Iceland has been one of our greatest adventures this year! Every corner of the land of Fire and Ice is full of natural wonders that are unique in the world. Even if we only spent a short time there, we felt truly amazed by the landscapes, people and the culture. We prepared a special list of the 10 things to know before you go to Iceland. These tips will be mostly tips for budget-travelers, backpackers and people who care about the environment and want an authentic experience. For sure these tips will help you to plan your trip better and to get the most out of your time in Iceland!
1. Booking everything on time is the key
Iceland is not a cheap place, just to mention the prices of accommodation and some experiences (like the Blue Lagoon or other hot springs).
It’s better to book tickets and accommodations for more than 2 months before your trip. Thanks to that you will save a lot of money that you can use for buying souvenirs or food 🙂
The same rule applies to cars, but we will explain more detailed in the next point.
Here is a list what do you have to book before your trip:
- Hotel / Accommodation
- Rental Car
- Blue Lagoon
- Secret Lagoon
- Aurora Reykjavik - an exhibition center about the Northern Lights
- Tours / multi-day tours - if you want to take a tour to the Northern Lights or you want a guided tour to the waterfalls or glaciers
- A guided tour to the Langjokull Glacier
Here you can book some tours in advance:
Thingvellir National Park in Iceland
2. A car in Iceland - total freedom
The best way to get around Iceland is by renting a car. You can also rent a campervan so that you have also a place to sleep, or you can also hitchhike and sleep in your tent. Alternatively, you can sleep in hotels and take organized tours every day, but that’s very expensive, so that’s not an option for backpackers.
You can get a lot of options, from little cars for just two people, to big vans for families. You should not worry about the special liquids against cold and the snow tires, because every car in Iceland already has them.
What is really important is to consider the weather during your driving, because Iceland has the craziest weather in the world! It can be a very clear sky and then it will suddenly change to a heavy storm, snow or both of them and then change back to normal weather - everything in less than 1 hour.
Eco tip: Choosing a car with a good engine with good performance will reduce the consumption of gas, this is very good for both the environment and your wallet!
Don’t forget about full insurance, you can buy that directly when you arrive in the office of the car company as well.
3. It’s all about the planning
Our tip is to stay in one accommodation for max. 1-2 nights. Staying in a hotel, hostel or Airbnb means that you depart from there in the morning, you drive 2-3-4 hours, then you have to drive back again. It can make you lose a lot of time, so we think it’s better to change accommodation often. In that case, you don’t have to drive back every evening.
That will also reduce your car’s fuel consumption, and it will be easier to drive fewer periods than a very long distance (once we drove for 6 hours in rain, you don’t want to do that :D)
The interesting locations in Iceland are usually “surrounding” a town reachable by the main road (Road 1). For instance, here are some of the ones that we visited:
- you can stay in Vik for visiting all the interesting spots of the south coast of Iceland
- we stayed in Fludir to visit all the spots of the Golden Circle
So establishing a base and then in 1-2 days moving forward is a good idea. Of course, it depends on how many days are you going to spend in beautiful Iceland.
You can even use Google Maps and create your own map to use it without an internet connection. You can also use our Maps that you can find in our blog posts. This will save you time, gas, money and it will make you feel very organized!
4. When you plan, don’t forget about the season and the hours of sunlight you will get
Your experience in Iceland depends a lot on the season.
From September to February: Northern Lights are visible, everything is cheaper, but the roads are more slippery and more dangerous. There is also less sunlight. We went in February when sunrise is about 8-9 am and sunset is about 6 pm.
During summer, the day is way longer and the probability of sunny days and “warm” temperatures is also bigger, but everything will be way more expensive! In the summer you can also camp, sleep in your tent. In the winter it’s way too cold for that. The warm season is perfect for taking tours on the west coast and watching the puffins and the seals on the rocks.
We recommend you to book your trip depending on your needs and interests.
the black sand beach in Vík at sunset at 6 pm in February
5. Take care when you drive
The weather in Iceland is just crazy, you never know when it will change!
Luckily, there are several websites where you can check this. For traveling safe and checking if the roads are not closed somewhere, we used this website (click here!).
