Iceland - Statistics
Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean just south of the Arctic Circle. It lies about 970 kilometers west of Norway and about 287 kilometers southeast from Greenland. Iceland is geologically a part of both the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate.
How to get to Iceland?
You can get to Iceland with a plane or a boat. Frequent flights operate to Iceland from main cities in Europe and North America and many gateways are served daily. Flight times are 2-3 hours to major gateways in Europe and 5-6 hours to the east coast of North America. All flights connect at Iceland´s Keflavik International Airport (45 km from Reykjavik).
These airline carriers are all currently flying to Iceland.
When should I travel to Iceland?
You can travel to Iceland at any time. Iceland is great and beautiful in all the seasons. The main season lasts from mid-May until early September. During this time there are long daylight hours. Traveling in Iceland off-season – winter, spring and late autumn – can also be very special. From the beginning of July most interior and highland routes are open.
The History of Iceland
The first people believed to have settled in Iceland were Irish monks who came in the eight century AD. They left, however, upon the arrival of pagan Norsemen, who came in 874 to seek freedom from Norway's oppressive king Harald Fairhair. In 930 the Icelanders founded the Althingi, their supreme general assembly - the oldest parliament in the world. Christianity was adopted in the year 1000. In 1262, Iceland became subject to Norwegian control and in 1380 came under Danish control, along with Norway. After the granting of a constitution (1874) and with an improving economy, Iceland, in 1918, finally became an independent sovereign state under a common king with Denmark. The Republic of Iceland was formally declared on June 17, 1944.
Are quite Scandinavian, exceptionally friendly, highly educated, sophisticated, attractive, honest and very modern. Their ancestors were predominately Norwegian, although some came from the British Isles.
Languages in Iceland
The country’s written and spoken language is Icelandic, a Nordic language very similar to the language spoken by Iceland's first settlers. Icelandic is one of the oldest living languages in Europe. English and Danish are mandatory subjects in school.
Most Icelanders speak fluent English. In fact, they welcome the opportunity - so never be shy about approaching an Icelander.
The Icelandic Population
The Icelandic population was 319.368 the first of January 2009, there are about 4 times that many sheep in Iceland. Iceland is the least populated country in Europe (seventh in the world). Most of the people are of Norwegian descent, with some admixture of Celtic blood from those who came from Ireland and the Scottish islands from the time of settlement.
The average life expectancy of the population of Iceland is very high. Girls born in Iceland can expect to reach 82 years of age, while boys on average reach 78 years. In comparison, men live an average of 76 years in Norway and women live an average of 81 years. Icelanders are also highly optimistic people, and should you happen to meet someone who is not positive now, he will certainly be more buoyant in the future. Even so, Icelanders hold the world record for using antidepressants. That is one of many contradictory oddities in Iceland today; a happy nation using large quantities of psychoactive drugs. Maybe Icelanders are happy because they use so much medication.
People in Iceland work a lot. Toddlers generally start playschool when they are two years old and they are then in school until they reach the age of 16. One or more periods of further education follow and many Icelanders reach the age of 30 before their education is complete. Then they spend the rest of their lives paying off the student loans they have accumulated. The school year used to be short but children are now in school for over nine months of the year. The education system compares well with others around the world according to surveys done by international institutions. Women are playing more active roles in the labor market. They give birth to fewer children, later in life. Home ownership is important to most Icelanders and property prices in the Reykjavik area have risen sharply in recent years. Most parents work while their children are in school. Mobile phones are common among adults and children. Most homes have an Internet connection. There is a general feeling of well-being. Prices in Iceland are high, but the average wage is too.
What do Icelanders eat?
Icelanders now have a diet that is closer to the recommendations of nutritionists. Consumption of saturated fats has been reduced while fruit and vegetables are eaten more often. However, some developments are not so positive, as sugar consumption has increased. Boys drink an average of one liter of sweet, carbonated drinks every day. Their sugar intake is also exceedingly high at 143 grams of added sugar per day. Altogether more than 50 kg annually! Girls consume less sugar and drink more water than boys. At the same time, consumption of coffee has decreased. Icelanders now eat more poultry than before and less lamb. Fish consumption is dropping, which is a move away from traditional Icelandic eating habits. In 1990, Icelanders ate more fish than any other European nation, but current consumption is similar to most other countries in Europe. The proportion of fat in food has fallen and is now close to acceptable levels.
What is there to see besides nature?
Nature is obviously a big part of the Icelandic experience - but it is by no means the only part. Reykjavik is one of the liveliest, safest, most sophisticated and modern cities there is, and its nightlife and cultural activities have earned an exciting reputation. Other towns such as Akureyri in the north are great for visiting. For those who want to see both city and nature, the wilds begin just outside urban communities and a wide range of sightseeing tours are on offer from most of them.
