The Sky Lagoon in Reykjavík

A couple at the Sky Lagoon in Iceland

What differentiates the Sky Lagoon from other luxury spas in the country? When is the best time to visit, and how long should you spend there? So, before you indulge in a spot of bathing, let’s learn more about what you can expect from this lovely spa! 

If one image showcases why people travel to Iceland, it would be people relaxing in the country’s hot spring spas

Can’t you picture such luxury for yourself? 

With gentle eddies of steam rising up around their naked torsos, Iceland’s geothermal waters provide visitors serenity, community, and well-being.

A couple at the spa
Photo: Sky Lagoon Pure Pass with Transfer

The Sky Lagoon is just one of Iceland’s many spas, but given that it is a new addition to the scene, it lacks the recognition enjoyed by the Blue Lagoon or Myvatn Nature Baths

Though it hasn’t been around for too long, the spa has rapidly become a favourite among locals and travellers alike. So, without further ado, why exactly has this spa made such a splash since first opening in 2021? 

Why should you visit this exciting new spa?

A woman at Sky Lagoon's sauna
Photo: Sky Lagoon Pure Pass with Transfer

For one, the Sky Lagoon shares its major draws with all other spas in Iceland. Heated from geothermal energy below the ground, the lagoon’s warm waters invite its guests to soak for a few hours at a time. As has been tradition in Iceland for centuries, bathing is a premium opportunity to either socialise with others around you, or close your eyes, lean back, and let the soothing sensations douse you with bliss. 

The Ritual is one of the spa’s major selling points. Guests are offered a seven-step process to relaxation and rejuvenation.

 

 

First, you will spend some time in the lagoon itself, enjoying the peaceful ambience and beautiful surroundings. After a quick dip in the nearby glacial pool, you enter the sauna, followed by a steam shower. Shortly afterwards, you will lather your skin in nutrient-rich sea salt scrub, bringing it to life. To close off the experience, you will take a refreshing shower before returning to the lagoon.

Of course, it is not necessary to take part in the ritual if you would rather bob around in the lagoon. However, it certainly adds a great depth to your experience, maximising your limited time at this exciting new spa. 

Where is the Sky Lagoon?

Looking down on the Sky Lagoon
Photo: Sky Lagoon Pure Pass with Transfer

The Sky Lagoon is located within Reykjavík. This makes it something of an anomaly among spas in Iceland, and a must-stop for those restricting themselves to the Capital Region. It is only a short way from downtown – approximately ten minutes drive – so can be easily slotted in around any other points of interest you’re looking to explore.

What amenities are on offer? 

 

The Sky Lagoon offers a swim-up bar where you can purchase a variety of alcoholic and soft beverages, including cocktails. Nothing beats enjoying a cool refreshment while your body is hugged by the snugness of the lagoon’s water. Don’t worry about paying there and then – upon buying your admission, you will be provided with an electronic wristband that tracks your purchases. 

There is also an infinity pool, allowing you to feel like you are bathing right next to the coast line. Watching the waves, passing ships, and distant islands is the perfect fuel to remain hanging over the lip of the infinity pool throughout your stay. In fact, from this position, guests are provided a brilliant view of Bessastaðir, the official residence of the President of Iceland, offering a small dose of culture during your time at the lagoon. 

Those hoping to take a piece of the Sky Lagoon home will find plenty of fantastic souvenirs at their shop. Products include: the Ritual body scrub, shampoos and conditioners, relaxing pillow sprays, and even gift cards – perfect for friends and family visiting Iceland in the near future.

What attractions are near the Sky Lagoon?

A guest relaxes at the lagoon
Photo: Volcanic Wonders & the Sky Lagoon

Given that the Sky Lagoon is so close to the many cultural attractions, museums, shopping districts, restaurants, and bars that make up Reykjavík, the possibilities are endless.

There are a variety of tours that include admission to the Sky Lagoon as part of a package. For example, the Golden Circle & Sky Lagoon Bathing Experience offers you the opportunity to dip in geothermal water and discover the wonders of Iceland’s most popular sightseeing route. That’s correct – in the space of a single day, you can visit the UNESCO heritage site, Thingvellir National Park, the explosive Geysir geothermal valley, Gullfoss waterfall, and the Sky Lagoon!

Other tours, such as Golden Circle, Sky Lagoon Premium & Kerid Volcanic Crater | Small Group Day Tour, provide even further depth to your travels, as well as keeping the group size intimate and personal.

If you’re looking for something a little more extreme, but still nearby on the Golden Circle, you could try your hand at some underwater exploration with Cold & Hot: Silfra Snorkeling & Sky Lagoon. This excursion will see you don a protective dry suit, fins, a mask and a snorkel, all in preparation for entering the crystal-clear glacier fissure, Silfra.

These are only a handful of the activity options available to you. Before locking down your itinerary, be sure to check out the many Sky Lagoon combo tours HERE!

When can you visit the Sky Lagoon?

The lagoon has impressive ocean views
Photo: Sky Lagoon Pure Pass with Transfer


The Sky Lagoon is open every day from 9AM to 10PM. This is true both in the summer and winter, making it accessible the entire year around.  

Many people like to enjoy the lagoon in the afternoon so as to watch the sunset over the ocean, leaving them with enough time to dine-out downtown come the evening. Of course, if you are visiting in the summer, the Midnight Sun will remain high in the sky right up until closing. 

The winter offers an entirely different experience, but it is no less wonderful. For one thing, the biting outside climate makes the warmth of the lagoon even more comforting, especially on particularly snowy or windy days. You will likely find the surrounding scenery layered with snow, perfectly demonstrating the contrast in temperatures. 

The Icelandic Financial Crisis

Protest in Iceland 2008

What led to the Icelandic financial crisis in 2008? What were the consequences of this troubled economy, and how did the nation manage to recover? Read on to learn more about this dark chapter in Icelandic history. 

Understand that the world of finance is shadowy and complex. Going forward, we will attempt to break the details down so as to be accessible for most readers. 

Even so, the fluctuations of a local economy – let alone a global market – is a subject one could devote their lives to without fully understanding its details. 

In fact, it is from within that misunderstanding that the foundation of this article is laid. 

So, let’s begin with the basics.

How do Icelanders view money?  

Finances in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Stacks of Icelandic krona.

For most people, money can be simplified into earning enough to pay for one’s food, shelter, and entertainment. Putting it bluntly, making money is the engine that drives societies such as ours, and oftentimes, it is from one’s occupation that people derive meaning.

Icelanders are no different in this respect, often choosing to pursue career opportunities that satiate their personal goals rather than mere financial gain. 

Ultimately, the majority of folk – Icelanders included – are content accepting that money is not the be-all and end-all in life. Instead, it is better looked at as a means of securing a comfortable and engaging life.

Shopping in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Icelanders shopping in downtown Reykjavik.

However, some people have a rather different opinion. For bankers, investors, and financial analysts, the concept of money is a constant back-and-forth that involves borrowing, interest rates, debts, and keeping a close eye on international markets. 

As is to be expected, this latter group can often have a great impact on the former, regardless of whether the results are desired or not. Such a philosophy even has a name – crony capitalism

As it so happens, Iceland is a capitalist country; one with a small population that has yet to surpass 400,000 people. Given this pairing, nepotism and corruption have long been a reality of life here. Some people continue to believe that personal gain, both for the individual and those closest to them, trumps what might be more beneficial for the nation at large. 

In that sense, Iceland is hardly different than anywhere else. But unfortunately, the consequences of such selfish thinking tend to impact a greater percentage of people on a small island than it might otherwise do in a larger, less corruptible republic.

What happens when the markets crash? 

 

 

One of the most dramatic economic events to affect life in Iceland began in 2008. The grand scale of it cannot be overemphasised, and not just for those living here. In fact, 2008 was one of the first times in history that the entire world turned its attention to this small Nordic island. 

As you might imagine, this spotlight was not cast for the best of reasons… We talk, of course, about the Icelandic financial crash. 

It was not purely Iceland’s economic woes that drew people’s notice. Rather, it was how these troubles influenced global events, particularly the markets in their own countries.

The Icelandic financial crash is often considered to be the straw that broke the camel’s back in regards to the global recession that would follow. It was, by most accounts, the first pillar to topple what had, until then, been thought of as a profitable and structurally sound pecuniary model the world over.

What led to the Icelandic financial crisis? 

Íslandsbanki headquarters in Reykjavík
Photo: Golli. Íslandsbanki headquarters in Reykjavík

The origins of the financial crash in Iceland can be traced to 2001. It was in that year that the banks were deregulated. In essence, this deregulation meant that Icelandic banks – namely, Landsbanki, Glitnir, and Kaupthing – could all operate using foreign currency. In the short term, this proved to work wonders for the Icelandic economy, as it continued to experience rapid growth right up until 2008. 

With deregulation came the need for banks to expand. This expansion could only be achieved with the adoption of increasingly aggressive lending practices aimed at both residents in Iceland, and those living beyond its shores. In particular, the real estate sector proved to be the juiciest target.    

The expansion of the banks was bolstered by taking loans from the interbank lending market. They also increased levels of external debt by taking deposits from outside of the country. 

As early as 2007, The Economist magazine ranked the Icelandic krona as the most overvalued currency in the world. For many, this should have been a clear indicator that local financial practices were not sustainable.

Waves crashing over Reykjavík lighthouse
Photo: Golli. Waves crash over lighthouse in Reykjavík winter storm

When an economic bubble bursts… 


However, little consideration was given to the fact that there was no lender of last resort. When it came to refinance the debts accumulated, it quickly became apparent that the banks had no foreign currency to pay them off.

Around this time, household debt also rose to 213% of a family’s disposable income. This imbalance soon led to inflation, which in turn, forced a hike in interest rates. In response, the Central Bank of Iceland began offering liquidity loans to other banks based solely on newly-issued bonds. 

While this might sound complicated, understand it for what it really was – the Central Bank was doing little more than printing new money. 

By September 2018, interest rates in Iceland were at 15.5%, far higher than in other European countries. For example, the United Kingdom only held interest rates at 5% at that time. This divide caused foreign investors to withhold depositing Icelandic krona, creating even higher monetary inflation, and ultimately, an economic bubble within which financiers continued to overestimate the value of Iceland’s currency.

What were the consequences of the Icelandic financial crash? 

Bjarni Benediktsson icelandic politics
Photo: Golli. Former minister of Finance, Bjarni Benediktsson

In the years leading up to the crisis, Iceland’s economy was extremely reliant on its financial sector. Following the closure of its banks, both businesses and individuals immediately felt the shockwaves. 

Having been valued far too highly for far too long, the worth of the Icelandic krona dropped considerably. As a consequence of this devaluation, many Icelanders lost their life savings, and unemployment rose considerably. It was the first sign of the recession to come, not just in Iceland, but around the world.

Overseas, it was those who held close ties to Icelandic banks that suffered the most. Beyond the tribulations these investors felt personally, the losses they accumulated through their association with Iceland would further contribute to the broader global crash.

The government’s last stand 

Alþingi parliament of Iceland
Photo: Golli. Alþingi, the Parliament of Iceland

Even amongst casual observers, the writing on the wall was obvious. And so, when the Icelandic banking system collapsed, few people were shocked by it. 

Now in the midst of a recession they had partly caused – plus no banking system to speak of – the Icelandic government quickly found themselves faced with enormous pressure to stabilise the economy. It would prove to be a challenging balance act between satisfying the demands for accountability with practical steps to prevent any further collapse from happening. 

In doing so, the government introduced sweeping changes across the financial sector. These included implementing capital controls to help steady the currency, as well as bailing out, restructuring, and nationalising the banks. Not only that; the government also chased down fiscal stimulus programs that might help boost economic recovery, as well engaged in negotiations with international creditors. 

Central Bank Ásgeir Jónsson seðlabankastjóri
Photo: Golli. Current Central Bank Governor, Ásgeir Jónsson

Still, many ministers realised they would soon be forced to resign, and mass protests – some of which became violent – continued to plague those responsible for leading the country. Iceland’s leaders realised quickly what others already knew; the road to full economic recovery would be a long and arduous journey. 

But even having come to this conclusion, there was no resting easy for government officials, nor those in charge of Iceland’s beaten down banks. As it stood, trust in the country’s financial institutions was at an all time low.

