Iceland 101

When we found round-trip tickets to Iceland for a few hundred bucks, we knew we couldn’t pass up the chance to visit one of our must-see destinations.  The only catch was that we’d be visiting Iceland in December, which doesn’t seem to be one of the most popular times of year to visit this unique island country.

But boy did it work out for us.

We went with 3 friends from Corey’s hometown and had an absolute blast.  We will definitely be making another trip to Iceland in the (hopefully near!) future.

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Corey and I standing in front of Gullfoss on our self-guided Golden Circle Tour

We flew overnight out of Boston and arrived at Keflavik International Airport on December 17.  Bright Dark and early at about 6:00am.  We hopped in our rental car and immediately began to explore – and to learn the road signs – on our 5.5 hour drive to the eastern side of the island. Looking back, maybe planning a 5.5 hour drive immediately after an 8-hour layover and a 5-hour flight wasn’t the best idea.

But it turned out just fine.

I’ll be doing a short Iceland series on this blog because it’s impossible to sum up the trip and Iceland travel tips in one blog post, so be on the lookout for future posts about all the cool adventures we went on and our near-death experience hiking on a glacier in 40mph+ wind gusts.

I’ve had a few people ask about planning their own trip, so for now I wanted to write up a few of our must-knows for people interested in traveling to Iceland.

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Swans in Reykjavik

We did a bit of research ahead of time, so some of these tips are from travel blogs and guides that we looked at before our trip, but most of these tips are from our direct experiences.

Top 5 Iceland Travel Tips

1 – Rent a car.  You’ll want to do this ahead of time, but I really would say this is the only way I’d ever travel around Iceland.  There are tour buses you can book for excursions to some of the more popular destinations, but there’s nothing like the freedom of exploration. You’ll want a 4-wheel drive car and you’ll likely want to pick it up at the Keflavik Airport since that’s where your flight will likely land.  We booked our SUV about a month ahead of time through SadCars, but there are plenty of car rental companies to choose from.

2 – Learn the rules of the road.  You’ll want to look up the important Icelandic road signs ahead of time.  It’s not hard to drive in Iceland (they drive on the same side of the road as the US) and we didn’t have any issues with traffic being there in December.  But you’ll want to learn the basic signs by heart. There are a lot of “lane ending” situations close to the airport and a LOT of one-lane bridges on the eastern side of the Island.  So give the road signs a Google and a screenshot before you get in the rental.

3 – Plan to spend some $$$ on food.  This was one of the biggest surprises or us.  It was cheap to get to Iceland, and we were budget-conscious with our AirBnbs, but we didn’t quite anticipate the high cost of food. A black coffee in Reykjavik (similar to a small coffee from Starbucks in the States) cost about $4.50.  A beer on draft from a Reykjavik brewery was about $8.00. To cut down on food costs, we went to grocery stores and cooked our own dinners a few nights on the trip.  You can also order tap water at restaurants instead of bottled water, which saves a bit, too!

4 – AirBnb is your best friend.  There are tons of cool and unique places to rent on AirBnb, so utilize that resource when you’re planning your trip.  Also, use Google Maps to figure out the time between AirBnbs and between the places you’ll be staying and the activities you want to do. If you visit Iceland in the winter like we did, you have about 5 hours of daylight to make the most of each day. You don’t want to spend all day, every day driving from place to place.

5 – Get an EU outlet converter and bring external chargers if possible.  You’ll need a converter to use anything with an American outlet.  You’ll likely want to get your converter(s) ahead of time (try TJMaxx or Target) but you can also buy them in Iceland.  We bought a few at a visitor center near Thingvellir National Park and they were pretty reasonably priced.  You’ll also want to take pictures of every single thing you see, so bringing an external charger for your phone wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.  Our rental car had a USB charger, which really came in handy with using our maps so much for navigation.  You don’t want to get stuck with a dead phone in a foreign country!

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Thingvellir National Park

Stay tuned for a packing list, daily itineraries, and must-visit sights!

Out of all the places I’ve travelled so far, Iceland is at the top of my list of places that I really think everyone should try to see at least once in their lives.  I’ll gush about the scenery in future posts, but suffice it to say that I would go back tomorrow if I had the chance.

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Sunset in Olafsvik

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