Iceland, a beautiful country in the North Atlantic Ocean, is a destination that although named "Ice-Land," is only covered about 10% by glaciers. The rest of the country is a contrast of active volcanoes, green countryside, gorgeous waterfalls, geothermal baths, black sand beaches and golden coasts. But, to appreciate all this beauty properly, you must know a few tips before planning your trip there.
1. It’s Always Chilly and Windy
Despite Iceland’s proximity to the Artic Circle, it is not as cold as you might expect. Still, no matter at which time of the year you plan to visit, Iceland will be chilly and windy. The average high and low temperatures during summer range in the mid 50’s and 40’s Fahrenheit while the average winter high and low temperatures range in the mid 30’s and 20’s Fahrenheit. Even if you’re traveling to Iceland during summer, bring warm clothes and a rain jacket. The country is known for its windy climate, so those "warm" mid 50’s will feel like 40’s or less with the wind factor.
2. You Must Drive to Get to the Best Places
As small as it might look on a map, Iceland is a pretty big country. Most of Iceland’s highlights are nature-based, so naturally, many of them are either far from the city or in remote locations. For travelers looking to witness the beautiful glaciers, the black sand beaches, and volcanoes, you must know that you need to rent a car to access most of those places.
While it is possible to pay for a tour that could take you to most of these locations, they are somewhat limiting since one of the benefits of driving in Iceland is the flexibility of stopping anywhere you want along the way to snap a few scenic pictures and enjoy the landscapes. Trust me; you’ll be stopping every few miles! Additionally, tours are expensive and mostly depart from Reykjavik or Akureyri. If you hope to get a little more off the beaten track, consider renting a four-wheel drive vehicle. These vehicles can be in high demand so plan well in advance.
3. Plan Your Activities According to The Season
Seasons affect drastically what you can and cannot do in Iceland. The "problem" with Iceland is that you can’t do all its highlight activities and sights on a single trip since they are split between summer and winter seasons. For example, if you’re interested in photographing its stunning green landscapes and going hiking with decent to good weather, then you must travel during summer (May to September). But, if you’re interested in going inside ice caves, some glaciers and see the magnificent Aurora Borealis, then you must go during winter (November to March).
If you are interested in hiking, keep in mind that some hikes are quite intense, so come prepared with good hiking boots and some food. Also, be prepared for the changing weather conditions as a beautiful day may suddenly be interrupted by a strong storm, especially during the winter months.
Also, keep in mind that days can be long in the summer and very short in the winter. During June, the sun only sets briefly, and it never gets completely dark. On the other hand, in December there are almost 20 hours of darkness.
4. Iceland Can Be Pricey
Unfortunately, Iceland is expensive. Consider budgeting about $100 a day for a budget trip, $250 a day for a mid-range trip, and $500+ a day for a luxury trip, per person. If you’re adventurous, you could lower this budget by using the sharing economy of Airbnb, Couchsurfing, and even hitchhiking.
5. There are Lots of Local Thermal Baths Beyond the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is the most famous and most expensive thermal bath in Iceland, but it is not the only one. The country has hundreds of thermal baths, with many of them located in local backyards and public places along the main road. What’s best is that most of them are free. If you’re not able to pay the $50+ for the Blue Lagoon, know that Reykjavik has many more thermal baths that will gladly welcome you for a fraction of the price, or even for free.
6. Food Options
A few fast food chains like Subway, KFC, and Domino’s Pizza can only be found in major towns, and when you do find them you’ll be shocked to see prices double of what is common in the US. A good alternative is Iceland’s favorite food, the hot dog. Hot dog stands are common throughout the country and are a good, relatively cheap option for a quick meal. But like most countries, the best way to save money on food is by shopping at local supermarkets. If you’re staying in a hostel or self-catered accommodation, be sure to stock up and maybe even cook meals with others, further reducing your costs. Iceland may not be a traditional budget destination, but there are many ways you can save money during your trip but more importantly, the natural beauty found around the country is more than worth these slightly higher costs.
Iceland might not be a cheap destination, but I’m sure you’ll agree with me that once you’re there witnessing its beauty, you’ll see it’s worth it!
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