Resilient as ever, the Icelandic people demanded blood. And one way or another, they would get it. 

The Icelandic People demanded change

Photo: Golli. Pots and pans revolution protest outside of Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament.

In true Icelandic style, the protests began with a single man – a popular songwriter by the name of Hörður Torfason. Having staged himself with a microphone outside of the parliament building on Austurvöllur, he invited others to express their frustration with the government. 

By the following week, these protests had become larger and more demonstrative. Participants organised themselves into an outfit called Raddir fólksins (Voices of the People.) They promised to vent their anger every Saturday until the government stepped down.

 

 

These protests would come to be known as the Kitchenware Revolution, or by others, the Pots and Pans Protests. As part of the growing unrest, the largest protest ever to take place in Iceland happened on 20 January 2009. 

These protests largely came to an end following the resignation of members of the Independence Party. In its place, a new left-wing government was formed, having had the support of the protesters. Iceland’s former prime minister, Geir Haarde, faced prosecution at Landsdómur, or the National Court, though ultimately, he would be found non-culpable.  

Recovery from the Icelandic Financial Crisis

Photo: Bjarki Sigursveinsson. CC. Flickr. Eyjafjallajökull erupts!

Whereas other countries opted for austerity, bank bailouts, and low inflation, Iceland decided to go in another direction. It would be a risky reaction that actually turned out to work in its favour. But aside from the changes mentioned, the tourism boom would ultimately be the saving grace in rebuilding Iceland’s economy.

Sudden interest in the country peaked during the 2010 eruption at Eyjafjallajökull. Putting that in the timeline, this event occurred a little over halfway into the financial crisis. For locals, the eruption was an uncomfortable distraction from their recently emptied wallets. But for many abroad, it was their first introduction to what would become known as the land of ice and fire.

 

 

Global news coverage broadcast compelling images of this dramatic geological event. A snow-laden mountain scorched with fire. A black column of ash and glass filling an empty blue sky. That last sentence is particularly accurate. The density of the ash pushed into the atmosphere created enormous disruptions in air travel, and many passengers found themselves stranded, waiting for the eruption to end and the air to clear. 

These pictures – and numerous flight cancellations – filled people with curiosity as to what life in Iceland was really like. It was an inquisitiveness bolstered with fascinating B-roll of Iceland’s nature; of dark pebble beaches, sweeping white glaciers, endless moss-covered lava fields. Before Icelanders had a chance to prepare themselves for the societal changes that tourism would bring, excited vacationers were booking their tickets. 

Fireworks on New Year's Eve.
Photo: Golli. Fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

Rebuilding the Icelandic Nation 


By 2012, Iceland’s miraculous recovery was being cited as a success story among other nations. Unemployment rates had dropped to 6.3%, partly on account of how Icelandic officials began to appeal to immigrants.

In April of the next year, a new government was formed, setting about a process by which many of the former bank directors were sentenced for their part in the financial meltdown of 2008.

As of today, the consequences of this dark and complex time continue to reveal themselves. For example, Iceland is still very dependent on tourism, pouring billions of krona into marketing campaigns each year to ensure it remains a bucket-list destination for prospective travellers.

túristi tourist ferðamaður tourism
Golli. Tourists in front of Esja on Sæbraut in Reykjavík

Government officials must also continue to balance the debts they incurred attempting to pull the island out from its economic woes.

Finally, much of public discourse has been shaped by these events, and stricter measures on lending, borrowing, and trading remain in place so as to avoid repeating mistakes of the past.

Going forward, we can only hope these lessons have been learned for the last time. 

The Secret Lagoon in South Iceland

A happy couple at the Secret Lagoon in Iceland

What can you expect from a visit to the Secret Lagoon in Iceland? How does it differ from other spas and hot springs around the country? Read on to learn more about the many joys that come with bathing at the Secret Lagoon in Iceland. 

In Icelandic, the Secret Lagoon is known as Gamla Laugin, meaning Old Pool

It is aptly named, being the first artificially-made outdoor swimming area in Iceland. The first incarnation of the pool was built in 1891, smack in the centre of a geothermal area known as Hverahólmi. It was quite the change given this space had historically been used for washing clothes. 

Since opening, it has become a tradition amongst local people to enjoy bathing in these gently simmering waters. Swimming lessons were held there from 1909 to 1947, at which point the original pool fell into disrepair. 

It was not until 2005 that the pool was given a second chance. On the 7th of June 2014, the Secret Lagoon officially opened its doors. Holiday-makers have been flocking to it ever since. 

When can you visit the Secret Lagoon?

Entering the Secret Lagoon
Photo: Secret Lagoon – Gamla Laugin

There really is no best time to visit the Secret Lagoon. Summer visitors can enjoy the lush beauty of the surrounding nature, as well as the omnipresent sunlight. Winter travellers can expect a welcome source of heat from its waters, helping to break up their day exploring the local area. Opening hours for the Secret Lagoon are as follows:

Winter season

*from 1st of October to 31st of May

Open daily from 10:00 to 19:00

Summer season

*from 1st of June to 30th of September

Open daily from 10:00 to 20:00

 

Where is the Secret Lagoon?

Gamla Laugin
Photo: Golden Circle — Platinum Tour | Small group

The Secret Lagoon is located in Flúðir village, in South Iceland. Home to little more than 800 people, the village is known for its abundance of greenhouses and gorgeous surrounding scenery. Travelling by car is a 1 hr 25 min drive (104.7 km) from the capital city, Reykjavík.  

Thanks to its proximity to many other notable attractions, Flúðir is often included as an extra stop on the Golden Circle sightseeing route. 

 

Why should you visit the Secret Lagoon?

Bathers at the Secret Lagoon
Photo: Private Northern Lights Tour – With Secret Lagoon and Dinner

Visiting the Secret Lagoon allows you to experience the soothing warmth of Iceland’s geothermally-heated water. Slipping under its twinkling surface, you’re sure to feel your troubles melt away. 

Thankfully, there are no seasonal restrictions, meaning you are free to visit during the winter or summer. Each has its benefits; the Northern Lights may very well decorate the night sky for those stopping by between September and March. The Midnight Sun offers eternal light for summer travellers, allowing you to stay out later and fit more into your day.  

A visit to the Secret Lagoon also provides a brilliant opportunity to observe the steaming fumaroles and hot pots that surround the pool itself. Some even have names, such as Vaðmálahver, Básahver, and Litli Geysir, the latter of which is known to erupt every few minutes, offering guests a small spectacle in its own right. 

A steamy fumarole
Photo: Secret Lagoon – Gamla Laugin

In between bathing sessions, step out and take an enjoyable stroll around these fascinating natural features – but don’t step too close! These miniature springs are incredibly hot. This brings us to our next point – not only do these hot springs offer interesting surroundings, but they have a practical purpose too, feeding into the Secret Lagoon, naturally filtering its water and keeping it at a pleasant 38-40 Celsius throughout the year.  

As mentioned, the Secret Lagoon also happens to be the oldest outdoor pool in the country. With that in mind, it is pleasing to know you are taking part in an activity – relaxing in nature – that many Icelandic have done throughout the years prior, adding a real sense of authenticity to your visit. 

 

What amenities does the Secret Lagoon offer? 

A guest at the Secret Lagoon
Photo: The Ultimate Golden Circle Tour with Lunch at the Tomato Farm & Bathing at Secret Lagoon

The Secret Lagoon is more simplistic in its aesthetic and its amenities than many other spas in Iceland. Towels and swimwear are not included in the basic admission, so must be rented separately at 1000 ISK each. Make sure to spend time packing the essentials before visiting to avoid any unnecessary expenses. 

We highly recommend booking your spot in advance, especially during the busiest times of the year. However, it is also possible to buy tickets at the front desk should you decide to stop by on impulse. The ticket prices are as follows:

Adults: 3600 ISK

Children (14 and under): Free 

Seniors (and disabled): 2500 ISK

 

 

There are showers and changing facilities on-site, kept much the same as they always have been. Note that showering before entering the lagoon is mandatory, as it is with all pools in the country. Chastisement can be expected if one tries to skip this step, as a pre-entry shower is considered a foundational aspect of bathing culture in Iceland.

There is also a bistro that serves up refreshing drinks and a variety of delicious snacks. However, the bistro does not serve hot meals, so it is best to stop by the lagoon before or after you’ve had lunch. (We recommend Restaurant Minilik, an Ethiopian eatery nearby.) Exceptions are made when bigger groups make arrangements in advance. 

 

What attractions are near the Secret Lagoon? 

A couple at geysir geothermal area
Photo: Golli. A couple watches Strokkur explode!

On average, visitors tend to spend around 1.5 – 2 hours at the Secret Lagoon, leaving plenty of time to check out points of interest in the area. Fortunately, there are many worthwhile sites nearby that are worth slotting into your schedule. 

The Golden Circle is Iceland’s most popular sightseeing route, covering approximately 300 km (190 mi). It boasts three star attractions; Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal valley, and the powerful waterfall, Gullfoss, as well as other extra sites like Kerið volcanic crater and Friðheimar tomato farm. Almost all visitors to Iceland will want to make time to discover the beauty of this exciting drive. There is no better way to close it off than with a little bathing. 

If you were to head in the other direction, you would find yourself on the picturesque South Coast. This lovely journey showcases an eclectic mix of landscapes, from ancient sea cliffs to black sand deserts, craggy shorelines, and sweeping green meadows. Attractions on the western side include the waterfalls, Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, while exploring further will take you to the dark beach, Reynisfjara.

All About Harpa Concert Hall in Iceland

Harpa concert hall in RYK

When was Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre built in Reykjavík? Why is it an important landmark? What musical acts and stage performances can you see at Harpa? Read on to learn more. 

If you’re taking a stroll around Reykjavík, you’ll likely stumble upon the award-winning Harpa Concert Hall. 

After all, it’s hard to miss.

 

 

It is one of the city’s most iconic buildings. A striking and decidedly modern structure that favours the use of glass and abstract shapes to make up its slanted walls. 

It is not only Icelanders and visitors who have taken notice. Numerous magazines have awarded Harpa prizes, including the likes of Gramophone and Business Destination. In 2013, Harpa also won the Mies van der Rohe European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture. 

Facilities at Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre / Facebook. Gamers at EVE Fanfest in 2018

The facilities themselves at Harpa are world-class, both for performers and businesses. Harpa has four main stages: 

Eldborg 


The first is its main hall, Eldborg, designed to streamline its acoustics and seat 1600 guests. Eldborg won the USITT Architecture Award in 2018. 

Silfurberg 

Waves by Harpa during extreme weather
Photo: Golli. Waves hitting Harpa.

Silfurberg conference hall can seat 840 people, making it an excellent choice for business events hosting large groups. Its technological prowess is particularly appealing. The stage is entirely moveable and the acoustics can be configured to a production’s liking. 

Norðurljós


Norðurljós recital stage is attached to Silfurberg, meaning the latter can expand or recede when required. It also boasts a movable stage and has viewing balconies that line its perimeter. The lighting set-up can also be changed quickly, allowing for stage managers and directors to create a variety of moods and aesthetics. 

Kaldalón


Kaldalón auditorium is the smallest of Harpa’s halls, and therefore better suited to quieter events and performances. In front of the stage is Norðurbryggja, an open area that allows for wonderful views of Harpa’s surrounding nature. 

When was Harpa Concert Hall built?

 


Plans to build Harpa extend far back to the early 2000s. It was thought that a fancy new building was needed to boost the capital’s cultural scene, as well as provide a makeover for its waterfront.

The actual construction came at a difficult time for Icelanders. In the midst of building, the country suffered through a financial crisis. In some circles, criticism was thrown at the project on account of Harpa’s perceived lavishness and expense. 

Harpa Concert Hall was completed in 2011, neatly coinciding with Iceland’s tourism boom. Since then, it has been one of the country’s most recognisable buildings, as well as a point of interest widely experienced by city sightseers.  

Where is Harpa Concert Hall located? 


Harpa is located on Austurbakka 2, 101 Reykjavík. Nearby areas include Old Harbour, Lækjartorg square, and Arnarhóll hill. Of course, behind the function hall lies nothing but ocean, and the omnipresent mountains that surround the Capital Region. 

