Europe & Britain | Destination Guides

Iceland travel guide: everything to know before you go

The Basics

Capital: Reykjavik

Language: Icelandic

Population: 334,252 thousand

Currency: Icelandic krona

Land Area: 103, 000 square km

Famous for: Being the land of both fire and ice with its volcanoes and glaciers; eccentric pop singer Bjork; the mysterious Northern Lights; Vikings; puffins; and the beautiful Blue Lagoon.

Iceland know before you go Kirkjufell-Winter-Iceland-www.istockphoto.comgbphotokirkjufell-winter-in-iceland-gm625910282-110337353-DanielHarwardt

Climate

Of course, Iceland is a country known for its bracing cold weather. It has a subarctic climate, meaning that even in summer it averages about 13°C and rarely gets above 20°C. In winter, temperatures hover around freezing (0°C) in the habitable lowlands, though can reach as low as -10 °C in the Highlands.

What to See

Iceland has a wild and otherworldly landscape like nowhere else on earth; geysers, bubbling volcanoes and frozen glaciers galore. East of Reykjavik and the site of the first Viking settlers, Thingvellir National Park is a captivating destination where you can spot tectonic plate activity. Head to Vatnajökull to see the largest glacier in Iceland and to the Möðrudalsöræfi plateau in the Highlands, a place that astronauts once used as a pre-moon voyage practice ground. No Icelandic trip would be complete without a dip in the mineral waters of the Blue Lagoon – its azure waters are said to have healing powers.

Iceland know before you go Meat-Soup-and-Coffee-www.istockphoto.comgbphotomeat-soup-and-coffee-on-the-table-top-view-gm612492274-105512991-Ale_Koziura

What to Eat and Drink

Believe it or not, one of Iceland’s most beloved dishes is the humble hotdog, though perhaps with a more gourmet twist than Stateside. Made from beef, pork and lamb in natural casings, they come slathered with delicious toppings. Kjötsúpa is a traditional, hearty lamb soup packed full of winter vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower and carrot, while Iceland’s infamous Skyr – a natural, tart yoghurt with bio-cultures – is probably the country’s biggest culinary export. Expect plenty of preserved meats and fishes, too.

Translating to ‘burning wine’, brennivin is made from fermented potatoes and flavoured with caraway seeds. If you’re brave enough, try a sample when you’re in a local bar. Appelsin is a tasty fruit soda with malt that’s considered something of a health tonic.

Etiquette

Icelanders are like the British; they love to discuss the weather so this is always a good conversation starter. They’re justifiably proud of their country and its nature too, so when you’re out in the wilderness or exploring national parks, leave no trace and treat the landscape with respect. If you’re dining out, tipping is not expected.

Iceland know before you go Northern-Lights-Mount-Kirkjufell-Iceland-www.istockphoto.comgbphotonorthern-lights-in-mount-kirkjufell-iceland-with-a-man-passing-by-gm663261182-120800457-LeoPatrizi

What to Pack

When packing for Iceland, warm clothes are key. Think layers: vests, sweaters and fleece jackets with a waterproof to throw on should it rain. You’ll need sturdy footwear with a good sole for tackling rugged terrain, along with thick socks and, of course, a hat, gloves and a scarf. If you’re visiting in summer you’ll need lighter layers: t-shirts, thin jackets and such like. An eye mask will come in handy too for those midnight sun nights. Oh, and don’t forget your bathers for a dip in the Blue Lagoon!

If you’ve been inspired to visit this magical land, click here to discover an adventurous Trafalgar trip.

Image credits: main image © iStock/DanielHarwardt. Meat soup © iStock/Ale_Koziura Northern Lights © iStock/LeoPatrizi. Kirkjufell © iStock/DanielHarwardt.

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