When people mention Iceland, the first things that generally come to mind are mountains, volcanos, geysers and breathtakingly stunning landscapes.
Oh, they’re all included in the price of a plane ticket (assuming you can rent a car, a guide or take a tour that will get them to you). But, having lived in Iceland since July of 2020, I get a sense there’s another side of Iceland that will have some appeal to those willing to travel this spring and thereafter.
And by peaceful, I don’t necessarily mean “quiet”. I mean, rather, that Iceland works and is more than ready to accommodate its next visitors.
While it will take some time for Iceland’s tourism industry to recover, the country is emerging from the worst of COVID-19 relative to other destinations.
Never a big package-tourism place, Iceland has a great base of small hotels and rental properties (many optimistically called “summer houses”).
Many summer houses are secluded and have scenic views and built in hot tubs, some using Iceland’s famous geothermally heated water. Most have fully equipped kitchens. As seclusion in Iceland does not mean being completely cut off, Iceland’s well-supplied supermarkets are rarely more than a half an hour-hour drive away.
Town life, and the comings and goings in Iceland’s university-town-sized capital of Reykjavik, has remained active throughout the pandemic – with restaurants and cinemas remaining open, and with the local geothermal spa/swimming pools fully operational in most towns across the country.
Reykjavik has an easy feel to it at the moment. No crowds, plenty of dining choices, a selection of small museums and local sights. A brief drive of 15-20 minutes outside the city or its suburbs situates you in sweeping seascapes, lunar landscapes, silent volcanos and steaming geothermal zones. To make the most of your Reykjavik area experience, the services of local experts like Iceland Unwrapped are invaluable now because many sites and locations have closed or are changing hands as the recovery gathers pace.
The mercurial national currency, the Icelandic Krona, is also the most tourist-friendly it’s been in years, bringing prices down to levels comparable to larger cities in North America and Europe, excepting of course the nation’s pricey if diversely supplied chain of state liquor stores.
To be sure, you can come to Iceland and be blown away by the scenery. But travelers seeking peace, quiet, comfort and space will be pleased by a trip to the Land of Fire and Ice. 2021 will be a good time to come.
Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms, a Reykjavik-based business communication consultancy. A US native, Mike has lived in Iceland since 2020 and has also resided in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. He is the former Europe – Middle East – Africa chair of IABC, a leading global communication association. He is particularly fond of Icelandic cod and the Gull brand of Icelandic lager, and is married to Helga Stina, founder of Iceland Unwrapped.
Everything we have taken for granted has been put on hold: such as hugging each other or shaking hands, traveling or meeting up with all of our family and friends at once. Some places have been hit very hard and are still in the middle of this Covid hurricane.
Last month the first vaccines arrived in Iceland. The minister of health, a fine lady, was following the flight on radar to make sure everything would be as it should be and nothing would stop this important cargo to arrive safely to the shores of this rock in the north Atlantic.
There is a relief in Icelandic society now as we can see an end of this situation in sight and possibilities of getting life back to normal, whatever that normal will be.
At the moment health staff are vaccinating our most vulnerable, along people in nursing homes and health personnel, the heroes of 2020 without a doubt.
But what will 2021 look like?
The travel industry in Iceland and around the world has shrunk, collapsed or been put on hold.
Will we be able to recover from this? I am sure we will. But it will take time,
I also know that people have kept on dreaming about travel and destinations because dreaming is important when you are in the middle of a pandemic. Dreams that might come true in the New Year or in the year after that.
Iceland has been a popular destination and will likely see something of a travel revival. Here are 4 main reasons:
1. Space. People need to get used to the idea of being around other people again and will want uncrowded destinations with space for social distancing. Iceland becomes a strong choice because of its low population density and abundance of open space. All 360.000 of us live in a space the size of the US state of Ohio, twice the size of Denmark and nearly two and half times the size of the Netherlands
2. Hospitality. The Icelanders are aware of the importance of receiving guests with respect and the uniqueness of a small society. That is why all around Iceland you can find entrepreneurs who have built up wonderful businesses with their heart, soul, and bare hands to be able to show the best of Iceland’s nature, culture and gastronomy. You can even visit people in their homes for dinner or a home concert. The diversity in accommodation is also important – you can find any type of accommodation on the island, from a farmer’s guesthouse with animals in sight to a fancy hotel in one of the towns.
3. Diversity. There are few places on earth that offer the diversity in landscape as Iceland does. The land of fire and ice offers geothermal pools that are open all year round, waterfalls, glaciers and lava formations that will make the imagination go crazy. Ocean all around, rivers and creeks with pure water to drink on your hikes. The midnight sun in June and the Aurora Borealis in winter are experiences everyone should have at least once in their lives.
