One in Custody for Hamraborg Heist

police station reykjavík

One man is in custody in connection with a robbery that took place near Hamraborg, in Kópavogur, on March 25. RÚV reports that the man is around 40 years old and was arrested on April 30. The two perpetrators of the robbery stole an estimated ISK 10-20 million [$73,000-145,000 / €67,000-134,000] from a cash transport vehicle.

The entire incident transpired in a matter of seconds. In what appears to have been a meticulously planned robbery, the perpetrators swiftly manoeuvred a Toyota Yaris at high speed towards the Öryggismiðstöðin vehicle. Through breaking a window, they managed to snatch two cases filled with money and flee the scene.

One of the cases was subsequently found empty in an open field in Mosfellsbær, with indications that a dye pack had exploded in the bag. As a result, the banknotes from that bag should be blue. As noted by Vísir, the recovered banknotes are in denominations starting from ISK 500.

Yesterday Iceland Review reported on indications that the stolen banknotes had gone into circulation at locations operating gaming machines, among other places.

The arrested man will remain in custody until May 7.

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Land Continues to Rise at Svartsengi

Art Bicnick. The 2024 Sundhnúksgígaröð eruption

Land rise (uplift) continues at Svartsengi on the Reykjanes peninsula, above the magma chamber that is feeding the ongoing eruption. Experts say new fissures could open in the area with little or no notice. While lava flow from the ongoing eruption has slowed, it could continue for some time.

Uplift at Svartsengi has continued at a steady rate for weeks, according to the latest notice from the Icelandic Met Office. That means that pressure is continuing to build up in the magma chamber below. Earthquake activity at Sundhnúksgígaröð has also increased, likely a sign of pressure being released in and around the magma tunnel at the site of the ongoing eruption, which began on March 16.

A new eruption may occur

Data and modelling show considerable uncertainty about whether the ongoing activity on Reykjanes will lead to another eruption. According to the Met Office, there are two likely scenarios. Firstly, new fissures may open up in the area between Stóra-Skógfell and Hagafell and/or the current eruption vent could grow due to a sudden increase in lava flow. That could happen with very little or no notice.

Read More: The Reykjanes Eruptions

Secondly, the magma flow from the magma chamber under Svartsengi to the active crater on the Sundhnúksgígaröð could gradually increase until there is a balance between the inflow of magma into the magma chamber and the outflow from there to the surface.

The volcanic activity does not impact travel to and from Iceland and the hazard assessment for the area remains unchanged.

Tourists and civilians are asked to stay away from the area.

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Dozens of Dead Puffins in Dalvík

Puffins lundar látrabjarg

Nearly 50 dead puffins were found on the seashore in Dalvík, North Iceland, RÚV reports. Chief Veterinarian of MAST, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority, says their cause of death is unclear but it could be avian flu. The deaths are being investigated.

“Puffins are of course returning to their homesteads if we can say so, at least their summer grounds where they nest and lay eggs,” stated Þorvaldur H. Þórðarson, MAST’s chief veterinarian. “So whether that has something to do with it, one can’t say. But of course the first thing that comes to mind is the possibility of avian flu.”

Mass deaths reported last year

Last year similar incidents were reported in West Iceland, with locals spotting dead puffins and kittiwakes in the dozens. No bird flu was detected in samples taken from the birds. Some meteorologists suggested that extreme weather had caused the deaths.

Þorvaldur stated that MAST would look into the deaths and decide whether samples would be taken for further analysis.

Puffin populations on the decline

Iceland plays host to a significant portion of the world’s puffins, with approximately 20% of the global population nesting in the Westman Islands every year. In total, the country boasts some 3 million nesting pairs. Although Iceland’s puffins have had some good breeding seasons in recent years, recent data shows their population has declined by 70% over the last 30 years.

While puffin populations naturally fluctuate over time, the recent data unveiled an unprecedented pattern and a more rapid decline than previously believed. Last year, experts proposed a ban on puffing hunting in Iceland. Experts say a ban would slow, though not stop, the birds’ decline.

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I’m a foreign national. Can I buy property in Iceland?

iceland real estate

The short answer is yes, but there are many conditions and caveats to consider. It’s also worth noting that due to a growing population, the volcanic eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula (which have displaced Grindavík residents), and rising post-COVID interest rates, Iceland is currently experiencing a housing crisis. So, for potential buyers, it may not be the most economical (or ethical) time to buy property in Iceland.

Who can buy property in Iceland?

