Monday, 13 May 2019

Iceland Car Rental Insurance: Do I Need It?

When picking up your rental at the airport, one of the first things the person behind the counter asks is if you’d like the optional insurance. As a savvy traveler you think to yourself “Nah, it’s just an upsell and a waste of money”. I agree in most cases, but there’s something you should know. Iceland car rental insurance is different because driving here is unlike anything you can imagine. And believe it or not, car rental insurance in Iceland exists to protect you and will actually save you money. Let me explain.

Car rental insurance form in Iceland

The Five Type of Car Rental Insurance in Iceland 

There are five basic types of car rental insurance in Iceland. One comes standard (by law) on all rentals and the other four are optional. You might not be familiar with all of them, as some are very specific to Iceland. We’re a small, stormy, volcanic island filled with capricious weather, harsh elements, and challenging road conditions.

This little cocktail means that there are lots of dangers lurking and waiting to do damage to your rental. And that’s why these special types of insurance were created; they tailor to Iceland’s unique elements and will save you money in the long run. Let’s look at all five, what they cover, and which ones are right for you.

Collision Damage Waiver (CDW Insurance) 

This is also known as car rental excess insurance in Iceland. It protects you in the event of an accident. This type of coverage is required by law, so it’s the only Iceland car rental insurance included in the price. The rest are considered “extras”. This insurance is required because quite frankly, road conditions can be tricky. All of that snow and ice means more dangerous driving conditions than what most tourists are used to back home.

Iceland car rental insurance is necessary in the Highlands

Super Collision Damage Waiver (SCDW Insurance) 

Think of SCDW coverage as supercharged CDW insurance. It serves the same purpose (protects you in the case of accidents), but with SCDW your deductible is lowered. If you have an accident, you pay less. I know more experienced drivers might be thinking to themselves “I’m a safe driver. I don’t need insurance”. But remember; it takes to two have an accident. The other motorist could lose control of their vehicle, skid or slide into yours, and cause dents or damage to your rental. And you’ll have to pay for it.

Sand and Ash Protection (SAAP) 

Something that surprises a lot of first-time visitors to Iceland is that we have sandstorms. As in, middle of the desert, can’t see anything, take cover until it’s over sandstorms. This is due to our volcanoes. All of that volcanic activity means that the sand and ash which is spewed into the air eventually settles on the ground. Iceland is a very windy place, so it’s not uncommon to have your car get scratched by these erosion-causing elements. If you’re traveling along the South Coast, SAAP is highly advisable, as that’s where our most recent volcanic eruptions have been.

Gravel Protection (GP) 

With your Iceland car rental, gravel insurance is a must if you plan on traveling to the Highlands. This interior zone of Iceland is made up entirely of gravel roads. They’re known as F-roads (mountain roads) and are filled with gravel and little pebbles that will cause damage to your car. Even going slowly, you’ll still get hit. Plus there are rocks flying from oncoming traffic as well as any vehicles you are driving behind. Parts of the Ring Road are unpaved gravel as well.

Gravel roads need Iceland car rental insurance

Theft Protection (TP) 

Theft protection is really not that necessary. It protects you in the event of your car being stolen, but to be honest that doesn’t really happen here. Many companies include it automatically because they’re not that worried about it.

What Insurance Won’t Cover 

Even if you do get the full suite of auto insurance in Iceland, that doesn’t mean that you’ve got carte blanche to do whatever you want. You still have to be a smart driver and not do anything dumb.

Trying to cross a river in a 4x4 without knowing its depth falls under this category. There are parts of Iceland’s interior where at a certain part of an F-road, you’ll reach an unbridged river. If it’s shallow, then of course, you can cross. But if you try to ford a river and get in too deep, your motor will end up underwater. It will flood, your car will stall, and you’ll have to pay for a waterlogged engine.

Iceland Car Rental Insurance: Do I Need It? 

In a word, yes. If I can offer any Iceland car rental insurance tips or advice, it would be to get full coverage, especially if you plan on traveling in winter or heading for the Highlands. There’s also something very important to keep in mind. Sometimes the cost of one, some or all of these types of insurance will already be included in the price of your rental. Look at what type of insurance is included when comparison shopping and looking at quotes from different car rental companies.

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Monday, 6 May 2019

Icelandic Road Signs and What They Mean

Driving in Iceland will be a new experience for you in many ways. From the unpaved F-roads of the Highlands to the sometimes snowy road conditions, you’ll definitely encounter something unexpected. While driving safety is a primary concern, there is another important one. Recognizing Icelandic road signs and knowing what they mean can help you stay away from tricky situations or even avoid an accident. If you’re not familiar with them, here are some common road signs in Iceland and their meanings.

Road sign in Iceland showing the speed limits and road rules

The Speed Limit in Iceland 

During your trip, the maximum speed is 90 km/h (55 mph) on paved roads in rural areas. It lowers to 80 km/h (50 mph) on unpaved ones in the same kind of zones. Once you get close towns, villages, cities, or any other type of inhabited area, you have to slow down to 50 km/h (30 mph).

When looking at the road sign in the picture above, you’ll see a kind of table for the speed limit. Across the top, there’s a yellow and black column for urban areas and then two with a red stripe representing rural areas. Below those are the symbols for gravel roads (with the little rocks flying) and paved roads. And notice that on the left, passengers must always wear their seatbelts. The car’s headlights must also be on at all times.

Single lane bridge (Einbreið Brú)  sign in Iceland

Single Lane Bridge (Einbreið Brú) 

If you’re circumnavigating Iceland on the island’s Ring Road, most of what you’ll find is a single, two-lane highway. There’s one lane for cars moving in each direction, and you’ll have to be careful when passing or overtaking. Oncoming vehicles on blind hills or blind curves can be quite dangerous.

There are some single-lane bridges (Einbreið Brú) in the country, and you’ll see this sign when coming upon on them. The protocol is that whichever vehicle is closet to the bridge has the right of way and gets to pass first. The car, camper, motorhome, or truck coming from the opposite direction should pull over to let the other vehicle cross the bridge first.

Single lane tunnel (Einbreid Göng) sign in Iceland

Single Lane Tunnel (Einbreid Göng) 

Single lane tunnels in Iceland (Einbreid Göng) are very similar to single lane bridges. It can become quite a sticky situation if both vehicles enter the bridge or the tunnel at the same time. As you can imagine, it’s best to avoid this scenario. The safety protocol for this situation is exactly the same as for bridges. Slow down, pull to the right, and let the other vehicle go through the tunnel before you.

Malbik Endar road sign in Iceland where paved road changes to gravel

Málbik Endar (Paved Road Changing to Gravel) 

While 97% of the Ring Road is paved, there are parts where it changes to gravel for a bit. You need to be warned about this in advance so you have the necessary time needed to brake and slow down. Not only is the speed limit slower than on paved roads, but the sudden surface change could easily cause you to lose control of your vehicle if you don’t approach at a slower speed.

Iceland road sign warning about sheep

Watch Out For Sheep 

We love our sheep here in Iceland. So much so that we let them roam freely. This becomes a problem for foreign drivers who may not be used to sheep blocking the road or darting out into traffic. When you see this sign, it means to be on high alert for sheep. Slow down and be vigilant, as sometimes the sound of an approaching motor will cause the sheep to suddenly run out into the road.

It won’t just be a tragic accident either. You’ll have to pay the cost of our now deceased wooly little friend to the farmer who owned it.

