Icelandic is the official language of Iceland. It is an Indo-European language, belonging to the sub-group of North Germanic languages. It is closely related to Norwegian and Faroese. Most locals also speak English, so the language barrier should be minimal.
80% of all Icelanders are members of the Lutheran State Church. Interestingly enough, 5% of the population still practice Asatru, a traditional Norse and pagan religion. Asatru is also the fastest growing religion in Iceland. To read for about Asatru click here.
Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world, boasting of an incredibly low crime rate. However, there are a lot of natural hazards to be aware of, and the weather can change in a split second. The winter months are extreme in some parts of Iceland, so full precautions and safety measures need to be taken before venturing out to those areas.
The local currency is called Krona or ISK. At the time of writing, one USD was worth 125.40. You can exchange money at most hotels; however, banks will give you the best rate. Some restaurants and tour companies might accept dollars, euros, or pounds. Be aware that Iceland only has handful of big towns and if you are going to the small villages you need to carry enough cash because you will not find ATM’s or banks in those towns. Credit and debit cards are accepted by almost all restaurants and companies.
Fishing contributes to about 12% of Iceland’s GDP. It’s no surprise that Icelandic cuisine largely consists of a variety of fish dishes. Icelanders also love their meat, and they have some unique dishes (to say the least). Only in Iceland can you find sour ram testicles, sheep head, and fermented shark. In some restaurants, you can even find puffin and whale meat. Vegetarians might think twice before visiting Iceland. While Reykjavík has become a metropolis due to the tourism boom, and as such feature’s cuisines from all over the world, many of the villages will not have many vegetarian options.
This is a traditional lamb soup, made from some of the heartier pieces of the lamb and Icelandic herbs and veggies. This is usually enjoyed during the colder months of the year.
This is a more traditional Icelandic food. It is essentially sheep’s head. Rumor has it that smoked sheep cheeks are simply delightful.
A lovely fish stew including boiled cod/haddock with potatoes. Almost every family has their own variation.
This dried fish jerky is a delicacy in Iceland! It’s pretty tasty and is typically served with butter.
Fermented shark is a popular item in Iceland. Usually this comes from Greenland shark or other sleeper sharks. It’s eaten year-round. Fair warning: many tourists don’t particularly enjoy it, but you should definitely try it! You just might love it.
This yummy yogurt is high in protein and relatively affordable. Many times, it is mixed with fruit, and is an iconic staple in the Icelandic diet.
Despite Iceland’s topography and a lack of settlement in most areas within Iceland, you should be able to stay connected with relatively good speeds and quality, especially in the major towns and by the seashore. There are three main service providers: Vodafone, Siminn and Nova. SIM cards can be purchased at the airport, kiosks, gas stations, supermarkets, and officially licensed stores. Vodafone and Nova offer better prices and you can expect to pay ISK 1490 and ISK 2490 for 1GB and 5GB SIM cards, respectively speaking, through both providers. Nova offers 10GB data for ISK 3490, but Vodafone does not.
When to Go
Choosing when to go to Iceland can be difficult.
Here are some of the advantages of going in the summer months (April through October):
- Longer days and nicer weather. Keep in mind, the average temperature even in the summer months is 10c. The weather in Iceland is unpredictable and it can easily snow in the summertime.
- Open roads, easy travel to North Iceland. In the winter months, everything is dependent on the weather. In the winter, many of the roads would likely be shut down, and you would not be able to visit many attractions.
- Exotic wildlife. The summer is the best opportunity to see exotic birds like the puffin and see whales. You cannot see the exotic birds in the winter.
Here are some of the advantages of going in the winter months (October through April):
- Northern lights! This is a huge plus to visiting in the winter months. The opportunity to see the northern lights is priceless. You can see them from September through April.
- Less tourists. This is a huge advantage, especially because in the summer there are so many tourists. This means cheaper prices for hotels and tours!
- Astounding beauty. Iceland is even more beautiful in the winter months. Only in the winter can you see the gorgeous frozen waterfalls and stunning ice caves!
The ideal means of travel in Iceland is to drive yourself. Most of the natural sights are free of charge, and if you drive, you can spend as much time there as you would like. The tours can feel a bit hurried, especially the one in South Iceland, as the distances are long, and you do not get to spend enough time in some of the places. Also, it’s impossible to see all the sights of South Iceland in one day. Tours mean you might miss out on some incredible places, but if you drive, you can spend your time when and where you want.
For a country as expensive as Iceland, the buses are surprisingly cheap. You can get to major cities from Reykjavík by taking the bus. The northern capital, Akureryi, is 6 hours away and there are a few buses running there every day (weather dependent). You can check here[JG1] for more information on Sternatravel.
In the summer months there is also a bus that runs 4 times a week and includes stops on some of the waterfalls and the geysers on the way to Akureryi. The tickets only cost 4000 ISK!
Air Iceland runs flights from the capital to Akureyri, Egilsstaðir, Thorshofn, Vopnafjörður and Isafjordur. All the major towns are connected by Air Iceland. However, for a tourist it only makes sense to take an airplane if you’re short on time and want to explore all the regions of Iceland or if the roads are inaccessible due to snow.
The tickets are costly and often a one-way trip costs more than 100 euros. A downside of flying through Iceland is that you miss many of the wonders of Iceland and some of the best road trips. You can check for more information and prices here[JG2] . Click here [JG3] for information about flights to Greenland.
The quick and easy way of seeing Iceland is via tours. It isn’t the best option, but if you’re short on time and cannot rent a car, you can see much more via the tours than with a bus or an airplane.
The price of the complete tour of the Golden Circle starts at $55 and can go up to $100. I recommend going with Iceland on the Web. The tour generally last for 6-8 hours. You can click here [JG4] for more information.
For South Iceland the tour costs about $80-$120 with the boat ride in Jokularson. The tour lasts for 12-14 hours.
Cycling is slowly becoming popular with the tourists, and you cannot blame them. Riding in such incredible nature is not something you want to miss. The roads are vast and since the population density is so low, the roads are quite empty, making it perfect for cycling. The only issue is that it is difficult to deal with mechanical issues since there are few large towns.