What are the best mobile applications to download before travelling to Iceland? What are the handiest apps for finding nearby attractions, bars or ATM machines? Which apps allow you to keep track of your flight, taxi cabs or Iceland’s bus system? Read on to find out the most helpful applications you can download for your upcoming trip to Iceland.
Consider for a moment how the tourism industry once worked prior to the invention of the internet... chances are, your memories consist largely of meeting the only known link between yourself and a prospective destination; I talk, of course, of your local travel agent.
It was a time when travel agents reigned supreme, spinning holiday packages, sorting the best deals, relying on your trust and your expenditure to make your dream a reality.
Unfortunately for travel agents, this is no longer the world we live in. With the advent of the internet, tourism has blossomed into a form quite unlike what anyone could have expected; in 2018, we see an all-inclusive market that puts the tourist directly in charge of their own experience, allowing for customisation, flexibility and constant modification, all from the comfort of one's home.
When it comes to taking a trip abroad in our modern, digital era, tech-savvy travellers have long known the benefits of pre-downloading travel applications to their handheld device. Designed to alleviate the holiday maker of stress and confusion, travel apps are one of the surest ways to keep organised throughout your trip, collating all of your essential information and documentation straight into the palm of your hand.
Not only has technology allowed us to access information quickly, it has also made our lives as travellers all the more efficient; from E-tickets to booking a shuttle, our teeny-tiny computers have not only brought us closer to the world but brought the world closer to us, revolutionising the very way we choose to explore our planet.
Obviously, there are a number of apps that we use every day that are undeniably useful for travelling abroad. For instance, apps such as Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and Instagram all provide a means of communication, allowing you to contact friends and family back home and keep them updated on your adventures. Likewise, Google Maps is your faithful friend, especially somewhere like Iceland where the road names often extend beyond the ten letter mark.
Aside from these self-evident, daily tools, there are a number of apps that have been designed specifically for those travelling to Iceland, providing the most relevant and up-to-date information on the country’s weather, public services and attractions.
These Iceland-specific apps are what we have chosen for our primary list, though you will find a section at the bottom of this article that deals with other applications you may find useful during your stay.
Iceland's name is somewhat deceptive, putting prospective travellers in mind of a glacial wasteland reminiscent of Alaska, the Poles or even Greenland. In truth, the spring and summer months see Iceland a far warmer country than many expect, offering up the perfect balance to the dark and cruel winter period.
Given the polarity of the conditions here, one of the most important factors to keep in mind before and during your stay in Iceland is simply understanding just how notorious the weather can be. It's all a matter of awareness. Being so will keep you one step ahead, allowing you the chance to modify your plans should the conditions require it.
With that in mind, it’s always wise to keep track of what the skies are up to given that a storm or heavy bout of snow may easily disrupt your plans. There’s an old Icelandic saying, “If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait five minutes”—sometimes, however, five minutes wait is just too long, especially when an accurate prediction can be found, within seconds, at the flick of a wrist.
Managed by Veðurstofa Íslands (The Icelandic Meteorological Office), Veður is Iceland’s go-to weather application. The app delivers real-time facts and figures on the island’s weather conditions, as well as rolling data, news, weather predictions and hazard warnings.
Aside from providing details such as these, the Icelandic Meteorological Office also works closely with the emergency services to provide care and manpower in the event of an avalanche, earthquake or sea-related accident.
As a public institution, the Icelandic Meteorological Office was established January 20th, 1920 to provide weather information to the country’s population and to further research in meteorology.
Today, the institution's website is an excellent source of in-depth information relating to the study of weather. Enthusiastic meteorologists could spend hours poring through the many scholarly articles on climatology, hydrology, pollution, earthquakes and avalanches.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Jóhann Heiðar Árnason
Strætó is the companion app to Iceland’s city bus system and is one of the handiest tools for both permanent residents and visiting tourists. Strætó is derived from the longer Icelandic word, "strætisvagn", the literal English translation of which is "street car."