Road Signs in the Highlands 

Iceland’s Highlands have an unusual terrain that requires a special type of vehicle for precarious conditions. Even after you’ve rented a 4x4, there are still some obstacles on your path while driving. Buckle up; there are difficult roads ahead.

Obruadar ar Icelandic road sign warning about unbridged rivers in the Highlands

River Crossings with No Bridge (Óbrúadar Ár) 

This is something unique to Iceland’s Highlands. The country’s F-roads feature endless kilometers of unpaved, gravel roads that take you in and around the mountains. There are also parts of our wild backcountry that are wide, open spaces with nothing but you and dramatic backdrop of jaw-dropping Icelandic scenery.

You’ll see the Óbrúadar Ár sign as you’re approaching a river with no bridge. Be very careful with these types of crossings. We all have our Jumanji dreams of fording a river Oregon Trail style. But the reality is that if we get too far underwater, the engine gets flooded and the car stops, possibly permanently. It’s an expensive repair not covered under any type of rental insurance.

Difficult Terrain (Seinfarinn Vegur) 

The roads in Iceland’s Highlands are already tricky. So when you see the sign for difficult terrain (Seinfarinn vegur or Torleidi), you know you got something coming. The road surface will be extremely difficult, even if your car rental is a 4x4 SUV, and it's going to be a bit complicated to drive. As always, exercise caution, drive safely and use good sense. Icelandic roads definitely provide a challenge, and these ones especially so.

Whenever you encounter difficult road conditions, avoid jerking your steering wheel around and try to keep your movements smooth.

Icelandic Road Signs and What They Mean

Now that you’re armed with a little more information about road signs Iceland, you’ll be able to have a safer, more enjoyable trip. Road conditions are probably unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Now you’ve got the knowledge to help you drive safely in Iceland. And as they say, knowledge is power.

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Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Hatari - Iceland's Entry for Eurovision 2019

There’s something very special that happens every year for those of us who live in Europe. Right around springtime, we start listening to new groups, new music, and new songs from different countries all around the continent. It is the unmistakable sign that we are getting closer and closer to the Eurovision Song Contest. What has Iceland prepared this year to surprise our European neighbors? If you are curious to know the Icelandic entry for this magnificent competition, stay tuned because I'm sure you’ll have very strong feelings about it one way or the other.

Iceland's entry for Eurovision 2019 is Hatari

Eurovision Song Contest 

I know that many of our dear readers don’t live in Europe, so it’s likely that you’ve never heard of Eurovision. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, let’s clarify things a bit before we dive into the article.

The Eurovision song festival is an international competition. The contests are mainly from European countries, and it’s held every year in different countries around the continent. All the participating countries submit a singer or group to represent them. And the song they perform must be 100% original and created specifically for the festival. Many times the winner goes on to have the “song of the summer” and it’s all you hear in bars, clubs, and discos for the next few months. It’s a bit like American Idol or Pop Idol, but on a more global scale.

In the lyrics, you should not include political content that can cause tensions among the various nations that participate in it. The venue of the festival each year is assigned to the country that won the competition the previous year. This 2019, Eurovision will be held in Tel Aviv, Israel.

A Truly International Competition

I know what you’re going to say. “Wait a minute! Israel’s not in Europe”! Relax, there’s no need to panic. What they taught you in geography class was true, Israel is not in Europe. What happens is that with the passage of time, the festival has gained participants from outside of European borders. Therefore, it has allowed countries located in other areas of the globe, such as Australia, to compete.

The way it works is that the festival has a first gala where the songs that move on to the final are pre-selected. Then, on the big night, the finalists perform their songs and a winner is crowned. Both the citizens of all participating countries and a professional jury vote in the competition. This makes up an audience of some 200 million people. Awesome, right? And did you know that artists the caliber of ABBA, Julio Iglesias or Bonnie Tyler have appeared in the contest? As citizens of Sweden, Spain, and Wales (UK) they were all eligible to represent their respective countries. French-Canadian singer Celine Dion has also made an appearance.

Iceland’s Participation in Eurovision

This small Nordic nation has participated no less than 31 times since it debuted in 1986. Unfortunately, much like the World Cup, we have never won. But we have finished a close second twice. With artists Selma in 1999 and Yohanna in 2009. The song that Yohanna sang was called "Is it True?" And it was also recorded in Spanish, in case anyone wants to listen to it under the name "Si te vas" Now, just like everyone else, we keep trying our best to win every year.

In the case of Iceland, we have submitted songs in both English and Icelandic. This has led us to have several contestants in the top five of the songs the most voted during many years. Most of our contestants have had the musical style of a calm and melodic pop tune or a soft and catchy rock anthem. This year, everything changed. Maybe taking a huge risk and completely changing directions will pay off with a victory?

Icelandic band Hatari is competing in Eurovision 2019 in Tel Aviv, Israel

Hatari - Eurovision 2019

This year I don’t know if we will be the winners of the festival. But I can definitely assure you that we will not leave anyone indifferent. The submission that won the votes of the Söngvakeppnin, which is the national gala to choose our Eurovision representative, was Hatari.

Hatari is a band made up of three friends who met at the art school. They are Klemens Hannigan, Matthias Tryggvi Haraldson, and Einar Stéfansson. They define themselves as a sadomasochistic and anti-capitalist techno group. According to the band's own members, participating in Eurovision brings them closer to their goal of destroying capitalism. It's definitely not very typical Icelandic music. With this brief description, I think that you already have an idea of what is to come.

The song presented to and chosen by the public was "Hatrið Mun Sigra". Translated into English it means "Hate will prevail". I warn you that I am not a professional music critic, so you can pay attention to what I’m about to say or not. When I heard the song for the first time, I thought: this is Rammstein singing a duet with Depeche Mode mixed with Marilyn Manson and a few droplets reminiscent of Slipknot to mixed in to refine the sound aesthetic. I have not recovered from listening to it yet. Perhaps that is exactly what will happen to Europe and Israel at the next festival: it will be difficult for them to recover.

A Controversial Eurovision Submission

There are currently rumors that Israel, the host of the festival that year, might ban the group from participating because Hatari is currently boycotting the Hebrew country.

The contrast between the message of this year's candidate and the one we sent last year is so strong that is has been mocked on social media. In 2018 Ari Ólafsson sang a soft yet powerful ballad whose message spoke of peace, unity, helping each other, creating change and promoting love. This year Iceland has decided to take a walk on the dark side. The lyrics to "Hatrið Mun Sigra" are written entirely in Icelandic. Here’s the translation to English, which I think speak for themselves. I’ll let you be the judge.

