Iceland tips

cecile_obertop_77638510.XIG7xO3g.NIMG_9510This is info from 2007, before smartphones, Airbnb and wifi everywhere. 🙂 But I hope many tips are still useful.

On this page (scroll down):

  • My itinerary
  • Iceland-specific tips:
    • General tips
    • Driving in Iceland

My itinerary

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I was in Iceland for a 2 day volleyball tournament and then used a rental car to tour the island clockwise in two weeks: west – north – east – south. The names in bold letters are places I stayed overnight in.

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Hverir

Reykjavík:

cecile_obertop_77210449.yJblIThm.IMG_8819
Reykholt

2 day volleyball tournament (yearly Easter tournament in a different European city every year);

  • stayed with Icelandic girls
  • Soaked in the Blue Lagoon
  • Björk performance

Started driving the full circle…

  • Hvalfjörður (a fjord),
  • cecile_obertop_77210434.YDwn6848.IMG_8815
    Deildartunguhver

    Reykholt (small town),

  • Deildartunguhver (try and pronounce that! Europe’s biggest hot spring),
  • Hraunfossar (waterfall straight out of lava rocks without a river above it)
  • Húsafell: stayed overnight in a lovely farm guesthouse, had the entire 3 storey farm to myself
cecile_obertop_77210460.Uy1jhcnA.IMG_8828
Hraunfossar, waterfalls without a river above!
cecile_obertop_77210572.9Bt8FZ0m.seals2
Ósar
  • Tried to go all the way around Snæfellsnes peninsula but couldn’t because of snowed up road and severe fog
  • Up to Hvammstangi, then Ósar, where I stayed in the lovely big wooden hostel, with seals on the beach in front.
  • Glaumbær old houses with grass roofs
  • Akureyri: art museum, cafes, visit to good
cecile_obertop_77638534.N8UmS1iF.NIMG_9678
Gulfoss

swimming pool, stayed in comfortable hostel

  • Godafoss waterfall, and on to Mývatn area
  • Reykjalið in Mývatn area: stayed at practical Eldá guesthouse, soaked in lovely hot lagoon / nature baths
  • Toured Mývatn area:
    • Hverir hot springs,
    • Krafla vulcano,
    • cecile_obertop_large.wimg.5.noorderlichtHverfell crater, etc.
    • Saw northern lights!
  • Seyðisfjörður: cute harbour town in beautiful fjord: stayed at the lovely hostel
  • Höfn: stayed overnight at Hvammur guesthouse (not recommended)

 

 

  • Jökulsárlón lake with icebergs where I spotted 3 seals; ice blocks on the black volcanic sand beach
  • cecile_obertop_77638508.lPCya2ki.NIMG_9477
    Svartifoss (Skaftafell NP

    Skaftafell national park; Vatnajökull = huge glacier; Svartifoss waterfall

  • Skaftafell: stayed overnight at lovely Bölti guesthouse (no longer exists at this time), with amazing view
  • Núpsstaðir cute church with grass roof
  • Vík, cliffs and beach
  • Fljótsdalur: stayed overnight at lovely remote hostel with grass roof and amazing views on Eyjaffjallajökull glacier
  • Hveragerði: stayed in cabin at Eldhestar Hotel (quite expensive and no kitchen), did a horse ride
  • Geysir (Strokkur geyser and various hot springs);
  • Gulfoss big impressive waterfall
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Geysir, split seconds before erupting
  • Reyjavík, stayed with Icelandic girls again
  • Þingvellir national park with Inga from Reyjavík

Iceland-specific tips

cecile_obertop_81269138.guGkBs6Q.toevoegenaanpbaseIMG_9708Iceland is a developed country in a very rough natural environment.

It’s worth knowing these little things about the habits and differences before you go:

