Does Iceland Have Uber?

Hopp car share Reykjavík

Uber has not arrived in Iceland yet. However, there is a new, similar company called Hopp Taxis. The company is known as an electric scooter rental but recently introduced their car-sharing service and Hopp Taxis. You can download the Hopp app on both Apple and Android free of charge, and there is no subscription fee. It works like Uber; you can see the car’s location, arrival time, and price before confirming the ride, and the payment is made through the app. The drivers are all licensed taxi drivers and drive carbon-neutral or electric cars. Currently, Hopp Taxi operates in Reykjavík and its closest suburbs, such as Kópavogur, Garðabær, Hafnarfjörður, and Mosfellsbær, as well as Keflavík airport.

Taking the taxi in Reykjavík

Another option is to take a regular taxi. Taxi companies, such as Hreyfill and BSR, offer apps you can download to order a cab and monitor its location. The taxis have a much wider service area. Unlike Hopp Taxis, you will know the price once you have arrived at your destination, and the payment goes directly through the taxi driver, not the app. Note that taking taxis to and from Keflavík International can be expensive. An average taxi trip from the capital region to the airport may run from ISK 15,000 – 20,000 [$110-146, €100-134], so budget-minded travellers may find the Fly Bus a more economical option.

Iceland’s bus system

Iceland’s bus system, Strætó, is a great, economical transportation choice. You can plan your trip and see more comprehensive route maps on their website. To pay the fare, buy a ticket through the app Klappið or pay the exact amount in cash on the bus. About half of the buses in the capital area run from 6:30 AM to midnight, but some services may start later and end earlier. A night bus on Friday and Saturday nights runs from downtown Reykjavík to some of its surrounding suburbs. Note that the night route only runs from Reykjavík, not towards it.

Iceland’s Diamond Circle: A Guide

Húsavík in Northern Iceland

What is the Diamond Circle in Iceland?

The Diamond Circle showcases some of northern Iceland’s magnificent waterfalls, geothermal, and volcanic sites. It consists of Goðafoss waterfall, Mývatn lake, Dettifoss waterfall, Ásbyrgi canyon, and Húsavík fishing town. The Diamond Circle itself can be completed in a day, as the driving distance with Akureyri as a starting point is about 224 km [139 mi]. The total time will vary based on the time spent at each site. Guided excursions and tours are available, but you can also choose to explore The Diamond Circle independently, at your own pace. The roads connecting the Diamond Circle are paved.

We will start in Akureyri, the third-largest city in Iceland, with a population of 20,000. The 390 km drive to Akureyri from the capital area is quite simple, as you drive on the same road the whole way- Route 1 or the “Ring Road” as it’s often called.

Goðafoss Waterfall

From Akureyri, you will continue on Route 1 for about 34 km [21 mi] before turning right towards Goðafoss.

On the sightseeing platform, you can take in the panoramic view of this 12 m [39 ft] high, 30 m [98 ft] wide waterfall that runs from the glacial river Skjálfandafljót. Goðafoss waterfall is a historic site in Iceland. In the year 1,000, Þorgeir Þorkellsson, the lawmaker of Iceland, had concluded that Iceland should become a Christian country. Believing in the Norse gods was still allowed, but that religion had to be practised in one’s home. He is said to have gone to Goðafoss waterfall (translated as “Waterfall of the Gods”) and thrown his heathen idols into the water.

Goðafoss Waterfall, Iceland
Photo: Golli. Goðafoss Waterfall in Iceland.

The geothermal area of Mývatn Lake

Return to Route 1, turning right to keep driving towards Mývatn lake. 30 km [22 mi], turn left to stay on Route 1, following the Húsavík/Egilsstaðir/Fuglasafn sign. Shortly, you will see the lake and can pick a stop of your choosing along the route- there will be several.

