embassy of Iceland, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 482 1944.
Embassy of Iceland, Beijing, China (also responsible for Australia): +86 (1) 06 590 7795.
Honorary Consulate of Iceland, Johannesburg, South Africa: +27 (0)11 305 8954.
Consulate of Iceland, Auckland, New Zealand: +64 (0) 9 379 4720.
Iceland Emergency Numbers
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