Quickly… name one of the hottest travel destinations of the moment?
That should be pretty easy to answer.
Iceland, of course!
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The increase of flying routes and cheap tickets have driven heaps and heaps of travelers to the island located in the northern area of the Atlantic Ocean.
From the US’s East Coast, you can fly to the island for under $400. From the West Coast, you can find deals for $600. With prices like that, who can resist such an enticing destination? Inexpensive fares have been a huge success. Airlines are opening flights from new cities as we speak. As a matter of fact, Chicago opened last week.
And, let’s not forget about the flying times. From the East Coast, we are talking about 5 hours. That is perfect for a long weekend gateway!
For people who are interested in visiting Europe, flying through Iceland is becoming a decent option too. If you sweeten the deal by saying you can do a stopover for free, then the fantasy of visiting a place that was once hard to reach becomes real.
That is exactly what I did during my last trip to Europe. We stopped in Iceland for three days before heading to the continent.
By default, this is the question that follows, is Iceland worth all the hype? Absolutely yes!
And then, we have this question, can you get a good grip on the island in such a short period of time? You bet!
Even though the number of visitors is increasing and information about the island is posted every second, I was stunned by the number of situations and circumstances I had to face.
Yes, I was shocked by certain aspects of Iceland. And, let me tell you, before my trip, I read two books and 25-30 blog posts.
That is why I have decided to share what I learned. These are the things I wish I knew before visiting Iceland. I believe it will benefit others in one way or another.
Ready! Let’s begin.
Related: The Golden Circle Driving Self-Tour
Tips for Visiting Iceland
- Iceland is expensive
This fact seems like a no-brainer. We have heard 7,000 times how Iceland is one of the most expensive countries in the world.
The problem is that when this is said, no point of comparison is given. The pain settles when you are there and your jaw drops when you look at your bill or the amount on the register. Things can get out of control easily since you were not prepared for that low blow called prices.
Let me give you an idea of what I paid for goods and services:
- Small sandwich from a gas station: $10
- Cup of soup and bread: $20
- Gallon of gas: $8
- Plate of trout, veggies, and salad: $45
- Bottle of water: $3-$4
As you can see, prices are not what we call budget friendly. They are not even mid-range. My advice? Research, research, research if you are on a budget. It would be a good idea to count with a little bit more money than planned.
- When researching, check how current is the information you are reading
Saw those prices I gave in the previous bullet? They were effective in early May 2017. I disclose that because I want to give you an idea of how current those prices are.
Since things are changing so fast in the country, prices quoted on articles written more than a year ago are inaccurate. Let me clarify. The information on those articles is probably totally legit. But, the part where prices enter into play is inaccurate.
That was one of the biggest problems I found while doing my research. I thought “the price on this and that is not that bad.” The problem is that the article was written three years ago. The “thing” I read about has tripled in price.
Also, take into consideration seasonality. I visited Iceland during the shoulder season. Prices during summer are higher.
- Reserve way in advance
Because of the prices, you should book accommodations and reserve a car as much in advance as possible. Do not leave this for the last minute!
- Most accommodations offer free breakfast
Try to book a room that includes free breakfast. In Iceland, free breakfast means bread, jelly, jam, butter, ham, cheese, boiled eggs, corn flakes, yogurt, coffee, tea and other cold items. We had fresh fruit and herring on one of the best places we stayed.
Make sure you eat well and are fully satisfied.
- Renting a car may be a good option
Excursions can cost more than a $100 per person, per day. For my three days stay, that was going to add up to $600 for my husband and me. Hmmm, that didn’t sound good.
I solved the situation by renting a compact car for $120 for three days. We hit way more places than the guided tours and saved a lot of money.
Don’t get stressed by the idea of renting a car in Iceland. The drive is super, mega, easy. It was our first time renting a car in Europe and we are sold on the idea of having our own wheels.
- The car rental agency will try to sell you every possible insurance policy out there
I think the rental car agent held us for half an hour. She talked about five different insurance policies. Turns out the weather in Iceland is unpredictable and things like being sandblasted (all the paint in the car comes off during a sandstorm) can happen. Plus, she showed us pictures of destroyed cars and other non-pleasing things.
So, yes, they are going to try to upsell you as much as possible. Be prepared for that.
- Take care of your rental car
When I was researching my trip, I read a lot of accounts where people took compact cars into very rough roads. In a triumphant way, they included things like “the road was horrible but we made it” or “we had the only compact on the parking lot but that didn’t intimidate us” on their write up.
I cannot tell you what to do on a trip but risking the chance of breaking a small car does not sound like a good idea. If you want to go off-road or if you are visiting in winter, rent the appropriate car.
When I returned my car, they checked every inch of it. I have never seen such a careful inspection. Therefore, follow common sense (not what others are telling you to do).
- Do not leave the car’s doors unattended
This may sound funny but one of the most common accidents in Iceland, involving cars, is when the wind rips a door. Yes, you read that right. The wind has enough strength to take away the door of the car.
You must hold that door when getting in and out of the car. No insurance will cover a ripped door!
- Charge your electronics on the car
You are going to spend a lot of time on the car (moving from one place to the other). Bring all the cables and adapters needed to charge your electronics while in transit (including your camera’s batteries).
- Google Maps is not your best friend
Getting a GPS unit for your rental car will cost you $10-$15 per day.
Since I wanted to save that money, I got a line by line route instructions from Google Maps before leaving my house. Guess what? Google failed me three of five times. That is why I cannot recommend using this approach by itself.
