TIME ZONE GMT
CURRENCY Króna (ISK)
ELECTRICITY 230v 50Hz
The Icelandic flag’s colours represent the main elements that have shaped the country: fire, from volcanoes (red); ice (white); and water (blue)
FLIGHTS TO ICELAND
From the UK, Icelandair flies daily from Gatwick and Heathrow to Reykjavík (which is where our Big Trip itinerary starts from), and also from Aberdeen, Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester; easyJet flies from Bristol, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Luton, Manchester and Stansted; and British Airways flies from Heathrow.
From Ireland, Icelandair flies from Dublin to Reykjavík.
From the US, Icelandair flies to Iceland from sixteen airports across the country, including Boston, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.
From Canada, Icelandair flies to Iceland from five airports, including Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
You can search for the most convenient routes and the best fares at skyscanner. International flights arrive at Keflavik Airport (KEF), 40km southwest of Reykjavík; the flybus connects all flights with the capital (45 minutes). Flight times are just 3 hours from London, 5 hours 40 minutes from New York. On any of Icelandair’s transatlantic flights, you can stop over in Iceland for up to seven nights at no extra cost to your fare.
VISAS AND PASSPORTS
For stays of up to 3 months, British, Irish, US and Canada passport holders do not require a visa to visit Iceland. For British citizens, your passport need only be valid for the duration of your stay; for Irish, American and Canadian citizens, your passport must be valid for at least three months after the date of your arrival. Entry requirements do change, however, so check the latest with Iceland’s Directorate of Immigration.
HEALTH AND SAFETY IN ICELAND
By and large, Iceland is a very safe country to visit, though you should still make sure you take out sufficient travel insurance for your trip. Remember to check with your GP at least six weeks before you travel, though aside from than the inoculations that are part of the routine childhood immunisation programme in the UK (ie diphtheria, tetanus, polio), no immunisations are required. Healthcare is of an excellent standard, particularly in Reykjavík and tap water is safe to drink wherever you are, but if you’re from the UK or Ireland, you should make sure that you all carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which will entitle you to reduced, or even free, medical treatment. Crime rates are low, even in the capital.
Instead, Iceland’s natural hazards will be your main concern. You should never underestimate the weather. Even in the height of summer, the weather can change from sun to wind and rain and back again within the hour. And if it’s sunny in Reykjavík, it can quite easily be snowing just a few miles down the road. Pack plenty of warm, waterproof clothing (including thermal layers, woolly hats and gloves), check the weather forecast, and be prepared for all eventualities.
As spectacular as it is, Iceland’s unique geological landscape can be perilous. Icelanders are used to having free access to their countryside, so very few things are fenced off, and you’re unlikely to see too many warning signs advising you on the dangers of standing on the edge of a waterfall or cliff, or encroaching on a steaming hot pot. Keep an eye on your children, particularly young ones, at all times.
Only bathe in hot springs that are being used by other people (you don’t want to inadvertently take a dip in water that turns out to be 100°C or more), and be careful when walking around hot pools and mudpots, where a thin layer of crust could be the only thing separating you from a sock full of scalding water.
The waves on some of Iceland’s beaches can be deceptively treacherous. Unfortunately, several people have been swept away at Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach), on the south coast, by “sneaker waves”, a single, powerful wave that is much larger than the rest and comes much further up onto shore. As the signs at the beach advise, stay 20m away from the water and never turn your back on the sea.
The website safetravel.is has lots of tips on staying safe in the great outdoors, as well as the latest road and weather info; their Twitter feed, @SafeinIceland, has updates on conditions in and around popular attractions, particularly useful if you’re visiting in winter. If you’ve got much older children and are embarking on something really adventurous, you can register your travel plans with them and download their “112” app (handy in case of emergencies).
GETTING AROUND ICELAND
The most convenient way of travelling around Iceland with a family is to hire a car; we rented a 4x4 from Holdur, but you’ll be fine on most roads in an ordinary saloon. Route 1 (known as the Ring Road) and the majority of roads in the south west, where our Big Trip itinerary is focused, are surfaced (with a speed limit of 90kph), although many other roads are gravel (80kph); note that all passengers must wear seatbelts and that you are required to have your headlights on at all times.
Gravel roads are still very much accessible in a normal car, but take them slowly and, if you meet another car coming the other way, pull over as much as possible, to avoid being showered with grit; in our experience, it can be worth taking out cover for windscreen damage. Other hazards for drivers include single-lane bridges (the car closest to the bridge has right of way), blind hills, and animals wandering onto the road.
The Interior (or Highland) doesn't feature in our Big Trip, but it's worth knowing that the roads here are extremely rough and are completely off limits during winter. The vast majority of these are "F" roads, which often cross rivers and are suitable for 4x4s only (it's actually illegal to drive on these in an ordinary car); even then, your car-rental insurance won’t cover you if anything happens whilst you’re fording a river.
Check the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration’s website for more driving tips and for the latest road conditions.
Buses cover the Golden Circle and run along the Ring Road, giving access to many of the region’s attractions en route; Reykjavík Excursions and Sterna run frequent services from central Reykjavík. It’s expensive, though, possibly even more so than renting a car if you’ve got a large family and are covering a fair amount of ground, and the schedule is greatly reduced in winter.
GIVING SOMETHING BACK
Landvernd The Icelandic Environment Association’s projects include establishing frameworks for sustainable tourism in geothermal areas and trying to inaugurate a Highland National Park that will encompass the entire Interior.
ICE-SAR The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue is a non-profit, volunteer-run organization that provides 24-hour search and rescue services.