Mývatn lake was formed about 2,300 years ago due to a volcanic eruption. With an area of approximately 73 km2 [28 mi2], it’s the fourth-largest lake in Iceland. Mývatn lake is known for its rich birdlife and its surrounding geothermal area, including hot springs and mud pots.

You may want to experience the Mývatn Nature Baths for a relaxing stop. To get to the baths, stay on Route 1. Following the sign for Egilsstaðir, turn left to continue on Route 1. Follow the signs for Jarðböðin við Mývatn (Mývatn Nature Baths) and enjoy the beauty of this geothermal lagoon. This area also has a cafe where you can stop by for a snack.

Dettifoss Waterfall

From the baths, turn right to continue on Route 1 for 23 km [14 mi]. Then, turn left towards Dettifoss on Route 862 and follow the signs for Dettifoss. You will arrive at a parking lot. From the lot, there will be about an 850 m [0.52 mi] walk to the viewpoint. Dettifoss waterfall is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, with a flow rate of 193 m3 [6,815 ft3]. Dettifoss is located in Vatnajökull National Park, and its water runs from the glacial river “Jökulsá á fjöllum” directly from Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. The waterfall is 44-45 m [144-147 ft] high and 100 m [328 ft] wide.

Ásbyrgi Canyon in North Iceland

Return to Dettifossvegur (Route 862) and turn right. When you approach the intersection of Route 862 and Route 85, turn right. Shortly, there will be a sign for Ásbyrgi canyon.

Ásbyrgi is a glacial canyon in the shape of a horseshoe. Like Dettifoss waterfall, it’s a part of Vatnajökull National Park. Ásbyrgi was formed due to a glacial flood from Jökulsár á fjöllum river during a volcanic eruption in Grímsvötn volcano. Ásbyrgi is about 3.5 km [2.2 mi] long and 1.1 km [0.7 mi] wide. In the middle stands a large 25 m [82 ft] high rock formation called Eyjan (The Island), emphasising the canyon’s horseshoe shape. Its surrounding cliffs are about 100 m [328ft] high. You can choose from several hiking trails with stunning panoramic views along the way.

Húsavík: Whale Watching Capital of Iceland

To get to Húsavík from Ásbyrgi, drive back towards Route 85 and make a left. The drive is 62 km [38 mi] long.
Húsavík is a small fishing town in Skjálfandi bay, with a population of about 2,300. It is home to The Exploration Museum, The Whale Museum and Húsavík Museum. The Húsavík Museum is a cultural centre displaying the historic exhibitions “Daily Life and Nature-100 years in Þingeyjarsýslur” as well as the “Maritime Museum”. This picturesque town is a prime whale-watching destination, offering tours to see some of the 23 species of whales. Húsavík has several restaurants and cafes with a beautiful view of the harbour.

Akureyrarkirkja Church, Akureyri Iceland
Photo: Akureyrarkirkja Church, Iceland.

Back to Akureyri

To return to Akureyri, drive south on Route 85 for 45 km [28 mi] until you hit Route 1. Make a right and continue for 30 km [19 mi] following the signs for Akureyri.

From the trembling power of Dettifoss waterfall to the tranquillity of Mývatn lake, the Diamond Circle is a great route to experience the distinct beauty of northern Iceland. It unveils the region‘s geological wonders of volcanic and geothermal areas, waterfalls, and cultural sites, making the trip an exciting adventure for any explorer.

 

Laxness – Why You Should Still Read Him

Laxness and his letters of congratulation following his Nobel prize win.

The first time I tried to get acquainted with the work of Halldór Laxness, the iconic Icelandic literary figure who won the Nobel Prize in 1955, I was 13 years old. The book was Innansveitarkrónika, a mandatory read for school, and I hated it from the very first page. I fail to remember the plot of the story, but I do recall being infuriated that this misspelt excuse for a book was being forced upon us (for those who don’t know, Laxness did not agree with the spelling rules of certain words). My second attempt was five years later. It was also a school read, but this time, the book was Independent People, one of Laxness‘ most well-known books. I must admit that I struggled through the first half; the story was intolerably slow, and I cared neither for the main character nor his traditional Icelandic sheep farmer life. But coming into the second half, something changed, so much so that it propelled me completely into the world of Icelandic literature and landed me in an undergraduate programme studying it. I have since happily devoured several more of Laxness’ books, and here are four reasons why you should, too.

