WHEN TO GO
Since it is not a very large country, the climatology is extrapolable throughout Iceland:
- Temperatures: they are less low than most people think, due to a warm water current from the North Atlantic that bathes its coasts, especially the southern zone. July and August are the hottest months and January and February are the coldest. In Reykjavik, temperatures in summer range between maximum of 14ºC (57ºF) and minimum of 10ºC (50ºF), and in winter between 2ºC (35ºF) and -2ºC (28ºC). The coldest cities are those that face the north coast; in Akureyri or Isafjordur temperatures would have a similar range, but 3 or 4ºC below in all the sections. The interior of the country is much colder in winter, there are hardly any populated centers and almost all roads that are separated from the coast are cut.
- Rain. It is a very rainy country, and this can spoil the trip more than the temperature. The southern coast (the less cold) is somewhat rainier. The least rainy months are June and July, with a probability of daily precipitation on the south coast of 30% and 25% on the north coast. During the rest of the year there is not much difference, from October to May the probability of daily rain ranges around something more than 50% on the south coast and just over 40% in the north.
There are two climatological phenomena that deserve separate mention:
- The Midnight Sun. Iceland is so close to the Arctic Circle that on the dates close to the summer solstice (June 21) the sun does not go down. We will see it going down, approaching the horizon only to go back up, making a circle above our heads. This translates into 24 hours of daylight, although less intense during the hours that would correspond to the night, which is a real wonder. In a country where you go because of its nature, we can adapt our visiting hours to famous natural areas or hiking to this circumstance, without assuming the risk of getting dark while in the middle of nowhere. Its opposite phenomenon is the Polar Night, close to the winter solstice (December 21), when the night should last 24 hours, but not being in the polar circle, even in December there are several hours of light.
- The aurora borealis, luminescent phenomenon of apparent magical origin and which is actually produced by the interaction of solar wind particles with the Earth’s magnetic field. The extraordinary spectacle of lights dancing in the sky is not always there, but in case they occur, it must be as dark as possible to observe it. The best time to see them are the months of March-April and September-October, because, although there are fewer hours at night than in the middle of winter, there is also less cloudiness, which would prevent us from seeing the night sky. I did not see them, having gone in June, when is always daytime.
NUMBER OF TOURISTS
- Most only visit the south of the island, many do not go beyond Vatnajokull, which makes the north a much more peaceful territory. Those who go to Westfjords in high season will think it is low season. On the night that I spent in Isafjordur at the end of June we were only 2 people in the accommodation and only 5 tourists arrived on the only daily bus line.
- High season is undoubtedly July and August. It matches the most pleasant temperatures, less rain and almost 20 hours of sunlight. The number of tourists exceeds almost 10 times the number of inhabitants, so it is expensive and difficult to find accommodation, rental cars and motor homes; It is essential to book in advance. For detailed information, see the articles TRANSPORTATION IN ICELAND and ACCOMMODATION IN ICELAND.
- End of June is a recommendable time, since the bulk of tourists has not yet arrived and there are 24 hours of day light, but not the first half, since it is possible that we still find roads cut, as it happened to me, what made it impossible to hike the full Landmannalaugar trek.
- September would be another good time; there are many less tourists and the roads and trails will be all open, although we will have to settle for about 12 hours of light as anywhere.
- Winter is a hostile time for most, but you can enjoy winter sports, auroras borealis and is the only time that is allowed access to ice caves into the glaciers.
FESTIVALS AND EVENTS
Despite being few and living in a dark and cold place almost half of the year, Icelanders are not given to get bored on their island, some of the main festivals are:
- January: Þorrablót, the most original culinary festival in Iceland is not suitable for everyone; its star dishes are fermented shark, ram testicles and sheep’s head.
- March 1 is the Day of the Beer, that although it seems a lie, was prohibited in the country until 1989.
- Icelandic Winter Games are held annually in Akureyri.
- May. In Reykjavik the Art Festival is celebrated, the most important in the country.
- Although it is true that it is possible to see them at any time of year, mild temperatures make June it the best month to be able to see whales on their coasts. In June also the flowering of Russell lupines, providing spectacular beauty to the landscape.
- July and August: there are festivals of all kinds of music throughout the country, although the most important one is Iceland Airwaves, in November.
- Language: Icelandic is the official tongue, but almost everyone would speak English.
- Social customs:
- Shoes must be removed when entering homes, and usually also in common areas of accommodation.
- It is not mandatory nor is it customary to tip.