Who designed Harpa Concert Hall? 


Harpa’s design can be traced back to Henning Larsen Architects, a Danish firm who worked closely with Danish-Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson. 

What can you see at Harpa Concert Hall? 

Harpa concert hall
Photo: Golli. A performance at Harpa Concert Hall.

Harpa Concert Hall has three residents, musical in-house acts, that are a permanent fixture. These do not include Múlinn Jazz club, who also happens to call Harpa home. 

Icelandic Symphony Orchestra


Having been founded in 1950, the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra is a cultural institution that has long held a significant place in local society. Today, they hold weekly concerts at Harpa Concert Hall from September – June. 

In the past, it has performed at the BBC Proms, New York’s Carnegie Hall, and Vienna’s Musikverein. 

Reykjavík Big Band

 

 

Fans of the golden oldies will want to catch a performance by the Reykjavík Big Band. Known for their musical expertise and great ability to swing, this beloved cultural institution has been entertaining Icelanders since first forming in 1992.

The band’s origins can be traced to Sæbjörn Jónsson, who worked as their main conductor until the start of the millennium. As of today, they are sponsored by both the City of Reykjavík and the Icelandic Music Fund. For the band’s 30th Anniversary, Maria Schneider stepped in as composer and conductor, having won many Grammy Awards in her own right.

The Reykjavík Big Band has won a handful of Icelandic Music Awards. In 2008, they were awarded Jazz Performers of the Year, and in 2011, won Best Jazz Album. Overall, the outfit has five well-received albums to their name. But not only that; they have also recorded music with some of the biggest names in local music, including ​​Bubbi Morthens and the Sálin band.

Icelandic Opera 

Russian invasion
Photo: Golli. Harpa in Ukrainian colours.

Founded in 1980, the Icelandic Opera was first staged at Gamla Bio – the Old Cinema – until moving to Harpa Concert Hall in 2011. After having settled in, the performers quickly made a name for themselves as one of the venue’s most sophisticated acts.

Each season, the Icelandic Opera puts on two productions, both as spectacular as each other. Aside from that, they also engage in various educational programs, as well as put on free lunchtime concerts under the name Kúnstpása.

International Acts at Harpa Concert Hall? 


Harpa Concert Hall also plays host to the many international acts who stop by Reykjavík while touring. This not only includes iconic musicians like Fatboy Slim and Patti Smith, but also comedians such as the UK’s Bill Bailey. 

What is the best way to experience Harpa Concert Hall? 


The best way to experience the Harpa is to grab yourself a seat at one of its many shows. That way, you will experience just what the facility has to offer, as well as catch a spot of entertainment in the meantime. 

If you’re not looking to see a show during your vacation, you can still visit Harpa simply to appreciate its unique aesthetics. 

What attractions are nearby Harpa Concert Hall? 

Esja
Photo: Golli. Esja mountain seen from Reykjavík

Glistening beneath the Midnight Sun, Harpa is one of the best places in Reykjavík to look upon its backdrop; Mount Esja. 

Mount Esja overlooks Faxafloi Bay, a startlingly blue stretch of water that separates the mountain from the city. In the winter, its slopes are blanketed with snow. In the summer, its brown-rock demeanour disguises the hiking paths and flora found there. 

If Esja was a standalone mountain, it might be one of the most iconic of its kind in the world. However, the neighbouring range behind it alludes to the vast open wilds Iceland is famous for.    

Sun Voyager
Photo: Golli. The Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavík

Only a short walk away is the Sun Voyager sculpture. This work, also on the coast, stands in testament to the early settlers who discovered Iceland, and decided to call it their home. 

Appreciating the Sun Voyager sculpture allows you to think about adventures of the past. In old, wooden longships, voyagers from the North braved tempestuous seas and a challenging new home to found Icelandic society. 

Given how modern Reykjavík appears today, it is strange to think about this nation’s primitive start.  

From Harpa to Downtown Reykjavík 

If you were to walk in the opposite direction from Harpa, you would find yourself in historic Old Harbour. This lovely district is easily recognisable thanks to the presence of the Odinn; the prize ship in the Coast Guard’s war-winning fleet, as well as the small fishing boats and yachts that dock around it. 

Hallgrímskirkja lutheran church in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík

Nearby to Old Harbour is Kolaportid, the city flea market. Boasting an eclectic array of goods; from military surplus to strange decoration and old books and restaurants, this market is popular among visitors seeking peculiar souvenirs. It’s also one of the most popular locations to taste-test Hakarl, or fermented shark, as well as a range of other Icelandic delicacies. 

If, from Harpa, you walk into the urban heart of the capital, you’ll arrive in downtown Reykjavík. Describing it as a concrete jungle might seem a tad overzealous, but it’s the closest to it you’ll find during your trip to Iceland. For anyone seeking shops, bars, and restaurants, Laugavegur street has you covered. From there, it’s only a quick jaunt to Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Church – Reykjavík’s most recognisable landmark. 

What events have been held at Harpa Concert Hall? 

Golli. Armed police outside Harpa during the Council of Europe Summit, May 2023

Many events have been held at Harpa Concert Hall since it first opened.

These include: the European Film Awards, the Food and Fun Festival, EVE Fanfest, and the Reykjavík Arts Festival. Many music festivals also make use of Harpa’s stages, such as Iceland Airwaves, Dark Days, Sónar Reykjavík, and Reykjavík Jazz Festival.

A variety of productions have also used Harpa as a shooting location, such as the hit US reality show, The Bachelor, and the film, Hearts of Stone.

In May 2023, Harpa welcomed world leaders as part of the Council of Europe Summit. This was one of the more globally important conferences to be held there, and required police escorts and road closures to ensure everyone’s safety. Still, Harpa was a fitting choice given the building’s importance to Icelandic culture.

After all, the venue has also hosted events as part of the National Day of Iceland and the Festival of the Sea.

A Nerd’s Guide To Iceland

Staff at CCP Headquarters

What has Iceland contributed to the world’s favourite media franchises? Will nerds and fans recognise locations from their most beloved shows and films? Read on to discover just why Iceland is the perfect travel destination for geeks and freaks! 

Remember the days when people were derided as “nerds?” It might seem like a relic of the past, but large swathes of the population have been named as such simply for enjoying interests and hobbies outside of the mainstream. 

Thankfully, these days are long behind us. In the age of the internet, nerds, geeks, and dorks rule the world. Not only have they founded huge fan communities around countless IP’s and franchises, but they have contributed strange and unfathomable leaps in technology, media, and art.

CCP
Photo: Golli. Headquarters of CCP Games in Iceland

Why might nerds travel to Iceland? 


If ever a criticism was thrown at nerds, it was that they were unable – or unwilling – to live in reality. This might explain their affinity for fantastical settings like Middle Earth, Westeros, or far planets like
Star Wars’ Naboo or Dune’s Arrakis. 

Well, good news, geeks! 

If there was any country that could be easily construed as having leapt from a creative imagination, it would be Iceland. With its smooth table-top mountains, blackened coastlines, and quaint settlements, it’s easy to imagine yourself travelling through a place of pure fantasy.  

Iceland was discovered by the Vikings

Reykjavík statue
Photo: Golli. A statue in Reykjavík

Excluding the few Irish monks who once lived on Papey Island, it was the Vikings who discovered Iceland. Having braved cold and tempestuous seas in longships, Norwegian settlers were responsible for the founding of Icelandic society. 

Anyone familiar with the Berserker archetype in fantasy – commonly appearing in universes like Warhammer, Dungeons & Dragons, and Final Fantasy – might be interested to know that it was the Vikings who first inspired it. 

 

 

In Old Norse, the term berserkr described warriors renowned for their sheer brutality and lack of fear. Fighting while entrenched in a hallucinatory daze, these terrifying barbarians instilled horror in all that faced them in battle. By all accounts, such warriors seemed unkillable.

It is commonly believed that these trances might have been the result of them having ingested the psychedelic strain of mushrooms that grow freely around Iceland. While it may sound like a powerful trip, nerds in Iceland may want to avoid this for the sake of their sanity… 

Visit the Viking Festival in Iceland

Viking Festival Hafnarfjörður

For nerds in Iceland seeking out cosplay opportunities, the Viking Festival is held every June in the town of Hafnarfjörður. 

Visitors will see firsthand how Iceland’s earliest settlers dressed, lived, and spent their time. Expect interesting dining options, colourful outfits, and a spot of sword fighting or wrestling. 

J.R.R Tolkien’s Interest in Iceland

Portrait of Tolkien
Photo: J.R.R Tolkien. Public Domain. CC.

J.R.R Tolkien is famously known as the author of The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and The Silmarillion. These are sprawling works of genius that define fantasy to its very roots. Some may know that the writer found much inspiration in the Icelandic Sagas.

But not so many realise that he actually heard many stories of hidden elves and trolls from his Icelandic au-pair, Arndís Þorbjarnardóttir, who lived alongside the Tolkien family in 1929. 

J.R.R Tolkien never had the pleasure of travelling to Iceland himself. But he strongly believed that a knowledge of the Icelandic Sagas was crucial to understanding the foundation of mediaeval writing. In fact, he taught the subject as a Professor of English Language and Literature.

 

 

Actually, it might surprise readers to know that Tolkien did not put much importance on actually visiting the places that inspired him, opting instead to learn about them by deeply immersing himself in written works. In a 1943 letter to his son, Christopher, Tolkien writes:

“The bigger things get the smaller and duller or flatter the globe gets. It is getting to be all one blasted little provincial suburb. At any rate it ought to cut down on travel. There will be nowhere to go. So people will (I opine) go all the faster.”

Nerds in Iceland – know that you’re taking part in an adventure that Tolkien never had the joy of discovering. You can read more about ancient Icelandic beliefs in our article; Icelandic Folklore | Myths & Creatures

The creators largely filmed Game of Thrones in Iceland.

 

 

Winter is coming… 

This iconic phrase – the ominous words of the northern House Stark – is uttered by almost everyone come September in Iceland. 

It is not just for the novelty and truth behind these words. 

In fact, many locations from HBO’s hit series, Game of Thrones, were filmed in Iceland. Given that fact, this island is forever linked with George R.R Martin’s spectacular fantasy franchise. 

Primarily, Iceland’s snowy winter landscapes stood in for anywhere “north of the wall.” This describes that mysterious and unruly region inhabited by wildling tribes, packs of direwolves, and the White Walkers’ terrifying army of the dead. 

When you watch our hero, Jon Snow, traipsing across a plateau of snow, blackened volcanic rock, and expansive sheet ice, there is an excellent chance you’re looking at the Icelandic countryside.

 

Where was Game of Thrones filmed in Iceland? 

File:Joseph gatt game of thrones iceland set.jpeg
Photo: Actor, Joseph Gatt, at Thingvellir National Park in Iceland. Wikimedia. CC.

Some of the most famous Game of Thrones shooting locations that nerds in Iceland will want to explore include:

  • Þingvellir National Park 
  • Svínafellsjökull glacier
  • Mýrdalsjökull glacier
  • Lake Mývatn
  • Grótagjá cave
  • Hverir geothermal area
  • Kirkjufell mountain 
  • Dyrhólaey rock arch
  • Skógafoss waterfall 
  • Stakkholtsgjá canyon
  • Þórufoss waterfall 
  • Þjórsárdalur Valley
  • Reynisfjara black sand beach
  • Dimmuborgir 

Filming Locations in Iceland for Star Wars… and other Sci-Fi

 

 

If there is one beloved science-fiction franchise that dominates all others, it is Star Wars. 

Lightsabers. Jedi knights. Death Stars. Luke Skywalker. Darth Vader. Even those who have not seen the films know all too well what such terms point to. 

In fact, George Lucas’ fantastical world has made such a dent on global culture that it’s impossible to imagine a world without it. Well, wouldn’t you know that two Star Wars films have actually used Iceland as a shooting location?

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader
Photo: Mirko Toller. Wikimedia. CC.

If you remember the opening scenes of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), you may recall how an imperial spacecraft lands on terrain defined by its black pebbles. From the ship steps out an officer of the Galactic Empire. Stormtroopers adorned in black-shell suits guard him on either side, demonstrating their superior rank compared to the more typical, easily-killed white-dressed soldiers.