1. His stories will reveal to you the core of Icelandic society and psyche

They are a superb exploration of the roots of the Iceland spirit and culture. Some would even say that they reshaped those very things and granted the nation an entirely new vision of itself. In his writing, Laxness left few stones of the Icelandic society unturned, and the riveting stories he published are as varied as they are many. The hardships of farming and fishing life, the presence of the US army in the country, class struggles, love, and the fight for independence are all on the Halldór Laxness reading menu, amongst a myriad of other subjects. At the core of all these stories is a deep knowledge of Icelandic history and culture that few have managed to represent as well as Laxness. 

2. His writing is a feast for the brain

A true master of words, Laxness rarely wrote one that was out of place. Although his linguistic virtuosity and unique style have been reported to get somewhat lost in translation, his attention to detail stays intact. From weather descriptions to internal monologues to the birds hanging around by the beach, every word is carefully chosen and plays a part in his vivid story world creations. 

3. His characters are one of a kind

Exceptionally well-written characters are at the heart of each of Laxness‘ books, many of which have become one with the Icelandic consciousness. Quirky, contradictory and sympathy-evoking, they are delivered to us through an extraordinary understanding of both human nature and what it means to be Icelandic. If Laxness‘ eloquent words are not enough to lure you in, his powerful character portrayal is bound to accomplish that.

4. He can make you laugh

Humour might not be the thing you think about in relation to last century‘s books, but Laxness was actually a pretty funny guy. His writing has been described as dramatic, epic, dour-droll and tender, but it‘s also heavily sprinkled with comical interactions and conversations that you can‘t help but chuckle at, even decades after they were written. Throughout heartbreak and hardship, the foolishness of life is never far off.

Reykjavík to Erect a Ferris Wheel

Ferris wheel on Miðbakki

Reykjavík authorities are looking for a partner to operate a Ferris wheel at the Miðbakki wharf in the capital city’s downtown area. The partner will carry the costs of erecting and running the Ferris wheel business, while the city provides the plot of land for a set period of time, according to Reykjavík city’s ad post.

A summertime activity

The Ferris wheel would be operated over the summertime, from May through September, and would be “an exciting addition to the diverse city life” as stated in the post. The wheel can at most be 30 metres in height, due to its proposed location being in the vicinity of Reykjavík airport. The land available for the project is 725 square metres and should accommodate a 20 metre long carriage for the Ferris wheel.

Miðbakki developments

The area has seen major renovations over the last decades, with Harpa concert hall as the most notable addition, along with new commercial and residential properties. Aspiring Ferris wheel operators have until March 22 to submit their proposals, which must include specifications on the wheel’s ability to withstand Icelandic conditions, including necessary wind and earthquake resistance.

A Traveller’s Guide to Icelandic Money

Bundles of 1000 ISK banknotes.

Since 1885, Iceland has had its own currency, called the Icelandic króna (ISK). It‘s had its ups and downs and is heavily debated at times, with some people rallying to swap it out for the Euro and others singing the praises of it. Nothing much has come from these wrangles, though, so for the foreseeable future, the Icelandic króna is here to stay. This is your guide to everything you need to know about it.

Are other currencies accepted in Iceland?

Other currencies than the Icelandic króna are not accepted in the country, so if you plan on paying in cash, you need to get some krónas. At the time of writing, currency exchange is not possible at Keflavík Airport, although the currency exchange service Change Group is preparing to open there soon. If you want to exchange your currency, you will have to do so in a bank outside the airport. Alternatively, you can opt to withdraw cash from an ATM. 

