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Iceland Discoveries
Iceland means new and different things for you to see and do, whatever the season. Every part of the year has its own special attractions, character and charm. And don´t let the name deceive you - Iceland can be very warm in summer when the sun shines virtually round the clock, while January temperatures are around 0°C.

Facts about Iceland
The Country
Iceland is an island of 103.000 km2 (39,756 sq.miles), about one-third larger than Scotland or Ireland. Its highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur, rises to 2.119 m and over 11 per cent of the country is covered by glaciers, including Vatnajökull, the largest in Europe.

Situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is a hot spot of volcanic and geothermal activity: 30 post-glacial volcanoes have erupted in the past two centuries, and natural hot water supplies much of the population with cheap, pollution-free heating. Rivers, too, are harnessed to provide inexpensive hydroelectric power.

Out of a population numbering more than 300.000, half live in the capital Reykjavík and its neighbouring towns in the southwest. Keflavík International Airport is located about 50 km from the capital. The highland interior is uninhabited (and uninhabitable), and most centres of population are situated on the coast.

Iceland was settled by Nordic people in the 9th century - tradition says that the first permanent settler was Ingólfur Arnarson, a Norwegian Viking who made his home where Reykjavík now stands. The Icelanders still speak the language of the Vikings, although modern Icelandic has undergone changes of pronunciation and, of course, of vocabulary! Iceland is alone in upholding another Norse tradtion, i.e. the custom of using patronymics rather than surnames; and Icelander´s christian name is followed by his or her father´s name and the suffix -son or -dóttir, e.g. Guðrún Pétursdóttir (Guðrún, daughter of Pétur). Members of a family can therefore have many different "surnames", which sometimes causes confusion to foreigners!

In 930, the Icelandic settlers founded one of the world´s first republican governments; the Old Commonwealth Age, described in the classic Icelandic Sagas, lasted until 1262, when Iceland lost its independence, and in 1944 the present republic was founded. The country is governed by the Althing (parliament), whose 63 members are elected every four years. four-yearly elections are also held for the presidency; President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was elected in June 1996 to succeed Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, and was re-elected in June 2000. The head of state plays no part in day-to-day politics.

The economy is heavily dependent upon fishing. Despite efforts to diversify, particularly into the travel industry, seafood exports continue to account for nearly three-quarters of merchandise exports and approximately half of all foreign exchange earnings. Yet less than 10 per cent of the workforce is involved in fishing and fish processing. The travel industry makes up the second-largest export industry in Iceland. The standard of living is excellent, with income per capita among the highest in the world. The financial sector has benn liberalised in recent years. The economy is service-oriented: two-thirds of the working population are employed in the service sector, both public and private. Iceland is a member of the European Fee Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEC).

Life expectancy, at 81.3 years for women and 76.4 for men, is one of the highest in the world, and a comprehensive state health-care system aims to keep it that way.

Natural Wonders
Nature the Way Nature Made It
Much of Iceland is still taking shape before your very eyes - raw, dramatic landscapes born from volcanic eruptions and carved out by glaciers. Other parts have hardly changed since the first Viking settlers saw them more than 1,100 years ago. You'll experience wilderness and wildlife, energy and total calm, within easy reach wherever you stay, even on day trips.

Culture and Heritage
Icelanders are proud that they still speak the ancient language of the vikings, but they certainly don´t just live in the past. Their cherished ancient heritage lives on in harmony with the most exciting innovations from the world of arts and cultue today. This refreshing mix of local, traditional, progressive and cosmopolitan culture appeals to almost every taste.

Music and song
- the whole scale from the Iceland Symphony Orchestra to Björk.
Colourful festivals
and theme exhibitions bring local history to life around the country.
International and home artists
with dozens of exhibitions at museums and galleries every month.
International film and short film festivals
and a thriving film industry
Vikings, Sagas and folklore
festivals, exhibitions and events that take you right into the Icelandic heart and soul.
Volcano exhibitions and shows
learn how nature lets off steam - and how man has learnt to live with it.
Mid-Atlantic music venue
when major bands visit Iceland, audiences flock in from both sides of the Atlantic.