Iceland is not considered a warm place by any normal standards, but thanks to the Gulf Stream temperatures are usually moderate all year round. Average temperatures in July are usually about 12 °C in Reykjavik and it is usually a bit warmer in the north and east of Iceland. It doesn't snow as much in Iceland as many people think, especially in Reykjavik where there is usually very little snow to be seen, even during winter. However in the north and east of Iceland and the West Fjords, there is more snow during winter. A big factor in Icelandic weather is that it is unpredictable, you never know what is going to happen next. A beautiful day can suddenly turn windy and rainy (and vice versa), and you can expect to see every weather imaginable in a couple of days in Iceland, especially in late autumn and early spring.
The daylight in Iceland is from mid-May to mid-August and the sun only sets for around 3 hours per day, and there is effectively light for the whole 24-hour period. In midwinter, there are around 5 hours of effective daylight. These long and short periods of daylight add drama to the atmosphere with lingering twilight.
Reykjavik is the capital and the largest city of Iceland. It is located in southwestern Iceland on the southern shore of Faxafloi bay. Reykjavik is known worldwide for its wonderful amalgamation of unique boutiques and shops. A sense of fashion is central to the charm of the city, and the creative products that consistently originate from Reykjavik ensure that it remains at the cutting edge of art, culture and style. Reykjavik means "steamy bay" in Icelandic. It received this moniker as a result of the geothermal steam witnessed by the country's first settler, Ingolfur Arnarson.
· 61% of Icelandic population lives in the Reykjavik area
· Reykjavik population: about 120.000
· Greater Reykjavik area population: about 202.000
· There are 180 licensed pubs in Reykjavik
The solar wind is a constant flow of atomic particles from the surface of the sun. These particles travel at extremely high speeds as they approach the Earth. They are generally repelled by the gravitational field, although some of them enter our atmosphere. When the charged particles collide with gas molecules, energy is released similar to fluorescent light. This light is called the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. The lights, which shimmer and shift due to the constant movement of the particles, are normally only visible near the North and South Poles because of the structure of the Earth's magnetic field. Many tourists come to Iceland especially to watch the spectacular displays of Northern Lights. They are more clearly visible away from the Reykjavik area, where there are fewer streetlamps lighting up the surroundings.
How to drive in Iceland
Driving around Iceland in a rented car or your own vehicle gives you greater options than the bus system. Most of Route no.1, which runs around Iceland is fully surfaced except for a gravel run between lake Myvatn and Egilsstaðir in the north-eastern part of Iceland. Many other roads are gravel surfaced, but in the summertime they should be fairly easy to drive on, although they tend to slow the traveler down a bit.
Monetary unit in Iceland
The Icelandic monetary unit is the “krona” (plural “kronur”) (ISK).
Coins are in denominations of: 100 kr, 50 kr, 10 kr, 5 kr, 1 kr.
Bank notes are in denominations of: 10000 kr. 5000 kr, 2000 kr, 1000 kr, 500 kr.
All major currencies can be exchanged at the airport, banks and currency exchanges. Visa and MasterCard are accepted almost anywhere, and ATMs are easy to find.
Icelanders will ceremonially announce that handball is their national sport, although it is a long way from being the most popular. Football has far more participants. In 2002, there were 16,000 footballers and 1,000 golfers. Around 6,000 played handball. Two sports that show constantly increasing popularity are golf and equestrian sports with 7,000 people riding regularly. Other popular sports are athletics and swimming. One sport that has increased rapidly in popularity in recent years is couch football. This increasing appeal is attributed to the large number of live broadcasts from the best competitions in the world, such as the English Premier League and the European Champions League. Many Icelandic sportsmen have competed professionally at top levels all over the world.
Icelandic electrical standards are European (50Hz, 240 volts) so many North American electrical devices will require converts. Plugs are generally two-pin, so devices brought in from the UK and North America will require adapters.
Alcohol and smoking
Icelanders drink less alcohol than most other Scandinavians (the Norwegians drink less). Icelanders and Norwegians are in the group of Europeans that drink the least. A typical Icelandic family, however, spends more on alcohol than on coffee, tea, cocoa, fizzy drinks and water put together! Strong beer was prohibited in Iceland for more than 80 years until it was permitted in 1989, and consumption has increased steadily since then. Consumption of spirits fell during the same period. Many believe that the country's drinking culture has improved in recent years and there is now less drunkenness. Modern Icelanders have a growing taste for fine wines. People are more likely to drink wine with their food. Fewer teenagers go to summer festivals now, where many in the past drank alcohol for the first time. Most of these festivals are held on the public holiday at the beginning of August. Icelanders drink more heavily when they travel abroad, where prices are invariably lower than at home. They are also different to most other cultures in that they drink little during the week, choosing to indulge themselves more at weekends. 22% of Icelanders smoke. As in most Western countries, the number of people using tobacco has fallen in recent years. It is prohibited to smoke in restaurants and cafes, similar to that now in force in Ireland and Norway. Icelandic women smoke more heavily than women in most other countries.
