Trips to Iceland

In the grand scale of the world, Iceland may be a fairly small country but it still boasts a fairly impressive list of facts to its name. It is the most sparsely populated country in Europe and is its second largest island. The capital is the northernmost capital in the world; it retains the top spot on indexes of both peace and gender equality and its remarkable language (descended from Norse) is one of the oldest languages in the world, having remained relatively unchanged since the 12th Century.

Reykjavik, the flourishing capital, offers its visitors international influences mingled with Icelandic national traditions thus creating a unique and remarkable culture. The city break elements of our trips here will provide an insight into this incredible city with its rapidly growing culture and striking contrasts.

Outside of Reykjavik, the landscape is rich with geological wonders - boiling mud pools, spurting geysers, glaciers, waterfalls and active volcanoes.

An Artisan holiday to Iceland will immerse you in an island of total wilderness and nature at its most exciting and dramatic best. The self-drive option on our trips will allow you to tackle this nature yourself, exploring the west coast of the island and the dramatically beautiful south shore.


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Geography and climate

Iceland is part of the Mid-Atlantic ridge, marking the boundary between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The volcanic origin of the island is illustrated by the presence of remarkable lava fields, craters, volcanoes, table mountains, mountains of pumice and volcanic ash.

Winter is a time of beautifully picturesque contrasts, with fresh white snow accentuating the black lava fields. In the evening, the pitch black sky may be disturbed all at once by dancing, flickering veils of green as the Aurora Borealis makes itself known. In the summer, the weather can be temperamental but also beautifully sunny, highlighting the deep blue of the hot pools and the green of the moss-covered hills.

Despite lying close to the Arctic Circle, the island is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate. The warm North Atlantic current ensures that the country usually has higher temperatures than most places of similar latitude. Generally speaking, the south coast is warmer, wetter and windier than the north but the weather here can be notoriously variable and impressive storms have been known to make an appearance on the island.

Food and drink

Traditionally, much of Iceland's cuisine is based on fish, lamb and dairy products with little-added herbs and spices. Local dishes, which date back centuries, include Skyr (a cultured dairy product similar to yoghurt), cured shark and singed sheep's head. Seafood is also central to most Icelandic cooking, particularly cod, haddock, salmon and herring. Puffin is considered a local delicacy that is often prepared through broiling.

Boiled or mashed potatoes, pickled cabbage, green beans and Rye Bread are prevalent side dishes. Due to the island's climate, fruits and vegetables were not generally a component of traditional dishes, although the use of greenhouses has made them more common.

The gastronomic scene in Reykjavik is varied, impressive and delicious! Restaurants and award-winning chefs are now the norm across this vibrant and cosmopolitan city. While the island may be famed for its traditional delicacies, visitors to Reykjavik will soon see that it is fast becoming one of the best locations to sample high quality new Nordic cuisine, with diverse restaurants creating imaginative and delicious fare. Here you can sample imaginative uses of local ingredients such as fresh seafood, organic lamb and wild game; but be sure to try the fabulous Icelandic hotdog too.

The choice of eateries in the city is varied and seemingly endless - some of our favourites here at Artisan Travel include The Fish Market (Fiskmarkaðurinn), Grill Market (Grillmarkadurinn) and The Sea Bar (Sjávarbarinn).

The signature alcoholic beverage of choice in Iceland is Brennivín. This is a distilled wine, which is made from fermented grain or distilled potatoes and flavoured with either caraway seeds or angelica. Its potency is such that it has earned the nickname 'Black Death'.

Economy and culture

Until the early 20th Century, the population of the island was seen to rely on fishing and agriculture and the country was one of the poorest and least developed in the world. In the years after World War II, industrialisation brought prosperity and by the 21st century, Iceland has become one of the wealthiest and developed.

Economically speaking, it is a country known for its independence and self-sufficiency. There is widespread availability of geothermal power and the harnessing of many rivers and waterfalls for hydroelectricity is widespread.

This widespread reliance on renewable resources, in addition to a low population density and a high level of environmental consciousness, ensures that pollution remains at a very low level in Iceland.

Tourism plays a key role in the economy of Iceland and the island receives around 1.1 million visitors annually. This is a sector which is also showing rapid expansion, particularly in the areas of ecotourism and whale watching.

Icelandic culture finds its foundation from the nation's Norse heritage with most native Icelanders being descendants of Norse and Gaelic settlers, who can be traced back as far as AD 874. Centuries of isolation have helped to insulate the country's Nordic culture from external influence - one example of this is the Icelandic language, the only living language to retain the use of the runic letter Þ in its writing.

Icelanders, on the whole, are known for their deep sense of community with a reinforced sense of the importance of unity and cooperation. This high level of social cohesion is attributed to the small size and homogeneity of the population, in addition to an enduring history of survival in a harsh and isolated environment.

Image credit: Iceland Pro Travel and THORIR, Visit Iceland

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