You’re here for the quick and dirty! Here are the few things I learned, that is a must know before heading to Iceland.
Before You Leave
- Sign up for Icelandair emails – the last two trips I’ve done, both under $600 USD for 4 days, were because I got their flash deals.
- Set up credit card PINs – don’t get stuck at a gas pump, like I did, trying to figure out how to pay for gas since I didn’t have a PIN. US credit cards uses zip codes for verification…not going to work over in Iceland.
- Usually, I would say pack light, but Iceland’s weather is unpredictable. Winter, you should be fine with whatever you were planning, but if you’re going in summer, make sure you bring rain gear!
- Try to pack some food to bring – sandwiches, snacks, etc. Iceland is notoriously cheap to get to, but super expensive when you’re there. Definitely try to local cuisine, but if you’re on a budget, supplement with some packed food from home.
When you Land
- KEF is a really small airport, but efficient. You’ll be on your adventure pretty quick! But, don’t forget to stop at Duty-Free before you leave. Again, it’s super expensive once you get out there, so pick up some wine and spirits at Duty-Free if you plan on doing some nightlife. That way you can pre-game before heading out because once you see those prices, you’ll only want 1 drink.
- Pick up a SIM card at Duty-Free: it’s way cheaper than renting a GPS from a rental/hire car company, and you’ll have a lifeline if anything happens. They run about $35-50 USD for 10GB.
- Bring your own GPS if you don’t want to use your phone.
- Check over your rental/hire car – take photos, etc.
Traveling by Rental/Hire Car
- If you plan on going off road for hikes or views, get something that will allow you to, not a 2-4 door sedan/compact car. Iceland rental car companies will charge you if you mess up the under carriage of the car due to hitting potholes, large rocks, etc. The 4×4 is more expensive, but if you tear out the bottom of your compact, you’re in trouble.
- Dyrhólaey Lighthouse – If you want to get to the top, either you have to park at the bottom of the hill and walk, or drive up. I would not suggest trying to take your compact up. There are HUGE potholes.
- Gravel roads are everywhere, especially once you get north of Höfn. Rental/Hire car companies understand this, so don’t freak out over gravel scratches or marks. Take it slow though! Take your time. You don’t want to blow out a tire in the middle of nowhere…especially if you didn’t pick up that SIM card and can’t call anyone.
- In the winter, the weather can go from sunny to blizzard in 20 minutes. If you’re uncomfortable with that or haven’t driven in the snow before, I wouldn’t risk driving, especially into the highlands or Golden Circle. If you do, find a safe place to pull off until the weather passes or turn on your flashers and slow down.
- Route 1 has speeding cameras (I got caught by one before Seljalandsfoss). They will send you a ticket (2 months later for me) and they’re pretty pricey.
- If you do get a ticket – pay it. I was passed the grace period of the lower priced ticket due to my ticket getting to me late, but I called the police station and they allowed me to pay the lower fee.
- Totally worth it! If you’re not getting your own car, definitely sign up for some tours! We’ve done ours with Extreme Iceland and it was amazing. Reykjavik was great, but it’s the wild landscape you came for, so get out there!
- If you can do a packaged deal through Icelandair for under $700 for a 3-4 day trip, do it! It was worth having the full breakfast included, tour picks, and being in central Reykjavik.
- If not, look into Airbnb! You might be in the outskirts, but it’s an easy walk, bus ride, or cab into city center.
- If you plan on eating out, be ready to spend anywhere between $25-70 USD per meal! I got a hot dog, coffee, and a candy bar from a N1 gas station and it cost me $18 USD…
- In Reykjavik? Head down to the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand. You can get a cheap meal there! I think it was about $7 USD for a hot dog.
- Groceries can be a bit expensive as well. You’ll be saving money not eating out, but you’ll still pay more than you’re used to. Be ready to be sticker shocked.
- If you want to go to the Blue Lagoon, you have to now book ahead. They no longer accept walk-ins. So do this as soon as you know which day you want to go. Also, try to go either when it opens or near closing. Otherwise, you’ll be in line, waiting to go in, forever.
- Take in the landscape – it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to and there’s a reason why everyone is flocking to get there.
- Northern Lights – I don’t want to set you up for disappointment, but what you see in photos are long exposure shots that help bring out the colors. You can see them, but faintly. However, there are times (Northern Lights range from 0-5 on a scale of brilliance) you may get lucky with a 4-5 and see them in all their glory.
- Want an Icelandic sweater? Look at secondhand stores instead of paying hundreds of dollars and you get an authentic sweater versus a tourist/mass made sweater.
- Fatamarkaðurinn Second Hand Market – Laugavegur 126, 105 Reykjavík
- Red Cross Shop – Laugavegur 12b, 101 Reykjavík
- Spúútnik – Laugavegur 28, 101 Reykjavík