Medium 9781628871807

Frommer's EasyGuide to Iceland

Views: 210
Ratings: (0)
Guidebooks to Iceland are currently on every list of guidebook best-sellers, and will now be joined by a powerful new entrant written by an acknowledged and heavily-published expert on the subject. He is Nicholas Gill, an outstanding journalist, whose writings on Iceland have been prominently featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Food & Wine magazine, and many other notable publications. His subject, the nation located just south of the Arctic circle but warmed by the Gulf Stream (and thus moderate in climate), is increasingly regarded as a place of multiple attractions that extend far beyond Reykjavik to nearly a dozen other towns, and to breathtaking nature including swimmable thermal springs.

List price: $14.99

Your Price: $11.99

You Save: 20%

Remix
Remove
 

12 Chapters

Format Buy Remix

1 THE BEST OF ICELAND

ePub

1

The Best of Iceland

Straddling the rift between the Eurasian and North American continental plates, Iceland’s one-of-a-kind geography leaves little to the imagination. By summer the country is moss-covered lava fields, steep rocky mountainsides dotted with freely roaming sheep, pockets of forest in an otherwise treeless expanse, and bright nights of song and dance in the crisp polar air. By winter, it is bright lights darting across the sky like restless ghosts, people bathing in hot springs with snow melting in the steam just above their heads, fairy lights glowing in all the windows. Iceland’s astonishing beauty often has an austere, primitive, or surreal cast that arouses reverence, wonderment, mystery, and awe. Lasting impressions could include a lone tuft of blue wildflowers against a bleak desert moonscape or a fantastical promenade of icebergs calved into a lake from a magisterial glacier. This is the essence of Iceland—endless variations of magnificent scenery and adventure.

 

2 ICELAND IN CONTEXT

ePub

2

Iceland in context

Tell friends you’re going to Iceland, and many will wonder whether they’d be able to place the little country on a map. Most people know only that it’s somewhere west of Europe—and close enough to clog the continent’s skies with ash should a volcano or two decide to awaken, as did Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 and Bárðarbunga in 2015.

Iceland, dangling from the Arctic Circle between Greenland and Norway like a prickly Christmas decoration, is indeed a land of volcanoes. Eruptions are rare (on a tourist scale if not on a planetary one) but evidence of the country’s volcanic history abounds in the landscape—from moss-covered lava fields stretching as far as the eye can see, to geysers and hot springs, to black beaches and basalt-lined bays, to the craters and volcanic mountains themselves (often teasingly hidden away under glaciers).

In some places, houses half-swallowed by lava have been preserved for show. The Westman Islands showcase a port extension created during a 1973 eruption (p. 228), when some quick-thinking locals decided to tame the lava stream, hosing it down from boats on one side so that it would flow into the sea to improve the shape of the existing harbor.

 

3 SUGGESTED ITINERARIES

ePub

3

Suggested Itineraries

Advance planning can save you a lot of grief in Iceland. From late May until the end of August, places to stay and tours often fill up, and knowing some things in advance, such as if and when you’ll have a rental car—and whether it will have 4WD—will affect your itinerary.

We also suggest allowing for some free time in your itinerary. In Iceland, the factors most likely to derail an overbooked itinerary are the weather and weather-based cancellations of domestic flights. Free time is also useful for when you find a place you’d like to explore more thoroughly or for when a local fisherman suddenly offers you a boat trip around a nearby island, as has happened in our experience.

To jumpstart your planning, a few itineraries are suggested below. Others are found throughout the book, just waiting for you to string them together. We’ve even known people to flag all the swimming pools and hot springs for an itinerary, treating this pool-crazed country as a giant (albeit non-tropical) resort.

 

4 REYKJAVÍK

ePub

4

Reykjavík

R eykjavík, the world’s northernmost capital, is more cosmopolitan than you can shake a martini at, yet the city also clings affectionately to its parochialism. Greater Reykjavík is home to more than half the country’s population, and almost all visitors to Iceland pass through the city, many venturing no farther than the city limits before heading back to the airport. Reykjavík has become a destination in itself. Whether you’re packing hiking boots, fishing rods, or zoom lenses, it’s easy to fill a long weekend or a whole fortnight in Reykjavík.

For most of its history, Reykjavík suffered a backward reputation among European cities, but this has only intensified its heady sensation of newfound wealth and authority. Thirty years ago, no one even dreamed Reykjavík would become an international arbiter of hipness, especially in music and nightlife.

Despite its reputation for wild nights, Reykjavík by day is the most subdued of European capitals. Its cosmopolitan edge seems at odds with its squat, boxy architecture. It almost feels wrong to leave the world’s problems so far behind: Iceland’s urban life is virtually free of crime (aside from some artful graffiti), homelessness, and pollution. Reykjavík is committed to sustainable development, with aggressive tree planting, home heating and electrical systems powered by underground hot springs—that faint egg smell in bathrooms is a natural by-product—and a few buses running on hydrogen fuel (look for steam emissions from the roof). One night a year, since 2006, the entire city turns off all lights for 30 minutes simultaneously. Sleepy children stand outside gazing up at the night sky alongside their parents: Reykjavíkians paying tribute to the romance of their town’s original, natural state.