4. Distance management. I always recommend my clients to take it easy even as they take their extraordinary excursions in Iceland. Feeling the culture, nature, fresh air and the purest water imaginable is a part of the experience. And to be able to do that you need to know how to do it. Distance is a big part of planning your trip in Iceland. That is why working with locals is essential to make the most of visitors’ time and money.
Keep dreaming. Iceland will be waiting when you are ready. It will be wonderful to receive you in the coming months – or the coming years.
Wishing you and your loved ones a happy new year 2021.
Oh well. My home country Iceland continues to amaze me and perhaps it is quite extraordinary how it somehow manages to stay in the discussion as one of the most important places to visit in the world.
In the past months we have been experiencing an extraordinary world. The world came to a stop and traveling was something that was not on peoples minds for the foreseeable future.
But the world has been helpful. In the past weeks there has been amazing publicity about Iceland in various media. This and the fact that Iceland has been successful in managing the virus, is making people opening up for the idea of visiting this rock in the North Atlantic during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A movie by Will Ferrell has been rocking the world in the past weeks. It is about the Eurovision Song Contest and how the Icelanders are obsessed with it. And they truly are, not only in the film.
When I was growing up Eurovision was one of the highlights of the year.
In the times of no TV on Thursdays and no TV for five weeks in the summer there were a couple of golden moments in front of the screen. Eurovision was one of them.
I remember those Eurovision evenings, when we only had one Saturday evening of Eurovision (now there are three). Good dinner, family gathered together, having an opinion on who should win. Amazing hairdos in the 80´s, Plastic Bertrand,Johnny Logan,Celine Dion, and my personal favorite, the Herrey’s singing about their golden shoes. Truly adorable.
One of the shocks of the century was that the Italians wouldn´t win with Gente di mare in 1987 and believe me, the shocks have been many due to the fact that somehow politics between countries has had an impact on the results, where former enemies would put their swords away and vote for each other, or not.
In recent years there have been some amazing songs, in my opinion, like the Portuguese winner. No doubt, this competition brings people together in the harmony of friendship and unity and can have a big impact on the artists involved.
When Iceland started to compete in 1986 we were all sure about that we would of course win. The devastation and shock was almost unbearable when the results were clear. Our song – Gleðibankinn (The Joy bank) ended up in the 16th place. The impact on the Icelanders’ identity will never fully be known and perhaps never to be fully recovered from.
Nevertheless the Icelanders never stop believing in winning and we have been the runner up twice, which was of course unbearable to live through, although no one really knows where to host this big event in Iceland if that would happen 🙂
This year was our year, but this damn virus prevented that from happening with this amazing song. We will probably never recover from that shock.
Eurovision is very integrated into the Icelandic soul. Originally I think it was because of our curiosity about the world around us which seemed far away and out of reach. So this one evening we could be a part of a bigger unit, united with our cool friends and role models in Europe.
Secondly I think it is because we are a small nation of 360.00 people that wants to be a player on the big scene and believes in the power of the small over the big. Kind of like in the old folklore where a small human would conquer over a troll, tricking it to stay out in daylight and turning into stone.
I have been working for and with fantastic people for many years now who all have had in common the dream to visit my home country of Iceland.
People are different and have different needs. Some people love exploring cities, street art, restaurants, cafés, museums, and watching the locals in their daily routines.
It may still be unfeasible to do a normal city vacation these days. But our small but lively capital, Reykjavik, has urban amenities that are open and accessible. Restaurants and cafes are open, museums and thermal pools are back in business as well. And the city is easily accommodating the continuing need for social distancing.
Of course, Iceland has a lot more to offer than a comfortable socially distanced city break.
Indeed, that´s why I often guide people to go straight to nature upon arrival in Iceland. Arriving in Iceland in the middle of the lava field where the airport is located is an amazing experience in itself. But going straight to your first destination with fantastic views and peace is unforgettable, especially when you already know where you are going and have a nice idea of what awaits at the first accommodation.
Even though Iceland is now accessible, preparation for an Iceland trip is all the more critical now than before. Socially distant accommodation that gives people get the space and peace they need is plentiful. Such accommodation can range from spacious chain hotels to private villas to summerhouses to boutique hotels. But the right accommodation is not always easy to find. Beyond Reykjavik, dining and catering options need to be identified in advance of arrival.
Once that´s handled, there will be vast spaces available for sightseeing and exploration, and even the most popular spots will have significantly more space than previous years. People in the tourism industry are focused on making the most of it during this unique situation, and offering additional experiences to add to the Iceland Adventure.
