Iceland is a major tourism hotspot right now. In 2015, over a million people came to Iceland — which has just over 300,000 permanent residents.
Because Iceland is such a popular destination, I get asked a lot of questions. Below are a few questions I’ve been asked about Iceland and responses based on my experiences living here.
When Can I See the Northern Lights?
I get asked this question a lot. But contrary to what many people think, the Northern Lights are not visible every day (not even most days) and can be elusive to find.
For starters, you can only see the Northern Lights when it’s dark so that rules out the summer due to the perma-daylight. The prime light-viewing months are said to be October through April, with the deep winter months being the best. However, the lights were particularly great during October this year and were only out once in November.
It also has to be clear for the lights to be visible, so rainy and cloudy nights (which are many) are a bust. Additionally, while you can see the lights when you’re in Reykjavik, they’re much clearer when you’re away from the city light pollution.
The Icelandic Meteorological Office offers a lights forecast, so you can predict the best night for viewing. There are also Facebook groups where people post when the lights are active.
Where Can I Bathe in a Hot Spring?
Before you get too excited, know that you can’t just jump in to most hot springs, which are scalding hot. However, one good one (that requires a small hike) is Reykjadalur.
Many hot springs have also been channeled into man-made pools, which I highly recommend. These are much better temperature-wise and they exist in a variety of forms and locations. Some are pretty remote, while others are not too far off of the beaten track.
More luxurious options exist too, such as the Blue Lagoon or Myvatn Nature Baths. My personal favorite is Fontana. It’s smaller than the other two, but there’s a nice variety of pools and saunas to steam in. Fontana is also on a lake, which has hot springs in it. You can walk right out to these, but be careful not to get too close — they’re REALLY hot.
I’ve Heard There Are No Trees in Iceland. Is This True?
No, it is not! There are definitely trees here — albeit not that many. In fact, you may have heard this popular Icelandic joke:
“What do you do if you get lost in the Icelandic forest?” “Stand up!”
I will say that the landscape is mostly devoid of trees and you will not see big deciduous forests in Iceland. However, there are small coniferous forests and a variety of shrubs in some areas, which tend to be quite lovely and full of walking paths.
So yes, there are trees here, just not huge forests with a variety of tall trees.
Are There Active Volcanoes in Iceland?
Yep! There are many active volcanoes in Iceland.
You can even hike up the volcano in the Westman Islands, which is called Eldfell (fire mountain). You can also go on a tour inside a volcano.
So while there probably won’t be an active eruption while you’re here, there are plenty of opportunities to learn about volcanoes and get up close to them.
What Animals Live in Iceland?
Wild land mammals include foxes, rabbits, and some reindeer in East Iceland.
There are also a variety of birds, fish, and sea animals, and whale and puffin watching are popular. If you want to go whale watching, the tours that see the most whales seem to be those operating out of North Iceland, particularly Húsavík.
The most abundant animal you’ll see dotting the Icelandic landscape are sheep, followed by horses. There are actually more sheep here than people, so you’ll see a lot of them all over the island. What’s more, there’s one kind of most domestic animals here: Icelandic.
You can import dogs and cats to Iceland — after they go through a quarantine — but no other domestic livestock species are allowed. And once a horse leaves Iceland, it can never return.
Is the Bus Easy to Use?
The bus is relatively easy to use, especially if you’re familiar with bus systems in general.
Bus fare in Reykjavik costs 420 kronur, which is about $3.75 in U.S. dollars. Just be aware that the drivers don’t provide change, so carry coins or purchase tickets ahead of time.
Where Can I See Icelandic Horses in Iceland?
Everywhere! They are literally all over and you will seem them right from your car when driving in Iceland. Icelandic horses are friendly and very happy to meet you, but remember to respect people’s property — do not trespass or climb over fences into pastures.
If you want to truly experience the Icelandic horse, I recommend going on a riding tour or visiting Fákasel Horse Park. The park features an educational show about the horses and you can visit them up close and in person afterward.
If you opt for the riding tour, choose a company that features small or custom groups. These are a bit more expensive but completely worth it, as the guides take the time to choose a horse that is a good fit for you. They will also help you much more with the riding, educate you about the horse, and maybe even feed you a snack afterward.
In the Reykjavik area, I personally recommend Viking Horse Tours or Hraunhestar.
Do you have any questions about Iceland? Feel free to post them in the comments!