35 Things to Know Before You Travel to Iceland
If You Don’t Like Raw Nature, You Won’t Like Iceland
Iceland isn’t called the land of ice and fire for nothing!
With countless volcanoes, exploding geysers, innumerable fjords, spacious glaciers, unkempt waterfalls, moss covered lava fields, prismatic mountains, inexpressible sunsets, the midnight sun and the northern lights, Iceland really has it all.
Iceland’s landscapes are so diverse that it deserves several visits to really appreciate it. If you only have a week in the country, picking one region of the island, taking it slow and doing it well. Give your some time for those spontaneous hikes and stops through the wilderness, rather than just letting it all fly by in your car.
Iceland is one of those countries that leave a lasting impression. Its landscape is as magical as the myths and sagas of the Vikings.
You never know what to expect from a day’s drive with a good tour guide as these environments seamlessly melt from one into another.
If you enjoy scenic beauty, get busy planning your Iceland visit today with Discover Wild Iceland. Never will you see so much beauty packed into one small island. Iceland has very few trees, even so, you will find roadside wildflowers, green grasslands and verdant valleys as far as the eye can see. Iceland does not disappoint!
People think they are prepared for Iceland but there are some things you just don’t really learn until you’re there. To help you prepare for any future trips to our stunning country, we’ve made a list of some lessons while traveling around Iceland.
01 Iceland’s weather is unpredictable
“If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes,” is a common saying all year round in Iceland. In winter, this phrase takes on even more drastic implications.
It’s called the land of ice and fire for a reason. The weather can go from hot too cold in an instant. Within the shortest time span a snowstorm can turn to sunshine. You can be on a road trip that is riddled with sunshine, howling rains, a white out, and a storm of sand and ash. If you rent a car, you’ll be asked if you want to buy sand and ash insurance. We would recommend it as you never know when a severe windstorm will come and possibly strip your car of all of its paint.
At some points you don’t want to get out of the car because of the strong winds and icy snow. Often it’s better to wait 15 minutes and you hopefully will get the most beautiful light and perhaps a beginning of a long sunset.
02 – Dress in layers
Leave your cute stilettos and slinky LBDs at home. You’ll look silly in them even in the capital and you’ll end up dead in them anywhere else. This is a place for serious clothing that you can layer. And yes, it doesn’t always make you look good in pictures. Bring waterproof (not water resistant) pants and shoes.
As we mentioned before, Iceland’s weather can be very temperamental. Be prepared for all scenarios is crucial when taking trips around the island. It’s also important to check the weather forecast before heading out, and always be willing to change plans if things take a turn for the worse. Still, the weather won’t get in the way of what you’re doing on most days, and you can usually be sure to have at least a few hours of sun. Icelanders are used to a snow storm and rainy days, so even if you find yourself in one, life carries on regardless!
If you are staying out to catch the northern lights, be sure to dress as warmly as possible. Gloves and hats are great additions to your suitcase. As far as footwear goes, warm watertight boots are good for the ground snow.
If you forget to pack something, never fear! Iceland is home to some of the best cold weather gear out there.
03 – You probably can’t take your rental car everywhere
The condition of Iceland’s roads varies greatly from perfectly laid asphalt to graveled trails.
If the sign says ‘only suitable for four-wheel-drives’ we mean it.
If the sign says ‘closed we mean it also.
If you’re keen to have the ultimate Iceland experience with full access to every trail, hire a good tour guide with Super Jeep
04 – Police on the roads
You won’t see many cop cars but there are traffic cameras so watch out! The max speed limit is 90 km on the asphalt ring road no. 1
05 – If you get off the Ring Road
Be prepared for narrow, winding roads without any shoulder to speak of. Sometimes driving in Iceland can be dangerous, hard work and requires your full attention. If you get off the Ring Road there’s a good chance you’ll be driving on dirt/gravel roads. Although most are in good shape you do need to reduce your speed to at least 80 km or lower – and watch out for sheep’s crossing the road without warning. It will take you longer to get to your destination point than you think. Part of it is because of the number of beautiful scenes you’ll be passing – and you’ll want to stop. But there are long stretches in-between where you can’t go on 80. Most of the bridges – and there are lots of them – are just one lane so you need to be alert and ready to pull over in an instant, the first one who comes to the bridge holds the right but be flexible. It’s better to wait one minute and stay alive.