Supreme cuisine
Culinary art in the form of ocean-fresh seafood, highland lamb, game and traditional delicacies

The "Cool" Iceland
Iceland is so close to Europe that you can just go there on whim for a quick change of scene and scenery. With regular flights from many European gateways, you can be there in less than three hours for a long weekend or even for a long day trip. What you can see and do depends on how long you go for and at which time of the year. While you´ll need a longer time in summer to explore the country to the full, efficient sightseeing tours will give you the chance for a quick year-round experience of several miracles of nature as well as the urban revelation of culture, nightlife and good living.
Many people seize the oportunity of a cultural event such as a concert in Iceland to take a break with unimaginable combinations of other leisure attractions in a sizzling new environment. For instance, you can go bathing in thermal waters virtually the moment you get off the plane, dine afterwards on the best gourmet seafood you´ve vert tasted, see your concert, join the thousands on Europe´s liveliest after-midnight pub scene, then round off your trip the next day with some whale watching before catching your plane back, refreshed, invigorated and astonished.
For stays of a couple of days, classic sightseeing attractions such as the "obligatory" Gullfoss waterfall, sputing Geysir and historic Þingvellir are always a stunning change from the urban landscape, but the appeal of Iceland´s natural forces is more than just a snapshot through the window. You can interact with the forces of nature through river rafting, glacier exploration by snow scooter and a host of other new and sensational ways, within easy reach of the city. And once you´re back in civilisation, there´s just as much action and interaction on the nightlife front.
Some traveller love Iceland not only for what they can be sure of finding, but equally for the regular surprises it springs. What other country boasts a phallological museum on its capital´s main shopping street? And you could well chance upon a short festival or celebration of your favourite field of art, music or film - or discover a new one that simply doesn´t get any space in the Anglo-Saxon world.
Whether you want to let off steam, see the natural and cultural sights, stroll, shop, celebrate or just breathe in deep - it´s all there in endless permutations. There´s always something new and exciting in Iceland whatever the time of year, but be sure to check out the seasonal features.
When in Iceland, do as the Icelanders do: eat, drink and be merry!

Since coffee is the unofficial drink of the nation in Iceland, it will be easy to find a great, cosy spot to while away a few hours and relax. Café culture caught on strong in Iceland, and there is everything here from bakeries or snack shops to dimly lit coffee houses with great character. You can people-watch to your heart's content (or hide behind a magazine) over a latté and a kleina (Icelandic cruller).
Many of the places listed in the "Eating" or the "Drinking" category are also great coffee shops during the day.
Great coffee and great hangouts
Thirst and hunger your main priorities? Iceland has loads of places where you can stop for a fresh sandwich, pastry and cuppa. These places often also have shops attached, so if you still feel the need you can buy another mug or gift bag. Súfistinn is always popular because it is upstairs at the Mál og Menning bookstore and you are free to take books and magazines to read while you have a drink. And at Kaffi Hljomalind, all profits go to charity, so you have no excuse not to get that extra slice of cake!
If the weather isn't great outside, or if you just want to relax for a while, you need to find somewhere that makes you feel welcome when you've had lunch there and just hang around until supper. Most of the best hangouts in the country have wireless Internet connections, so bring your laptop! Many will also have free refills on drinks and a healthy supply of newspapers and magazines. If the weather is sunny, try Segafredo, where you can sun-bathe Icelandic style: sit outside in the sun, but stay warm under blankets provided by the café!
It's one of the best parts of any holiday, and dining out in Iceland has never been better. Across the country, you can be treated to a mouth-watering variety of food using the finest ingredients. Visitors must try free-range Icelandic lamb, the incredibly fresh fish and seafood, and the unique dairy products like skyr. And don't forget to sample some traditional Icelandic delicacies!
Dining: There is a real emerging culinary scene in Iceland, particularly Reykjavík. Award-winning chefs are creating spectacular dishes using the best ingredients.
Humarhúsið has been the main location for lobster for years, and Þrír Frakkar is the place to go for delicious traditional cooking, including whale meat or salt cod. If you want a spectacular view, nothing can beat Perlan, which sits atop Reykjavík's hot water tanks.
What places are people talking about at the moment? Try Lárus Jónasson's seafood at Sjávarkjallarinn and Birgir Karl Ólafsson's take on French cuisine at Hótel Holt, and Nordic fusion at Vox at Nordica Hótel. Many of these restaurants have great-value lunch menus.
Eating: There are also many places you can get a good meal that do not break the bank. Apótek and Hótel 101 are popular with fashionable over-30s. Watch the beautiful young people at Vegamót or Kaffi Sólon.
Ban Thai has some of the best Thai food in town, with friendly service to match, or try Eldsmiðjan for arguably the best pizza in the North Atlantic.
Outside Reykjavík, you'll find plenty of well-priced restaurants that serve a hearty meal with local produce, like Fimm Fiskar in Stykkishólmur and Við Fjöruborðið in Stokkseyri.
Grubbing: If any country should take pride in its fast food, Iceland should. The fast food here has even been sampled by world leaders (although we're sure Bill Clinton's heart surgery had nothing to do with his earlier visit to Iceland's most famous hot dog stand). From pylsur to the Tommi burger and plain old pizza, you can feed your hunger day and night.
Icelandic delicacies: What do expat Icelanders stuff their suitcases with on their visits home? Foods to travel for include Mývatn hangikjot, Kea skyr from Akureyri, West Fjords harðfiskur and puffin in the Westman Islands.
Also make sure you try Icelandic chocolate, liquorice (or the chocolate-liquorice combo), Ópal candies, and snúður (icing-covered pastries). If you're here at Christmas, pick up some Jóla Öl (orange soft drink mixed with malt - just try it!) and some laufabrauð, the flat fried bread of the season (homemade is best).

