Monday, 24 June 2019

Iceland's Major Towns and Cities

The tourist industry in Iceland has grown significantly over the last few years. More and more travelers are discovering the charms of our tiny Nordic island and all that Iceland has to offer. Taking a journey around the country’s Ring Road has become the ultimate bucket list item. There’s something quite charming about Iceland’s major towns and cities; each one is different and worth a visit. We’ve compiled a list of the best villages, towns, and cities in Iceland to visit.

Iceland cities and towns like Stykkishólmur are highlights to visit

Iceland Cities, Major Towns, and Villages


You’ll often hear the phrase Icelandic villages to describe the small towns along your way. This is because the population in many urban areas is not large enough to warrant the designation of a city or town. You might even find just a small grouping of houses that barely qualifies as a village. While a large percentage of Icelanders live in the capital city of Reykjavik or another city like Kópavogur, Hafnarfjörður, or Akureyri, going to a small town is also a huge part of the Iceland road trip experience.

In fact, one of the most popular places for tourists to stay in only has about 320 inhabitants! Vik and its black sand beaches are the quintessential seaside Icelandic village. There are about 70 towns and villages scattered across the island and in the Iceland countryside.

Reykjavik: Iceland’s Capital City 


Looking at a map of Iceland going counterclockwise to see the towns, villages, and cities in Iceland to visit, Reykjavik is obviously our first stop. Iceland’s population is just under 340,000, and over a third live in the capital. Reykjavik City is a modern, cosmopolitan metropolis that at the same time feels like it’s not too big. It’s manageable by foot as most of the city’s main sights are within walking distance from the downtown area.

As the capital city of Iceland, Reykjavik has a thriving cultural scene and lively nightlife. In fact, Iceland’s main city is known for its bars, clubs, and nocturnal activities. Parties start late go well towards the dawn. You’ll also find fantastic cuisine with Michelin-starred restaurants, a robust café culture, and lots of shopping on Laugavegur street.

Iceland cities to visit include Reykjavik, the capital

And course there are the museums. From the Punk Museum to the National Gallery to historical exhibits tracing settlement in Iceland, there’s something for everyone. You can even get to know the island’s cetaceans at the Whales of Iceland exhibition. The interactive installations and life-sized models provide a nice complement to seeing the creatures in real life on a whale watching excursion.

If you’re looking for relaxation, Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon is only about 40 minutes outside of Reykjavik. You’ll spend the day floating in the milky, turquoise waters of our popular geothermal spa. Be sure to give yourself a silica face mask to help remove impurities from your skin. Finish off the day with lunch and a massage for the ultimate treat.

Of course, the Blue Lagoon isn’t necessarily everyone’s favorite way to unwind and de-stress. You’re also only about 20 minutes away from the Oddur golf course if you’d like to get in a few holes during your visit.

Kópavogur 


This is the second largest city in Iceland with around 30,000 residents and is developing rapidly. Its proximity to Reykjavik makes it a sought-after place to live, and the city is known for its striking architecture and the Kópavogur Art Museum. A stunning architectural jewel of this Icelandic city is Kópavogur Church, which towers over the rest of the city.

The Westman Islands 


When looking at a map of South Iceland, you’ll see a small archipelago just off the coast near Route 1. This group of small islands in south west Iceland is known as the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar). They were formed by underwater volcanic activity and have 70-80 volcanoes above and below the sea. The largest island in the group is called Heimaey, and its largest town is Vestmannaeyjabær.

Iceland cities and towns like the Westman islands are perfect to visit

Geological activities on the island include a visit to Eldfell volcano, the Eldheimar 1973 volcano eruption remembrance museum, and hiking Helgafell volcano. The Sæheimar Sea Life Trust Aquarium also warrants a visit. This marine life preservation organization is home to both an open water sanctuary for beluga whales and a cornish seal sanctuary. Animal lovers will enjoy their time here with these beautiful and at-risk animals.

Vik: A Lovely Seaside Village in the South of Iceland 


As you travel along the South of Iceland on the Ring Road, you’ll pass the pleasant little town of Vik. Though small, the seaside town is one of the most popular stop-offs on any trip around Iceland. Not only is it located halfway between Reykjavik and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, but it’s home to something very special. Iceland is famous for its volcanic, black sand beaches, and this is the place to see them. Not only that, but the hexagonal basalt columns of Reynisfjara beach are also a major attraction in the area.

Many tourists in Iceland choose to stay the night here and even use it as a base for exploring the area. After visiting the volcanic formations at the beach, you can also take a trip to Vatnajökull National Park. Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell glacier, the glacier lagoon, and Diamond beach all await you here. The hiking trails of Landmannalaugar are also close to Vik.