The app allows you to explore and plan the most efficient routes from a customised map, as well as book multiple tickets in advance, thus simplifying the commuting process. The app even persuades you to sign up for a monthly subscription, allowing you to avoid paying high sums each time you ride.
Getting to grips with Iceland’s bus system takes time and attention, especially for those with little to no understanding of Icelandic (the street names regularly surpass ten characters.)
The Strætó app attempts to simplify this and is available in English, Icelandic, Danish and Polish. The app covers all areas of Iceland where the bus service operates, including the Capital Region, the entirety of the south coast—from Reykjavík to Höfn í Hornafirði—and the northern and western regions of the country.
Considering the state of many of the world’s bus systems, it is a pleasure to state that Reykjavík’s is reliable, well-maintained and clean. From 2018, the bus service will also be extending its hours of operation, finishing at 1 am on a weekday (subject to approval from the municipal councils). This will be of particular delight to residents of Kópavogur, who have often been routinely swayed into spending a jaw-dropping 5000 ISK just for a taxi ride home.
Boozers rejoice! Appy Hour may very well be one of the most important apps during your stay in Iceland, listing the locations and prices of the city’s many happy hours and saving you a pretty penny in the meantime. Thankfully, Reykjavík is known for its daily period of wet financial respite, offering the city’s patrons a few hours to enjoy a few leisurely pints without spending the entire holiday budget.
Appy Hour is managed by Reykjavík’s only English language newspaper and magazine, The Reykjavík Grapevine, a publication you can be sure has their pulse on the city’s drinking culture (...journalists, and all...). The Reykjavík Grapevine also operates two other apps, Craving, which lists nearby restaurants through your phone’s GPS, and Appening, which lists nearby music performances.
To make it clear, "Happy Hour" in Reykjavík actually means at least a few hours of discounted drinks, usually from around 04.00 PM to 07.00 PM. Happy hour sees prices roughly cut in half, depending on how sophisticated you wish to go; one can expect a pint or glass of wine to go for around 650 ISK at discount, and 1300 ISK at full price.
The longest happy hour period in the city is offered by the local favourite, Bravo (11.00 AM to 10.00 PM), a popular bar found along Reykjavík's main thoroughfare, Laugavegur.
Interestingly enough, Iceland has historically had a tempestuous relationship with alcohol, particularly beer, which was banned for the greater part of the twentieth century due to its unpatriotic nature (beer was considered a Danish beverage). Restrictions on beer were lifted on 1st March 1989; the date is now considered "Beer Day" by Icelanders and is celebrated annually with festivals around the country.
Even today, however, alcohol is still nowhere to be found in corner stores or supermarkets; to guarantee you get your hands on some tipple, you will need to make your purchases in the city's bars and restaurants, Keflavik's duty-free or the state-owned liquor store, Vínbúðin.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Dickenbers
112 Iceland is the application for the Icelandic Emergency Services, a necessary download for all serious and respectful travellers to the country. In short, the Police, fire and ambulance services are all available at the click of a finger, maximising one's precious time in an emergency situation.
The app has two major functions. Users will first see a large RED button which, if pressed, will send your GPS location directly to the 112 response centre. 112 advises that, if necessary, one should click this button regardless of whether or not your phone displays any signal. Even though you may not be able to make a call, there might be enough signal to send a text message.
The app's second function can be utilised by clicking the GREEN button marked with the words 'Check In'. This is a security feature, sending your location into the emergency services database to ensure they have the most information available should anything happen.
Users are urged to use this feature liberally; the computer database only stores the last five locations in which you checked in, creating a temporary backup that might alleviate any personal anxieties.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Kjallakr
On the other end of the spectrum, you may be one of those people who believe that you, personally, won't need this application. After all, what could possibly befall you that might require the attention of the emergency services? What's really the worst that can happen?
