Things to know before traveling to Iceland
Iceland is one of those countries that leaves a lasting impression. Its landscape is as magical as the myths and sagas of the Vikings. We thought we were prepared for Iceland but there are some things you just don’t really learn until you’re there. To help you prepare for any future trips to the stunning country, we’ve made a list of some of our favorite lessons learned while traveling around Iceland.
Iceland’s weather is unpredictable
It’s called the land of fire and ice for a reason. Between its volcanoes, hot springs, and glaciers, the weather can go from hot to cold in an instant. We found ourselves on an epic road trip that was riddled with sunshine, howling rains, a white out, and a storm of sand and ash. If you rent a car, you’ll be asked if you want to buy sand and ash insurance. We would recommend it as you never know when a severe windstorm will come and possibly strip your car of all of its paint.
One of the best pieces of advice we received from our friend, Tiny Iceland was the website http://road.is. This site clearly shows you the conditions of all of Iceland’s roads. Check it out before you embark on your day’s adventure to ensure that you know what kind of weather (and roads) you’ll encounter.
The Blue Lagoon is amazing for jet lag
It’s true. While some call the Blue Lagoon one big tourist trap, we found it to be just the spot we needed to cure a good bit of jet lag. Our flight got in at 6AM and after getting through customs and acquiring our rental car, we headed straight to the lagoon. A long soak in the Blue Lagoon not only relaxed our muscles but it also kept us awake. We couldn’t give in to jet lag as it would mean falling asleep and probably drowning in the geothermal water. We chalk it up to a win.
Food is expensive
I mean, it makes sense. An island of volcanoes and ice doesn’t exactly scream “fertile earth” for growing, well, anything. That being said, you can find local delicacies but those will also cost you a pretty penny. To enjoy a cheap a delicious snack, head to the BBP (Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur) hotdog stand in Reykjavik. Get a dog with everything on it and it’ll only cost you a mere $3USD. Don’t take our word for it. Both former president Bill Clinton and Anthony Bourdain are fans.
If you want to treat yourself to a delicious dinner by the wharf in Reykjavik than head to MAR Restaurant. This is a restaurant with hip decor and some of the most delicious food we had on the island. We would recommend the wild mushroom and lobster risotto along with the beef tenderloin and truffle glaze. Our fantastic meal was followed by a shot (or five) of Brennivin aka “black death.” This schnapps-like libation is considered to be Iceland’s signature distilled beverage and the name on the label literally translates to “burning wine.” The ominous name aside, we kind of enjoy the taste of Brennivin and even brought back a couple of bottles with us.
Contrary to popular belief, the Northern Lights don’t live in the skies
This spectacle can actually be pretty elusive. In our case, the Aurora Borealis appeared in the form of a glowing green cloud. Not exactly the magical ribbon of light that you see in the inflight magazines. Our advice is to not get your hopes up but always be on alert. They can be such a tease.
We recommend asking a local about the northern lights forecast for the night. Tiny Iceland recommended one of the best apps for us but you’ll have to reach out to her to get the deets. It’s a local secret. She also had to give us a thorough tour on how to decipher what the app was telling us. I found myself compulsively checking the app to see what the forecast was for the night. While we might not have witnessed a big spectacle, the app helped us get the best view possible.
Some of the best accommodation can be found on farms
Homemade bread, geothermal hot springs, and the cutest Icelandic farm dogs we’ve ever seen can all be found on many of Icelandic Farm Holidays numerous properties. We had our choice between cozy bed and breakfasts, cute country hotels, apartment rentals, and-as the name suggests-unique farm stays. Each one of our stays came with a breakfast (sometimes homemade) and comfortable rooms. Our favorite part of each stay was getting to know the people behind each hotel and farm. Everyone was incredibly friendly and willing to dish out their favorite recommendations for the area we were visiting.
While their accommodations are awesome, Icelandic Farm Holidays isn’t solely focused on where you’ll lay your head. The people behind the company are more than happy to plan an intimate road trip catering to what you want to see and experience while traveling Iceland. We strongly recommend checking out their website to help plan your trip to the island.
Renting a car is one of the best ways to see the country
We could have easily spent our entire week exploring Reykjavik alone, but we are so glad that we were able to see more of Iceland on our epic road trip. Our car from Sixt Car Rental made it possible for us to travel around the southern and eastern parts of the island. We reveled in the beauty of Skógafoss waterfall, stood in awe at the Glacier Lagoon, and hunted for sea monsters in Egilsstaðir all thanks to our four-wheeled steed.
Our major piece of road trip advice (aside from springing for the sand and ash insurance) is to make sure you get a car with 4-wheel drive. There’s a strong chance you’ll be experiencing some sort of off-roading while in Iceland, especially when on the search for the hard-to-find US Navy airplane crash site (more on that in another post).
Dress in layers
As we mentioned before, Iceland’s weather can be very temperamental. We found that dressing in layers made our lives much easier. On nights that you stay out to catch the northern lights, be sure to dress as warmly as possible. I was decked out with leggings under my snow pants and about five layers on top. Even after all of that I was still pretty cold. Gloves and hats are great additions to your suitcase. As far as footwear goes, bring broken-in boots that are good in the rain and snow. You’ll never know what kind of weather you’ll come across.
If you forget to pack something, never fear! Iceland is home to some of the best cold weather gear out there. Our favorites are 66North and Icewear. If you want to look like a member from Of Monsters and Men while blending in with Icelandic locals, pick up a traditional lopapeysa. These Icelandic styles of sweaters are made from Icelandic sheep wool. While they aren’t the softest sweaters you’ll ever wear, they will probably be the warmest! They even have the reputation of keeping you cozy when wet.
Have you been to Iceland? What are some tips that we should have included? We would love to hear them in the comment section below.
Also, below is a quick video Chris made as a teaser for what’s to come. We can’t wait to share more footage from our trip!
We couldn’t have completed our trip in Iceland without the help from Tiny Iceland, Icelandic Farm Holidays, Trawire MiFi, the Blue Lagoon, Mar Restaurant, and Sixt Rental Car. As always, all opinions are our own. Le duh.