Nestled among Iceland’s dramatic Eastfjords is the colorful and quaint waterfront town of Seyðisfjörður. As you make your way along Iceland’s winding east coast, you’ll want to be sure to include a short stay here. With a vibrant art scene, you’ll find your creative side truly inspired. The locals are also extremely friendly and welcoming. There’s hiking in the area and plenty of cascades to discover in and around the fjords. It’s a relaxing place to spend a few days in nature before continuing onward to Húsavik and the Diamond Circle.

Vik is one of the Iceland cities and towns you must visit

Húsavik: The Whale Watching Capital of Iceland 


Another one of the best cities and towns in Iceland is the coastal town of Húsavik. Resting on the shores of Skjálfandi bay, this cute little town is known as the capital of whale watching in Iceland. If you have the chance to do a summertime whale watching excursion while here, Húsavik is the place to do it.

Húsavik is also the starting point for the Diamond Circle route and is a good base for excursions. Some highlights of the 260 km (162-mile ) circuit include Lake Mývatn, Ásbyrgi Canyon, Dettifoss waterfall, Godafoss waterfall, and Hverir geothermal area.

Akureyri - The Capital of North Iceland 


Akureyri is known as Iceland’s second city and is the capital of the North. The surrounding area includes a botanical garden, ski trails, the Akureyri Contemporary Art museum, and the famous Church of Akureyri (Akureyrarkirkja). The Lutheran church sits on a hill overlooking the town. As one of the major cities in Iceland, Akureyri is port of call for both winter sports enthusiasts and those looking to explore the North of Iceland. As the gateway to the North, Akureyri is definitely one of the best cities to visit in Iceland.

Iceland cities like Akureyri should be visiting during your road trip

The Town of Siglufjörður 


Perhaps the most striking feature of Siglufjörður is the town’s colorful buildings. Shades of crimson, violet, and tangerine cover the facades of these traditional Icelandic houses. Resting on a fjord of the same name, this often-visited Icelandic town has a history of fishing. You can learn more about its ties to this industry and economic growth at the Herring Era Museum. The Þjóðlagasetur Folk Music Centre and Museum will also give you a taste of Iceland’s culture and musical heritage.

Nature lovers should also take an excursion to Héðinsfjörður fjord as this zone in North Iceland is known for the beauty of its fjords. One of the best times of year to visit Siglufjörður is wintertime. The plethora of winter activities is wide-ranging. Take part in snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, ice skating, and more. In the summer, golfing and fishing are common activities for inhabitants and visitors alike.

Hofsós: Fjords and Thermal Pools


A list of the most beautiful cities in Iceland wouldn't be complete without mentioning a place with one of our renowned thermal swimming pools. Hofsós is particularly striking because it features an thermal bath that looks like an infinity pool with views of Icelandic fjords steeply jutting out and descending into the water below.

Towns in Snaefellsness Peninsula: Stykkishólmur and Arnarstapi


Many of the towns and villages on this western peninsula got their start because they acted as a trading post for fishermen and other types of commerce. Their proximity to the shore meant the early fishing industry in Iceland could slowly begin to flourish. They still have their maritime roots but have begun catering to the tourist industry. While this territory makes for a great day trip from Reykjavik, there are also several places of interest for those looking to explore the area more in depth.

Two towns in particular often catch the attention of most travelers. Once you’ve explored Snaefellsnes peninsula and Kirkjufell mountain and waterfall, Stykkishólmur is a wonderful spot to spend the night. Located close to Breiðafjörður Bay, this is the epitome of a small Icelandic fishing town. There’s a church, a volcano museum, great restaurants, and a nice campsite. With beautiful surroundings and excursions to Snæfellsjökull glacier, Berserkjahraun lava field, and Lóndrangar, this is charming town to spend some time in.

The second town in Snaefellsnes peninsula that I recommend is Arnarstapi. It’s home to one of the most beautiful natural harbors in the country. This is a popular spot for travelers to rest and refuel while making their way to Snaefellsjökull National Park from Reykjavik. A hike to admire the rocky basalt cliffs between towns in the area is a wonderful way to spend the evening before heading back to town for dinner. Nearby Hellnar village and Breiðavík farms are the most common destinations. Taking a trek up Mt. Stapafell is also a great option.

Iceland's Major Towns and Cities 


A map of Iceland with cities and towns shows lots of places to visit sprinkled all around the island. Taking a road trip in Iceland will ideally be a wonderful mix of big city living and staying in picturesque little villages that look like something out of a postcard. I hope this list of cities in Iceland and towns will help you plan a fantastic trip and help you get to know the country inside and out. You’ll have more of a chance to meet locals when staying in small towns, so be sure to include a few on your itinerary.

