Best timing: Summer, spring or autumn. I travelled in 2019 between October 5 and October 13. October had it’s advantages. To experience Iceland would be to experience its drastic weather conditions too. We saw an upwards flowing waterfall as the gust got up to 80 km/h! You might be able to experience this likely in autumn or spring. Moreover this is an off-season which got us many deals cheaper too! Summer in any case would be the best, but watch out for your wallet! Unless you are an experienced local, I would not recommend a winter travel, especially a road trip!
Given the myth around Iceland and its dangerous weather conditions, we had prepared our best from websites and other blogs. Some tips were very useful and some we had learnt only after being there. Here is a list.
1.Transportation and routes
- Outside Rejkyavik there was hardly any public transportation. Given the geography of Iceland, the best way to see it is to be mobile. Renting a car makes absolute sense. Whether you want a mobile home, mini camper van or simply rent a car and stay at hotels/ guest houses or hostels on-the-go is up to you
- The ring road: What I heard or saw with many of the visitors were that they chose the whole ring road trip. Ring road might sound enticing, but you will likely end up watching the spots only along the road and not on the interiors. Also it might be a strenuous driving. The route has a length of 1400 km. With 90km/h speed restriction, you would need 15 hours to cover the stretch. In reality it might take a lot more than 15 hours mainly due to weather and it’s not 90km/h throughout. Also the landscape might be so overwhelming that you will be stopping every few km to take a picture. When we drove from Klausturhof to the Vatnajökull Glacier, it’s hardly 50km or less than an hour on paper, but all the pitstops we made extended the trip to more than 3 hours!!
- The official website of Iceland’s road department had divided Iceland in 9 parts. We did not do the round trip, rather we chose to stay at the two southern blocks. To cover the major highlights in each block, I can say now that you would need four days per block. This plan worked out wonderfully for us. It wasn’t strenuous and we were able to have a relaxed vacation. We stayed three days each in Hella and Klausturhof (The actual town’s name is Kirkjuvuwbvkjnvkjn … blabla, we chose to address the town by the name of the guesthouse) and two days in Reykjavik
2. Don’t underestimate the weather.
Take the road conditions and information offered by the Iceland road department serious. If you got this one covered, your rest of the trip will be peaceful.
- Official video from the Icelandic road department – a demo to Icelandic driving: https://youtu.be/D4kMt3QkUMQ
- Always check these websites before you depart for the day
- Now after having experienced them, I can say that now I understand what means wind and gust!
- Avoid night driving: Fog was so often and so intense that we hardly had a visibility of 20m and it usually occurred unpredictable
3. Renting a car: While renting a car, make sure that the car is prepared for the weather too
- I would recommend a car with a higher ground clearance and a hard plastic protection on the bottom like in the picture. Unless you want to take the F Roads, a simple mini SUV or a normal car with higher ground clearance should suffice. We took Citroen Cactus. It held really well for the 9 days we went in October
- Use the chip, if they give you one at the rental. Usually you get a discount on gas prices if you chip in.
- I have no caravan or camper van experience, so I cannot say anything on this. Only thing you have to watch out is the wind and gust factor. Caravans would not be suitable for non-summer weather
- We had brought our own Navi. It was really useful as internet was not available at all places.
- Music CDs or USB stick. For some reason, our car had neither of these options and we ended up listening to Icelandic radio for our whole trip. The radio was way better than most German radio senders.
- Renting period
- Some say that renting in the city might work out cheaper than the airport, but the rentals at airport were not that costly, at least compared to German prices.
- To go to the city without a car, the only option you have is the flybus shuttle which costs 33€ a person! Both ways would cost you 66€ a person and when you travel in a group, the sum becomes huge! Even if it is a costly in the airport, renting at the airport works out cheaper overall mainly due to this reason. Return your car a few hours before your flight!
- Outside the regular collision damage and theft insurances, my experience showed that windscreen, undercarriage and gravel insurances are a must. I had opted for a Grand Package in the list below. It came with a self-liability of 50,000 ISK or ~400€
- Sand/ash, Wheel, water damages, unless you are sure of your tracks, I wouldn’t recommend it
- Opt for layered clothing especially for non-summer weather than one big all-rounder jacket. You never know how the weather would change. Layered clothing prepares you to face any weather. This purchase had cost me altogether 300€.
- Thermal inners – long pants and underwear shirt. : https://www.amazon.de/MEETYOO-Thermounterw%C3%A4sche-Funktionsw%C3%A4sche-Atmungsaktiv-Kompressionsanzug/dp/B07GX8QX5L
- Fleece or down jacket: https://www.amazon.de/H%C3%B6henhorn-Badus-Herren-Fleece-Schwarz/dp/B019FIANAO/ref=redir_mobile_desktop?_encoding=UTF8&ref=ppx_pt2_mob_b_prod_image
- Windproof, waterproof and thermal insulated outer layer jacket: https://www.amazon.de/H%C3%B6henhorn-Softshell-Outdoor-Funktionsjacke-Freizeitjacke/dp/B077V15Y9D
- Wind and waterproof thin outer shell pants: https://www.amazon.de/Rubberneck-Reflektierend-Reflektor-Streifen-Wasserdicht-Atmungsaktiv/dp/B07MQDTBDT
- Waterproof hiking boots. An amateur version for 100€ would suffice.
