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Iceland - Travel and visas
All travellers must have a valid passport that expires three months after the intended date of departure with at least two blank pages for entry and exit stamps. Visitors from the UK, Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand who are travelling on holiday or business for 90 days or less do not require a visa. For longer periods, you must apply for a visa with the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration. Visas are issued to individuals as tourists, for family visits, official business, commercial business and as students.
Iceland is part of the Schengen Agreement, which means visitors from Schengen countries do not require a passport, and those visitors requiring a visa must apply for a Schengen visa. In countries without an Icelandic embassy or consulate, visa applications are typically accepted at the embassies of Denmark or Norway. For the latest information and for any questions, check out the website for Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Flying to Iceland is the simplest and cheapest part of the journey. Few travellers realise that Icelandair is the longest-running transatlantic airline still in operation today (since 1937). With Keflavík as its hub, Icelandair services 33 destinations in North America and Europe. From Europe, the flight is about 2–3 hours; from the east coast of North America the flight lasts 4–5 hours.
British Airways flies direct from London Gatwick to Keflavík, and SAS flies direct from Oslo to Keflavík. Travellers can also fly to Iceland from the Faroe Islands or Greenland. Air Iceland offers a regular service to Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands, and to Kulusuk, Narsarsuaq, and Nuuk in Greenland.
Nothing compares to catching your first glimpse of Iceland from the sea. The first Viking to spot Iceland sailed in to the East Fjords, and today the tradition
continues. Smyril Line is the Faroese shipping company that operates the ferry Norröna with a service to Iceland. Most travellers go by boat in order to bring their own caravan, car, 4x4, motorcycle or bicycle. Taking your own vehicle to Iceland can save you a pile of money. Paying for passage and cabin space on a ferry, even with the option of an extra stay in the Faroe Islands, is still cheaper than renting something in Iceland. The Norröna crosses the North Sea between the ports of Hirtshals (Denmark), Tórshavn (Faroe Islands), and Seyðisfjörður (Iceland).
Flying is the very best way to see Iceland’s marvellous landscapes. With so few roads and such massive wilderness, a flight can show you what you cannot see on your own (so always request a window seat). Air Iceland is the country’s main airline, with regular flights between Reykjavík and Ísafjörður, Egilsstaðir, the Westmann Islands, and Akureyri, and from Akureyri to Grímsey, Egilsstaðir, Thórshöfn, and Vopnafjörður. Air Iceland also operates a number of ‘action-packed day tours’ from Reykjavík. These are short, intense excursions that normally entail a 1–2-hour flight to a distant corner of Iceland and a day of activities such as kayaking, birdand whale-watching, or touring natural reserves. If your time is limited, these are a great experience.
Driving in Iceland offers total freedom and is one of the most extensive means of travel in the country. Iceland has a car culture, so travellers who aren’t driving often feel stranded or limited. So much of what there is to see and do in Iceland is only accessible on wheels, and without a car, travellers must resort to ‘public transport’ and overpriced tour operators.
In Reykjavík, a trusted supply of cars meets a significant demand for renting them. Local companies sometimes offer better deals, while international companies may offer several different offices, allowing a pickup or drop-off in another location (eg: facilitating travel between Reykjavík and the airport in Keflavík). Any companies located outside the city centre will also usually offer free pickups/drop-offs at your hotel. It pays to shop around, as special offers are a way of life.
In principle, an extensive bus network covers the whole of Iceland. BSÍ is the national bus station in Reykjavík and the starting point for most journeys. There is no national bus line per se, but rather a loose configuration of private bus companies that appear to align their schedules (not unlike the British rail system). That means coordinating long-distance trips and complex, multi-day itineraries can be a small headache. To make it easier, travellers are offered a series of convenient bus ‘passports’ that allow for unlimited transport over a specific period of time (one to four weeks) over a particular region or the whole country. You can also purchase discounted passes like the full circle passport, which allows unlimited summer travel (June–September) on the ring road as long as you keep moving in the same direction (no backtracking).
One could argue that Icelanders fare better in boats than they do in cars. Quoting the Icelandic Coast Guard (‘half our homeland is the sea’), going by boat lets you see the other half of the country. Main ferries include the Westmann Islands, Grímsey, and Breiðafjörður, as well as the boat to Hornstrandir. Smaller boat tours (whale-watching, island excursions) are also widespread.
Icelanders have been exploring their country by horse for the last 1,100 years. The animal is such a part of the landscape that some would say that horseback is the only way to go. The fact is that horses can go where no-one else can. That’s why horseriding tours across the interior are ideal.