Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Iceland

Iceland flag

I recently got back from a surprise trip to Iceland for my birthday. Since it was a surprise, I didn’t know a whole lot about Iceland before my first visit, although I had some ideas. More than anything though, I wish I knew a few things before my first visit.

1. Easy to visit - I remember writing the same thing about Puerto Rico and at the risk of being repetitive, I think it’s an important fact to emphasize. We were able to have a well-rounded and full trip to Iceland in the span of just four days because the flight was less than five hours from the East Coast. I got to Reykjavik faster than I could’ve reached Seattle. Who knew? Well apparently Icelandair had a good idea, because they have turned the four-day long weekend into a well-oiled, travel machine. The experience was easy, well priced and I can’t wait to take advantage of the proximity again. Soon, I hope.

 

2. Unconventional food - I have some food limitations, as I spelled out and defended in “Travel Diary of a Picky Eater.” I realize that visiting islands can be a dicey proposition since I don’t eat seafood, but it wasn’t just the seafood that stymied me. Just as the Scottish have a propensity to deep fry things, the Icelandic apparently think that fermenting food is a good idea. Amongst the more traditional, AKA tourist restaurant finds, were fermented shark, fermented lamb (why oh why) and such. But it wasn’t just the sour meats, it was the unconventional meat that troubled me. That’s right, I’m talking about whale and puffin. I understand the food is traditional, I understand some people like to eat it, fine, I guess. But there is no reason to promote it in the touristy areas thereby growing the trade. If locals want to eat whale, fine, I don’t like it but it’s not my culture. However, I really wish these meats with which many have significant problems weren’t offered at every tourist restaurant in town.

 

3. The Blue Lagoon is kind of lame - I’m going to discuss this in a separate post, but I really don’t understand what all the hype over the Blue Lagoon is about. It’s not even really a naturally occurring phenomenon, it’s a result of the power plant next door. Ignore the power plant for a second, and instead let’s focus on the massive publicity machine that lies behind the Blue Lagoon. Tourism officials have catapulted the spa into an internationally recognized attraction to the point that any self-respecting tourist feels like a loser if they skip it. More people visit the Blue Lagoon each year than actually live in Iceland. It’s a fact, use it as you will. Other than the fact that the water is blue, which it is, it’s a geothermal spa, not unlike those found in many other places around the world including Canada, the US, Jordan, New Zealand, etc. But people seem to enjoy it, so who am I to judge? (I have since updated my opinion in this post about the Blue Lagoon)

4. Big-Small Town - I don’t think I fully appreciated just how small Iceland’s population is and what the effect of that has upon the travel experience. The entire country has around 317,000 inhabitants. That’s about the size of St. Louis, Missouri. Reykjavik and surrounding suburbs account for 200,000 of that number, leaving a lonely 100,000 hardy souls strewn about the land of fire and ice. So instead of a colossal capital city, Reykjavik has the size and feel of a small town; or at least not a very big town. But it’s more than size, it’s the mentality of Reykjavik that’s so endearing. I never once saw a cop the entire time I was there. Or security. Or anything bad happen to anyone. There’s practically no crime, the entire country currently has 150 prisoners. 150?! The parliament, prime minister’s house, president’s house all were essentially open with no obvous signs of security, not even a fence. Since I live in the heart of a police-state, being in Iceland wasn’t just nice, it was a vacation from distrust, paranoia and fear and I loved every second of it.

Geyser Field in Iceland

5. Dark and rainy can be fun too - Iceland isn’t always dark and rainy, I know that. In fact, in the summer it’s almost always light out. But we went in the middle of winter and expected to find a cold, wet dark country. And we did, but it wasn’t a bad thing, not at all. The dark wasn’t excessive, the sun rose around 9:30 AM and set around 6:00 PM or so. A respectable day really for a country grazing the edge of the Arctic circle. There’s also something to be said for huddling around a warm fire, or enjoying a rich coffee while warming up in one of the city’s many cafes. I’ve been a major winter tourist this year and I love it. Anyone can travel when it’s sunny and warm, but to find the real city and enjoy it in a completely different way, there’s nothing like winter travel.

Have you been to Iceland? What surprised you on your first trip?

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

203 Responses

  1. Vee Nicholette

    I went to Iceland in July of 2012 as a solo female traveler. It was one of the most phenomenal trips I have ever experienced & much of it remains ingrained in my mind.

