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Where and What is Iceland? (besides fabulous)

Your closest European neighbor, Iceland, is an island nation nestled in the North Atlantic just five hours from Boston and five and a half hours from New York. (and all this time you thought it was thousands of hours away!) It is about the same size of Ohio or Kentucky and is the home to approximately 320,000 inhabitants. 180,000 live in the capital city, Reykjavik. The interior of Iceland is completely uninhabitable. All life clings to the fertile edges of the island. The greatest little nation on earth lies just about halfway between North America and Europe (it is considered part of Europe but we all know it should be made a separate continent) and sits proudly and dramatically atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian Tectonic Plates converge. Iceland’s northern coast lies just below the Arctic Circle.

Isn’t it cold in Iceland?

I like warm weather and swaying palm trees.

Then you should stay at home! NEVER go to Iceland if gorgeous weather is your holy grail. Iceland’s weather can be cruel, ethereal, horrendous, joyful, warm, cold, wet, dry, all in a period of minutes! Contrary to what you believe, Iceland is really not all that cold thanks to the Gulf Stream! Average temperatures in the summer fall in between 50 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Snow is not so prevalent in the south but the north is known for it’s superb skiing conditions near Iceland’s second largest city, Akureyri (population 17,000) Snow never stays long in the south but can hang tough in the north and east. Winter temperatures average around 32 degrees Fahrenheit –  much higher than New York!

Midnight Sun and Long Winter Nights.

In the summer (May, June, July, and some of August) the sun barely sets. In winter’s darkest months (December, January, and February) expect only about four to five hours of daylight. I still maintain that winter is the greatest time of year to visit Iceland. It is as if you have been invited to the greatest private party on the planet. Most tourists have gone and you are left with this unbelievable country and its equally unbelievable people all to yourself!

I can hardly wait to pack my fancy dresses and stiletto heels for a big night out on the town. What else should I pack?

Leave the fancy dresses at home. Iceland is wonderfully relaxed, and (within reason) neat casual attire is acceptable in even the finest restaurants in Reykjavik. Plan on wearing layers. Even in the summer you should prepare for both cold and wet conditions. Your bathing suit is essential attire no matter what the weather! There really is nothing quite as special as swimming outside during a snow storm! A large portion of Iceland’s culture lies in the warm waters ( 80 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit) of the hundreds of geothermal swimming pools and hot pots found all over the country. Good sturdy waterproof boots or shoes and outerwear are essentials as well. Leave your umbrella at home. Iceland’s winds will devour it in a hot second.

Their language has strange letters. I’m scared. Do Icelanders speak English?

Icelandic is the oldest and purest European language and for the most part has remained undiluted for about 1,000 years. English and Danish are taught in Iceland’s schools. Almost every Icelander speaks good or even great English. It is always recommended that you learn a few polite phrases. Hello: “Hello”, Goodbye: “Bless”, and Thank you: “Takk” will pretty much be all you can handle. Interestingly enough there is no word for “please” in Icelandic.

What currency am I using? The coins have fish all over them! How pretty! Can I use my debit card and credit card in Iceland?

The Icelandic currency is called the Króna. Currency can be exchanged at the airport upon arrival. Most major credit card are accepted. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted. American Express much less so. Banks and ATM machines are found throughout the country. Call your credit card company before you travel and alert them that you will be traveling outside of the United States.

What about the electricity?

Iceland’s electrical standards are the same as the rest of Europe (50Hz, 240 volts). You will have to purchase a converter prior to departure. Plugs are generally two-pin.

Do they have WIFI? Can I bring my computer? Will my cell phone work there?

Icelanders are just about the most sophisticated people on the planet. They love their electronic gadgets and toys just like the rest of us. They have the highest rate of computer use in the world. Nearly every hotel, no matter how remote, will have a computer you can use or Wifi. You can rent a cell phone in Iceland. Many North American phones will not work here as Iceland operates on the European standard. Call your provider for more information.