Icelandic banknotes and coins

There are five banknotes you might come across: 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, and 10,000. A 10,000 króna banknote [$73, €67] is quite a large sum in the context of day-to-day things. For example, you could buy almost 15 croissants in an artisan bakery for that amount. In combination with the fact that relatively few locals pay with cash, this means that some businesses might not have enough change in their cash registers if you pay with a 10,000 króna banknote. It is, therefore, best to carry a variety of banknotes in your wallet. The Icelandic coins are five as well: 1, 5, 10, 50, and 100. 

Paying with cards in Iceland

Carrying cash is not a necessity in Iceland. Not accepting card or contactless payments, no matter how small the purchase, is an anomaly amongst Icelandic businesses. The biggest exception to this is the Reykjavík city bus system, where you need to pay with cash, have prepurchased tickets from one of these vendors or use the Klappið app. Other than that, it‘s highly unlikely that you‘ll run into trouble if you have a MasterCard or Visa. As elsewhere in the world, American Express cards are not accepted everywhere, but they can usually be used in hotels, popular restaurants, and supermarkets.

 

First Ever Scheduled Flights from Iceland to Africa

iceland budget airline play

The airline PLAY has added two new destinations to their scheduled flights, Madeira in Portugal and Marrakesh in Morocco. The latter will be the first ever destination in Africa for scheduled flights to and from Iceland, Viðskiptablaðið reports.

The first flight to Madeira will be on October 15 this year and scheduled flights will take place once a week on Tuesdays. Flights to Marrakesh will begin on October 17, scheduled twice a week for Thursdays and Sundays.

Sunny destinations

“We continue to increase our options of destinations for Icelanders looking to bask in the sun and our schedule for Southern Europe is one of the most varied ever offered in Iceland,” said Birgir Jónsson, CEO of PLAY. “We have eight destinations in Spain and now three in Portugal. What’s more, we’ve added the enchanting city of Marrakesh to our schedule and I have full faith that Icelanders will welcome these first ever scheduled flights between Iceland and Africa.”

Exploring the Westfjords in 24, 48, and 72 hours

Summer in Hornstrandir, Westfjords.

With many unpaved, narrow and meandering mountain roads, the Westfjords are a place of slow and careful travel. Seemingly short distances can be long in reality, which will be your main obstacle when visiting the Westfjords with a limited amount of days at hand. Having a predetermined plan with estimated travel times can come in handy to tackle this, but being flexible is also key. Most importantly, though, enjoy the scenic journey, not just the destinations!

Day one

7-9 AM

Make your way to the Westfjords. If you have a long drive before reaching them, for example, travelling from Reykjavík, we recommend heading off at 7 AM to make the most of your day. The itinerary includes lunch and dinner stops where you can buy food, but pack something to snack on between meals. 

11:30 PM

Your first stop will be for lunch at Flókalundur in Vatnsfjörður fjord. If you brought your own lunch, head up to the campsite picnic tables or spread out on the grass by the shore. You can also purchase lunch at Hótel Flókalundur. 

12:30 PM

Depart from Flókalundur and drive to your next destination: Rauðisandur Beach.  The journey will take a bit more than an hour. Rauðisandur, or Red Sand, is a truly magnificent place picked as one of the top 100 beaches of the world by Lonely Planet. The beach, stretching for 12-13 km [7.5-8 miles], gets its name from the uniquely pink and reddish shades of its sand, stemming from the shell of the Icelandic Scallop.

A mountain road in the Westfjords.
Photo: Golli. A mountain road in the Westfjords.

2:30 PM

Head off to your next destination, which is the renowned Dynjandi Waterfall. 100 metres [328 feet] tall and spreading out on the cliffs like a veil, it‘s a spectacular sight. You can hike up to the waterfall on a rocky path, passing by several other smaller waterfalls on the way. The area is a natural protected monument, so please stay on the paths to help preserve it. To take in more of the Westfjords’ unique landscape on the way to Dynjandi, opt for road 63 rather than 62, which you drove from Flókalundur. The drive will be about 2 hours. Should you be in need of an atmospheric snack spot before you arrive at Dynjandi, stop by the Abandoned Barn of Fossfjörður fjord. 