    The country itself is abundant with natural beauty, friendly locals & endless possibilities. With the midnight sun in full force during my 12 day stay I was able to enjoy much more during my days of exploration.

    I choose to skip the blue lagoon. When I flew out to Akureyri (Northern Iceland) it was there that I enjoyed a natural bath at Lake Mývatn. I also felt conflicted about eating puffin, whale or shark so I stuck w the amazing but not so healthy free range burgers & lots of fresh smoked salmon. Thank goodness I do not have an aversion to seafood.

    Iceland is a magical country. They don’t call it the land of fire & ice for nothing. Hike volcanoes, glaciers, ride the Icelandic horse which has remained virtually unchanged since the Viking era, drink water straight from a waterfall because, well you can. Virtually no pollution, no crime & plenty to explore.

    One of my favorite quirky surprises was located in Reykjavík. The Icelandic Phallological Museum aka The penis museum. The largest collection of penises and penile parts from animals such seals, whales and even one from the human donor. Not for everybody but found it unique & inexpensive experience while on my way to get Thai food. Yep & it was AMAZING. That was another surprise. I was caught off guard by the Thai population in Iceland (I’ll let you research why) but I will say the food was authentic & all ingredients were shipped fresh from Thailand.

    It’s possible to do Iceland on a budget. The hostels are clean, safe & affordable. I recommend Kex or Reykjavik Backpackers. Also a great place to meet people. Booze is expensive best to purchase at the airport.

    Anyone dreaming of Iceland should go! Hope this helps :)

    Reply
    • Grace

      Thanks for your information and honest views. Planning to visit March 2015 and having some doubts mainly about the weather and the food (as a non meat eater). Really hoping to see the Northern Lights but seems like that will be a bonus !

      Reply
      • Matt Long

        You’ll have a great time. the weather really is fairly constant, overcast and windy, and you’ll be fine with food. Reykjavik has a few vegetarian and at least one Vegan restaurant I believe.

      • Janna

        Hi, i am from Singapore, planning to travel solo to Iceland in late April. Wonder what the weather will be like? I am going to be staying at Bus Hostel in Reykjavik, is it convenient to get around by bus if i am planning not to do that much of tours?

    • Adam @ Round the world we go

      Thanks Vee for your detailed information – I am travelling next month to Iceland for the firs time so it’s good to know some insider tips and experiences. Really looking forward now!

      Reply
    • Chris

      Went in July of 2014. Rented a car and drove around the island. Fantastic trip. Since this was a “Wish I knew” article I’ll add my own. Most important to me was that I wish I knew Icelands “Scenic Spot” icon. They have small signs with an icon that looks a little like a highway cloverleaf. You may see them at the head of a small dirt road. Go check it out! Second, I wish I knew that once you leave the city most of their restaurants are in the local gas station. If you’re hungry don’t skip it expecting to find a cozy local restaurant somewhere down the road. …there isn’t one. Third, I also skipped the Blue Lagoon (which I think is wise), but if you are into that sort of thing there is a better one (Myathn Baths?) on the other side of the island with better views. [and to answer someone in another post, the water temperature is not at all consistent. Hot spots abound.]

      Reply
  2. Denise

    I’m going to Iceland in two weeks. I want to bring some little gifts for the hotel front desk and other people I run in to like chocolates or something. I’m from Southern California. Any ideas?

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      What a sweet idea! I think it’s nice to bring something you can carry on the plane, won’t get smashed and is a treat. So is there something special that you all are known for? Also, be careful with food items. Check the current customs rules for Iceland to make sure you aren’t bringing in forbidden items.

      Reply
      • Page

        Matt, I will be leaving for Iceland for the 4-day package offered by Icelandic Air, this coming Monday. This package is called the “In search of the Northern Lights & Blue Lagoon package.” I have three questions/concerns: 1) Were you able to see the Aurora Borealis at anytime during your trip and if so was it from a Harbor Cruise boat or did you do any special excursions to try to see it (perhaps your time of year wasn’t conducive to seeing it?)? 2) Did you wade/soak in the waters of the Blue Lagoon and if so, was the temperature tolerable – like bath water — or are there some areas hotter than others ? I’m concerned I won’t be able to tolerate the hot waters. I couldn’t find your further blog on just the Blue Lagoon. 3) Should we dress in layers as if it is winter in New England? (Currently, it seems our Boston-area March has been the same temperatures as Iceland this month!)