Briefly, foreign residents with a legal domicile in Iceland are eligible to buy property in Iceland.

The relevant section from the Act on the Right of Ownership and Use of Real Property states:

No one may acquire the right to own or use real property in Iceland, including fishing and hunting rights, water rights or other real property rights, whether by free assignation or enforcement measures, marriage, inheritance or deed of transfer, unless the following conditions are met:

1. In the case of an individual, he shall be an Icelandic citizen or have domicile in Iceland.

2. If several individuals are involved in a company, and each bears unlimited liability for the debts of the company, they shall all be Icelandic citizens or shall have been domiciled in Iceland for at least five continuous years.

3. In the case of a company in which some members bear unlimited liability, and others only limited liability, for the company}s debts, all those who bear unlimited liability shall be Icelandic citizens or shall have been domiciled in Iceland for at least five continuous years.

4. In the case of a company in which none of the members bears unlimited liability for the company}s debts, or an institution, the company or institution shall have its domicile and venue in Iceland and all its directors shall be Icelandic citizens or shall have been domiciled in Iceland for at least five continuous years. In the case of joint-stock companies, 4/5 of the share capital shall be owned by Icelandic citizens, and Icelandic citizens shall exercise the majority of the votes at shareholders} meetings.

Importantly, the stipulation that foreigners have a legal domicile raises some important considerations. In order to be legally domiciled in Iceland, one is required to have a kennitala (a civil registration number) and be registered at Registers Iceland.

This likewise raises several other conditions. Non-EEA residents will need a residency visa, and if they are not independently wealthy, a work permit as well. Additionally, being legally domiciled entails already having a residence, i.e., renting a property, since you will not initially be able to buy property outright. Retirees may want to read more about retiring in Iceland.

There is, however, a way to circumvent some of these requirements: special permission from the Minister of Justice, in which case the Minister may grant permission to deviate from the conditions laid out in the Act on the Right of Ownership. Such special permits only pertain to one specific property, which cannot exceed 3.5 hectares, and the applicant may not own other properties in Iceland. As you might expect, there are some conditions and further exceptions to these exceptions.

The relevant application forms can be found on the official government website, or here below.

Form 1.

Form 2.

Applications can either be printed, scanned, and emailed to [email protected], or mailed directly to the Ministry. Some real estate agents that specialize in international clients may offer to take care of this application, for a fee.

Another aspect of buying property in Iceland to keep in mind is that Icelandic law makes a distinction between vacation houses and legal residencies. One cannot be legally domiciled, that is, registered, to a summer house. One’s legal residence is required to be a residence intended for year-round habitation.

Real estate listings in Iceland

Most major newspapers have real estate listings, which may be helpful if you’re property hunting in Iceland.

Vísir real estate listings.

Morgunblaðið real estate listings.

Prices will of course vary based on a variety of factors, but average prices per square metre can be found here. Note that the prices given are in hundreds of thousands of ISK. At the time of writing, the average price in the capital region is about 1 million ISK per square metre [$7,126, €6,650], so a relatively modest apartment in Reykjavík might cost some 70 million ISK [$501,000, €465,500].

How to buy real estate in Iceland

So you’re legally eligible to buy property and you’ve found the right place – how, exactly, does one go about buying it?

It’s a complicated process, and if you’re serious about moving forward with your decision, we do recommend getting in contact with a real estate broker and possibly a lawyer specializing in such matters.

Nevertheless, here are the broad contours of buying property in Iceland. Íslandsbanki also has a useful roadmap for first-time homebuyers. 

Step 1: Determining whether you are legally able to buy property, as described above.

Step 2: Getting your finances in order. Of course, this is its own topic entirely, but it may be difficult to get a mortgage at an Icelandic bank without long-term residency and/or citizenship. Many foreign nationals looking for real estate in Iceland may need to take out loans in their home countries to be able to pay cash in Iceland.

Step 3: Finding a property. The real estate listings given above are a good place to start. At this stage, you may also begin looking for a real estate agent. There are real estate agents that specialize in dealing with English-speaking clients and wrangling with some of the legal issues that arise in such cases.

Step 4: Once you’ve found an agent, they should be able to guide you through the rest of the process (n.b. Agent fees generally range from 1.5% to nearly 3% of the total sale cost). One thing to keep in mind is that you will also need a notary to sign official documents. Fees for transferring the property and registering the newly-purchased property can amount to around 1% of the total property value.