Here you will be able to see the conditions of the road. You will see if they are transmittable of not, or if a whole area is under a blizzard or a storm.
You have to be an experienced driver to drive in Iceland. Even if you are an expert driver, these roads are very special due to their incredible length, the rocky roads - where small rocks can hit your car-, and changing weather conditions.
Be always aware of the other cars, the weather, and take the signs very seriously! Do not drive faster than it’s allowed there.
Travel tip: For sure you will read this in the info papers of the car company, but remember that in Iceland you should keep the lights of the car turned on all the time. This is a must for every driver. Also, try to avoid driving in the darkness, because it’s even more dangerous.
6. Packing list
Because of the changing weather, dressing properly in Iceland can be quite tricky. You have to be prepared for cold, rain and very strong wind!
Here are the things you shouldn’t be missing from your backpack or suitcase:
- Waterproof winter jackets: Perfect for visiting the multiple waterfalls and rivers, and good to face the sudden rain and wet wind.
- Raincoat: Bring it as extra protection for heavy rain, it’s better to bring yours than buying a plastic disposable one!
- Waterproof shoes/boots: A lot of spots are full of mud, water and the conditions itself create a very wet environment, protecting your feet is very important!
- Waterproof backpack - because if you go closer to the waterfalls, you can get super wet 🙂
- Hat: A good warm hat will protect your ears from the cold wind.
- Very warm winter gloves, preferably waterproof
- Face-cover winter masks - to protect your face from the wind
- if you have a camera, don’t forget to bring something to protect your lenses against the water, rain and the humidity next to the waterfalls
- Thermos bottle - to keep your tea or coffee hot 🙂
Zsuzsi protects herself against the Icelandic wind and rain
7. Check the opening hours of the stores and restaurants
The only big city in Iceland is the capital, Reykjavik, and here is the only place where you will find restaurants and supermarkets open at late times.
When we were in Fludir, we almost went to sleep without dinner because we didn’t find anything open! (Luckily we arrived at a restaurant and they let us order, even if they were already closing)
Get your food in the supermarkets earlier, so that you can cook in your accommodation, or go to the restaurants earlier.
8. Sólheimasandur plane wreck - not easy to reach!
One of the most instagrammable places is the plane wreck located on the south coast next to Vik. The ruins look amazing in the night, you can even watch the Northern Lights from there if the sky is clear!
But be aware! This is something that we discovered by ourselves when we were there.
The plane is unreachable by car. of course, you can leave your car in a free parking lot and walk to it.
You can either walk 3 kilometers to the plane wreck or pay 4000 ISK (more or less 30 euros) for a bus ride.
If we would know this before, we would go there earlier to walk to the plane, but as we wanted to catch the sunset in Vík, we didn’t have 1 extra hour planned in our itinerary (walk to the plane and back).
9. Visiting the glaciers, you need to take a tour
Glaciers in Iceland is one of the most surrealistic experiences. But as you can imagine, these places are unreachable by the car. You need to book a special tour for visiting them.
Glaciers are amazing iceblocks that have been made after millions of years of ice, water, and air flowing. But the most incredible of these wonders of nature is that they are still moving!
The glacier of Jökuhlaup even destroyed a bridge!
We recommend you to book your glacier tour also in advance in order to get a good price and good equipment for the adventure.
10. Northern Lights and the best places to watch them
The most incredible experience in Iceland is for sure watching the Northern Lights.
Of course, you can also watch them in other north European countries like Sweden, Norway or Finland.
In the winter, you watch the Northern Lights in Iceland from almost everywhere, you just need a clear sky and no artificial lights.
Of course, that weather has a lot of relation to catch them, but if you want to really know when and where to find them you need to visit this website (click here).
This is the official website that shows you when, where and how the weather conditions are to know if you will watch them or not. Don’t be sad if you face bad weather conditions when you arrive in Iceland, you will have the other chance the next day, as the weather is changing a lot.
Beautiful places to watch the lights: Thingvellir National Park, Sólheimasandur plane wreck, Reykjavik at the lighthouse, Skógafoss waterfall, Selfoss waterfall, Jokulsarlon