Iceland is an amazing place with various landscapes that you won’t see anywhere else. But before you buy flight tickets, there are some things to know before going to Iceland. Nature can be quite dangerous, driving might be a bit different than what you expect and much more. I lived in Iceland for 6 months so I know how it is to come unprepared. And basically, I’m writing about things I wish I knew before I moved there. But they also apply for a shorter itinerary.
35 Things to know before going to Iceland
1, Reykjavík is a great place to visit. I would say that everyone who is going to Iceland should visit the capital. However, there is no reason to spend there for two or three days. One day in Reykjavík is more than enough.
2, Most people who are visiting Iceland are visiting South Iceland. And sure all the waterfalls and hikes there are great. But you should know that the south part of Iceland is very crowded. If you want to see some of the less crowded places, you should visit East Iceland.
Things you need to know about driving in Iceland
3, Iceland is a great place to visit, however, if you don’t rent a car, it can be hard to get around. Especially if you want to go to remote places or hiking spots where is no public traffic. However, if you want to rent a car, you should consider renting a 4×4 vehicle. Some paths are not good for a regular car and there are more places where you can go with the offroad car.
4, There is more to terrain that just to jump into the offroad vehicle. Prepare your self for rough terrain. Except for bumps on the road, you might need to cross little streams or drive on rocks.
5, Before you drive anywhere, you should always check, if the road is open or not. Generally, most of them are open in the summer. But in the spring or another season, they might be closed. So just check on this website if you can go there.
6, Harsh terrain isn’t the only difficult thing that you might meet in Iceland. Many times there are also sheep crossing roads, so be careful when you see them outside of the fence, they might jump out on the road. If you are planning to go to East Iceland, there is the same situation with raindeers crossing the road. So just watch the road for any animals.
7, If you are coming to Iceland in the summer, prepare sunglasses. Especially if you are driving. Sun is kind of rare in Iceland, however, if there is a sun and you are driving in the evening, there is still a chance, that the light will still strike your eyes.
8, 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 you are coming in the main season, make sure you book the car in advance.
9, As the name of the country, says, Iceland is a kind of cold place. In winter, the average temperature is -8°C. And basically from October, you should expect at least some snow. During the summer, the average temperature is 12°C at best. So don’t expect bikini weather and check the forecast.
10, It is not the only temperature that changes during the year. The light changes as well. There isn’t too much light during the winter. In fact, in December, expect only 4 hours of sunlight. On the other hand, in summer, the sun never goes away. During the night time, it gets only blurry, but not dark.
11, As I mentioned above Iceland has the main season which is summer. 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.
12, If you visit through offseason, you will get all attractions that are on the main road but you might not be able to get to the hiking trails such as Landmannalaugar on the south. Light and weather might be an issue too, however, the prices will get down with the temperature.
13, Even though offseason might sound very unwelcoming, there is a plus to going to Iceland in offseason. And that would be the northern lights, that you can see here during the winter.
14, the Last thing you should know about Icelandic weather is quite important. You should know that even if the temperature finally gets to be mild in summer, the wind is still very cruel. So it is always a little bit colder than you would expect.
Safety tips for Iceland
15, Iceland is the safest country in the world. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be careful when you are touring around. Especially when you are hiking, don’t go out of the path. That could be very important, especially if you are hiking in a remote area.
16, 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 about a place that is not dangerous. There were a lot of people getting drowned by jumping into waves with a very strong current.
17, 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. The same goes for a volcano. It can sound cool to say that you hiked a volcano, but the truth is that there is only one volcano that is safe to hike when visiting Iceland.
18, Hiking volcanoes is a no-no. Most of the volcanoes in Iceland are covered by snow. Those that are not are very difficult to hike with big cracks in the soil. There are only a couple of volcanoes that you can hike in Iceland and they are in Westman islands.
How to deal with Icelandic nature
19, 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 no one 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.
20, Same goes for trash. I’d say that if it is biodegradable it is somewhat ok. But the 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.
21, Let’s move on from the disgusting things to something better. There is a lot of animals in Iceland. Both wild ones and domesticated. A lot of people are coming here to watch puffins. If you do, don’t touch them. They are wild animals, that don’t need human supervision. And don’t feed them. They are more than capable to feed themselves.
22, Since we are at animals here are some things to know about domestic animals. Both sheep and horses are just everywhere in Iceland. They are cute and feel free to take pictures with them if they let you. But don’t feed them. They have plenty of grass around and they are well taken care of. You don’t know their diet, which can potentially harm them.
23, Iceland is a great place where you can ride horses. If you are an experienced rider and want to bring your gear, clean it properly. Icelandic horses are not used to many diseases and by coming with contaminated gear, all of them can get sick.
What to wear in Iceland
24, If you are packing for Iceland, you should know a couple of things. Weather in Iceland changes every 5 minutes. And because of that, it is better to have a lot of things and wear them in layers. That way you can always stay warm.
25, The parties in Reykjavík are great and full of life and interesting music. Go there but for that occasion, the decent thing to do would be to also bring some decent clothes with you. Bartenders are usually unhappy to see people in hiking gears dancing in the bar. It is not forbidden, just weird.
26, In Iceland you will finally have the opportunity to buy a proper Icelandic sweater. You can buy it anywhere in the clothing shops. But be prepared, that it is really expensive.
27, Last advice about clothing. Whatever you are packing, make sure to have at least some waterproof and windproof clothes. They are quite essential anywhere in nature.
Things you need to know about food in Iceland
28, With the current movement for animal rights, you will see more and more vegan options in Icelandic menus. However, eating lamb, horse or even whale is kind of normal in Iceland. You can also find a lot of fishes on the menus. If you don’t eat any of these, make sure you ask the waiter before you order something.
29, Along with the food come some national specialties. Perhaps the most normal specialty would be that you can get a very luxurious hot dog. There are some less normal specialties that you will probably see. One of them is the boiled head of sheep. You can also eat here a puffin or rotten shark.
30, I’m not sure about how many times are you used to eat out on your holiday. But before you plan to do something like that, just know that the restaurants in Iceland are quite expensive. But unlike other restaurants, it is not necessary to tip a waiter. It is a nice thing to do, but it is not expected like in some countries.
Budget tips for Iceland
31, 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.
32, If you are not outside person and would prefer some other budget solution, check out hotels that are smaller and perhaps in the middle of nowhere. You can get a great view from your room and cheaper price too.
33, When it comes to food, you can save a fortune by eating pre-made food from supermarkets. It might not sound too good in some countries, but Iceland’s quality is very high and you can save a fortune this way. Another budget option for food would be a gas station, where they have a lot of sandwiches and some vegetarian options as well.
34, If you want to save even more money for going around, I would recommend hitchhiking. In Iceland, it is a very safe thing to do. And especially if you are planning to visit more common places like the Golden Circle, there is a lot of cars that are driving around. A lot of them are happy to take you with it.
35, Hitchhiking might not be comfortable for everyone. If you insist on renting a car, there is a budget way around. If you are planning to go to common areas that are on road 1, you don’t need 4×4 vehicle, that are generally more expensive and you can get just a normal car. If you are planning to go to some area with bad terrain, very often there are terrain busses, that will take you there. Especially in the summer month, it is the budget way of how to get to places like that.
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