Iceland Travel Tips, advice, do and dont’s you should know

Iceland Travel Guide

PART - II

iceland travel tips

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Table of Content

Fast forward to starting your trip, you should keep in mind that planning a trip to Iceland is not an easy one. That being said the distances you will need to drive to reach a famous point of interest is less, but yet traveling in Iceland involves a lot of driving and a lot depends on the weather there. The weather is very unpredictable – you will witness rains, clouds, sun, and gusty winds every now and then. So it is better to be prepared for it and check the weather forecast every now and then. I have written a bunch of Iceland travel tips you should know when you travel to Iceland for a quick reference. You may also be interested to know why Iceland is a must-visit, on my first blog post on Iceland: Top 12 reasons why a visit to Iceland is worth it

  • Currency: Icelandic Króna
  • Language: Icelandic. It is closely related to Norwegian and Faroese, although there are slight traces of Celtic influence in ancient Icelandic literature.
  • Capital: Reykjavík
  • Religion: Christianity

Where to buy Groceries in Iceland?

10-11 is the most expensive grocery store in Iceland as compared to the low price stores like Nettó, Bónus, and Krónan. However, if you really need to shop at 10-11 make sure to do so during the day as they increase the prices at night. Bonus is the cheapest while Krónan has a large section of dairy, organic food as opposed to Bonus. Bónus stores are open on weekdays and weekends. Unfortunately, however, they close sooner than most supermarkets, usually at 18:30. Krónan usually closes a little later than Bónus, at 20:00 or 21:00.

Tourist Trap alert– Don’t buy bottled water. The quality of Icelandic tap water is remarkable, and you can ask for free water practically everywhere. In fact, we ate a piece of floating ice from the Jökulsárlón lagoon while on a boat trip towards the glacier and it tasted exactly like bottled water!

Traveling in Iceland

The best way to enjoy and discover Iceland is by car. Rent one for yourself. If not, the other options are tours and then public transport. But you would miss out on many things if you don’t opt to travel around at your own pace and breathe in the beauty of Iceland by car. In Iceland, you drive on the right lane of the road. Headlights are required around the clock while driving. Driving off-road is forbidden! We used this map (from Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration) for most of our trip in Iceland.

After googling a lot and asking around, the best rental car agency seemed to be Blue Car Rental. I opted for their service twice and I was happy both the time although I did not make my second trip due to COVID quarantine restrictions in Iceland. They offered to extend my booking, or rebook me onto another date, etc., but kindly refunded me the amount as I wasn’t going to travel anyway. They are situated right outside the airport which is a short 10 minutes walk and what is even better is that there is a bus which takes you from the airport arrivals to the car rental offices and it is the second stop where you need to get down. While confirming your pickup at the counter, they also provide you with the map of Iceland with road safety guidelines and Gas stations across Iceland (If I remember correctly, they would recommend using Olis gas station as you can get discounts). I did not have any problem either with the various insurance and protection covers for the car, and the GPS, Wi-Fi, etc. came in handy too. There are many other rentals at that same location, so you have plenty of options. In case you need to travel on the F roads (mountain roads) a 4 x 4 jeep is mandatory, and do not forget to confirm with your rentals while booking.

driving in iceland f road
Driving in Iceland. Photo by Tabea Damm on Unsplash

However, if you wanted to opt for tours then Greyline Tours and Travel seems to be a good one, but again I can’t say much as I never opted for their services. My colleagues who tried them have positive reviews.

Now, as beautiful as it seems, Iceland is also dangerous should you don’t mind your boundaries of safety. Sometimes people get lost in the highlands, rarely there are car breakdowns and people may get stuck in life-threatening harsh weather causing hypothermia. In any case, it is better to have your trip plan shared with the authorities so that they can track you in case of an emergency: safetravel.is

One more point to keep in mind is that it can get quite windy in Iceland especially in the south around the coastal areas and the ring road. This may impact your driving and you might struggle to keep the steering straight! Smaller and lighter vehicles are more susceptible to this. Depending on the weather and other road conditions, not all Icelandic roads are open all the year. Make sure to refer to the road system of Iceland.

If you are driving around the country, you could also always pick up hitchhikers on the condition they chip in for gas. Iceland is a hitchhiker’s paradise where you can usually summon a ride within minutes of waving the thumb. If you want to get out into nature on a shoestring budget, therefore, it is a convenient and safe way to get around. This, of course, should only be done in the bright summer.

During the winter there is less traffic, you will be exposed to all the harsh conditions for an unknown amount of time, you could easily get caught in the darkness of fog and not be seen, and it is not safe for cars to pull on the side of the road. During winter, you may need winter tyre snow chains.

winter driving iceland
Driving in Snow in Iceland. Photo by Shawn Ang on Unsplash

Do not always rely on the Google Maps because it may include routes in which the roads may be closed. Be sure to check the latest road information from the links below.

Additional Info: 

Gas Stations in Iceland

gas station in iceland
Gas station in Iceland. Image by Khamkeo Vilaysing, Unsplash

There are enough Gas stations in Iceland, but make sure you plan your route beforehand, keeping in mind the places where you need to stop and refill. For example, you would not want to be in a situation where you are stuck in the highlands only to realize that the tank is near empty as you took a detour. Iceland is so beautiful that there is always something interesting to see every few miles. Better to refill at the first opportunity. The different gas companies are Orkan, Olís, N1, ÓB, Costco, and AO.
One thing to keep in mind is that you need a card with a chip and a 4 digit PIN number to be able to pay at self-service stations. The diesel pumps here in Iceland have black handles while ordinary gasoline has green handles.

