Traveling in Iceland: Best tips and tricks 2019
Iceland is a country that fascinates a lot of people. It is full of magnificent landscapes and different activities depending on the season and the region. In this extreme country where everything seems to live 100%, we got a lot of information before the departure to prepare well for this adventure! After a lot of research and experience in Iceland, I come back with this article to give you some tips and tricks, the most important ones in my opinion and that I wanted to share with you.
Iceland is not a destination, it's an adventure!
Many of you have sent me your questions and wanted to know my advice for your future trip to the Viking land! Thank you to all of you! Note now what will follow and you will be (practically) ready to discover this beautiful country! Know that it is important to anticipate a minimum for this type of destination (harsh climate, cost of living...) because otherwise you would risk seeing your stay completely wasted and it would be a shame!
Iceland is part of the Schengen Area and has therefore accepted the free movement of persons. In other words, it has lifted border controls on travelers from other member states, so you can enter without problems. For stays of less than 3 months, the French, Belgians, and Swiss can travel to Iceland with a valid identity card or passport. For our Canadian friends, a passport valid for at least 3 months after the return date is mandatory.
Many airlines fly to Iceland and its only international airport is located in Keflavik with 40 kilometers from the capital. Among the most famous are Air Iceland, Icelandair (both distinct!) and WOW Air the low-cost airlines of the country and the one we chose. To find our flights I went as usual through the site JetRadar.com and I got tickets for 194€ per person seats and checked baggage included. I say "seats included" because we had to pay a small extra to get them for the luggage, count 20€ extra in the cabin, 40€ in the hold. That said, for this price we did not ask ourselves many questions, it was rather attractive especially for the "last minute". We were also in the low season! The only downside that we found there is the very restrictive Schedule of flights WOW Air since the take-off is at 6:00 am ... also, know that in the summer, in high season, the price of flights can easily reach 400€ per person.
The country has several small domestic airports, including Reykjavík, from which many domestic flights depart. Did you know that the domestic flight network is very widespread in the country? It would be as easy for the people of Iceland to fly as it is for the buses. Think about it if you are limited in time during your stay!
Cost of living
Let it be said, Iceland is a (very) expensive destination! It even seems that before the financial crisis of 2008, prices were multiplied by 2! The cost of living is for me the most frustrating point of the trip: we enjoyed ourselves without doing anything crazy because the prices reject quite a lot. To give you an idea, gasoline is around 2€ per liter, a pint of beer is around 7-8€ in Happy Hour, a sweater in Icelandic wool around 150€ and for a restaurant count20-30€ for a single dish per person.
One thing to remember when planning your trip is the expenses that will cost you the most, namely :
- Transportation / Car rental
Concerning money, the Icelanders are fans of the blue card. It is therefore very easy to use this means of payment. However, be sure to bring cash if you live on isolated farms as distributors will be less present and CB more difficult to use. One important and useful thing to know: travelers can get a refund of the VAT (from 11% to 24%) applied to purchases made in Iceland. This is done by going to the Tax Refund Counter at the airport and presenting the form given by the store. The number of purchases must be greater than ISK 6000. This operation will allow you to be reimbursed up to 15%.
Transportation is a real headache when you travel to a country you don't know, you have to admit ... in my opinion, you have to weigh the pros and cons and especially take into account your program and your budget. In the end, this will almost appear to be a given! I also advise you to list the means of transport in the country in question. For Iceland, there are not 30 solutions.
- the bus is one of the cheapest especially when you travel alone. There are several Icelandic bus companies however services are very limited in the low season.
- forget the train. This does not exist in Iceland.
- the bike for the brave! If you do some research, you will see that some have had the idea of cycling around Iceland, preferably in the summer. However, it has its limits…
- hitchhiking is conceivable and even widespread in this country. You have to be patient, especially in more isolated places.
If as we want you to be free and move easily on the roads of Iceland, I recommend car rental (or camper van).
It is the most popular means of transportation for travelers visiting the country, and the best solution! Especially if you're traveling with more than one person. For a good overview of the prices that are charged by local agencies, I recommend the Site Guide to Iceland. In the "rent a car" tab you will find the comparison of all car agencies. Why this site? The local Icelandic agencies offer more attractive prices than the international agencies such as Avis, Sixt, Hertz, Europcar ... to give you an idea of the price, we chose the most attractive offer, that of IceRental 4×4 for about 230€ for the 4 days of rental. The car was a Suzuki Vitara. Also, I strongly advise you to choose a SUV / 4×4 car, especially in the low season! With the harsh winter weather, some upland roads are difficult to access or even closed.
As far as the ice rental 4×4 agency is concerned, I will not recommend it... quite simply because the taking of the vehicle and its return were very laborious. No one was present at the agency when we went there, we had to wait an hour and a half while eating our meal in front of the door so that someone would answer my calls and arrive... for the return, the agency is not in the airport itself but a hangar 5km away. No one returned the vehicle on the last day at 10 pm, we waited again for someone to come and get the Suzuki... in short, a lot of time lost and very imperfect customer service.
One thing to know, too, is the cost of gasoline, which is almost twice as expensive as in Central Europe. If you drive a lot like us, you're gonna have to refuel every other day! And on this point, it is necessary to be careful because outside cities it is more difficult to find service stations. Some people opt for cans they fill, just in case …
When to go to Iceland?
The period you're leaving will ultimately depend on the trip you want to make, the things you want to see.
- Summer (high season from June to the end of August): temperatures are at their highest! However, do not expect to exceed 12°C too much ... no frost or snow, but Green and sunny landscapes! Ideal for hiking, animal watching, and other outdoor activities. You will experience the Midnight Sun, in other words, no dark night, so you can enjoy your program until late. Also, there are many festivals during this period. The disadvantage: price and attendance at the highest.
- Winter (low season from October to April): it's cold, very cold! However, this is the best time to observe the northern lights if you're lucky. The landscapes are snowy, ideal for hiking on glaciers. The weather conditions are harsh, it is necessary to be vigilant especially on the road. The night's polar offer only 3/4 hours of sunshine per day in December and January. The advantage: the price and attendance are at their lowest!
The accommodation will be part of one of the biggest expenses of your trip (except if you sleep in your camper van). The cost of the hotels is not given, count about 100€ for a standard double room. For this price, be aware that breakfast is often not included and that the bathrooms / WC are common. If you want to find cheaper accommodation, this is my advice:
- Guesthouses: they often offer to bed (sometimes with bed linen) with breakfast for the price of a hotel room or even cheaper. youth hostels: they are very present in Iceland and very practical. I can only advise you on our hostel: B47 Hostel on Reykjavík. Here no dorms with 10/15 travelers crammed together but double or even quadruple rooms. No breakfast but a large common room with kitchenette and bar. The toilets and showers are common but very clean and the atmosphere very quiet. Don't hesitate!
- Camping: a little at the roots, you have to love the wind and the cold ... for this, provide a good tent, sleeping bags of quality and money also for showers often also... this solution is, of course, more conceivable in summer.
- Camper van: sleeping in your van will be a very economical solution! Be careful, however, not to run into police officers, as this is normally forbidden. But before the security forces land …
Unlike Europe, Iceland is not a destination famous for its gastronomy, except if one speaks unusually then there is something to say! For the most curious dishes, please note:
Svið: boiled sheep's head served as such or macerated in vinegar.
Sviðasulta: sheep's head pate made from Svið.
Hákarl: the most famous. The wild shark! Hardly eatable it seems …
Harðfiskur: dried and salted fish.
Lifrarpylsa: sheep's body stuffed with a mixture of sheep intestines, liver and fat than cooked.
Súrsaðir hrútspungar: Aries testicles bread cooked in whey.
Puffin: yes yes it's eatable! It is even a choice in restaurants.
As far as shopping is concerned, the best is to go to the Krónan or Bónus supermarkets. They are the cheapest in Iceland ( Like Lidl in Europe or Costco in USA).
Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world! So there's no risk of you getting mugged. It is an ideal destination for solo travelers, especially women and families as the country is a huge playground.
How to dress in Iceland?
Take the time to prepare your suitcase/bag properly because if you do not take the right clothes, you may not have a good stay! Get warm and comfortable clothes! Know that even in the summer when the temperatures are warmer (12°C at the highest), There is still a lot of wind in Iceland. Always cover yourself. Prefer sweaters, T-shirts to put under and windproof. Think also of rain-proof clothing. Jeans and leggings are not suitable for outdoor outings. Prefer hiking pants. Walking shoes are more than necessary unless you want to walk down the dance tracks on Reykjavík all night long! In winter, scarf/cap/gloves are essential.
The Blue Lagoon: is it worth it?
The Blue Lagoon is certainly the most visited site in Iceland and you surely must have heard of this place at least once! However, opinions differ on this place which some find too tourist and too expensive while others advise it as the place not to be missed in Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon is a popular spa in the middle of a lava field. The water, a milky blue-green, is extracted at 2000m underground and heated by geothermal energy (38°C). Its color can be explained by the presence of mineral salts, algae and silica, which soften and exfoliate the skin. But then for such a craze for this place? You should know that the Blue Lagoon has not always been as touristic and the locals came to bathe there as in other hot springs notably to discover its beneficial properties mentioned above. It is a private company that has developed the area and has operated it since 1992, making the Blue Lagoon a "trendy" place and even too commercial for some. What is certain is that the place is an experience in itself that seduces many travelers!
Certainly, the place is crowded with tourists and the standard entrance is 49€ per person, enough to turn off many of us. However, I think the experience is worth a visit because even for this price, the complex offers a lot of facilities: panoramic terrace, hot spots, steam baths, saunas, hot waterfall. For the extras, there are bus service, restaurants, souvenir shops, bars, VIP lounge, massage on pneumatic mattresses and soon a 5* Hotel. There's plenty to have in the complex. We chose the standard entrance which includes the entrance + a Silica Mud Mask. We also took the shuttle service (Airport / Blue Lagoon / Reykjavík) which was very convenient especially to find our accommodation as we were dropped off just ahead! For the shuttle + the entrance, we had about 100€ per person.