In 2016 I spent four days in Iceland with my sister and her friend, Lucia. This post is more so a mini guide as opposed to a story. Many people have asked me about Iceland so I decided to write a blog on the topic.
Firstly, the way we saw Iceland was by car. We flew in by Reykjavik and rented one immediately. Driving from the capital to as far as the glacial lagoon in Jökulsárlón, we only really covered a quarter of Iceland’s coast. I can promise it is full of landscapes, though. So let's break this down in to categories.
Transport: There are a host of options to choose from regarding transport in Iceland. However, the clear winner is by renting a car. We found a site called Sadcars.com. They rent out older vehicles (10 years old etc) compared to typical companies and the result is a much cheaper deal.
Having your own car allows you to work on your own time and stop at all the countless destinations the buses won't take you to. Reykjavik was a breeze to drive through and once you're on the open roads, they're really quite open. Iceland has geothermal heating built in to the road network so main roads stay ice free year round. We went in March and the roads were perfect.
Do be careful with petrol stations. Firstly, like everything, the price of fuel is high. Secondly a credit card can be a better way to pay over there. Pumps have a habit of charging the max price at prepay stations and only return it to your account the following day. It can be a headache if you’re using a debit card and was for us. We didn't know what happened, thinking we were scammed when we saw the transaction. But no, they just charge max and give it back to you. Alternatively, you can purchase a gas card for your trip. However, you cannot refund any money left over at the end of your trip, so plan wisely, or try to sell it/gift it.
Anything off the main road, route 1, usually gets bumpy quickly. You can rent small cars but it's best to get a 4x4 just for peace of mind. A lot of great waterfalls, viewpoints and thermal baths are in off the main road so the extra few euro at the rental shop is well worth it. If you really want to go inland, there are tours in massive 4x4’s that will be your best bet.
Food and drink all over Iceland is expensive. For traditional dishes you can try whale soup, shark and other debatable dishes. However they are really costly. Everything in Iceland is costly. We were on a budget so curved eating out nearly exclusively and stuck to the cheapest grocery chain in Iceland: Bonus. Even in there it’s not cheap but you won't do much better. And besides, you'll be more interested in the landscape and the people to be worrying about food.
Alcohol is dangerously expensive. We're looking at about 10 euro a pint. Reykjavik does have a strong nightlife scene, but again, be prepared to spend.
The time of year to see Iceland completely depends. It's a tale of two opposites, with both having incredible advantages. But let me get it out of the way… You will NOT see the northern lights if you come basically anytime between late April and mid August. Iceland’s summer has extremely long days with nearly twenty one hours of daylight. There isn't a chance for it to be dark enough around this time to enjoy the aurora.
Twenty one hours of daylight does mean for better weather, longer days of activities, the potential to wild camp, and is perfect for photography with what feels like a 5 hours sunset. If you're going to Iceland just to see the Northern lights, you are really disregarding a lot of the country's potential. The next time I visit Iceland I would love to go in the summer.
March was a great time to visit the country and yes, I did see the lights. It was on St Patrick's Day and the sky lit up a fittingly green colour as we stood over the glacial lagoon. Photos do enhance its intensity. However, seeing it ‘live’ is obviously far better. Even when it's right above you it doesn't feel real. Do note also that cloud cover affects visibility chances and the Aurora doesn't happen every night. There is a nice aurora forecast website here that you can make use of. Make sure you plan plenty of activities in the day so you don't go home unhappy if you don't see it. There's a good chance you won't. Oh and lastly, maybe some of the brand new phones with insane cameras will catch it.. But if you're pulling up with an iPhone 5s trying to take photos of the lights for the gram then forget about it. Just watch and enjoy.
Accommodation in hostels was around 35 euro per person in March. This goes up, though, closer to 50 euro in the peak of summer. Iceland does have friendly laws on camping so use them to your advantage if it's the summer time. Otherwise, you will have to suck it up and pay. The quality of the hostels was great. Iceland is a very forward thinking country so don't expect a little shack. Its quality is similar to anywhere in Europe.
AirBnb is also a valid option. However, it is limited to Reykjavik for the majority of availability. Plus, I strongly recommend getting out of the city. The issue for budget travellers looking for AirBnb outside of the captial is that it gets expensive quickly. They seem to be luxury-focused, which will suit some. Regardless, take a look, as groups can bring the price down when divided and would make for a better experience than a standard hostel.
The easiest plan I would advise is to rent a car, or camper, and follow the main road along the coast. It's mostly quiet, but packed with too many stops for you to fit in to your planner and also passes through any civilization along the way. Every corner of this country has an abundance of picturesque views and powerful waterfalls. Your only job is to not feel stressed to see everything, because it will be impossible. Cruise along, stop when you want and don't spend too long at the main attractions. There a countless lesser known spots that you can have to yourself, which is definitely what I prefer.
If you're thinking about Iceland, then it's time to buy your tickets. It's an expensive trip, but if you're looking to see the Northern lights, other countries like Canada and Norway are not much cheaper anyway. Also, Iceland is unique. Potentially one of the most beautiful countries I've been to so far, and the people are so welcoming. It's one of the safest countries in the world, too. I could sit here and spit out endless facts on why you should visit. Honestly, if you want something different then Iceland is an easy winner. I'll certainly be going back again.
Here is a video I made in March 2016. Though this montage contains a lot of moments in Ireland and Scotland, there is plenty of Iceland to go around.
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