Iceland is classified as a Nordic country, located in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. The entire population of the country numbers less than 400,000. The capital and largest city of Reykjavík and rural areas of the country offer quiet vacation destinations for Europeans and other international travelers. At the same time, the country provides visitors with a fascinating history, numerous landmarks, and plenty of things to do. Travelers come from around the world to see her volcanoes and glaciers and never leave disappointed.
It is believed that Iceland was first inhabited back in 874 when Norse settlers arrived on the island. Until 1918, Iceland was considered part of Norway, and then later, Denmark, although the country claimed its independence in the early 20th century. Iceland announced herself as a Republic in 1944. Most of the island inhabitants are descended from Gaelic and Norse settlers.
Languages and Religion
The main language spoken in Iceland is a North Germanic language that has descended from the Old Norse language and is today called Icelandic. Because of its relative isolation, schools do teach Danish and English and most inhabitants of the country speak and understand both languages. Other languages spoken in Iceland include German, Swedish, Norwegian, and French. A large majority of Iceland inhabitants belong to the Church of Iceland, classified as Lutheran denomination. A very small number of the population claims no affiliation with any specific church or belief.
Interestingly, despite her location between the North Atlantic and Arctic Sea, Iceland enjoys a rather temperate climate due to warm Gulf Stream weather patterns. The coastlands of the island are also relatively temperate during winter months and remain ice free. The southern coast of the island provides warmer and windier temperatures than the north, though the central highlands are considered the coldest. In the wintertime, snowfall is common in the north but not so much in the South. Reykjavík averages 13°C (approximately 56°F) in the summer months.
Places and Cities to Visit
Despite its isolation from Western Europe, Iceland receives a surprisingly high number of visitors on a yearly basis thanks to her unique geography and volcanoes. The country is filled with ice fields, plateaus with occasional mountain peaks, while the coastline is riddled with fjords and bays. The country is most known for its volcanoes that include:
- Eyjafjallajokull (last eruption in 2010)
Of course, there are other things to do in Iceland besides visiting her volcanoes. Some of the most popular things to do while in Iceland include visiting the Vatnajökull National Park, covering approximately 13% of Iceland and classified as the largest national park in Europe. The Pingvellir National Park is filled with historical importance and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park has fascinating natural and geologic features. If you have the time, visit Snaefellsnes National Park, home to the Snaefellsjökull Glacier, a volcano that stands over 1,400 m high.
After you’ve visited the national parks, enjoy some whale watching, or bask under the awesome Northern lights by night. Ice climbing is a popular activity and pastime in Iceland, as is horseback riding, hiking, and bicycling.
Car Hire Services
Car hire services in Iceland are typically found at major airports or in Reykjavík. It is recommended that travelers arriving at Iceland pre-book vehicles, as their numbers may be limited depending on the season or events going on at the time. Car rental services available from Keflavík International Airport serving the Reykjavík area provide numerous options. Compare prices and types of vehicles for rent (midsize, 4×4 jeeps, economy, and compact) from Keflavík Airport Car Rental or other providers located at the airport. Car rental stations are clearly marked. For example, Sixt car rental offices are located in the building next to the arrival hall, and provide free shuttle services. Other popular choices include:
Be aware that driving in Iceland may provide challenges that many drivers aren’t used to. For starters, many of the roads are not paid, but gravel. Drive on the right side of the road and always wear your seat belt. Headlights are to stay on at all times. Be advised that many car rental agencies located in Iceland will not allow rental cars on any unsecured highland or mountain roads. Always ask at the rental car agency the limitations for where you can take your rental car.
A number of documents are required for renting driving a car in Iceland. Documents include your driver’s license, proof of insurance, a passport, and vehicle registration. Non-residents must be 25 years old to rent off-road jeeps, although for on-road travel the minimum age for renting cars in Iceland is 21.
The speed limit in Iceland is 50 km an hour in urban areas, and 80 km an hour on gravel country roads. When driving on an asphalt or hard surfaced road, the speed limit is 90 kph. You are not allowed to drive off-road in Iceland.
It is also forbidden to use cellular phones while driving. When driving in Iceland, don’t drink. Police strictly enforce alcohol-free driving, and you may have your license revoked if you are caught driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.5%.
Official gateway to Iceland – www.iceland.is
CIA world factbook – Iceland – www.cia.gov
Visit Iceland – www.visiticeland.com/plan-your-trip/getting-around/driving-in-iceland