Svallið var hömlulaust - Unrestricted libertinism
Þynnkan er endalaus - An excessive hangover
Lífið er tilgangslaust - Life is meaningless
Tómið heimtir alla - Emptiness will consume everything
Hatrið mun sigra - Hate will prevail
Gleðin tekur enda - All joy will be spoiled
Endar er hún blekking - It's all just an illusion
Svikul tálsýn - A fictional longing
Allt sem ég sá - It's all I saw
Runnu niður tár - Tears falling crudely
Allt sem ég gaf - Everything I have given
Eitt sinn gaf - Everything I once gave
Ég gaf þér allt - I gave it all to you

Alhliða blekking - Universal confusion
Einhliða refsingar - Unilateral Abomination
Auðtrúa aumingjar - Of a naive hope
Flóttinn tekur enda - The exit ends
Tómið heimtir alla - Emptiness will consume everything
Hatrið mun sigra - Hate will prevail

Evrópa hrynja - And Europe will collapse
Vefur lyga - Burning it entire network of lies
Rísið úr öskunni - Get out of the ashes
Sameinuð sem eitt - Unified as one
Allt sem ég sa - Everything I saw
Runnu niður tár - The tears falling crudely
Allt sem ég gaf - Everything I have given
Eitt sinn gaf - Everything I once gave
Ég gaf þér allt - I gave it all to you
Allt sem ég sa - Everything I saw
Runnu niður tár - Tears falling crudely

Allt sem ég gaf - Everything I have given
Eitt sinn gaf -  Everything I once gave
Ég gaf þér allt - I gave it all to you
Hatrið mun sigra - Hate will prevail
Ástin deyja - Love will not help
Hatrið mun sigra - Hate will prevail
Gleðin tekur enda - All joy will be spoiled
Endar er hún blekking - It's just an illusion
Svikul tálsýn - A fictional longing
Hatrið mun sigra - Hate will prevail

Definitely a bit dark, wouldn't you say?

Hatari performing their Eurovision entry "Hate will prevail"

Hatari - Iceland's Entry for Eurovision 2019

After listening to this not-so-hopeful take on life, I would love for you to leave your comments with what you think of our Eurovision entry. Of course, you can also tell us your favorite countries and groups you’re cheering for. If you have never seen Eurovision, I encourage you that this May 18th, you tune into the broadcast and enjoy this one-one-a-kind musical spectacle with us.

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Friday, 5 April 2019

Traveling Through Iceland by Car with Children - Car Seat Safety and Airbags

Preparing for a trip to Iceland requires taking many details into account. If we add in going with the smallest members of the household, we must consider a few more. Traveling in Iceland with children means we have to do some extra planning Most people are aware that road rules may vary from country to country. But sometimes, we tend to forget that child safety requirements may also be different. This is the case of booster seats, safety seats, and other child restraint systems. Let’s look at what the child safety seat and seatbelt requirements are in Iceland.

Baby being safely fastened into car seat in Iceland car rental

Road trips in Iceland are the most popular form of tourism in the country. Visitors travel by rental car, motorhome or camper. Therefore, it is important to know what the law requires in terms of child safety seats. Those of you who are parents will already have it fairly down pat. You’ve no doubt been using a car seat since the day you brought your precious little one home from the hospital. If you travel with young children, you know that a safe and appropriate booster seat or child seat is required. When we talk about children, it’s more complex than the systems that adults use. We just have to fasten our seatbelts and that’s about it. But in the case of children, everything varies depending on their height, weight, and age.

Compatibility of Car Seat Installation 

Child safety seats are divided into three large groups: universal, semi-universal and specific to certain car models. Many parents want to bring their tried and true seats to Iceland because they are accustomed to the way they are fastened or installed. This is completely understandable, but not all seats work with or fit all models of cars. For this reason, it is important to contact your rental agency and ask what type of system your car is compatible with.

Personally, I think the easiest thing is to get a seat directly from the rental company. That way, we are assured compatibility. You also get the added benefit of avoiding the hustle and bustle that comes with carrying to a child’s car seat to the airport in addition to hauling your luggage.

In Iceland, the standard system in use is ISOFIX. It is a car seat system that doesn’t require the use of a seatbelt. It is easy to install and usually warns if the seat is not properly installed. ISOFIX is the international standard, and in Europe, it is the system used by default. In Iceland, almost all cars manufactured from 2013 onward have it. In other countries like the United States, they have the same system but it's called called LATCH. In Canada, it’s called LUAS or Canfix. So, if you visit us from there, you know what we are talking about. You may also hear it referred to as the "Universal Child Safety Seat System" or UCSSS.

Baby sleeping in car seat in Iceland

Traveling Through Iceland by Car with Children - Types of Child Safety Seats 

Icelandic law dictates that car seats must be adapted to children according to their age and weight. Although usually, weight is frequently more of a determining factor than age for these types of systems. That is why you will find them available by age and weight at rental companies. Here are some guidelines:

Infants and Babies 0-2 years of age (0-13kg or 0-28lbs) 

This category is fine for both car seats and baby carriers. It is important that the seat is always facing backward.

Toddlers and Young Children 1-4 years (9-18kg or 20-40lbs) 

For children slightly larger than the previous group, we usually use some sort of chair. In Iceland, the child safety seat system usually has five anchor points.

Children 4-10 years of age (15-36kg or 33-79lbs)

When the child reaches this group, you don’t need a child safety seat with internal support. It then becomes a kind of high chair with a tall back that uses the seat belt as a means of restraint.

A Chair Without a Backrest 

This type of chair is only recommended for children who have already reached a minimum height of 135cm (53 inches or just under four and a half feet). Car rental companies also usually have these available.

Iceland with children - car seat safety

Car Travel in Iceland with Children - Where Should They Sit? 

Under Icelandic law, no child under 135 centimeters (4.5 feet) can go in the front seat if there is an activated airbag. It is recommended that they always travel in the back seat.

Airbags are one of the most important safety features of a car. If they are not used correctly, there can be serious consequences for both adults and children. Many parents will notice that campers or motorhomes lack seats in the rear of the vehicle. In this case, you must choose another model which has the correct type of seats. After speaking with several rental companies, the general consensus is that they are not authorized to deactivate the front airbag. If you do this, the liability and the fine will fall entirely on the driver. And you know, nothing in Iceland is cheap. Fines are no exception.

In this case, not only is the financial aspect important, but it’s also a safety issue for all travelers. Driving through Iceland is quite different compared to other countries. The weather is usually inclement, and road conditions vary constantly. Therefore, it is always advisable to follow the instructions given by those who know best regarding these issues.

Traveling Through Iceland by Car with Children - Car Seat Safety and Airbags

We hope this article has been useful to you to understand how child safety seats and airbags work in Iceland. If you have very specific questions about your situation or your child, it is always good to consult with your rental company. They can best advise you about what to do. I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that we have a few articles of activities with children in Iceland to browse. So if you can mix safety with fun, even better, right? Have a happy and safe trip!

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Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Iceland's April Weather: Temperatures and Snowfall

With Iceland’s spring upon us, it’s time to shake off the cold, dreary days of winter and head into the warm, sunny days of summer. Iceland’s weather in April represents a turning point as temperatures slowly begin to rise from their freezing winter lows. April is a great month to visit Iceland as we haven’t quite arrived at the tourist high season, so prices will still be relatively low and the places you go will not be as crowded. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to see the Northern Lights again until September. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy all of the other outdoor activities that the country has to offer. Let’s look at one of the most important factors affecting your April trip to Iceland: the weather.

Iceland's Godafoss waterfall covered in April snow

Average Temperatures in April 

Please keep in mind that everything is relative. What we in Iceland might consider warm could be thought of as winter weather in a tropical destination like Belize or the Bahamas. It all depends on what you’re used to, right? So let’s get right to it. What are the average highs and lows in Iceland in April?