Every season has it´s charm in Iceland, depending on your wishes. Midsummer sun, northern lights, snow activities, autumn colors or refreshing spring are all great options to explore this amazing place.
Summer is the most traditional tourist season, and this year´s version will have the bonus of having the best travel conditions of the year, combined with the least crowded tourist population in recent memory.
This week, Iceland’s prime minister,, Katrin Jakobsdottir, announced that the island nation will be accepting visitors from 15 June, setting up an unusual tourist season at a time when much of the world is slowly emerging from lockdown.
With Covid-19 nearly eradicated from its shores and the probability of in-airport testing for arrivals, Iceland stands on solid ground in extending its invitation to the not-yet-travelling public.
But what awaits the Iceland traveller?
Iceland will continue to practice social distancing. So don’t expect packed bus tours to the iconic if less-than-overwhelming Golden Circle. You’ll need a rental car or a local guide.
But it will be worth it. The magic of Iceland is that the scenery – and the weather – changes every ten minutes. Alpine peaks give way to rolling hills, which give way to rock formations, plunging valleys and the occasional if small bits of desert.
With 2/3 of the 360,000-strong national population comfortably ensconced in the agreeable capital of Reykjavik, population density is negligible in the rest of the country. Open spaces, big landscapes, waterfalls, and steam fields beckon, generally with little worry about being 1 meter from the nearest civilian.
Icelandair, the national airline, will expand its service to cities yet to be identified. With competent, professional service, Icelandair is taking full precautions under the current circumstances.
For those with no desire to fly and time on their hands, Smyril Line offers auto ferry service from Hirtshals in Northern Denmark to the scenic if small town of Seydisfjordur on Iceland’s East Coast, home to Nord Austur, a sushi bar with Michelin-star aspirations.
Socially distant accommodation is relatively easy to find. Rental homes, boutique hotels and country hotels make good bases, and there are also comfortable options in Reykjavik. Iceland Unwrapped offers personalized itineraries and bookings atwww.icelandunwrapped.com
Restaurants have been open for a while, and meal delivery is also well-developed in Reykjavik. Some country hotels offer room service, and self-catering is easy with the country’s main supermarket chains: Bonus, Netto, Kronan and Hagkaup.
Soon, the jewels of the nation – public swimming pool and hot tub complexes – will open as well. More human in scale than the famous Blue Lagoon, they offer a year-round warm-water experience for about $10 a visit. Safety is ensured through good hygiene and only a tiny amount of chlorine.
Iceland is known to be a pricey destination, but this season will see lower prices in an all-important effort to kick start the vital tourist economy.
Mike Klein is a Netherlands-based writer and communication consultant who is planning an Iceland move in August.
Helga Stina is the owner ofIceland Unwrapped, a travel service specializing in personalized and customized Iceland itineraries and bookings.
“Never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” (Rahm Emanuel).
I know many of us are wondering “where to next”? How is travelling going to look like? What is going to be possible? What, if anything, will remain the same.
I see this challenge as a great opportunity to change the way we look at travel and service to travelers. I see endless possibilities and creations in coming years in tourism despite this crisis.
My view on travel for years has been that less is more. Authentic is sustainable, and its immensely important to connect with the locals if we genuinely want to connect the world.
I have been running Iceland Unwrapped for the past five years. When I was researching about how to go about starting my approach, I came across blogs and information on celebrities who had been so fortunate to travel to fantastic locations, like Iceland, having a personal travel planner doing the planning.
I thought to myself. Why can I not offer this approach to people who are not celebrities. People who don´t want to follow the crowds and people who need a personal approach to their traveling and needs.
So I did.
Meeting clients on their terms
Iceland Unwrapped focuses on meeting clients on their terms, having their needs in mind. Time, money and dreams play main roles in the travel planning approach. Getting people to connect with one another is also an aim – both to create a richer experience for the client, and to make the world a more connected place.
I have developed the concept and am now offering the same approach for people who visit Delft in The Netherlands, where I live.
I receive families, individuals, groups of friends, workplaces and specialist groups who want to be inspired in a new location.
Now we are in a big crisis for many people. Tourism has been hit in a hard way. Many of us are wondering what will happen next. How will tourism look after this crisis and how are we going to recover?
Even though I think many people are realizing how life can be more simple, with working from home and being confined to limited areas being the current norm, the yearning for something different remains alive.
The likely need for continued social distancing builds in a challenge for destinations and providers to meet the needs and importance of people to enjoy, connect, and experience the wow factor while keeping safe and being more physically distant.
How will this show up in real life?