 

5 NEAR REYKJAVÍK

ePub

5

Near Reykjavík

Visitors using Reykjavík as a home base will find an incredible wealth of scenery and activities within easy reach. Typical highlights of Icelandic nature and culture are only a day trip, or even a half-day trip, away. If you have limited time, or are taking advantage of Icelandair’s free stopover on flights between North America and Europe, this southwest chunk of Iceland will provide you with more than enough waterfalls, geysers, lava fields, activities, and museums. There are plenty of good bus tours, but we recommend renting a car (even just for a day) because many sights are otherwise inaccessible. Keep in mind that parts of West and South Iceland (chapters 6 and 8) are also only an hour or two away, in case you’d like to add a glacier or volcanic eruption site to your itinerary too.

Hafnarfjörður

10km (6 miles) S of Reykjavík.

From the main road, it’s easy not to notice Hafnarfjörður, even though it’s Iceland’s third-largest town (pop. 26,000) and second-busiest port. Once you’ve reached the waterfront, however, it’s clear Hafnarfjörður has a distinct identity. Its port has been trading continuously since the 14th century, and by the early 15th century it had become a major trading hub, first with the British, then the Germans, before the Danish king imposed a trade monopoly in 1602. This history, combined with the shape of the port and its effect on centuries of town planning, gives Hafnarfjörður more the ambience of a Northern European seaside town than Reykjavík. Also unlike Reykjavík, the town is carved out of the surrounding lava field. If you’re visiting in June and want kitsch overload, come to Hafnarfjörður for the Viking Festival (p. 29).

 

6 WEST ICELAND

ePub

6

West Iceland

A breathtaking combination of rugged peaks, ambling waterfalls, and the Snæfellsjökull glacier growing in magnificence as it ducks in and out of sight along the coast-hugging road, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula feels worlds away from Reykjavík despite being a short drive. Opening up more and more to the rest of the country, thanks to improved roads and tunnels, the Westfjords, just across the bay, are a still-undiscovered natural wonder, a place where stony mountains and narrow inlets hide isolated farms and fishing villages that have changed little in decades. The area comprises a tenth of Iceland’s landmass and a third of its coastline, and round every bend is some new variation on how mountains can tumble to the sea. Fjord after fjord provides a calming contrast, stretching out to the distant Atlantic horizon.

On a clear day, the glacier-topped Snæfellsjökull stratovolcano, the same one that contained a passage into the planet’s core in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, is visible from Reykjavík. Visitors arriving at Keflavík airport should scan the northern horizon as they head toward Reykjavík, because for most this is the closest they will come to witnessing Iceland’s beautiful western corner.

 

7 NORTH ICELAND

ePub

7

North Iceland

The north of Iceland is tucked just beneath the Arctic Circle and Greenland Sea, but enjoys relatively hospitable weather and forgiving land. Northerners gloat about their climate, which is sunnier and drier than the southwest in summer. The multiform northern coast bears little resemblance to the south coast, which is dominated by glaciers and worked over by the flow of glacial sediments. The north has the highest population of any region outside the southwest corner; even cod and puffins are migrating to the north coast as the oceans warm.

Most visitors cluster in the near northeast region comprising Akureyri, Iceland’s thriving northern capital; Mývatn, a wonderland of lava forms, multi-hued geothermal fields, and birdlife; Húsavík, Iceland’s whale-watching mecca; and Jökulsárgljúfur, an extensive canyon full of magisterial rock formations and waterfalls.

Touring within this so-called “Diamond Circle”—a bit of marketing one-upmanship based on the popular “Golden Circle” in the southwest—you may keep seeing the same tourists, who can access all these sights by day from the same accommodation. Venture west of Akureyri or east of Jökulsárgljúfur and the tourist sightings quickly diminish. Visitors zoom past Húnaflói on the Ring Road, but would not regret an excursion to a seal colony on its Vatnsnes peninsula, or the stone church at Þingeyrar.

 

8 SOUTH ICELAND

ePub

8

South Iceland

A masterpiece of nature and home to some of Iceland’s most celebrated wonders, the south provides a dynamic feast for the visitor’s senses. Presiding majestically over the region is Europe’s greatest glacier, Vatnajökull, a multi-tongued monster stretching east and thrusting its force down upon 8% of the country. The frozen white mass—crowned by Iceland’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnúker, which surfaces just above the sub-glacial tongue, Öræfajökull—creates a well-focused distinction against the black deserts to the south.

The area is also the location of Eyjafjallajökull (that’s Ay-yah-fyatl-ah-yer-kutl), the unpronounceable volcano, which in April 2010 brought European air traffic to a standstill.

The Ring Road (Route 1) threads 374 km (235 miles) across this diverse landscape from Þjórsárdalur to Höfn, stitching together a progression of magnificent sights, each with its own collections of folktales and legends.

