Last year, we spent 8 days driving ourselves along the southern coast of Iceland, fully taking advantage of the beginning of Icelandic summer. May is truly one of the best times of year to visit and there's plenty of things to do in Iceland then, that you would not be able to do in the winter months. After our 8 day road trip, and some time for reflections, here are our best tips for Iceland (that we wish we knew before going!).
1. STOCK UP ON FOOD AT BONUS SUPERMARKET NEAR REYKJAVIK
Probably the biggest lesson learned for us and topping our tips for Iceland list. As I'm sure you already know, Iceland is quite expensive (see #3 of this tips for Iceland list explaining how much things cost), naturally food makes up a large part of the budget, so getting food at a large supermarket will help you save money and provide a larger variety of things to choose from. BONUS is a great Icelandic supermarket, and many of these can be found around the Reykjavik area. BUT they are super limited once you drive further away from Reykjavik. On the southern Icelandic coast itinerary (going to the Glacier Lagoon), there are no large supermarkets, which means unless you stock up near Reykjavik, you'll be stuck with small shops with less variety and larger prices.
2. BOOK ACCOMMODATION IN ADVANCE
Compared to other popular travel destinations, we found that accommodation options in Iceland, are rarer. This automatically means that rooms will fill up faster, be more expensive and you'll have less choice. We started to book things about 3-4 weeks before we went and were already faced with challenges. To have a wide variety of options, start looking into accommodation around 5-6 weeks before your trip.
For travelers wanting more comfort and a private bathroom, hotels will be the way to go. Your lower budget options will start from ± 110-175€/night and range all the way up to super luxury hotels. Splurging on a hotel in Iceland will mean you will get to lay in bed and look out onto a glacier or marvelous waterfall (for example if you stay at the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon ± 250€/night) or stay like the likes of Kim Kardashian, who lived at The Retreat hotel (starting from 1000€/night) when she went to the Blue Lagoon.
Mostly situated around the Reykjavik area, with only a few further out, this will be slightly cheaper (averaging about 60-90€/night for two people) but can be crowded and harder to find/book unless you do it in advance.
Probably the most popular and accessible option, you will usually get a private room, have to share a bathroom and other facilities, staying with a local Icelandic family. Although lighter on privacy, this is a great way to meet other travelers (usually around the breakfast table) as well as chat to and get top tips from locals. These will range from 70-170€/night for a double room with shared facilities).
3. PLAN YOUR BUDGET
So is Iceland really that expensive? We'll let you judge that yourself, but here's a brief breakdown:
Accommodation (for two people) - starting from 60-200EUR/night
Snacks (from a gas station) - 2 MILKA chocolates and 1 bag of skittles = 19EUR
Pizza or a burger at an average restaurant - 30 EUR
Hot water for tea (we had our own tea and own cup) - 2,50 EUR
Rental car + tax and insurance for 8 days - 250 EUR
Planning your budget in advance, knowing how much things can cost will let you stay clear of the shock once you get there and remains a tip for Iceland travel that is no less important than the others.
4. CHOOSE TO DRIVE YOURSELF INSTEAD OF GETTING TOURS
Iceland remains one of those destinations (in our eyes) that is one to be explored at your own pace, in the convenience of your own vehicle. Driving in Iceland is comfortable, the roads are good (in the summer, whilst in winter this can be difficult due to snow and ice) each landmark will have good parking to stop at. Yet you will find, it is those locations in between landmarks, many stops you will want to make just along the road to sit, stare onto a horizon of Icelandic beauty, that will make you grateful you got your own car and had the freedom to stop whenever you wanted (or didn't want to).
5. GETTING A SIM CARD (VS. GPS IN THE CAR)
To get your bearings and help you find the places you want to go, having some sort of navigation is recommended. The two basic options here are 1) have a GPS added to your rental car (costing an additional 10EUR per day) or get an Icelandic SIM card and use google maps. We got a sim card at a news kiosk at Keflavik airport and paid ± 25 EUR for the week. A car GPS is convenient because you don't have to worry about charging devices, but is usually more expensive and might not have all the constantly updated information about road works, etc.
6. TAKE CAUTION AND ACT RESPONSIBLY
With all of the spectacular waterfalls, hot springs, mountain tops, valleys and geysers there are to explore, we were rather surprised at how unregulated safety wise landmarks are. Tourists and explorers are generally left to wander at their own discretion, which means that caution and common sense becomes a recommendation for this tips for Iceland list.
Basically - watch your step, don't walk too close to the edge of a cliff, and take into consideration the strong wind and slippery surfaces. Might seem silly, but we witnessed some very risky travelers feeling oh-so confident on the edge of a windy mountain, that was not pleasant to watch. We often found ourselves in locations where there was no one around for miles, making excelling for exploration, but not so good if something was to happen.
7. PACK THERMAL AND WATERPROOF CLOTHES
May is the beginning of summer in Iceland, but let's face it - it's not a tropical paradise. Thermal layers will be key, so you can regulate what you wear depending on that day's activity and temperature. It was about 12-17 (hiking in the sun) degrees and great weather throughout our trip.
Having a light jacket on top of thermal layers will suffice, as long as you invest in quality water and wind proof gear. You will be getting extremely close to waterfalls which spray like crazy and protecting yourself from the Icelandic wind will make for a much more comfortable and warm experience.
8. THE BLUE LAGOON - IS IT WORTH IT?
Possibly one of the biggest tourist destinations, the Blue Lagoon is basically one very large natural geothermal spa. Tickets are around 50 EUR/per person to get you inside and able to use the shower/bathroom/changing room facilities. Pre-booking is a must, so also do this in advance. We say if you are into spa, wellness and beauty - visit. The natural geothermal waters are an excellent way to relax after a few days on the road and the sheer size of the lush blue waters are a marvel. They also have a cute swim up mud bar, where you can get handfuls of exfoliating mud to use whilst in the pool.
Downsides? Well, it's a Iceland's no. 1 tourist destination. With the booking in advance system, they do regulate the amount of people inside at one time, but it sure is a different feeling that that you get exploring the rest of Iceland, usually with two, three other people around you. Also, don't visit if you do not have the time (at least 3-4 hours) to spend here. You'll need some time to sit, relax, and soak yourself in the milky blue water.
9. DON'T EXPECT TO SEE ALL OF ICELAND IN ONE TRIP
One 8 day trip will fully let you explore the southern coast (from Reykjavik to Hof). We'll put up our full itinerary in the next posts of this Iceland series, but even after the week here, we still have not covered the east coast, north coast or western coast of the country. Side fact - the middle of Iceland is mountains, so your main itineraries will consist of coastal roads around the island.
Even if you do spend significant time here (3-4 weeks) and are able to do a full lap around the country, that won't allow you to experience Iceland in both its prime seasons, which each have their own charm.
So finishing off our top tips for Iceland, we recommend choosing an area of Iceland to explore at your own pace, taking some time to relax and fully take in the beauty of this country's nature. Do this, together with planning in advance, and one shall be rewarded with getting up close and personal with one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world.
For more photos from this trip and others, follow OftenOutOfOffice on Instagram.