By Hilary Genders
Iceland’s proximity to Eastern Canada – and Icelandair’s service from Halifax, and new flights from Toronto, set to launch in May (see Iceland FastFacts) – makes it a viable weekend getaway destination or stopover on the way to or from Continental Europe.
But the country offers plenty of attractions to keep clients happily occupied for a longer stay. From spectacular, pollution-free scenery to rich Viking heritage, endless outdoor adventure opportunities to one of the hottest club scenes anywhere, world-class accommodations and dining to a surprisingly moderate climate, Iceland is poised to become a top destination for Canadian travellers. Get your clients in on the action ahead of the pack.
Most visitors to Iceland arrive in the country’s capital, Reykjavik. A city of some 200,000 – approximately two-thirds of Iceland’s population – Reykjavik offers everything one expects from a European capital – a thriving cultural scene, fine dining, excellent shopping, cutting-edge nightlife, first-class accommodations – alongside a friendly, small-town feel. It is among the safest cities in the world, and one of the cleanest: its abundant resources of geo-thermal energy ensure clean air and unpolluted water.
The Reykjavík Tourist Card is a great way to enjoy the best of the city. Available in 24-, 48- or 72-hour denominations, the card gives unlimited travel on the Reykjavik city buses, as well as free access to a host of attractions, including the Culture House, where visitors can see the 1,000-year-old sagas written by the Vikings; the National Museum and National Gallery; the Family Park and Reykjavik Zoo and the city’s seven thermal pools. Cards can be purchased at several locations throughout the city, incluing the Reykjavik Tourist Information Centre.
Icelanders are proud of their culture, from their Viking heritage to their 21st century arts scene. Visitors can sample Icelandic cultur at museums, galleries and performing arts venues throughout the country, particularly in Reykjavik, which is home to the National Museum of Iceland and the National Gallery.
The newest addition to the Reykjavik museum scene, Reykjavik 871 +/-2: The Settlement Exhibit showcases the remains of a Viking age longhouse from around 930 and the life and times of the Norse settlers through multimedia sources. The exhibit gets its name from the dating of the settlement layer of volcanic ash.
The Culture House displays many of the country’s most important heritage treasures, including medieval manuscripts of the sagas, prose histories of the Viking settlement.
A favourite with families is the The Arbaer Open Air Museum, a collection of houses that mirror the living style of early 20th-century Reykjavik. Costumed interpreters bring history to life.
Harbor House hosts exhibitions from the general collections of the Reykjavik Museum and diverse temporary exhibitions of works by Icelandic and international artists.
Reykjavik’s performing arts scene includes two full-time theatre companies, as well as the Icelandic Opera and the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. And enthusiasts of cutting-edge alternative music are right in the centre of the action when fisiting Reykjavik’s club scene.
Iceland is a dream destination for travellers who love the great outdoors. Whether their tasts lean to soft adventure or extreme thrills, your clients are sure to be satisfied here.
Glaciers cover one-ninth of Iceland’s surface, and a visit to this country is incomplete without a glacier exploring excursion. An organized tour is a must.
Iceland’s unqiue terrain makes for excellent opportunities for hiking, mountain biking and snowmobiling enthusiasts. Several local companies offer equipment rental for independent tours, as well as organized excursions.
Horseback riding is another popular choice; the Icelandic horse, descended from those of the first Viking settlers in the tenth century, is a small muscular and friendly breed adapted to the roughest Icelandic terrain.
Clients can also hit the water in Iceland. White water rafting and kayaking are popular activities, as is sport fishing for salmon and trout.
Golf lovers can test their skills on more than 50 courses throughout Iceland from May through September. True die-hards should plan their trip in June, when the midnight sun makes it possible to enjoy their sport 24 hours a day!
Wildlife watchers can enjoy excellent bird watching in Iceland. Top birding locations are Latrabjarg in the West Fjords, the largest bird cliff in the world and home to the world’s largest razorbill colony; and the Westman Islands, home to the world’s largest puffin population. Whale watching is also extremely popular; the season runs from May to September. The most popular spot is from Husavik in the north of the country, regarded by many as the “Whale Watching Capital of Europe”.
After a busy day of touring – of museums or glaciers, golf courses or hiking trails – a good soak is in order. But travellers should fortet about the bathtub in their hotels. for a tru Icelandic experience, join the locals at one of the country’s countless geothermally heated outdoor swimming pools. Many people enjoy swimming lengths in the pools, but most go to relax and socialize. The temperature of the pools generally ranges from 36 to 44 degrees Celsius. Many swimming complexes also have saunas, steam rooms and solariums.
One of the country’s most popular attractions is a bathing area known as the Blue Lagoon. Located in a lava field in Grandavik on the Reykjanes Peninsula, only 15 minutes from Keflavik International Airport and 40 minutes from Reykjavik, its geothermally heated, smoky blue waters are known to have positive effects on the skin. As well as the enormous main pool, the Blue Lagoon complex offers a waterfall, steam baths and in-water massage and spa treatments.
Iceland Fast Facts
Entry requirements: Canadian citizens require a valid passport to enter Iceland as a tourist; no visa is necessary.
Getting there: Icelandair began serving Canada in 2007, with direct flights from Halifax; 2008 departures return on April 21. On May 2 the airline will introduce service from Toronto, with five-to-seven flights per week planned. Flying time: approximately five hours.
Climate: Thanks to the Gulf Stream, Iceland maintains surprisingly moderate temperatures year-round. It seldom reaches 75°F in the summer. Winter temperatures in most areas never reach the low temperatures experienced by Ottawa. Snow is a common sight as early as October and as late as April – but it rarely stays on the ground more than a few days.
Language: Icelandic (Old Norse), the languages of the Vikings. Most Icelanders, particularly younger generations, speak fluent English.
Currency: The krona (plural: kronur ISK). At the time of writing, $1 = 72 ISK. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted throughout Iceland; American Express less so. Bank machines are easy to find.
Electricity: Icelandic electrical standards are European (50Hz, 220 volts)
Time zone: GMT
Country code: 354