Transport is not going to be the same. It will not be possible to shuffle loads of people in planes, ships, trains or busses having the principles of social distancing in mind, at least not until a vaccine takes hold.
As you know, there are two ways to get to Iceland. By plane or by ship.
There is a ship going from Denmark to Iceland with a stop on the beautiful Faroe Islands. It is possible to bring your car and therefore avoid renting a car in Iceland. My prediction is that there will be less people on ships like that or limited service to prevent people from dining together for example.
Flying will also be a challenge to ensure the social distance. Fewer passengers on each plane is a logical guess and less service perhaps. It will be interesting to see how this develops because people are not going to stop traveling forever but we will be traveling in a different way and perhaps less frequently.
A challenge regarding accommodation is the service level. Focus on personal accommodations, small or middle size with an experience of servicing smaller crowds, with the personal approach as key, is the future in my opinion. At least in the nearest future. We have to have in mind as service providers that people are skeptical and perhaps afraid of being to close together with people they don´t know. That is a going to something to have in mind when planning tourism in the future.
Could the future include breakfast rooms with more spaces in between and bye bye to buffets?
Everyone needs to eat so thinking out of the box is essential here. Less clients each time and more care when serving is key. There are many challenges here and also many entrepreneurs in toursims that are geniuses in finding sollutions and fun ways of addressing this issue.
This situation offers a unique opportunity of making trips and adventures in Iceland and around the world more authentic and personal. Many fantastic companies in Iceland are offering trips for smaller groups and individuals and the creativity is incredible. I am fortunate to be working with partners that think out of the box with creative solutions and experiences as key. This will be essential when traveling and experiencing the near future. Talking together and finding solutions together is key here, to make tourism work again with a different focus.
Dining with the Icelanders has been the flagship of Iceland Unwrapped where 14 families and individuals open their homes to travelers in Iceland for the amazing experience of connecting and dining a simple meal together. The options are endless both in connecting people through interests such as cross fit, knitting, history, medicine, horses, photography, music or whatever the travelers are interested in knowing about.
In the future I can see this option being possible having sanitation and social distancing method in mind, at least until a vaccine has been discovered.
Thinking out of the box
Overall these are challenging times but also an opportunity of growing, thinking out of the box and create a more sustainable tourism experience for travelers around the world.
It´s now we need to enjoy the creativity and braveness of the many entrepreneurs in tourism to be able to create fantastic options after this challenge we are facing.
So just to sum my ideas up.
More personal approach to meet the needs of clients with different needs than before, such as avoiding crowds during their entire holiday.
Cooperation between partners to use each others strenghts.
Thinking out of the box for soulutions.
Keep dreaming – Iceland will be waiting when you are ready
Iceland is going to be waiting for you when you are ready. To find solutions for you trip, contact your personal travel planner to maximize the experience.
Today is the birthday of one of my biggest role model in life. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who served as president of Iceland from 1980 to 1996.
Vigdís ís 90 years old today.
When Vigdís became president I was 8 years old. I was staying on the country side with my mother after having been ill some months before in the hospital. We stayed at this wonderful health guesthouse where my mum worked and I had the freedom to be in the country, surrounded by wonderful people and nature. Truly an unforgettable experience.
When Vigdís got elected president in August, I woke up in the morning early and went to the kitchen where my mum was preparing breakfast for the visitors. My mum was listening to the radio and dancing around the kitchen of joy.
The reason was that Vigdís had become the first woman in the world to be elected president of a Republic.
Against the odds, she managed to win over her male presidential opponents, a single mum of an adopted daughter and a breast cancer survivor.
Growing up with Vigdís as my president influenced me and my peers immensely. It is unimaginable to think about it being different. Children in Iceland even wondered after Vigdís had been re elected for the third time, if it was even possible for a man to hold this office.
So today I am thankful. I am thankful for having had the privilege of growing up with an intelligent, independent, human, no bullshit, emphatic, powerful woman as my president for 16 years.
I am also thankful for having had the opportunity of meeting Vigdís on two occasions in Copenhagen where I was teaching Icelandic children their mother tongue in our beautiful culture house in Copenhagen.
I was starstruck for the first time and only time in my life (even though I had made the unforgettable Pelé for a coffee in Iceland, years before).
Vigdís reminded me of, when we talked some years ago, that there was no higher purpose and privilege than to teach children their mother tongue. Icelandic is spoken by around 330.000 people so her efforts in protecting the smaller languages of the world has been one of her greatest achievements.
I think the world should celebrate this day, 15th of April every year as a reminder of an extremely brave woman from Iceland who decided enough was enough and that men and women should have equal opportunities in life to lead and influence our world.
