Yes I am back.. from one of the most iconic trips of my life. I mean a place as spectacular as Iceland I had never dreamt in my wildest of the fantasies. Imagine mossy lava fields that make earth look inside-out, grumbling glaciers with snow capped mountains mixed with active volcanoes and a landscape that takes you back to Jurassic era …..My brain is still trying to catch up with my eyes to process the beauty of this island. While we had tried planning everything(or we thought we did), there were still many twists and turns. And as there is so much to share I thought it would be best to kick off the series on Iceland by starting off with a list of things that will help you plan your travel to Iceland. Oh trust me if you thinking “Who goes to Iceland?, I am never going there..” , by the time you will finish reading my Iceland saga, you will be convinced. So here are the 10 things to know before travelling to Iceland
1. Unpredictable weather and Crazy windy :
If you want to be certain about one thing about Iceland, that would be Iceland’s weather is very very very unpredictable. No matter which time of the year you go you must have waterproof , wind proof as well as warm clothes. From blue skies to pouring rains, the temperature drops really fast so definitely layering is the way to go . Add wind to this equation for which you must have ear and head protection. Iceland is beautiful and you must be adequately equipped to keep up with changing weather conditions in order to enjoy the landscape.
Quick Tip : Layer up yourself to keep pace with changing weather. Waterproof jackets and gloves are a complete must for a trip to Iceland.
2. Car rental and gas are expensive :
Driving is the way to enjoy this island. There is nothing as just one scenic drive, the whole island is so beautiful that you will want to drive and stop on every turn. There are many car rental companies at airport itself. However, I will advice to pre-book the car and depending on your points of interests, do check with the rental companies if your car is fit to go on F- roads. Also, in Iceland automatic cars are expensive than manual ones , so pick wisely. Gas indeed is very expensive in Iceland around $2 per liter. But there is nothing you can do about it but adjust your trip budget accordingly.
Quick Tip : Do not compromise on car insurance. The kind of stories I have heard about Iceland a good insurance will always help.
3. Do not forget to bring a GPS :
It is very tough to understand Icelandic road signs and hence next to impossible to navigate on your own. You must bring GPS with you or be ready to spend more money while renting a car with GPS. It costs around 8$ per day for renting a GPS and in my experience their GPS are quite useless.
Quick Tip : If you use a smart-phone, buy an Icelandic mobile sim card to access Iceland’s 3G network which is extremely helpful since it works even in the most remote areas. For all my American readers, I have never been more happy to switch to T mobile as it gives unlimited data and text for free in Iceland.
4. Use Credit card almost everywhere :
Almost all the shops and restaurants in Iceland have credit card machines, so do not fret about having to exchange your money for Krónas. Even in remotest of areas , paying by card is not an issue. It will still not harm to carry 10 -20 $ worth of Kronas as you might need them for some parking meters or vending machines.
Quick Tip: In Iceland, they use a chip on the credit card with 4 digit pin number. if you are going to be driving in the country side the self service gas stations will require a pin number so do check with your credit card company at home.
5. Iceland water stinks :
The water in Iceland is heated by geothermal energy and hence the hot water coming from the faucets smells like sulfur. And when i say smell I really mean it stinks. Regardless, the water is completely clean and actually good for skin. I could not pass through the smell, so ended up buying drinking water from store, but if you can ignore the smell, its completely safe to drink tap water.
Quick Tip : “Bonus” is the best budget store chain in Iceland .I will advise to buy and stock up water from these budget stores. For more information on food shopping in Iceland use this link .
6. Days are very long in Summer:
For me atleast, I was very fascinated that it never got pitch dark at night in Iceland(in month of May). As good it was for our prolonged outings . it was very misleading too since before you could realize the time , most of the restaurants would be closed already. In fact many stores close at around 6 pm even on weekdays. So unless you have backup for dinner like stocking up from local stores, I will advise to always keep an eye on time.
Quick Tip :Most of the restaurants close by 9 pm so plan your outings accordingly.
7. Free attractions no fees :
Almost all the attractions in Iceland are free,(ofcourse minus blue lagoon , the guided tours etc..). Entry to geysers, national parks , glaciers etc.. everything is free. There would be some places where you might need to pay parking fees but that is very rare.