A refund of local Value-Added Tax (VAT) is available to all visitors in Iceland. The refund will result in a reduction of up to 15% of the retail price, provided departure from Iceland is within 3 months after the date of purchase. The purchase amount must be no less than ISK 4000 (VAT included) per store. All goods (except woolens) need to be shown at customs before check-in. At Keflavik airport this applies only to tax-free forms whose refund value exceeds ISK 5000.
Icelanders regard themselves as a literate nation, and in 2000, a total of 1,137 books were published. The country's interest in books is never more obvious than at Christmas time when advertisements for the latest publications fill newspapers and television screens. Christmas books are an Icelandic phenomenon. Icelanders crowd into shops to buy books for friends and relatives. Biographies are still popular, but crime fiction is seen more and more often on the best seller lists. Arnaldur Indridason has claimed top spot for his detective novels during the last few years. Icelanders are very proud of their Nobel Prize-winning author, Halldor Laxness. His books sell well and are the subject of many further education courses. Universal literacy came early to Iceland, and less than 3% of the population is unable to read. This is similar to other Scandinavian countries.
Service and VAT are invariably included in prices in Iceland and tipping is never required. However, if you are very pleased with provided service, Icelanders are generally not offended if they are offered tip.
Opening hours of stores
Shopping hours are generally from 10:00 until 18:00 Monday to Friday. On Saturdays most shops are open from 10:00 until 16:00. Opening hours of stores vary greatly between places, especially in the countryside. Office hours are generally from 09:00 to 17:00 and opening hours of banks and post offices are generally from 09:00 to 16:00.
Icelanders enjoy a healthy life, thanks to clean air, water and quality fish. Water is safe to drink throughout Iceland. Pharmacies are called "Apotek" and are open during normal business hours. Many are open at night. Reykjavik has many great general practitioners, as well as specialists, many of whom will receive patients at short notice. There are also many Health Centers in Reykjavik, with officially appointed family doctors who receive patients at short notice during the day.
There are medical centers and/or hospitals in all major cities and towns in Iceland. The emergency phone number (24 hours) in Iceland is 112.
Health insurance policy
Citizens of Scandinavia must show a passport in case of medical emergency. Citizens of EEA countries must have the E-111 form, otherwise the patient will be charged in full. Citizens of other countries will be fully charged.
Internet access in Reykjavik
To check your e-mail or surf the net, drop in at one of Reykjavik’s Internet cafes or cafe hot spots with free wireless Internet service. Internet service is also available at the Tourist Information Centre on Adalstraeti, and at all branches of the City Library.
Mobile phones and computers
Mobile phones and computers are widely used in Iceland. There are over 280,000 mobile phones in the country — almost one per person. Every Icelander over preschool age has a mobile phone and many have two. The Danes own on average 0.83 mobile phones, the Irish 0.68 and Germans 0.81. 81% of Icelanders use the Internet as apposed to 77% in Sweden and 75% in Norway. Half of all Europeans use the Internet. There are computers in 86% of Icelandic homes and four of every five homes have an Internet connection. Icelanders are quick to adopt new technologies and determined to keep up with their neighbours.
Mobile phone system
There are a couple of GSM operators in Iceland: Siminn and Vodafone are the largest ones. Together they cover most of Iceland including all towns and villages with over 200 inhabitants. These telephone companies both sell pre-paid GSM phone cards and offer GSM/GPRS services. Pre-paid cards are available at petrol stations and shops around the country.
The telephone code into Iceland from overseas is +354 and then a seven-digit number. There are no area codes.
Western Europeans and citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore do not require visas. Tourist stays are permitted for up to three months, and can be easily extended at local police stations. If you do not live in Western Europe or one of the countries mentioned above, then contact the Icelandic embassy or consulate in your country to make sure you have a valid visa before entering Iceland If there is not an Icelandic embassy or consulate in your country, you approach the Danish embassy or consulate.
The Icelandic welfare system
All Icelanders have a right to assistance due to illness, disability, old age, unemployment, poverty or other similar circumstances. Everyone also has the right to education and training. Children can also expect all necessary levels of care and protection. This is the basis of the Icelandic welfare system. The state still runs schools and hospitals in Iceland, although some private institutions have appeared in recent years.
