Iceland, the land of fire and ice. As mysterious as Iceland sounds, it is pretty easily accessible. However, there were a few curveballs I unexpectedly encountered during my trip. Better me than you, I suppose! Learn from the troubles I ran into and be prepared, so that you can make the most out of your upcoming Icelandic trip!
1. It’s hella expensive
Iceland is an extremely pricey nation, it totally blindsided me upon arrival. Water bottles are about $3, a cheap meal is around $20, and hotels- good luck finding one under $150- even on a farm stay! One thing I kept forgetting to factor in was that tax is included in all prices. That made me feel a little bit better, but I still spent way more than I budgeted for.
2. You’re going to need a GPS/road map
I highly advise renting a car if you plan to do anything outside of Reykjavik. Excursions generally start out at $100/person making the rental highly economical. Cell reception is not available everywhere. And of course, your phone only works if you’ve purchased a roaming plan. I rented the GPS when reserving my car. It can be confusing navigating through the city, but outside it’s pretty self explanatory. Finding your hotel while on the Ring Road however, can be a challenge. I had a physical road map and GPS, but still had troubles. As far as the waterfalls and geysers go, that stuff is visible from the highway! They’re easy to find!
3. Gas pumps only accept debit cards
No gas station accepts credit cards, only cards with a pin like a debt card. I showed up to the gas station before it opened and my cards kept getting decline. Then I realized- it’s Europe. All European countries require a debit card to get gas! Make sure you bring one with you!
4. The food is …. different
I’m sort of a picky eater- I’ve definitely ventured further out of my comfort zone more recently and even tried some Iceland’s traditional dishes. However, most of them I did not care for, so I stuck to the chicken and beef as much as I could. In Iceland, traditional dishes include horse, fermented shark, lamb’s head, and reindeer. I felt brave enough to try the reindeer (caribou), but I was not a fan…. Even their beloved skyr was a one time thing for me.
5. Whale and Puffin are mostly hunted to feed tourists- it’s no longer a traditional food
Other dishes tourists like to eat are Minke whale and puffin. A local told me however, that they really don’t eat these foods anymore and they are primarily hunted for the tourists demand. Whaling is a long, terrible, brutal death. These animals are harpooned over and over for upwards of an hour until they lose so much blood they die. The whales must come up for air and can’t escape the fast boaters. There is no reason to hunt whales anymore. We can get all the same by-products from more humane and ecologically friendly sources. I highly advice against eating whale. If my words haven’t convinced you, watching this graphic video of a whale hunt may.
6. The weather can change with a flick of the wrist
Iceland’s weather is extremely unpredictable. One minute it could be sunny, then rainy, then sunny, then foggy and snowing…. on repeat. Definitely bring rain gear, long johns, and a warm coat! The local’s have a classic saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait an hour”.
7. Reykjavik can be an awesome 3 day weekend (via direct flights)
Flying from SFO to Reykjavik was an 8 hour, direct, overnight flight. It takes 6 hours for me to travel back home to Florida… So I decided this is an excellent 3 day weekend trip. Flying from NYC or Miami is even a shorter flight! You can explore Iceland’s top two destinations within an hour’s drive from Reykjavik: The Blue Lagoon and Thingvellir National Park. The famous black sand beaches of Vik are within close vicinity, too!
8. All cars are stick shift
Thankfully, I know how to drive stick, but for many Americans, this can be a problem. Make sure you practice before arriving! You don’t want to be driving in the rain, fog, or snow, up/downhill and stalling out! Or causing a traffic jam in their pesky, very frequent round-a-bouts!
9. Book hotels/farm stays months in advance
Booking with little notice is not ideal for Iceland- especially during the summer or holidays. Almost all the hotels were booked when I checked 1 1/2 months out (and that’s a lot for me). I opted to do farm stays across the country which were still somehow around $200/night. Book well in advance if you know you’ll be making a trip out there!
10. You can park your car anywhere to sleep!
A second option to sleeping in Iceland is car-camping. Unlike most countries, you can park your car anywhere you’d like and leave it overnight. Thus, renting a camper van can be a way to save a bit of krona during your stay. I wish I would have done this! But my one concern is, can you actually stay warm overnight??
11. No cash necessary
I didn’t run into one instance where I needed the local currency, the krona. I bought about $150 at the airport and found myself with about $150 when I left. Everywhere accepts credit cards! Just make sure you’re using a card with no foreign transaction fees like the American Express Everyday or Capital One Venture Card. For those of you looking to spend some cash, I found that Reykjavik had the best priced souvenirs.
And that’s it! There are no surprises left. You are now prepared to explore Iceland like a pro! Just make sure you don’t forget your rain coat like I did!
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