Internet and Mobile connectivity in Iceland

You may get free Wi-Fi at most restaurants, bars, hotels, and guest houses. However, for traveling around Iceland it’s recommended to have a good roaming plan or buying SIM cards. Recommended ones are Vodafone, Siminn, and Nova. I use Vodafone and it gave me enough network coverage. Of course, the service is a bit poor in the highlands, but then that is the case for every service provider there I guess. You also get Wi-Fi from the car rental agency if you ask for one (I got it from Blue Car rentals).

Weather in Iceland

A lot has been shared on the Internet about the unpredictable weather of Iceland and it can definitely be the spoilsport to all your planning. At one point you are driving around with sun-kissed hair and soon after you find you are in cloudy weather with gusty winds! Wind speeds could range from 10 mph to 141 mph. You can wake up to a beautiful sunny day, begin getting dressed, and by the time you’ve finished, discover there’s a raging snow blizzard outside. The mild Atlantic air gets mixed with the cold Arctic air coming from the north and causes sudden and frequent weather changes. It also means that there is a lot of wind and stormy weather and that the south part of the country gets more rainfall than the north. 

Dangerous waves with wind in Iceland
Dangerous waves with wind in Iceland. Photo by ruedi häberli on Unsplash

I remember that we were on our way to Jökulsárlón and all of a sudden the weather changed – it went dark, started raining heavily and the visibility dropped so much that we had to cancel our trip as no way we would not be able to take the boat trip in the Jökulsárlón lagoon!

In any case make it a point to check the weather forecast on the official website: vedur.is . The website also has an aurora forecast.  The highest temperature recorded in Iceland was 30.5°C (86.9°F) in 1939, in the east of the country. The average temperature in Reykjavík is around 1-2°C (33-35°F) in wintertime and about 12°C (54°F) in summer. It can drop down to -10°C (14°F) in winter, or go up to 10°C (50°F), and during summertime, it can drop down to 7°C (44°C) and go up to 25°C (77°F). The largest town in the North of Iceland, Akureyri, generally receives warmer days during summer (though still averaging lower than Reykjavík, around 11°C or 52°F), but colder days in winter (around 0°C or 32°F), with more consistent levels of snow.

Autumn is similar to springtime in temperature, between 0° to 10°C (32-50°F), though autumn feels windier. Maybe this is because of all the leaves falling from the trees and blowing in the wind.

Make sure you pack plenty in terms of thermals, woolens, jackets, etc. to keep yourself warm. 

Best time to visit Iceland

Summer is the country’s peak season and the most popular time to come to Iceland. The weather is milder, the days are longer and it’s a truly spectacular time to visit as you get to cover more places in daylight. It is recommended to visit during this time if you are visiting Iceland for the first time.

Icelanders celebrate the first day of the summer on the first Thursday after the 18th of April. It’s the ‘official’ first day of summer and a public holiday. Spring comes to Iceland in April and May and it is also when migrating birds, such as the popular puffin species, start appearing in Iceland. The first puffins return in April and stay until September. You can see the first golden plovers towards the end of March.

puffins in iceland
Puffins in Iceland. Image by Paul Edney from Pixabay

Autumn starts in late August and stays until late October or early November. It’s still relatively warm in late August, though it gets colder as each day passes and you’ll be able to see Iceland’s gorgeous autumn colors. Maybe you’ll even see the Northern Lights. When you are chasing the northern lights, weather conditions are important. Clear skies provide a better chance of seeing an auroral display. You would be lucky if you get to see the northern lights in August.

autumn in iceland
Autumn in Iceland

Where to stay in Iceland?

Keep this in mind – Iceland is sparsely populated, and the stays are less and are booked away quickly during peak season (July-October). The prices are then high for your stay. Prices for accommodations go down in September and October. During my first trip, we decided to travel to Iceland impromptu and did not get cheap accommodation, due to which we lost lots of time driving.

hotels in iceland
Hotels in Iceland. Lucas Marcomini from Unsplash

A point to note here is that Northern Lights (Aurora) is unpredictable and some hotels have the option of them notifying you in the night if they notice one so that you don’t have to keep waiting when tired from the day’s trip. You could also stay at the foot of a giant flowing glacier like the ones below. Imagine waking up to this in the morning or looking at that white glow in the night!

staying near glaciers
Hotels in Iceland. Joshua Howey from Unsplash

You have options to book for AirBnB, Booking.com, Hostels.is among others. During COVID even though I had booked my stays well in advance through booking.com, some of which were non-refundable, all of them refunded me the booking amount when I canceled.

Starting the next post, I will be covering the places to visit in Iceland, which will be Part 3 of the Iceland series.

VAT Refunds

Value-added tax (VAT) may be refunded to those permanently resident outside Iceland for goods purchased in Iceland provided that the below conditions are met:

  1. The purchaser must bring the goods out of the country within three months of the purchase.
  2. The purchase price of the goods, including VAT, must be at least ISK 6,000. VAT may be refunded on goods on the same receipt if their total purchase price is ISK 6,000 or more, including VAT, even if one or more single items do not reach the minimum amount
  3. On departure, the purchaser must present the goods along with the completed Tax-Free form

For more information contact Arion bank at the Airport.

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