06 – Sheep’s They’re everywhere, so be aware they don’t run in front of your car
07 – Get a detailed road map
A detailed road map is the most important in-vehicle piece of equipment that you can have.
08 – Do not plan to much in advance
The weather in Iceland is as unpredictable. One minute it’s sunny, the next it’s raining, and just when you’re about to cancel all plans it lights up.
09 – Icelanders belief in elves, fairies, dwarves, and the mythical people
Some say 60% of the Icelandic population believes in the existence of magic folk“huldufólk”. Few even holds the job titles “Elf Specialist”, or ‘hidden people’.
Others continue to worship at the ancient Norse gods, drinking wine from hollowed out horns and giving thanks to Odin et al.
Certain roads in Iceland were moved due to their proximity to the supposed homes of fairies and dwarves.
10 – Your safety is in your hands
Unlike many other countries which completely mark the boundaries of attractions, most of Icelandic attractions are unguarded without any rails. It’s really your judgement call as to how close you go to some waterfalls or cliff edges.
Also do not pull over or stop by at just any point to take pictures (like the Northern Lights in the dark). The roads are narrow and off-roading is illegal in Iceland. The landscape is fragile and vulnerable, and it can take decades to recover from the ruts made by a tires.
11 – Waterfalls
If you plan on getting close to any of Iceland’s waterfalls make sure to wear your waterproof rain gear.
12 – The most peaceful country on earth
According to the 2012 Global Peace Index, Iceland is officially the most peaceful country in the world. The index looks at things like violent crime, political instability and the percentage of people in prison.
Locals are so comfortable with how safe their country is that they’re more than happy to leave their babies outside shops and restaurants while they’re inside.
13 – Iceland is not for the budget traveler
Iceland is as expensive as balls and definitely not for the budget-minded traveler. Expect eye-opening prices in restaurants, grocery stores, bars and just about any other retail store you can find
14 – No cash needed
Iceland is not a member of the European Union, it does not use the Euro. The official currency of Iceland is the króna. Most international travelers these days, typically head to an ATM soon after arrival to withdraw spending money in the local currency.
15 – Smartphones
If you use a smartphone, an Icelandic mobile sim card can be purchased at the Keflavik airport to access Iceland’s 3G network which is extremely helpful since it works even in the most remote areas, away from cities.
16 – Free Wi-Fi is everywhere
Virtually every business or institution offers free Wi-Fi. Even roadside gas stations on remote stretches of highway throughout Iceland can hook you up. If you are an online influencers, social media junkie and you feel like staying connected is your lifeblood, there is no need to rent a portable hotspot.
17 – Tax refund
If you purchase souvenirs greater than 6,000 ISK, you should get a form to get a refund on your VAT (value-added tax). Even if you don’t, it is easy to take care of this at the airport. BEFORE you check your luggage, look for the signs for the VAT refund office or Arion bank, fill out the form and drop it off. They may need to see the goods before approving it but chances are, they will just ask if you want a credit or a check — it is simple and saves you money.
18 – Tipping
Tipping is not required, but appreciated.
19 – Almost everyone speaks English
You will have no trouble communicating in Iceland because, like most European countries, English is everyone’s second language. And unless you have studied Icelandic, no one will understand your attempts at pronouncing its unique words in lengthy passages. Even so, you might want to learn a couple of phrases such as “góðan dag” (good day) and “takk” (thank you) to show you cared enough to try.
20 – Nearly all of Iceland’s heating and electricity needs are served by hydroelectric power and geothermal water
21 – Our Hot water smells a bit like sulfur
When you take a shower or bath it can smell a bit like sulfur. It’s because the water is hot geothermal water coming from the faucets. Regardless, the water is completely safe, so do not be alarmed!
22 – Drink the Icelandic tap water
If you’re one of those tourists that go straight from the plane to the supermarket to buy 10 liters of water for your stay – we will secretly make fun of you behind your back. Drinking the Icelandic tap water is completely safe and there’s nothing in it you have to worry about. You don’t need to filter it and you most certainly don’t need to buy water. The reason you can even buy water at the supermarket is that someone has caught up on your water insecurities and is trying to gain from it financially. It’s the same water!
23 – Electronics
If you plan on bringing electronics or appliances, make sure to bring an adapter. Iceland uses the Euro plug which has two round prongs, so find a converter that will accommodate the 220 AC volts 50 Hz and you should be good to go.
24 – Bring your swim-suit
Just because its winter doesn’t mean you can’t get your swim on. Iceland is spotted by hundreds of volcanic hot springs which aren’t only used for the local hot water and geothermic energy, but also in many public baths.
25 – Bring a towel
Bring the towel, because you’ll definitely want to find a local hot spring or pool, soak it in at night, and watch the Northern Lights. And when you get out… well, you’ll need to dry out and not catch hypothermia.
26 – Iceland has the highest swimming pool-to-human ratio in the world
27 – You have to strip down before entering the Swimming pools
Iceland is famous for its natural thermal springs, and every town has at least one public pool. Swimming, soaking and bathing are an integral part of the national culture. What many travelers do not realize is that in order to participate in these forms of recreation while visiting Iceland, one must first strip down and soap up before putting on a swimsuit and entering the pool area.
My advice is to just get over it because there is no way around this. And if you think your ordeal is over, you won’t be pleased to know that you have to go through the same thing after. Hey, at least the bathrooms are gender-specific right?
28 – Alcohol cannot be found in supermarkets
Alcohol is sold in bars, restaurants, and cafes, but never in supermarkets. You can buy it in a state-owned alcohol chain called Vínbúðin (meaning “the wine shop”).
29 – Beer Day is March 1st
Who wouldn’t love a country that has a Beer Day?
Beer was illegal for 75 years but the prohibition was overturned on March 1st 1989. Since then, Beer Day has been celebrated in the best way they know how, by drinking lots and lots and lots of beer. Reykjavik is a good place to be on March 1st.
30 – Icelandic ponies aren’t ponies
You see these beautiful and unique horses all over Iceland and everyone refers to them as ‘Icelandic ponies’ but they’re actually horses. They’re one of the oldest breeds of horses in the world and were brought over by the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago.
31 – Bring your humor with you
We will often tease you in a very pleasant but somewhat sardonic manner. We get a good laugh out of ourselves and our quirks
32 – Every Saturday is “nammidagur,” or “candy day.” Then, sweet treats sold in stores in Iceland are 50% off
33 – In the winter the days are short, but the light is beautiful
In the Arctic Circle, winter in Iceland doesn’t mean complete days of darkness. In Reykjavik during the winter solstice (December 21st) , the shortest day of the year, the sun rises at 11:22 and sets 15:30. But in our longest day June 21st the daytime lasts for 21:08:16 hours, and in the north you can see the sun all night.
34 – Bring your SLR camera
As a professional Photographer I have one last advice: Take your SLR camera with you. Don’t try to take photos of the Northern lights with the flash light and your cell phone, you will only get disappointed afterwards. Remember also one thing – Sometimes you need to look up from the camera and enjoy the view, don’t see it all through you lens.
35 – “Niceland”
Icelandic people are some of the kindest and most helpful people you will ever meet. We trust your common sense to take care of yourself and our vulnerable country, and we know you will fall in love with it. The wild open landscape of this magical island will hunt you, leaving you wanting more and more, until you come back again.