"There are two certainties in life: taxes and death," say the Americans, and that applies equally to Icelanders. All who live in Iceland for longer than six months are expected to pay taxes. Those who move abroad continue to be counted as Icelandic tax payers for three years unless they inform the authorities that they are paying taxes in another country. All earnings due to employment, trading, investments and interest are taxable. Grants, pensions and benefits are also subject to tax. Every individual has a personal tax allowance. All Icelanders pay national insurance, ensuring they receive a pension later in life. Many contribute additionally to pension funds and financial institutions offer an increasing range of savings options. This helps lessen any drop in income at the end of a person's working life. Individuals pay 22% to the national government and an additional 11-13% to local authorities. Taxes are high in Iceland but so are earnings. The benefits include a comprehensive welfare system and a standard of living among the best in the world today.
The Icelandic army
Iceland has no army but a helpful policy. If you have any emergency contact: The Reykjavik police, for information only, Tel: +354 444 1000 or the local police station. The Emergency phone number in Iceland is 112. (24 hours).
We advise that for your maximum comfort you wear good shoes or boots. Bring a hat and gloves and also a waterproof outer garment. Wearing three layers of lightweight upper body clothing is the most effective method for retaining warmth.
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon — a health spa on the Reykjanes Peninsula, surrounded by volcanoes and lava. This is one of the most popular tourist spots in Iceland. Relaxing in the hot water of the lagoon is an unforgettable experience. People began bathing in the pool around 1980 and soon discovered that the water, with its high mineral content, had a beneficial effect on many skin disorders. Apart from bathing in the Blue Lagoon, guests can enjoy a hot shower in water drawn from deep in the Earth's crust, steam baths, saunas, skin treatment or a relaxing massage. The Blue Lagoon is uniquely situated in clean, natural surroundings. The soothing water contains nutrients that soften the skin, while silicon granules give it a smooth, attractive sheen. Skin cream made from the waters and minerals of the Blue Lagoon has cleansing, protective, nutritious and beautifying properties. Bathing in the Blue Lagoon can be a natural treatment for psoriasis. The magnificent surroundings, fresh air, clear water and Blue Lagoon skin products are all important factors in the treatment.
Myvatn Nature Baths
The residents of the Myvatn district have enjoyed bathing in hot pools for over 1,000 years. They live in a region where there are gullies filled with warm water, boiling springs and steam jets uncontaminated with sulphur or other pollutants. One of the early bishops blessed a steam vent early in the 13th century and it was used continuously until 1940. The same steam bath was restored to its original form in 1996 and is now preserved. It proved to be a popular health spa and meeting place and plans were drawn up to develop the site. Considerable financial investment led to the opening of the Myvatn Nature Baths in June 2004. The facilities are excellent. The environment in the Myvatn district plays no little part in the success of the project.
Bjork Gudmundsdottir is without doubt the best-known living Icelander. She is an international star who sells millions of discs all over the world. She was born on 21 November 1965 in Reykjavik. Bjork herself says that she was regarded as being "different" from the age of 11. She has always been somewhat eccentric with her own style of dress that does not follow normal fashions. She started music school at 6 years of age, learning flute and piano while at the same time coming into contact with leading musicians. At home, the music of the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Frank Zappa and others filled the house and had a great influence on Bjork. In July 1993, her Debut disc was released. It was immediately popular both in Iceland and abroad. That disc opened many doors for Bjork and won countless awards. Her second release, Post, came out in 1995. It was no less varied and entertaining than her earlier release. Bjork's third disc was Homogenic, which appeared in 1997. It reflected her roots and its musical style showed distinct Icelandic influences. A long tour followed as she performed at over 40 concerts. Bjork has released three discs since, Vespertine, Medulla, and Volta and her star continues to rise and shine brightly.
The Icelandic mariner
For centuries, fishermen have gone to sea to bring food for the tables of their fellow Icelanders. The cost has been high in lives but there were few other options in this demanding country. Most of the nation's earnings have come from the export of seafood products. It is remarkable that 3% of the population generate 70% of the country's income. Icelanders owe much to their fishermen, although seamen have not always been held in such high regard. The job entails long periods away from family and friends. It is a physically demanding occupation, especially in bad weather. But seamanship is a way of life. Men go to sea young in many fishing towns and villages. The rewards can be substantial. The women look after the home and the children, who often have little contact with their fathers. A tour on a large trawler can last for over a month, with only a couple of days on land before the ship sets sail again. When a man has spent most of his life at sea, it can prove difficult to adjust to life on land. He is suddenly thrust into a new environment of which he has little experience. The fisherman's wife has attended to the home, the family's accounts and the children, leaving no clear role for the seaman ashore.