5:30 PM

If you‘re not planning on staying the night in the Westfjords, this is the time to circle back. If you are staying, drive the 50-minute drive to Ísafjörður for dinner at Húsið restaurant. Their fish soup is particularly popular among guests and a must-try if you haven‘t had Icelandic fish soup yet. For those not ready to go to bed after dinner, we recommend driving to the Bolafjall mountain viewing platform, which has an absolutely breathtaking view of the mountains and ocean lying before it. For lodgings, we recommend The Little House or Einarshúsið Guesthouse in Bolungarvík, a small village 15 minutes from the platform. 

Day two

8 AM

Start your day off with a Kringla and Kókómjólk at Kaffihús Bakarans bakery in Ísafjörður. This is a classic Icelandic combo of torus-shaped carraway bread and chocolate milk. 

9:30 AM

Head off on a guided trip to Hesteyri, a tiny village deserted in 1952. Now, it serves as a summer resort for local owners and is a popular starting point for hikers exploring the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. Due to its isolation and lack of inhabitants, nature has been left mostly undisturbed. As a result, you will experience Iceland’s most pristine flora and fauna, with wildflowers spreading over the entire area and arctic foxes running between them. You can bring lunch or order it from the local cafe, The Doctor‘s House.

Note: The trip to Hesteyri can only be made from the beginning of June to the end of August. 

An arctic fox on a beach in Hornstrandir, Westfjords.
Photo: Golli. An arctic fox on a beach in Hornstrandir, Westfjords.

2:30 PM

When you get back, take a walk around town and pop into the Westfjords Heritage Museum to gain a better insight into the Westfjord‘s culture and maritime history. If you‘re cold and tired, you can also make your way straight to your accommodations for the night: Heydalur farm guesthouse. There, you‘ll be able to take refuge in their unique swimming pool and natural hot spring before having a delicious locally sourced dinner. If you‘re yet to try the Icelandic lamb, we highly recommend having the lamb fillet. The drive from Ísafjörður to Heydalur will take a bit less than two hours. If your plans do not include another night in the Westfjords, you can start your journey back after dinner.

Day three

8 AM

For your last day in the Westfjords, you‘ll head over to the north side for an adventure in Strandir straight after breakfast. Your destination is Krossneslaug, a small swimming pool on a beach in the middle of nowhere. It‘s probably the most remote swimming pool you‘ll find in Iceland. It‘s been in use since 1954 and has a terrific view of the ocean, where you might be able to spot some whales if you‘re lucky. The drive will take about 3 hours, which sounds like a lot but don‘t worry; half of it is on the most scenic road you can take in Iceland.

Note: Due to road conditions, Krossneslaug can only be reached from mid-May to the end of August.

Krossneslaug swimming pool in Westfjords.
Photo: Golli. Krossneslaug swimming pool in Westfjords.

12:30 PM

Begin the 50-minute drive to Djúpavík, a historical, abandoned and enchanting village where you can have a late lunch at Hótel Djúpavík and a guided tour of the old herring factory. The village is known for its ability to take you back in time and was one of the filming locations of the 2017 Justice League.

3:30 PM

It‘s time to venture back to civilisation for the last stop of your Westfjords tour. The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft is located in Hólmavík, and it will take you approximately an hour and a half to get there from Djúpavík. The museum offers you to step into the time of Galdrafárið, the witch hunt hysteria, and learn about the lives of people in Strandir during that period. The latest time to enter is 5:30 PM, so make sure to leave Djúpavík no later than 3:30 PM. This should give you about an hour to explore, as the drive takes approximately an hour and a half. End your day with a scrumptious meal at Café Riis in Hólmavík, which serves high-quality Icelandic classics and pizzas. 

72 Palestinian Visa Holders En Route

bjarni benediktsson

Late last night, 72  Palestinian people crossed the border from Gaza to Egypt on request from Icelandic authorities. All of them have Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has announced that they will travel to Iceland, Heimildin reports.

Criticism over inaction

The Icelandic government has faced criticism due to the delay in extracting these individuals from Gaza, which has seen military action from the Israeli army for months. Icelandic volunteers have already been able to bring a number of people across the border to safety without help from the authorities.

Last weekend, Israeli authorities approved the list of names submitted by Icelandic authorities, according to a press release from the ministry. Minister for Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson communicated with his Israeli counterpart Israel Katz last Tuesday on this subject.

A policy exception

“This case has relied on the process speed and position of local authorities and the Icelandic delegation can only operated on the grounds of the legal, diplomatic processes that Israeli and Egyptian authorities have put in place for these cases,” the press release read.

Authorities maintain that they had no duty to step in to support the visa holders, even if they did so in this case. Bjarni added that the government is pushing to reform immigration policy to ensure that exceptions like these don’t put “additional pressure on Icelandic systems”.

Deep North Episode 64: Wall of Fire

Reykjanes peninsula eruptions

On Sunday morning, January 14, around 4:30 AM, Ari Guðmundsson’s phone rang. The Reykjanes peninsula was trembling. Three and a half hours later, it rang again. This time it was Víðir Reynisson, the head of Iceland’s Civil Protection Department. A fissure had opened and an eruption had begun.

The long, earthen lava barriers – of which Ari had led the design and rapid construction, which were meant to protect the evacuated town of Grindavík, and which were still incomplete – were about to go through trial by fire.

Read the story here.

Before You Go: How to Pack for Spring and Fall in Iceland

People in the rain on Skólavörðustígur street, Reykjavík.

If you‘re planning a trip to Iceland, you‘ve no doubt heard that the weather here is unpredictable. This is true for every season, but even more so for spring and fall. Both are pretty cold, with temperatures swinging from 0°C [32°F] to 7°C [44°F], and both have the potential for storms and precipitation. However, they are also the most erratic seasons. They frequently lean more into the lines of summer or winter, so check the weather forecast before finalising your packing list. The following are suggestions for what to bring on your fall or spring trip to Iceland that suits the typical circumstances. You might want to scale it up or down depending on which way the weather is expected to swing while you‘re here. 

The basics of dressing for the Icelandic spring and fall

Layering up is the best way to be prepared for the range of weather situations you might encounter in Iceland. Doing this allows you to quickly adapt to changing conditions. You‘ll want to bring:

  • Long trousers
  • Long sleeved tops
  • A thick sweater
  • A water resistant jacket and overtrousers of the same sort
  • Consider thermal underwear, particularly if the forecast is cold, windy and/or wet
  • A hat
  • Gloves
  • A scarf 

In terms of shoes, bring lighter shoes, like trainers, and more robust water resistant ones suitable for diverse terrain. If you don‘t have room for extra shoes in your suitcase, go for the water resistant ones. These will be better suited for any nature trips you might be taking. 

Adventure add-ins

If you’re going all in on the phenomenal Icelandic nature with higher energy outdoor activities, like climbing or hiking, the packing list will be similar to the above recommendations. The main difference is that you should pay more attention to the materials of your clothing. Go for:

  • Thermal underwear
  • Comfortable pants
  • Woollen socks
  • A woollen sweater
  • Proper hiking shoes
  • A breathable, water resistant jacket and overtrousers of the same sort 
  • Mittens
  • A hat or headband
  • A scarf or warm buff

We advise you to prioritise wool, which has the excellent quality of keeping you warm even when wet, and to avoid both non-breathable materials and cotton. Cotton gets cold when wet, and non-breathable materials trap moisture, lessening your chances of staying warm. 

Additional items