Let’s start with the chilly lows. Near the beginning of the month, the average low in Reykjavik is around 30 ºF (-1.1 ºC). By the end of the month, the mercury reading on the thermometer rises to around 37 ºF (2.8 ºC). See? I told you not to bust out the tank tanks and flip flops just yet. Average highs in Reykjavik are slightly better. The month starts out on a pretty cold note with an average temperature of just 40 ºF (4.4 ºC). By the end of the month, the high hovers around 45º F (7 ºC). Still quite chilly, so you’ll have to bundle up. And if you’re lucky, there might be a few days with 50º (10 ºC) weather. Keep those fingers crossed!

Average Monthly High in Reykjavik: 30-37 ºF (-1.1 to 2.8 ºC)
Average Monthly Low in Reykjavik: 40-47 ºF (4.4 to 7 ºC)

Iceland's April temperatures and snow

Average April Precipitation in Iceland 

April sees a drop in precipitation from what the country experienced in March, one of the island's wettest months. You still have rain, sleet, snow, and some hail for about half of the month. Total precipitation in areas like Reykjavik average about 2.3 inches (5.8 cm). The South of Iceland is the wettest part of the country, so you’ll find more precipitation there than in the drier north. Iceland is pretty wet all year long, so make sure you pack the right clothes to face the wet and windy elements. Waterproof boots, impermeable rain jackets, and clothing that will keep you dry are indispensable for your trip to Iceland in April. As we all know, the only thing worse than being cold is being cold and wet, right?

Average Precipitation in Iceland in April: 2.3 inches (5.8 cm)

Does it Snow in Iceland in April? 

Unfortunately, I have to be the bearer of bad news. April is considered a transitional month as far as Icelandic weather is concerned. You haven’t quite escaped chilly snowfall as April is still a part of the snowy season in Iceland. Basically, this means that you could have a cold, sunny day that is suddenly transformed into a whiteout snowstorm. The best advice I can give for Iceland’s famously capricious weather is to always expect the unexpected. That way, you will never be surprised.

April weather in Iceland snowstorm

Average Daylight Hours and Sunshine 

Iceland's weather in April wouldn’t be complete without mention of the hours of daylight and sunshine that you are exposed to during this spring month. The island’s far northern latitude means that both winter and summer sunshine hours are going to be extreme. Thankfully, by April Iceland has returned to sunrise and sunset times that can be considered relatively normal. In fact, with almost 17 hours of daylight toward the end of the month, you’ll be having very long days filled with plenty of sunlight. You can definitely tell that we’re heading towards the summer equinox and the almost neverending Midnight Sun.

April 1st: Sunrise at 6:47 am and sunset at 8:18 pm for a total of 13.5 hours of daylight
April 15th: Sunrise at 5:57 am and sunset at 9:00 pm for a total of 15 hours of daylight
April 30th: Sunrise at 5:04 am and sunset at 9:47 pm for a total of nearly 17 hours of daylight

Iceland's April Weather 

While Iceland’s April weather is definitely warmer than February or March, you’ll still need to come prepared to face the elements. Be sure to pack thermal clothing in your suitcase so you’ll always have something warm to wear. Dress in layers that keep your skin warm and dry and keep out moisture and precipitation. April is a great month to visit Iceland, and the weather is conducive to you having a great time. Enjoy your holidays in Iceland in April!

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Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Iceland Travel: Requirements and Documentation

Traveling is usually synonymous with pleasant activities. You’ve got free time, relaxation, discovering other cultures and doing everything you've always dreamed of. Travel is a big item on many people’s bucket lists. There are also more practical considerations to keep in mind, however. We want you to have all the information you need for your trip, not just a list of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland or the best things to do. Bureaucracy crops up in almost every aspect of life, and travel is no different. Depending on the country you come from, there will be certain requirements and documentation to travel to Iceland. So let's talk a little about it.

Passport and visa requirements for Iceland travel

Borders exist; this is a fact. And we have to abide by the norms and laws of each country; this is another fact. So, if we want to have a stress-free trip without worries or problems at Border Control, we need to have everything in order. Normally, all the paperwork and requirements can be confusing and even tedious, so I’ll try to provide this information in the simplest, clearest way possible.

Required ID for Travel to Iceland

Let’s start with the most basic things: they need to be able to identify us at the borders. The requirements change depending on where you come from. The two main groups are travelers from the EU and travelers outside of the EU.

Travelers From the EU 

If you are a citizen of a member country of the European Union or you reside legally in any country of the Schengen area, then you can travel with your ID card or residence card. Of course, it must be valid and not expired when traveling to Iceland or during your stay.

It’s important to check the expiration date of your identification documents. In some places, it takes a long time to schedule an appointment for renewal. We want to start the trip off on a good foot and not run into any problems too early! If your ID is old, unusable or missing, don’t worry. You still have an option B. Your passport is also valid for travel to Iceland. But again, please verify that it has not passed the expiration date and that it will be valid during the entirety of your trip to Iceland.

Travelers from Areas Outside the EU 

For our friends from more distant borders, I am afraid that ID cards or driver’s licenses are not valid means of identification at the Icelandic border. But that’s perfectly fine. Do you have a valid passport valid? Well, then you’ve already completed the first step.

Passport and visa requirements for Iceland

Travel to Iceland - Visas 

As many of you already know, there are certain countries that require special permission to enter. This happens for thousands of reasons, and to be honest, we don’t want this article to turn into an encyclopedia-length tome. In short, let's just say that much of it has to do with treaties between nations. The visa issue is very important because it is one of the keys (although not the only one) as to whether or not you can cross the border, and for how long. But what exactly is a visa?

If it's the first time you’re traveling, this term may be foreign to you. Do not worry, that's why we're here. For the uninitiated, a visa is an official document issued by the country you want to travel to which authorizes entry. Normally it is a special sticker that is placed in your passport. The thing is, not all countries require it for everyone. In the specific case that concerns us, Iceland, the following distinctions are usually made:

Travelers from the EU 

Thanks to the treaties between the European nations and the so-called Schengen area, if you come from a country in the European Union or one attached to that treaty, you do not need a visa.

Travelers to Iceland from Other Countries (Non-EU) 

This is when it gets a little more complicated, simply because there are so many countries outside of the European Union. Many of our readers come from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. With the exception of South Africa, none of these countries need a visa.

And here is a full list of the countries that require a visa in Iceland.

Visa Requirements For Travel to Iceland 

For those who do need a visa, it is necessary to present the following documents to the Icelandic authorities:

  • A filled-out application form
  • A passport-sized photograph (35x45mm)
  • A valid passport with an expiration date at least three months after the date of return from Iceland. That is, if you travel on July 20, 2019, the passport must expire on October 20, 2019 at the earliest.
  • Proof of financial means. This is usually the balance of the bank account, your salary, savings or the income obtained in the previous fiscal year.
  • Proof that the traveler intends to return to their country of origin. This means some sort of obligation to return to the country of origin, such as a work contract, proof of being enrolled in a university with a plan to return to continue with your studies, etc.
  • Medical insurance that covers up to 2,000,000 ISK (around $16,500 or 14,600€)
  • Documents that prove the purpose of the trip. For example, if it’s for leisure, the accommodation reservations, the reservations for the places that you are going to visit, and of course, roundtrip flights.

Some countires require a visa for Iceland

Travel to Iceland - Length of Stay 

Now we’ve gone through the most rigorous and strictest part, we can talk about your stay in Iceland and how much we will be able to enjoy the country. As a general rule, anyone who doesn’t need a visa and those who have a tourist visa can stay in the country for up to 90 days.