Well, over recent months, Iceland has seen: glacial flooding in the east, a troupe of Boy Scouts stranded in the middle of a rushing river, a series of beached whale pods, the grisly murder of an innocent lamb and a prison assault. Though that may not sound like a whole heap of danger, each incident was aided by Iceland's emergency services.
There are no two ways about it; Iceland is a particularly dangerous country, especially in regards to the wide-open space, challenging conditions and small population. Quite often, one can spend hours out in the countryside without seeing another living soul. If a situation were to arise, 112 is an application you may spend the rest of your life being thankful for.
One of Iceland’s biggest attractions is the chance to see the rare solar phenomena, the Northern Lights, otherwise known as the Aurora Borealis. Appearing only in the winter months when the nights (and days) are long and clear, the Northern Lights attract visitors from around the world, offering the unique opportunity to witness the green, yellow, red and purple light, shimmering majestically across the sky.
This application offers a number of interesting features to suit both tourists and serious aurora hunters. One of the major features is the world map, showing where aurora activity is at its strongest around the planet. The application will also send push notifications when the northern lights are expected to appear, readying you for any sudden opportunity to catch them.
There is also a large amount of data to explore relating to solar wind activity and sun imagery, and hourly forecast predictions that may help you better organise your nightly excursions. On top of that, one can read about tour information for such countries as Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Canada and Alaska.
Still, even with the app, there is no telling for sure when the Northern Lights will make an appearance, though all of the information is readily available for you to make an informed decision as to when to set out.
Again, considering Iceland’s aptitude for unreliable weather, it is sensible to be aware that flights to and from the country are often cancelled should the conditions prove unsafe.
Even if the flights themselves are not cancelled, a delay or setback of some kind is still a possible outcome. And if there's one thing that can dampen the holiday spirit like nothing else, it's wasting precious time sitting around in an airport.
One surefire way of easing your worries as is to download the Flight Aware flight tracker app. Particularly useful during Iceland's unpredictable winter season, Flight Aware allows you to track flights by their aircraft registration, airline, city pair, flight number or airport code. The data received shows full flight information, the aircraft's route on an interactive map and any diversions or gate changes that may have occurred.
This interactive map is particularly engaging on its own. Flicking through the app for little more than a few minutes, one will immediately find the pleasure in seeing the planet's flights in real time. For those users in the United States and Canada, the app even allows for tracking civil aviation and private charters, giving you full scope over what's happening in the airspace above.
Have you ever been driving merrily down the road when you've happened upon a traffic sign that stumps you? Fear not, for the Iceland Road Guide app is here to bring you up to speed, offering a full encyclopedia as to what each sign means and how you should act accordingly.
There is a lot of information out there regarding how to drive to Iceland. However, driving can be challenging at the best of times and is quite a different experience to simply researching it on the computer. By keeping your mobile handy—though not too handy (driving whilst on your mobile is illegal in Iceland)—you can keep aware as to the hazards whilst journeying the country.
One aspect that is often left to the wayside is how to read Icelandic road signs. Iceland has a number of road signs that are foreign to visitors to the island, often leaving them confused and, at certain times, unaware on the nation’s roads.
This is one of the major ways that road deaths occur, and so it is imperative that you at least have a solid grounding of the road rules in Iceland. The Iceland Road Guide app is perfectly suited to filling in these mental blanks, giving simple answers to some of the more potent driving-related questions.
The app also provides a wealth of information on Iceland itself, with GPS markers showing over 3000 of the country's major natural attractions. You can also read about the various activities available to you along the way, including horse riding, glacier hiking, bird and whale watching and hot spring hunting.
Iceland’s tourism boom is, in large part, due to the enormous number of cinematic and television productions that have chosen to use the island’s majestic and dramatic nature as a shooting location.
Thanks to excellent financial incentives and a budding domestic industry, Iceland has become something of a 'Nordic Hollywood' over recent years, attracting some of the biggest production studios and talent from across the world.