You might not have realised on watching it, but that’s actually Mýrdalssandur desert, an outwash plain of Mýrdalsjökull ice cap. You can visit this site and others while on a sightseeing trip along Iceland’s picturesque South Coast. 

Iceland was also used in Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015). The volcano, Krafla, stood in for the infamous ice planet, Starkiller Base. 

What other science-fiction movies were filmed in Iceland? 

 

 

There are numerous other examples of Icelandic landscapes standing in for the glorious settings found in science-fiction. Nerds in Iceland will want to catch up on their movies before travelling here.

Most people know that Ridley Scott’s follow-up to the Alien films, Prometheus (2012), famously used Dettifoss waterfall in its opening scene. Then there was Christopher Nolan’s 2014 epic, Interstellar, that used the mighty ice cap, Svínafellsjökull, for trailers and marketing materials. 

Only a year before, Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) picked out Reynisfjara beach, marking the first time a film in the franchise was shot outside of the US. Another film that year – Oblivion starring Tom Cruise – used Hrossaborg volcanic crater, Jarlhettur ridge, and Drekavatn lake as shooting locations.  

What Superheroes movies were filmed in Iceland? 

 

 

Superhero movies have become a genre in and of themselves. And with so many action-packed blockbusters released every year, it’s little wonder that some of them used Iceland as a primary filming location. 

One of the first superhero movies to shoot in Iceland was Batman Begins (2005). Christian Bale is seen training in front of the glaciers,  Svínafellsjökull and Vatnajökull, standing in for the heavenly mountains of the Himalayas.

Other superhero films that have since been shot in Iceland include Captain America: Civil War (2016), Justice League (2017), Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), and Thor: The Dark World (2013). 

Are there any other movies that were filmed in Iceland? 

Ben Stiller in Iceland
Photo: Ben Stiller on set in Iceland. Wikimedia. CC.

Wouldn’t you know it… there are! 

One film that puts Iceland firmly in the spotlight is Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020). Starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, the story follows two Icelandic musicians as they take part in the Eurovision Song Contest – a long held dream of the Icelandic people. 

Another famous movie shot in Iceland is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), starring Ben Stiller. Many people often cite this uplifting dramatic comedy as their first introduction to Iceland.

Not only does much of the story take place here, but the director places great emphasis on sweeping landscape shots, unveiling this island’s beauty in true cinematic form.  

Ultimately, Hollywood has used Iceland as a production stage for so many features that it’s tricky to give them all due credit. Among other big titles include Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008), Jupiter Ascending (2015), and The Fate of the Furious (2017). 

Iceland developed EVE Online.

CCP headquarterrs interior
Photo: Golli. CCP Games in Iceland

As mentioned, Icelanders are well adept when it comes to technology. Our young island boasts very fast internet speeds thanks to being between Europe and North America. Thus, it has more-than-capable data centres and servers, making it one of the best places in the world to develop video games. 

The best known video game to come out of Iceland is the epic and complex EVE Online. For those unaccustomed to the game, CCP’s major ongoing project is an enormous living universe where ship captains – or capsuleers, as they are known – take on various missions as part of their chosen faction. 

 

 

Whether that be dominating a nearby star system, or trading in expensive minerals to earn a profit, EVE Online offers its players plenty to do. Though, be warned: EVE Online has been out for over a decade now. With the difficult mechanics and ever changing in-game economy to take into consideration, it will likely take time to truly maximise your time in space.

For those nerds in Iceland interested, CCP commissioned the EVE Online Monument in tribute to their player base. Located at Reykjavik’s scenic Old Harbour, visitors will discover the usernames of thousands inscribed onto the dual domes of the sculpture. It is an interesting and fitting dedication to how users have helped develop and grow the world of EVE Online. 

The Nexus Store – Where Icelandic Nerds Unite!

No photo description available.
Photo: Nexus Facebook.

Nerds in Iceland – are you looking for merchandise from your favourite movie and literature franchises while exploring the country? If so, the famous Nexus Store has you covered. 

Figurines, board games, costumes, and comics are all found at Nexus. While many belong to globally beloved franchises, a devoted selection is dedicated solely to local creations. After all, you may not speak or read Icelandic, but a comic book written and published in this island’s mother tongue still makes for a brilliant souvenir or gift! 

However, be aware that no Nexus stores are located in downtown Reykjavik, so you may need to make a special trip in order to browse their wares. 

Nexus also boasts a great online shop. Even if you can’t make it in-person, it’s worth stopping by its website to see the wide selection of items on offer. 

The Cod Wars in Iceland

The Icelandic Coast Guard defended Iceland during the Cod Wars

How did the Cod Wars in Iceland begin? Who were the main belligerents, and who came out on top of the conflict? Read on to find out more about the Cod Wars. 

Iceland is one of the few nations on earth not to have its own military. Given the minuscule size of its population, the prospect of ever forming one has long seemed farcical and unnecessary. 

Even so, the country does possess a Coast Guard. Its steel grey vessels can often be seen sailing by Reykjavík’s Faxaflói Bay. For a nation surrounded by water, it is the Coast Guard who are called in terms of crisis. This might include a marine emergency or to apprehend suspicious seafarers. 

Without a military of its own, Iceland’s protection rests on a bilateral defence agreement between the United States and Iceland. Among local people, the pact has been controversial since it was first signed in 1951. This is on account that it allowed for the USA to form a permanent military presence in the country.

A map showing Iceland and the UK
Photo: Groubani. Wikimedia. CC

Has Iceland taken part in a war?


If one thing can be said about Icelanders, it is that they value peace, both at home and abroad. The notion of partaking in combat is foreign, unappealing, and something better left to more powerful, and, crucially,
distant neighbours. 

But even with this distaste for war, Iceland has still managed to stray into global conflict in the past. More surprising than their participation is the fact they have come out victorious each and every time.  

We talk, of course, about the Cod Wars

The Cod Wars were a historic series of clashes with the United Kingdom over fishing rights. 

Locally, Icelanders refer to this period of dispute as Þorskastríðin, “the cod strife,” or Landhelgisstríðin, “the wars for the territorial waters.” 

The events occurred in various chapters: 1958–1961, 1972–73 and 1975–76. 

What were the reasons behind the Cod Wars? 

Boats docked in a harbour in Iceland.
Golli. The Cod Wars involved Icelandic fishing rights.

The major cause of the Cod Wars was a dispute over fishing rights in the North Atlantic. It would remain the sole point of contention between the two island nations for decades to come. It is generally acknowledged that the first confrontation followed Iceland’s decision to expand its coastal territory. 

The small nation expanded from 3 to 4 nautical miles (7 km) in 1952 on the behest of the International Court of Justice. Many believe this was the first spark to ignite the conflict. 

Historical roots of the Cod Wars

iceland districts
Photo: Wikimedia. CC.

But actually, these resentments can be traced back further. As early as the 14th century, British fishing boats sailed around Iceland in search of a larger catch. 

For a country with a growing sense of identity and independence, this created tension within Iceland. After all, its people relied on fishing to survive. More importantly, it caused friction between the United Kingdom and Denmark, who ruled Iceland at the time. 

In 1414, King Eric of Denmark even went so far as to ban all trade with England. He also complained to King Henry V directly, citing the importance of Icelandic fish stock to the local population. Even so, the United Kingdom did little to curb its fishing efforts. Not even when the Icelandic government allowed British ships to fish there on seven-year licences. 

Pressures of a changing world


With the advent of steam technology, tension between Denmark and the UK only increased. In 1893, Denmark claimed that Iceland’s coastal waters were 50 nmi (93 km). The British refused to recognise it, and continued to fish wherever they desired. 

Boats in a museum
Photo: Golli. Museums are a great way to explore Icelandic history

More capable ships allowed for quicker journeys to farther-away destinations. The large-hauls from Iceland’s waters were too much of a temptation to resist. 

Soon enough, Danish gunships were routinely penalising British ships discovered skulking too close. These hefty fines became a point of contention in themselves. The British public soon found themselves asking the government; why not use the full might of the Royal Navy to intimidate the Danes? 

Militaristic scare tactics made sense from Britain’s perspective. At the end of the 19th century, Britain’s naval prowess was to be admired and feared in equal measure. After all, it was the reason why the United Kingdom ruled a global empire. 

And so, in a perfect display of gunboat diplomacy, Britain’s ships put on a show of force in both 1896 and 1897. The terrifying sight of Britain’s mighty warships was a clear warning to the Danes not to push their luck. 

The case of the Caspian 

 

 

Only two years later, a battle took place between Danish warships and the steam trawler, Caspian, which was illegally fishing in Iceland’s water. After firing on it with live ammunition, the Caspian was damaged enough to ensure its skipper, Charles Henry Johnson, was arrested. However, in one of the conflict’s stranger moments, a shipmate of Johnson’s managed to regain control of the Caspian and flee. As the Danes were unable to catch up, the Caspian returned to Grimsby harbour in a state of disrepair, its crew grateful to be free and alive.

As much can not be said for Charles Henry Johnson. Lashed to the mast, he was taken against his will to Torshavn, the capital of the then Denmark-ruled Faroe Islands. Once there, he was tried for illegal fishing and assault, then jailed for a full month. All in all, the sentencing was light, but it would not be the end of the conflict. 

In fact, it was only just beginning… 

When competition becomes conflict 

Former UK prime ministers (1945)
Photo: Levan Ramishvili. Flickr. CC. Public Domain – The UK Government in 1945.

After Iceland expanded its coastal waters in 1952, Britain retaliated by banning all Icelandic ships from docking at local ports. As always, the United Kingdom believed they had a right to fish closer to Iceland than they were being allowed to, and they were unwilling to simply roll over.

Circumstances further soured after a United Nations conference in 1958. The purpose of the meeting was to determine whether countries should be allowed to extend their territorial waters to 12 nautical miles (22 km). After much deliberation, no agreement was reached. Regardless of the deadlock, Iceland went ahead and expanded its waters to the maximum level, placing further pressure on the UK’s fishing industry.

The British saw it as a step too far. What we in modern parlance call a red line crossed. Conflict soon ensued. 

The First Cod War (1958–1961)

Photo: Golli. Small boat fishermen crowd the Arnarstapi harbour each summer for the coastal fishing season

The first chapter of the Cod Wars conflict began at midnight 1 September 1958. It coincided exactly with Iceland’s expansion from 4 to 12 nautical miles coming into effect. It is worth noting that all members of NATO but Iceland were against this unilateral extension. The British simply refused to recognise it. 

In fact, the United Kingdom would go to great expense to make sure fishing continued. Under the protection of four warships, twenty trawlers continued to fish off the Westfjords and the south east of Iceland. Infuriated with Britain’s reluctance to accept new territorial boundaries, many Icelanders came out in protest. 

Britain enflames the Cod Wars conflict

 

These protests were met with mockery. From the British Embassy in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik, the ambassador, Andrew Gilchrist, serenaded them by playing the bagpipes and blasting military music over his gramophone. 

While it might seem unprofessional today, the ambassador’s confidence was not unfounded. With merely seven patrolling vessels and only one PBY-6A Catalina flying boat under their jurisdiction, there was very little Iceland could do to resist the British from behaving as they wanted. 

Sun Voyager
Photo: Golli. The Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavik

In fact, one of Iceland’s ships was a whaling boat modified to be combat-ready. As the historian, Guðni Th Jóhannesson, wrote; “only the flagship Þór (Thor) could effectively arrest and, if necessary, tow a trawler to harbour.”

Still, this did not stop other Icelandic ships from attempting to do so. One of the most famous incidents in the first Cod War was when the ICGV Ægir attempted to apprehend a British trawler, only to be stopped by HMS Russell. Later, the V/s María Júlía shot at another trawler called the Kingston Emerald, forcing it to flee. Only a month later, V/s Þór chased down a ship called Hackness, but once again, HMS Russell came to its aid, forcing the Icelanders to retreat.

Iceland faces a superpower


Almost immediately, it was clear that Britain’s military might would be a difficult obstacle for the Icelandic nation to overcome. And so, they turned to diplomacy. First, Iceland threatened to leave NATO should its claim over its waters not be respected. Next, politicians promised to expel any US forces stationed in Iceland. There was no other choice but to use threats to achieve their aims. 

