Iceland is a beautiful country and well worth the visit; with beautiful landscapes, friendly locals, Northern Lights, and everything else it has to offer. Pretty much the only downsides to Iceland are the weather (which changes at 5 minute intervals), how expensive everything is and the distance between each attraction.
All the locals speak close to perfect English and can probably be understood easier than myself with my Scottish accent, they are extremely friendly and it is one of the safest countries on earth – unless you get stranded in the middle of nowhere. Iceland is literally the ideal place to travel with friends, go on a road-trip and enjoy nature – where else can you see dancing green lights in the sky, a dozen beautiful waterfalls and a real-life glacier.
I am going to start by giving the four main tips which I will expand on later:
- Buy alcohol at your departure airport – Iceland is extremely pricey especially to those budget backpackers. Buy some alcohol at the airport you fly from and save yourself a lot of money.
- Rent a car – Iceland is packed with great things to see but they are in the middle of nowhere and miles apart. Rent-a-car for the freedom to go where you want when you want. Who doesn’t love a road-trip? Read the tips of renting a car here
- Pack as much food as you can – This is due to the prices in Iceland again but also because you will be in the middle of nowhere most of the time and also the supermarkets and shops close quite early. I cannot stress this enough point enough, fill your boots.
- Pack Light, Warm Clothes – Do not bother about fashion and having a full wardrobe in that suitcase. You need clothes that are durable, light and keep you warm in all weathers but not too warm indoors. Read further for more on this.
- Pay for an extra bag – If you have the opportunity to pay for an extra bag, do so. Do not over-pack but use the space as advised below and pack the rest in food. You will be happy you did.
- Leave Cash at Home – If you take cash, you are likely to get a worse exchange rate than using card. The only benefit with cash is that you know the exchange rate prior to travelling. Card is definitely the preferred payment method on Iceland and you can rarely pay fir fuel with cash. If you only have cash, you need to buy a prepay card but who knows how much it will take to fill a tank.
What to Pack
Lets expand on this because this is important and can seriously make or break your trip. First thing on the agenda is Clothes. Simple advice on this one, quality not quantity. For more on packing for Iceland, click here.
SHOES – Pack one good pair of walking shoes similar to these from Go Outdoors a you will be walking A LOT and on all kinds of terrain so durable and light is great. I would also recommend taking some durable trainers to change into for more casual wear.
SOCKS & UNDERWEAR – Take as many pairs as you can and make sure the socks are suitable for rough weather.The last thing you want is to be sitting in wet socks because you have nothing else.
TOPS – Recommend taking a small number of t-shirts to make up a base layer but for the likes of Iceland you may be better off with some Under Armour or something similar. I am a sucker for GoOutdoors, maybe because its less expensive and they always have something to my taste. This is just my personal choice and the most important thing is keep warm. Take several thick jumpers as you will definitely need them.
JACKET – The Jacket you take is the most important thing in my eyes after your shoes. You need to ensure it is light and not too hot but will keep you warm when the weather changes. I chose a low price bubble insulated jacket mostly because I am a cheap ass although I must say it did a great job. Not sure what it will be like in the winter in Iceland but it kept me extremely warm. It costs £20 and you can see it on the link. The jacket was also great for sleeping on…but you need to figure out if this style is for you.
KEEPING WARM – Make sure you bring a scarf and some decent gloves, I would even suggest a balaclava if you have one already. It may be a nice day but most likely going to be cold. There is nothing worse than being at an attraction and you cannot enjoy it because you are freezing.
FOOD – Supermarkets close early and they are expensive. If you do need to shop in Iceland, find a BONUS Supermarket, they are apparently the cheapest. I recommend to bring things that are easy to cook and dry meals. Noodles, pasta, soup powder and snack bars were a lifesaver for me. They save you a lot of money. Trust me.
