Friday, 27 July 2018

Exploring Laugavegur Street Shopping in Reykjavik

Retail therapy is a very real thing. Sometimes when we are feeling down, lethargic, tired, or merely bored, shopping can provide a great distraction and a sense of freedom. While it certainly doesn’t help your bank account, it will undoubtedly reinvigorate your day. One of my favorite places to shop is on Reykjavik’s famous shopping street: Laugavegur. This thoroughfare in Reykjavik is filled to the brim with quaint and exciting stores in which you could spend hours getting lost finding the perfect garment, gift, or music album. Here are some of my favorite stores to shop at off on Laugavegur street in Reykjavik.

Laugavegur is Reykjavik's main shopping street

Visit Sputnik to find that Vintage Flavor 

Have you heard? Its been all over the news. Vintage is very “in” right now. Just kidding, when are vintage garments not fashionable. Located at 28b Laugavegur street, Spuutnik has been Reyjkavik’s premier vintage store for close to 25 years, and for a good reason. This place has everything you need to set your wardrobe apart from everyone else’s.

Looking for a big furry coat a-la Penny Lane from the movie Almost Famous? They probably have it. Need a pair of trendy high-waisted denim jeans to channel your inner 90s kid? They definitely have them. The point I am trying to make is that they have everything that your little fashionista heart could desire. In the last few years their prices have been steadily climbing, but can you really put a price on looking good. I know I can’t.

Verslun Gudsteins Eyjolfssonar 

Gentlemen, do you fear your wardrobe is lacking? Are you still rocking that University licensed t-shirt with the ramen noodle stains? If this applies to you, I have a pro-tip for you: step up your wardrobe. The ladies in your life will take notice, so will everyone else around you. Sometimes a guy's wardrobe needs some fresh blood, and Verslun Gudsteins Eyjolfssonar sure can help.

While their prices aren't exactly cheap, their clothes are worth every penny. The store is family run and operated, and has been since its inception around the turn of the 20th century. In 1929, they moved the store to Reykjavik and have never looked back. This family business sources and crafts some of the best materials on this side of Milan for their garments. While the prices aren’t exactly low, they try to keep them as fair as possible. But this raises the question: can you put an amount on looking good? Say no, and head to 34 Laugavegur street. You will enter a boy, and leave a sharply dressed man who could rival Don Draper.

Reykjavik's Laugavegur street is home to Verslun Gudsteins Eyjolfssonar men's store


What about the rest of us who are already sharply dressed, on-trend, and have mounting credit card debt from the impressive clothing collection we have cultivated over the years? Um, by the way, definitely not speaking about myself. Wink wink, cough, cough. If music and gifts are more your thing, then head down to Smekkleysa on 35 Laugavegur street.

Smekkleysa’s is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, as they are a bastion of music and art from the alternative culture. Even if that isn’t your style, you should still check out their store. It’s quite an experience. Translating into English as “Bad Taste",  this shop has tons of hidden gems and an incredible history associated with the store. Check out their official website to see their manifesto and their close relationship with Icelandic superstar Björk.

Mal og Menning 

I have been told that I am somewhat of a bookworm, so what would this list be without my favorite bookstore in all of Iceland: Mal og Menning. This shop and cafe combo has been continuously running since 1940, so it is safe to say that they know what they are doing when it comes to running a successful bookstore. Especially since Iceland is one of the most well-read nations in the world. Did you know that in Iceland one out of twelve inhabitants will publish something in their lifetime? Crazy right?

Mal og Menning has an eclectic collection of both domestic and international titles, and you can find some fascinating written works there. If you still don’t believe me, the store was ranked one of the top 12 bookstores in the world. The world as a whole. The whole thing. You can do way worse than that. Stop in, find an interesting book, and then head upstairs to the cafe to crack open some pages while you escape the hustle and bustle of the streets below.

Mal og Menning is a popular bookstore on Reykjavik's Laugavegur shopping street

Geisladiskabud Valda

The last official store on my quick list is for all the gamers in the world. Video games have become ubiquitous in our society. It seems like every other post on social media is a post about the game Fortnite. I don’t understand it, I don’t get it, but I do know that the game is causing people around the world to do silly dances. And that, I can support that. So this one is for you guys, dance right into Geisladiskabud Valda and you won’t regret it.

Opened in 1998, these have a seemingly bottomless bag of visual media goodies! Looking for an obscure show that ran for two seasons? They probably have it. Looking for a VHS copy of your favorite childhood movie? They've probably got it somewhere. The store is filled with stacks upon stacks of DVDs, CDs, VHS, cassettes, video games, vinyl, and much much more. This is the perfect place to get yourself an exciting souvenir from Iceland, and maybe the perfect gift for a friend.

Laugavegur Street Shopping in Reykjavik 

Iceland is known for its natural beauty. Heck, we remind people to death about it. Every once in a while though, we as humans just need creature comforts. Sometimes hiking just doesn’t sound as appealing as finding that perfect vintage jacket, or hunting down an obscure movie you have always wanted to own. If you need a break from the great outdoors and want to do some retail therapy head to Laugavegur street and apologize in advance to your savings account. Happy hunting!

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Thursday, 26 July 2018

Responsible Tourism In Iceland

Travel is the best way to gain a new perspective and to become a more cultured individual. Why do you think James Bond is so cool? He travels all the time, duh! Well, and he is a spy, so, I guess that helps too. And he dresses well, is well spoken, and handsome. Sorry, I am getting sidetracked. Traveling and engaging in tourism is a good thing, but you don't want to be the clueless tourist. Iceland is a country that is facing challenges with its ever-growing influx of tourists. If you are headed to our Nordic wonderland, you may be unaware of some key insights on how to best support our tourism in a responsible and sustainable way. So let's make sure that on your next trip to Iceland you are well equipped on how to be a responsible tourist.

Tourist in blue jacket looking out over Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Get Out! Of Reykjavik 

The title is overly dramatic, and I am half joking. However, if you are visiting Iceland, I would urge you to explore all that Iceland has to offer, and that means leaving the comfy confines of Reykjavik. Visitors to Iceland tend to come to the capital city, rent an Airbnb, stay awhile, and then leave. This is not good for either you or Iceland. While we do encourage you to stay in Reykjavik, it is paramount for the most optimal Icelandic experience to visit some of the smaller villages and towns during your trip.

You may be thinking, “Why would I leave the creature comforts of Reykjavik to stay in a rustic village?” The answer is simple: many of the smaller villages and towns are struggling to cope with the exponential growth in the tourism markets. Now more than ever, people are flocking to the larger towns and cities to find work and chase the proverbial paycheck. This greatly saddens us. Those smaller towns and villages are a direct link to our storied past. If they disappear, then is Iceland really…Iceland?