The United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea between 1960 and 1961 brought about a settlement that was befitting for both parties. Iceland would be allowed to maintain its territorial waters, so long as Britain was permitted to fish in certain parts, during certain seasons. The agreement also stipulated that any further conflict between Iceland and the United Kingdom regarding fishing rights would be handled by the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

For a time, there was peace between the islands. But it would not last. 

The Second Cod War (1972–73)

HMS Scylla and Óðinn collide
Photo: Issac Newton. Wikimedia. CC.

The second chapter in this conflict over fishing rights began September 1972. Once again, Iceland made a decision to extend their territorial waters, this time to 50 nmi. In doing so, they aimed to protect their fish stocks, and increase their share in any catches made around Iceland. 

Unsurprisingly, Britain had objections once again, as did members of the Warsaw Pact and all other Western European states. Actually, it was only the African nations who sided with Iceland’s expansion, claiming it was an effective means of negating Western imperialism. 

During the Second Cod War, Iceland changed its tactics. Instead of attempting to tow British trawlers, they opted to cut their fishing lines. Using net cutters – otherwise known as trawlwire cutters –  this strategy initially worked with great success. One example might be when the ICGV Ægir encountered an unmarked trawler off the coast of Hornbanki. The Icelanders asked for details of the trawler’s origins, but their request for information was met only by Rule Britannia being played over the radio. 

In response, the ICGV Ægir cut the trawlers lines, resulting in a heated exchange between both crews. Not only did the British sailors throw various objects aboard the 

The Third Cod War (1975–76)

HMS Mermaid collides with the Coast Guard ship, Thor
Photo: A.Davey. Flickr. CC.

Britain and Iceland would compete for a final time, this time beginning in 1975. It would prove to be the conflict’s most dramatic chapter given the violent collisions between opposing ships.

It is important to note that British fishing was already in decline by the mid-seventies. Because of this, this particular dispute with Iceland felt considerably more desperate than before.

In 1973, most countries within the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea agreed on a 100 nm limit on fishing. However, Iceland was unsatisfied, settling on a limit double that which had been stipulated. Once again, Britain refused to recognise Iceland’s decision.

The Cod Wars’ violent finale

 

One of the biggest events of the conflict took place in December 1975. The Icelandic Coast Guard vessel, V/s Þór, discovered three British trawlers sheltering from a fierce storm. When ordered to leave, the trawlers looked to comply. But after only a few miles, the ships began to deliberately veer into the Icelandic ship. The Icelanders responded by firing blanks, then live ammunition. Even so, the V/s Þór was forced to divert to Loðmundarfjörður for repairs. After this violent bout, the ship was dangerously close to sinking.

As to who was in the wrong depends on which opposing side one listens to. In response, the Royal Navy deployed 22 frigates and seven supply ships. But even in the face of such adversity, the Icelanders continued to fight. By the end of the war, a total of 55 ramming incidents were recorded.

In February 1976, Iceland made the decision to end diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom. Iceland’s government also heavily implied that it would withdraw from NATO should it fail to meet its aims. Ultimately, this threat would decide the outcome of the war. As the Americans put pressure on the British to end the conflict, it would be Iceland who, once again, came out victorious.

What were the consequences of the Cod Wars?

An Icelandic Coast Guard vessel
Guðmundur St. Valdimarsson, Icelandic Coast Guard/Facebook. New patrol ship Freyja

The Cod Wars had a great number of consequences for both Iceland and the United Kingdom.

Some of the larger northern fishing ports in England were heavily affected by Britain’s defeat. Once thriving harbours like those in Fleetwood, Hull, and Grimsby saw thousands of skilled fishermen out of work, and it is estimated that it cost over £1 million to repair damages to naval frigates.

In 2012, the UK government offered £1,000 compensation to 2,500 fishermen who lost their livelihood during the conflict. This deal was heavily criticised at the time for not only being far too late, but financially insulting.

Here in Iceland, their victories over Britain are considered a point of pride. Proof that even the world’s smallest nations can make a great impact on the global stage. Especially when bullied into a corner.

Today, the Cod Wars are still sometimes covered in the media, especially when Iceland and Britain find themselves opponents. For example, during the ICESAVE financial crisis in 2008, and in the lead up to the England – Iceland football match during the 2016 Euro tournament.

Conclusion 

cod wars Coast Guard Vessel Óðinn
Coast Guard Vessel Óðinn was a vital part of Iceland’s defences during the Cod Wars. Today, it’s docked by the Reykjavík Maritime Museum as part of its exhibition.

Today, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Iceland remain close allies. Given their close proximity, many Icelanders choose to live and study in the UK. In turn, thousands of British tourists choose to explore Iceland each and every year. Some of them even call the country home. 

In 2017, the Icelandic ship ICGV Óðinn and the trawler, Arctic Corsair, exchanged bells as a sign of friendship between the town of Hull and the city of Reykjavík.

You can learn more about the Cod Wars at the Reykjavík Maritime Museum. Not only will you find plenty of informative display boards, but also countless artefacts from this fascinating chapter in Iceland’s history.

11 Books From Iceland You Must Read

A man reading in a book shop corner.

What are considered to be the best books from Iceland? How can they teach us about Iceland today? And are the Icelandic people truly as prolific in their writing as it is claimed? Read on to find out all of this and more.  

Let’s begin by clarifying Iceland’s historic contributions to world literature. Almost everyone knows about the mediaeval sagas. These were epic tomes that speak of courageous settlers. Reigning Scandinavian kings. And vengeful Norse Gods vying for power. 

In short, there is a deep tradition for storytelling here. Modern-day Icelanders continue to write engaging and original works of fiction. In doing so, they sculpt a new place for themselves in the realm of words, grammar, and publishing. 

After all, it is said that one in ten Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime. An admirable stat for such a diminutive population. So what are the reasons behind their affinity for weaving such fanciful tales? Is it that the dark winters provide for plenty of time to sit at the proverbial typewriter? Or maybe their passion for narrative is so ingrained as to be inescapable? 

How do Icelanders celebrate their literary roots?

Iceland Publishers' Association 2023 book fair
Photo: Golli. Iceland Publishers’ Association 2023 book fair

Whatever the case, cultural events like Jólabókaflóð (The Christmas Book Flood) and the Reykjavík International Literary Festival demonstrate just how deep this devotion to the written word has become. And by taking just a small stroll around Reykjavik, you will also spot plenty of bookshops, many of which remain wholly independent and offer a wide selection of titles in both English and Icelandic. 

For the sake of this article, let’s focus solely on books that have been translated into English and have made a significant cultural impact. So, what are the most widely celebrated novels to have come out of Iceland over the last century, and what prescient insights about this island’s culture can we glean from their pages?

1) Independent People (1934) by Halldor Laxness 

Halldor Laxness and his wife
Photo: Gljúfrasteinn / Laxness Museum

If there is one author who towers above all others in the pantheon of Icelandic writers, it is Halldór Kiljan Laxness. Born in 1902 in Reykjavik, Laxness began writing at an early age, his imagination inflamed by the poetry sang to him by his grandmother. 

His first published works appeared in the newspaper, Morgunblaðið, in 1916. His first novel, Barn náttúrunnar (Child of Nature) was released only three years later, beginning what would be a hugely influential, sometimes controversial, but ultimately incredible literary career.

Laxness’ best known work is Independent People, the story of an impoverished farming family struggling to overcome the inhospitality of the landscape, and the prison-bars laid down by a burgeoning capitalist nation. 

Originally, the novel was released in two parts and deals with themes of social realism and what, if anything, should be willingly sacrificed to ensure independence of the individual. Presenting a rather bleak view of rural life in Iceland during that time, it is still often said that Independent People is one of the greatest books of the 20th Century. 

Quite deservedly, it was Independent People that secured Halldor Laxness the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955. He remains Iceland’s only Nobel Laureate. 

Laxness Museum
Photo: Gljúfrasteinn / Laxness Museum

Where can you learn more about Halldor Laxness?


Laxness wrote many other critically-acclaimed books, including
The Fish Can Sing (1957) and Salka Valka (1931). While not overly appreciated in his time, another of his books, The Atom Station (1948), was an early example of an urban novel set in Iceland, cementing the framework for later works based in Reykjavik. 

You can discover more about Halldor Laxness at Gljúfrasteinn hús skáldsins, his former home and now museum on the leafy outskirts of Mosfellsbær. This cosy building is a great place to not only learn more about Iceland’s most acclaimed author, but see firsthand how the man lived and worked. Your tour will begin with a brief documentary about his life and output, and audio guides help explain the exhibitions inside. 

Evocative and inspiring for anyone interested in making writing a career, the house is very much as the great man left it. Even if his shoes and ties can be seen hanging in the cupboard! 

2) Angels of the Universe (1993) by Einar Már Guðmundsson

 

 

Angels of the Universe has left its mark on Icelandic literature in ways that most other books have not. 

Written by Einar Már Guðmundsson, the semi-autobiographical work tells the story of Paul, covering everything from his early childhood to his death. The book was acclaimed for its incredible balance between comedy and tragedy. It quickly found a devoted audience both in Iceland and abroad. 

Guðmundsson won the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize in 1995 for his novel. Five years later, Friðrik Þór Friðriksson directed a feature film adaptation of the same name.

The film won countless accolades upon its release, including Best Film and Director of the Year at the prestigious Edda Awards. 

3) Jar City (2000) by Arnaldur Indriðason

Author Arnaldur Indridason
Photo: Arnaldur Indridason

Written by renowned crime-fiction author, Arnaldur Indriðason, the premise of Jar City is not for the faint of heart. Detective Erlendur investigates the corpse of an elderly man, found dead in his flat, and apparently killed by a glass ashtray thrown at him in a moment of passion. 

A mysterious note, plus a photograph depicting a girl’s gravestone, are the only clues as to what may have happened. Little by little, Erlendur pieces together that, forty years before, the deceased escaped conviction for sexual assault. 

Those with a deeper inside knowledge of Icelandic enterprise will, no doubt, recognise that much of the book is a steadfast criticism of deCODE genetics, a biopharmaceuticals company based in the capital. 

In 2006, a film was produced from the novel, directed by Baltasar Kormákur. 

4) The Blue Fox (2003) by Sjón

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

Taking place in 1883, this short and surreal story by the acclaimed writer Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson – better known as Sjón – follows two morally complex characters trying to survive in rural Iceland. 

The first is a priest who is doggedly hunting down an elusive blue fox. The second is a herbalist forced to bury a young woman following discovering her in a shipwreck. 

Throughout the events of the book, the changing nature of reality is a common motif, putting readers on edge as they too try to comprehend just what in the story is true, and what is conjured up in the imagination of its protagonists. 

Critics describe the book as a piece of magical-realist fiction, and it earned Sjón the Nordic Prize for Literature in 2005.

5) Hotel Silence (2016) by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

Writer Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
Photo: Wikimedia. CC. Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir’s novel follows a divorced, forty-year-old man struggling with a midlife crisis as he travels through a war-ravaged Balkan country state. As readers soon discover, the reason for his being there is that he hopes to be killed, saving the possibility that his Icelandic daughter might discover his body should he commit the act at home. 

Despite the heavy subject matter, the book is rife with lighthearted witticisms and tender reflections on what it means to be human. Hotel Silence is just as capable as being tragic as it is hilarious, intimate, and powerful.

Having published three novels and countless poems, Auður is one of Iceland’s most esteemed writers, having won many literary awards both at home and in France. In 2018, she received the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize for her work on Hotel Silence

Two years after, Auður published another well-received novel called Miss Iceland that focuses on the conservative nature of 1960s Iceland, and a determined woman attempting to break the mould by becoming a writer. 

6) I Remember You (2012) by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

 

 

A spine-tingling ghost story by acclaimed children’s and crime author, Yrsa Sigurdardottir. It follows three friends as they renovate an abandoned and isolated house. After a short while, it becomes obvious that something malevolent within the house is trying to make them leave. 

As you can imagine, the permeating horror and eldritch themes in this novel does not make it suitable for young readers.  