From Game of Thrones to Oblivion, the rugged shorelines, cragged mountain-scapes and desolate meadows of Iceland have all served as a fantastical stage for Hollywood and European productions. It should come as no surprise then that visitors to Iceland are often eager to experience these otherworldly locations for themselves, hence the ever-growing number of tour operators offering 'Movie Location' day trips.
As part of the Iceland Film Locations app, users can while away hours flicking through the various photographs, video clips, trivia facts and customised maps that paint a picture of Iceland as a prime shooting location. The app uses GPS technology to pinpoint film locations in the user's vicinity.
There are also two self-walking tours included within the app; The Reykjavík City Centre Tour and The Reykjanes Film Locations Tour. The first will take you directly to locations from such Icelandic films as Angels of the Universe (2000) and The Hullabaloo (2010). The Reykjanes tour will take you to locations from pictures like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) and Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
For an idea as to the extent of Iceland's newfound place in the world of cinema, you will find a list below of the most important international productions that have been shot here over the last three years.
Before visiting Iceland, why not take the time to watch a few of the domestic films that have been made here over the last half-century? Iceland has produced a number of talented and committed filmmakers who have contributed enormously to the world of international cinema. Amongst them, one could cite such directors as Hrafn Gunnlaugsson, Baltasar Kormákur, Guðný Halldórsdóttir, Dagur Kári and Friðrik Þór Friðriksson.
Amongst my personal recommendations are Hrafn's "When the Raven Flies" (1984)—the first film in his 'Raven Trilogy'—Dagur Kári's coming-of-age story "Noi the Albino" (2003) and Baltasar Kormákur's "101 Reykjavík" (2000), one of the best insights into the underground culture of Iceland's capital city.
The Icelandic software company, Locatify, recently released the app 'Þingvellir ' for iOS and Android, offering a handy guide for your time exploring the national park. The company was founded in 2009 by Steinunn Anna Gunnlaugsdóttir and Leifur Björn Björnsson.
The app uses GPS technology to provide audio-guided tours—available in English, German, Icelandic and Danish—as well as offline maps that display nearby hiking trails and points of interest. The app even has a treasure hunt game included, adding a further touch of fun to your time in Þingvellir. But just why is it that Þingvellir is so significant to the Icelandic people?
Þingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site found forty minutes drive from Reykjavík. The park makes up just one stop along the highly popular Golden Circle sightseeing route and, thus, is one of the most well-visited spots in the whole of Iceland. Aside from the area’s natural and unblemished beauty, Thingvellir is important to Icelanders for a number of reasons, ranging from its cultural history to its fascinating geological makeup.
First and foremost, Þingvellir is situated directly atop the Mid-Atlantic Rift; it is one of the only places on the planet where one can see both the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates standing exposed from the earth. The space between these two tectonic plates is characterised by dried volcanic meadows, covered with a thick blanket of fragile Icelandic Moss.
Secondly, Þingvellir is where the world’s first democratically elected parliament, the Althingi, was formed in 930 AD. Settlers from around Iceland once travelled weeks by foot and horseback to congregate at Þingvellir to hear the new laws and customs of the land. The law-speaker would stand below what is now known to be the North American plate, using it as a sounding board so that the huge crowds could hear his words clearly.
Third of all, Þingvellir National Park is home to the world-famous Silfra Fissure, regarded as one of the Top 10 scuba diving and snorkelling sites on the planet. Silfra is a glacial stream, the water inside having travelled for centuries from its origin point, Langjökull Glacier.
Throughout this journey down the region's underground and unexplored cave networks, the water is filtered and made crystal clear—on a good day, visibility in Silfra can reach up to 100 M. If you want to scuba dive in Silfra, you will need to have prior dry suit experience, a PADI Open Water certificate and be in good health.
WAPP is an application developed by hikers for hikers; amongst the applications, many features are on-and-offline trail maps, information on hike lengths and locations and even advice, both in English and Icelandic, on how to stay safe out there in their wilderness.
