Every country has its own unique challenges and Iceland is no different. I like to know ahead of time what I am getting into. So here are my few things I wish I had been prepared for!
1. Tourists, tourists everywhere!
If you are doing tour buses or visiting the golden circle or southern coast, you will be in a sea of people. Those hauntingly beautiful photos of Iceland that looks as those no one but you has ever seen it? Not probably going to happen to you. Sorry! Those photos have either been photo-shopped, or in the north and east areas of Iceland where you have to rent a car to see it. I also have known some people to visit the popular places in the summer when the sun never sets and they can visit after the tours are all gone. I do not mean this to discourage you, just be aware! And by all means, this does not mean you shouldn’t go, I think everyone will love Iceland and should see it as soon as possible! I was able to get great photos in every location, and sometimes with the help of those tourists who took pictures of me when I couldn’t use my tripod.
Joy’s tip: You should look around at each place. Sometimes I was able to get amazing shots by just going slightly farther or down a different path.
2. Lodging is expensive
Airlines get you to Iceland by flights being phenomenally cheap. My ticket was 370 round trip for a big seat and luggage. That was last minute too. I have seen flight for 99 dollars! But while the flights may be cheap, the lodging is not. Hotels in downtown Reykjavik are at least 120 dollars and those are the cheap, somewhat dodgy places. My shared room in a hostel with 5 other girls was 55 a night which is about what I pay for a private ensuite room at a hostel for 2 nights in most other cities. Air bnb is a great option for groups or families, especially if you are not in Reykjavik. (Such as if you are renting a car and exploring Iceland on your own.) They are anywhere from 150 to 300 in Reykjavik. It is worth it if you are staying a while and you want to cook some meals to save some money or you want a more homey feeling.
The locals will tell you, everything in Iceland is expensive except for 3 things: water, airfare, and heating. (Iceland is one of the most green countries using the steam from volcanoes to the water to create heat and electricity.)
I stayed at KEX hostel. They had a lively atmosphere, great food, and an amazing location!
3. And speaking of expensive, the food
You are going to spend more than you typically would on food. This happens on any island where they have to import most of what you are eating. But the food is massively delicious and you should definitely eat out as much as possible. The good thing is tip and tax are included in the price, so the price you see listed is what you are going to pay, which I think is really nice! No hidden fees!
But just know beforehand and prepare it in your budget how much food is going to cost! I would say about 15 for breakfast, 20 for lunch, and 40 to 50 for dinner per person. You could do cheaper if you were careful though. Just don’t be that tourist who complains at every meal. It is annoying to hear and it stops your enjoyment. At dinner one night, a lady next to me kept saying how much every thing was or say to her traveling companion, “It better be good, that bite was 4 dollars.” She didn’t enjoy her meal, her traveling buddy was very annoyed, and I rolled my eyes and put my headphones on. You will pay more than you are used to, but it will worth it!
4. You will have to walk more than you expect
I knew some of the locations I would have to walk to, but I didn’t expect every location and I did not expect the rough terrain. Iceland is very concerned, and rightly so, about protecting the land as much as possible. So the parking lots are often a few minutes walk away from each site. For the most part, they were not difficult walks, but if you are older or have difficulty walking, there will be times that it will be a bit strenuous.
The Golden Circle and the Southern Day trips are the most visited and do have the easier walks. The Snaefellsness Peninsula was my favorite day tour, but was more difficult mainly due to the ground being made up of lava fields or rocky terrain. I had to tread carefully to get to the different locations.
5. English is widely spoken
I did not have any problems with language barriers. Every Icelander I met, spoke English very well and a lot of the signs and menus were in English as well. It has been the only non-English country that I did not have one issue of English being a hindrance. Note: I stayed in Reykjavik and went on group tours, so this doesn’t apply to the whole country, but people I met who did the ring road said they experienced no problems at all either.
I love going to countries where I have to learn another language and have to push myself beyond my comfort zones, so I am not saying all countries should speak English to make us more comfortable, just that in Iceland you will not have a problem not knowing the language.
6. Fish is there main export
I do not eat seafood, which is no fun when you visit places like Iceland where you can have fresh and unique seafood. You can even try puffin and whale! (I realize puffin is a bird, but it’s diet is mainly fish and so I am told that it is a very fishy taste.)
I wish I had been able to try a few of the Icelandic specialties. A lot of the restaurants do a tasting menu and if you are a bit adventurous, I highly recommend it. I know that seems a bit hypocritical since I did not do one, but I cannot change my allergies!
A great thing to know is they have a lot of vegetarian options! Several of my meals I ate vegetarian, not because I do not eat meat, but because those meals looked delicious… and they were!
7. Getting to Reykjavik is also expensive
Taking a taxi will cost you at least $100… each way. The easiest way is taking one of the big buses. you can pre-book or book one in the airport right after you pick up your luggage. Even taking this bus was about 70 for the round trip.
The airport in Iceland is about 45 minutes away from downtown Reykjavik. Whenever I land in a new place, I am ready to go and explore and I wish I had known it was going to take that long. Note: the big buses that take you to town stop and you switch to a smaller van with other people who are in a similar area as you. This is a bit confusing, but does allow for faster drop offs. They even did this on my day tours- the bus you were picked up in isn’t necessarily the bus you are doing your tour in. One couple didn’t realize this and was not paying attention and ended up going on the a tour they hadn’t meant to!
8. Don’t worry about exchanging money
Credit cards are accepted everywhere. Not once did I need cash. I honestly do not even know what Icelandic money looks like! If your card has a chip, you are good to go. Tips are accepted, but are not necessary. Which takes some heat off the financial strain!
Note: At some of the touristy places, you are given an option to either pay in ISK or USD. It is usually better to pay in ISK and have your bank charge you an international fee, then paying in USD as it usually costs more that way.
If you are traveling to Iceland for the first and want to know other tips, I have something for you!
9. The weather is unpredictable
I heard someone say on one of my tours, “The forecast said it wasn’t supposed to rain today.” and the tour guide just laughed. Weather in Iceland is fickle. It can change drastically and is highly dependent on where you are. There is a saying in Iceland. “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.” Compared to Florida, where the weather is sunshine, humidity, and storms 24-7, 365.
Because of this, you have to pack for every contingency: Layers are essential! I wore my jeans and boots and 2 layers of shirts. Then I had a sweater, a winter coat, leggings, a warm hat, sunglasses, and a raincoat packed in a day bag and changed my outer layers as needed for every stop. Sometimes I didn’t need a sweater at all and sometimes I wore every layer because it was freezing and windy and raining!
10. Iceland will live up to your expectations.
Iceland is gorgeous and beautiful and all the adjectives! If you love nature, you will be in awe. Iceland has so many different landscapes and topographies. It is a land made from volcanoes and glaciers and somehow those two have formed together to make a beautiful landscape. I have a hard time editing my pictures from there, because I cannot choose which picture is the best, because they are all so beautiful. Iceland is the perfect destination for adventure travelers and relaxation travelers and all the in-between. There is so much to do and see and I hope you can see it all!
I hope that this article was helpful in getting you prepared in visiting Iceland or helpful in making you want to visit Iceland! As always, I would love to hear your comments and thoughts!