  3. Christina

    Thanks for this article. I really like your honest point of views.
    I am thinking about some time to visit Iceland and I am glad I found your article.
    I am wondering if there is any food you can eat if you are vegetarian/vegan? :D

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thank you! Iceland is such a great place, I do hope you find that time. While a meat-centric culture, there are believe it or not options for both vegans and vegetarians. So enjoy!

      Reply
      • Christina

        Makes it even more appealing now. :)

  4. Mike of Mapless Mike

    I’m planning on stopping over in Iceland with Iceland Air on my way to Spain in September. I’m glad you shared these things about the little known country. I’m really looking forward to visiting it.

    Reply
  5. Yana

    I agree with all five things!
    In my case I would have to say VERY DARK AND RAINY can be fun too – I went in January when the sun rose at 10-11 am and set at 16-ish…But it was still an incredible trip!

    Reply
  6. Melinda

    I would agree with the majority of your insights – no interest in fermented shark or whale, won’t eat puffin and foal carpaccio? We saw all of the stunning horses all over the island and I’m just not willing to eat foal or horsemeat.

    What I would strongly recommend the next time you go is rent a truck (not a car), a truck with 4 wheel drive and drive around the island. We went for a week and did the Blue Lagoon on our first day to get acclimated to the time zone and get over the red eye from DC.

    Then we left and went to the Snafellnas Peninsula (got stuck in a spring monsoon) and hung in out hotel in a fishing village and went exploring at 10pm since the sun was still up and the rain had finally ended. We then went to Lake Myvatn (amazing), Akureyri, Hofn (on the way to Hofn we took the unpaved gravel road and found some phenomenal waterfalls and beaches that no one goes too) and Vik before finally spending a day or so in Rekjavik.

    We’re also planning to go back and hit the Western Fjords since they weren’t open yet when we were there.

    Reply
    • Nikki

      Hi! Matt, thanks so much for posting this!! Melinda, I am looking to rent a 4×4 and was wondering what road you took by Akureyri to see the waterfalls and beaches?

      Thanks!:)

      Reply
  7. Kate M

    I’m going this summer on my honeymoon. I can’t wait to go…any suggestions for places that I must see in August?

    Reply
  8. Ana T

    Hello ,I’m going on November any suggestions to best places to visit? thanks

    Reply
    • Kevin

      Hi Ana-

      I am looking to book a trip to Iceland in November. Did you enjoy that time of year in the country?

      Thanks,
      Kevin

      Reply
  9. Gary

    I really liked your interesting comments about Iceland. I’m thinking of going next year. However, I do have one quibble, if I may. Why should a society modify itself to cater to tourists? Isn’t it then erasing part of what makes it unique and attractive (to some, not all) in the first place? I’m talking about your complaints that they serve fermented foods and whale meat in “tourist restaurants”. First of all, I don’t really know what you mean by that designation. Secondly, I would imagine that the shock of seeing such items on the menu promotes it’s uniqueness to the tourists and gives them something to talk about, as if they were real explorers. If you want familiar food rather than local, go to a McDonald’s.

    Reply
    • Fraulein

      There’s always one ‘over-thinker’, isn’t there! Lighten up, Gary. . .

      Reply
      • Suvin

        I agree with Gary.
        And Fraulein, there’s such a thing as an ‘under-thinker’ too you know ;)

      • Ferret

        Gary has a point. I agree.

    • Sue

      I totally agree Gary. I travel a lot and it is always to see the real people and their customs and to eat the local food. When in Rome ………….

      Reply
      • Kent

        What? No Olive Garden?

      • Matt Long

        next time

    • ilona

      You are right Gary…when in Rome!
      Part of the experience is to enjoy who they are, that includes their food!

      Reply
    • ilona

      When in Rome……..!

      Reply
    • AD

      The “when in Rome” argument is incredibly disingenuous when it comes to eating whale in Iceland: Whale meat is not something most Icelanders eat–75% of Icelanders don’t eat whale meat, and only about 4% buy whale meat regularly. Over 40% of whale killed goes to satisfy curious tourists, the rest being sent to Japan (most of which sits rotting in warehouses due to oversupply). There are plenty of actual traditional food you can eat in Iceland to eat like the locals.

      Reply
  10. Nhac cha trong tu

    I alway like travel in winter

    Reply
  11. Sandeep

    Hey what language do they speak there , is it easy to interact , do they speak english

    Reply
    • Helgi Rúnar Jóhannesson

      Yes, everyone up from the age of 15~ speaks english in Iceland and we speak icelandic.

