Travel, Currency and Money saving tips for Iceland
An underpopulated island marooned near the top of the globe, Iceland is, literally, a country in the making. It's a vast volcanic laboratory where mighty forces shape the earth: geysers gush, mudpots gloop, ice-covered volcanoes rumble and glaciers cut great pathways through the mountains. Don't for a minute think it's all about the great outdoors. The counterpoint to so much natural beauty is found in Iceland's cultural life, which celebrates a literary legacy that stretches from medieval sagas to contemporary thrillers by way of Nobel Prize winners. Live music is everywhere, as is visual art, handicrafts and locavore cuisine.
What currency is used in Iceland?
The unit of currency used in Iceland is the Icelandic krona, ISK – Íslensk króna in Icelandic. Króna means crown, the international currency abbreviation is ISK, but in Iceland you will see “kr.” All banks can exchange currency and most hotels, but you are likely to get a better rate at the bank. Some shops catering to tourists will accept payment in US dollars or euro but not necessarily at the best rate. Almost every shop and most businesses accept Visa and MasterCard credit cards although American Express is not as common.
Cards are commonly used in Iceland even for quite small transactions. However, if you intend to visit isolated villages, or stay in rural farmhouse accommodation in Iceland, it’s a good idea to carry enough cash to tide you over. ATMs – Hraðbanki in Icelandic, or Cash Points, are easily found in cities and towns. It is best to exchange your money into ISK in Iceland, and re-exchange any surplus before you leave, as foreign banks may not deal in ISK.
How to get around in Iceland?
Iceland has an extensive network of domestic flights, which locals use almost like buses. In winter a flight can be the only way to get between destinations, but weather at this time of year can play havoc with schedules. Several year-round ferries operate in Iceland. Major routes all carry vehicles, but it's worthwhile booking ahead for car passage. There is no train network in Iceland.
Having your own wheels in Iceland is a wonderful treat: it allows you to roam the grand countryside at your leisure. Always prepare before setting out: investigate driving times and road conditions (via the Icelandic Road Administration, vegagerdin.is), weather forecasts, safety issues, and if you’re hiking, trail conditions and requirements. Ask locals, who will know the tricks and troubles of each place.
Know which roads are accessible in the type of vehicle you're driving. Beyond Iceland’s main Ring Road (Route 1), fingers of sealed road or gravel stretch out to most communities, until you reach the F Roads, bumpy tracks only passable by 4WD. F roads are truly unsafe for small cars. If you travel on them in a hired 2WD you invalidate your insurance. Steer clear, hire a 4WD, or take a 4WD bus or super-Jeep tour. Similarly, trying to ford a river in a 2WD vehicle or low-slung 4WD is asking for trouble. Never drive off-road. It’s illegal and incredibly damaging to the fragile environment. Cavalier tourists leave tracks where they’ve flouted the rule, and those tracks entice others to do the same. Even with a 4WD, stick to marked roads.
Travel tips for Iceland.
Icelandic is the official language and can be very difficult. Fortunately, as with most Scandinavian countries, English is spoken widely and often very well. Be prepared with a few Icelandic phrases to win the locals over but they will be more than happy to help if they can.
Office hours are generally 09:00-17:00 and 08:00-16:00 during June, July and August. Shopping hours are Mon-Fri 09:00-18:00, Sat from 10:00 to 13:00/14:00/15:00 or 16:00. Some supermarkets are open to 23:00 seven days a week. Banking hours are Mon-Fri 09:00-16:00.
A large portion of Iceland's road system is made up of gravel roads, even some of the main highways, and more so as you get further away from Reykjavik and larger towns. The main highway around Iceland, Route 1, or Ring Road, circumnavigates Iceland in 1,332 kilometres of which 33 km is dirt road. Most of the population lives in or around Reykjavik so the further you get from the capital the less traffic you'll meet.