- Discounts: usually apply to students and retirees. You must carry an ID that certifies it.
- Taxes devolution. Non-residents in the country can request it (normally it is 24%). It is returned at Arion Banki, at “Arrivals” terminal in Keflavik Airport. Purchase vouchers of 6000 kr or more of the same establishment are admitted, the articles must be unused, a form must be completed and the passport must be shown.
- Plugs: European standard of two round plugs.
- Most establishments offer free WiFi. It can be book as an extra for most caravans and motorhomes.
- Inhabitants of the European Union can use their normal telephone rate and data roaming at no additional cost, as if they were in their country of origin, since Iceland, although not belonging to the Union, is an associated country.
- Those who do not have free roaming, your best option is to buy an Icelandic SIM card and put it on your smartphone, which should be free.
- When using the GPS navigator, common sense must be applied and not blindly followed. The shortest road could be closed by snow.
Except in farms and very remote places, in Iceland cash is hardly used, paying by credit card is the rule; Visa and Master Card are accepted everywhere (always PIN cards), but it does not hurt to have some cash:
- Official currency is Icelandic krona (plural kronur, generally abbreviated as kr, international symbol ISK). There are coins 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100, and bills 500, 1000, 2000, 5000 and 10000.
- In every town there are banks, which are probably the best option to change money. In the very same Keflavik Airport there is one. ATMs are available in all banks, and they are also located in the main tourist streets of the cities. Some hotels also offer change, although it is usually worse than that of banks.
- In many establishments you can pay in euros or US dollars, although it is more expensive than doing it in ISK.
WHAT TO BRING TO ICELAND
Is not as cold as we supposed, but that does not indicate that it is not a cold, rainy and windy country. It is not a good place for instagramers dresses, here the latest fashion is down and gore-tex:
- All clothing should be, if possible, waterproof and breathable. Hiking shoes or boots with a good non-slip sole, windproof jacket and trousers are essential. The 66º North brand is indigenous, but very expensive. Knitted and wool sweaters are styled in the way that our grandmother would knit for Christmas.
- Tent for the most naturalists. There is a campsite in each city, it is a good way to save money and allows you not to book in advance.
- Sleeping bag, even if we are not going to camp. The price of a bed in hostels and some farms changes if we ask for it with or without bedding.
- Swimsuit, because this is a paradise on earth for hot springs lovers, and I not only talk about the famous Blue Lagoon. We always have to take it on, because we could find a pool in the middle of nature, this being especially frequent in the area of Lake Myvatn.
- In Iceland there are no window blinds, and if we go in summer, it will be daytime for most of the night. A sleeping mask is highly recommended.
- And as we have already said, without a credit card we are nobody.
HEALTH, DANGERS AND PROBLEMS
Iceland is considered the safest country in the world in terms of crime, so that almost all the dangers and problems we may have will be related to the weather and its effects on health. A good travel insurance is essential, because healthcare, like everything in this country, is very expensive, and should cover sports such as hiking and rescue in nature in case of emergency.
- Scandinavian citizens do not need health insurance, only show their passport, and those of the European Union have their urgent expenses covered showing the European Health Card.
- As for diseases, there is no mandatory vaccine, and there are no endemic diseases.
- There’s no need to say the most frequent and serious problems are hypothermia or freezing of exposed parts of the body, especially fingers, nose and ears.
- Iceland’s water is one of the purest that exists. The hot tap water is not heated artificially, but comes from thermal springs, so it smells like sulfur. It is not supposed to be toxic, but personally I think it is better to drink cold water and heat it to boil our spaghetti or make a tea than to use hot water directly.
- The roads, unpaved in many places, with traces of snow or ice, or even cut by rivers are daily life on the island. When renting a vehicle, a 4WD, though not essential, is the best option; also allow us to reach places that conventional vehicles can not reach, but not all, even the standard 4WD can not go through many places where it requires the use of buses and monster-type vehicles, with wheels over one meter high.
- You should not underestimate the weather, you should always be prepared for any inclement weather.
- It is important not to leave the marked roads, especially in areas of geothermal activity. We do not want to fall into a burning clay pool or in the crevice of a glacier, same as we do not want to drive our car into a stream or cause it to get stuck in the volcanic sand or snow. If this happens, you have to go backwards, do not try to go forward.
- If we find hot springs, before trying to drink or bathe you have to check the temperature, since some come out at almost 100ºC.
- Keep and eye on birds, specially arctic terns, who do not hesitate to attack anyone who approaches their nests.
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