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Iceland is a realm of epic landscapes, where volcanoes reach high into the midnight sun and glaciers glint in the moonlight

Breathe deep and allow the natural splendor of this incredible island to weave its magic. There are lava fields and geysers to discover, the mysterious lights of the aurora, and such pristine nature that it almost brings a tear to the eye. Contrast the serenity of drifting icebergs and lonely peaks with the bustle of Reykjavik and take in the city sights, such as the Harpa and Perlan buildings or the Sun Voyager sculpture. Bathe in the famous hot springs of the Blue Lagoon in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, take whale watching tours in Húsavík and Akureyri and let your imagination run wild with tall tales of elves, goblins and trolls.

Things to do

The natural beauty of the island is nothing short of enchanting and on the classic Golden Circle tour of Iceland you'll see sight after incredible sight. Gaze at the glorious Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls, peer into the Hverfjall Crater, marvel at the Vatnajökull National Park and glacier and visit the charming fishing town of Höfn. Book an escorted tour or join a cruise and visit Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, before you travel even further north to experience the incredible seascapes and glaciers of Greenland.

Culture and history

Iceland is generally a classless society with a number of quirks that differentiate it from other European countries. A handshake is the normal greeting, and you should call people by their first name. This is because, interestingly, Icelandic surnames are made from the name of a person's father – for example, Aaron, son of Baldur, would be known as Aaron Baldurson; Baldur's daughter, Jane, would be known as Jane Baldursdóttir. It's also becoming more common for the mother's name to be used instead. Imagine the confusion at family reunions!

The main religion in Iceland is Lutheran, with a small minority of Catholics. However, folklore seems to play a much bigger role in the heart of many of the locals – people are just as likely to believe in elves or trolls as they are any deity, perhaps even more so. It's been known for the construction of roads to be diverted so as not to disturb the homes of these ‘hidden people’, lest terrible misfortune fall upon those responsible.

Geologically speaking, Iceland is a very young country, having been formed just 20 million years ago by a series of volcanic eruptions. It is thought that Gaelic monks were the first to inhabit the country during the 8th century. If they were, then Vikings usurped them in around 874 AD, mainly arriving from Denmark, but also from the British Isles. More and more Vikings arrived to take advantage of the free land on offer, and in 930 AD the chieftains introduced one of the first parliaments in history – known as Althing. Christianity arrived around the end of the 10th century and tithes were introduced. Warring clans led to the country coming under the rule of Denmark and its king in 1262, and so it remained until in the 19th century an independence movement emerged. Iceland reinstated the Althing in 1844 and went on to gain sovereignty after World War I (although it still shared the Danish monarchy). After Word War II, Iceland finally became a fully independent republic and went on to become a founding member of the United Nations. After rapid growth, the economy crashed dramatically in 2008. Today the country continues to stabilise financially and tourism plays a big part in its economy.

Currency

Krona - The currency is the Icelandic krona, divided into 100 aurar. Be aware that Iceland is known to be one of the more expensive places in the world, so prepare to pay extra for things, especially food and drink, than you would here in the UK.

Passports and visas

You’ll need a passport valid for at least 90 days to get into Iceland, but no visa is required for British nationals.

Phrases

Here’s a few words of Icelandic to get you started…
Talardu ensku? – Do you speak English?
Halló – hello
Bless – goodbye
Viltu gjöra svo vel – please
Takk – thank you
Já – yes
Nei – no 


Timezone

Iceland is on GMT, so there’s no time difference to worry about.

Electricity

Mains voltage is 230 volts AC (50 cycles). Sockets usually take small round two-pin plugs, so make sure to bring an adaptor with you if you need one. Iceland has the world’s greenest energy supply, with the majority of its electricity supplied by geothermal power plants and other renewable forms.

Language

Icelandic - Icelandic is the official language, which developed from the Old Norse language spoken by the early Norwegian settlers. English is taught in schools, along with Danish, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble communicating with people. Although any attempt at Icelandic is always appreciated.

Tipping

Tipping is generally not expected in Iceland, which is fortunate considering the relatively high cost of meals. Of course, if you feel a tip is deserved it will always be appreciated.

Climate

Despite its name, the climate in Iceland isn’t as cold as you might think – thanks to the effects of the Gulf Stream. Summers are relatively mild, although temperatures tend to drop significantly during the night and winters are cold. The weather can change dramatically though, so make sure you pack for every outcome. Waterproofs may also come in useful, especially as umbrellas are usually rendered useless by the strong winds that tend to accompany the rain.
Because of its northerly latitude, if you’re visiting in summer (June-July) you can expect almost 24 hours of sunshine, while in winter you may be lucky enough to spot the glorious Northern Lights.


Health

As health information can change at any time, we’d advise you to consult your GP at least 12 weeks before departure.
Country-specific information and advice on possible health risks is also published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre – see www.nathnac.org, and The British Foreign and Commonwealth Travel Advice Unit provides important health and safety information for British nationals travelling abroad at www.fco.gov.uk/travel.


Population and size

Only around 315,000 people have their permanent residence in Iceland. To put that in perspective, that’s around 30,000 less than the population of Cardiff!
Iceland sits on a geological hotspot between the north Atlantic and Arctic oceans, around 300 miles southwest of Greenland. At around 103,000 square kilometres it’s less than half the size of the UK. 



Climate