Travel Guide: Iceland [The Basics]

Iceland-15.jpg

When planning our honeymoon to Iceland, I stalked every blogger who lives there or who has ever been there, so I thought I'd pitch in with some tips too.  

1. Gather yer Iceland resources.

  • I Heart Reykjavik Blog: A lovingly written, cuter-than-cute blog by a lady who clearly hearts her city. We took a lot of Auður's advice. She personally hosts walking tours of the city, which we definitely would've done our first day had we arrived earlier. 
  • Handpicked Iceland: These beautifully illustrated guidebooklets have locally sourced info on things like eats, sleeps and activities all over the island. They are free and can be found all over the place. There's also an online version and free app now!
  • The Reykjavik Grapevine: The Grapevine is the English city rag, so be sure to pick one up when you land. I also found their online "Best of" feature helpful for eating and drinking around the city because it includes some of the newer stuff.
  • Lonely Planet: Everybody else has one, you should probably have one too. Just promise me you'll stray from it at least occasionally, if not often. (We found this book helpful for the trip as a whole, but not as much for Reykjavik itself.)
  • Instagram: Stalk errbody.
Iceland Field Guide: Stuff To Know Before You Go
Iceland Field Guide: Stuff To Know Before You Go

2. The midnight sun is the best.

May-September is the high-season for a reason. Despite the prices, that's when you should go. We visited in August and the long (

really

long) summer days just allow more flexibility. When the sun doesn't go down until 11:30 p.m., it feels like a time warp. It doesn't get dark enough to see the Northern Lights in the summer, but that's a small price to pay for seeing,

well

, everything else.

3. Learn all about Iceland car rentals.

Little fun fact... car rentals in Iceland are absurdly expensive and will murder your budget without remorse. That said, it's the only way I'd want to travel the Ring Road. We rented through Arctic Rentals and they picked us up from the airport and set us up with a nearly brand new Toyota Yaris. Would definitely recommend them. When you drop the car off, you just leave the keys in the car in the airport parking lot, because Iceland.

Get 4WD if you're traveling during the off-season or are planning on going into the Highlands. 4WD is required for the Highland F roads. I don't know what F stands for, but I know they include river crossings and I'm convinced they lead to certain death.

If you don't plan on literally fording a  goddamn river, you'll survive with 2WD (and you'll save a lot of pocket change in the process). Most of the Ring Road adventures are on pretty harmless roads and The Little Yaris That Could handled some steep, gravel inclines like a champ.

Also, make sure you request an automatic transmission if you want it, because in Europe it's not as popular as manual.

4. Book accommodations early.

This is the high-season, remember? Two of the places we wanted to stay were already booked by the time we called a month prior, and our Airbnb in Reykjavik was almost fully booked up when we reserved it. There are also various summer festivals around the country that could really affect your chances of finding a room, especially in small towns.

No room at the inn. The inn being this stunning Hotel Egilsen in Stykkishólmur, which was full when we inquired a few weeks prior.
No room at the inn. The inn being this stunning Hotel Egilsen in Stykkishólmur, which was full when we inquired a few weeks prior.

5. Buy booze at the airport.

Alcohol is expensive and only sold at government-run Vínbúðin shops that have limited hours. Stock up at the airport's duty free shop instead—it's cheaper.

6. Set up a prepaid data plan.

There's an ELKO store at the airport where you can set your phone up with a prepaid Síminn or Vodaphone SIM card to give you 3G/4G and Internet access in Iceland. Don't forget to pack your car charger.

7. Make your own free GPS. 

Save relevant Google Maps for offline use. This tutorial will walk you through the process. We skipped the rental car GPS and just navigated like we would at home with our phones. And with the entire country's worth of maps saved, it didn't eat up the data plan.

8. The tap water is amazing.

No really, it is. If you buy bottled water in Iceland, I'll reach through my computer and wag my finger at you.

9. Everybody takes credit cards.

And by everybody, I mean the smallest shop in the smallest town will still probably take a credit card, even if you're only buying a pack of gum. The only place you need physical money is for the toll at Hvalfjörður Tunnel (the only toll road in the land). Otherwise, we had to actively try to use the cash we withdrew the day we arrived. If you have leftovers, you can exchange leftover króna easily at the airport.

10. There are abandoned babies everywhere.

It's not what you think. Icelandic babies nap outside because it's believed that the cold air is good for one's constitution. It's perfectly normal for parents to leave a baby snugly nestled in his pram on the sidewalk while they have lunch or coffee inside. I was so excited to see this phenomenon and I did.

 Reykjavik Roasters. There's a baby in there!

Reykjavik Roasters. There's a baby in there!