The nightlife is without comparison in the world and must be seen to be believed. If you go out on a Friday night, you are well within your rights to continue partying until 10 am. It happens. A lot.
Whether you want to dress to the nines and dance the night away, listen to live music, find a quiet corner to chat, or mix and mingle with the jet set of Iceland, you'll find somewhere that suits you. Here's a quick guide to how to spend the wee hours when in the city:
Music: There are more bands than families in Iceland. If you're adventurous enough to touch down on this glacier-covered island, we recommend you dedicate at least one night to live music.
You can see a band pretty much any evening. From rock to reggae and opera to jazz, virtually every musical style is catered for. There are also several festivals in Reykjavík throughout the year when, you'll have loads of concerts to choose from.
On a weekend, you'll usually find live music at several places in downtown Reykjavík.
Dancing: On Friday or Saturday nights in Reykjavík, it sometimes seems like everyone between 18 and 50 is out on the town. If dancing is your thing, there are a number of places to choose from. Put on your best threads and mingle with the jet set at Rex or Thorvaldsen. Catch the latest R&B and dance tunes with the under-25 crowds at Vegamót and Hverfisbarinn. Well-known Icelandic DJs like to play at NASA. You'll also be up late in Akureyri.
Merriment: If having a conversation is more your thing, you can choose from quiet pubs to trendy cocktail clubs. Wine connoisseurs should head for Vínbarinn ("The Wine Bar"), while those on a budget can have a drink with the students at Nelly's, home of the cheapest pint in town. For a taste of the Reykjavík underground scene, try Sirkus or Kaffibarinn. Icelanders get very friendly as the evening wears on, and you're sure to find people to chat to if you want to meet locals.
Live Acts: If you enjoy live music, you're in for a treat here. The gigs held in Iceland aren't just cover bands or struggling young artists. These are the country's most famous musicians playing to an intimate crowd and chatting with the audience. It's like Coldplay decided to perform at the local bar. Make the most of the up-close-and-personal approach and keep your eyes open for a chance to see one of these bands or singers live - Mugison Megas Thorir Jan Mayen Singapore Sling Amiina.

