Since we’ve returned from Iceland a lot of people have asked us a variety of questions about our trip, the country, logistics, etc., so I thought I would capture my thoughts in one place.
This island country is so unique and there are definitely some unexpected things that you come across that I think are good to know about before you go.
Take the time, stay longer, and drive around the whole island. It’s so worth it to get out of the main city of Reykjavik and experience the more remote areas and the small towns. Plus, you see such a variety of scenery by driving around the country. We had two weeks to explore and that was just right.
Driving in Iceland is a different experience. The main Route 1 (Ring Road) around the country is only one lane each direction, narrow, and there’s not much shoulder and not many places to pull off the road. And, there are something like 130 single lane bridges on the Ring Road. And, sometimes the asphalt turns to gravel suddenly. So you need to be comfortable driving in these conditions and really focusing as you do so. When coming to a single lane bridge, the only rule is: whomever gets there first gets to go on the bridge! Some of them are really long too, so it’s tough to see if a car has already entered the bridge. Also, they have many speed trap cameras along the way! Purchasing gas cards at the beginning of the trip made for quick and easy transactions at the pumps. Oh – and get the GPS option on your rental car. It seems like a no-brainer, but we were flagged down by tourists who were going by a paper map and were completely lost. We lived by the GPS, especially since using our phones would have eaten up too much data.
Get the gravel insurance on your rental car! There were so many times that we were on gravel roads and pieces were kicking up that we were thankful we got the extra insurance for that. They also offered ash insurance, but we figured that if we are in a situation where ash is a concern, we have bigger problems than our car insurance 😉
Invest in a quality coat, and waterproof outer layers. My Eddie Bauer down coat became my best friend. I have seriously never worn a furred hood for so much consecutive time in my entire life – and purely for function, not fashion! You need a coat that will cut the wind and keep you warm – the wind is bone chilling and frequent. And we had waterproof pants (love the Kuhl brand) and also several different weights of base layers, and waterproof hiking shoes. All of this made for hiking and sight seeing in warm and dry comfort.
Yes, the Blue Lagoon is worth it. Touristy? Yes. Incredibly unique and lovely experience? Absolutely. A visit to Iceland really should include the Blue Lagoon, and it’s very easy to get to because it’s close to the airport, and only 40min. from Reykjavik. It’s just other-worldly to be in the milky blue hot water, surrounded by black lava stone, with white silica mud squishing between your toes. And the place is HUGE. Plenty of room to spread out and get away from the crowds. Plus – silica mud masks and swim up bar. Enough said. (note: the cranes in the background in photo below are from the construction of their new hotel)
Holy crap, EVERYTHING is expensive. I guess because they are a remote island nation, importing most goods is very pricey. Well, you feel that with everything you purchase. For example: a paperback Harry Potter book in a normal bookstore in a small town: $35. A 750ml of Absolut Vodka: $55. Typical lunch entrée: $20-25. You definitely want to take advantage of the sales tax refund you can get at the airport at the end of your trip. We were advised to buy any hard liquor at the duty free shop at the airport when we arrived. SO glad we did. Note: their currency is the Icelandic Krona.
Take advantage of geothermal hot springs every chance you get. The Icelandic people know how to keep their spirits up during those long, cold months. And I’m not referring to liquor (too expensive to buy much!). They are really adept at harnessing Mother Nature’s power and relaxing in geothermally heated water. If you can stay at rental houses with geothermal ‘hot pots’, or visit local pools – do it. Nothing eases the cold you felt all day while out and about like a good hot soak.
Plastic is King. It’s credit cards all the way for transactions. It seems cash is rarely used. Cards are just expected.
Eat a hot dog! Try the local beer! Their hot dogs are famous – I guess because they are one of the only cheap food items you can find and well, they ARE good! They are a mix of lamb, pork and beef and are not junked up with unnatural ingredients. And the local beers are good; Todd embraced several breweries including Viking, Einstok and Gull.
The West Fjords and the Highlands (island interior) are not accessible until the summer. We thought we might be able to drive through the West Fjords in April, but no dice, it was still snowed in and too dangerous. The West Fjords are known for their stunning cliff-to-sea fjords, abundant bird life and uninhabited areas. During the summer, you can drive further inland to the Highlands and do glacier tours and ice cave tours.
The locals DO NOT eat Puffin or Whale and neither should you. Bad form. Insensitive. Oblivious. Environmentally irresponsible. Just, don’t.
Inhale that pure air and drink that pristine tap water every chance you get!
Thanks for reading! Happy travels.