      Reply
      • lanre

        Hi, I’m planning to apply for masters in iceland. As an international student what do you advise?

      • Matt Long

        Just have fun!

  12. Lane

    Funny, I am the world’s most finicky eater but food wasn’t a problem for me. I spent eight days in Iceland (having traveled a long way to get there) and published a piece about it. What I liked was the common sense — no speed limits, no locked doors (though the woman who owned my bed and breakfast broke into my suitcase and went through my possessions). I loved the black beach in the driving rain (and the beautiful stones I brought home because dull ordinary rocks after their transport); the blue lagoon was blah and Disneylandesque; the sheep were (supposedly) identifiable by their faces; reindeer fur is the softest thing I have ever felt; Icelandic is enjoyable to speak (yes, I practiced before I went); the churches and Viking homes were really interesting; the less-famous waterfall was prettier the the iconic one; the glaciers, volcanoes and geysers were less impressive than those I’d seen in the U.S. The cliffs where we watched the puffins (and where I fell into a puffin burrow) were beautiful, and riding the horses was enjoyable. My main takeaway, though is — if I had known about the trees, I never would have gone to Iceland. Yes, hundreds of thousands were planted in the late 1990s, to replace all those that had been cut down; but when I was there, the terrain was like a moonscape. It was really really depressing, these little clumps of newly-planted trees surrounded by desolate ground. There was nowhere to hide, and I felt so sorry for the habitat. Uncontained wind. Unblocked sun. I love Bryce and Arches and other treeless places, but I didn’t expect that in Iceland, and it was a major downer. The Australians I talked with made me wish I’d gone on to Greenland.
    And yes, food is really expensive there. But I saw my first Yaris, and it was really cute.

    Reply
    • kevin

      Lane-What a drag you. One of the greatest spots on the world, and this is all you took away. My word.

      Reply
    • Bob

      It is too bad that you did not enjoy the trip. I went in June of 2014, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Where in Iceland did you find no speed limits, and when did you go ? There are definitely speed limits in Iceland presently.

      Reply
    • AW

      It seems that you did no research at all before going to a country that is well known to be unique and then complain about something they are actively trying to fix. I was there in 2011 (from Africa – that’s very far and very different), loved it so much I am going back in Sept-Oct to do a round trip on my own. And I am a 50 year old woman :) Already planning.

      Reply
      • Matt Long

        Try reading the other posts AW

  13. Todd B

    Great list, I’m returning to Iceland after 25 years, I can’t wait! I bring gifts from California also, I usually bring a good bottle of wine, Cali pistachios, almonds, Kona coffee, if I find nobody to give items to, I will eat and drink them with my wife. Win Win!

    Reply
  14. Julien

    I travel to Iceland 4 years ago and will come back again for sure. Like very much !

    Reply
  15. Kevin Cardoza

    An important thing to account for regarding #2 – eating whale meat is actually not traditional at all, and the vast majority of Icelanders actually don’t even eat it, and those that do eat it don’t do so that often.

    Almost all modern whaling is done for exporting the meat to countries like Japan and since that has dried up considerably, the whaling industry has tried to present it as if it was a unique Icelandic delicacy in their homeland. So nobody should feel guilty about condemning the practice as it exists on the menu for no other reason than to appeal to tourists.

    http://news.discovery.com/animals/iceland-whale-wars-110720.htm

    Reply
  16. Amy

    Probably my favourite country!

    Reply
  17. Natasha Amar

    Thanks for sharing. I really cannot wait to go to Iceland, it’s been on my wishlist for the longest time. But I’m not looking forward to the food experiences there. I’m a picky eater too who does not eat seafood. Fermented meat does not sound good. Oh and I cannot imagine eating horse meat and other unconventional food like they do there.

    Reply
    • Ferret

      No worries, McDonalds and Subway are available. Have fun there.

      Reply
      • Bob

        McDonalds is no longer in Iceland. They pulled out years ago due to the financial crunch and the logistics of operating in such an isolated country of only 317000 people.

    • Sue

      Part of the fun of travel is experiencing local food……you could always stay at home with your junk food.

      Reply
      • Rocco

        Sue, try and be kind! If a person does not eat meat, it does not mean they are eating junk food. Sheesh.