General tips

  • Icelanders pay almost anything with a debit card, even their beers at the bar and a hamburger or a cup of coffee at a petrol station. So no need to take out huge amounts of cash, just have some for emergencies and pay the rest with debit / credit card. Mastercard / Maestro accepted everywhere.
  • cecile_obertop_77638528.9boA5Q4a.NIMG_9646At swimming pools, lagoons and hot tubs you need to wash yourself and your hair very thoroughly without swimsuit on and using the soap provided before you go in. Because the swimming pool water has less chloride. Many of the ordinary swimming pools rent out towels. Many of the ordinary, cheap swimming pools also have hot tubs, a sauna and Turkish steam bath!
  • At the Blue Lagoon and the hot lagoon in Mývatn (and other baths with high sulphur value): take off all your jewelry or it will turn black by oxidation.
  • cecile_obertop_77210637.gkE4gXzO.IMG_8991At most places you will need to take your shoes off in the hall. They will not be stolen. A pair of woolen indoor house shoes can come in handy.
  • Many places inside are very hot (heating cranked up, it doesn’t cost them much since they take it from natural sources), so bring some T-shirts too.
  • Try to hog 10-Kronur coins for payphones.
  • Accommodation: in summer phone ahead to see if they have space left (ideally book well in advance); in winter phone ahead to see if they’re open at all and what the latest arrival time is. Read up on the current situation with Airbnb and last-minute availability of accommodation (or not).
  • cecile_obertop_77210482.r1jNsy9D.IMG_8847Bring a sleeping bag; sleeping bag accommodation (unmade beds) are way cheaper than made-up beds. Or bring camping gear.
  • Self-cater (cook your own meals) to keep costs down. Bring herbs and spices in small containers from home, as well as plastic sandwich bags and some aluminum foil. Buy the rest (coffee, tea, food) in Icelandic supermarkets. It’s about 20-50% more expensive than European mainland supermarkets. All hostels and most guesthouses and camp sites have fully equipped kitchens with pans, plates and cutlery, toaster, sometimes toast iron, microwave, water boiler.
  • cecile_obertop_77638495.WG6pseq6.NIMG_9326Bring fleece hat and good scarf and gloves, it’s often windy and cold outside.
  • Bring good sun lotion, the cold wind might make you forget about the fierce sun.
  • Bring hiking shoes that can deal with some water / mud. I can tell you from experience that sneakers with air holes (water holes…) are not always great!
  • Outside the summer months you may be lucky and spot northern lights. It needs to be very cold and crisp, and a very clear night. In the afternoon pay attention to cecile_obertop_81269098.2kePvIoI.toevoegenaanpbaseIMG_9217white smears in the sky (almost like airplane trails), these may be a prelude to northern lights. Ask locals for their predictions. They say there is more chance of spotting northern lights in the northern part of the country, i.e. Mývatn area. But there are no guarantees…
  • Tipping is not customary and is sometimes taken as an insult. Simply do not tip in restaurants, taxis etc.
  • The tap water is drinkable (although it tastes a bit of sulphur).

Driving in Iceland

  • You can find various sample itineraries on hostel.is. Do check if the one you’re interested in doing, is actually doable in the month you’re going. (For example ask in the Tripadvisor or Lonely Planet online forums.) The weather can have a huge impact, and many smaller roads close down in winter.
  • If you’re not planning on driving in the interior, or to Dettifoss or Landmannalaugar, then a normal rental car will do for the Ring Road. Otherwise a 4WD is better.
  • Don’t try to read all the blue road signs, they are just the names of farms. The yellow signs indicate towns / villages.
  • 082620einde20verhardingAn important road sign is the one stating ‘Malbik endar’, indicating a transition from paved road to gravel road. Slow down, do not brake hard on the gravel.
  • Pay attention to the road conditions and the very changeable weather before you start driving. This is a good website for it: www.road.is. This website also has more specific driving tips (for example for iced roads and the changeable weather) and photos showing you what Iceland’s roads are like.
  • Pay attention to these curly signs: they indicate a touristic point of interest like a waterfall, an old farm, church, a hot spring… Often there is not a lot road_sign_tourist_siteof space to brake / make a turn, so slow down on time.
  • When buying petrol, you often need to pay in advance at a machine (with debit card or credit card), and decide upon an amount in ISK. Some machines allow you to leave the amount open and opt for ‘fill up’. Some petrolcecile_obertop_77638503.GV1qsZfs.NIMG_9417 stations have signs for ‘Full service’: a guy will fill up your tank for you. Petrol is more expensive in remote villages. Get it at bigger towns. Pay attention when crossing bridges, often the road is damaged before and after the bridge.
  • Near most bridges there is some space to park. Comes in handy for photo stops (bridges are often near beautiful waterfalls or streams).

cecile_obertop_81269095.XaZoA4eq.toevoegenaanpbaseIMG_9160

  • Do not count on finding restaurants, lunch rooms ar nice cafes along the ring cecile_obertop_77210577.yvAUuSJF.IMG_8935road. Your best bet is having junk food at a petrol station, or checking a guidebook beforehand to find a restaurant in a town (and hoping for it to be open), or self-catering.
  • Have enough drinking water with you, and some extra for emergencies.
  • Bring CDs with your favorite music; on many radio stations it’s 20% music and 80% Icelandic chattering. In the mountains you might hardly receive any station at all.
  • You’re supposed to keep your headlights on at all times, so in daylight too.
  • Even with a 4WD you are not allowed to drive outside the roads (so stay on the paved, gravel or dirt roads).
cecile_obertop_77210552.pEnnpvRi.weather
This is why you should always keep your car headlights on, day and night

What are you waiting for? Go!

Iceland is unique and so beautiful! And very easy to travel in. The people are friendly, helpful, most of them speak fluent English and they generally have a good sense of humor.

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Fljótsdalur hostel

I recommend holidaying there to anyone who loves nature and volcanic activity. Don’t let the weather deter you. Just count on the worst weather you can imagine, that way you can only be pleasantly surprised on good days. Plus you can always soak in a hot tub or lagoon when you’re cold. 🙂

Iceland is not cheap but you can save money by camping or using hostels (sleeping bag accommodation), self-catering and buying your plane ticket well in advance.


Photos

As a general impression of Iceland in April, here are my photos.

 

 

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