Two years and the importance of connecting when travelling

Our two year anniversary, and the importance of connecting when travelling

Iceland Unwrapped by helgastina is two years old this October.

The reason for establishing the company here in Holland was to try to combine my interest in tourism, connecting people and my love for my home country Iceland.

As you probably know, Iceland has gained increasing attention as a tourist destination in recent years.

What I was aware of before starting the company that many of the visitors that I met on their return from Iceland were super excited to meet me, the Icelander, as they had not made much contact with the locals when in Iceland.

In a country of about 300.000 people there is need of additional work force to receive tourists sufficiently and that is why many of those working in the tourist industry in Iceland are people from abroad who know languages and are excited to be a part of the development of tourism in Iceland.

I thought that of course something more could be done to provide visitors to Iceland a connection to the Icelanders, to make the trip even more exciting and fulfilling.

In the development phase of my company, I was in contact with my Icelandic network to hear about new trends and exciting entrepreneurs working on projects aimed at connecting people together, and to give an extraordinary experience while in Iceland.

This has been my goal ever since and on my trips to Iceland in the last two years, I have been around the country visiting people who offer personal service and unique experiences.

I am very thankful for my network  that has made it possible for me to develop extraordinary experiences for my customers.

Dining with the Icelanders, concerts in the homes of locals, personal guided tours based on the customers’ individual interests are some of the few things Iceland Unwrapped has discovered and developed on this path.

Did you know that Iceland Unwrapped has had a very diverse group of customers? That is the beauty of being a travel planner working with people´s interests and dreams.

Let me give you examples

Friends going on an adventure trip, a mother and daughter having a stopover in Iceland, a group of students visiting Icelandic institutions and enjoying the magic of Iceland between meetings, a group of employees invited by their company on a group building trip and a family of 5 seeking adventures, to name a few.

Did you know that you can go fishing and have your fish cooked for you in a fine restaurant after your fishing tour?

Did you know that there are 4 big international music festivals in Iceland during the year and a lot of smaller ones?

It is a privilege to learn the wishes and dreams of people wanting to go to Iceland and to connect them to the Icelanders.

It has been an amazing learning experience to start a travel company in the midst of a travel boom in Iceland. To decide that I wanted to do different things, and to focus on the personal and connecting people was a great step in offering diverse possibilities for people wanting to visit this beautiful and exotic island, Iceland.

“Meeting the Icelanders was my favorite part of the trip – in part because of the people we were able to meet, but also because that day we saw some of the most spectacular scenery. It was great to have a personal tour, to be able to learn about Iceland and connect with real people”. (Sara – USA)

I look forward to the years to come.

Helga Kristin Fridjonsdottir( Helga Stina)

Founder and owner of Iceland Unwrapped by helgastina

More info on travel planning and extraordinary experiences

Beer – An important part of the Iceland experience

There has never been a better time to be a beer drinker in Iceland, with an unprecedented mix of clean-tasting lagers and craft-brewed ales, stouts, porters and Belgian-style options available to locals and travelers alike.

While Icelanders are fond of their beer, the good times have only rolled in the Land of Fire and Ice since 1989, when the country lifted its national ban on normal-strength beers.

The ban was intended to keep the hooch-loving locals on the straight and narrow, but its widespread subversion by bar owners and party hosts who mixed the watered-down 2% alcohol “Pilsener” with prime Icelandic vodka, led to a release of the small country’s untapped potential as a truly micro microbrewing superpower.

For those who indulge, Iceland offers a potent mix of microbrews.  Indeed, given the size of the market, even its standard lagers would be microbrews anywhere else.  I am a big fan of two: Gull and Brio, which are both brewed at Reykjavik’s Olgerdin brewery and benefit from the pristine Icelandic glacier water with which they are brewed. Olgerdin also has a small visitor’s center and a range of craft micro beers, the Borg range, anchored by Borg’s Garun Nr.19 Icelandic Stout and with more than 60 mainly British, Irish, and Belgian-inspired brews.

My preferences aren’t universally shared: rival lager Viking Beer, from the city of Akureyri in the country’s north, beats out Reykjavik’s Gull as the country’s market leader.  Perhaps its slogan gives some insight: “You deserve to feel like a Viking at heart. You deserve to drink like one too. You deserve Viking Beer.”

Akureyri’s also represented in the world of craft and micro beers, with Einstok, a local brewery. Einstok produces ales, bocks and porters highlighting the city’s proximity to the Arctic Circle, and enjoys good national distribution.

Sampling these brews is easy in Iceland’s often-excellent collection of pubs and beer bars, with Olstofan and Kaldi being personal favorites.  Olstofan is kind of like a laid-back journalists’ bar with enthusiastic bartenders, and Kaldi more like a US fraternity house from the late 1980s.

Outside of the bars and licensed restaurants, finding a decent beer requires some local knowledge.  Unless you go to the state-run Vinbudin, which has a healthy selection of more than 300 beer options, it will be as if 1989 had never happened.

But a cold lightweight “pilsener” with one of Iceland’s distinctive lamb-based hot dogs, or with a hamburger at a gas station lunch counter has its place. It is a traditional part of the Iceland experience.

If you are coming to Iceland, will beer be on your agenda? Helgastina can arrange brewery visits, recommend watering holes and make sure your favorite microbrew type is waiting for you when you Dine with the Icelanders.

Mike Klein is an American writer and Belgian beer enthusiast based in The Netherlands.