Take A Guided Tour

Living in the digital age means that we have seemingly access to unlimited information at our fingertips. Taking a self-guided tour has never been easier. However, I would only opt for this in moderation. I know that Iceland is an expensive country (all of Scandinavia for that matter is pretty pricey), however, if it fits your budget go on a certified tour. This can be within the city limits or out into the countryside. Going on a tour has many benefits that you probably were unaware of.

First, no matter how much information you dig up on the internet, having local guide can provide you with critical insights about Iceland you would have never been able to find yourself. We live and breathe everything Iceland. A guide can show you all of the best local locations, and steer you clear of any shops or stores that are looking to take any available money from unassuming tourists.

Tourist overlooking Askja calder

Second, going on a guided tour (especially in the backcountry) is safer, and much more efficient. Regarding safety, Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world with regards to crime. However, the environment and landscape here can be quite unforgiving. Deciding to go it alone, even if you are a skilled outdoorsman, is never a good idea. Expertly trained and experienced tour guides can steer you clear of any unforeseen danger that you may not have been aware of. Also, a tour guide can bring you right to the heart of the action; whether you are in a town or in a lava field, they will escort you to your destination quickly and hassle-free.

Avoid Peak Season 

I am going to let you in on a secret. Are you ready? You promise to keep it between us? Ok, good. Well, here’s the thing: you don’t have to visit Iceland during the busy season to have an incredible experience. Actually, by visiting us at the busiest time of the year contributes to a growing problem in Iceland: overtourism. Overtourism, simply put, is when tourists flock to one specific location at the same time and inundate the area. The economic windfall that accompanies it is beneficial to the economy, but it places a lot of stress on the country as a whole. I would recommend visiting us when it is traditionally slower. If you are scratching your head, and still confused, I’ll explain.

Iceland is busiest in July and August. These months provide the best weather for tourists, and traditionally it is when people opt to take their summer vacations. However, if you have ever been to Reykjavik in mid-July you know, it can be a bit of a nightmare. The streets are packed with wayward tourists who want to stop every 3 meters to take a photo. Don’t get me wrong, we love having you. But, here’s a good example: imagine instead of your friends sporadically visiting your home every once in a while, they all showed up (anyone who has ever been to your home) all at once. It would be stressful, right? I personally recommend coming in late September or early October.

Visiting us right after peak season (busiest time of year for tourism) will pay huge dividends for your Icelandic getaway. There are infinitely fewer tourists, the costs of rental cars, hotels, and Airbnb accommodation plummets, and we are generally more relaxed. You will have a chance to see the unspoiled beauty Iceland has to offer without having to wade through droves of curious tourists. Also, in the summer it is impossible to catch the northern lights. Late September in Iceland, early October, is the optimal time to come and see them. I’d wager a bet and say that you would trade some warm weather to see nature’s most magnificent light show.

Iceland's Northern Lights in the tourism off-season

Being A Travel Savvy Tourist in Iceland

These are but a few of the tips that I would offer anyone coming to visit the quaint Nordic island nation. There is plenty more that you can do to curb overtourism and ensure that your trip goes as smooth as possible for both you and the inhabitants of the island. A significant thing to keep in mind is to be respectful towards our people and the environment. It is easy to forget this especially since you are not from here. But remember: the way you act and behave will have lasting effects; we will be here even after you leave. That being said, we love having visitors. We adore being able to give you insights into our culture, food, language, and lifestyle.

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Wednesday, 25 July 2018

The Pros and Cons of Tourism In Iceland

Our world is continually becoming more and more globalized, and Iceland is no exception. In fact, Iceland is reaping the benefits of globalization through tourism. Tourism in Iceland has exploded in recent years, with the number of annual foreign visitors having doubled in the last six years. But, this raises an important question, “Will we run out of hot dogs with all of these foreign invaders coming to our shores?!”. That was a joke, I was joking. The real question is, “Is the increase in tourism really the best thing for Iceland?”. Let us examine the pros and cons of tourism in Iceland.

Tourist hiker enjoy mountain views in Iceland

Pros of Tourism in Iceland 

The tourism boom in recent years came at an optimal time. Iceland was in dire straights after the economic collapse in 2008. Suddenly, our country was inundated with curious travelers who had heard about Iceland’s natural beauty. Money started flowing in, and the economy began to recover. This trend has continued steadily, thanks in large part to the continued growth of the tourism sector. And, as of now, the pros of our tourism boom have been welcomed.

Our capital, Reykjavik has reaped the lions share of the benefits of this boom. More and more visitors come each year and choose to stay in the capital. Restaurants, inns, and shops have all seen a massive increase in revenue with the influx of hungry, curious, and wealthy travelers. Not only has our economy benefited from these travelers, but people have come and learned more about our culture and history.

Icelandic culture has primarily been insular, in that, not many people (not as many, rather) have historically made the pilgrimage to our tiny island nation. We have a rich and robust history that spans back a thousand years. By having foreigners learn more about our history, we, in turn, learn more about the world. It is a symbiotic relationship. We have traditionally been a highly educated society, but there is no better way to grow than to gain an outside perspective. Friendly tourists give us an insight into their way of thinking, and they learn from us. By being so closely tied to nature, we are incredibly grounded and humble. This sharing of culture only helps us develop more and more.

Young man speaking to two young women on the streets of Reykjavik

The Cons of Tourism in Iceland

 Every story has two sides to it, and while the benefits of tourism have been welcomed, they present some pressing challenges for our people moving forward. Any society that has relied solely on tourism has traditionally faced difficult obstacles moving forward. When foreign visitors and foreign money drive entire economies, things can become very tricky very quickly. Not only that, but we risk losing so much more than our economy.

One aspect that has been hit particularly hard by the tourism boom has been the outlying small villages and towns of Iceland. Due to the massive influx of money and opportunities coming into Reykjavik, residents from smaller towns and villages have found it more finically viable to pursue careers in tourism closer to the capital. This poses a threat to the unique culture that is cultivated in the countryside. Family is hugely important to us, and when money overtakes tradition those cultural values (especially the emphasis on the family unit) rapidly erode.

The biggest threat, to me, comes in the form of protecting our beautiful countryside. Tourists flock to Iceland in droves to experience the fantastic spectacle that is our naturally occurring, rare, unique geographical features. Our glaciers, forests, waterfalls, and lava fields have all had more outside visitors than any time in our storied history. While most tourists are respectful of our land, some are not. There are those who treat it like their personal playground. Litter poses a massive threat to both flora and fauna of Iceland. Not only that, but some visitors will gladly go into protected areas to take photos, while totally disregarding signage that warns of essential breeding grounds for local species or unstable surfaces which are dangerous.

