10 Things about Iceland

  1. Iceland is an island nation located in North Atlantic Ocean, between Europe and North America continents. It is considered to be part of Europe.
  2. The local currency is Icelandic króna (ISK) and is not widely found outside of Iceland due to restricted foreign trading following the 2008 economic crisis. For us who hail from Singapore, we had to change our local currency to Euro, then change it again to ISK in Helsinki Airport where we made a transit. That said, credit cards are widely accepted. In some cases (like remote petrol kiosks where no one mans it), credit cards are in fact the safest bet.
  3. There are a total of seven regions in Iceland, namely: Southwest Iceland (where most of the population is located), West Iceland, West Fjords, North Iceland, East Iceland, South Iceland and Interior. With the exception of West Fjords (where the terrain is most rugged and temperatures most extreme) and Interior (where it is generally impassable), we travelled to all other parts of Iceland.
  4. Despite its name, Iceland has a surprisingly mild winter located at the latitude. This is largely due to the warming effect of the Atlantic Gulf Stream.
  5. Iceland has a population of slightly over 330,000 with an area of slightly over 100,000 kmso it is effectively the most sparsely populated country in Europe. In recent years, Iceland has seen a sharp increase in immigrants (in particular from Eastern Europe and South East Asia) headed there to supplement their labour workforce. The immigrant population now stands at over 10% of the total population.
  6. Iceland is standing on two plates: Eurasian and North American plates. The two plates are diverging and hence creating the Mid-Atlantic Rift which is visible in Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. I remember thinking to myself ‘how nice to have your land expanding continuously’ when I was a new student of Geography located in a land-strapped country I call home, learning about Plate Tectonic Theory. Not so, in reality. While the continental drift contributes to very interesting geological phenomenon in Iceland, it also gives rise to natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that sometimes can have great effect on the world. The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruptions and the enormous disruption to air travel in Europe came to mind.
  7. The official language is Icelandic, which is quite similar but not completely identical to Old Norse, a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia around the 10th century. Old Norse was also the language of the Vikings. We did not encounter any problems conversing in English throughout our 2-week stay in Iceland as most of them, especially those in the tourism industry, speak considerably good English.
  8. Water from the running tap in Iceland is perfectly safe for drinking. However, one may not be used to how it taste/smell. The overwhelming smell of sulphur was too much for us to bear when we were in the region of Lake Myvatn hence we generally bought bottled water from convenient stores and petrol kiosk stops.
  9. The cost of living is considerably high in Iceland due to high import duties and a 25.5% VAT rate. In particular, we’ve noticed that fruits and vegetables are expensive probably because they have to be imported. They are also not the quality we expect to find in Asia, where such produce are in abundance.
  10. Driving is possibly the most convenient way to explore Iceland and it is generally safe to drive around the island since they have well-positioned signages etc. However, I use the word ‘generally safe‘ because the road conditions may change vastly depending on the weather. Cars in Iceland are mandated by law to switch on their headlights at all times, so even if it looks silly to do so in broad daylight, do it. Also, the ring road that goes round Iceland is one-lane per way, so do not expect a 3-lane highway like we did.