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Friday, 14 June 2019

A Traveler's Guide to Icelandic Currency

When traveling abroad, one of the things to consider is how you will pay for everything. After all, vacations to Iceland aren’t free. You’ll probably be interacting with the local money, so it’s helpful to know about exchange rates, how to pay for food, where to get cash, etc. We’ve created this traveler’s guide to Icelandic currency with essential information to help you prepare for your trip.

Icelandic currency 1000 króna banknote

What is the Currency in Iceland? 


The official currency of Iceland is the Icelandic króna (ISK). Krona currency is issued by the Bank of Iceland, our central bank. They oversee the printing of money and also monitor the currency in circulation. We’ve used the króna since the late 1800s, back when we were under Danish rule. Later on, we began making our own Icelandic króna and eventually we fully took over our currency.

What Does Iceland Money Look Like?


Icelandic currency is some of the prettiest national money you will ever see. It features famous historical figures and rich illustrations on colorful bills. I like to bring foreign currency home as a souvenir, and you may find yourself thinking the same during your trip to Iceland.

Krona currency comes in both coins and banknotes. The coins have values of 1, 5, 50, and 100 krona. Our bills have denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, and 10000. They feature various shades of red, green, blue, purple, brown, and even some multicolored hues. We wanted our money to reflect our national pride, especially after struggling for so long to gain independence.

Some of the historically significant Icelanders on our bills are Jón Sigurðsson, a leader of the Icelandic independence movement, Brynjólfur Sveinsson, a Lutheran bishop, and Ragnheiður Jónsdóttir, a prominent woman in Icelandic society.

Icelandic currency króna coins

Do I Need Iceland Currency During My Trip? 


It’s understandable if you want to carry at least some cash with you; after all, you never know what emergencies might pop up. If you’d like to keep a couple of bills of Iceland currency in your back pocket, I’d suggest taking it out at the ATM once you’re there. Double check with your bank to see if they charge you a fee or commission for this. You can also request krona from your local bank, as they have very reasonable rates. Just give them ample lead time as it can take anywhere from a few days to a week to receive the money.

You may also find vendors who accept dollars, euros, or Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian krones.

What I don’t suggest is using the currency exchange bureaus you’ll find in the airport. These offer the worst deal you can get for your money, so I would avoid them like the plague.

Can I Use Debit and Credit Cards in Iceland?


To be perfectly honest, you don’t really need keep to cash on you during your Iceland trip. Both credit cards and your debit card are widely accepted, even at the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand in downtown Reykjavik.

One thing you might not be aware of is that you need your credit card PIN if you plan on paying for anything with a credit card. If you don’t know what yours is, call your credit card company so they can mail it to you. And again, allow time for it to arrive because credit cards PINs are usually sent through standard mail.

What’s the Exchange Rate? 


The rate of currency exchange fluctuates according to global trends and seasonal factors. But just to give you an idea for planning your trip, here are the most recent rates for some common currencies.

1 USD = 126 ISK
1 EUR = 142 ISK
1 GBP = 159 ISK

Scandinavian Countries 

1 NOK = 15 ISK
1 SEK = 13 ISK
1 DKK = 19 ISK

Here’s a useful calculator to help you compare Iceland currency to USD and other world currencies.

Icelandic currency 5000 króna banknote

Tax-Free Shopping in Iceland and the VAT Refund 


You may have heard about getting a tax refund on your purchases in Iceland. As a tourist, you are entitled to getting up to 24% back on items you buy and plan on taking out of the country. This includes clothes, souvenirs, and other items. As long as you’ve spent at least 6000 Icelandic króna, you are eligible.

The process is very straightforward, but make sure you allow yourself ample time to get everything done. You’ll need to take care of this before you check your bags in, and the line for the VAT refund point can be quite long. Many tourists get turned off by this and forfeit their refund when they see how long the lines are. Arrive early!

When buying something at a store, ask for a tax-free receipt and be sure that you get the signature of the vendor. Then, when you arrive at Keflavik International Airport, head to either Arion bank or customs (depending on the amount of your purchases). Once you get your tax-free form validated, then head to the International Refund Point to get your VAT refund.

A Traveler's Guide to Icelandic Currency 


Now you’re ready to for your vacation. Traveling to Iceland is a great adventure, just make sure to pack your plastic. You’ll most likely be using cards to pay restaurants, tour operators, and the souvenir shop where you buy your traditional lopapeysa sweater. We use cards everywhere, so if you bring a Visa, MasterCard, or American Express, you’re all set. And maybe take some Icelandic legal tender home with you as a way to remember our amazing little country.

