Travelling to Iceland? Get travel advice and inspiration from Wanderlust. Want to know what to see or do? How to avoid the crowds? We have the tips for you
Iceland is, though, wild – outside the buzzing, artistic capital, Reykjavík, it’s the natural wonders and sweeping empty landscapes that captivate.
Iceland’s ‘Golden Circle’ captures most visitors’ attention, and no wonder: the steaming thermal waters of the Blue Lagoon, thundering waterfall of Gullfoss and spouting geyser of, well, Geysir are pretty awe-inspiring.
But there’s much more to do in Iceland: whalewatching from Reykjavík or Húsavík; exploring the volcanic landscapes of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula; discovering the puffin-speckled Westmann Islands; striking out across the vast Vatnajökull icecap; and sailing around the isolated, silent Westfjords, home to seals, seabirds and Arctic foxes.
Reykjavík itself is a colourful little town, with great bars, museums and hot springs to souse yourself in.
Look out for music festivals – the big names (Björk, Sigur Rós) may play Reykjavík’s Airwaves Festival (October), but consider heading to Isafjor∂ur in the Westfjords for the unique Aldrei Fór Ég Suður (‘Never Went South’), where the likes of Mugison and up-and-coming bands play.
Taking a sleeping bag can save you good chunks of money – bargain sleeping-bag accommodation is available in many guesthouses, not just in hostels.
Summer (June-August) is warm and pleasant, with long days; the main tourist sites can be crowded.
May and September are still pleasant, though some accommodation may be closed.
Winter (October-February) is cold and, particularly around January, dark; many hotels and attractions are closed, though Reykjavík is still a great choice for a city break – and winter’s also the time to see the northern lights.
Keflavík International Airport (KEF) is 48km west of Reykjavîk.
Internal flights are convenient ways of accessing the Westfjords, Westmann Islands, Akureyri (for the north coast and Lake Myvatn) and Egilsta∂ir for the eastern region.
Comfortable buses serve Iceland’s main towns in summer, though services are sparse September-May. Car hire, though pricey, is a good way to explore; there’s really only one major road running a circuit around Iceland.
Iceland has the full range of accommodation, from campsites, farmhouses, mountain huts and hostels through family-run guesthouses to hotels. Campsites, and some other options, are usually only open in summer, when some schools and colleges offer accommodation.
Fresh fish and lamb are delicious, as is skyr, a yoghurt-like dessert. Hotdogs (pylsur) are ubiquitous, cheap snacks. Traditional dishes such as svi∂ (singed sheep’s head) and hákarl (buried, fermented shark meat) take a strong stomach. Coffee and beer are everywhere, though the latter is expensive. The national firewater is brennivin, schnapps flavoured with caraway seeds.
Iceland is extremely safe – you can drink water from the tap, serious diseases are rare, no poisonous animals. However, you should take account of highly changeable weather – always be prepared when out in the wilds, with weatherproof and warm clothing, and be extremely careful when walking on glaciers.
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