- (Optional) Wind and waterproof thin outer shell jacket
- We had taken a small French press and water heater with us. This came in very handy and saved lots of money for us.
- Although we brought other food items with us, we also managed to find cheap supermarkets. Netto, Bonus stores and Kronan stores were really affordable. There was a netto about 3km from the airport. The prices were very much comparable to German prices.
- We had brought gin bottles and then we found that that shopping at Keflavik Airport is both Tax and duty free and items were super cheap. Load up your alcohol there for the rest of your trip
- Outside food: A basic meal in Iceland costs 1800 ISK or ~13€ on an average.
- Some guesthouses also had breakfast included in their price. This will save a lot of money for you.
- Watch out for the Gas station cuisine. Due to the drastic weather changes, it’s normal that many cars stop by the nearest Gas station until the conditions become better. Due to this, the bunks were often fully equipped. The lamb stews and goulash at the bunks were awesome. Some bunks even had a subway like concept. The sandwiches and hotdogs were decent.
- We travelled in October and it was off-season. We managed to find the guest houses at half the price. One double bed room had cost on an average 80€
- For camper van travellers, we heard that the local swimming pools offer free showers. Cannot confirm though.
7. Other tips
- Plug points were similar that of Germany. We did not need an adapter
- Keflavik airport was one huge chaos. The airport has about 12 million passengers and upwards passing by yearly and the airport was so messed up with long queues. It felt that it could only handle one tenth of the crowd. Go at least 3 hours prior to your departure to not end up missing your flight
- The budget airline “wow” declared bankrupt and ceased operations recently. The country’s official airline Icelandair was decent. The tickets were costly, but the aspect that you could take 23 kilos with you is an advantage and we loaded up on food and drinks supplies. This trick saved us a lot of money.
- International roaming did not work at many places inland. Some shops even offer prepaid phones for renting. We did not use it, but it might be useful.
- For the impeccable out of the planet landscape that Iceland has, pictures hardly justified reality. I took small 360° 10 sec videos. Have a phone with good video function.
8. Guided tours
- There are many websites offering guided hiking tours and many were expensive. Surprisingly there are many hiking paths free of cost and easily accessible almost at all the major sights. I would recommend you to check this before you book a paid tour. Also many sights like the wrecked plane or the Reynisfara beach are easily accessible by yourselves with a car. You wouldn’t need a conducted tour.
- Please avoid Glacier hikes at any cost. It is not worth it for the risk. There are free hiking paths which lead you so close to the glacier or for amazing top down views. Walking over the glacier even with a guide does not eliminate the risk completely. If you fall, there is hardly any way to save you. Secondly it is as simple that some nature on earth is better to be left untouched. We saw a humongous amount of glacier melt and flow as a river. Having a billion curious people walk over it will simply accelarate it’s already melting piety.
- Reykjavik city itself is small. Two days are more than enough. There is one shopping street – Laugavegur – which sells anything to a gullible wallet.
- I did Silfra snorkelling between the tectonic plates at Thingvellier National park. Highly recommended and it had cost 160€ with “dive.is” operator
- Northern lights: We were not lucky this time. There is an official website where you can check the chances to see one : https://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/. Do not pay lots of money for such northern lights hunting tour. Even the tour operators cannot predict it. Unless you are in winter and you cannot drive around, may be these operators could make sense.
9. List of attractions in these two southern quarters
- Gulfoss, Geysir, Vatnajökull glacier hike, Svartifoss, Rejkyadalur Spring (Free “natural” alternative to costly “Man-made” Blue Lagoon!), Kerid Crater lake, Hekla Volcano, Thingvellir national park, Klaustorhof hike, Reynisfara beach and many no-named sights.
- All these locations/ hikes are free of cost and you might have to calculate a standard parking fee of 750ISK at some of these places.
- Thrifty rental at the airport. Their service was straightforward and simple. It was price worthy.
- Klausturhof Guesthouse at kirkjubæjarklaustur. Decent service and comfortable beds.
- Kaffivagninn – Rejkyavik. Their Lamb steak was literally melting in my mouth.
- Otis Gas station sandwiches or hotdogs
- N1 Gas station Lamb stew and Lamb Goulash
- Icewear at Vik. Their woollen products were half as cheap as in the capital
- Reykjavik Handknitting association of Iceland: If you want to buy in the capital, watch out for China goods. There was one wool store put from the local handcraftsmen association. Their shop looked authentic.
- Bókabúð Forlagsins Bookstore. This is a wholesale book store near the old harbour of Reykjavik. Books were easily 30% cheaper than in the city and given the city itself is so small, you can reach this place from the central shopping street Laugavegur by foot in 15min.
- The trip had cost for us – 2 people, without the clothing, 1261€ or 140€ per day for 9 days. The split was 38% Transport, 28% Hotel, 19% Activities & 15% Food and Drinks.
- Iceland would finanically make better sense if you can share with a friend, than a lonely travel
- Card was accepted everywhere! You wouldn’t need physical cash at all!
The humongous tourist influx is leaving its dirty traces. Please don’t litter and respect nature!
If the weather was bad, it means that either you are dressed bad or you chose a bad timing. Just be cautious on this and equip well, the rest will be magical!
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