The app's development was financed through crowdfunding at Karolina Fund. Now fully implemented into the digital market, those using WAPP as their own handheld tour guide will have the possibility to explore and conquer new and unexpected trails.
Conceived of by Einar Skulason, an impassioned and lifelong hiker, WAPP was designed to connect visitors to the Icelandic nature. In his own words, Einar describes: "For 30 years it has been my main interest to explore the outdoors of Iceland. It‘s not only about reaching the destination, I need to know the stories connected to the area I’m travelling through."
"I was greatly inspired by my grandmother Hulda Þórisdóttir. She used to take me on long hikes along the beaches and the hillsides and she had countless stories to tell where nature was put in context including mystical stories about elves and hidden people that only gifted people can see."
There is a wide range of applications on the market that can be utilised fabulously whilst abroad, even though that may not have been the developer's original intention. Travelling, however, requires making the most of the tools we have available to us and considering the physical distances so inherent in travel, apps dedicated to communication and organisation take on a whole new importance.
Facebook Messenger; an application that almost every Facebook account holder has already downloaded. A basic messaging service connected to your Facebook profile, Messenger is one of the best ways to check in with loved ones back home. This is especially the case for solo travellers who may have family members quietly anxious about their travels.
Skype is a video messaging service, offering free face-to-face calls with any other Skype user on the planet. Skype is one of the better channels for a serious catch-up, allowing you to communicate naturally with loved ones. Seeing the faces of those you miss is one of the most therapeutic ways of dealing with the travelling blues, especially if you're on an extended trip. Skype is available for all handheld devices.
Kindle in app form brings the pleasure of reading directly from your handheld, meaning that, effectively, you can bring your entire library on holiday with you. Through Kindle and Amazon, bookworms can purchase or download for free a wealth of e-books in every genre. This comes in extremely useful for, say, learning basic Icelandic phrases or finding information from the same source.
Written by a real life ex-SAS serviceman, the SAS Survival Guide app will come in handy should you find yourself stranded and out of reach in the wild Icelandic nature. Alternatively, this app comes in handy for simply getting instructions on how to start a campfire, erect a tent or keep warm when the temperature begins to drop.
Though not enormously useful in the practical sense of the world, Instagram is one of the most enjoyable photo-sharing platforms available from your handheld. With a wide range of professional-looking filters to choose from, aspiring photographers can transform their snapshots into fantastic and captivating images.
And if there is one thing that Iceland is truly made for, it is photography. With dramatic and unique landscapes, ranging from waterfalls to mountainscapes to glaciers, the pictures taken here are almost always bound to blow the viewer away.
Where would we be without Google Maps? Quite frankly, I have no idea and would have no means of finding out. Thankfully, Google Maps not only exists, it has entirely transformed how we choose to navigate our planet.
Offering directions and alternative routes, users can utilise GPS to quickly find nearby locations, meaning that visitor's to a new city, for instance, could readily jump into exploring on foot without the need for guided tours or enormous visitor maps.
Getting used to the value of the Icelandic krona takes time, patience and, at the very least, an above-average ability in mental arithmetic. Given that one thousand krona is only just enough to, say, purchase a sandwich, working with greater values can quickly become confusing, and thus, a direct route to overspending.
One definitive way of avoiding having to do any mathematics whatsoever is to download the XE Currency Converter to your phone, making buying groceries and souvenirs a stress-free experience. Technology has long been at the stage to handle whichever currency you may be carrying and will make instant calculations to help aid your purchasing experience.
Duolingo is one of the most popular language apps available, turning the entire process of learning a foreign language into a game of rewards, personal records and timed trivia. Duolingo is all about levelling up; the higher level you reach, the wider the vocabulary and subjects are that are opened up to you. The app is 100% free and even incentivizes you to study every day, awarding bonus points every time you achieve a multi-day streak.
What apps did you find most helpful during your time in Iceland? Were there any applications you used that we didn't mention above? Make sure to leave your comments and queries below.