  18. Kay T

    This year will mark my 5th summer trip to Iceland, and I will be making a trip in the winter soon too.
    I have made many friends there, and have seen a lot (not yet all) of the country. Let your spirit of travel and adventure lose in this fine country. It is it’s own reward, do not compare it to other places, nor the foods and traditions to others. Enjoy it for what it is!
    I have eaten many of the local foods, and look forward to trying the winter ones too. I might not have a second helping, or eat it ever again, but I can say I have tried it. Food is expensive yes, but remember, when eating out the tax and tip is already included in the price you see. Also, at least from the US, you are allowed to bring a reasonable amount of food with you in your luggage, true, thee are some restrictions, but not enough to fret over. Enjoy the trip!

    Reply
  19. Pete

    Nice post Matt. What surprized me most about Iceland is the number of surprizes. I had a 4WD and drove around the island and took several small dirt roads off the main road and every little road had amazing surprizes. Out of 110 countries I have photographed Iceland ranks #7 and on my 2015 list of “50 incredible destinations” it (Iceland’s Glaciers and Icecaps) ranks #19. Lovin’ Iceland! ;)

    Reply
  20. kevin

    My wife and I just spent a long weekend in Iceland, and fell absolutely with the entire country, going back in a month. and a few points not covered in other posts–no tipping, nearly the entire country is powered by geothermal energy (which is why Matt, it doesn’t matter that a power plant irrigates the blue lagoon) and yes, the whale, and puffin and horse eating was a bit off putting at first, but we got over this really fast, largely because the Icelandic are so direct and honest in dealing with the outer world. Sorta surprised no one mentioned the Icelandic personality–as far removed from the endlessly-smiling American scene as you can get–projecting at first a certain coldness or even indifference. But as every good tour book explains, this is just the surface, and with a little patience you encounter a people that are warm, kind, intelligent and funkingly imaginative. Imagine, the mayor of Reykjavik comparing his city to a a cheerful, intelligent dwarf and extolling the wonderful sounds of drunk people laughing and talking. I have to admit I don’t get seafood-hating tourists going to a fish-driven island culture, but that’s just me. Nor do I get people who obsess over not eating puffins or whales, while scoffing down endless burgers, chicken and cold cuts. My wife and I are mostly vegetarians, but on vacation we indulge in the indigenous menus (except for whales). For those with worries the food is fantastic, and every restaurant has some sort of vegetarian dishes. But if you don’t want to pay high prices for great food, maybe Iceland isn’t your bag. And two final points. I’ve never understood the point of ranking countries. In fact, it seems almost self-defeating, for isn’t the point of travel to experience cultures on their own terms. And maybe discarding the Sports Center mentality for just a bit. To me, and I think I’m probably much older than the other posters, I don’t believe that there is another place in the West that can take you to a primal level of existence, geologically and psychologically, as Iceland can. To walk on a land mass that is still evolving, and changing and altering. You can see it in all the fissures in the land, you feel, almost, the world move beneath your feet. Which is why my favorite spot is Pingvellir national park running over the midatlantic fault between the eurasian and American teutonic plates. It’s truly magical. No wonder the majorityof the Icelandic believe in elves!

    Reply
  21. Betsy

    Can anyone give me an example of what an “expensive meal” would cost? Thanks

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Well like any place, it would cost as much as you want to pay. :)

      Reply
    • Marie Valgarðsson

      It is kind of a sad fact of life that life is just very expensive in Iceland- I think it ranks 4th most expensive country in the world. Even the plentiful fish and lamb are not cheap for the locals and these are of course not imported and there are barely any shipping costs involved here. The government just raised the taxes on food, btw, in January (2015). Sold practically everywhere in Iceland is ‘kjötsupa’ – a filling and hearty lamb soup, usually served with bread and butter costs anywhere from 1.500kr to 2.500kr ($20 – $33) at present exchange rates. A fancier restaurant starts at about $50 per person and goes up from there.

      Reply
  22. Karyn Dornemann

    Yes, the Blue Lagoon is a tourist trap. But it’s a lovely, warm one. On my trip to Paris and France via Reykjavik back in 2007 (thanks to Iceland Air who suggested we stay over a couple of days), the Blue Lagoon was our last activity (we were only there three days). We enjoyed and relaxed in the water so much that we missed our bus to the airport – there went our luggage! After a somewhat frantic taxi ride to the airport, we were reunited with our bags at the check-in – only to discover that I had left my laptop (!) in the taxi! The airport personnel were so amazing and helpful. They were able to track down the taxi driver (she was female, so it was made easier this way) and she zipped right back to the airport to hand-deliver my laptop and to give me a huge warm farewell hug. Yes, the Blue Lagoon rendered my gray matter non-functional for awhile, but the sincere and helpful Icelanders made this short visit a memorable one.

