Updated: Jun 6, 2019
In Part 2 we look at 10 things you need to know before your trip along with some important travel tips to help you plan your trip better and have a wonderful experience in Iceland :)
Situated remotely in the North Atlantic Ocean, Iceland is a place of unprecedented beauty and rugged landscapes. Natural Hot Springs, countless waterfalls, huge glaciers , picturesque mountains and the occasional Northern Lights has made Iceland one of the most popular destinations in the world!
In this post we will look at 10 important things you need to know before your trip to Iceland. I hope that this post will help you in getting prepared for your trip to Iceland so that there are no surprises :)
1. NOT EVERYTHING CAN BE COVERED IN 4/5 DAYS
Iceland may look pretty small on a map but rest assured that there is so much to see in this tiny country that even a week long trip won't be enough to see everything! There is always something or the other to see at every bend that you will be stopping every 5 minutes to take a photo! So , my advice would be to not try and squeeze everything into a itinerary. Instead figure out which of the places you absolutely want to see and try ticking those off first, then if you have time check off the rest of them. Rushing to see everything will only make things worse and in the end you will end up frustrated with the entire trip and nobody wants that.
PRO TIP: If you just want to cover the main highlights of Iceland like the Golden Circle, South Coast and the Glacier Lagoons then I would suggest that 5-6 days should be enough. If you want to drive the complete ring road then I would recommend having at least 10-12 days time frame for your trip.
2. ICELAND IS EXPENSIVE
Iceland is a pretty expensive destination, no surprises here. From Hotels and Food to Gas and Car Rental everything in Iceland is expensive! You may be able to score a good deal on flights but that's about the luck you will get with cheap things when it comes to Iceland. However, having said that there are some ways you can lower your expenses while you are in Iceland. Let's look at those options:
Avoid staying at fancy hotels, instead go for Airbnb's or even Hostel beds if you are comfortable sleeping in a dorm. This will definitely help you save a lot of money when it comes to accommodations.
Eating in a hotel for one day might be okay, but don't make it a habit. Instead buy food/groceries or even ready made stuff from local supermarkets like Bonus so that you can save on eating. Restaurants are damn expensive in Iceland.
If you are planning on renting a Car then think about whether you will really need a 4x4 or if you could do without it. Small compact cars are definitely less expensive and you actually don't need 4x4's if you don't plan on driving on F-roads ( explained more below)
Take a look at various Tour options for the destinations you have in mind and then compare the price to renting a Car. Remember that in Iceland going with tour companies is actually not a bad idea since most of them are really good and provide the guests with a great experience!
Instead of visiting fancy shops and cafes try going for some local cafe's which are not only equally good but a lot cheaper than the other ones.
3. WEATHER IS NOT YOUR FRIEND ALWAYS :(
I can write at length about the weather in Iceland , but will keep it short for the purpose of this post. Weather in Iceland is completely unpredictable, there is no other way to put it. You can never really know what the next minute will look like and no this is not a fancy statement or joke, it really is the case in Iceland.
My very first day in Iceland, I was greeted with heavy rains and that really pissed me off! I even started cursing the weather gods for ruining my vacation. The next day I woke up really early as I felt something really strong and glaring falling on my eyes. It was the SUN! After that, it was the same sunny weather for the remainder of the trip:) .
My guide told me repeatedly that I had no idea how lucky I was and after hearing countless other stories where people couldn't do things because of bad weather I understood what he really meant! So, the lesson here is that don't judge the weather! If you get one day with good weather, just enjoy that day and moment and always be prepared for any weather condition.
PRO TIP: Don't let the weather dampen your spirits and also don't let weather forecasts change your plans. Those things are NOT always true. I have seen weather forecasts even go wrong hours before the actual day!
4. RENTING A CAR - BE VARY OF ROAD CONDITIONS
If you are going to rent a car in Iceland then make sure you read this thoroughly! Renting a Car in Iceland is not as easy as one would think it is! You have to be vary of which type of Car you are renting and what type of roads you will be driving in! The condition of Iceland's roads vary greatly from perfect concrete roads to gravel roads and F roads filled with rocks and sometimes involves crossing a river!
Below you will find some important things to remember and take care of if you are renting a car in Iceland:
Never drive off-road. It’s illegal and incredibly damaging to the fragile environment!
Don't drive too fast or else you will end up paying (no pun intended!).
Speeding tickets in Iceland are really expensive (~1000 euros), so make sure you follow the speed signs.
On the highways its usually 90 km/h.
Gas is expensive in Iceland, so make sure that if you are planning to rent a car you factor that expense as well into your account.
If you go through TripAdvisor, you will come across several car rental horror stories and some of them might even stop you from ever renting a car here in Iceland. Now though some of those stories can be true, there is most likely more to it then what meets the eye! People tend to share negative experiences more frequently than positive ones and that can also contribute to all those negative stories.
5. TAKING A GUIDED TOUR IS NOT A BAD OPTION
Tourism in Iceland has grown enormously in the last few years and the best indication of that is the amount of tourist companies that have cropped up over the years! Now I know many of you are of the opinion that renting a car is always the way to go, but I am here to tell you that in Iceland taking a guided tour is actually not a bad option! And one of the reasons I say that is the exceptional service and quality provided by most of these tours. In both my visits to Iceland I never rented a car and always went on guided minibus tours and to be honest , I didn't regret it at all! I was completely satisfied with all the tour companies I went with and have no complaints whatsoever
For a recommended list of tour operators please refer to my post on the places to see in Iceland where I have mentioned the recommended tour agencies for each of those places.
PRO TIP: I would recommend you go with the small minibus tours rather than the big bus tours. The big ones accommodate almost 40-50 passengers so you will never have the feeling of being in a guided tour, on the contrary the small ones usually have around 10-12 passengers and you get to interact closely with the local guides and understand the Icelandic culture better.For more details on which tour companies I would recommend , check out my other blog here.
6. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SUMMER!
At least this is what I felt when I was in Iceland! I went there for a few days in June and believe me it did not feel like summer for one minute. Basically Iceland has a moderate climate all year around so my advice would be to pack well, dress appropriately and include enough layers of clothing even while traveling in Summer. If you forget you can still buy good warm clothes at the local stores like Ice wear and 66°North but that is definitely going to set you back a couple hundred bucks!
PRO TIP: If you will be traveling in Summer be ready for constant daylight throughout the day. Most hotels will have dark shades and curtains to block the light but still it is a good thing to bring your eye-mask just in case!
7. IF POSSIBLE AVOID THE BLUE LAGOON
I am pretty sure when you started researching about things to do in Iceland, Blue Lagoon would have popped up in those searches. Now although the lagoon may look tempting, it really isn't worth paying all that money to visiting something that is not even Natural in the first place. Yes that's right! , the Blue Lagoon is basically just a man made pool and a tourist trap if not anything! I must admit that when I first went there I also fell into this trap but then realized that there are many other natural Geothermal spas in Iceland that are way better and less expensive compared to the Blue Lagoon.
8. NO NEED TO BUY BOTTLED WATER
The tap water in Iceland is as clean as the bottled water you get in supermarkets and other stores, so save yourself the money and avoid buying water bottles. Save your money and spare the environment by using a refillable water bottle instead of stocking up on bottled water.
PRO TIP: Most of the restaurants in Iceland don't charge you for a glass of water :)