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.
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.
I must admit that Autumn is my favorite season in Iceland.
I like it because of the beautiful sunsets, the blue berry picking, and the calmness of it.
I like it because it makes life calmer when everyone is getting ready to face the winter months ahead and this is the last chance to enjoy sunshine, green nature and fresh air for some time.
In my childhood, this time of year was connected to me and my friends collecting our vegetables that we had grown during the summer in special vegetable gardens for school kids. These gardens were a genius idea where kids could sign up for a little part of the space to grow cauliflower, cabbage, radishes, rhubarb, potatoes and other vegetables capable of surviving the Icelandic summer and autumn.
Coming home with this contribution every autumn is a very warm and dear memory.
For other people, this time of year is connected to memories of collecting the sheep that have been walking free in the mountains of Iceland throughout the summer. Being on horseback, reaching the sheep, and getting them back on the farm so their wool can be collected is something unforgettable.
Iceland Unwrapped focuses on getting people connected, not only to the nature of Iceland but to the people, traditions and culture of this 330.000-person nation in the north Atlantic.
So why not go berry picking, sheep collecting, and to finish the day, bathe in a beautiful geothermal pool and watch the magical colors of the autumn sunset.
Who knows – you might even catch a glimpse of some Northern Lights as well if you are not sound asleep after your day’s adventure.
Iceland Unwrapped is personalized travel planning company focusing on connecting you to Iceland and the Icelanders.
Please contact us for information on how to make your trip to Iceland an authentic and special one.
Recently in Iceland, private companies and the government have been trying to cope with the massive surge in tourism happening in Iceland in recent years.
The newest trend is to charge for parking at tourist locations to manage its flow to a certain extent and to generate some income for investing in and managing the infrastructure required to support Iceland‘s tourism expansion in a more sustainable way.
There seems to be a lack of coherence in the way this is being done.
The execution seems random, with both foreign tourists and domestic visitors asked to pay equally, and there have been problems in collecting the fees, as not all common credit and debit cards are accepted.
There are also other models in countries with strong in-bound tourism that could be more effective.
In Holland, where I live, it is possible for both tourists and locals to buy museum cards. A city or region‘s museum card allows pre-paid into participating museums, parks and attractions in for a set fee. Tourists will opt for cards aligning with their length of stay, and residents can opt for annual cards that are cheaper on a per-use basis.
Iceland should do the same. A card offering parking at the most famous tourist attractions, entrance fee for selected museums and perhaps even discounts on camping, cafés or restaurants can be sold to tourists and residents. They can then display their validated cards as parking passes, or have them scanned at museums and restaurants.
This would save money for administration, especially as such cards can be bought online, on flights and at airports. It would also help align Iceland‘s management of tourism in a manner compatible with being a top-class European destination that is capable of meeting the expectation of the sophisiticated customer it wants to attract.
I am throwing this idea to the universe and am sure I am not the first one to think of this possibility.
Helga Kristin Fridjonsdottir – Founder and owner of Iceland Unwrapped by helgastina
I’ve just spent the last three months in Iceland. I had the possibility to explore the country, meet my fellow Icelanders, get to know amazing entrepreneurs, and experience amazing food and cultural events suitable for a country of millions.
But what struck me the most was one of the things that‘s most basic about the place: water.
Firstly, and I am not putting you on, Icelandic water is the clearest you can find, coming straight from the glacier, nothing added. You might as well drink it straight from a river on the country side because it is exactly the same water.
When I first moved to Copenhagen, I brought coffee from Iceland back to Denmark after my visits home. When it tasted different, I realized was that it wasn´t the coffee that much, it was the water. The water makes the coffee taste, and indeed, Icelandic coffee blenders match the beans to the water to a large extent. It was a shock and an important factor in my endless homesickness during my time in Copenhagen, where the water was filled with calcium and other taste-altering ingredients.
The beer in Iceland, the sodas, the Ice cream, everything benefits from the purity of the water and that is why some of the local ingredients cannot be transferred to other countries. They will never taste the same.
Swimming, and, more precisely, visiting the local pool is another watering factor in terms of understanding the Icelanders and their culture. The social hot tub is in the hot spot in the swimming pools around the country. Almost every tiny village has one, and in the capital you have more than one in many neighborhoods.
Not only is this privilege essential for the well being of the Icelanders, an endless source of exercise and relaxation in a country that is cold and dark for much of the year, it is saving the mental health and health in general of the Icelandic people.
Water is all around Iceland – The Atlantic ocean has been a main provider of fresh food for the nation since the settlers decided to take a chance on this island 874.
We have endless songs about the ocean, about the fishermen who provided food for the whole of society and also songs, stories and memories of seamen lost at sea, never to be found again, sometimes even half of towns would go in such a dramatic way in the last centuries, while trying to feed their families. My family included.
Much of Iceland‘s water also comes up from the ground, hot, steaming and sulphur-smelling. Attractions like Geysir and the hot springs are showplaces for Iceland‘s miraculous geothermal waters. But in nearly every home, hotel room and hostel, there are no water heaters, only water from a geothermally-heated source and a glacial cold source.
Water and ocean has therefore so many meaning for us the Icelanders and to understand us, a background on how it has and is affecting all life, is important to the visitor. In the meantime, when you are making coffee in Iceland, it tastes better if you are a little patient and start with heating the cold water for your coffee or tea. And by all means don´t buy normal water in the Supermarket. Better to fill your water battle with the glorious and free water that is available from the many taps around the country.
The beautiful thing about Iceland is that no two days are the same. And that’s because the weather can be so changeable. Iceland isn’t a country where people should wander about on their own, unless they are prepared for the weather. Some parts are so uninhabitable that I always recommend that my clients are accompanied by an experienced guide. After all, the wildest places are always the most spectacular, but also the most unpredictable.
So when is the perfect time to go?
Winter can be a very pretty time to visit, but it does get colder then. Avoid December to February if you don’t like ice and cold winds. Although it never goes below minus 15°C. For those who love photography and breathtaking views, just pack your thermals and get ready for sights that you’ll never forget!
Amazing sights and sites
When people think of Iceland, they often think of the Northern Lights, which appear from September until the end of March.
If you love taking photos and long days outside, then avoid November through to January. These are seriously dark days with just a few hours of sunlight a day. Because of Iceland is the land of ice and fire – on the flip side, the ‘bright nights’ are from April to September. with June and July giving you the chance to see the midnight sun. Yes, this sounds ideal but it also means that it’s difficult to sleep, so bear that in mind. By August, the nights begin to darken.
Whale watching and nature tours
For those interested in whale watching, contrary to popular belief this can be done all year round. From Spring to Autumn is best! I work with the country’s best boat guides and nature experts, ensuring that you will see some truly unforgettable animals.
Iceland travel planner
The best thing about having your own Iceland travel planner is that I advise on all the things that are vital for making your trip not only exciting but safe and comfortable. Driving conditions, security and clothing – you’d be surprised how many women I’ve known to climb a volcano in high heels!