    Reply
  23. Stewart Watt

    The Scottish do not have a propensity to deep fry things.You obviously only visited the cheap and nasty chip shops and read about deep fried mars bars etc..Scotland like Iceland has some of the freshest seafood you will find anywhere.Its all a bit of a myth this deep fried rubbish that many people seem to home into and ignore the fact you will find many fine restaurants all over Scotland.I’ve lived in Scotland all my life and have never had to eat anything that was deep fried other than traditional fish and chips.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      humor – the quality of being amusing or comic, especially as expressed in literature or speech.

      Reply
  24. Liz

    This was a pretty helpful reading…and as I can notice from the postings, there are as many different views as there are people posting…so… I am planning a 4 day trip in later February …I am hoping to see the sights on the golden circle…think I will have any success? Also, hope to drive northward up the west coast a bit…with first and last day in reykjavik, does this sound like a worthwhile itinerary for sights and experiences? Wish I could see some whale and puffin but it seems I might be off-season for both. Any thoughts? Thanks in advance. Liz

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Sure, the Golden Circle is easily done as a daytrip from Reykjavik so you’ll have loads of time. And I love the plan of just exploring as the wind blows you, sounds fun!

      Reply
  25. Adam

    I’m planning a 4/5 day visit in March with my girlfriend. I have little experience in travelling other than the typical package summer holiday but I,m keen to get the most from our time in Iceland. Would you recommend self drive or taking the package tours?

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Either or really, not to be too vague. The package tours are well run but Iceland is also easy to navigate on your own. Just the extra hassle of actually driving, but that can also be fun. :)

      Reply
  26. Gail

    If visiting Iceland in June, do you really need a 4 by 4 to travel around to Hofn, then on to Akureyri and back to Reykjavik? Which coast is more interesting, the North or the south, any difference in road situation?

    Reply
  27. rana

    Hi, great reading, thankyou everyone. I am visiting iceland on 1 May 2015. We plan to hire a car and drive around. We have 12 days in total and had planned to spend 3 in Reykjavik. Husband wants to do a flight over the volcano. Daughter wants to go dog sledding. Im keen to see glaciers and waterfalls. Any recommendations on anything? Good hire car company?…

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Do the Golden Circle and have fun!

      Reply
    • The Brinkmanns | Brink of the World

      Just a head’s up that the volcano has stopped erupting, so I’m not sure if the flight over the volcano will be as impressive cost/benefit wise. Don’t miss Snæfellsnes either- it’s worth the drive.

      Reply
      • Matt Long

        Definitely agree, did that a couple of weeks ago :)

  28. Yuky

    Hi,
    My friends and I plan to visit in mid Sept. Will be spending around 2 weeks there. Would like to know if the roads still open?
    And what is the weather there in Sept.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      I’d call the rental company and check with them

      Reply
  29. Matt

    Thanks for all the good information and feedback. I’m spending five days in Iceland in April. I’m booking some fun activities with some local outfitters but I plan on heading out to explore and hike on my own to some more remote areas like Suðurland, Norðurland and Austurland. Nearly all of the videos I see on YouTube appear to be filmed in the summer months. Can anyone let me know if any of the road less traveled areas are accessible and recommend some some fairly challenging hikes? I’m also seeking some suggestions for 4×4 rental. Any and all tips/suggestions would be appreciated.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Just call the rental company and ask about conditions

      Reply
  30. Suki

    I’m going to Iceland for 7 days Feb 16. I am going alone (my tour group I was supposed to go with got full really fast and my work schedule can’t be altered). What do you recommend for someone travelling alone? Will it be easy to interact with people/make friends to travel with (at night to the bar or something)? Should I book tours there or before hand? Should I rent a car and just drive around (keep in mind, again I will be alone)?
    thanks!!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Why not do a mix, book some tours AND rent a car. That way you’ll meet people but have independence.