The central mystery of I Remember You creeps up slowly. A doctor in a nearby town uncovers how the suicide of his former patient began with an obsession she had with her vanished son. How these two seemingly unrelated events intertwine sets the scene for what becomes a truly terrifying read. 

In the past, Yrsa’s penchant for horror has been compared to masters of the genre like Stephen King. 

7) The Fires: Love & Other Disasters (2020) by Sigríður Hagalín Björnsdóttir

Meradalir eruption, August 2022
Photo: Golli. Meradalir eruption, August 2022

A sharp rise in earthquakes and eruptions demonstrate that Iceland is likely entering a new chapter of volcanic activity. These events have been limited to the Reykjanes Peninsula, and there is no indication that Iceland’s population is in danger. 

Of course, those living on the peninsula – such as the former residents of Grindavík – have had their lives turned upside down. There is great sympathy both at home and abroad for how they have been affected. But still, the point remains. By and large, Icelanders remain safe from incurrent lava flows. 

However, in the world of fiction, Sigríður Hagalín Björnsdóttir explores the worst case scenario. In her new novel, The Fires: Love & Other Disasters, she asks the question. What if Iceland was to be made unliveable by a catastrophic volcanic eruption?

The story focuses on a determined volcanologist named Anna Arnardóttir. As a true scientist, Anna places great importance on clear and rational thinking. She does so often at the expense of allowing personal feelings to cloud her views. But, as the threat of a large volcanic eruption threatens to destroy the Icelandic nation, she finds herself faced with another dramatic obstacle – love!

For those rare, but die-hard fans of romantic-disaster stories, Sigríður’s book is the perfect choice. Though it might make you irrationally fearful about Iceland’s molten underbelly, this novel contains plenty of fascinating science that will provide a clear understanding of the volcanic forces that characterise this island. 

8)  Öræfi: The Wasteland (2014) by Ófeigur Sigurðsson 

Sólheimasandur
Photo: Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck

Once known as Litla Hérað (Little District,) Öræfi is among Iceland’s most barren regions. It has lain deserted since the violent 1362 eruption and glacial flooding at Öræfajökull volcano. As far as dramatic settings go, it is a fitting place. One that can serve as a blank canvas upon which the author can experiment with literary styles and influences.  

In Icelandic, Öræfi translates to “desolation” or “wilderness.” While this might at first strike you as a somewhat bleak and depressing title, this expansive literary work is as filled with lighthearted comedic moments as it is profound drama and illuminating scientific theories. 

The major event of the book is when its title character – an Austrian toponymist by the name of Bernharður Fingurbjörg – falls headlong into a glacier. However, given the interweaving threads that make up this epic novel, it’s an incident that almost seems inconsequential to the plot, but one that instead allows for Ófeigur to explore countless subjects and lines of inquiry. 

9) The Woman at 1000 Degrees (2011) by Hallgrimur Helgason

 

 

The Woman at 1000 Degrees caused widespread and controversial coverage upon its release in Iceland in 2011 due in large part to the fact that many of its characters and events were taken directly from real life. Hallgrimur Helgason left a note at the beginning of the book stating what follows is a work of fiction. However, claims suggest that surviving family members do not appreciate the depiction of their relatives.. 

Scandals aside, this story is as enthralling as it is personal, strange, and quirky. It showcases Hallgrimur’s flair for writing in its most biting and unsentimental form.

As is often the case with Icelandic novels, the premise begins on a dark note. It is narrated in the first-person from Herra’s perspective.

She is an elderly woman nearing the end of her life. We begin by knowing that she has scheduled her own appointment at the crematorium. In roughly two weeks’ time, they will cook her body at a scalding 1000 degrees.

Hence the title of the book. 

While waiting for this self-imposed finale, she recounts various experiences from her life. First we learn that she is the granddaughter of Iceland’s first President. She also once kissed a member of the Beatles. Her father fought in the Second World War on the side of Nazi Germany. She once married and was a mother to children. She even lived through the financial crash. We learn all this and more, right up until where we find her in the novel. Having mastered the internet and living in a small garage smoking endless cigarettes. 

10) Heaven and Hell (2010) by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

fishing lumpfish net
Photo: Golli. Lumpfish being caught in East Iceland

Described as ‘Like an oyster – a glinting treasure in a rough shell,’ Heaven and Hell is the first book of Jón Kalman Stefánsson’s widely-lauded trilogy. 

It is set in the harsh reality of 19th-century Iceland. This superb story explores how the tumultuous ocean relates to the lives and deaths of those who dare brave it. Fishermen struggle against monolithic waves. Tempestuous storms. And unruly companions as they fight to earn a meagre living.So, people compare the intensity of reading this novel to the drama and inhospitality of Iceland’s own coastal waters.

The novel’s protagonist – known only as ‘the boy’ – sets sail on a cod fishing boat with a strange crew. But he soon becomes disillusioned upon observing their callous reaction to a tragedy aboard the vessel. Abandoning his crewmates, he heads back to land. As expected, he is uncaring as to whether he survives the perilous journey or not. But once he reaches shore, he realises that circumstances are not much better there than they were at sea…

The next two books The Sorrow of Angels and The Human Heart continue to follow the story of the title character. Both delve into the interplay between the forbidding nature of Iceland and the stoic lives of those who endure it.  

11)  A Fist or a Heart (2019) by Kristín Eiríksdóttir

 

 

As Kristín Eiríksdóttir’s first novel translated into the English language, A Fist or a Heart makes for a fantastic introduction to one of Iceland’s most celebrated modern authors. Here in Iceland, she has been a huge name in the local literary scene since releasing a collection of short stories, Doris Dies, in 2010. 

The main character of A Fist or a Heart is Elín Jónsdóttir, a lonely seventy-year-old woman who creates gruesome props for a theatrical company based in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. Aside from busying herself with work, Elín becomes increasingly interested in who she deems to be a fellow outsider. A young, upcoming playwright named Ellen Álfsdóttir. 

As the story progresses, we as the reader learn that these two characters share many experiences. Troubled childhoods. Struggling to remain independent within their respective creative visions. And yet, the harder Elín attempts to unravel the parallels, the more her connection with reality wanes. This confusion lays the groundwork for an intricate and emotionally-astute novel. One that deals with themes of isolation and creativity on its own terms. 

The Best Zip lines in Iceland

Zip lining over a glacier

Where can you go zip-lining during your visit to Iceland? What is the longest zipline in the country, and is it safe? Read on to learn all you need to know about zipping over the land of ice and fire! 

Attached to a harness, visitors soar down a predetermined route that allows for incredible perspectives over natural landscapes. Given the spectacle and absolute beauty of Iceland’s countryside, zip-lining is one activity that is going from strength to strength with each passing year. 

Sure, excursions like glacier hiking, ice caving, horse riding, or snowmobiling might take the top spots on the wishlist for travellers to Iceland, but zip-lining not only takes less time commitment but also offers a burst of adrenaline that can rival any of those mentioned before.

The mega zipline in Iceland
Photo: Mega Zipline with transfer – Conventional Ride

And, good news for those impulsively inclined. Zip-lining needs very little in the way of preparation. Just make sure to bring with you a hefty dose of courage, the thirst for a challenge, and some warm attire to help combat the passing wind. With these in your back pocket, you’re sure to engage in one of the most exciting and newest activities available in the country. 

But first, a quick diversion, if you’ll allow it… 

Zipline at Hljómskálagarður Park in Reykjavík, Capital Region 

Reykjavík pond
Photo: Golli. Tjörnin pond.

With no name and no company that operates it, this is your classic, beginner-level zipline that can be found in children’s play parks all across our planet. It is not large, nor impressive, nor does it offer incredible aerial views – but it exists. Those enjoying the pleasant green ambience of Hljómskálagarður Park might notice it while strolling by Reykjavík’s city pond, Tjörnin, and on impulse, consider taking a quick ride to help break up your day. 

So, why then is this particularly non-descript zipline included in a travel article such as this one? Well, the compulsion to write up this entry was strong for admittedly no other reason other than the amusing reviews found on Google. For example:  

  • A bit stiff to begin with but after a while it was the ride of a lifetime!
  • A nice zipline in the park.”
  • “Nice shoulder strap, but the access to it is a complete shame. A steep ramp with three rails to get up to the starting platform. Very slippery in the wet and no railing to lean on. Access for all is thoroughly broken here. It’s a scandal that it’s done like this at this time. The swing itself is high-quality and cool, but this ramp puts everyone who came to this to shame!”
  • Very difficult to get to the platform, and no handrail. No steps, just a steep ramp with some rails. As promising as this is, it’s just unusable for a large group of people.

All joking aside…

 

One hates to be so dismissive, or to possibly suggest that all of us are not entitled to an opinion… But this is a playground zipline.

A zipline reviewed, it would appear, by disgruntled or overly-enthused adults capable – and, indeed, eager in this case – to share their thoughts on a computer. 

I do understand that, sometimes, everything is not to a person’s liking.

Even so, I conclude that comments like ‘it was the ride of a lifetime’ and ‘this ramp puts everyone who came to this to shame’ are slightly at odds with sane criticism. At the end of the day, it’s a zipline that might amuse you for five minutes if you’re travelling by this Reykjavík park with children. 

Speaking of Reykjavík zip lines, one was temporarily open at Perlan Museum and Observation Deck, built to complement its wonderful viewing deck. However, the activity was closed in recent years due to both the weather-related and logistical challenges that came with operating it at Öskjuhlíð

There are no plans for the zipline to reopen, but the observation deck remains a fantastic place to gain impressive views over Iceland’s capital city and its gorgeous surrounding scenery. 

Zipline in Vík, South Iceland

A zip liner ready to ride
Photo: Zip line Iceland

Now, let’s get down to the real deal when it comes to extreme zip-lining in Iceland. Iceland’s South Coast is renowned for its incredible aesthetics; waterfalls, canyons, black sand beaches, and ancient cliff sides. No surprise then that one of the best zip lines in the country is located nearby to the pleasant seaside village of Vík í Mýrdal

After booking the zipline adventure in Vík, you will meet your guides in base camp at Víkurbraut 5. After a five-minute drive, and then a five-minute hike, you will arrive at the take-off platform for your first zipline of the day – Little Rush! Once there, you will listen to a safety briefing, be fitted with a harness and a helmet, and then before you know it, you’ll be flying through the air over a scenic canyon. 

But this is just the beginning of your adventure. Not long after your feet are back on solid ground, you will hike just around the corner to the next zipline, this one called the Gentle Giant. This is the longest – and some say, prettiest – of the South Coast’s zip lines, coming in at 240 m long. 

More than a single zip line…

After that, you will hike for ten minutes through the beautiful, but ominous-sounding Grafargil (Grave Canyon). Take time to appreciate the intricacies of its unique rock formations. Here, you will find the excursion’s smallest zipline, Leap of Faith. As the name implies, the operator does things a little differently here. We won’t spoil the surprise. Just know that this might be where you need to summon up as much of your courage as possible. 

Finally, you will ride one more zip line before ending the day with a scenic hike back to base camp. This one has been dubbed Big Rush and sees guests soar over the cascading waters of the 25 m high Hundafoss (Dog’s waterfall). 

Given that this excursion requires some hiking, make sure to come equipped with a sturdy pair of boots, as well as rainproof outerwear. Depending on the group size and the weather conditions, you can expect this breathtaking tour to take anywhere between 1.5 – 2 hours – more than enough time to experience the stunning South Coast in a way that many do not! 

Be aware that you must be a minimum of 8 years old to ride, and weigh between 30 – 120 kg. (65-260 lbs.) It is also important to remember that you will be hiking around 3 km. (or 1-2 miles) over rocky terrain, so make sure you’re ready for a small amount of physical excursion too. This tour offers daily departures between Easter and Xmas, making it a fun activity in both the summer and winter months. 

Zip-lining in Akureyri, North Iceland

Zip-lining in Akureyri
Photo: Zip Line Akureyri

Iceland’s north is closer to the Arctic Circle than any other part of the country and thus is known to be colder, more mountainous, and generally more of an extreme place to visit. Its largest town, Akureyri, is a settlement rich in culture, history, and natural splendour, as well as serving as the home base for those looking to take part in the great variety of activities on offer here. 