 

Committee to Investigate 1995 Suðavík Avalanche

Alþingi parliament of Iceland

An investigative committee will review the government and civil protection department’s decisions in the lead-up to one of Iceland’s most fatal natural disasters, the 1995 Súðavík avalanche. Iceland’s Parliament has approved a motion to on April 30 to establish the committee, RÚV reports. The survivors of the disaster have been calling for such an investigation for nearly 30 years.

On January 16, 1995, an avalanche struck the Westfjords town of Súðavík, killing 14 people, including eight children, and injuring 12 others. Later that year, another avalanche hit the Westfjords town of Flateyri, resulting in 34 fatalities. The disasters greatly impacted the two small villages, as well as changing Icelandic attitudes toward avalanche safety and prevention.

Unanswered questions

The relatives and loved ones of those who died in the Súðavík avalanche have called for such an investigation since the tragedy occurred. They believe that many questions about the lead-up to the disaster remain unanswered, including regarding decision-making on avalanche barriers, how information was relayed to residents, zoning safety, and the operations of the civil protection department before and after the avalanche.

Read More: Avalanche Barriers in Iceland

The committee will consist of three members who will have a year to review and illuminate these issues. The statement on the committee’s formation asserts, however, that there is no suspicion that any criminal activity took place. Members of the government and opposition both expressed support for the investigation.

Read more about the 1995 avalanches in Súðavík and Flateyri in Iceland Review’s article After the Avalanche.

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Whale-Watching From Reykjavík

Whales of Iceland

Everybody talks about Húsavík, in the north of Iceland, to be the whale-watching capital of Iceland – but what about Reykjavík? In Reykjavík’s home bay, Faxaflói, spanning between the Reykjanes and Snæfellsness peninsula, you can observe a surprising amount of whales that come every year to feed in the nutrient-dense waters! Which whales can you observe on a whale-watching tour from Reykjavík, and is it worth it compared to other places in Iceland?

Whale-Watching from Reykjavík

How can I get there?

On a beautiful but crisp Thursday morning in March, we headed to the Elding ticket booth right in the Reykjavík harbour to pick up our tickets for our three-hour classic whale-watching tour. Stepping through the whale-watching centre “Fífill”, a permanently docked old fishing vessel, we already got a small taste of what we were about to see. The former vessel holds a small souvenir shop and information centre, including a very intriguing minke whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling. Our tour’s boat is called “Eldey”, a former Norwegian ferry that carries two indoor decks with a kiosk and large seating area and a grand top deck for great observation spots!

If you’re interested in finding out which whales you can observe in the waters around Iceland and from its shores, you can check out our “Whales of Iceland” article here.

What should I wear on a whale watching tour?

The temperatures on the day of our Elding tour were around 0°C (32°F), so dressing warm was essential! I’ve been on around five whale-watching tours in Iceland, and every tour provider usually offers warm oversuits for layering above your regular street clothing. Being on the open water with strong winds can cool you down quite quickly – even during the summer months – so it’s crucial to be dressed accordingly.

I’d recommend bringing these essentials when you go on a whale-watching tour:

  • Hat, gloves & scarf
  • Warm jacket – or multiple layers underneath a fleece/soft shell jacket
  • Camera
  • Sunglasses
  • Binoculars (if you have some)
whale watching reykjavik, elding, reykjavik from the city, boat
Packed-up in a big oversuit, photo: Alina Maurer
What can I expect on a whale-watching tour?

Usually, you sail out into Faxaflói bay for about an hour to reach the playground of the whales, where they hang about and feed. The boat takes the route past Engey Island, the home of the local Reykjavík puffins! From mid-April to mid-August, you can observe many of the dorky seabirds from the boat and watch them dive for fish!

During the tour, two guides in the crow’s nest, the captain and other fellow crew members, are usually looking out for whales. But everybody is encouraged to keep an eye out for something. When we went on the whale-watching tour with Elding, another guest spotted the first minke whale of the tour – even before the guides! 

When trying to spot these large mammals out in the wide ocean, it is important to keep the “3 B’s rule” in mind:

  • Bodies
  • Blows
  • Birds
Make sure to look out for a flock of birds gathering around a certain spot on the water. This usually indicates that there is food available, meaning that whales will often appear soon after for a breath after indulging in some crustaceans and fish. Blows can be difficult to spot in between waves and ocean foam, but they often reach up to 6 metres in height, depending on the whale, and therefore are another important indicator that a whale is around! The last and most obvious indication is observing the bodies of the whales themselves – if you see something appear and dive down again, it most likely is a whale, a dolphin or a hidden sea monster!
whale watching reykjavik, elding, reykjavik from the city
Reykjavík from Faxaflói bay, photo: Alina Maurer
Dealing with seasickness – Can I still go whale-watching?