That is more than enough time for you to enjoy all the beauty that a country like Iceland has to offer. The truth is that the average traveler usually spends between five to ten days in the country, an amount that is far less than what the generous amount the visa permit actually grants. So you’ll be just fine.

Iceland Travel: Requirements and Documentation 

I hope that all this information has been helpful. It is important to point out that this information is valid as of March 2019. The requirements may change over time, so it’s important that you double check everything with the Icelandic authorities to make sure it’s all up-to-date.

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Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Iceland's Active, Unpredictable Volcanoes

There are many natural attractions in Iceland that attract thousands of visitors every year. You’ll find impressive glaciers, powerful waterfalls, steaming geysers, and of course, fiery volcanoes. The island lays on top of the meeting point of the Eurasian and American tectonic plates. These massive plates have slowly been spreading apart for centuries. Because of Iceland’s geographical location, the land holds a high concentration of volcanoes, many of which are still active. There are about 30 active volcano systems in Iceland, but only 13 have erupted since the island’s discovery a little over a thousand years ago. Today, you can easily and safely approach many of these incredible volcanoes. Volcanoes have become one of Iceland's favorite tourist attractions due to the imminent threat of them erupting at any time. Some eruptions will cause small damage and may be a perfect chance to witness magma or ash clouds if you’re nearby.

Hekla is one of Iceland's active volcanoes

Here are some of the most famous, iconic active volcanoes you can visit while in Iceland.

Hekla Volcano 

I present to you one of the largest and yet most active volcanoes in Iceland. This mountain has registered more than 20 eruptions since the settlement of the island in 874 AD. It is hard to believe the area surrounding Hekla was once green, as it looks widely eroded today due to the volcano's destructive power. You will find Hekla about 1.5 hours by car from Reykjavik city as you travel east. The most interesting activity by far is to walk the trail all the way to the summit of the volcano. The hike usually lasts about four hours depending on your pace. Always check with the Hekla Center staff before you begin climbing. Remember that this volcano is still active, so you should understand the risks involved and heed all warnings.

Eyjafjallajökull Glacier and Volcano 

This is another famous volcano in Iceland not only because of its tongue-twisting name but also due to its eruption in 2010. This eruption caused an enormous disruption, which led to a halt in air traffic all over Europe for nearly a week. Most Icelanders believe that due to that eruption, a tourism boom happened in the country. Some say that people became more and more interested in seeing such unusual and exotic scenery. Eyjafjallajökull is considered one of the tallest glacier volcanoes in the south of Iceland. It holds a record of being 1,651 meters (5,427 feet) tall.

You can join several Super Jeep tours in the area. They usually depart from Reykjavik. My advice is to get to the top of the volcano as you can enjoy a memorable view from above. If you take it easy and at a relaxed pace, it will take about three hours to climb to the summit. At the base of the volcano, there is a visitors center (Þorvaldseyri) where you can see an exhibition about the 2010 eruption with some unique footage.

Eyjafjallajökull is an active volcano in Iceland under a glacier

Snæfell Volcano 

Meet another famous volcano in Iceland that is located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in the west of the country. It’s considered a stratovolcano because it was formed as the result of intense volcanic activities over many years. You will easily recognize it from a distance because of its ice-covered crown, the Snaefellsjökull glacier. Snæfell is about 1,446 meters (4,774 feet) tall. Even though its last eruption took place around the 3rd century AD, Snæfell volcano remains active today. Travelers are still able to hike up this volcano, rent bikes and join Super Jeep tours as there are several routes to take in the area. Always follow the designated trails and roads to help preserve this unique landscape. This location is also the home to unusual flora and fauna that you see as you walk close to this iconic volcano.

Grímsvötn Volcano 

Let's discover one of the most active volcanoes in Iceland due to its proximity to the center of the rift zone of the tectonic plates. The last eruption took place in May 2011 and originated with bursts of water into the air. Grímsvötn contains several calderas which hold intense geothermal heat inside. The fact that the majority of this volcano is hidden or submerged under the pristine Vatnajökull glacier makes it extremely interesting yet quite dangerous. Imagine when the core of the caldera increases its temperature, the pressure towards the surface is so strong that it could lift the enormous glacier within a few minutes. An entire glacier! Such activity would cause devastating floods and deep holes in the ice.

This seems to be really attractive for those avid tourists that look for the perfect photo of such a magnificent spectacle. If you are one of those, book a helicopter tour to fly over the glacier and enjoy a one of a kind view from above. You can also find several Super Jeep tours that will take you fairly close to those eruption sites. Remember to follow the safety tips from the guides as it may be dangerous to stand too close at times.

Mýrdalsjökull glacier covers active Katla volcano in Iceland

Katla Volcano

Katla volcano is known as the most powerful volcano in the world, and it erupts every 50 to 100 years. The last event was registered in 1918, where it caused massive destruction to the adjacent valleys and villages. This is a sub-glacial volcano, similar to Grímsvötn. You'll find Katla volcano buried below the Mýrdalsjökull glacier (ice cap) near the south coast of Iceland. This volcano constantly has small earthquakes in its caldera, which could mean an imminent unrest state. Experts say that statistically, we should expect an eruption of this volcano soon. But as you know, these natural events are very difficult to predict.

There are transcendent activities to do while in the area, such as to visit the incredible Katla Ice Cave. You’ll be immersed within the black and blue core of this massive volcano. If you are looking for something more adventurous, what about a nice hike to Skogafóss waterfall, where incredible views await you along one of the most visited trails on the southern side of the island. Lastly, if you are an avid hiker, there are some tours that will help you reach the top of Katla (1,512 m or 4,961 ft). If that’s too tall for you to hike, don't worry. There are also helicopter tours too!

Iceland's Active, Unpredictable Volcanoes 

Today we have discovered the world of volcanoes which are a very important piece of the many natural wonders found in Iceland. We have seen that many touristic activities include volcanoes, which show us that we could interact with these massive friends even if some of them are still active. I encourage you to try these adventures but always following the safety instructions given by your tour guide or local authorities.

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Monday, 11 March 2019

Íslendingabók - The Book of the Icelanders

The past is something which human beings are all subject to. Everything we are and wherever we are from, has to do with all the decisions, histories and needs of our ancestors. That is why it is not uncommon that there is some interest and curiosity to know where we come from. In this case, we Icelanders are very lucky to have the Íslendingabók. Have you heard of it? Well, stay with us because today Iceland's Viking past takes center stage.

The Íslendingabók is the Book of Icelanders, which traces genealogy from the Vikings

If you are a bit hooked on the internet, you will have seen that one of the latest trends is the issue of genealogy. The truth is that I was equally surprised and pleased. Normally we are used to silly videos and meaningless challenges. And for once, something was tremendously interesting to me. I really enjoy watching hundreds of videos of people reading their genetic results. I don’t even know them! In short, everyone wastes time in the best way they see fit. The truth is that linking science and technology with something as basic and existential as knowing where we come from is pretty neat.

Now, as an Icelander, I must tell you that we did not have to wait for the genealogical studies to arrive to know where we came from. We have the great fortune of being such a small and sparsely inhabited island, that all migratory movements are registered. This includes the clans that colonized the island and all of their descendants. And all this we owe to the Íslendingabók. In English, it roughly translates to "the book of the Icelanders".

