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Places on Iceland (the s.c.nordic FAQ)
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The home pages for the Usenet newsgroup soc.culture.nordic
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Places on Iceland


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view of Iceland
 


Subject: 5.4 

Main tourist attractions

 

5.4.1 Reykjavík

Reykjavík 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, Ingólfr 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. Reykjavík has been the seat of the Althing since 1843, and it was made the capital of Iceland in 1918. Ingólfr named the place Reykjavík (Smoky Bay), perhaps because of the geysers and hot steam pouring up from the ground. However, Reykjavík is in fact probably one of world's most smoke-free cities, due to its extensive use of clean, geothermal power.

More than half of Iceland's population lives in or near Reykjavík, making it the heart of the country's cultural, commercial, and governmental life. It's a modern city, but the old center, 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 Theater, and the statue of Ingólfr Arnarson. Interesting churches in Reykjavík include the the old cathedral near the Parliament, and the the new, 75m high Hallgríms-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, items from the Viking age and Iceland's nautical past, and the Árni Magnússon 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 center, it also houses exhibitions, and a cafe with views on to the lake. Árbær Folk Museum is in the outskirts of the city, and has a collection of old, traditional buildings, mostly from Reykjavík, 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.

 

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5.4.2 Einar Indriðason's travel tips

[ From: Einar Indriðason <einari@rhi.hi.is> ]

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 Keflavík airport in to the Capital. This is a misleading first impression. Iceland has a 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 Reykjavík. One of them is called the "golden circle" which goes from Reykjavík to Þingvellir, from there to Geysir, Gullfoss, and even a small visit in Flúðir. From there it continues to Hveragerði, finally returning to Reykjavík. Another treat is to visit the "Blue Lagoon" (Bláa lónið) and to 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 :-> Mývatn, Skaptafell, Landmannalaugar, Húsafell, Sprengisandur, Kjölur.

What are those places mentioned in the above text?

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

Þingvellir 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 some 5-20 minutes (depending on the weather).

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

Flúðir is a small town in the southern part of the country, not very far from Gullfoss and Geysir, and is famous for its mushrooms.

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

Bláa Lónið (blue lagoon) is a pool of water that is located in the south-western corner of the country. It is a bluish pool of water (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 soothing 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 because the temperature is too high there, and can cause severe burns.

Mývatn 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 around it too. At Mývatn 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 with it. (If you do, the same applies to you as for those that bring their own car; be gentle on the land).

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 hassles). I am talking about "unlimited use of buses for some limited time" versus. "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 "svið". Svið 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; no visitor to Iceland should leave without tasting skyr first!

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

A full day tour is through the black rock desert to Herðubreið, 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 Víti (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).

 

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5.4.3 More tips from various articles

The following part is from Dirk Grutzmacher <D.Grutzmacher@ed.ac.uk>, 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 Europe's 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.

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 girls.

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. (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 definitely go to Stykkishólmur, which is a town on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. There you can sail on Breiðafjord. 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 BSÍ (the Icelandic Grayhound bus system) offers each summer. Some of the worthwhile BSÍ trips are:

A day trip to Þingvellir 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 color, and the steam gives it a very mystic atmosphere. In the Blue Lagoon there is a restaurant; from the pool-side are long tables into the lagoon, where waiters in swimsuit serve you very good fish. It is a unique experience.

The Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) are a group of 15 islands, named after the Irish slaves of the first Norse settlers. 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 people 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 kilometers to the west lies the Geysir geothermal area, with the great Geysir, known to have erupted water as high as 80 meters in the air. Today the very active Strokkur erupts every few minutes, some 10-20 meters high: a great tour for two of the world's most famous natural wonders. The tour ends with a visit to Þingvellir, and then on to Reykjavík.

The Northern part of Iceland is very beautiful. From Akureyri (the capital of the north) you should visit the famous lake Mývatn, the beautiful water-fall Goðafoss and the Krafla area. The Dimmuborgir area (the black castles) is spooky. There the stories of the "Huldufólk" really come true. The huldufólk are small people that live in the rocks of Iceland. The Huldufólk 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 Huldufólk can decide if they want you to see them or not.

A full day tour through the black rock desert to Herðubreið, 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 Víti (hell) formed by an immense eruption in 1875 which buried parts of the farmland in northeast Iceland in ash, is now filled with warm sulphuric water (good for bathing).

Jökulsarlón and Skaftafell national park are very "cool" places to see. Jökulsarlón is a glacial lagoon at the edge of Vatnajökull ice tongues, which is full of magnificent floating icebergs. Skaftafell national park displays a beautiful contrast between the white ice-cap, the black basaltic sands, muddy glacial waters, and clear brooks in narrow gulches. Woodlands and a wide variety of flowering plants is enough to amaze anyone.

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

Many of the day-trips that I have listed above have to be booked in advance so it is wise 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 favorite bits were the eastern fjords (the bus careering round gravel roads on cliff edges) and the black sands east of Vík on the south coast. Eat skyr and ávaxtagrautur 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), because 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...

 

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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 licensed restaurants bars. Prices for a single room with shower range from: US$ 53 (breakfast not included), and for a double room with shower from US$ 84.50 (breakfast from US$ 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 Skógarhlíð 18, 101 Reykjavík TEL: +354-562-3300 FAX: +354-562-5895. Prices for rooms without bath range from US$ 52 for a single to US$ 68 for a double, and for rooms with bath from UDS 72 for a single to US$ 99 for a double, breakfast costs US$ 11 and sleeping-bag accommodation is from US$ 14

Farmhouse accommodation:
Icelandic Farm Holidays is a chain of farms around Iceland offering travelers 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. Travelers 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 Farm Holidays, Bændahöllin at Hagatorg, 107 Reykjavík, TEL: +354-562-3640. FAX: +354-562-3644. Prices for bed and breakfast per person in a double room range from US$ 40-70, and for sleeping-bag accommodation from US$ 11-22. A cottage for one week costs on average US$ 400-600 for 4 persons, and US$ 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 Reykjavík TEL: +354-553-8110, FAX: +354-567-9201. Price for accommodation is US$ 20, for members US$ 17, linen extra US$ 4, breakfast extra US$ 9.



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