While we sailed out, our guide Anna told us some interesting facts about the area, the bay and the surrounding mountains like Esja. During our adventure, the March 16 eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula was still ongoing, and we could see a big pollution plume rise from the eruption site. The sea was quite calm that day, but we still had some bigger waves. 

After a while, a few people on deck got seasick. Elding offers free seasickness pills and peppermint tea for passengers feeling unwell and also recommends staying on deck for fresh air – which helps tremendously. 

If you know you easily get seasick but nevertheless want to head on a whale-watching tour, it is recommended to take medication battling seasickness before the boat ride and also to pick a relatively calm day. I was once on a whale-watching tour in Húsavík, and the sea was so rough that about 90% of the passengers started throwing up – I usually don’t feel any seasickness, but the fact that everybody else was barfing from the railing made me very nauseous and dampened the experience a bit!

lighthouse reykjavik, whale watching reykjavik, elding, reykjavik from the city, boat
minke whale, whale watching reykjavik, elding, reykjavik from the city, boat
whale watching reykjavik, edling
Minke whale, photo: Anna Richter, Elding
Which whales can I see from Reykjavík?

After arriving at the furthest point Elding would sail out to that day in Faxaflói bay, we caught sight of a minke whale continuously coming up to the surface to breathe. It was a truly magnificent sight to see and hear such a huge animal breathe—just metres away from where we stood! Another whale-watching boat from another provider was close by, as all companies work together and tell each other if they spot a whale! You generally don’t need to be worried about what spot on the boat is best for some great whale observations, as the captain usually makes sure to turn the boat around so everybody catches a glimpse. Oftentimes, many people also switch places on the deck according to which side the last whale appeared or even disappear down to the kiosk for a snack. So you don’t need to stress out if all the great spots on deck are already taken when you start the tour!

During our tour, we “only” saw two minke whales and a small pod of harbour porpoises on our way back. What a happy ending to a successful tour! Only a couple of days later, Elding announced on its website that hundreds of individuals had just arrived in Faxaflói bay and that they sighted about 50 humpback whales, 7-8 fin whales, and 8 white-beaked dolphins.

Generally, you can observe humpback whales, minke whales, harbour porpoises, white-beaked dolphins, orcas and very rarely fin and blue whales on whale-watching tours from Reykjavík. You can read more about these species here. Remember that going on a whale-watching tour means being out in nature – which tends to be unpredictable, and you might not see any whales! In that case, Elding offers a complimentary ticket for another whale-watching tour. You can book your own whale-watching experience with Elding via Iceland Review here

whale watching reykjavik, elding, reykjavik from the city, boat
Responsible whale-watching

Elding adheres to the Code of Conduct for responsible whale-watching by IceWhale (The Icelandic Whale Watching Association), a non-profit organisation formed by many Icelandic whale-watching operators. That means that the boats should not spend more than 20-30 minutes with a single individual and stop the propeller within 50 metres of the animal – among other measures.

whale watching reykjavik, elding
photo: Elding, Aleksandra Lechwar

The tour guides always take pictures of the whales sighted to add them to a data bank in Elding’s own established research programme. The images are then used to track and identify whales to research more about the cetacean’s migration routes, behavioural patterns and population numbers. If you are interested, you can also read the daily whale-watching diaries and get the pictures the guides took with their professional camera!

Elding also emphasises the importance of boycotting local restaurants that offer whale meat to their guests and tells them about the fact that whales are still actively hunted in Iceland to this day. If you want to read more about the topic, you can check out our 2023 magazine article about whale hunting in Iceland here. 

Other whale-watching hotspots in Iceland

Generally, going whale-watching from Reykjavík does not hold any disadvantages over other places in Iceland. Personally, I always thought that you could observe more whale species from other places in Iceland, like Húsavík –  the “capital” of whale-watching.

But I’ve also had cases where I observed more whales here in Reykjavík than on tours from Húsavík – so it really depends on the time of year and just luck! If you’re staying in Reykjavík, I can definitely recommend going on a whale-watching tour from the local harbour – and with some luck, you can witness the magnificent ocean wildlife, just like from any other place in Iceland! 

There are numerous whale-watching providers all around Iceland. You can check out other whale-watching tours here and other special tours by Elding, like midnight sun whale-watching or sea-angling tours here.

You can find a complete map of all whale-watching spots around Iceland here: