This is info from April 2007, before smartphones, Airbnb and wifi everywhere. 🙂 But I hope many tips are still useful.
On this page (scroll down):
- Iceland-specific tips:
- General tips
- Driving in Iceland
- My itinerary in April
Iceland is a developed country in a very rough natural environment.
Personally I found April to be a beautiful time to visit:
- Enough daylight to explore nature and the many sights
- Enough darkness to catch the northern lights if you’re lucky
- Many half frozen waterfalls
- Half empty and cheaper hostels
- Empty roads, cheaper rental cars
I’m sure other times of year each have their advantages. Please be aware that not all itineraries are doable in winter due to closed roads or intense snow storms.
It’s worth knowing these little things about the habits and differences before you go:
- 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.
- At 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.
- At 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.
- 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).
- Bring 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.
- Bring 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 white 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).
- The Icelandic alphabet has some weird letters. The most common one you will see is Þ/þ for example in Þingvellir, note that it’s pronounced as an English ‘TH’! Not a P. You may come across English transcriptions as Thingvellir, as well as Pingvellir.
Another common one is ð, for example in Seyðisflörður (often transcribed as Seydisfjordur). As far as I know the pronunciation is somewhat between a D and TH.
H is often pronounced as a K, for example in Hverir. And just try to pronounce Deildartunguhver… ha ha… Or the famous volcano that kept all planes in the world on the ground in 2010: Eyjafjallajokull. 😀
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.
- An 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 of 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 petrol 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).
- Do not count on finding restaurants, lunch rooms or nice cafes along the ring road. 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.
- On many radio stations it’s 20% music and 80% Icelandic chattering. In the mountains you might hardly receive any station at all. So it’s a good idea to download your favorite playlists in Spotify while you still have wifi so that they will work offline. Bring an audio cable just in case the rental company doesn’t provide one. Or bring your own CD’s if the car has a CD player (better ask in advance… not all cars have this anymore).
- 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).
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.
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),
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
- 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 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,
- Hverfell 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
- 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
- Reyjavík, stayed with Icelandic girls again
- Þingvellir ( = Thingvellir) national park with Inga from Reyjavík
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.
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.
As a general impression of Iceland in April, here are my photos.