This is an article about what you should know before going to Iceland, even when there are very few chances of admiring the Northen Lights.
We did it, almost have done the full island route, staying in different places almost every night, but learning from the experience, the place that we booked ahead was not always the best choice, and we could have had better ad hoc options, not to mention how super romantic could be just to go with the flow and not booking anything or all in advance, but if you prefer to stay on the safe side, Iceland is the place where it’s absolutely possible to plan the things beforehand, even though you can read many contradictory opinions and misleading guides elsewhere.
We knew the facts in advance, some others we found out along our way there. We share now the relavant points you should know about this amazing country:
I. “It’s expensive”, especially the food, and if you find a Bonus discount store, then it’s worth to handle your shopping there. As it’s known as the cheapest discount chain in Iceland. Everywhere else, be prepared for unrealistic 2x, 3x more expensive prices .vs usual European prices.
– We also realized that there is a competitor chain, so-called Netto with the same kind of prices. In all major towns, you can find either one of these stores.
– We could pay by credit cards almost everywhere. I exchanged money upfront, but honestly, it was not needed. We could pay by cards everywhere, at petrol stations, in bars, restaurants, hot tubs, and for all the accommodations.
II. “Try the local food!” Iceland is a country of fish and fisheries and the standards are sky high. Langoustine, cod or haddock is some of the most common to see on the menus and are sure bets. Best enjoyed with mashed potatoes and the classic Icelandic rye bread with butter.
– Also don’t forget to try the famous Icelandic Skyr yogurt, even though some classify Skyr as cheese but it is more commonly recognized as a thick yogurt. You can now get Skyr in numerous different flavors.
– Icelandic Tap Water is of outstanding quality, you really don’t need to buy water.
III. Alcohol, you can only buy in Vinbudin stores, also available in most of the towns, with crazy prices though. But since in the supermarkets and discount stores, you can buy only beers with 2,5%, and these types are not necessarily the better ones, very light beers, so it’s worth to consider to go to a Vinbudin from time to time.
– Or the best and most economical option is to take your bottle of wine, gin, whatever from the duty-free zone, either on your airport or after landing at Keflavik airport.
IV. “It’s cold, windy and rainy there” even if you are going there at the end of April. They say that the temperature is usually between -5 and +15 during the whole year, thanks to the Gulf stream.
– The truth is that in 99% of our time, I was wearing winter clothes, 3–4 layers, waterproof winter coat, mountain boots with double socks, gloves, and scarf. And yes, you need a hat and hoodie too, to cover your head as much as possible of the wind, even if it’s not raining. It’s so windy, that the car rental company upfront is warning you to always keep the doors with two hands when opening…
V. “It’s amazing”, well we have seen pictures about the landscape, the uncountable number of waterfalls, gejzírs, glaciers, and black sand coastlines. Also, I definitely wanted to see at least 1x Puffin bird and at least 1x Icelandic horse.
– We haven’t seen any Puffin. We were looking for them, read the reviews and recommendations where to go to find them, but we couldn’t find any, and in this case, some of the proposals available online are not necessarily true. It’s better to ask the locals where to go to find them and not rely on online reviews.
– With the Icelandic horse, it’s different, we were lucky, we found them in many places, basically everywhere, you can go close to them, touch them, they are very friendly and calm. But it’s also a pleasure just to observe them from a distance. You can also go for horseback riding if you feel like.
– We were not really expecting this, but we have seen Seals 🙂 Near to Jökulsárlón, on the south, it’s possible to capture them when they are swimming.
VI. There was a small chance that we’re going to see the Northern Lights. This end of April period is already considered as out of season, as the real Northern Lights season is between August and March, but the most likely months are to appear: December-January-February.
– We haven’t really seen it, or whatever we have seen was most likely not the Northern Lights, but just a simple, amazingly weird but beautiful creature out of the clouds, almost every night. We haven’t seen the classic green shapes, but purple, orange, and bluish clouds. For me, it was still amazing.
VII. We have rented a car upfront. We didn’t want to follow any touristic groups, neither to join to any popular and overpriced tours. It’s just simply not our way.
– You can drive only with a maximum speed of 90 km/hours, and it can be very annoying for someone used to 130 km/hours on the same quality roads.
– There are roads with stones, also sometimes the paved roads are changing to gravel out of sudden, where you definitely need to limit your speed, as there are smaller rocks and random holes. Also, there are roads where the 4 wheels are highly recommended, I would say mandatory, as with a flat and small car you simply not able to pass through. You also need to be prepared for sand storms, where you could be blocked by the sand, it also happened to us around Höfn area.
– You can find gas stations in most of the bigger towns, but in some abandoned territories, like on the in-country road coming from Akureyri to Gullfoss, it’s better to check ahead where you can find the closest station.
– Single-lane bridges: the actual rule is that the car closer to the bridge has the right-of-way. However, it is wise to stop and assess the situation every time.
– Blind hills and curves: where lanes are not separated, should be approached with caution. These are widely found throughout Iceland and test the driver’s skill.
VIII. “You shouldn’t buy coffee, water, tea, as they are extremely overpriced.” So we brought a thermos with ourselves, prepared our coffee and tea every morning and we used the same bottles for water and refilled with tap water, as it’s great quality.
– But the truth is that in most of the gas stations you can buy coffee for 300–400 ISK (2–3 EUR), and usually, they are not bad quality.
– Also in most of the guesthouses where we have stayed, regardless of ordering breakfast or not, there was always coffee and also tea free of charge. And a fully equipped kitchen for boiling water, toasting bread, microwave and so on.
IX. Waterfalls, they are really everywhere. But after seeing Gullfoss, you won’t stop anymore at every smaller waterfall. Somehow you got used to them. But Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss & Skógarfoss waterfalls are definitely mandatory to visit.
X. “Don’t go to Blue Lagoon”, so we didn’t go. Even though the Blue Lagoon is without any doubt the most famous hot spring in Iceland but there are other ones (hidden) around Iceland that even more worth your time. So instead of Blue Lagoon, we have discovered other lagoons, hot tubs, natural thermal springs, with fewer people, cheaper prices, closer to nature, less touristy and crowded options. If you are like us and more interested in these places, I would recommend visiting:
– Mývatn Hot Spring is a super incredible & cozy geothermal hot spring, located in the far North of Iceland. One of my favorite things about Lake Mývatn is the incredible landscape scenery that surrounds it. The water has a perfect temperature of about 36–40°C and contains a lot of minerals! We went there from Akureyri, cca. 1, 5 hours drive. Their standard price is 3800 ISK (30 EUR), approx 50% less than Blue Lagoon. We arrived for the opening at 12:00, and there were NO people, only us and later on as well max 15–20 people arrived.
– Hoffel Hot Tubs, actually means 5 tiny hot tubs under the rocks, very close to the little village of Hoffel, but in reality, it’s in the middle of nowhere. The entrance is 1000 ISK (8 EUR), very few people, we had a tub only for ourselves.
– Hotel Katla Hot Tub, near Vik, we had one of our nights booked here, and I think you can only enter if you are a guest of the hotel. But it’s lovely, hidden, very few people, e.g. we had the entire tub and sauna only for us for a couple of hours.
We will also post soon a detailed 10 days itinerary, please feel free to use it or just get inspired.
Shall you have any questions or comments or in need for further information, do not hesitate a minute to contact us 🙂