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Thursday, 6 June 2019

Eldhraun: The Moss-Covered Iceland Lava Field

As you explore Iceland, you’ll come across some truly mesmerizing and out of this world sights and scenery. Whether it’s the crystal turquoise interior of a glacier cavern or the ghostly floating icebergs at Jökulsárlón. Now, picture this: you’re making your way around the country on the Ring Road, and you find yourself surrounded by rolling moss-covered lava fields. That seemingly neverending sea of yellow-green clumps is Eldhraun Lava Field, one of the world’s largest lava fields.

Eldhraun Lava Field, Iceland

Eldhraun Lava Field


This spectacular sight is another one of those “only in Iceland” attractions, as it took a unique combination of natural factors to occur. Eldhraun is a natural wonder that you just happen to stumble across, ooh and aah, and then pull out your travel guide to learn more.

Here are some interesting facts for you. Eldhraun lava field’s 565 square kilometers (218 square miles) also served as the training ground for the Apollo 11 crew and their 1969 moonwalk mission. The area supposedly recreates the conditions on the surface of the moon.

This territory is also the biggest lava flow in the world (at least in recorded history), which is why it stretches so far and wide.

Eldhraun: How Did it Happen? 


It's true that you don’t run across kilometers of endlessly sprawling green woolly fringe moss covering volcanic lava every day. So what were the geological events that took place which caused this otherworldly, one-of-a-kind popular Icelandic sightseeing destination?

This special place started off as any regular Icelandic lava field does: with a volcano erupting. Although this particular event was especially traumatic for the island.

It all began with the Laki eruption, probably the most poisonous eruption Iceland has experienced in historical times. This cataclysmic event took place from 1783 to 1784, and the fallout was immense. Not from the explosion of fire, ash and subsequent lava flows, but rather the crop failure, disease, and starvation that came afterward. The aftermath was devastating, wiping out 20-25% of the island’s population and nearly 80% of domestic animals.

The eruption was so massive, that allegedly smoke from its ash cloud traveled all the way to France. Supposedly when it blocked out the sun, people thought the world was ending, and this contributed to the French Revolution.

Lava flows in Iceland form lava fields

Iceland Volcanic Moss


So we had the catastrophic and violent volcanic eruption. How does that turn into verdant fields of volcanic Icelandic moss that stretch as far as the eye can see? Well, at some point after the volcanic lava cooled and hardened, moss spores were carried by wind and water into the area. Unlike most plants, moss doesn’t have roots, so it can anchor itself to trees, rocks, and yes, dried lava. It prefers moist environments, which explains why it blossomed so close to the sea.

Eldhraun Iceland and Conservation Efforts


The recent boom in tourism has seen an increase in conservation efforts, especially at Eldhraun. Iceland and its landscape were forged in harsh conditions, but surprisingly, much of our flora and fauna is quite delicate. If you step on or destroy volcanic moss, it can take a century to grow back, if it grows back at all.

We want to raise awareness about this, as many people simply do not know. Justin Bieber, for example, rolled around in Icelandic moss while shooting the "I'll Show You" music video. Many Icelanders were rightfully horrified and outraged. We need to protect places like Eldhraun, and Iceland tourists need to be aware that their actions have consequences.

Eldhraun Lava Field Location


Something that people ask on travel forums is the Eldhraun lava field location. There aren’t really any exact GPS coordinates because it’s more of a zone than a specific place. You’ll find it in South Iceland as you drive towards the glacial lagoon at the southeast end of Vatnajökull National Park. It's closer to Vik than Jökulsárlón.

Eldhraun Lava Field in Iceland with volcanic moss off the Ring Road

Where to Stay When Visiting Eldhraun


If you’re looking for accommodation close to the Eldhraun lava, the Eldhraun Guesthouse is probably your best bet. It gets rave reviews on booking websites and is by far much cheaper than the Eldhraun Holiday Home. Please note that the Eldhraun Guesthouse reflects Iceland prices. So paying $100 a night for a shared kitchen and bathrooms, as you do at this 3-star hotel, is not surprising.

If you want something more private, the Eldhraun Holiday Home is Iceland luxury at its finest, but it will cost you. Checking rates for the next few months (including the off-season), rooms were around $320-350 per night. If you’ve got the cash, I say go for it and enjoy the mountain views and private hot tub in your cabin.

Eldhraun: The Moss-Covered Iceland Lava Field


While taking a road trip around our beautiful island, make sure to include the Eldhraun lava field on your Iceland itinerary. It’s an awe-inspiring sight and one you won’t find anywhere else on the planet. Just please remember to be respectful and help us protect our fragile ecosystem. Don’t step on the volcanic moss and always try to leave places you visit in better shape than you found them.

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