It’s been pretty obvious lately that the Land of Fire & Ice is practically on everyone’s travel list these days and with cheap daily flights from other parts of Europe and North America, how could you NOT want to go to travel to this incredibly beautiful country? Once you’ve booked your flights to Iceland and know the dates you’re going, it may be beneficial to hear some helpful travel tips to make sure your journey runs as seamlessly as possible.
Well, that’s where I come in, guys! I’ve listed some helpful tips about travelling to Iceland within this post; some of which I’ve mentioned in previous posts and some new ones.
Book Everything in Advance
Due to the insane increase in popularity, booking a hotel, guesthouse, or rental car while travelling to Iceland is getting harder year by year. My fellow travel blogger, Insta-Buddy and Iceland resident, Jeannie from Life With A View has recently said accommodations in Iceland are getting sold out at least six months in advance and that people who end up booking last minute are either stuck with no place to stay, or paying an exuberant price of almost $500 a night (!!!) to stay places. That’s just crazy. Do yourself and your wallet a favour, book well in advance to save money and your sanity. Your accommodations aren’t the only thing you should book in advance. If you’re heading to Iceland, chances are pretty high that you’ll be road-tripping around the country, or at least a portion of it and you guessed it, you’ll need to rent a vehicle. Renting in advance can save you some money and you’ll have a much wider selection of choices to choose from to make sure you get a car that will suit your travel needs and will be able to accommodate you, your travel buddies and your luggage.
Read more: Inspired by Iceland – The Land of Fire & Ice
Everything Is Pricey
Everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock knows that Iceland has a reputation for being outrageously expensive. Well, as far as reputations go, this one…is true. Everything from food to alcohol to a cup of coffee, will cost you a pretty penny while in Iceland and if you aren’t savvy with your spending, you’ll definitely be confronted with some sticker shock upon buying three beers on a night on the town. Don’t let the price of Iceland scare you from boarding your flight, or booking your trip in the first place. Iceland most certainly CAN be done on a budget. I wrote a post a few weeks ago on the topic of travelling through Iceland on a budget, so make sure to check that out for some more helpful money saving tricks. You’re Welcome.
Read more: How To Travel Iceland on a Budget
Gas Stations & Gas Prices
Since we are on the topic of money and budgets, I think I should mention that gas is CRAZY expensive in Iceland. The best way to deal with gas prices is to never let it get below half a tank. We had a Suzuki Jimny 4×4 vehicle that was surprisingly amazing on mileage and we only had to fill up twice during the entire trip. In Icelandic gas stations, you can purchase prepaid gas cards that go up to approximately $100 CAD to use in the machines outside. The gas pumps are all digital and only take a chip PIN card, but mine didn’t work for whatever reason and I was forced to run inside to buy the prepaid card, which finally worked. During your trip, it’s best to get a few of these prepaid cards, since the gas stations usually close around 9pm and if you are stuck with no gas and a credit card that doesn’t work, then you might be in for a night of parking lot car camping. Not fun, or comfortable. Always be prepared, so you’re not in a situation like that.
Bring Some Cash
You’ll probably read a ton of sites telling you not to bring cash with you to Iceland because most, if not all places accept a chip PIN card. Well, what they may not tell you is that a lot of the public washrooms in Iceland actually require you to pay to use them. The washrooms at places like Kirkjufjara beach, by Dyrhólaey and outside of the visitor centre (there are free washrooms inside the visitor centre, but only during opening hours) at Gulfoss are pay as you go (LOL). The first time I ever had to pay to use a public washroom, was in the train station in Bergen Norway, but you know what? For a few kroner (krona), the washrooms are kept in immaculate shape and are very clean, so I don’t mind paying a little coinage to not walk into a washroom disaster. All you road-trippers KNOW what I am talking about!!
Bring a Raincoat
When heading to Iceland, you’re more than likely going to be adventuring to some pretty amazing waterfalls. Iceland’s waterfalls are known for being large and mesmerizing and you’re able to get pretty close to them as well. Getting close to these massive flowing waterfalls is surely going to soak you in spray and mist. Buying a proper raincoat was one of the best investments I’ve made regarding travel gear. I ordered mine from a company called Ember & Earth based in Dublin, Ireland and since Ireland is notoriously known for rainy days, who better then them to make a good quality raincoat? The jackets are surprisingly warm and come in an array of bright colours for those of you that aren’t afraid of pops of colour to your wardrobe, but they also have classic subdued hues as well for the less adventurous.
Iceland is known for its ever changing weather. You could see all four seasons in one day, so bringing layers is important for this sole reason. There were days when I needed a full hat, mitts, thermal socks and thermal layers, but then other days, I was fine with a long sleeved shirt, jeans and my leather jacket. Bringing a wool base thermal layer for wearing underneath your clothing while on excursions is highly recommended because it wicks away sweat while keeping you warm, which is important if you find yourself on a glacier hike, or caught in the rain. Same goes for bringing high quality wool thermal socks. They keep your feet nice and warm and also wick away sweat, so your feet stay nice and dry. Waterproof boots and pants are also great travel investments for Iceland as you’ll be wearing them more often than you think. With all the outdoor walking you’ll be doing, random bursts of rain and traversing through small puddles and sometimes hiking through tiny streams, it’s better to come prepared then be stuck in an undesirable weather related situation.
