Does Iceland sound like a vacation destiny for you? By the name, I would say no. It would not be my first choice. However, you may want to rethink that.
In April, my husband spent nearly a week there. Tom wants to go back, preferably, in the summer months. However, I am not so sure the summer months are any different in climate and temperature than in April. At that time, it was in the low 40s for the most part. The Gulf Stream warms Iceland’s temperature and the average winter temperature is comparable to New York City. I have from time to time used the weather app on my phone to keep up on the temperature and it hasn’t varied much from high 40s to low 50s since then. As I write this, it is mid-July and the highest temperature this week is 57 and only a few days with sun and it rains a lot. The days are long this time of year—the longest being in June when there are only three to four hours of darkness. Today (mid-July) the sun rises at 3:47am and sets at 11:29pm. But Iceland is an absolutely beautiful island country and should be on your bucket list.
If you are interested here is a little snippet of their history. Iceland was first inhabited by Irish monks in early 9th century and then shortly thereafter the Vikings arrived in 874 making this a permanent settlement and called it Snow Land. The world’s first parliament was established here in 930. It has been said that Leif Erickson may have led the first European voyage to Iceland and even Christopher Columbus may have visited on a trading mission in the 15th century. Iceland is on two Continents: North America and Europe but is considered to be part of Europe. It is surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean, Greenland Sea and the Norwegian Sea—due West is Greenland and due East is Norway, Sweden and Finland. Fast forward many years (late 1700’s), the Laki Volcano erupted resulting in a 1/5th of Iceland’s population being wiped out and half of the livestock died. It took two decades to recover. Britain invaded in 1940—where didn’t they invade? However, Iceland remained neutral. Even though Iceland was settled in the 9th century, the island country did not become independent until 1944. There was Prohibition most of the 1900’s in which beer was banned until March 1, 1989. This day is celebrated annually as Beer Day. My husband and his friends caught up on that celebration in April. Today Iceland has a very small population of just over 300,000 with two thirds of everyone living in Reykjavik. Geothermal power is primary source of home and industrial energy. Currency is the krona.
Icelanders are an odd sort and are pretty quirky. People are called by their first names only—with no titles and no surnames or family names. This is called patronymic or matronymic which is composed of father’s or mother’s first name and a suffix if a son or a daughter, such as: Gunnarsdottir, Jonsdottir, Jonsson, Gunnarsson, Einarsson. And women do not change their last name when married. They speak on the in breath. They have barbeques all year round in all types of weather and I read where the food is coated in sauce on everything. And more than 50 percent of the population believe in elves and trolls.
Other interesting things to mention, Iceland (per capita) publishes the most books and giving books is very common. Iceland ranks (per capita) the Best Country in the World, have the most beautiful women, the strongest men and the most Noble Prize winners per capita—1 out of 300,000. Thursdays there was no TV from 1966 to 1987 to promote human interaction and the whole month of July (for vacation) there were no broadcasts until 1983. That does not sound like such a bad thing. I also read where people drink more Coke there than anywhere else. Cars are parked everywhere. When traveling, do not leave the track or road that you are on. It is illegal to travel across lava, moss and snow and black sands. This can result in a hefty fine. It is also illegal to pick up rocks for souvenirs. Nudity is normal in Iceland. Sometimes you may have to shower naked (in public) to enter a pool (which is not chlorinated), the hot springs or the sea. I strongly suggested to my husband that he find hot springs that did not heed this rule.
What you will see in Iceland are the most striking landscapes. There are volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, snow, glaciers, ice caves, waterfalls, geothermal spas and the northern lights. The Aurora Borealis can be seen from mid-September to mid-April. There are wild horses everywhere. It goes without saying that hiking and horseback riding are very popular. The whales are a sight to see in the summer months. But no mosquitos—yay.
If you decide Iceland is worth seeing, travel time is a 6-hour trip (give or take) with an airline (that I have never heard of) out of Pittsburgh which is not terribly expensive surprisingly. The people are the friendliest you will find anywhere. It is expensive in some respects to eat and drink there. You can pay $30 for a small pizza and $12 for beer. Tom and his buddies were able to find a watering hole that only charged $8 for a beer. I will tell you reindeer is not at all appetizing. Tom loves venison so he was up for trying the reindeer but he was only able to take one bite. So now he knows reindeer meat is not the same as our white tailed deer that are plentiful in our neck of the woods. Reykjavik means smoke bay and the crime rate is low there. Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavík is worth seeing, as are the museums that are full of Viking history.
Besides Reykjavik and the usual hotels there, you have to do some traveling and stay in a bed and breakfast along the route. See the waterfalls, immerse in the hot springs, walk on the coast and see the ice that seems to be just floating and is astoundingly beautiful. Gullfoss Waterfall is a popular tourist attraction some distance from Reykjavik. Tom and his buddies visited Glazier Bay and watched seals devour fish. They also visited Westman Islands, climbed a 1000 foot peak, observed numerous waterfalls and glaciers and walked on volcanic black sand beaches.
Iceland receives over 2,000,000 travelers each year. That sounds sort of overwhelming to a population of 300,000 but tourism is a large part of the economy there. And if you go, do remember your cell phone service’s international roaming charges. My husband racked up $100 very quickly by sending a couple texts and some pictures. And be mindful of your carry-on luggage-sized bag. There is no wiggle room. The currency is the krona and the exchange rate is about one to one in dollars. Tom found that it was best to use a debit card or credit card. Our bank charged a very nominal fee for each transaction. He also had to upgrade from his passport (card) to a passport (book).
If you’re up for adventure (and you do not have to be laying on a hot beach somewhere) do visit Iceland. Everyone speaks English. You will be welcomed with open arms.