In Njáls Saga-country around Hella and Hvolsvöllur, every rock, knoll, and crag seems to have a story. The 4-day trek connecting Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk—each an unbeatable hiking area in its own right—is the most celebrated trail in Iceland. Active tour opportunities abound, from horseback riding to dog sledding. On the enchanting Westman Islands, you can explore dramatic bird cliffs by boat, or by sidling close to puffins on the ledges.

 

9 EAST ICELAND

ePub

9

East Iceland

The east has always been the domain of the dedicated explorer and a place for the tireless treasure hunter. Its remote location means that this quarter of Iceland is often left out of the regular tourist itineraries, which concentrate mainly on the areas near Reykjavík, the south, the north, and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Ferries from Europe arrive in the east, at Seyðisfjörður, but through-routes from there bypass some of Iceland’s most stunning coastal scenery.

Visitors to the Eastfjords can expect to encounter a contrast of extremes, where the valleys are lush and greener, the lakes and fjords deeper, and the mountain slopes steeper. The east is at the forefront of reforestation efforts, and Iceland’s reindeer herds are concentrated in its highlands.

Not surprisingly, local economies are dominated by fishing. In the heyday of the herring, cod, and whaling industries, the east’s rich fishing grounds attracted many Norwegian and French-speaking fishermen. Today most fjords have their own fish-processing plant, and other fjords lie abandoned or near-abandoned in all their pristine majesty.

 

10 THE INTERIOR

ePub

10

The Interior

Almost a third of Iceland is covered by highland plateaus blanketed with volcanic gravel, and punctuated only by glacial rivers, scattered mountains and lakes, smatterings of vegetation, and perhaps a stray boulder. Amid this pristine desert wasteland, visitors often pose for pictures next to directional signs at road junctions. The signs seem to point nowhere, and, in the photo, the visitor invariably grins at the absurdity—and otherworldly beauty—of the scene. The Apollo astronauts came to Iceland’s interior to train, and until tourism reaches the moon, this place may be the closest substitute.

Known as the hálendið, or highlands in Icelandic, the interior is often described as Europe’s last great untouched wilderness. This is somewhat misleading, as much of the land was vegetated before settlers and their voracious sheep first arrived.

Early settlers often traversed the interior for parliamentary meetings at Þingvellir, but many routes were closed when temperatures cooled in the 13th century and, with the advent of the ring road and interior flights centuries later, were never resurrected. In popular mythology, the interior became a refuge for outlaws and outcasts, much like the Wild West in the American imagination.

 

11 PLANNING YOUR TRIP

ePub

11

Planning Your Trip

This chapter is designed to help you with practical matters in planning your trip to Iceland: when to go, how to get there, how to get around, how to prepare. Advance planning is especially important in high season (mid-June to August), because tourism is booming and services have trouble meeting demand.

When to Go

Iceland has a concentrated tourist season, peaking from mid-June until the end of August. Many Icelanders think the summer tourists don’t know what they’re missing. Iceland offers plenty to do in the other seasons, even winter, and prices are dramatically lower for airfares, car rentals, and places to stay. Icelanders are avid Christmas celebrators, and the aurora borealis is remarkably vivid in winter. Most off-season visitors use Reykjavík as a home base, and combine city culture and nightlife with activities such as horseback riding, snowmobiling, and visiting spas.

High Season

On the other hand, high season is high season for good reason. Most tours and adventure trips to Iceland’s most renowned natural attractions end after September. Roads in the hinterlands are generally closed from October to mid-May, and some don’t open until early July. Precipitation increases in September, peaking from October to February, and frequent storms and driving rain are enough to dissuade many would-be winter adventurers.

 

12 USEFUL ICELANDIC VOCABULARY

ePub

12

USEFUL Icelandic Vocabulary

Most Icelanders speak English, often with remarkable fluency—especially among younger and more urban demographics. (In 1999, English replaced Danish as the first foreign language taught in every school.) You can easily get by without learning Icelandic, but it pays to familiarize yourself with the rules of pronunciation. Asking for directions will go far more smoothly, and Icelanders are extremely appreciative when you say their names correctly.

If you do absorb some vocabulary, be aware that Icelandic words are notorious for constantly shifting in form. All nouns are gendered, and adjectives have to match the gender, number, and case of the nouns they modify. Even proper names have multiple forms: A restaurant on a street called Strandgata would give its address as Strandgötu, and a guesthouse run by a woman named Anna Sigga is called Gistiheimili Önnu Siggu.

Pronunciation Guide

Icelandic inflections are difficult, but pronunciation rules are relatively straightforward and consistent. Stress almost always falls on the first syllable of a word. The Icelandic alphabet has 36 letters, with 12 vowels. Two consonants, the eth (ð, Ð) and the thorn (þ, Þ), are common to Old English. Icelandic letters are often pronounced as in English; the most notable exceptions are listed below. For a free online lesson in Icelandic pronunciation, visit www.travlang.com/languages. But to get a feel for the basics, we recommend just reading aloud the basic vocabulary listed below.

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Chapters

Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Sku
BPE0000229882
Isbn
9781628871838
File size
18.5 MB
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata