Iceland is a bustle of activity, particularly in the capital city, Reykjavík is set on a broad bay, surrounded by mnountains, and is in an area of geothermal hot springs, creating a natural central heating system and pollution-free environment. It is a busy city combining old-fashioned wooden architecture and modern buildings. Despite being a relatively small capital city, Reykjavík has managed to forge a reputation for partying, and its nightclubs and bars are regularly rilled with hordes of fun-loving citizens. Nevertheless, the traditional side of Iceland prevails, as does the Icelander’s repute as hardy and proud. Indeed, much of the fascination surrounding Iceland resides with the Icelanders themselves.
Area: 103,000 sq km (39,769 sq miles)
Population: 294,000 (UN, 2005)
Geography: Iceland is a large island in the North Atlantic close to the Arctic Circle and includes islands to the north and south. The landscape is wild, rugged and colorful, and black lava, red sulfur, hot blue geysers, gray and white rivers with waterfalls and green valleys, its coastline richly indented with bays and fjords. The whole of the central highland plateau of the island is a beautiful but barren and uninhabitable moonscape – so much so that the first American astronauts were sent there for pre-mission training. Five-sixths of Iceland is uninhabited. More than half the population lives in or around Reykjavik, the capital. Iceland is one of the most volcanically active countries in the world. Iceland’s highest and most extensive glacier is Vatnajökull; at 8500 sq km (3280 sq miles), it is the largest in Europe, although it is now reported to be melting.
Currency: Icelandic Krona (lkr)
Credit Cards: American Express, Diners Club, Europay, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted.
Banking Hours: Mon-Fri 9:15am-4pm
Air: The national airline, Icelandair (FI) (www.icelandair.net), operates direct flights all-year-round to Reykjavik (Keflavík) from Amsterdam, Baltimore, Boston, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Halifax, London, Minneapolis, Orlando, Oslo, Paris, Stockholm and Washington, plus other destinations in the summertime only. Airlines include Air Greenland (www.airgreenland.gl) and Iceland Express (www.icelandexpress.com). Other predominantly Scandinavian, carriers also operate services. Some airlines, such as Condor and Corsair, operate flights during the summertime. Flights are operated to the Faroe Islands and Greenland during the summer months.
Approximate flight times:
London to Iceland is 3 hours
Paristo Iceland is 3 hours 30 minutes
New York to Iceland is 5 hours 30 minutes
Reykjavík (Keflavík) (REK/KEF) is 51km (32 miles) southwest of Reykjavík (travel time – 45 minutes). Airport facilities include bus services, departing after the arrival of each flight; taxi services; a duty-free shop; banking and exchange facilities, open on arrival of all scheduled services; restaurants and bars and car hire (Avis, Europcar and Hertz).
Social & Business Customs
Icelandic food in general is based on fish and lamb, as well as owing much to Scandinavian and European influences. The salmon of Iceland is a great delicacy, served in many forms, one of the most popular being gravlax, a form of marinating. Fishing is Iceland’s most important export, accounting for some 80 per cent of the country’s gross national product. There is also a heavy emphasis on vegetables grown in greenhouses heated by the natural steam from geysers. Specialties include hangikjot (smoked lamb), harəfiskur (dried fish), skyr (curds) and Icelandic sild (herring marinated in various flavors). Ther have been some welcome additions to the selection of eating places in Reykajavík and there is now a small but attractive choice of restaurants to cater for all pockets with new tourist menus.
Bars have tabel and/or counter service, and will serve coffee as well as alcohol. Beer was prohibited in Iceland for 75 years and was finally legalized in March 1989. Alcohol is generally expensive (a large beer costs approximately USD 8, a small one USA 4.70). In coffee shops you pay for the first cup then help yourself to subsequent cups. There is a wide selection of European spirits and wines. Brennivin (a potent variation of aquavit made from potatoes) is a local drink.
There are plenty of nightclubs, bars, cafes and cinemas in Iceland, most of them in the capital. Icelandic nightlife is particularly vibrant from June to August when there is nearly 24 hours of perpetual daylight (Icelanders call this period the ‘White Nights’). Leading theatres are the National Theatre and the Reykjavík City Theatre, closed in summer, but during the tourist season there is an attractive light entertainment show in English called ‘Light Nights’ with traditional Icelandic stories and folk songs. The Iceland Symphony Orchestra gives concerts every two weeks at the University Theatre during the seasion (September to June). Iceland has a vibrant music scene, which has produced, amongst others, the internationally acclaimed artist Björk.
Fluffy, earth-colored Lopi wool blankets and coats, jackets, hats and handknits are synonymous with Iceland. Several local potters handthrow earthenware containers in natural colors. Crushed lava is a common addition to highly glazed ceramic pieces, which are popular as souvenirs. The duty-free shop at Keflavik Airport sells all of these products, as does the Icelandic Tourist Bureau souvenir shop in Reyjkavík.
Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-2pm, with variations from shop to shop. Shopping malls are open Mon-Thurs 10am-6:30pm, Fri 10am-9pm, Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 1-6pm
Visitors will find Iceland is a classless society with a strong literary tradition. Handshking is the normal form of greeting. An Icelander is called by his first name because his surname is made up of his father’s Christian name plus ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ (eg john, the son of Magnus, would be called John Magnusson, while John’s sister, Mary, would be known as Mary Magnusdóttir). People are addressed as Fru (Mrs.) and Herra (Mr.) Visitors will often be invited to homes especially if on business and normal courtesies should be observed. Icelanders pay careful attention to their appearance and, as for most Western countries, casual wear is widely acceptable although unsuitable for smart and social functions.
Service charges are included in most bills and extra tips are not expected.
Business people are expected to dress smartly. Local business people are conservative but very friendly and most speak English. Previous appointments are not generally necessary, but visits between May and September should be planned in advance as many local business people travel abroad at this time. The telephone directory is listed by Christian name. Office hours: Mon-Fri 8am-4pm (summer) and 9am-5pm (winter). Most offices are closed Saturday and Sunday.
Iceland’s climate is tempered by the Gulf Stream. Summers are mild and winters rather cold. The colorful Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) appear from the end of August. From the end of May to the beginning of August, there are nearly 24 hours of perpetual daylight in Reykjavík, while in the northern part of the country the sun barely sets at all. Winds can be strong and gusty at times and there si the occasional dust storm in the interior. Snow is not as common as the name of the country would seem to suggest and, in any case, does not lie for long in Reykjavík; it is only in northern Iceland that skiing conditions are reasonably certain. However, the weather is very changeable at all times of the year, and in Reykjavík there may be rain, sunshine, drizzle and snow in the same day.