Trash and plastic bottles on an Icelandic beach

Tourism Moving Forward 

When examining any situation, it is paramount to explore the negatives and positives. I often have this problem when enjoying food. What are the positives and negatives of enjoying lamb stew three times a week? The positives are that it is tasty and delicious and I am filled with warmth and happiness. The negatives are that one shouldn’t eat lamb stew three times a week year-round because they will more closely resemble a whale and not a human. Also, it is just not a good dietary practice. This is meant to be humorous, but there is some validity in applying it to the tourism question we are examining.

While tourism generates wealth and provides us with an outside perspective, it needs to be managed with moderation. If we became a tourism-driven economy and society we would undoubtedly reap financial benefits, but what would we lose? We lose our culture, our values, and most importantly the land that we hold so dear to our hearts. Treat tourism like lamb stew: it can be delicious and tasty, but you can’t have it for dinner every night. Moderation, as with all things in life, is critical. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

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Tuesday, 24 July 2018

What To Do In Iceland in August

Whether you live here year round, or you are just visiting, August is indeed the perfect time to experience everything that Iceland has to offer. The closing of summer may bring a tear to your eye (I know I am shaking with fear at just the thought of winter), so why not enjoy it to the fullest. Let's go over the best activities in Iceland during August.

Vik's black sand beaches during sunset in August in Iceland

But First… Icelandic Weather During August

August is one of the warmer months here in Iceland. July and August usually compete for the warmest month of the year. Warm for Iceland is between 13 to 20 degrees Celsius (55-70 Fahrenheit) Not only is it warm, but it is also sunny. If you are Icelandic, you may be scoffing to yourself right now, because sunny is an understatement. In August you can expect between 17 and 14 hours of daylight. For most people, that's a lot. More than a lot actually. That's a ton! So, pack accordingly.

Perfect Time of Year for A Driving Tour 

With the warm weather and the extra daylight, it is the perfect time to go out and explore everything that Iceland has to offer. There is no better way to do this than taking a self-driving tour. Iceland has one of the easiest and most thrilling driving routes in the world, The Golden Circle Route, and the Ring Road. Both are exceptionally fun and take you to the best natural attractions Iceland has to offer.

The Golden Circle is the most accessible route and can be completed in about a day's worth of driving. It is 300 km (186 mi) in total distance, and you visit the most sought out sites in Iceland. Travelers will set out from Reykjavik and head into central Iceland. Favorite stops along the way are Strokkur Geyser, Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall and Kerid Crater Lake. You could spend about a day at each location, but if you are pressed for time, you can do it in a day.

The Ring Road route is much more intense. It will take you about 10 days to complete, and you circumnavigate Iceland. The route also allows travelers to conveniently stop at the most popular sites and attractions in the country. This option will take much more planning to complete, but it when you finish you have completed the trip of a lifetime. Completing this journey is definitely better in the summer with the added sunlight and warmer weather. Trust me: driving in the north of Iceland during winter is not for the faint of heart.

Take a summer road trip around Iceland's Ring Road this August

Visit the Blue Lagoon 

One of Iceland’s biggest draws is the Blue Lagoon geothermal hot spring. Every year, thousands of visitors travel to Iceland to pump up their Instagram game and relax at this beautiful spa. August’s added sunlight and temperate climate make it one of the better times to visit Iceland’s prominent hot spring. Only a 50-minute drive from Reykjavik, escape the city and relax in the healing blue waters of the lagoon.

August Festivals in Iceland 

August is definitely the time for festivals in Iceland. The entire country celebrates the closing of summer with a bang. Here in Iceland, we really take advantage of every last drop of sunlight by partying one last time before fall. The most popular festivals here are Merchant’s Day Festivals. Merchant’s Day is an Icelandic bank holiday on the first Monday of August. The weekend preceding it is one for festivals throughout the country. The most popular of these are the Þjóðhátíð í Eyjum Festival in the Westman Islands, the Innipukinn Festival in Reykjavik, and the Mýrarboltinn in Ísafjörður. Foreigners are likely confused by the Icelandic names here, so I am going to break it down for you.

The Þjóðhátíð í Eyjum Festival, or “The Festival of the Nation” is the biggest festival regarding camping festivals. Hosted in the Westman Islands, thousands come to see Iceland’s biggest musical acts take the stage. Within one weekend the population of the Westman Islands quadruples in size. It is crazy. The festival started in the 1800s and was initially geared towards families. Now, it isn’t the most family friendly. If you were looking for a wild time, and a true Icelandic experience buy a ticket, rent a tent, and get ready for a crazy weekend.

Festival crowd in Iceland during August

If you are more of a homebody, then the Innipukinn Festival in Reykjavik is more your speed. Innipukinn loosely translates to "homebody," and it honors its name by being mostly events held indoors. Like The Festival of the Nation in the Westman Islands, this festival has an impressive lineup year in and year out. Innipukinn hosts tons of venues, food booths, and activities throughout the city. So, if you are in Reykjavik and looking to stay close to home, this is a good bet for a great time.

Lastly, interested in something slightly different? Ever heard of the Swamp Soccer? No?! Well, you are about to! Every August Iceland hosts the European Swap Soccer Championships. Every year hundreds of people make their way to Ísafjörður, Iceland to see the top two swamp soccer teams take the field to play the world's most beautiful (and dirtiest) game. It is a sight to behold, and it is definitely out of the ordinary. Take a risk and make your way to Ísafjörður if you want to experience something truly unique.

August In Iceland

Whatever you end up doing during August, even if you aren’t coming to visit us in Iceland (you can’t see, but I am tearing up right now thinking about you not coming to see us!) make sure you enjoy the last days of summer. It is a great time to enjoy good food, great music, and spend time with friends and family. I would hope though that you make your way to Iceland for an extraordinary time.

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Monday, 23 July 2018

Typical Foods in Iceland and Icelandic Cuisine

Somehow, someway, Icelandic food has gotten a bad reputation. I won't stand for it anymore! It's not fair! People all around the world think our diets solely consist of Svið (boiled sheep's head) and fermented shark. Iceland is full of tasty foods, and yet I mainly meet tourists who convey their hesitancy to eat our most common foods. I am here to tell you that we have many delicious meals. And I have proof! Here is a list of typical foods found in Iceland.