Til hamingju með stórafmælið Vigdís Finnbogadóttir!
Many of us are in shock due to this horrible virus attacking us all around the world. It´s an unprecedented situation and we are all trying to figure out how to function in this changed world.
This is of course devastating and challenging in many ways for various reasons.
One – People are afraid and insecure and when that is the case people make strange decisions like buying all toilet paper rolls possible in every shop.
Two – Businesses stop with people losing their jobs making future planning difficult and scary.
Three – People have to reshape their daily lives when staying home all day, working, homeschooling their children and use different methods in shopping and providing for themselves.
Four – For the travel enthusiasts. It is difficult to plan ahead as it is difficult to know when this crisis is over.
But there is a positive side
As I am working in tourism thinking out of the box is important at these challenging times.
What I always enjoy the most when working with my clients is to use a good time to plan ahead.
The focus is on making the Iceland trip an unforgettable one, where you connect to the Icelanders, experience hidden gems, extraordinary scenery and the feeling of Iceland.
My aim in my company is always to connect people and offer authentic trips.
“Iceland has been a bucket list destination for me since I was really young. My husband and I finally decided to take the plunge this year and visit with some of our friends. I knew trying to arrange my own travel plan would be quite time consuming and I frankly did not know where to start. We called upon Helgastina to help us and it was the best decision we made. She took care of everything. All we had to do was choose accommodation from a list of recommendations she provided.
We were provided with a complete guide for day-to-day activites for every area/region we were in. She also was spot on with our request of 50% “touristy” activities and 50% relaxing/quieter activities. We had a wonderful trip. I will definitely be planning another trip in the future to explore more of Iceland.
Thank you again Iceland Unwrapped for such a wonderful vacation” (Thandi Storey – Traveling in Iceland in the summer of 2019)
The looking forward to is very important and especially in the time of being stuck home and not able to make the travel dreams come true at the moment.
So in these strange times, I would like to invite you to look at Iceland as a destination in August, September and October 2020…or whenever fits your agenda.
Starting a conversation about your dream trip is important and when you work with a personal travel planner like myself, the playing with ideas, looking at possibilities and looking forward to will make your trip even more enjoyable.
If you would like to see how it works or what the focus of Iceland Unwrapped is please don´t hesitate to contact me to schedule a call. It doesn´t matter if you are thinking of traveling in 2020 or in 2021. Starting to dream and plan is a wonderful possibility.
With only 350,000 human residents, some people think Iceland lacks a diversity of opinion. But at Iceland Unwrapped, we have what it takes to seek out local expertise where it can be found.
For a thoroughly different perspective, we interviewed Hrútur Ærson, Iceland’s oldest sheep, for a special perspective on the place he has called home since 930.
IU: You’re very old for a sheep.
HÆ: Yes, I know. I’ve been roaming around Iceland since end of settlement 930.
IU: How have you managed this?
HÆ: Iceland isn’t the biggest country and I know all the good hiding places by now.
IU: So you’ve seen all of Iceland?
HÆ: No. Haven’t been to the Blue Lagoon yet. Or the Westman Islands because I’ve never been able to stow away on the ferry
IU: But you have been everywhere else?
HÆ: Yes – certainly everywhere a visitor can get with an SUV. I used to be more adventurous, but then again, I am several hundred years old.
IU: What are your favorite places to visit?
HÆ: I usually walk the Ring Road every two or three years. The main thing is to do it in opposite directions, because the look and feel of everything changes based on the direction, time of the year, and the amount of light at any time. The amazing thing about the ring road is that the scenery is constantly changing. In a couple of hours’ walk – or ten minutes drive time – the landscape is unrecognizable. Mountains change to desert to prairie. I always love that trip. The Highlands of Iceland are also extraordinary. Only important to get down from there before winter arrives or you are toast. Or as we sheep say – A toast with smoked lamb.
IU: What do you do in the years you don’t walk the Ring Road?
HÆ: I really like the Snaefelsnes Peninsula. It has a varied landscape, and it’s a bit grassier than the Ring Road, which I find quite satisfying. The glacier is also a wonderful place to chill.
IU: What do you recommend for visitors to eat?
HÆ: DEFINITELY THE FISH
HÆ: I’m a sheep. You can figure out the math.
IU: OK, I’ll keep quiet about the lamb.
HÆ: Thank you.
IU: Do you think Iceland has too many visitors?
HÆ: Not too many, yet. It depends on how people visit. It’s always nicer to see Iceland on one’s own, but you have to really look out for the environment. Don’t leave a mess. Listen to the advice of us, the locals. Stick to the tap water and respect the rights of sheep, horses and wild animals.