One such tour is that offered by Zipline Akureyri! This operator offers five zip rides over the 2 hours you’ll spend with them discovering the regal nature of the north’s woodland countryside. One of the great appeals of zip-lining here is that it brings you in close contact with forested landscapes, which is something of a rarity in Iceland. 

As with other zip lines elsewhere, you will be accompanied by experienced and certified guides who will not only take you through all of the necessary safety precautions but are also sure to share with you fascinating information about the fairytale environment in which you find yourself.    

Mega Zipline in Hveragerði, West Iceland

Zip lining in Iceland
Photo: Conventional Ride (Free as a bird!)

At exactly 1 km long, this fast and thrilling zipline near the simmering geothermal town of Hveragerði is the longest and fastest ride in the country. If you’re looking for the best zip-lining experience in Iceland – and one fairly close to the capital city – then Mega Zipline in Hveragerði would be the one! 

To be more precise, this operator offers two zip lines that run parallel to one another, allowing for simultaneous rides. Two by two, guests soar over the dramatic Svartagljúfur canyon, starting their journey atop the Kambar plateau. Svartagljúfur is well-known for its trickling waterfalls, rocky embankments, and grass-laden hillsides, thus offering quintessential views of the Icelandic countryside that, almost always, are best seen from above! 

 

If the splendid nature was not reason enough to visit, how about an enticing souvenir proving your time there? Automatic cameras are positioned all along the zipline, capturing photographs and videos of your ride. Not to mention the thrilled or terrified expressions that come with it. After your flight is over, you will hike back to base camp. There, you can see these recordings for yourself. And you can even purchase them to always remember the experience. 

Hveragerði is a beautiful visitor’s location in itself. It is famed for its smoking hot pots,  ambient hikes, and scenic horseback riding trails. Nearby, you can find interesting locations like Reykjadalur Hot Spring, a popular spot for bathing in naturally warm waters. Another stop might be the colourful underground lava tunnel, Raufarhólshellir

Glacier Zipline in Vatnajökull, South Iceland 

Ready for a zip line adventure in Iceland?
Photo: Zip Line + Ice Cave Adventure Winter

Zip-lining over dry land might be thrilling enough for some. But there are always ways to make the experience just that bit more daring. True daredevils will want to take part in a glacier zipline at the Vatnajökull ice cap! 

You heard us right. It’s now possible to experience Iceland’s glaciers from above in a way that does not require flying in a helicopter or light aircraft! 

Visitors will meet their guides at the crystalline Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, found at the base of Breiðamerkurjökull outlet glacier. This lagoon is a beloved, photogenic location in itself thanks to its gently floating icebergs and spectacular scenery.

 

From this stunning waterbody, you will ride in a 4×4 vehicle to Vatnajökull itself. On the ride, take in the splendour of its vast icy panoramas and beautiful blue and white hues. All the while, listen as your guide explains how such scenery was formed. 

Upon arriving at your destination, you will take part in a glacier hike. Next, you will visit an ice cave, then fly over a vertical ice wall – or moulin – aboard their zipline. Throughout the experience, there will be plenty of opportunities to snap photographs. And, of course, appreciate the beauty of the scenery around you.

This tour takes place on a glacier, so dress appropriately in rainproof outerwear and thermal layers. Your guides will provide you with all of the important equipment, from helmets to crampons and walking poles. For those who want to experience this tour without taking part in the zipline itself, there are options available that allow them to simply enjoy the landscape and observe fellow travellers take part in the aerial portion of the excursion. 

In Summary 

A boy zip lining in Iceland
Photo: Conventional Ride (Free as a bird!)

There may not be many zip lines across Iceland, but it is fast becoming one of its most popular activities. It does not require an enormous time commitment from its guests. And it provides for unforgettable views and feelings of adrenaline that can be found hardly anywhere else. So, at some point during your time here, include a spot of zip-lining in your itinerary. You will not regret it! 

The Best Museums in North Iceland

Akureyri Iceland

Why should you pay a visit to the museums in North Iceland? What can you learn about the history of this spectacular region? Let’s read more about some of North Iceland’s most prestigious museums.

Given that Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavík, is where most visitors will begin their journey, it is completely understandable that North Iceland is less visited than the south. 

In some respects, this is a shame, while in others, it maintains the north’s secretive majesty. But however you look at it, the region is well-worth exploring. 

 

Closer to the Arctic Circle than any other part of the country, the landscape is known to be wild, mountainous, with deep fjords and stretching peninsulas. Unsurprisingly, this stunning place is a favourite amongst those who enjoy sightseeing, as well as breathtaking wildlife tours. 

Aside from the gravitas and splendour of its nature, the north is a domain rich in culture and history. Its people are proud of their place in the world – not to mention the distinction they hold amongst fellow Icelanders – and they are eager to share as much with visitors. 

You’ll discover so much fascinating information to learn about this amazing place in the region’s many museums, so make sure to break up the sightseeing by shifting your attention to some cultural highlights. 

Akureyri Museum

A historic photo of Akureyri
Photo: Minjasafnið á Akureyri / Akureyri Museum

For those looking for a comprehensive introduction to the North’s history, Akureyri Museum should be your first stop. Two permanent exhibitions – Eyjafjorður from Early Times and Akureyri: the Town on the Bay – display artefacts related to the history of the north’s two major settlements, including those from the Viking period and the Middle Ages. 

With information boards in English, Danish, and German, you will find their litany of facts highly accessible, allowing you to gain deeper insights into this most fascinating of regions. 

Akureyri Museum also operates a number of other establishments, including the likes of Nonni House, Museum Church & Garden, Akureyri Toy Museum, Davíðshús (Davíð Stefánson’s writers museum) and Laufás heritage site. Actually, Laufás is especially worthy of an extra note – it is a beautiful farmstead that perfectly captures how rural Icelanders once lived in the area. 

Address: Aðalstræti 58, 600 Akureyri

Opening Hours: 11:00 – 17:00 1. June – 30. September 

13:00 – 16:00 1. October – 31. May

The Icelandic Aviation Museum

Flight in Iceland
Photo: Photo: Flugsafn Íslands – The Icelandic Aviation Museum

Iceland does not have a military; no Army, no Navy (aside from their Coast Guard), and – most importantly in this context – no Air Force. 

Still, this small island does have a complex and fascinating history of aviation, especially in regards to their arduous but successful development of commercial airlines. 

Founded May 1 1999, Flugsafn Íslands, or the Icelandic Aviation Museum, is located in a hangar at Akureyri Airport. The museum was established due to a lack of hangar space at the airport, with many of them filled with older planes that were no longer in use. These aircraft were then moved to be permanently displayed in an exhibition that would detail how Icelanders first took flight. 

Inside, you will find aerial machines of all kinds, from old bi-planes to gliders, and even smaller models that hang decoratively from the ceiling. Each has an important place in this fascinating story – a tale that began in 1919 with the creation of the first Icelandic airline, to the powerful passenger jets and rescue helicopters that make up this nation’s air-fleet today. 

Flying over Iceland
Photo: Flugsafn Íslands – The Icelandic Aviation Museum

But it’s not all just reading and observing stationary aircraft. 

Visitors can actually look around inside the Coast Guard plane, TF-SYN, gaining a deeper insight into the inner-mechanics of such incredible works of engineering, and even see some of the aircraft in action during the museum’s exciting flight day, held each year in June. 

Address: Akureyri International Airport, 600 Akureyri 

Opening Hours: May 15th to Sept 15th: Open daily 11:00-17:00

Sept 16th to May 14th: Saturdays 13:00-16:00

Ystafell Transportation Museum

Cars at Ystafell Transportation Museum
Photo: Ystafell Transportation Museum

In 1998, married-couple Ingólfur Kristjánsson and Kristbjörg Jónsdóttir founded the Ystafell Transportation Museum, a natural extension of Ingólfur’s semi-compulsive collecting of mechanical parts. 

In fact, many guests attest that the reason as to why visiting is so memorable comes down to Ingólfur’s passion, dedication, and knowledge of the fascinating machines on display.  

Not only does the museum display the largest collections of automobiles in the country, but also many transportation types other than cars, including tractors, aircraft, or snowmobiles. 

Address: Ystafell III, Norðausturvegur, 641 Húsavík

Opening Hours: May 25th ­- Sept 25th: 11:00 -­ 18:00 

The Herring Era Museum

fishing in Iceland
Photo: Golli. A fishing boat in Iceland

Plans to open a heritage museum in Siglufjörður date back all the way to 1957, when newly elected town-council members recognised the need to preserve equipment, artefacts, and photographs related to the local fishing industry. It was not until 1989 that the Herring Era Museum finally opened its doors, allowing visitors the chance to learn more about why fishing – and fishing Herring, particularly – was so important to the town’s development. 

Renovations continued over the next decades, transforming an old fishermen’s shed, Róaldsbrakki, into a bonafide exhibition space, complete with a boat house and two large museum buildings. Today, it attracts over 30,000 visitors a year, as well as hosts countless events, including art shows and music festivals.

As is the case with so many islands, the Icelandic nation is built on fishing. Herring was once called ‘the silver of the sea,’ and is, to this day, considered to be one of the founding pillars of Icelandic society. This is because Iceland’s herring fishing took off at a time when much of the world was experiencing a financial depression, and thus it played a huge role in securing Iceland’s economic independence and stability. 

In fact, one could go as far as to say that the importance of Herring was among the major drives behind Iceland breaking away from Denmark in 1944. 

No other place in Iceland was so influenced by what’s known as the Herring Adventure than Siglufjörður. However, countless other towns developed primarily due to the hunting down and catching of this common fish species, including Dalvík, Akureyri, Seyðisfjörður, and many others. 

Address: Snorragata 10, 580 Siglufjörður

Opening Hours: June – August: 10:00-18:00

May – Sept: 13:00-17:00

Akureyri Art Museum

Akureyri Art Museum is one of the top museums in North Iceland
Photo: Golli. Exhibition at the Akureyri Art Museum

Akureyri Art Museum has a revolving door of exhibitions, showcasing a wide range of creative disciplines from watercolour paintings to contemporary art and even scenography. In short, it is one of the best places in the country to appreciate just how diverse Icelandic artists can be. Each Thursday, a guided tour in English allows visitors the chance to gain some insider knowledge about the artworks on display. 

The museum itself is designed in the Bauhaus-style of architecture, making it immediately noticeable when walking through Iceland’s second-largest city. Its stand-out appearance is quite notable given the building used to be home to a simple dairy. 

Akureyri Art Museum is also responsible for the A! Performance Festival, held in October each year. This fun and unique event draws in eclectic visual artists and weird, experimental theatre-projects of all kinds, transforming the city streets into a bohemian wonderland for a few days in the month. Aside from that, it also hosts the Iceland Visual Arts Awards, having done so since 2006. 

Address: Kaupvangsstræti 8-12, 600 Akureyri

Opening Hours: June – August: 10:00 – 17:00

Sept – May: 12:00 – 17:00

Safnasafnið – The Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum

Safnasafnid
Photo: Daniel Starrason. Safnasafnið

The Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum might be described as a true artist’s museum.

That is because this establishment – founded in 1995 by Níels Hafstein and Magnhildur Sigurðardóttir – displays work by creatives who have, for one reason or another, have been classified as working outside of the mainstream. 

Therefore, guests can expect to see not only the work of professional artists, but also that of amateurs and autodidacts.

Photo: Safnasafnið

Such a strange, diverse array of collected pieces adds a real sense of unexpectedness and curiosity to visiting here, as well as allows for a deeper glimpse into the often peculiar minds of Icelandic creators. 

Address: Hverfisgata 15, Hverfisgata 15, 101 Reykjavík

Opening Hours: May – Sept: 10:00 – 17:00 

The Museum of Prophecies

 

 

Þórdís the fortune-teller is the unlikely star of this strange and otherworldly museum in Skagaströnd. She was the first inhabitant of the region, and it was claimed she was a magic-woman, of sorts, capable of reading the future and unafraid of starting feuds with the settlers who came after her. In other words, Þórdís was a truly independent spirit, so revered in her time that she had a mountain – Spákonufell – named after her. 

Visitors to the Museum of Prophecies will learn about Þórdís’ life story, as well as the role that fortune-telling has played in Icelandic culture over the centuries. Aside from that, they can also have their own fortunes told as part of an informative guided tour.  