Quick Tip : If you plan to do any tours , do book in advance.
8. Visa Requirements:
Iceland is one of Shengen states so if you have Shengen visa .. you are good to go.. For all my American readers, you do not need visitor’s visa with US passport. For my fellow Indians in US, getting Iceland visa is a bit tricky as you get it from Denmark Embassy. Denmark has made bio-metrics compulsory so you need to go physically for fingerprinting. You can find more information on visa here.
9. Your safety is in your hands :
Unlike many other countries which completely mark the boundaries of attractions, most of Icelandic attractions are unguarded without any rails. Its really your judgement call as to how close you can get to some waterfalls or cliff edges. Also do not pull over or stop by at just any point to take pictures. The roads are narrow and off-roading is illegal in Iceland. Specially because the landscape is fragile, and can take decades to recover from the ruts made by a tire.
Quick Tip : Do not go on cliff ends. Landslides are very common.
10. No need for tipping :
“TO Tip” is not Icelandic culture. Most of the times it will be included in your bill. Neither do you need to tip in restaurants nor in cabs as its always included in the total.
I hope these tips and tricks help you to plan your trip to Iceland. My series on Iceland will continue with itinerary details , major attractions and some hidden jewels that i found on my trip. If you missed seeing some of my pictures that I shared on Instagram from Iceland , you can find them using #SayHeloIceland .You can also subscribe me to get all the action from my posts straight in your inbox. Stay tuned to see best of the locations from Iceland in my upcoming posts. Thank you for stopping by.
PhotoCredits : Photostains
This is very helpful Kanika. Very well structured. I enjoyed reading it.
Thank you so much..
Great tips. Really enjoyed the article and hope to make it to Iceland soon!
Enjoyed your tips…hoping I’m able to go to Iceland someday…
Thank you so much.. where are you next heading to?
Hi Kanika, I have a question regarding tipping in Iceland. I was just there 2 weeks ago. I had read articles about no tipping before I left the United States. However, in one small restaurant in the country where it appeared they served only breakfast and lunch there was a “tip” jar at the counter where one paid the bill. Also, in Vik, at a more expensive restaurant, the same thing, a “tip” jar in the same location. Is this becoming more common or is this for Americans who are so use to tipping that they are unable to grasp the concept of a tip being built into the restaurant bill. Thank you.
I am not sure if its just American thing , since even in India I have seen the expectation for tips , and that being not billed in the main bill. For the “Tips Jar”, I think people do get generous a lot 😉
Big NO to your point about water. Have you visited Silfra? I think it’s the clearest and best water I’ve ever drank in my life 😉
Hey I did mention the smelling part for the water coming out of faucets. Silfra indeed was blue and crystal clear.
A nice article. A small correction. The water is not heated, it comes burning hot and is cooled down before going into houses and it’s only the natural warm water that has the sulfur smell, the cold water is totally odorless and almost clinically clean! But there are other things you should not do while in Iceland. Here is a list of ten of them!
This was a very helpful read – thank you!
I’m planning a trip soon – a bit impromptu really – for a month from now. And I’m quite uncertain about the Schengen visa. I’ve got an appointment for two weeks from now – which leaves barely two weeks for having it processed.
How long did the visa processing take for you?
And would you recommend doing the trip with day trips instead of renting a car?
Or would that not be as extensive?
Thank you for sharing your experience and the surreal pictures!
For us the visa took a week. We are in Boston so had to go to NYC. Lately they have made finger printing compulsory so you might want to check that. For Iceland, how many days are you going? Ill suggest to rent a car so that you may stop wherever and whenever you want , and trust me you wud want to take frequent stops.
This is a very informative post, Kanu! We just booked a family trip to Iceland for early August.
Any additional suggestions/watch outs since we will have an infant and a three year old with us? Are standard touristy places stroller accessible? Many Thanks!
P.S:- How about converting this blog into a travel app:)
I so have to work on converting this into a travel app babe . Most of the places are stroller friendly like Skogafoss , seljalandfoss , gulfoss and everything in Thingevellir national park. Bruarfoss waterfall is not stroller accessible. I went to Iceland in Feb and May. I bet when you go the days will be really long You will love it.