Iceland is enjoying a tourism boom. Budget airlines are making it easier and less expensive to get there. Accommodation options like AirBandB make it cheaper to stay and the beauty and charm of Iceland make it easy to enjoy. Make the most of your visit to Iceland with these Icelandic fun facts and travel tips.
Like waterfalls? You came to the right place. Iceland is a waterfall lover’s paradise. Three that should be on every visitor’s list are Gullfoss on the popular Golden Circle route, the majestic Skogafoss, 25 meters high and 60 meters wide on the southern side of the island and Seljalandsfoss where visitors can walk behind the falls and experience the water’s power from a completely different perspective.
Leif Erikson was Icelandic. He was born in Iceland around 970 AD and went on to explore the North American coast 500 years before Columbus. I always thought he was Norwegian. There is a statue of the famous Viking in Hallgrimskirkja Square in the center of Reykjavik. Most major streets in the city will lead you to this pretty square. On the way you will pass quirky street art and shops selling beautifully designed warm woolen sweaters, Iceland’s specialty craft.
Cheers! The taxes on liquor are among the highest in the world- around 90%. As a result, s glass of wine will set you back quite a bit. Even a glass of beer can go for over US$18. One alternative is to purchase liquor at the government stores, Vinbuden, which are scattered all over the country. Another option is to purchase liquor at the duty-free stores you find in the airports as you enter the country. You may also want to try Iceland’s signature liquor, Brennivin, a type of schnapps made from fermented potato pulp and flavored with caraway seed. It is strong and tasty.
I’ll have a side of fermented shark with that, please. Unusual foods found in Iceland include whale steak, fermented shark, puffin, fish jerky and others. A delicious treat is smoked sheep head, served during celebrations. More common Icelandic specialties include fresh seafood and lamb. Excellent restaurants, from ultra-chic high-end to tasty street food abound. Some that we liked are Messinn and Icelandic Street Food both in the center of Reykjavik. What made “Icelandic Street Food” such an appealing restaurant is the owner, a friendly, funny, pleasant guy in a bowtie who explained the characteristics of Icelandic food and treated us to a sample of his grandmother’s pastry. Notable mention goes to Seabaron or Sægreifannon in the harbor for a wide selection of savory seafood skewers. Sampling Icelandic food will help you make the most of your visit to Iceland.
In Reykjavik you’ll find the (self-proclaimed) best hot dog in the world. There is a little hot dog stand known as Baejarins Betsu Pylsur, which loosely translates into “the best hot dog in the world.” Bill Clinton sampled dogs here and Anthony Bourdain confirmed the hot dogs were out of this world. I have to admit they were pretty good. It is said the secret is a bit of lamb in the stuffing. The stand is downtown near the harbor. Just get online.
Thermal waters etiquette. When in a pool or hot tub, the last person into the water is expected to greet the other bathers and chat amiably. When in a sauna or steam room, proper etiquette dictates that one remains silent.
The Blue Lagoon is a great place to experience the thermal waters culture of Iceland. It is such an unusual experience for most visitors with its floating massages, skin-softening mud masks and swim-up bar all in a steaming cauldron of misty fog.
Honey, are we related? The population of Iceland is approximately 340K. The vast majority live in the capital, Reykjavik. With such a small pool of potential mates, a local company offers genealogical services to determine if the object of your affection is actually related to you.
Iceland’s wildest animal is a sheep. The country has no native land mammals. They have all been imported over the years. The local sheep roam free most of the year and are almost considered wild rather than farm animals although they are owned by local farmers. Some visitors say they can almost taste the wild berries and sweet grass the sheep feed on in the local lamb dishes.
Bury me with my horse. Icelandic horses were first imported from western Norway about 1000 years ago. At that time they were so beloved that they were frequently buried with their owners (poor horse). Today the horse population is so insulated that they have lost immunity to certain diseases. Consequently, the government prohibits the import of horses and certain horse gear to protect these beautiful creatures.
The beaches have black sand. Due to volcanic residue deposited over the centuries, Iceland’s beaches have black sand and unusual rock formations creating stunning landscapes. One example is Reynisfjara beach where the contrast of white ice on black sand is somehow otherworldly. Massive basalt stacks encircle deep caves on the beach where the cold North Atlantic waves rush on to the black sand. Reynisfjara is so beautiful it was voted one of the 10 must-see beaches on earth in 1991 by National Geographic.
Local tours can be booked at the well run and efficient tourist information centers around Reykjavik. Two companies we used were Gray Line and Your Day Tours both of which were punctual, informative and pleasant.
Iceland is different. You are likely to have experiences here that you have never had before and cannot enjoy anywhere else. It is a great option for a two-week jaunt around a beautiful island or a weekend stopover on the way to or from Europe. Either way, this place will charm you.
What is your favorite way to make the most of your visit to Iceland?