Íslendingabók - The Family Tree of a People

Iceland is a small nation, far away from the rest of the world. This includes its closest neighbors, Scandinavia and continental Europe. Because of this, the island had no indigenous inhabitants before the arrival of the first settlers. So all of us who are Icelanders know with certainty that we are descendants of people from outside the borders of our island. I guess that's where the curiosity comes from. When your whole family has lived in the same town for centuries, maybe you don’t think about your origins too much. Now, when you know that your ancestors were not from your land, questions arise. Where were they from? Why did they come? How did they do it?

In the case of Iceland, we have another problem that complicates things. Many of you read our Iceland travel blog from the United States, Canada, Australia, or the UK. In your countries, you inherit your father’s last name, who, in turn, inherited it from your grandfather and so on. Maybe you see it as natural, and you have not thought about it. But this fact allows you to have a marked genealogical line and a kind of thread that can easily be traced from generation to generation. In Iceland, it is not like that.

Icelanders do not inherit our father's or mother's surname. We simply form it by using the name of our father plus a suffix. It's -son if you're a man and -dottir if you're a woman. If you are a boy and your father is called Hálldor Thorsson, your last name would be Hálldorsson (or Hálldorsdottir in case of being a girl). It is a very logical and simple way to form last names. The problem? That you will not have the same family name of your parents, and your children will not have yours. So each generation of your family has completely different surnames, and they do not have a commonly identifiable line. This complicates the creation of a family tree for people like Icelanders. Fortunately, the Íslendingabók entered our lives to shed a little light.

The Íslendingabók is the family tree for Icelanders

Íslendingabók - An Old-Fashioned Icelandic Genealogical Database

The Book of Icelanders is a historical compendium that tells the most important facts of the history of Iceland in the form of prose. The book dates from the XII century AD, and its author was Ari Þorgilsson, an Icelandic monk. There were originally two volumes of this book, but only the newest version survived to this day. In spite of its antiquity, modern historians consider it a magnificent work of documentation and great precision. The supernatural and fanciful parts are put aside, and the facts of the history of Iceland are explored.

The importance of the book is that it narrates the process of colonization of Iceland, including first names and last names. From Ingólfur Arnarson, the first settler who settled on the island, to the formation of the government and laws in the country. At the end of the book, even the genealogical history of the Scandinavian kings known as the Langfedgatal is detailed. The fact that Íslendingabók has survived allows us to have a solid genealogical foundation for each Icelander. And with the help of great modern historians and technology, we have the genealogical map of Iceland already plotted. It’s something of vital importance in our nation, and that is part of our day-to-day.

Íslendingabók - From Historical Books to Modern Apps and Websites

As I told you initially, Iceland is a nation of only 300,000 people. Your town or city probably has more people than all of Iceland together. We Icelanders essentially descended from the Vikings and a few Celtic settlers from the British Isles. The island has remained isolated given its remote location for many centuries. What is the problem with this? That having a small number of new people entering and having so few inhabitants, two Icelanders could be related and not know. And that's where the Íslendingabók comes into play.

The next step for moving from the twelfth century to the twenty-first was the creation of an app with a database of almost 810,000 files that trace the origin up to 1200 years ago. Awesome, right? This app has become quite popular in Iceland, as it is used to know if someone is a close relative or not. We jokingly call it the "incest alarm" because if you meet someone new, it will tell you if you have the green light to go for it or if on the contrary, you are close or distant relatives.

Many friends from abroad have asked me if it’s true. Do I really fire up the Íslendingabók website or app before going to bar and flirting? In my specific case, no. It can simply be used at home or at another more appropriate time to look up their name and see if we were related. Anyway, the app is not only to avoid possible uncomfortable situations when it comes to flirting. It also serves to make friends, and have a common theme if it turns out that there's something more than personality compatibility, etc. Genealogy is something very present in Icelandic society and we should thank the hard work embodied in the Íslendingabók.

The Íslendingabók website and app help Icelanders trace their genealogy

Íslendingabók - The Book of the Icelanders

As you have seen, we Icelanders are very lucky to have the possibility of knowing who all of our ancestors are. I guess we can save a few euros on genetic tests that say where we are from. And because we already have the answer to one of the most common questions of human beings (where we come from), do you think that an app will come out that tells us where we are going?

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Thursday, 7 March 2019

Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss on Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Iceland has so much to offer. From giant glaciers like Vatnajökull and Skaftafell to breathtaking waterfalls like Seljalandsfoss and Godafoss to inspiring landscapes like Landmannalaugar. This remote island is without a doubt a precious gift from Mother Nature. It’s quite hard to find what Iceland has in other parts of the world. I mean, in how many other places do fire and ice coexist? Could it be any more magical? Today we will head to western Iceland. More specifically, to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It’s located about two and a half hours from our capital, Reykjavik. So whether you're visiting for a few hours as part of a day trip or are or taking a road trip around Iceland, you shouldn’t miss this wonderfully stunning waterfall and its mighty companion, Kirkjufell mountain.

Kirkjufell is the famous mountain from Game of Thrones

When Should You Come to Kirkjufell? 

You are probably aware of how infamous Iceland’s climate is. It’s no surprise that our country has some of the most unpredictable weather you’ll ever encounter. This is largely due to the wind. It can be very dangerous if you don’t take it seriously or if you decide to ignore it. I am not trying to scare you though! We are very well prepared, and there are many sites like where you can get alerts about the wind/weather conditions.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula can be visited all year round since the roads to get there from pretty much anywhere are very well maintained. You don't even need a 4x4 to drive in this area. You could actually rent a car from Reykjavik and get there in a small sedan.

So when should you come? Well, this depends on your preferences. If you prefer to enjoy Iceland in warmer (or not-so-cold) weather, then you should come in June, July, or August.

I personally suggest you come any time from September to March. Why? Simply because one of the most beautiful things you can witness is the Aurora Borealis dancing behind this imposing peak. The Northern Lights are not visible in the summer, so you’ll need to come at a different time of year to see them.

The Northern Lights over Kirkjufell mountain

The Perfect Photo of Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss 

Now, I am not a photographer of any kind. In fact, I just press the shutter button, and that's about it. But I am sure many of you can do a lot better! If you enjoy photography, then you absolutely cannot overlook this special location. Church mountain (that is what Kirkjufell means) is the most photographed landscape in Iceland, along with its loyal buddy, Kirkjufellsfoss. When you see the juxtaposition of the elements, you’ll understand why.

This 463 meter (1,519 ft) high mountain has a very unique shape. In fact, whenever I look at it, I see an upside down ice cream cone. From the right angle, the cascades of Kirkjufellsfoss could be like some ice cream melting down. I might be a bit of a gelato lover though, so I always have ice cream on the brain. Seriously though, this place is a real delight to your eyes. That is why you should contemplate it and take it all in. Just enjoy it without taking your camera out at first. This charming place deserves all of your attention, no distractions.

Regardless of the type of photography equipment you have, be it your own professional camera, a regular camera, even your smartphone, I assure you, those pictures will amaze whoever you show them to. Especially to any Game of Thrones fans you might know. This mountain was featured in season seven of the popular HBO series.

If you want to go a little further, there are also photography tours of the area. These are in very high demand, due to Snaefellsnes’ proximity to Reykjavik. It’s not a long trip, and they usually take you in a Jeep. You will be shown the best shots from the best angles, with the best exposure, and all that good stuff.

Can You Climb Kirkjufell Mountain? 

