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Nordic FAQ - 5 of 7 - ICELAND
Section - 5.4 Main tourist attractions

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Top Document: Nordic FAQ - 5 of 7 - ICELAND
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5.4.1 ReykjavÝk

ReykjavÝk is the most northerly capital in the world and the largest city of
Iceland, situated on Faxa Bay on the southwest coast. It is here that
Iceland's first settler, Ingˇlfr Arnarson, landed in 874. According to the
sagas, when he approached the shore, he threw two carved, wooden pillars to
the water and swore that he would settle where they came ashore. The
settlement began as a small fishing village, a charter was granted in 1786,
and the city became an episcopal see in 1796. ReykjavÝk has been the seat of
the Althing since 1843, and it was made the capital of Iceland in 1918.
Ingˇlfr named the place ReykjavÝk (Smoky Bay), perhaps because of the
geysers and hot steam pouring from the ground. However, ReykjavÝk is in fact
probably one of world's most smoke-free cities, because of the extensive use
of clean, geothermal power.

More than half of Iceland's population lives in or near ReykjavÝk, making it
the heart of the country's cultural, commercial, and governmental life. It's
a modern city, but the old centre, including the Parliament House (1881) and
the mid-18th century Government Building, has been carefully preserved.
Close to them are the National Library and the National Theatre, and the
statue of Ingˇlfr Arnarson. Interesting churches in ReykjavÝk include the
the old cathedral near the Parliament, and the the new, 75m high
HallgrÝms-kirkja; there's a great view over the city from the spire. Other
places worth visiting are the University (1911), the National Museum (1863)
which houses exhibits from around the world and items from the Viking age
and Iceland's nautical past, and the ┴rni Magn˙sson Institute (where the
priceless saga manuscripts are on display.

The newest sight of the city is the City Hall (opened in 1992), which is
built partly on a lake; apart from being an administrative centre, it also
houses exhibitions and a cafe with views to the lake. ┴rbŠr Folk Museum is
in the outskirts of the city, and has a collection of old, traditional
buildings, mostly from ReykjavÝk, but also from elsewhere in Iceland. The
Nordic House designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto has a library,
cafe, a permanent exhibition devoted to the Nordic way of life, and stages
concerts, etc.

5.4.2 Einar Indri­ason's travel tips

[ From: Einar Indri­ason <> ]

As many people come to Iceland by a plane the first impression that they get
of the country is that it must be barren and covered with lava, as that is
the view they see on their way from KeflavÝk airport to the Capital. That is
not correct. Iceland has very varied landscape; it is magnificent in some
places while there's nothing special in other places.

Some popular attractions are the day trips from ReykjavÝk. One of them is
called the "golden circle" which goes from ReykjavÝk to Ůingvellir, from
there to Geysir, Gullfoss and even a small visit in Fl˙­ir. From there it
continues to Hverager­i, finally returning to ReykjavÝk. Another one is to
visit the "Blue Lagoon" (Blßa lˇni­) and take a bath in the lagoon.

Other tours are also popular but they take you out to the country and you
can expect to spend some days or even longer on such tours. Examples of such
tours include: (but do not fully cover them :-> Mřvatn, Skaptafell,
Landmannalaugar, H˙safell, Sprengisandur, Kj÷lur.

What are those places mentioned in the above text?

ReykjavÝk City is the capital of Iceland, as you should know if you read the
"fact-sheet" on Iceland :->

Ůingvellir is where the old parliament was located. It is now a national
park with some magnificent views.

Geysir is a hot water spring, and it blows occasionally. Much more alive is
its fellow 'hot-water-spring' named Strokkur. One can always count on
Strokkur to give some fancy shows if you wait ca. 5-20 minutes (depends on
the weather).

Gullfoss is a "two-storey-high" waterfall about 10km from Geysir. The view
there is magnificent.

Fl˙­ir is a small town in the southern part of the country, not very far
from Gullfoss and Geysir, and is famous for it's mushrooms.

Hverager­i is also a small town in the southern part of the country about
45km away from ReykjavÝk. In Hverager­i there are many greenhouses powered
by the hot water from the earth.

