Now’s a good time to visit the land of fire and ice!

Iceland is the youngest country in the world and is so close to the UK you can just visit on whim for a quick change of scenery. Iceland’s reputation for being expensive, with some of the costliest food and drink in Europe is no longer justified. After the recent collapse of the country’s main banks, you now get more pound to your Icelandic krona. So now is the best time to visit the once expensive isle, read on to find out more…

Reykjavik
The most northerly capital city in the world, Reykjavík, where more than half of Iceland’s population live, is a bustle of activity. It is a busy city combining old-fashioned wooden architecture and modern buildings and also has a reputation for partying! With regular flights from many European gateways, you can be there in less than 3 hours from London for a long weekend.

Food and drink
Iceland’s ocean-fresh seafood and tasty mountain lamb are part of the local culinary experience. For something a bit different, an Icelandic speciality that sorts the men out from the boys is rotten shark, washed down with a well-deserved shot of Brennivín. Hint for beginners – if you manage to get it past your nose, you’re half way there!

Things to do
The milky turquoise waters of The Blue Lagoon are perfect for a good, long soak. Located in a lunar-like landscape of lava fields, the lagoon is renowned for its health benefits and mineral-rich, geothermal seawater, which have made it one of the most visited locations in Iceland.

The spouting hot spring Strokkur geyser located 125km northeast of Reykjavik erupts every five to ten minutes. The entire area is a geothermal park with belching mud pits, hissing steam vents, hot and cold springs, warm streams and primitive plants.

The waters around Iceland are some of the best in the world for spotting whales. Minke, blue, sei, fin, humpback and sperm whales are frequently sighted just off the coast. The largest whale watching operator in Iceland, Elding, schedule whale watching tours from Reykjavik Harbour on a daily basis.

For a spot of shopping, check out stores like 66 Degrees North and Cintamani in Reykjavik, which offer great outdoor clothing you can wear while you explore Iceland. Warm woollens and beautifully crafted pottery make great holiday souvenirs.

If you fancy practising your golfing skills, head to Akureyri in the north of Iceland on midsummer night for the annual Arctic Open golf tournament which attracts players from around the world in to tee off at midnight in the midnight sun.

Where to stay
There are hotels and guesthouses to suit all tastes and budgets, from the most luxurious like the Hilton Hotel Nordica to the simple and sufficient like Hotel Cabin. To experience the Icelandic countryside, Icelandic Farm Holidays is a chain of farms around Iceland offering travellers accommodation and a variety of services. Some activities offered at farms are horseback riding, fishing, sailing, hunting, glacier tours, sheep round-up and swimming.

Weather
Iceland’s climate is tempered by the Gulf Stream so summers are mild and winters rather cold. The colourful Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) appear from the end of August and the best time to see for the natural phenomena is between the months of November – February. From the end of May to the beginning of August, there are nearly 24 hours of daylight in Reykjavík, while in the northern part of the country the sun barely sets at all. Snow is not as common as the name of the country would seem to suggest and does not lie for long in Reykjavík.

Icelandic facts
Located in the North Atlantic close to the Arctic Circle, the whole of the central highland area of the island is a barren and uninhabitable terrain (a bit like the moon) – so much so that the first American astronauts were sent there for pre-mission training!

Vatnajökull glacier in the southern region, measuring 8,400 km, is the largest ice cap in Europe – that’s larger than all the other glaciers in Europe combined!*

Iceland lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, so although Iceland is part of Europe, half of it lies on the American plate. At the ancient parliament site of Thingvellir which lies on this rift, you can stand on the edge of America (geologically speaking) and see all the way to Europe, 10 km away!*

* Source – VisitIceland.com

Don’t forget your travel insurance!
After reading this blog and you like the sound of going to Iceland, make sure you take out travel insurance as soon as you have booked your trip. Buying direct from the travel insurance provider is certainly cheaper than from your travel agent, so check out 24/7 travel insurance.

If you are travelling as a couple, 24/7 travel insurance offers cover for 3 days from just £8.77* – great value for peace of mind whilst travelling around this beautiful country.

* Premium £8.77 includes Insurance Premium Tax based on 2 adults aged under 55 taking out a “Standard” Single Trip policy for 3 days in Europe, excluding personal possessions cover and travelling within 14 days of purchase. Cover details and prices are correct at time of going to press (February 2009) and are subject to change.