What to Do
I would argue this is a very independent choice. Sit with your friends, go through TripAdvisor or the likes and figure out exactly what you guys want to do. My advice though is to take into account the miles you will be driving and the length of time it will take. Do not get trapped driving home too late. Do you need to book any extra accommodation? Also fuel for the car will cost you around £1.50/ $2 per litre as ballpark figure – This is likely to cost as much as the car rental itself if not more. Watch your fuel, keep it high
There is a full ring road with much to see in Iceland but this is 1,500 km or nearly 1,000 miles and will take a number of days. If you do not have this kind of time, you may consider the Golden Circle.
The image below from The Culture Map shows the golden circle route below. Although this is a well trodden route, it is difficult to find a set list of things to see on the golden circle as Iceland is literally filled with so many natural attractions. .
We really customised our trip with a little bit of everything. Below is a rough idea of our itinerary and where things are on the map to give you ideas. If you wish to read more about our trip and what I thought of each place, click here to read “Thing to see in Reyjavik: 4 days”
Day 1 – 255km
- Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
- Skogafoss Waterfall
- Black Sand Beach – Reynisfjara
- Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, Kirkjubæjarklaustur
Day 1 Accommodation – Klausterhof Guesthouse, Kirkjubæjarklaustur (Highly Recommended – Really cool place and my favourite night in Iceland)
Day 2 – 497km
5. Svartifoss (Black Falls) in Vatnajökull National Park
6. Vatnajökull Glacier
7. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Day 3 – 225km (est)
8. Geyser Valley – Haukadalur
9. Gullfoss Waterfall
These were our three main sightseeing days. We did, as mentioned do a lot that has not been included. You can read more on my thoughts and experiences here but the trick is to make your trip to Iceland your own. Do some research and figure out what you want to see, do and explore.
Accommodation can be a very important thing to consider for Iceland. The reasons for this are the high prices, the fact you will be doing a lot of miles and the location of the hostel.
High Prices – With most trips, you can book the accommodation seriously last minute, even hours before you arrive but as Iceland is so expensive and does not have the widest range of accommodation, I would book far in advance and prepare yourself for the price.
The Mileage – After you plot your desired attractions and plan your day to day itinerary, consider how long you will be on the road and whether you are going to spend every night in your accommodation in Reykjavik or whether you want to book different places to stay along your route. This is very dependent to your own trip. We had to book a hostel near Vik, Iceland a few hundred Km’s away to save us driving 1400km in one day
Location – Similar to the last point, the location of your hostel is a large factor depending on what you plan to see. If you are not renting a car and taking tours, city centre may be best and if you are renting a car then price may be a more persuasive factor.
Usually for all my trips, I would recommend Hostelworld as hostels are cheap, comfortable and a fantastic way of meeting people. However for Iceland you need to keep your options open and although Hostelworld is my favourite, it may not include every type of accommodation.
I would therefore recommend Booking.com to find the accommodation that suits your needs considering the factors above. This is how we found the guesthouse that saved us a lot of extra mileage. The final option is AirBnB which can work out cheaper for bigger groups but consider the options..
The importance of expenditure is dependent on each individual person. Personally, I am a backpack budget-er, not the most efficient but I travel on a budget none the less. This means I need to be careful. If you live luxuriously whilst you travel then this won’t be as much a concern.
Food – I have already highlighted the importance of bringing your own food. This would save you a lot of money when it comes to Iceland. A sandwich at a petrol station costs between 500-800 Krona (£4-£6) and they look terrible.
Alcohol – Another piece of advice was to buy alcohol at the airport before you leave as alcohol can only be bought at Vínbúð or “Vin-bood-in” as I call it which are not on every corner and from bars and I guess clubs but you may have to take out a loan. Check out the prices in Vínbúð here. It is also open only between 11am- 6-7pm. Buying at the airport means you pay a fair price, are aware of what you are likely to pay and it carries significant convenience.
Fuel– We have already stated that fuel costs around £1.50 or 200 krona per litre. Plan your mileage and you will learn exactly what to put in your car.