Dried fish and charcoal bread are typical Icelandic cuisine

Skyr - Iceland’s Superfood

Skyr isn’t exactly yogurt, and yet it isn’t exactly cheese. Most people when they first try it say that it has the consistency of yogurt, but its taste is much milder. Icelanders eat skyr at all times of the day, but it is definitely a favorite breakfast dish. You usually eat skyr with berries or milk at breakfast, but you can even make smoothies out of it! The superfood is filled with healthy proteins and vitamins and has virtually no carbs or fats.

The world is slowly but surely becoming obsessed with our dairy product, but it isn’t a new phenomenon. Skyr has been around for hundreds of years. Maybe that's why Icelandic folk are often regarded as the best looking and strongest people in the world.  You wish I were joking but look at Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson aka the Mountain from Game of Thrones.

Slow Roasted Lamb - Iceland’s Savory Treat

Iceland is known for having heavenly lamb dishes, and the reasons are based in history. When our ancestors first came to Iceland’s shores, they let their sheep roam free. That tradition, combined with the fact that the sheep here have had an all natural diet for hundreds of years, yields savory, soft, succulent lamb. Icelandic lamb is considered gourmet by many countries' standards. We really only eat lamb for Christmas dinner, or for celebrations. However, if you are visiting, and you have a craving for lamb, worry not! Most restaurants have a lamb dish offered on their dinner menu!

Roasted lamb is a traditional Icelandic food

Harðfiskur - Iceland’s Dried Fish 

Harðfiskur is one of the few culinary relics that people today still enjoy (not many people in Iceland are still raving about fermented shark). For hundreds of years, we have been drying fish and eating it with most meals. It is technically considered a jerky, but you can spread butter on it like toast! I know what you are thinking: fish toast, that sounds...fishy. On paper, it doesn’t seem appetizing, but we love it here. Not only is it a great snack, but like skyr, it is packed full of protein and vitamins.

Rúgbrauð - Iceland’s Hotspring Bread 

Rúgbrauð is a traditional dark rye bread that utilizes Iceland’s geothermal heat in its formation. For centuries we have cooked the dough using the natural warmth that comes from surrounding hot springs. Basically, it is super yummy magic bread that comes from the ground. How cool is that! The bread doesn’t have a crust, can be kept for a very long time, and is extremely sweet. No wonder our forefathers created it. Our notoriously harsh winters make challenging to keep foods fresh. If you have never tried it, it is delightful. I would recommend a hefty slathering of butter with it.

Rúgbrauð or Icelandic rye bread is a traditional food in Iceland

Icelandic Fish 

This category is not specific due to the sheer volume of fish that we are fortunate to have in Iceland. Iceland has over 300 species of saltwater fish and several freshwater salmon varieties. It is dealer’s choice when it comes to choosing a fresh fish option.

You may have heard that Iceland prides itself in being extremely eco-friendly, and that characteristic shows itself in our food. Our fish have an abundance of natural flavor due to the lack of pollution in our waters. I would argue that the fish in Iceland is probably some of the freshest in the world. If you had one fish to choose to eat during your visit to Iceland, I would recommend either cod or salmon. They are probably the two most common fish options we have here.

Typical Foods in Iceland and Icelandic Cuisine

I hope after reading this post, you no longer think that Iceland is all boiled sheep's head and whale blubber. It is true that our more traditional dishes are not the most appetizing for tourists, but if you are visiting, I would have to recommend that you try one of the traditional recipes. To truly get a sense for the culture you need to step out of comfort zone and try something you may never try again. Everyday Icelanders though, we eat fish, hot dogs, ice cream, skyr, lamb much more often than we do the antiquated dishes from our distant past!

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Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Iceland Country Profile and FAQs

Iceland is a country that has appeared on many people’s radars in the last few years. Its success as a tourism destination has created a significant amount of interest in the country. Despite the exponential growth in visitors, many people still know relatively little about Iceland. With curiosity about the country increasing, we thought it would be nice to write an article addressing people's most frequently asked questions about the tiny Nordic nation.

Iceland FAQ - The most frequently asked questions

Quick Overview 

Capital: Reykjavik
Population: 337,780 (2018)
Language: Icelandic
Currency: Icelandic krona ($1 USD = 107 krona)
Nickname: The Land of Fire and Ice

Where is Iceland on the map? 

Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean just below (and in some parts, touching) the Arctic Circle. The island is located between Greenland and the Scandinavian countries of Norway and Sweden. When looking at a map, it lies northwest of Scotland in the United Kingdom.

Iceland on the map

When is the best time to visit Iceland?

This is not a question with a completely straightforward answer. While the high season typically runs during June, July and August, things start moving around April and don’t really wind down until September or October. Yes, the weather is warmer in the summer, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only time to visit. And just to clarify, you cannot see the Northern Lights all year long (if you were planning your visit around that). Be sure to visit from mid-September to mid-March if you want to see the Aurora Borealis.

What are the top activities and things to do in Iceland? 

Iceland has a wide variety of things to do throughout the year and what you choose to do depends on the time of year you go. Popular activities during the colder, darker months of fall and winter include watching the Northern Lights and exploring the country’s glaciers. When things warm up, you can enjoy the Midnight Sun, go puffin watching or whale watching, and take part in the country’s many festivals. The country’s natural wonders are also a big draw, with waterfalls, volcanoes, geysers, natural parks, black sand beaches, hiking, geothermal hot springs, and much more on deck to keep you busy.

Hiking in a glacier cave in Iceland

Other Interesting Facts about Iceland

The country is very modern. Its capital, Reykjavik, runs entirely on geothermal power. Iceland is also very politically forward-thinking. The small Nordic island is home to the world’s oldest parliament and the world’s first directly democratically elected female president. Did you know Iceland was such a leader in politics? Lastly, Iceland has the world’s northernmost capital city, Reykjavik.

Now that you know a little bit more about Iceland, it's time to start planning your trip.

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Monday, 16 July 2018

What to Do in Reykjavik

Iceland’s capital city is a vibrant town with colorful houses and an even more exciting nightlife. But what is there to do in Reykjavík during the day? The vast majority of the island’s travelers fly into and out of Keflavík airport, so a stop in Reykjavík is pretty much mandatory during your trip to Iceland. Once you’ve figured out your accommodation and where you’re going to eat, it’s time to decide what to see and do. Here’s are some ideas for sightseeing in Reykjavík.

The Sun Voyager Statue in Reykjavik is a point of interest

Sun Voyager Statue 

This beautiful steel sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason sits on the water’s edge along one of Reykjavík’s waterfront paths. While the Sun Voyager resembles a Viking ship, it’s actually a tribute to the sun. The sculpture was created in 1990 and is an especially lovely place to photograph at sunset.