So, what about some action after taking delightful pictures? You are probably wondering if it is possible to go up that sugar cone. Well, the simple answer is yes, but to honest, I don’t recommend it. You can climb up the Kirkjufell, but because it’s quite difficult, steep, and windy, it’s a bit dangerous. It’s definitely for only the most experienced climbers. There have been three fatal accidents on Kirkjufell; one from a local and two from tourists. That is why it is only recommended for experienced hikers and ideally accompanied by a guide.

The climb should also only be done when the weather conditions are optimal. A non-windy day in summer is the perfect time to do it. It gets very slippery during winter/ fall, and it could be quite perilous. It takes about an hour and a half to get to the peak at a normal pace. Those brave few who have attempted the climb say that the effort is totally worth it, as the view is unparalleled.

Kirkjufell's steep, rocky incline is not suitable for climbing

The Nearby Town of Grundarfjörður 

Before leaving the peninsula on your Iceland road trip, you should consider visiting this picturesque little harbor town. It is quite small, with a population of almost 900. Located in the middle of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Grundarfjörður is the perfect stop to get some rest, a warm cup of coffee, or a delicious meal before heading out to see Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss.

There is more to do though. In fact, you might like it so much that you will probably want to stay longer if your travel itinerary allows for it.

Boat tours depart during summer so that you can go deep sea fishing. And if you are lucky, you could even spot a few Icelandic whales. This particular zone of Iceland is well known for its orca population. Also, the famous and adorable puffins can be seen close by. And you can also go horseback riding.

Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss on Snaefellsnes Peninsula 

As you can see, this area will give you plenty of rewarding experiences that you will never forget, and who knows? Perhaps you will come again, and you will be just as astonished as the first time.

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Monday, 4 March 2019

Iceland's Weather in March

For travelers planning a late winter/early spring vacation, March is a great month to visit Iceland. Average temperatures are relatively quite low, but you’ve still got the Northern Lights, snowy landscapes, and plenty of things to do. Iceland in March means savings on everything from car rental to accommodation. We’re still technically in Iceland’s winter, which means off-season prices and discounts on basic tourist necessities. If you’re preparing a trip to Iceland in March, you’ll need to know not only the weather and how much snowfall to expect, but average temperatures, what to pack, and more practical advice like winter driving tips and things to do during your visit. We’ve compiled some useful info to get you starting for your Iceland trip in March. Here’s Iceland’s weather in March and other helpful advice and things to know.

Iceland's March weather is a transition from winter to spring. Semi-frozen Gullfoss waterfall

Average Temperature in Iceland in March 

Iceland’s weather in March is still quite cold even though it’s the beginning of the thaw into spring. We’re still experiencing what’s considered Iceland’s winter. Average high temperatures only reach about 38 ºF (3.3 ºC). Brrrr!!! And lows can give you a bit of frostbite if you don’t dress correctly and with the right amount and combination of layers. The mercury reading on the thermometer dips down to 28 ºF (-2.2 ºC). Not exactly bikini weather. A nice long soak in a geothermally-heated hot spring sounds pretty appealing right now, doesn’t it? Blue Lagoon, here we come!

Average High Temperature in Iceland in March: 38 ºF (3.3 ºC)
Average Low Temperature in Iceland in March: 28 ºF (-2.2 ºC)

Iceland’s March Precipitation and Snowfall

Because March is still considered winter in Iceland, you’ve got quite a bit of snow and ice on the ground. In fact, the snowy season in Iceland continues through April, when temperatures finally leave the freezing range. And due to the high amount of precipitation (March is one of the wettest months in Iceland), much of what you’ll encounter is freezing rain, sleet, snow, and even hail. You’ll need to make sure that you dress warmly and pack well for Iceland in March. The average rainfall in Reykjavik is 3.2 inches (8.2 cm) during the month of March. How much snowfall you encounter depends largely upon where you go. The South Coast, for example, is the warmest, wettest place on the whole island.

Average Rainfall in Iceland in March: 3.2 inches (8.2 cm)

Iceland's weather in March is cold, so you will still find snow on the ground on Vik's beaches

What to Wear in Iceland in March - A Packing List 

There are some basic rules for dressing in Iceland in March and the winter. Follow the four-layer rule, and you can’t go wrong.

First Layer of What to Wear in Iceland 

Your base layer needs to wick moisture from the skin (to keep you dry) and trap body heat (to keep you warm). Merino wool is the perfect choice for your base layer as it absorbs perspiration and water. Invest in a good pair of thermal underwear, wool socks, a wool hat, and other items.

Second Layer of What to Wear in Iceland 

Your middle layer should also retain body heat and absorb moisture and perspiration. You can select another layer of natural fibers like merino wool or use warm, synthetic materials like fleece.

Third Layer of What to Wear in Iceland 

The third layer for dressing in Iceland is your insulating layer. This layer’s sole purpose is to keep in as much warmth as possible. Parkas and jackets with goose down or other types of insulation are useful as your third layer on our Iceland packing list.

Fourth Layer of What to Wear in Iceland 

Our final, outer layer is the shell layer. This layer needs to protect you from wind and water by keeping them out. Your shell layer should consist of a high-quality rain jacket and windbreaker, waterproof boots, etc.

Things to Do in Iceland in March - The Northern Lights and Glacier Hikes

March weather in Iceland means you can still take part in plenty of winter weather activities like glacier hikes in Vatnajökull National Park, Langjökull, and other hotspots. One of the biggest tourism draws in Iceland are the country’s spectacular Northern Lights. The month of March is a great time for viewing the Northern Lights in Iceland because of clear conditions on cold nights. Just make sure you get out of major urban areas in order to have the best view and check the aurora forecast beforehand. You can go it alone or sign up for a Northern Lights excursion with a local tour operator.

Iceland's weather in March make the Northern Lights a popular thing to do

Iceland's Weather in March 

March is a great month to visit Iceland. If you’re driving in Iceland in March and plan on taking a road trip, it’s important to know what to expect weather wise. Planning for the island’s unusual climate and knowing what to put on your Iceland packing list can go a long way in enjoying your trip. Have a great time and let us know if you spot the Northern Lights.

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Thursday, 21 February 2019

Fireworks at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lake

Fireworks evoke memories of our childhood. Who doesn’t remember watching those flickering lights burst in the pitch black summer sky with family and friends? I bet that most of us have seen a fireworks show at least once in our lives. But, have you seen any fireworks on a glacier lake, with glacial masses and chunks of floating icebergs being illuminated by the colors lighting up the sky? That’s likely not possible for most people around the world. Well, the good news is that if you come to Iceland in August, you might be able to enjoy this unique experience of watching fireworks at Jökulsárlón glacier lake.

Jökulsárlón glacier lake fireworks in the summer in Iceland

Iceland's Jökulsárlón Glacier Lake

Jökulsárlón is the largest and most visited glacier lake in Iceland. It’s located in the southeast region of the island, at the southern end of Vatnajökull glacier. Most people don’t know that the lake is somewhat new in geological terms. Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon formed about 80 years ago as a result of the retreat of the melting glaciers in the surrounding area. Nowadays, it is one of the most famous tourist attractions of this Nordic island.

The lake is not just stagnant water; it’s actually alive and constantly changing. Water flow increases and decreases, there are currents, and the water frequently changes its color. It’s currently the deepest lake in Iceland. Right now its current characteristic look is of bluish-gray water with multiple white dots. Those dots are small and not-so-small chunks of ice drifting away and making their way to the ocean. Now imagine this stunning natural scenery with fireworks overhead at Jökulsárlón lake. Amazing right? But how did these two events come to be combined?