Icelandic people tell visitors, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” This couldn’t be more true. The weather in Iceland changes almost within a blink of an eye some days. You could have beautiful, bright and sunny skies one minute, then be shrouded in clouds and rain the next. The air could be calm and serene, but then howling and strong blowing winds come into the picture, causing you to fight with your steering wheel while trying to maintain driving a straight line on the road. All of this could very well happen within an hour, sometimes less. It’s wild! The day we went snowmobiling on a glacier had the weirdest weather. It was calm, cool and cloudy at the time of departure and by the time we reached the top of the glacier, there was sideways blowing snow and a complete whiteout. I could barely stand up straight against the winds. We mostly lucked out during our week in Iceland with sunny dry days and a few rainy mornings, which cleared up rather quickly. Our last day driving back to the airport was mostly rainy and extremely windy. And don’t think an umbrella will keep you dry. I’m pretty sure that umbrellas go to Iceland to DIE. It’s just so windy when it rains. It’s always best to be prepared for these sudden weather changes, especially while driving on the roads.
Watch Your Speed
While cruising along the Ring Road (Highway 1), you’ll probably notice that there aren’t many, if any police in sight. With a small population such as Iceland’s, the police force is not that big and it’s almost next to impossible for them to monitor the entire road system. Well, that’s where speed cameras and speed traps come into play. With the open road in front of you and no other vehicles to pace yourself with, it is VERY easy to go over the marked 90km/hr (about 55MPH) without even noticing. I can say that there were a few times I caught myself going faster than I thought, just because there isn’t anyone to pace yourself with as there is in North America and it was totally unintentional. Of course, when I noticed, I would slow down, but you must watch for the sly speed cameras dotted along the Ring Road. If the camera does catch you speeding, you will not know about it until you return home from your vacation, possibly after a few months, with a hefty fine on your credit card bill from the rental company. Nobody likes surprises like that after a trip. You will see a sign posted well in advance, which warns you of the upcoming camera, so keep an eye out for the posted signs.
Obey Road Signs
As if driving in a foreign country wasn’t overwhelming enough for some people, but as you approach unfamiliar road signs, you start to slow down and wonder WTF does that mean? Well, reviewing some Icelandic road signs before heading to the country, renting a car and hitting the open road would be a wise idea. A lot of European signs are pretty well similar regarding speeds, roundabouts etc, but Iceland has some road signs that can be downright confusing to say the least! Iceland loves their one lane bridges and massive speed bumps in smaller towns, so knowing what the road sign warning looks like will prepare you for the road.
Driving Icelandic Highland F-Roads
The Icelandic F-Roads lead visitors to some of the most stunning highland scenery and spots in all of Iceland. They are also the most dangerous roads to drive on and DO require a 4×4 vehicle at all times. There may be beautiful scenery to discover, but there may also be small rivers, streams and large rocks to maneuver through and over. If you are not comfortable with driving your rental car through the many challenges that the F-Roads are famous for, then do not try to attempt driving them, especially if you have no experience with driving on such terrain. Keep in mind that your rental car is not insured when crossing rivers and waterways, so be extra careful if you plan on driving your rental vehicle down F-Roads of any kind. The F-Roads are normally open from the beginning of June until the end of September, which means the highlands are not accessible during the winter months. F-Roads are marked with the letter F (clearly) in front of the road number. If you plan on driving down the F-Roads, it may be smart to let someone know where you are heading, just in case of an emergency situation that may arise.
Don’t Drive Off-Road
Driving off-road in Iceland is worthy of getting yourself into a ton of shit with the law, not to mention you’ll leave a bad taste in Icelandic people’s mouths if they see you, the tourist, driving off-road with your vehicle. By driving off-road, you are potentially damaging precious floral and fauna that grows alongside the roads and in a lot of fields within the country, such as the fragile bright green moss. So stay on marked roads at all times when driving in Iceland to stay on everyone’s good side. Got it? Good!
Rent an Appropriate Car For Your Type of Vacation
If you plan on driving and staying in and around Reykjavík for the duration of your trip, it’s best to rent a car rather than an SUV, or 4×4 vehicle. It will save you money and chances are you won’t need to 4×4 your way through the streets of Reykjavík. If you plan on venturing out of Reykjavík during your trip, then renting a 4×4 SUV would be sufficient for your journey. Yes, they are a bit more expensive, but knowing you have sturdy 4×4 capabilities in case you run into some unexpected snow, or some squirrelly gravel side roads with some large holes like we did, will ease your mind while driving during your trip.