Hallgrímskirkja Church

This Lutheran parish is the largest church in the country and one of the tallest buildings in Iceland. Made out of concrete, the structure’s unique silhouette and architecture bear a striking resemblance to the outline of a pipe organ. This holy place is also home to The Klaisorgan, which is the largest concert organ in the country.

Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik during Iceland's famous Midnight Sun

Laugavegur Street

Laugavegur is Reykjavík’s main shopping street as well as the epicenter of its famous nightlife. You’ll find many cool vintage boutiques, quirky shops and even bakeries (for that mid-shopping snack) along this popular thoroughfare. Discover Icelandic fashion between stops at noodle shops and bookstores.

Walk around to see the colorful houses

Iceland is known for its creativity and avant-garde style (think Björk). This is also evident in the colorful buildings and street art in Reykjavík. While the sky may sometimes get dreary, the facades of the building are anything but. With shades of vermillion, lemon and cerulean, Reykjavík’s houses and their cheery colors are something to appreciate during your time in the Icelandic capital.

Reykavik's Harpa Concert Hall at dusk is a popular sightseeing attraction

Harpa Music Hall

Reykjavík’s Harpa Music Hall serves double duty as both a concert hall and a conference center. Inaugurated in 2011, this beautiful glass building’s architecture was inspired by Iceland’s landscapes. The glass facade pays homage to the basalt columns in parts of the country like Reynisfjara peninsula near Vík's black sand beaches.

The Reykjavík Art Museum

This museum features modern and contemporary art from both Icelandic and international artists. Icelandic artists Erró, Kjarval and Ásmundur Sveinsson are frequently on display. The museum also takes pride in the number of cultural and educational activities that take place here. Throughout the year there are over 100 lectures, events, seminars, and more at the space.

What to Do in Reykjavik

Being in Iceland’s capital city will no doubt be one of the highlights of your trip. We want some of these sightseeing ideas will jumpstart your visit. Whether you are in town for a couple of days or a more extended stay, we hope our list of what to do in Reykjavik helps.

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Friday, 13 July 2018

Reykjavik's Best Craft Beer and Microbreweries

Did you know that beer was banned in Iceland until 1989? Strange but true. While many people couldn’t imagine daily or weekly life without these tasty drops, Icelanders had to do without for several decades. Well, they are making up for lost times. A healthy microbrewery culture has sprung up all around the island, and craft beers have become all the rage in Reykjavik. Let’s learn a little bit about these types of breweries and some of Reykjavik’s most popular spots.

Reykjavik's microbreweries and craft beer scene are extremely popular

The Growing Popularity of Microbreweries in Iceland

Craft beer is something that has been around for a long time and has experienced an explosion in popularity in the last five or six years. This trend has not missed Iceland, and you will find lots of microbreweries producing some really great Icelandic craft beer.

There are three craft beer bars in downtown Reykjavik that are sometimes referred to as the “Holy Trinity” for craft beer enthusiasts. These three establishments are MicroBar, Skúli Craftsbar, and Mikkeller & Friends.


This is one of the oldest and probably best-known craft beer bars in Reykjavik. It regularly tops the to-do list of anyone exploring the city’s famous nightlife. They offer a top-notch selection of bottled craft beer as well as beer on tap. Try the tasting tray to get a wide selection of what they have to offer. You can get beer from Gæðingur brewery here.

Reykjavik's microbreweries and craft beer scene are extremely popular

Skúli Craftsbar

If you’re looking to try beers from Iceland’s Borg brewery, then this is your place. Skúli Craftsbar is one the classier options for craft beer in Reykjavik. They offer a happy hour from 2pm to 7pm, it’s also a great place to start any night (or afternoon) out. Be sure to try the Bríó, which is a Pilsner, and the Úlfur, which is an Indian Pale Ale. Those looking for a little more adventure with their brew can ask for a Leifur (named after Leif Erikson). This pale ale has a unique touch due to the Arctic thyme they add during the brewing process.

Mikkeller & Friends

This Reykjavik favorite has a great ambience and unique decor. You’ll love spending your time at this local hangout where your biggest problem will be which fantastic beer to choose. While spending time exploring Iceland’s craft beer culture, you’ll definitely want to stop here to try the Sur Citra, made with citrus fruit peels.

Reykjavik's microbreweries have lots of different craft beer on tap

Bryggjan Brugghús

Another popular option on the microbrewery scene is Bryggjan Brugghús. This craft beer bar actually makes their own brews. They also make the experience complete with live music and great food. Additionally, they offer beer tours and beer tastings. Come to visit Reykjavik’s newest microbar and you won’t regret it.

You’re sure to love the Icelandic capital's microbrewery culture and the fantastic selection of craft beers. Let us know your favorites!

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Thursday, 12 July 2018

Iceland’s August Festivals and Celebrations

Summer is chock-full of events and festivals. It is a time to unwind and enjoy the weather, especially in Iceland. During the summer we are inundated with sunlight (more than almost anywhere else) and try and to take full advantage of it. This summer there is a whole host of fun activities and festivals happening all across Iceland. These can range from one-day events to 3-day camping festivals. Here is a quick sneak peek at the festivals and events in Iceland during August.

View of Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall during August in Iceland

Merchant's Day Festivals

On the first Monday in August, Icelandic communities celebrate and enjoy Merchant’s Day. This holiday is equivalent to a bank holiday, and we tend to enjoy it to the fullest. The weekend before Merchant’s Day is crazy. Every community has their own festivities, and the biggest ones are able to draw in thousands of visitors. The most popular of these festivals are Þjóðhátíð í Eyjum Festival in the Westman Islands, the Innipúkinn Festival in Reykjavik, and the Neistaflug ('Flying Sparks') festival in Neskaupstadur.

Þjóðhátíð í Eyjum Festival in the Westman Islands

The Þjóðhátíð í Eyjum Festival is one of the largest and most popular festivals in Iceland. Each year, the population of the Westman Islands quadruples in size for three days, and thousands enjoy live music, beer, and nature to the fullest. The festival was initially a family festival that began in the late 1800s, and since then it has evolved into another beast entirely. The festival has left its humble roots and is much more of an adult festival. The music has changed as well. Some of Iceland's most popular acts make their way through this venue, and at this point, it is almost a rite of passage. The festival culminates in a massive fireworks display with the festival goers joining in unison to sing along.

Summer fireworks display at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in August

The Innipúkinn Festival in Reykjavík 

The Innipúkinn Festival is held yearly in Reykjavik, and like the Þjóðhátíð í Eyjum Festival, it attracts the best musicians from across Iceland. This festival differs from its Westman Islands' cousin in that it is not a camping festival. This is a relief for any would-be germaphobes or those of you who can’t live without wifi. The festival is sure to be a good time as it always has incredible acts and events to celebrate Merchant’s Day.

Neistaflug ('Flying Sparks') Festival in Neskaupstadur

This festival is celebrated in the same vein as the Þjóðhátíð í Eyjum Festival because it started around the same time and it was initially a family festival. This is still very much a family festival, and the lineup of music is filled with burgeoning Icelandic musicians. Not much information has been released yet, but it definitely will be a spectacle.

Other Festivals in Iceland in August 

Music festivals aside, there are many different events and festivals taking place in Iceland during August. Every year, Iceland has its Gay Pride Festival in Reykjavik. The turnout is in the thousands, and it is a fun, friendly festival where every race, gender, and creed come together in solidarity for the LGBT community. It is an event that highlights the year.

On August 11th there will also be the annual fireworks show at Jökulsárlón. This is sure to illuminate your life because the massive fireworks display contrasts the icy blue glaciers surrounding the lake. It is one of the most spectacular events of the year.

Gay Pride Festival in August in Reykjavik

Lastly, is the yearly Fish Festival in Dalvík. The 10th through the 12th of August will be the yummiest event of the year. Every August the families of Davík prepare fish and different local foods to bring to the town festival. The best part is that its free for everyone! If you are in the area and hungry, make sure you stop in!

Events and Festivals in Iceland During August

No matter what festival you choose to go to this August in Iceland, remember to have fun. August means the end of summer and the beginning of fall. For a lot of Iceland, this time signals the last time the weather will be decent till next spring. If you are in Iceland during August remember to investigate the festivals taking place in the towns you are visiting, because there are sure to be a few!

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Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Sustainable Tourism in Iceland

Tourism is the economic lifeblood for many countries around the world, and Iceland is no exception. With the massive influx of tourists growing each year, now more than ever it is paramount that tourists practice sustainable tourism in Iceland. The topic of sustainable tourism may sound a bit bland or dry at first glance. In fact, it is a fascinating practice which more people should implement in their daily lives. Sustainable tourism at its very core has three driving principles: leaving a place in better condition than when you arrived, driving profits generated from tourism back into preserving the environment and making sure that tourists not only indulge in novelty but also learn while appreciating the culture that they are visiting.

Sustainable tourism in Iceland means respecting plants and wildlife

The idea may be relatively new, but it is now more critical than ever that tourists adopt this new maxim surrounding travel. As the planet faces new environmental challenges, so too must we rise to the occasion and overcome them. Iceland is especially unique given its proximity to the Arctic Circle. The drastic rise of seawater can be seen no more apparent than throughout Iceland’s famous glacial fjords. They have seen a steady decline in their frozen structures, while simultaneously the oceans have risen.

The Future and Sustainable Tourism in Iceland

The warming of the planet is playing a massive role in changing Iceland’s culture and economy. Much of the country's economic strength is driven by both tourism and the fishing industry. It has a cyclical effect when tourism moves from the tourism mentioned above to mass tourism. Mass tourism is when people come to a new destination with no background on the culture, history, or environment, and only come to sightsee. While other cities and countries can get away with this, it is in Iceland’s best interest to promote sustainable tourism as much as possible. The effects caused by mass tourism are felt in real time here.

The future isn’t as dull and grim as I am making it out to be. Here, in Iceland, we are adopting the sustainable tourism method to ensure that the future generation of travelers and tourists can experience the wonder and majesty that is Iceland’s untouched landscapes. You don’t need to have a degree in environmental studies or sociology to practice sustainable tourism. Here are some quick tips to help you keep Iceland beautiful for both residents and visitors alike.

Research your Iceland trip before you go to learn about sustainable tourism

Do Research About Iceland Before Your Trip

Sustainable tourism is not only about keeping the environment intact, but also respecting the culture which you are visiting. The responsibility doesn’t fall solely on the traveler, and the host community must also be accepting and welcoming. This tacit agreement is unspoken and generally regarded as standard practice no matter where you travel. But, to get a sense of the culture, you are going to have to do a little research. Learning about a place before your visit shouldn’t feel like homework. Instead, it should get you excited for your trip!

Respect the Rules of the Country's Parks

I am a firm believer that rules are meant to be broken, except when it comes to the environment. The environment is too precious and fragile to break any rules with. It seems that we, as humans, have been breaking the rules for a while with regards to the environment. It is proving to have catastrophic ramifications. If the park signs say, “Don’t feed the animals,” please don’t feed the animals. Whatever the rule is, make sure to follow it. They are there for a reason. So try to be respectful and be a considerate, conscientious traveler.

Follow the rules in Thingvellier National Park

Waste Consciousness

My father used to say during a hiking or camping trip, “leave it better than you found it.” I never knew it until recently, but he was teaching me about sustainable tourism. This should be a no-brainer, yet some people completely disregard the environment and leave a mess after they are done enjoying it. Be aware of the things you bring in with you, and what you are leaving behind. Unless it is in your stomach or on your person, you should aim to take everything that you brought into an environmental area out with you. It is common sense, but you would be surprised how many people cannot follow this simple rule.

Final Thoughts on Sustainable Tourism in Iceland

Listed above are some easy and simple ways to make sure that you are the best tourist you can be during your trip to Iceland. These guidelines shouldn’t be exclusively practiced in Iceland. No matter where you go, whether it be travel or the daily commute, you should try to be respectful and aware of the effect you may have on your surroundings. Iceland is a prime example of a country whose future and livelihood depend on the willingness of its visitors to adopt sustainable tourism. This type of tourism is integral to ensuring the survival of our very fragile, magnificent planet. Remember: be aware of your actions, be mindful of the culture that you are visiting, and follow the rules. If you complete these three simple steps, you are on your way to becoming a model tourist!

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Friday, 6 July 2018

Iceland in Summer

Summer is a great time to visit Iceland. The country has shaken off the cold of winter and now the whole island comes alive. From hiking and other outdoor activities to summer festivals and the Midnight Sun, let’s talk about why summer is the best time of year to visit Iceland. If you come to the small Nordic island during the months of June, July or August you will surely not be disappointed.

Seljalandfoss in the distance with yellow wildflowers during Iceland in the summer

But first, let’s talk a little bit about the weather in Iceland during the summer months. When most people think of summer, they picture sweltering heat, tank tops, flip-flops, and swimming pools where they can take a dip to cool off. While these images are lovely, they don’t exactly convey the reality of Icelandic weather. Summer temperatures in Iceland have been known to reach a high of around 15 °C (59 °F), not exactly a heat wave. And because the weather is so unpredictable in Iceland, there have even been snowstorms in June! So make sure you pack the right clothes for your trip to Iceland.

