I’m just back from my first trip to Iceland – and yep, it lives up to all the hype it’s received the past few years! I spent the first part of our trip driving in the southern part of Iceland (highly recommend!). Next, my husband and I boarded a ship in Reykjavik for a couple stops in the north of Iceland. What a gorgeous country! Here’s my top tips for your travels in Iceland:
If you have a camera other than your phone – this is the place to take it (even though my iPhone did capture some pretty great shots too!). Keep in mind in most of the tourist areas, drones aren’t allowed.We found with T-Mobile we didn’t lack coverage very often – so cell service is good in Iceland. Besides a camera – I suggest packing binoculars. I found I was reaching for them to view puffins and watch the seals play in the surf.
Car Rentals and Driving
If you plan on driving in Iceland – proper preparation is key. It’s a popular way to get around and you need to reserve your car well in advance (along with accommodations). Iceland is notoriously expensive and compared to other areas – car rentals also fall into that category. Make sure to get the extra insurance! Many areas are very far from towns and you’ll want roadside assistance coverage. Also, keep in mind some roads can’t be driven on without special types of 4 wheel drive vehicles. I tried to support a local business with our car rental – but I don’t recommend this, stick with a national company there. They kept a very large charge/hold on our card (this is common with rental car companies, but not this amount!), the service wasn’t friendly, they were hard to locate the transfer at the airport, and their cars weren’t in the best shape.
Braving the “Crowds”
With all the news of how popular and crowded Iceland is – we found it not as busy as we expected. It may all be perspective as well… my husband and I live in a busy mountain town and have grown used to numerous tourists. For a country of less than 400,000 people and limited places to stay – it most likely seems crowded to the locals. It’s also nothing like the masses of people visiting some areas of mainland Europe. We visited during peak August summer season… and even so, we never had an issue finding parking spots at the main sites (it’s also not remotely close to as busy as some of our U.S. national parks during peak season!).
What to Pack
If you’ve traveled to Alaska – packing is very similar! Think layers and waterproof.For rain gear I suggest a waterproof jacket (you need a hood!) and umbrella. You also need water repellent shoes with lots of traction for hiking and walking around the waterfalls and numerous rocky areas. Layers are important to pack, as even in their “warm” summer months you may be wearing some fleece. Also don’t forget to throw in a beanie and gloves. In the north – we experienced swarming bugs like I’ve never seen! If you’re visiting this area – pack mosquito netting to cover your face. We improvised with our buffs, hats, glasses and masks! 😉
You don’t need to carry any cash in Iceland – we never once needed it (we didn’t even see what Iceland money looks like!). Tipping is not expected and it’s not even an option when checking out when paying for a meal (we did tip our tour guides on our organized tours from the cruise – everyone used U.S. dollars for this). We learned when paying at a sit down restaurant you need to go to the bar or counter (also if you want to order more items). As in most European countries – tax is included in the amount you see on items. But unlike on mainland Europe – I didn’t pay to pee once! 🙂 Parking is free in most areas – but we did pay a small fee at a couple of the sites. When fueling up your car – they put a dollar (each time was different) on your credit card, so make sure to keep track of that.
The land of fire and ice doesn’t disappoint! There are so many ways to experience Iceland and I highly recommend a trip to this land of unique landscapes!
Until the next adventure – bon voyage!