Built within a former army barracks, the museum is not large by any means. Still, it boasts incredible replicas of old Icelandic homes and famous people from folktales, and also has a decent gift shop which sells local handicrafts and a small cafe to purchase refreshments.   

Address: Oddagata 6, 545 Skagaströnd

Opening Hours: June – Sept:  13:00 – 18:00

In Summary 

Two people walking along Akureyri coastal path.
Photo: María H. Tryggvadóttir. Two people walking along Akureyri coastal path.

Those in the North should take time to step away from appreciating the spectacular surrounding nature to take-in the history and artwork that help make the region what it is. 

Given the breadth of cultural establishments one can explore, there is simply no other way to get a full sense of why it remains one of the most enticing and fascinating parts of the country. 

Do’s and Don’ts When Visiting Iceland

A man walking down a rainbow-painted road in Iceland

Regarding Do’s and Don’ts, what helpful advice can Iceland Review offer travellers heading to Iceland? What are some of the most essential things to do here, and in contrast, what are the social taboos? Read on for tips during your time in the land of ice and fire. 

All told, Icelanders are friendly and welcoming people. Be they tour guides, service staff, or the average person on the street, most are happy to offer advice, a helping hand, and share the passion they hold for their homeland with international visitors. 

Akureyri party-goers
Photo: Golli. Party time in Akureyri!

With that said, the rise of tourism over the last fifteen years has come with its drawbacks. And while the majority of those who arrive to these subarctic shores treat their time in Iceland with respect and reverence, a few bad apples have fed into the misconception that visitors are more hassle than they’re worth.

And so, with that in mind, it can be helpful to know a little of what is expected of new arrivals in terms of manners. However, this article is not intended merely as a means to police behaviour, but also as an invitation to take part in experiences and activities that the Icelanders are sure to appreciate. 

DO try the local cuisine

A delicious dish of Icelandic cuisine
Photo: The Reykjavík Food Walk

Icelandic food has come on leaps and bounds since the early days where sourcing and sustenance was the main priority. Looking at traditional dishes like Svið (a roasted sheep’s head cut unceremoniously down the middle), one might not think so, but trust us when we say that Iceland has more to offer peckish foodies than they might at first realise. 

As you would expect from a Nordic island, seafood is internationally known to be the Icelanders’ speciality. At the same time, Icelandic lamb has such a stellar reputation that it’s impossible to decide which they cook better. Ultimately, you’ll have to take a look at the menu and decide what you fancy on the night! 

Experience global cuisine in Iceland

And it’s not just lamb and seafood! Reykjavík in particular is host to a countless array of restaurants that focus on dishes from all around the world. Nowhere is this more obvious than the myriad of popular food halls that now dot the city, with Hlemmur Mathöll and Pósthús Food Hall & Bar being two of the most sought-after canteens to grab a quick bite to eat. 

Enjoying Icelandic hot dogs
Photo: The Reykjavík Food Walk

If you fancy Pakistani food, for instance, then Shalimar is your go-to eatery. If you’re in the mood for delicacies from the far east, then Ban-Thai has you covered. What about the all-American burger and fries? Nothing is a better fit than Lebowski Bar’s Burger of the Month. Better yet, stop by the famous hot dog stand, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, to try this delicious Icelandic take on an American classic. 

Taste-testing certain delicacies has become something of a trend over recent years. Fermented Greenland shark, known locally as Hákarl, is one we would suggest avoiding… unless your desire to taste concentrated ammonia is something you simply cannot resist. For those that refuse to stray towards culinary cowardice, there are a plethora of other local options, from harðfisk (dried fish), Icelandic cheese, and even horse. 

DON’T stop to take photos on the road 

A wide open road in Iceland.

We all know that Iceland is one of the most stunning countries on the planet, be it its dramatic mountain ranges, picturesque farmlands, glistening glacier tongues, or jet black deserts. While it’s more than understandable that guests want to snap pictures left and right, some places are better than others. 

One location that has become of particular issue is the middle of the road

It doesn’t matter what road – by default, it’s often the Ring Road – but many tourists are in the bad habit of pulling over whenever it suits them, getting out of their car, and shooting the surrounding landscape as if they haven’t just created a dangerous obstacle of themselves on a major highway. 

There are plenty of places in Iceland where it is safe and encouraged to take photographs, but the nation’s most well-driven routes is not one of them.

DO experience the local nightlife

Dancing in an Icelandic nightclub
Photo: Golli. People enjoying Iceland’s nightlife.

Given the words that are often used to describe Reykjavík – quaint, charming, quirky, old-fashioned – it does come as a surprise to some that the capital city can be quite boisterous in terms of its nightlife, especially on a Friday and Saturday night.

With its often freezing temperatures and long winter nights, it should be obvious that many Icelanders enjoy a drink, finding community and comfort in the city’s eclectic bars and public houses. 

There are many styles of drinking establishments on offer, ranging from the dive-bar style at Dillon Whiskey Bar or Lemmy, to the more refined presentation of Cernin Wine Bar or Apótek Restaurant.

A nighttime pool party in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Not all parties happen at the bar!

To the shock of no-one, drinking in Iceland can quickly become expensive, so do make use of the Happy-Hour deals you’ll find across Reykjavík.     

And while we understand that it’s easy to get into the spirit of things – and, let’s face it, sometimes get carried away – it should be stressed that drinking responsibly would do you well here. By and large, Reykjavík is a safe city for partygoers, but unsavoury incidents do still occur from time to time.

DON’T walk on the moss

A woman takes a photographer at a waterfall.
Photo: Golli. Iceland’s moss is very fragile, so tread carefully!

There are a number of reasons why walking atop this iconic flora is forbidden. 

Many travellers are quick to compare Iceland’s landscape to the lunar surface of the moon. In fact, it is more like it than they know. For one, footsteps trodden into the fragile moss leave a lasting impression, forever altering its natural state. 

Another reason is that there are many places where blankets of moss have covered large cracks and natural holes in the ground. It might be hard to believe, but there have been several cases where unsuspecting hikers have fallen through moss into some dark and inhospitable crevasse. Not only does this put unwarranted strain on Iceland’s Search & Rescue teams, but such falls can deal a nasty injury… and, sometimes, worse. 

Try to think of Icelandic moss as something akin to an icy lake, where those trotting atop it are unaware of which parts are too thin to support their weight. 

DO learn some Icelandic phrases

Icelandic kids wearing 3d glasses
Photo: Golli. Some basic phrases will help you meet locals!

Icelandic, a North Germanic language, is remarkably unchanged from Old Norse; the very same tongue that the ancient settlers spoke when they first arrived to this strange and mysterious land. 

Given that fact, it should come as little surprise that the Icelandic language is notoriously difficult to pick up. Fortunately, most Icelanders speak excellent English, meaning that communication between them and their overseas guests is usually a simple affair. 

Still, the Icelanders are rightfully proud of their unique and poetic mother-tongue, and it is filled with gems that linguaphiles will, no doubt, find deeply fascinating. 

As one example, the Icelandic word for computer is ‘Tölva,’ derived from the words ‘tala’ and ‘völva’, which makes up the direct translation ‘number witch.’ Unsurprisingly, this term was invented by a scholar of the Icelandic sagas, Sigurður Nordal. 

Skating in Reykjavík
Photo: Golli. Skateboarders in downtown Reykjavík

But the basics will always be helpful, even if it’s sometimes easier to speak in English. Here are a few very simple phrases to get you started:

Hello – Halló / Hæ

Good morning – Góðan daginn

Good evening – Gott kvöld

Goodbye – Bless / Bæ

How are you – Hvernig hefur þú það?

I’m doing well – Ég hef það gott 

Thank you – Taokk / Takk fyrir / Þakka þér

Once again, no one is expecting guests to have any real knowledge of Icelandic, but the locals do appreciate those who have taken an interest in learning more about it. 

DON’T get close to the waves at Reynisfjara Beach 

Reynisfjara - Vík - suðurland
Photo: Golli. Tourists at the popular Reynisfjara beach, South Iceland

Nestled beside the picturesque village of Vík í Mýrdal on the South Coast, Reynisfjara is celebrated as one of Iceland’s more beautiful black sand beaches. This in large part thanks to its enormous basalt sea stacks, Reynisdrangar, that rise from the ocean like the hardened tentacles of a petrified kraken. 

While this stretch of shoreline is certainly dramatic in terms of aesthetic, the danger that comes hand-in-hand with it is important to realise before arriving.

 

There are a number of signposts on the beach that tell of Reynisfjara’s unpredictable waves, and it would do any traveller well to pay attention to them. One minute, the shore looks calm and distant; the next, its sullen grey waters are gushing ferociously over the sand, pulling back anyone and anything unlucky enough to be there. 

This is not mere hyperbole – there have been many incidents of observers being swept into the seas here, including a number of fatalities. While it is not pleasant dwelling on such things during your time at Reynisfjara, it is certainly better than finding yourself a victim to Iceland’s temperamental nature.     

DO make a budget 

Shoppers in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Shoppers in downtown Reykjavík

Over the last year, a joke has been circulating among residents in Iceland – “Buying a bell pepper is a sign of extortionate wealth.” This may be exaggerated for comedic effect, but there is some truth to its implication.  

If there’s a common thread regarding what people say about Iceland, it’s that the country is expensive. Unfortunately, this is the reality of island life given that so many products must be imported. Even so, having a thorough rundown of what you’re likely to spend during your time here can help you mitigate unnecessary expenses. 

In other words – prepare your budget! 

Shopping in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Make sure to plan your budget for shopping!

Make sure to consider how much you’ll spend, be it on food, transportation, accommodation, and any tours or activities you’re interested in. 

While travelling here is sure to make more of a financial dent than you’re comfortable with, there are still opportunities to lessen the payload. For one, be sure to cook at home, shopping at the cheaper supermarkets like Bonus or Kronan, rather than the local convenience store, 10/11. 

Then there is the matter of purchasing tours and activities. Instead of opting for private tours, instead choose to travel within a larger group on multi-day tours, forgoing any need to purchase gas or a rental car. 

By making adaptations like this, you may be pleasantly surprised that your trip to Iceland ends up costing less than you first imagined. So, do your bank-balance and favour by keeping your expenditure in the black with a ready-made budget!  

DON’T drive off-road 

Cars trapped on the road
Photo: From archives

There are many reasons why driving off-road is prohibited in Iceland. Aside from the safety concerns associated with taking a vehicle off-road, there are a plethora of environmental issues to take into account. 

Iceland has a very fragile ecosystem, and thus protecting the native flora and fauna is of paramount importance. Driving off-road not only damages plantlife to such an extreme that it is never able to repair itself, but whirling tyres are a grave threat to nesting birds, as well as the habitat of other species. 

On that note, Iceland is a volcanic island, meaning that soil erosion can be a huge problem. Vehicles are easily capable of scraping away the top-soil. This leaves the land beneath exposed to water and wind, which can further hamper the earth’s ability to foster life. 

As they should be, Iceland’s government is zealous when it comes to enforcing their rules regarding protecting Iceland’s natural landscape. As such, off-road driving is completely illegal in Iceland. Anyone who chooses to flounce this law can expect hefty fines, or even more serious legal consequences.

In Summary 

Öskudagur celebrations
Photo: Golli. Icelandic kids enjoying Öskudagur

As expected from a lighthearted travel article such as this, our list of do’s and don’ts is not definitive. There are many more things that one certainly should DO when in Iceland. For example, experience the Golden Circle tour, hunt for the Northern Lights, or chat with the locals. 

On the flipside, the various things that should be avoided are also extensive. But, more often than not,  these fall into the category of following your common sense. A couple of examples might be discarding your litter in the proper fashion. Or, demonstrating an air of patience should tour schedules divert from what you, at first, expected. 

Of course, we have no urge to patronise our guests. By default, we trust one’s ability to act according to their manners. The simple fact that you’ve read this far proves how seriously you take the matter of respecting others cultures. So, well done, you! 

Those who have shelled out for a trip to Iceland are rarely looking to misbehave for the sake of it. On the contrary, people relish the chance to show this unique and culturally-rich location the respect that it deserves.