Now that you’ve been warned about Icelandic weather, let’s take a look at some of the fun things you can do on the island during the summer months.

Summer Festivals in Iceland

A complete list of festivals and activities throughout the year can be found here on the official Iceland tourism website. It’s organized by month and each event has a short description and lists the website if you’d like to learn more.

Whale Watching and Puffin Watching 

Iceland is fortunate to be home to many different species of animals that you won’t find in many places. Booking excursions to view some of the islands flora and fauna in their natural habitat is a popular activity. Whether hopping on a boat to go whale watching or seeing the famous Icelandic puffins return home to form colonies and mate, animal lovers have a lot of options in Iceland.

Whale breaching off the coast of Húsavik in the summer

Hiking Landmannalaugar and other parts of the country 

Iceland’s famous Laugavegur Trail takes hikers from Landmannalaugar to Thórsmörk and back. You’ll see rolling green hills, colorful volcanic rock and black lava fields along this diverse route. For the especially adventurous, there are races through the countryside. Sign up for the Laugavegur Ultra Marathon if you'd like to join your fellow runners in taking on the Icelandic landscapes.

Visit Iceland’s Highlands 

During most of the year, the roads that access the inner parts of the country (F-Roads) are closed. They open up around the 2nd or 3rd week of June and provide an extra layer of adventure to your travels in Iceland. Please note, in order to drive on F-Roads and access Iceland’s Highlands, a 4x4 vehicle is mandatory.

Blahver at Hveravellir in Iceland's Highlands during the summer

Take a dip in one of the country’s many geothermal baths

While you can do this year round, it’s definitely easier to run around in your swimsuit when temperatures aren’t below freezing. And because the daylight hours are longer in summer, that gives you more time to spend at those roadside hot pots or geothermal hot springs you find along the way.

Whichever option you decide to choose, know that Iceland in the summer is when the country is at its best. You’ll find friendly people, lots of activities, and you are sure to have a good time. Tell us about your adventures and let us know your favorite things to do in Iceland during the summer.

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Thursday, 5 July 2018

History of the Icelandic Language

We’ll be the first ones to admit it. The Icelandic language is not one of the bigger, more popular languages like English, Spanish or French. Many language learning apps like Babbel and Duolingo don’t even offer it (but Mango Languages does!). With many people not knowing where Iceland is, and even fewer knowing what language they speak in Iceland, this comes as no surprise.

Language books for learning English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese

With a population of just under 340,000, Iceland is a small country, so we completely get the lack of demand for Icelandic language classes. That being said, Icelandic is just like the Nordic island itself: small but mighty! The common tongue has a fascinating history. Did you know that Icelandic children can read the old Viking Sagas in their original Old Norse? How cool is that? Let’s learn more about the history of the Icelandic language and its origins.

Anyone who has heard or read Icelandic can attest that it looks like some sort of Germanic language. They are absolutely right. Modern Icelandic descends from the North Germanic/Scandinavian branch of proto-Germanic, a language spoken as early as 500 BC. Eventually, this branch evolved into dialects like proto-Norse. Proto-Norse slowly became Old Norse, which was the language spoken by the Vikings around 800 AD.

Viking ships sailing to settle Iceland

So what does all of this have to do with Iceland? Well as everyone knows, Vikings were active in modern-day Norway, Sweden and Denmark. In the late 9th century, Vikings began to settle in Iceland. They brought with them their customs, their culture, and yes, their language. The Icelandic spoken by people in Iceland today derives directly from Old Norse, as do fellow Scandinavian languages Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Faroese. But there’s something about Icelandic that gives in an extra special place among its Scandinavian linguistic brethren.

What makes the Icelandic language special

Iceland is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean situated just below the Arctic Circle. When you look at Iceland on a map, it seems pretty lonely. But this isolation did have a linguistic benefit. Iceland’s location prevented its language from being too diluted or influenced by languages of nearby countries. As a result, Icelandic is the North Germanic language that most closely resembles the Old Norse spoken over a thousand years ago. The Viking Sagas and Eddas written around 800 years ago can still be read today because the language really has not changed that much. Not even English can say that!

Viking Sagas and Eddas written in Old Norse

The Icelandic Alphabet

Additionally, due to the language having its roots in Old Norse, the Icelandic alphabet has some characters that do not exist in the traditional Roman alphabet. Some letters that are not derived from Latin script are edh (Ð), thor (Þ) and ash (Æ). Don’t let these unfamiliar letters and spellings scare you though. Edh and thor are similar to the two ways of pronouncing TH in English (words like “this” or “thin”). Now that you are a linguistics expert, you can go out and spread the word. In Iceland they speak Icelandic, the cool language inherited from the Vikings.

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Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Driving in Iceland - How long does it take to get to the country's main attractions?

When planning a road trip to Iceland, you might find yourself looking at the Ring Road or Iceland’s attractions on a map and wondering exactly how long it will take to get to each place. Whether planning your itinerary for five days, seven days or more, it’s smart to ask yourself this, despite the fact that Google Maps already tells you approximate times and distances. The reason is that depending on the weather and season, the drive from Reykjavik to Vatnajökull can take as little as four hours or as many as seven. Crazy, right? But with the constantly changing weather, road conditions in Iceland are completely unpredictable, so it’s best to have a general idea. Don’t worry, your favorite Iceland travel blog is here to help. We’re going to tell you how long it takes to drive around Iceland as well as the times and distances between Iceland’s must-sees.

View from car of Iceland's Ring Road with mountains in the distance

So let’s get right to it! What are Iceland’s most famous place to visit and how long does it take to drive to them? We’re going to assume that you’re coming from Reykjavik since that is where the majority of our visitors fly into.

Driving Around Iceland’s Ring Road

First and foremost, let’s talk about Iceland’s Ring Road. The circular route measures 1,332 km (828 mi) and if you drive around it without making any stops, it will take you at least 12-13 hours (assuming a speed of around 100km per hour). You didn’t come to Iceland to spend the whole time driving in a circle though, so of course, you’re not just going to see how quickly you can complete the Ring Road. It’s not a race! There will be stops along the way to visit national parks, snap photos of waterfalls, and take a dip in roadside hot pots and hot springs. You also have to plan for inclement weather and other unexpected surprises such as sheep blocking your way, so we think 16-18 hours is a much more realistic estimate for driving around Iceland’s Ring Road.

Driving to the Blue Lagoon

This turquoise blue wonder, with its healing, silica-infused waters lies 50km (31mi) southeast of Reykjavik. It takes about 40 minutes to drive there but in the winter or in unpredictable weather, allow yourself 50 minutes.

Volcanic rocks, walkway and bathers at Iceland's Blue Lagoon

Driving to Golden Circle

The Golden Circle isn’t actually a destination but rather a collection of three different places of interest. If you look at the Golden Circle on a map, you’ll see it’s not a circle at all! If you drive the route in a straight line, you come to Thingvellir National Park after about an hour. Continue and you’ll reach Geysir after another 40 minutes. 10-15 minutes further up the road from Geysir is Gullfoss waterfall. The total distance is 109km (68mi). But driving back the way you came would be boring, right?

What gives the Golden Circle its “circular” name is that most people swing by Hveragerdi and Reykjadalur hot spring area on their way back to Reykjavik. The geothermal zone is located about 40 minutes from Iceland’s capital city. In total, it takes about 3.5 to four hours to complete the Golden Circle in the summer and around 5 in the winter. This obviously doesn’t include the time you stop in each location.

Driving Times to Iceland’s Major Attractions on Iceland’s South Coast

While not everyone has time to drive around the entire island, most visitors to Iceland do take time to explore the country’s south coast. This route takes you from Reykjavik all the way to Vatnajökull National Park. The park is also home to the breathtaking Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. The southern coast of Iceland is home to some of the country’s most iconic attractions, including Seljalandsfoss waterfall and the black sand, volcanic beaches of Vík.

Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss

It takes about 1.5 - 2 hours to drive to the beautiful Seljalandsfoss waterfall from Reykjavik. You may also want to go further along the route to take in Skógafoss waterfall which is about an extra half hour away. Seljalandsfoss is 121km (75mi) from the capital and visiting Skógafoss adds another 29 km (18 mi) to your trip. It’s possible to do both on a day trip from Reykjavik.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall at sunset

Driving from Reykjavik to Vík

The 179km (111 mi) journey from Reykjavik to Vik takes about 2.5 to 3 hours. During the winter give yourself an extra hour. You may want to take even longer, as both Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls are on the way from Reykjavík to Vík. They definitely warrant a stop on your Icelandic itinerary and if you’ve got the time, why not?

Driving from Reykjavik to Vatnajökull 

Vatnajökull National Park is huge, so the driving times we state are to get to the edges of the park. Should you decide to drive directly to Vatnajökull from Reykjavik without stopping at Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss or Vík it will take 4-6 hours to make the 322km (200mi) drive. In the winter when conditions are worse, give yourself 5-7 hours. We realize two hours is quite a margin of difference, but because of how long the road is and factors like how often you prefer to stop and for how long. We don’t want to tell you 4-5 hours when really it will take 6-7 depending on the circumstances. It’s up to you, the weather, and the sheep.

Other trips from Reykjavik 

North of Iceland's capital lies Snaefellsnes Peninsula, which makes for a great Reykjavik day trip. At 150km (93 mi), it takes about three hours in the summer but in the winter give yourself three and a half. This little corner of the country has been described as the best of Iceland. You’ve got a volcano, a glacier, lava fields, and even a black pebble beach. It’s a veritable microcosm of everything the small Nordic nation has to offer.

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Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Vikings in Iceland - Their History and Culture

We all have heard about Vikings. Thousands of legends and myths tell stories about the feared men from the North. From frightening stories about how vicious they were to how they were able to tame the seas while looking for new land. Many of these stories are true, but not all of them. Do you want to learn about the people that colonized Iceland? Then stick around because we are about to get historical up in here!

History teacher with books about Vikings

Where do Vikings originally come from?

Vikings came from the cold northern European region of Scandinavia. Even though nowadays we think of them as a whole, Viking tribes came from three different large territories. These were Denmark, Norway and Sweden; the Danish group being the largest one. Even though they had the same language and religion, their interests were a bit different.

The Danish tended to look for spoils in foreign lands, the Norwegians liked to find new places to live and the Swedes preferred exploring Russia and Western Europe. The word “Viking” in our modern language seems to derive from the old Scandinavian word “Vikingr,” and it described anyone who leaves their homeland in search of new lands and wealth. The verb “víking” means to travel or be a part of those adventures. To a certain extent, the word can also mean “pirate.” Modern Icelandic is something else inherited from the Vikings, but more on that later.

What did Vikings look like?

The image we have in our minds of Vikings is of tall, strong, blond people with horned helmets, long beards and menacing looks. Historians have already confirmed the horned helmet story is not true. It was a slanderous legend to depict them as demons and savage people.

Pillaging, vicious wildmen are what we associate with the Vikings

As far as looks are concerned, Vikings did have quite fair complexions, but there was some diversity. Not every Viking was blond-haired and blue-eyed. There were also Vikings with fair skin and dark hair. There were even a few redheads. Many people would be surprised to know that the average height of Vikings in the Middle Ages was 1.7 meters for men and 1.58 for women. This translates to roughly 5 foot 8 for men and 5 foot 2 for women. By today’s standards, this is not exactly tall, but back in the olden days, they were approximately 10 centimeters (4 inches) taller than their European neighbors.

What was Viking culture like?

The legacy of the Vikings continues to this day. They created an alphabet called “runes,” and they used it to described their world and their customs.

Before converting to Christianity, Vikings were pagan and had a large pantheon where the main god was Odin. They had two main groups of gods: The Vanir and the Aesir. Odin, Thor and Freyja belong to the Aesir and dwell in the Asgard, a place connected to earth. Most of the mythology and legends about gods, trolls, elves and magical creatures remains within Scandinavian countries. Vikings spoke old Norse and as they colonized other lands, new dialects were created. These dialects evolved into the modern languages we know today: Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Icelandic and Faroese. From all of these languages, Icelandic is the one that remains closest to the original old Norse. But why? Well, let’s find out!

Scandinavian runes. Icelandic descended from Old Norse.

Vikings Settlements in Iceland 

The Vikings started their settlement of Iceland around the 874 AD. They discovered the island by mistake while trying to navigate to Scotland and the Faroese Islands. The Nordic island was then a migration point for thousands of Vikings, most of whom came from Norway with their slaves from Ireland and Scotland.

As Iceland is a remote island in the North Atlantic Ocean, the settled area remained isolated for thousands of years. Old Norse evolved into Icelandic, but due to the aforementioned isolation, Icelandic does not have a heavy influence from other foreign languages and remains close to its original roots. Nowadays, even Icelandic children can read the old Nordic sagas in their original language and can understand them. Amazing, right?

So now you know. Stop wearing those horned helmets on Halloween or Mardi Gras if you want to be historically accurate. Now that you are an expert on Vikings you'll need to live up to your title.

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