Know Before You Go: Iceland

Let’s just jump right in. Here are 26 things I think everyone should know before they go to Iceland.

1. YES. Iceland is worthy of all the hype. You should definitely go.

If you’re debating on going, let me just say that Iceland is magical and beautiful, and totally amazing. I firmly believe this destination is worthy of all the hype it has received in the past few years. If you are considering going, do it. If it’s not on your list, you need to add it pronto.

Höfn views

2. It may be cheap to get to there, but it’s actually a pretty pricey destination. However, it is possible to do a “budget” trip to Iceland.

The prices of food and accommodations will easily make up for that cheap WOW flight. But if you plan it smart, you can minimize these costs. We stayed at Airbnbs for the entire trip because they were considerably cheaper than hotels. Here’s my post on eating cheap in Iceland. And here’s my budget breakdown of our trip.

3. But most “attractions” are free!

That’s right! If you’re heading to Iceland for a vacation, you’re probably pretty outdoorsy, which means you’ll want to hike and experience all of Iceland’s glorious nature. There are a few paid attractions, but even these are reasonably priced.

Enjoying some elusive rays of sunshine on top of Skogafoss

4. Everyone speaks English.

Seriously, everyone. Young and old! We didn’t encounter one local who didn’t speak perfect English.

5. No cash necessary.

Iceland is pretty much a cashless society. You can swipe for pretty much everything!

6. Iceland is the safest country in the world!

No exaggeration. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

Our trusty Chevy Spark

7. Rent a car!

Renting a car allows for a wonderful freedom in exploring Iceland. I truly believe the best way to experience this country is through a good old fashioned roadtrip. Also, manual transmission cars are considerably cheaper than automatic. So much so that Matt and I just stuck with the manual to save a nice chunk of change to be spent elsewhere. Just make sure to check the mileage limit! We paid extra for unlimited mileage because we knew we would far surpass the limit.

8. No, you don’t need a 4×4 if you’re visiting in the non-snowy months.

We had a little Chevy Spark, it got us everywhere we needed to go with no problems. We didn’t have to go on any F roads to get to any of our destinations. Unless you’re doing some serious off the beaten path wilderness stuff, you’ll be fine without a 4×4. If you’re planning on sticking to the Golden Circle and the Ring Road, you’re fine to go with the cheapest rental choice, like we did.

Chances are something like this’ll be overkill for your Ring Road-trip…

9. Don’t feel obligated to pay for every extra insurance option they have for that rental car.

There’s insurance for this and that and everything you can think of and most of it’s not really necessary. If it gives you peace of mind, and you’re genuinely concerned, go for it. We opted not to and were totally fine. If you are going to opt for any additional coverage, go with the gravel road insurance if anything. A lot of the roads have lots of gravel and little rocks that can get kicked up by drivers who may fly by you carelessly.

10. But still be careful, and take care of your rental.

Watch those doors! Park away from other cars to avoid the wind throwing your doors into the neighboring car, and vice versa. On gravel roads, drive slowly to not throw rocks back up onto your car.

11. Keep an eye on that gas gauge and think ahead when you fill up.

Gas stations can be few and far between in Iceland. We had some pretty stressful miles when we were heading back to Reykjavik from Höfn. There was a long stretch with no gas stations in sight when our gas gauge was getting low. Luckily we rolled into Vik before it got too dire. Also, gas is pretty pricey, so be prepared for that!

12. Bring charging equipment and an auxiliary cable for your travels in the car.

It’s always good to be able to charge your electronics while you’re on the go, just in case. I was glad I brought an aux cable as well, since it enabled us to listen to music during our many hours in the car.

 

A wonderful street scene in Reykjavik

13. No need to tip.

It’s not customary to tip in Iceland. Service charges are included in the prices and sometimes you’ll even pay less for takeaway than sitting down.

14. The water will smell like eggs.

The hot water will sometimes smell like eggs/sulfur due to its geothermal origins. But don’t worry, the water won’t leave you smelling like eggs after your shower! The scent does not linger.

15. Icelandic words are impossible to pronounce.

I had a few people tell me that since I speak German, Icelandic would be easy for me. FALSE. Luckily the people in Iceland are so friendly and won’t make fun of you for slaughtering the pronunciation of their words, names, and places. They’re more than happy to help you figure out how to say Eyjafjallajökull, or maybe even Vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur! Yes, that’s a real word. Look it up. 

