Iceland: The New Budget Gateway to Europe
Icelandair services Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Halifax and will introduce Montreal in 2016. WOW Air will also launch service in spring 2016, with prices anticipated as low as $99 each way, making Iceland one of the most cost-effective destinations in the world for Canadians. Reykjavik is also a great layover option and gateway to the rest of Europe, as it’s only a five hour flight from Toronto. Equally important for Canadians, the dollar is almost on par with Iceland’s krona, making the cost of hotels and restaurants more affordable compared to other European countries.
Iceland is known for…
Its incredible natural landscape! Iceland is the meeting point of Eurasian and North American continental plates, which contributes to its unique geologic activity. The country has 130 volcanoes (only 40 have erupted in the past millennium), mountains, fjords, glaciers and glacial lagoons, black sand beaches, lava caves, seaside cliffs, two of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe and the youngest place on earth — Surtsey Island came up from the ocean floor during a volcanic eruption in 1963. Renewable sources such as geothermal and hydro power provide about 80% of the nation’s total energy needs, and Iceland expects to be energy-independent by 2050. Of course, Iceland is also famous as one of the best places in the world to spot the aurora borealis (northern lights).
One insider tip…
The Blue Lagoon in Grindavík, a geothermal spa, is one of the most-visited attractions in the country. Visitors can treat themselves to in-water massages, steam baths, and saunas, or just indulge in a soak and a quick coat of mud. The Blue Lagoon is 20 km from Keflavík International Airport and 39 km from Reykjavík, so insiders suggest planning your visit to the Blue Lagoon right after arriving or just before departing the country. Lockers are provided with admission, and it’s better than a hotel shower to get refreshed after a flight.
Best time to visit…
The best time to visit varies depending on what you’re looking to get out of a trip. If it’s the aurora borealis, September to mid-April is the best chance for clear, dark nights. The lights tend to cycle: two to three active nights followed by a lull of four or five nights, so experts recommend staying for at least a week for the best chance to spot them. However, in the dead of winter, there’s only four to five hours of sunlight, which can make enjoying the rest of the country difficult.
In June and July, the country enjoys 24 hours of sunlight, leading to traditions like midnight golfing. The weather is also much nicer in the summer.
Iceland offers a lot for the strong-stomached traveller. Gordon Ramsey received flack for indulging in an Icelandic delicacy: raw puffin heart. Also on order is Hakarl, or fermented shark meat, which is often served with Brennivin or “the Black Death,” which is schnapps distilled from potatoes and seasoned with caraway seeds.
For those less brave but still interested in local cuisine, try skyr: a thick, slightly sour yogurt that is high in protein, low in fat, and an Icelandic staple.
- Passport needed:Yes
- Money used:Iceland is on the krona; it’s often easiest to take cash out of ATMs once you’ve arrived, preferably at the airport as hotels often have high transaction rates. Tipping is not necessary in Iceland as it is included in the total bill. However, contrary to popular belief, a service person will not be insulted if you offer a tip for exceptional service.
- Visa requirements: No visas are required for visits less than 90 days.
- Plugs: Iceland uses European standard two-pronged plugs.
- Internet availability: Widespread availability of free Wi-Fi.