The History of Fireworks

Certain things just happen without planning them. The glacier lake formed by accident 80 years ago. The same thing happened with fireworks, but a thousand years ago. An old legend tells the story of a Chinese chef who accidentally mixed three ingredients: saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal. When he unintentionally dropped the mixture into the fire, colored flames came bursting out! The funny thing is, those ingredients were sometimes used as seasoning in cooking! After this amazing discovery, further experiments took place and gave birth to what we now know as firecrackers.

The Chinese used bamboo filled the three magical ingredients. With the right mix, when you set them on fire they go boom! Colors shoot everywhere. Initially, the main reason for setting off fireworks was to scare away demons and evil spirits.

Iceland's summer Jökulsárlón glacier lake fireworks display

This popular tradition then became useful for military purposes. It seems that the first fireworks as we know them today, were missiles. Have you ever heard about Marco Polo? Well, he was the first Westerner to spill the beans about this new Chinese invention. Fireworks then made their way to Europe. Currently, fireworks and firecrackers are widely used all over the world by children and adults alike. Nowadays this centuries-old technology is combined with modern technology such as lasers, live music, and light shows. We use fireworks at many outdoor events, national holidays, celebrations, and of course, New Year’s Eve.

Fireworks at Jökulsárlón – A Striking Summertime Show 

We all love fireworks. I don’t really know the exact reason why. Maybe it's the anticipation of finding out which color it will be or what shape it will take as it bursts and then cascades to the ground. The spectacle creates a sense of excitement to see the varied colors lighting up the dark skies. If we mix the beauty of the fireworks with the splendor of this natural landmark in Iceland, one can understand why almost 2,500 visitors enjoyed this event last year. And the numbers keep growing!

There isn’t really a historical reason for this event. It’s made possible due to the collaboration between the Hornafjordur Search and Rescue Association, Jökulsárlón Boat Trips and Visit Vatnajökull. It’s used as a fundraiser event to support the Search and Rescue Team. All proceeds from the entrance fee to the event go to them. So besides experiencing the magic of the fireworks at a unique location, it also helps a good cause.

Tourists watching Jökulsárlón glacier lake fireworks display in Iceland in summer

Fireworks at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lake - 2019 Dates and Ticket Information

The fireworks at Jökulsárlón glacier lake take place every August in Iceland and are one of the top things to do in the summer. This year, you’ll be able to enjoy them on Saturday, August 17th, 2019. Will you be there? The show starts at 11 pm and it costs 1500 ISK (around 10€ or $12) to get in. Children 12 years old and younger can see the show for free as they don’t have to pay the entrance fee. To buy tickets to the fireworks show, you can head to the following locations:

  • Olís in Höfn 
  • N1 in Höfn 
  • Gamla búð – Höfn Harbour 
  • Hotel Smyrlabjörg 
  • The ticket sales office at Jökulsárlón 
  • Freysnes kiosk 
  • Hotel Kirkjubæjarklaustur

Tickets are also available at Jökulsárlón lake on the night of the big event. Remember to carry along cash! That is the preferred option for payment. Bring some warm clothes with you, grab a warm cup of coffee, and wait for the magic to ignite the night!

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Friday, 15 February 2019

A Stopover in Akureyri: Travel to Iceland's Northern Capital

With a population of almost 19,000, this breathtaking northern city is the second biggest one in Iceland. Akureyri is the perfect destination because some of the best attractions in Iceland are near this area. So it’s a great idea to spend 24 hours in Akureyri and its environs. Here are some recommendations to make the most of your time without having to run around in a hurry. I will also talk about the best activities you can do during winter and summer.

Black house and purple flowers in Akureyri in North Iceland

Summer Activities in Akureyri 

Let’s start this list off with The Beer Spa. Wait, a beer spa? Yes, you read that right. There is a beer spa in Árskógssandur, a cute little village located about half an hour northwest of Akureyri. This magical and unique place has seven tubs filled with beer and hops (humulus lupulus). You will be able to soak in these tubs for 20 to 25 minutes and you can either do it on your own or accompanied by someone.

The benefits of soaking in beer are amazing for your skin, and your health in general. The amber liquid contains a large amount of vitamin B, which helps to improve and activate the immune system. It's also said that it stimulates the circulatory system. It helps to battle aging of the skin and improves elasticity. This can help the appearance of wrinkles. Do not get me wrong though! They won’t disappear, but they will be less visible.

For younger visitors, bathing in beer is fabulous to make your acne disappear! With the natural, anti-bacterial properties of this popular drink, those annoying pimples will dry up, and they will stop using your body as their home sweet home. When visiting The Beer Spa, it's recommended to avoid showering for at least an hour afterward in order to have the best results.

Whale Watching in Akureyri 

Akureyri is a harbor city, so it is the perfect location to depart from and start your adventure! North Iceland is also the area of the island that many different species of whales frequent, including other cities like Húsavik. The wonderful Akureyri whale watching tour takes place within one of the longest fjords in Iceland (Eyjafjörður).

Whale watching is one of the most breathtaking experiences you can ever have. Spotting the biggest mammal on earth is just incredible. To enjoy this tour, simply visit any tourist information kiosk, and you will have plenty of options. The tours usually last 2-3 hours, and they can either take place on a regular boat or a speedboat.

Bird Watching and Puffins in Akureyri

You may have heard of the puffins, those cute little birds that look like a mix of penguin and duck (in my opinion). There are many places in Akureyri and its surroundings to go bird watching. There is easy access and plenty of beautiful trails that will lead you to their habitat. This lovely city is the perfect home for these little seabirds, as the Eyjafjörður fjord sits right in front of Akureyri. There is no age restriction for this tour so everyone can participate. It’s the perfect activity for a variety of tastes.

Winter Activities in Akureyri 

Iceland’s Waterfall of the Gods - Goðafoss 

This majestic and enormous waterfall is about 12 meters (40 feet) high and 30 meters (98 feet) wide. It’s located 30 minutes away from the harbor. It's really something you shouldn't miss, so grab your rental car and head towards the waterfall of the gods. This place is an integral part of Icelandic history and the story behind the waterfall's name plays an important part in the country’s official conversion to Christianity. It became the official religion of Iceland in the year 1000.

Couple enjoying Godafoss waterfall close to Akureyri in North Iceland

Jólagarðurinn - Akureyri’s Christmas Garden 

To finish out your 24 hours in Akureyri, nothing better than experiencing Christmas at any time of the year! I mean, who doesn’t love Christmas? Walking into this beautiful garden will conjure up all of those memories about the most special holiday of all.

The house is fully decorated from top to bottom. Everything is filled with the holiday spirit. There is music, lights; it even smells like Christmas! The owner is basically Santa, or at least that’s how I see him. He’s adorable, kind and magical. It makes you feel like you are a kid again!

You can also bring home some decoration and ornaments, that way next Christmas will remind you of your vacation to this magical Island.

A Stopover in Akureyri: Travel to Iceland's Northern Capital 

As you can see, there is a lot to do and see in Akureyri. A limited schedule will not stop you from enjoying this charming town. From stunning landscapes, wildlife and astounding waterfalls to countless amazing activities that are just around the corner. At the end of the day, with your heart filled with joy, you will be thankful you’ve spent 24 hours in Akureyri. It’s an experience that you will never forget.

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