      Reply
  31. Becky

    I am traveling alone to Iceland on February 25. I booked a trip with Icelandic Air- it is a short one, only four days, but the price was great and it included round-trip airfare (from Seattle), three-nights in a hotel, and a Northern Lights cruise for $770/single. (It would have been $689/double). I am renting a car and plan to hit the ground running. I am retired, on a fixed income, so I plan to pack some food to eat for breakfast (not included in my hotel stay) and maybe sandwiches as I drive around. (We are allowed 2 checked bags, no charge.) I figure I can afford dinner every night :-) The rest of my money will go for excursions and petrol!!

    Before I travel to a new country I look up their national anthem, for I think it is interesting to see what song a country chooses to have as its anthem. Iceland’s national anthem mentions the solar system and their final verse- “Iceland’s thousand years, Iceland’s thousand years, One small flower of eternity with a quivering tear, That prays to its God and dies.”- just blew me away! I hope I make a friend there…..!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Have an amazing time! I’m heading back in a few weeks myself. BTW, I love your planning! A person after my own heart :)

      Reply
  32. chris

    Thanks Matt for starting this conversation. We’re leaving for 6 days in Iceland on Friday….3 more sleeps! We were in Peru last May and will be in Tuscany in May. Travel, meeting people in their own settings, experiencing their different culture and enjoying the diversity of their food (which might be very dfferent to mine) is a major part of leaving home. I might not eat certain things like whale, puffin, horse or guinea pig (because of personal preference) but I look forward to different flavours and methods of serving foods because sharing meals is a universal action of hospitality. Keep your personal biases but be open to possibilities and new experiences. Happy travels everyone.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      I always do, that’s the whole point of travel! BTW, I’m heading back in two weeks! :)

      Reply
  33. Hellie

    I’m packing my bag right now! The best recommendation is that you Matt – and others – go back again and again. Can’t wait…

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Ha, I’m actually heading back in two weeks – have fun!

      Reply
  34. Tara M.

    Wow. What a great thread of information. I am visiting in the middle of October with 5-7 other people. We are looking to rent a place via airbnb but am wondering if it will be worth it to stay outside of Reykjavik? We will be renting a car to explore and want to make the most of our 5 days there.Any suggestions will be helpful!

    Reply
  35. Ian L.

    Leaving in 2 weeks for a 4-night stay. Hoping for at least one clear night for northern lights viewing. Doing the Reykjavik city tour and the shorter Golden circle tour, with a lot of free time to do our own exploring. My wife swing dances (’20’s-’40’s style) and we found a swing dance group in the city! Looking forward to it, and thanks for the informative blog :)

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Very cool! I’m heading back soon too :)

      Reply
  36. Kathy

    Visiting Iceland the middle of March, I am going with my daughter and we are keeping our itinerary open, doing things on our own…..I am assuming it will be easy to find hotels this time of year, am I right? We are also desperate to see the Northern Lights, any best ideas for our search? My daughter is a photographer and it is on her bucket list. I have heard that plastic is the best way to pay for things, but no American Express for car rental. Any details would be appreciated!

    K

    Reply
    • Ian L.

      My wife and I just got back, and we loved it. The tours and guides are the best for Northern Lights hunting, but weather is so changeable there, so don’t expect to see them – think of it more as a pleasant surprise if you do :) We saw some, but here’s the thing: to the naked eye, the Northern Lights are wispy, white/light green, almost like thin clouds. In order to see them like the pictures, you need a camera that can do a long shutter speed (20 seconds or so), a tripod, and a lens that you can focus manually on infinity. My camera does this, so I got some decent shots. Our tour guides also took photos of us with the lights in the background. Just don’t expect to step out of the bus with the Aurora shining down from above. I’d highly recommend your daughter to research how best to shoot them.

      Credit cards are accepted everywhere, but most places we went to needed a PIN number, so make sure you know this for your card, just in case. Commission-free currency exchange is at the airport when you arrive. Our tour to see the Golden Circle was cancelled due to a severe storm, but we rented a car the next day to see Geysir and the Gullfoss (spectacular waterfall). Driving is fairly easy since they drive on the right side of the road (same as in Canada). The highways are numbered and they have a very good road conditions website.

      You stated you want to do things on your own, but the tours and their guides REALLY are worth it. You don’t want to leave feeling that you missed out.

      Reply
  37. Sherrel

    Hi, visiting Iceland the end of March; what type of clothes do I pack. Do I need snow boots? Thx

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      I’ve never been in March, so check out the weather forecasts but I’d imagine you should be prepared for fluctuating weather. Not snow boots, but hiking boots or waterproofs might be good.