Blßa Lˇni­ (blue lagoon) is a pool of water that is located on the
south-western corner of the country. It is a bluish pool (hence the name)
which contains some stuff that psoriasis-patients find great to rub and
smear on their body. Others find the lake or pool a great place to relax.
The temperature of the lake ranges from warm to hot, and there are places in
the water where no-one should go to as the temperature gets too high there
and can cause a severe burns.

Mřvatn is a lake in the northern part of the country. The landscape around
the lake is magnificent, and not only the landscape closest to the lake but
for some distance from it too. At Mřvatn there are several birds and plants
that are rarely seen elsewhere in the country.

Skaptafell is an "oasis" at the root of a glacier in the south-eastern part
of the country. Even if it is at the root of a glacier it has a great views
and you will feel the nature. (But you must take the time to relax and feel
the nature!)

And how are you supposed to travel in Iceland?

Well, you can take your own car on the ferry from Scotland or Faroe Islands
to Iceland and use it to drive around the country. If you do, please bear in
mind that Iceland has some sensitive plants and that driving outside of the
roads is not nice to the nature. Also please bear in mind to follow all
instructions about a closed road or closed track and don't try to "bypass"
it, even if you are on some "highly-efficient-off-road" vehicle.

Or you could rent a car and drive around the country on it. (If you do, the
same applies to you as for those that bring their own car; be gently on the

Or you could hitch-hike around the country.

Or you could buy a ticket with the buses here. Last time I checked, one
could buy two types of tickets. (Not counting the ticket that takes you from
place A to place B with minimum of hassle). I am talking about "unlimited
use of buses for some limited time" vs. "limited use of busses for (almost)
an unlimited time".

You can buy a ticket that says something like this: "This person can travel
with all busses during the period from XXX to YYY, and need not pay any
more; he has already paid for the trip."
And then there is the "This person can only travel in one direction on the
main-road, but can take as much time to do it as is needed. (Up to a limit
that is, but that limit is pretty high.)"

A question that is sometimes asked is: "What clothes should I take with me
to Iceland?"

Well, I am not sure if you'll believe this but I recommend that you take the
whole "spectrum"; light clothes for the hot and sunny days, clothes to
protect you from light rain and no wind, clothes to protect you from high
wind and heavy rain, and warm clothes to keep you warm those freezing
nights. (Yes, they do occur, even in the summertime. Especially in the
higher parts of the country).

You might get some cultural shocks here in Iceland in regard to food. But
even if you don't like the looks or the names or the smell or something
about some Icelandic food, do try it. Even just one bite of it. Looks,
names, smells can be deceiving.

One of the specialties occasionally offered is called "svi­". Svi­ is a
burned sheep-head, which is boiled and eaten. It tastes good, but you might
be put off by the head looking at you while you're eating it :->

"Skyr" is a white, milky substance, which looks a bit like jelly, but has a
peculiar taste and no visitor to Iceland should leave without tasting skyr

Lifrarpylsa is a mixed internals from sheeps and is boiled. It is eaten
either cold or warmed up.

A full day tour through the black rock desert to Her­ubrei­, the queen of
Icelandic mountains, and the fertile oasis at its foot, on across the lunar
landscape to the great Volcanic caldera Askja. Askja last erupted in 1961.
The crater VÝti (hell) formed by an immense eruption in 1875 which buried
parts of the farmland in northeast Iceland in ashes, is now filled with warm
sulphuric water (good for bathing).

5.4.3 More tips from various articles

The following part is from Dirk Grutzmacher <>,
compiled of replies to a query posted to the group.

"What to do"

There is a "Lonely Planet" series book on "Iceland, Greenland & Faeroes".
For a complete guide to Iceland I suggest to look into getting this. Iceland
is probably Europes most expensive country. So I imagine you'll want to camp
or go bed'n'breakfast. It's advisable to book B&B before you go. If you look
back a couple of 100 articles in the soc.culture.nordic newsgroup someone
posted about a week back a list of B&B phone numbers. Go round the whole
country. It's not all the same! Take at least one inland "lowflying" flight.
The country from above is really something. Try the horse riding. An
Icelandic horse is like no other horse.