Read more: How to Create the Perfect Travel Itinerary
Be Careful Around Natural Attractions
This is probably one of the most important tips for travelling in Iceland. Yes, Iceland does have some beautiful natural attractions. You have the stunning black sand beaches, the dormant volcanic craters, the massive thundering waterfalls and the mysterious glaciers, but what you also have are dangers around all of these places. Most, if not all of the natural attractions in Iceland are not monitored by any sort of staff, or police, but the Iceland government has clear signs of warning at most attractions that may have risk factors. It’s really important to be aware of your surroundings while exploring because there have been numerous tourists that have injured themselves, or have even been killed while travelling through Iceland. Iceland’s black sand beaches near Vík are especially dangerous as the tide sneaks in when people least expect it and very strongly as well. Not too long ago, a German tourist was dragged into sea by a sneaker wave, which is a wave that comes crashing to shore at least ten times larger and more powerful than the last. Many people have fallen off cliffs, slipped and hurt themselves near waterfalls, especially during the winter months when access to certain parts of the waterfalls are actually blocked off for tourists, yet people still ignore the risks for that “perfect shot”. Some people have even fallen into the icy cold water and had to be rescued at the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon after walking on the floating chunks of glaciers when it is clearly marked NOT to do so. I’m all for being adventurous on holiday, don’t get me wrong, but don’t be dumb…if the sign says not to enter due to danger, don’t go. It may not be worth it in the grand scheme of things.
Don’t Rely too Heavily on GPS Systems
GPS systems are great and definitely a must have while road tripping through Iceland, but don’t rely on them too heavily. Coming back from Gulfoss and heading to the Ring Road, our GPS told us to take a shortcut, but when I turned down the road, it was SO bad. It was chalk full of potholes and deep ruts, sand and gravel that I only drove a few hundred feet before getting frustrated at the slow speeds I had to drive just to avoid bottoming out our vehicle. Yes, we had a 4×4, but it’s the gravel and rock chip damage to the vehicle that I didn’t want to pay the rental company for, since they gouge you on things like that, even if insured. I quickly said, “Fuck this”, and turned around. It was only saving us about 25kms, or so, but at the slow speeds in which I had to drive down the pothole filled road, it actually would’ve taken longer than driving the extra kilometres on the paved route. It’s always good to have a good ‘ol fashioned paper road map as well, just in case your GPS decides it doesn’t want to work properly, and using a large printed map gives you a better look at the roads in which you are looking to take.
Get The Extra Gravel and Wind Damage Insurance
Icelandic weather can be crazy windy. With these strong gale force winds comes the risk of your door being ripped right of your car. Yes, you read that right. Doors have been known to either completely blow off of rental cars, or bend the frame due to viciously strong winds. Bringing back a rental car with door damage such as that will ruin your vacation and your savings. Same thing goes for gravel and rock damage. When you arrive at your rental car company’s office, chances are they will ask you to inspect the car for rock chips around the vehicle. We did a once around the car and oh my GOD…were there ever a TON of chips on the body. We made sure to point them all out in a video style to have evidence upon bringing the car back that any damage done to the car, may have already been there. Getting the gravel and wind protection insurance added onto your rental may be worth it in the end. It may cost you a bit more upon arriving, but it may save you hundreds, or thousands of dollars upon departing. It’s also a wise idea to check with your car insurance company back home, to see if you are covered for overseas rentals and issues.
Have a Plan B
As I mentioned a hundred times already, Icelandic weather can be unpredictable, vicious and a downright pain sometimes, especially when planning road trips and excursions. Having a Plan B, or backup plan is almost essential when travelling within Iceland. I almost learned that the hard way when we arrived to our rental car company’s office only to find out that not one, but two major bridges one the Ring Road leading to Höfn have been completely washed out from floods due to the extreme rain that hit Iceland before we arrived. Our last hotel of the trip was located in Höfn and was booked and paid in full. We were told that road crews were working on a temporary bridge to allow people to pass, but may not be ready by the time we were driving to Höfn. We had five days before we were heading there, so our fingers were crossed tightly hoping for an Icelandic miracle. We kept our eyes on Road.Is for road conditions and road blockades until the day we left for the East Coast. I tried to cancel the hotel as a safety measure, but they would not do it without me losing all of my money, even though the only way to get to Höfn would be to go at least 110kms out of our way to detour. Ya, not happening, since we didn’t have much time anyway to begin with. I kept the hotel and just hoped for the best at this point. As we were leaving Vík, I checked Road.Is once more and hallelujah…the temporary bridges were passable and good to go! YAY! We got extremely lucky that day and were able to make it to Höfn with sunny skies and ease. Crisis averted!
Read more: Highway To Höfn, Iceland
Look Out For Sheep
Seriously though, the huge Icelandic sheep roam wild and free and are semi-suicidal hanging out in ditches along the edge of the road, on the sides of mountains and even in the middle of the roads. Keep an eye out for these crazy little buggers and slow down considerably when approaching them gathered on the road sides and in ditches, as they tend to dart out when you least expect them too. Baa Baa Smash…not cool.
There are so many undisclosed tips and topics regarding travel in Iceland and what to expect other than beautiful scenery when you arrive. I really hope this post helps you and prepares you for your first, or next tip to Iceland. If you’ve ever been to Iceland, what was the one thing that shocked you the most when you arrived? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear your answers! xo