A combination of instructions and an actual map may work better (the map is what saved me). Remember driving in Iceland is very easy. Once you are on the main road, it is simple to find the attractions. You will need some sort of instructions while navigating Reykjavik and the cities around the airport.
- Do not rely on asking for directions
After laughing at me for having such bad luck with Google Maps you may be asking yourself “Why she didn’t ask for directions?”
Let me break it to you like this, it is not easy. Iceland is not a heavily populated country. Once you get outside Reykjavik, you are going to see vast, open spaces. No houses, no business, no nothing. Plus, a lot of gas stations are unmanned.
So, do not think a handsome Viking is going to show up to save you.
- Hotels may not have 24 hours receptions
Keep in mind hotels, pensions and apartment complexes may not have receptions operating 24 hours. If you are planning to crash your hotel between 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., contact your hotel to make sure they will be waiting for you.
Places with restricted reception hours will let you know (and send you an e-mail asking you at what time you are going to arrive). But, I will double check just in case.
- You may not see the daylight
One of the cool things about visiting Iceland is that you have long days and, even no night, during summer. In theory, this means you see the sight anytime.
We visited in May and sunset was around 11:00 p.m. and sunset at 4:00 a.m. We were going to bed and waking up with light. This may affect the sleeping cycle of certain people.
- You should keep an eye on the weather
Weather in Island changed fast. Like in half second fast. Check conditions every morning before departing to your destination. In addition, make sure there are not any warnings in place (like road closures).
This is no joke. We met people who had to change plans, cancel hotel reservation or wait all day for a ferry. All of that because of the weather. Check this site for more info.
- Credit cards rule!
For the most, Iceland is a cashless society. You can use a credit card even to go to the restroom. Make sure you are ready with one or two no-fee credit cards.
- Good news! Most attractions are free
I have some good news! You go to Iceland to see its black beaches, waterfalls, glaciers, and geysers. Those are all free. Applause, please!
- Supermarkets can save you money
Because of the high prices, visitors rely on food bought at the supermarket. On every parking lot, you see people taking out sandwiches and drinks from the trunk. It is an excellent way to save money. A supermarket called Bonus (you will recognize its pink pig logo, he is a very cute pig by the way) seems to be the most popular chain.
- Small cities may not provide full services
If you are following the line of thought of this post, by now you would have figured out preparation is the name of the game. Supermarkets and places to eat (not that many anyway) are in the capital and other “mid-sized” cities.
You can drive miles and miles without seeing an eatery or gas station. Therefore, stock up before leaving Reykjavik or other urban cores. If you do not do this, prepare to pay high prices on your hotel’s restaurant or a less than mediocre sandwich from a small store.
- You need your credit card pin to fill up the tank
I know people have problems paying at gas pumps in the country. When entering your credit card on the pump, you are going to be asked for your pin. I had no problems once I entered that pin.
The thing is that we are used to having a pin for our debit card, not our credit card. Make sure you know or set up a pin for the credit card you want to use.
- Be prepared for the cold, the wind and the rain
The clothing needed for the trip depends on the season you visit. For my late spring visit, I used a waterproof down jacket with a hoodie, jeans, and low-cut boots. Thermals and ponchos were not needed (we had them anyway).
There is water everywhere, so, you need to be ready for it. If you have a map, it must be waterproof. You need to come up with a way to protect your camera. And, you need to be able to keep going even under showers. Rain or shine, things will keep moving in there.
- Iceland is super safe
Oh, it feels so good to be in such a safe place. You do not have to worry about misplacing your purse or leaving valuables in your car. I am not saying you should not care about these things but you are going to notice right away how much joy it can be felt when you are in a place where your life and property is not at risk because of the presence of other humans.
- At the same time, Iceland can be dangerous and cruel
Iceland is raw and wild. That is what makes the place unique. On the other hand, that can make the country dangerous for people who do not follow instructions.
During my visit, I saw too many people doing dumb things. There were signs prohibiting certain things and people were doing them anyway. The saddest part is that some people were behaving in certain ways because they wanted a specific photo.
Please, take care of yourself and do not risk your life (or the life of others).
- You are going to be blown away by what you see
It doesn’t matter how many photos you see of a place, you are going to be wowed when you see the power of nature at work. This trip was full of “firsts” for me. It was my first time seeing a glacier, geyser, black sand beach, and puffins. I left out high-pitched screams so many times.
- Make your trip unique
Before my visit, I thought things in Iceland were in a certain way. Once there, I found out I had that mentality because we are used to seeing the same photos taken from the same angle.
Iceland cannot be defined in photos. A place is unique to each visitor since he or she sees it from a different angle and perspective. In addition, the visitor decides what places to check out.
Get out of the horde mentality and explore in your own terms.
- It doesn’t matter what I say, Iceland is a grand, breathtaking and tremendous!
I am going to hush for now. Just one more thing. Iceland will leave in love. You will not be able to stop talking about it once you go back home.
The impression will be in one corner of your brain forever. So, start packing and I hope you make it there soon!
- If you are worried about the prices, start by visiting Iceland for a short period of time to get a taste of the country
- I believe it is convenient to get travel tips and advice from a resident. Jeannie from A Life with a View has an excellent blog with all the info you can think about. She answers questions too (ask in the comments area).
- Remember to check my other Iceland post: The Golden Circle Driving Self-Tour
More European Travels
Remember to check these other stories if you want to see more of Europe.
- 7 Phenomenal Things To Do in Frankfurt
- 10+ Things to Do In Old Town Prague
- Vienna in 2, 3 or 4 Days
- Best of Budapest: Sights, Itineraries and Day Trips
What are your tips for visiting Iceland?
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