"What not to do"

Tip. Icelanders don't like being tipped.

Don't wear your shoes in their houses. Everyone takes off their shoes as
they enter a house.

If you like a occasional beer to relax ;-) then I suggest you buy a pack of
beer in the Icelandic duty free as you enter the country. Just follow all
the Icelanders as they get of the plane. They ALWAYS buy from duty free.
You'll see why, if you go to a night club and order a beer. Usually 6 pounds
a pint.

Don't wear a jumper and jeans if you want to go out at night on the town.
Icelanders over dress no matter what the occasion. You can spot the tourist
by the jumper'n'jeans.

Some clubs get a bit wild. Be careful. Especially if you chat up local

Iceland is the most hospitable country I've ever been to. They almost seem
nicer to outsiders than they do to each other. Never be afraid to ask any
question of anyone.

Also most younger Icelanders speak English. German also, but this is not as
common. They all know Danish but refuse to speak or even understand it. :->

Answer 2

There is so much that you can see in Iceland, the nature is just out of this
world. (the NASA used the landscape of Mt. Askja to practice for the moon
voyage in the late sixties)

If you never get sea-sick, you should definetly go to Stykkishˇlmur, which
is a town on the SnŠfellsnes peninsula. There you can sail on Brei­afjord.
Not only is it full of many small and beautiful islands, but also it is much
fun to see all the seabirds. In the middle of the trip the crew will throw
down a small trawl, which will bring back many specimens of the animals that
live on the bottom of the sea; crabs, sea-urchins, clams, scallops, and
mussels. If you are daring enough you can try to taste the scallops and the
sea-urchin's eggs, it really doesn't taste as bad as it sounds.

This is one of many package-trips that BS═ (the Icelandic Grayhound bus
system) offers each summer. Some of the worthwhile BS═ trips are:

A day trip to Ůingvellir which is the spot where the Icelandic parliament
(Althing) was founded. This is also where the North American and the
European crustal plates meet.

The "Blue Lagoon" is a very pretty lagoon formed from excess water from a
hot water plant. In it is white silica clay, which some believe is a good
medicine for psoriasis and eczema. The clay gives the lagoon a very special
colour, and the steam gives it a very mystic atmosphere. In the Blue Lagoon
there is a resturant, from the poolside are long tables into the lagoon,
where waiters in swimsuit serve you very good fish. it is a unique

The Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) are a group of 15 islands, named after
the Irish slaves of the first Norse settler. Only the biggest one, Heimaey
is inhabited. In 1973 all the residents had to be evacuated when a volcanic
eruption destroyed a sizable part of the island. A year later almost all of
the poeple returned to rebuild the town. On the Westman Islands is the
biggest Puffin colony in Europe.

The "Golden Circle" is the most popular tourist attraction. On this tour you
will see the "golden waterfall" (gullfoss) where hundreds of tons of glacial
water cascade down some 32 meters into the 40-70 m deep river gorge. Only
six km. to the west lies the Geysir geothermal area, with the great Geysir,
known to have erupted water as high as 80 m. in the air. Today the very
active Strokkur erupts every few minutes, some 10-20 m. high. A great tour
for two of the world's most famous natural wonders. The tour ends with a
visit to Ůingvellir, and then on to ReykjavÝk.

The Northern part of Iceland is very beautiful. From Akureyri (the capital
of the north) you should visit the famous lake Mřvatn, the beutiful
water-fall Go­afoss and the Krafla area. The Dimmuborgir area (the black
castles) is spooky. There the stories of the "Huldufˇlk" really come true.
The huldufˇlk are small people that live in the rocks of Iceland. The
Huldufˇlk were created when Adam and Eve were still in Paradise. One day God
decided to pay them a visit. Eve found out that God was on his way, so she
started to wash all her children, but she couldn't finish washing them all,
so she hid them. When God came he asked if the children that she showed him
were all the children that she owned, and Eve said they were. Then God said
that he knew that she was lying, and since she felt that her dirty children
were not good enough to show him, he decided that nobody should be able to
see them, and made them invisible. The Huldufˇlk can decide if they want you
to see them or not.