That’s a mouthful…

16. Alcohol is EXPENSIVE.

If you’re planning on going to Reykjavik to get your drink on every night, be prepared to spend a lot of money. Since I’m a beer snob, I was dying to try a local Icelandic brew. The cheapest option was to buy a single can from the liquor store, and even that cost me approximately $5. And it was absolutely terrible…

17. Be flexible with your plans.

Iceland can be unpredictable! Be flexible and always have a back up plan, or two! You may not be able to see the Northern Lights, even if you’re visiting during prime time. Just be prepared, because rarely do our trips pan out exactly as we’d like.

18. Even if you’re visiting in the summer, pack for all seasons.

We visited in mid to late May, and we experienced nearly every type of weather. There was rain. Then there were sunny days where we could walk around in a t-shirt and jeans. And mostly there were cold, windy days where we had to bundle up in layers upon layers. We even saw some snow in places.

This photo was taken at approximately 11:45pm

19. Remember, it’s called the Land of the Midnight Sun for a reason.

If you’re sensitive to light when trying to sleep, you may want to bring a sleeping mask. We were walking around Reykjavik at midnight and it was still perfectly light and bright outside. When the sun finally set, it would only be dark for 4-5 hours before it rose again. Vice versa, if you’re visiting in the winter, you may not have many hours of daylight to explore!

20. Best thing about Iceland? No bugs!

I literally only saw one spider and a dead fly. That’s it. This entire country is devoid of mosquitoes, making it my idea of heaven of earth.

21. It is so windy!

Y’ALL. It was so windy on Reynisfjara Beach it literally blew me over. Like one minute I was standing, then the next a giant gust of wind knocked me on butt. It ruined some great photo opps for me on the basalt columns too. And the walk out to plane wreck was miserable because we were walking against the wind the entire time.

Matt: [tries to take a cute candid shot] Wind: LOL NOPE

24. Chase those waterfalls!

Waterfalls are just so iconic Iceland, and they’re everywhere! Just make sure to wear a raincoat when you do, because you will get soaked!

25. Don’t feel like you have to “see it all” in one trip.

You can’t expect to see all a country has to offer in one visit. Iceland may look and feel small (seriously though, 6.75 Icelands could fit into the state of Texas…), but there is an insane amount to see. The more you try to pack your itinerary, the more time you spend in the car getting from place to place. Take it slow. Quality over quantity! I firmly believe Iceland needs to be experienced through at least two trips, one during warmer months and one during colder months. Matt and I plan to return one day for an October/November trip so we can experience the places and attractions we weren’t able to during our trip last May.

26. You will fall in love with Iceland, and probably start planning your next trip before you even leave.

I know we did (:

Skogafoss

Happy wanderlusting, friends!

8 Comments

  • Alexander Popkov

    Thanks for the post Katy. Living 5 years in Scandinavia I happen never to visit Iceland (what an idiot) . Well, I was saving the best for last 🙂 Next year we finally planned a trip. I thought I already know everything about the destination, but your post brought some new useful tips.
    Nice travels to you!

    September 27, 2017 at 5:35 pm Reply
    • aroundtheworldinkatydays

      Thanks! Happy travels to you as well!

      September 28, 2017 at 7:45 am Reply
  • Tori

    Ughhhh I’m so jealous!!! I want to go to Iceland SO BADLY.

    Tori
    http://www.mooretori.com

    September 28, 2017 at 7:31 pm Reply
  • LaShell

    No bugs?!?! I’m in! Definitely bookmarking this site. Great post!

    September 29, 2017 at 10:39 am Reply
  • Helen

    These are great tips! Iceland is definitely on my bucket list. It looks so beautiful

    September 30, 2017 at 4:06 pm Reply
  • Lauren

    We’ve been to Iceland a few times, this list is VERY accurate. If you buy alcohol at the airport when you land it’s much less expensive. We loved it there, this makes me want to go back!

    September 30, 2017 at 5:31 pm Reply
  • stephanie parrell

    I have been looking into a trip to Iceland for so long. This is a great guide and lots of good info. Renting a car seems like the only logical option. It is a bucket list spot for me 🙂

    October 2, 2017 at 8:14 am Reply
  • Jim

    I got to visit Iceland a few years ago, and all of these tips are spot on! Well done. I especially agree with Tip #1 – yes, you should totally go. 😉

    October 30, 2017 at 6:50 pm Reply
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