      Reply
  38. Heather

    I’m visiting Iceland for 5 days on May 27th with a friend. Her and I are on a budget and don’t want to rent a car while we’re there and mainly stay and sightsee in Reykjavik. Thoughts on this plan? Is there enough to do within the city to keep us busy? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      No not for five days. You’ll need to do a lot of day tours, which is fine and easily done. Renting a car isn’t a necessity, but there definitely isn’t enough to do in Reykjavik for 5 days and with so many great things to see close to town, you wouldn’t want to. Day tours can be very affordable though, check out Grey Line or Viator.

      Reply
      • Ian L.

        Yes, highly recommend the day tours, maybe the Grand Excursion city tour. We just got back from a 4-night stay. Reykjavik is a great walking city, especially around the older downtown core. Lots of shopping and restaurants. National museum was great. There are other worthwhile sights to see, but not 5-days’ worth. Highly recommend the Golden Circle day tour, and a visit to one of the geothermal spas. You’ll have better weather than us in May so you could look at South Shore sightseeing too. Restaurant food is EXPENSIVE, $25 and up per person per meal (but tax is included and tipping not necessary). There are some cheaper “fast food” places but nice meals are costly. We ended up eating a late breakfast and an earlier dinner each day. We bought some of our own food at the discount grocery store (“Bonus”), so if your hotel room has a kitchenette, all the better. Loved the trip, would go again.

  39. Tim Andrews

    Hi Matt, I’m thinking about going to Iceland, I’ve been before so I don’t know where to go or anything really!Can you please give me some tips.
    Many Thanks
    Tim

    Reply
  40. Meg

    Matt! How was your trip this time? My family and I are currently booked to spend 5 days at Grimsborgir hotel in August, which I foudn through the farmholiday – how was your experience? Was it worth it to be out of the city for your stay? I keep re-thinking where we should stay, especially how expensive things are, but my family is much more enamoured with the countryside than the city, so… Any thoughts/comments? I’d love to hear what you might recommend, and if you stayed somewhere near the Golden Circle, and if it was worth it to you! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      We had an amazing experience staying out in the country and I strongly recommend it. I have a whole post about it coming out soon!

      Reply
  41. The Brinkmanns | Brink of the World

    We were just in Iceland and I think an important tip for anyone going this time of year is to take weather warnings to heart, and be flexible. If the weather reports say the weather is going to be bad, it means BAD in every sense of the word. Blowing snow on mountain tops is not the most fun, nor safe, thing to be stuck in. ;)

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      We were there the same time and probably trapped by the same blizzard LOL

      Reply
      • ilona

        What are the must experience, must sees? If you can see one waterfall…which one?
        If you can soak once…where? I don’t want to feel I’m at Disney World! I like down to earth real stuff!

      • Matt Long

        Just explore and be surprised :) And yes, Blue Lagoon is worth it.

  42. Bruce

    I appreciate all the thoughts I’ve been reading. I love traveling by myself, bringing my camera, and making things up as I go along. I was thinking of doing this in the summertime to get away from the hot summers where I live. Thought of taking off and driving all over the country. But it sounds like it may not be a good idea to travel without hotels booked at this time of year. Might have to reconsider.

    Reply
  43. Jocelyne

    We go to Iceland next May (2015). We arrive on May 1st and have an apartment rented in Reykjavik. My question is : Are the grocery stores opened on May 1st? As a Canadian, I didn’t think of that when I booked the plane tickets. For those who don’t know, our Labor Day is first monday of September, like in USA. Thanks.

    Reply
  44. Brendan

    My wife and I will be there for almost two weeks in July. We plan to stay a few days in Reykjavik, then rent a car and follow the Golden Circle. Needless to say, we’re both massively excited.

    Reply
  45. Heather

    Thank you so much for your article and comments. This made me want to travel to Iceland (I did a bit before, but now it’s a definite). I was undecided as to the first European country I would travel to, but Iceland sounds PERFECT. I love the description of Reykjavik as a small town.

    Reply
  46. Brenda

    Husband and I heading off on a HAL cruise to Iceland in June. Looking forward to lots of walking around the small towns we are visiting and a Golden Circle Tour in Reykjavik. Top of my list is seeing Puffins and the long day/night. Loved reading all the comments.

    Reply

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