I have already written blogs about what to visit on different parts of Iceland. Thinking about the time, when I was visiting Iceland got me to think that you need some survival guide with basic advice. So here we go!
1, Visiting Iceland? Get a car!
Iceland is a great place to visit, however, if you don’t rent a car, it will be hard to get around. Especially if you want to go to remote places. Some nature wonder are bit more about “get a tour or your own car” basis.
When renting a car, you need to know where to go. If you just want to go around on the main road, you will be fine with a regular car. But if you want to go to the highlands, a normal car won’t make it. Or it will but you will destroy it, on your way. In that case get 4×4. It is more expensive, but it pays off. Harsh terrain isn’t the only difficult thing that you might meet in Iceland. Many times there are also sheeps crossing roads, so be careful when you see them outside of the fence.
No matter what car you get, it is important to watch the traffic situation around Iceland. There is a special website for it. I recommend to see it, especially when you are coming during autumn or spring since some roads might be harder to go through than others.
Last but not least. The price of car rental differ not just due to a type of car, but also due to when are you coming. Generally coming during offseason (autumn till spring) is a bit cheaper than coming in summer, when there is a lot of tourists. In case that you are coming in the main season, make sure you book the car in advance.
2, Main season and offseason
As I mentioned above Iceland has the main season which is basically summer. And offseason, which lasts from autumn till spring. When to go depends on what do you want to see. During the summer, prices are generally higher and you will need to book accommodation in advance. However, you have a great chance to see all the nature and hike paths in generally better weather and relatively warm. During summer you can also see puffins since they spend winter somewhere in the sea. Also, horse rides are on and you can see the midnight sun, which is usually quite an experience.
On the other hand, it will get difficult to learn how to sleep, since there isn’t any dark during summer which might confuse you or, more importantly, your body as well. For some people, it actually might be alright. There is a bigger con to it. And that is that you won’t see northern lights. And not only northern lights. Summer is also not the season for seeing the ice caves since it might be too warm and therefore too dangerous to for visiting them.
If you visit through offseason, you will get all those attraction but you might not be able to get to the hiking trails such as Langmannalaugar on the south. Light and weather might be an issue too. But watch the forecast and you might be able to get around just fine, especially in September.
Iceland is expensive. I mean more than Norway expensive. So camping would be a budget version of accommodation. But you need to know that it is possible usually till some months since there aren’t enough camps that would be open every month. Visiting Iceland while camping is great because you will be closer to nature and camps are generally cheaper, most of the Icelandic camps offers decent showers and toilets, so you won’t worry about hygiene. Here are some of the best campsites in Iceland.
What is a definite no-no, in this case, is to try to camp on the beaten path. Most of the land belongs to someone and it is quite rude to just camp in the middle of the pasture. However, I can assure you that if you don’t have any other option and ask nicely, locals will let you do it.
4, Beware the dangerous nature
Stupid touristic mistakes. Nature in Iceland is beautiful but could be dangerous. If you want to bathe in the sea, it is a generally better idea to ask locals whether you really can. They can advise you place that is not dangerous. There was a lot of people getting drowned by jumping into waves on not so safe places. Just don’t do it.
Another thing like this goes with glaciers. They are nice to look at, but since you are not aware of this new terrain, maybe don’t try to step on them without a guide. There can be soft spots and you might get lost in the ice. For adventurous like this, just go with a tour guide. Same goes for a volcano. It can sound cool to say that you hiked a volcano, but truth is that there is only one volcano that is safe to hike when visiting Iceland.
There is also no to jumping into waterfalls. And if you are on any cliff, watch out, it might get slippery.
5, Nature is not your toilet
… or trash can. There is one downfall to Icelandic nature. Because everything is very far away, that also means that every toilet or trash bin is far away. And often when hiking, you will think that there is no one who will see you. And you are right, there probably isn’t but imagine a situation, when you are hiking and you step into someone’s poop because he or she cannot find a toilet or didn’t go when they could. Pretty disgusting.
Same goes for trash. I’d say that if it is biodegradable it is somewhat ok. But peace of banana on the hiking trail up in Iceland still feels weird. What I used to do was to collect all the trash to my backpack and later on throw it out in the nearest bin.
6, Prices are high
If you think that Iceland is a budget destination, look again. You will be surprised by how much things can cost when visiting Iceland. So if you want to do a budget trip, maybe do some camping and eat food from the supermarket – which is also very decent. If you want to go budget, you will also need to use buses, which is generally in summer, not an issue. In winter it could be a lot worse, but it is still cheaper than a car. There is a lot of other budget tips for Iceland, but in generally it is not a cheap destination.
7, Rather more clothes than less
People in Iceland usually say that if you don’t like the current weather, just wait 10 minutes and it will change. It is true. Weather changes quickly. So when thinking about clothes, it is better to bring more of it than less. You can very well use autumn jacket even in summer. It might not be that cold, but it is windy. Also take some rain clothes as well and proper shoes.
If you are visiting Iceland and planning to go to a party in Reykjavík, the decent thing to do would be to also bring some jeans with you. Bartenders are usually unhappy to see people in hiking gears dancing in the bar. It is not forbidden, just weird. For hot springs don’t forget your swimwear.