Fashion Fanatics
You already know that Iceland is a hot spot for nature lovers. But for shoppers too? Absolutely. Iceland has some of the best souvenirs in the world, with a different take: most of what you buy here you'll use elsewhere. From warm woollens to beautifully crafted pottery and glass, to resilient outdoor wear, these are more than just keepsakes.
And if you have a taste for the finer things, Iceland is also one of the best places to buy luxury. Not only is it one of the trendiest places in Europe, and therefore a hip spot for fashion, the haute couture here is reasonably priced, especially once you claim your 15% tourist rebate on purchases over ISK 4,000.
Essential purchases: You know you need a memento of your holiday, and your family back home isn't just looking forward to seeing you. Try some of the following for the best ideas in great purchases that avoid the traditional tourist kitsch:
Outdoor wear: If anyone knows how to make outdoor wear practical, durable and fashionable, it's the Icelanders. Stores like 66 Degrees North and Cintamani offer great looking outdoor clothing that you can use on any of your hikes or just when you need to be warm. Stock up on everything from fleece to wind and rain gear to hiking socks (highly recommended!).
Woollens: The traditional Icelandic lopapeysa, a knitted wool sweater with special design at the top and on the sleeves, is now a must-have fashion item. Worn for practical reasons by farmers and fishermen, the sweater (or its variations, including button or zipped cardigan) is one of the trendiest items around. You can also buy high-quality woollen scarves, gloves, hats, blankets, and many other things, all made from Icelandic wool.
Fashion and accessories: Iceland is home to many great fashion brands you are already familiar with, as well as some smaller, more specialised ones. Stores likes Flex and Kron have great independent labels from all over the world, as well as jewellery.
CDs and books: You'll have heard of Björk and the Sagas. But Iceland has a lot more to offer the worlds of literature and music. You can buy some of the best up-and-coming Icelandic music here at a fraction of the import price you would pay back home. Impress your friends with music from the hippest acts like Sigur Rós, Singapore Sling and Mugison. There are also terrific photographic books on all things Icelandic, as well as English translations from well-known authors, including the Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness.
Some of the music stores in town, including 12 Tónar, Smekkleysa (Bad Taste) and Skífan, not only have a full selection of Icelandic music, but work hard to introduce you to as much local music as possible before you make your purchase.
Various: Iceland has a surprising number of speciality stores, great for gift buying or for unusual items. Try Kokka for anyone who loves to cook, or Friða Frænka for antique collectors.
For the great Iceland-themed souvenirs, few can resist pieces based on the 13 Icelandic Yule Lads - think Father Christmas, only angry. Pottery pieces and smaller jewellery items are also highly recommended.
Luxury purchases: Iceland's the capital of cool at the moment, due in no small measure to its hip and trendy fashions. Couple this with the tourist rebate you'll get on larger purchases and the variety of well-known luxury brand names, and you're set to get some of the best deals around.
Jewellery: Start saving your money for some jewellery as soon as you book your ticket. Local designs have been celebrated of late for their observation of Celtic and Old Norse patterns. The constant desire for fresh materials and inspiration has kept goldsmiths in the capital churning out gallery pieces. Artists often incorporate gold or silver with materials found in Iceland, like lava rock, and the effect is very eye-catching. You can also commission your own design. This is very popular for wedding rings, which many people buy in Iceland.
Denim: Iceland has unique high-grade jeans and denim for a fraction of what you pay at upscale boutiques throughout the world. The most revered local brands are available at Galleri Sautján, which has numerous locations.
Fur and suits: You can buy the most famous luxury brands (Max Mara, Hugo Boss, Versace, etc.) or some great Icelandic designs. If you're into it, you can also stock up on Icelandic fur products (that's not only mink and other animals, but the skin of fish as well!), assuring you'll stay warm throughout the winter.
Icelandic couture: Reykjavík is full of boutiques and shops which feature the unique work of Icelandic designers using a variety of styles and materials. Great for finding a really unusual yet incredibly stylish piece of clothing. You can find something for all ages, shapes and sizes.
Artwork: Artists in Iceland often take their inspiration from the country's outstanding natural surroundings or from its literary history. From paintings to sculptures to pottery and glass work, you'll find all sorts of creative designs here, both small and large. A street more and more dedicated to artists, Skólavörðustígur in downtown Reykjavík hosts many respected smaller galleries.
The main shopping streets in Reykjavík are Laugavegur and Skolavörðustígur. Most stores here are open from 10.00-18.00 on weekdays and from 11.00-16.00 on Saturdays. Clothing stores are usually closed on Sundays, but the record and bookstores will be open.
For longer shopping hours, visit either Kringlan or Smáralind Shopping Centres. Kringlan and Smáralind both have a number of major stores for clothing, accessories and books / souvenirs. These include Zara, Next, Debenham´s, Fat Face, and many others.