It seems like overnight, Iceland has become the hottest travel destination! Thanks to cheap flights on WOW Air from the US (from $99 one way!!) and the possibility of spotting Bjork in her natural habitat more and more people are visiting Iceland and living to tell their wild tales.
We visited Iceland at the end of September, which is considered the beginning of the shoulder season, since the Icelandic summer last little more than the month of August. We knew it was going to be a country filled with extreme vistas, immense natural resources, unique eats… and the possibility of spotting Bjork. What we didn’t know, was just how incredibly magical and spectacular Iceland would really be. I mean, really guys, like the craziest most beautiful place ever.
So while Iceland has become one of Jenny’s favorite places on earth, Brandon wasn’t quite as wild for it. And thats okay, we’re different people and one of us might be slightly more in tune with nature than the other 😉
That being said, here is our list of things you should know about traveling in Iceland.
Know Before You Go:
- Everything’s Expensive: And we’re not talking “Europe expensive” we’re talking “Scandinavian expensive”, and yes theres a big difference. It’s a rude awakening after your cheap WOW air flight to grab a beer during happy hour and pay $10 USD. I mean, can I LIVE???
[$10 beers also mean, most people pre-drink at home before heading out for the night to save money. Bars and clubs don’t get packed until past midnight.]
Dining or drinking out is VERY expensive, travelers typically stock up at the grocery stores in town. The most common one in Iceland is called Bonus, spot it by the large pink pig on the signs. Stocking up at the duty free when you arrive is also recommended. You’ll be hard pressed to find a cup of coffee for less than $6 USD or even a fast food / gas station meal for less than $12 USD. We got really into making PBJ on the daily.
Luckily renting a nice apartment or hostel for the night is reasonably priced. Another great and widely used option is a small camper van; most travelers see Iceland this way. Rent from: gocampers.is or happycampers.is
- Get out of Reykjavik: Iceland’s largest city is amazing, and you’ll likely spend a couple nights here after you arrive (in downtown if you’re lucky). There’s a few great walking streets with eclectic shops and bars, and the night life is like none other. Reykjavik is also great because you can make day trips to a couple water falls and the geyser.
But Iceland has SO much more to offer! Rent a car and explore! The roads very well maintained and its easy to drive across the entire country. The lack of trees and buildings makes spotting other cars pretty simple. Getting around the country isn’t difficult because Google Maps knows even the most remote places there. Double check your spelling or copy/paste from your web browser because spelling out Fjadorargljufur is no joke.
We drove the entire country on our 10 day trip and were amazed at how different the eastern fjords and western fjord were from each other. Every turn is a drastic landscape change, all more beautiful than the last. And you MUST spend a few nights in Aukreyri in the North, such a cool city!WARNING: Do not attempt any F Roads without a 4 Wheel Drive Vehicle. If you’re in a Prius and Google tells you to take F-355, DON’T. The F-Roads are unpaved and unpredictable.
Luckily we did have an 4×4 and were able to some pretty stellar hikes and some very remote places. We’d recommend an SUV because it really heightens the adventure.
- Not a Destination for the Luxury Traveler: I doubt you’re expecting Iceland to be full of fine dining, high end shops and 4 star hotels, but if you are… go home, you’re clearly drunk.
Iceland is RUGGED, in every sense of the word. Its a backpacking, glacier hiking, Bjork hunting, iceberg tasting, hitchhiking, picnic bench cooking, hot spring skinny dipping destination.
Iceland is for serious travelers who are looking to experience something different. Something completely at one with nature. We ate most lunches in our car and most dinners in our rented apartments or hostels. This was as close to camping as Brandon would get.
Dress code: Athleisure every day
Hair style: Beanie
- Iceland is Desolate: You can drive for miles and miles and not see another living thing. It’s eerie, thrilling and amazing all at the same time to look out onto the expansive landscape and be completely alone. Icelanders only live in inhabited towns, and there aren’t many, so driving the country at times, you won’t see a house or dwelling as far as the eye can see.
The desolation is also interesting because you’ll basically never see a police officer but you’ll feel incredibly safe.
The people of Iceland are kind and helpful. They’re not concerned with locking their doors leaving their cell phones on their car seat.
In fact one of the apartments we rented sent us an email before arriving saying, “doors unlocked and the key is broken. Go on it and just close the door when you leave”. The trust of strangers and lack of police presence is in stark contrast to the overwhelming police presence in the US and the lack of security.
- Hike anywhere / park anywhere / camp anywhere : The desolation is the beauty of it all, and it means that you can basically do as you like in Iceland, because there’s no one around to tell you not too. You can (and we encourage you to) literally park in the middle of the road to get out and gasp at the scenery (and look for Bjork).
There’s hiking trails covering the country, but you can make your own from anywhere as well. In addition, the camper vans park in any open space to sleep and it’s completely acceptable.
- Blue Lagoon is worth it: While blogs like iheartreyjakivik.com claim the Blue Lagoon is overrated and not worth the hype, we STRONGLY disagree. It was heavenly.
We visited many hot springs and pools on our journey (see our list of top hot springs here) and the Blue Lagoon is the largest and most impressive of them all. While there are a lot of people visiting the lagoon, the place is so large that you still have plenty of soaking / relaxing space to wear your goofy silica mask in peace.
You do need to make a reservation on bluelagoon.com well in advance. We made our almost a full week in advance. Once you’re in, you can stay as long as you like and put as much mud on your face as possible.
- Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls: You won’t have to, they’re EVERYWHERE. Giant gushing falls from every crack and crevice in the mountain face. Some times there are even rainbows on the waterfalls, which is some sort of magical unicorn power. We saw so many waterfalls that you become desensitized to them. But then you get these big bad ass ones and you’re like, “wow, I wish I were a mermaid”.
- No one eats puffin and whale: Before arriving in Iceland, we read an article that said Icelanders eat raw puffin hearts as a delicacy. And while that may have some truth to it, the Icelanders don’t really eat a lot of puffin and whale. The tourists are responsible for the majority of puffin and whale consumption. Many articles claim that the amount of tourists consuming puffin and / or whale is not sustainable. We didn’t partake. Partly because everything is expensive AF, partly because of unsustainability, and patly because it’s just not a necessity when you have PBJ in the car.
- Definitely Bring:
- Your own water bottle or buy one to refill – all the water in the country is glacier run off. It’s completely safe to drink and tastes amazing. In fact, its safe and recommended to fill your water bottle directly from the source
- Swim suit – there are hot springs and hot pools EVERYWHERE!! Some are free and you can stumble upon them, some have showers and sell alcohol and cost a fee to enjoy. See our list of hot springs and pools here!
- Towel – with all the hot water you’ll be in, a towel is definitely a great thing to bring. Towels can be a pain to pack, so check out turkish towels on Amazon. They’re absorbent, lightweight, pack down small and quick drying. The perfect travel buddy for a trip to the hot spring.
- Flip flops or slip on sandals – For quick in and outs of the hot springs while wet.
Some hot springs that have towel service for an extra charge for.
- Rain / wind jacket with hood – because, Iceland.
- Layers on Layers – Even in summer the weather is cold. Our average temperature in September was 9c /45f. Hats, long sleeves, gloves, jackets, all the layers!
In the end we never found Bjork, but we did meet an Icelander who said to stop searching because, “Bjork lives within us all”. NO JOKE. Trip made.0