A full day tour through the black rock desert to Her­ubrei­, the queen of
Icelandic mountains, and the fertile oasis at its foot, on across the lunar
landscape to the great Volcanic caldera Askja. Askja last erupted in 1961.
The crater VÝti (hell) formed by an immense eruption in 1875 which buried
parts of the farmland in northeast Iceland in ashes, is now filled with warm
sulphuric water (good for bathing).

J÷kulsarlˇn and Skaftafell national park are very cool places to see.
J÷kulsarlˇn is a glacial lagoon at the edge of Vatnaj÷kull ice tounges,
which is full of magnificent floating icebergs. Skaftafell national park is
a beutiful contrast between the white icecap, the black basaltic sands,
muddy glacial waters and clear brooks in narrow gulches, woodlands and wide
variety of flowering plants is enough to amase anyone.

It is a unique experience to go horseback riding in Iceland. There are many
companies that offer those trips.

Many of the day-trips that I have listed above have to be booked in advance
so it is very good to decide what you are going to do before you come here,
or at least to have a good idea about what you'd like to do.

Answer 3

It depends whether you've seen fjords, glaciers or volcanic scenery before.
A week is not too much time, so you might not want to take the bus right
round the island (what I did in '88, and it was wonderful). My favourite
bits were the eastern fjords (the bus careering round gravel roads on cliff
edges) and the black sands east of VÝk on the south coast. Eat skyr and
ßvaxtagrautur and dried fish (because you won't find them anywhere else
probably), do try and speak Icelandic a bit (there's a good Langenscheidt
dictionary which you ought to be able to buy there), cos the Icelanders
really open up if you try a bit. Go swimming somewhere, just for the warmth
and the smell. The Blue Lagoon is OK, but there are an awful lot of
tourists; same goes for Gullfoss and Geysir and Thingvellir.

The weather will probably be OK; like Argyll but colder. And the YHs are
pretty good...

5.4.4 Accommodation in Iceland

Summer hotels:

Various hotels around the country operate in summer only. Many of those are
schools in winter with swimming pools and hot springs nearby. Most have
licenced resturantsand bars. Prices for a single room with shower range
from: USD 53 (breakfast not included), and for a double room with shower
from USD 84.50 (breakfast from USD 10)

Edda hotels:

The Icelandic tourist bureau operates a chain of seventeen tourist-class
hotels around the country under the name of EDDA hotels. Both bed and
breakfast and sleeping-bag accommodations are offered. The head office is at
SkˇgarhlÝ­ 18, 101 ReykjavÝk TEL: +345-562-3300 FAX: +345-562-5895. Prices
for rooms without bath range from USD 52 for a single to USD 68 for a
double, and for rooms with bath from UDS 72 for a single to USD 99 for a
double, breakfast costs USD 11 and sleeping-bag accommodation is from USD 14

Farmhouse accommodation:

Icelandic Farm Holidays is a chain of farms around Iceland offering
travellers accommodation and variety of services. some activities offered at
farms are horseback riding, fishing, hunting rounding up sheep and swimming.
Accommodation is in the farmhouse, separate houses or cottages. Travellers
can choose from bed and breakfast or sleeping-bag accommodation. Cottages
are usually rented by the week. For a new brochure or booking, contact a
travel agent or Icelandic Far Holidays, BŠndah÷llin at Hagatorg, 107
ReykjavÝk, TEL: +345-562-3640. FAX: +345-562-3644. Prices for bed and
breakfast per person in a double room range from USD 40-70, and for
sleeping-bag accommodation from USD11-22. A cottage for one week costs on
average USD 400-600 for 4 persons, and USD 450-670 for 6 persons.

Youth and family hostels:

There are various youth and family hostels around Iceland and all people are
welcome regardless of age. Almost all hostels have family rooms (rooms with
2 to 4 beds). A few hostels are open all year, others operate in summer
only. for further information contact the Icelandic Youth Hostels
Association, Sundlaugarvegur 34, 105 ReykjavÝk TEL: +345-553-8110, FAX:
+345-567-9201. Price for accommodation is USD 20, for members USD 17, linen
extra USD 4, breakfast extra USD 9.

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