Iceland is a splendid destination. Waterfalls, volcanos, beautiful hikes, highlands, … but also a lot of distances to cover, limited accommodation and expensive. On top, Iceland comes with 4 seasons a day, so you’d better be prepared before you go. Below some general information and tips. In my blog ‘5 fantastic things to do in Iceland’ some more tips on interesting sightseeing.
General tips and information
#1 Plan your itinerary carefully with sufficient breaks
Plan your itinerary carefully and make sure it’s balanced. The possibilities are endless. You can follow the Ring Road 1 all around Iceland. Just be aware you need quite some time to do so. 17 days is a minimum and even then, it’s a full program. But you can also only opt for the West Coast, north and south. Or go for a couple of days and only visit the ‘Golden circle‘ in the south. Just make sure you have sufficient variety. There are plenty of things to see, in ‘double’ or even more. You find waterfalls, volcanoes, glaciers and mountains throughout the whole country: which ones do you want to see? Puffins nearby or from a distance? Do you really need to go into the glacier or rather join a walk on it? Do you like short hikes or rather a two-day trip? Make up your mind before you go!
Wherever you go, there are many miles to cover. And activities all day are tiring, especially for teenagers, who want once and a while a break, sleep and their digital stuff. So make sure you build in some ‘rest’ days, with a simple visit to a (thermal) pool or a museum.
#2 Book your accommodation well ahead
Book your accommodation upfront and well in time. July and August are peak season so accommodation is scarce. Decide whether you will stay exclusively in holiday homes or combine these with a hotel, for example at the beginning or end of the holiday. Or maybe a camping trip is your thing? Do you think Summer houses are an option? Well, then read or blog to check this option out.
Anyway, make sure you spread your accommodation well throughout your itinerary. Distances don’t seem far in Iceland, but all travel takes quite some time and Google maps does not always reflect reality. A cottage 10 kilometers from a town means a lot of driving back and forth. Is it OK to be a bit remote from a town or do you like to be close to restaurants in the evening? There is one advantage: even at 11 pm it’s still light, the ‘midsummer light’, remember ?
#3 Choose your transport wisely
To get to Iceland and explore Iceland. Here too, there are several options.
We took a plain from Brussels to Keflavik and rented a car. Alternative is you go by boat with your own car. Smyrilline/Norrora has weekly departures leaving from Denmark and arriving in Seyðisfjørður with a stop-over in the Faroe Islands. Main advantage is you have your own car at hand and can save the costs of an expensive car rental.
In any event, a car is a must if you want to enjoy the country at your own pace. But extremely expensive, in particular in the high season. It’s thus important to compare cars, prices and insurances based upon your travel itinerary. In winter, go for a 4WD. In summer, a 4WD is not necessary if you only stay on the Ring Road, which is fully paved. If you want to drive off-road and visit the highlands, you need a 4WD though. Some roads, such as F-roads, are even strictly forbidden for 2WD cars. For unpaved roads, a 4WD also comes in handy.
Always check the insurance cover carefully. Make for example sure you have coverage for broken windshields.
And don’t forget your luggage when reserving a car. Cars often mention the number of passengers possible and in small the number of suitcases. If you are travelling with a big family, you likely need a van to travel comfortably. In particular because it’s hard to travel light …
#4 Pack wisely
Iceland comes with 4 seasons a day. You can go from pouring rain to sunshine in a couple of hours and even in summer, it is cold in glaciers. So check the maximum luggage allowance if you go by plane and make sure you book it for all passengers. And pack wisely, which might be a challenge. In general, layers are the key.
So, as for summer, I recommend for sure
- sturdy, waterproof hiking shoes.
- rubber boots. Come in handy in mud and rain and for sure to test the debt of the water when crossing highland rivers. And as a back-up when your hiking boots are soaking wet.
- rainwair: light, waterproof rain jacket. Waterresistant doesn’t do the trick when it’s raining cats and dogs.
- winter clothes: gloves, a hat, a shawl if you are visiting a glacier
- Fleece jackets
- swimming suits
- waterproof bags for your camera
- sunscreen and sunglasses
On top, don’t forget sustainable drinking bottles, easy to refill in national parks, in your accommodation…
#5 Plan well ahead for food and meals
With children, you always seem in need to have food and drinks at hand, in particular when you are making long days. So it’s important you plan ahead to stock-up supplies and even find a restaurants. Iceland is no Thailand, where you find small shops at every corner of the street. In general, in Iceland restaurants are scarce; even in big cities. In Akureyri, we had to wait more than one hour because literally all (5) restaurants were fully booked. On top, you don’t find supermarkets in all places. In the big cities (Keflavik, Reykjavik, Husavik, Akureyri, …), you can go shopping at Netto, Kronan, Bonus, … but on quite some routes (such as between Hofn and Kirkjubæjarklaustur and in the highlands of course) there is almost nothing, only some small shops with basics.
What we also noticed: some products are packaged differently then in Belgium. Milk, for example, comes pasteurized and not UHT, although in the same cartons. So you can’t simply store them for a couple of days in the car without a fridge ..
Is Iceland expensive ? More information about costs.
Yes, it is. It’s the most expensive country we visited over the last years. So, what makes it so expensive?
In particular the car rental. We rented a 4WD van, type Mercedes Vito (Hertz) which was not a luxury with 4 kids. It’s comfortable in all ways: enough space for everyone to sit (long distances) as well as for the luggage and stocking food and drinks. Taxis are extremely expensive.
Museums are also expensive. We sometimes paid up to 25 euro (adult) for a small museum. Other activities depend on the activity itself, we mention some prices below.
Eating out in restaurants is comparable to Belgian prices, if you don’t go out dining in exclusive places of course.
Shopping for groceries is also comparable to Belgian prices (Kronan, Netto, …).
Extremely expensive though are the souvenirs, in particular the typical Icelandic pullovers. Very pretty at a cost of around 150-200 euro each.
Our accomodation costs were reasonable. We stayed in decent summer houses.
A big plus are the national parks. Mostly, entrance to these parks is free, aside sometimes from some parking costs (although up in the north, that was even not the case). You can admire magnificent waterfalls, hike on craters and climb volcanoes without paying a euro. Although we heard that they might introduce some park fees in the future.
Below an indication of some prices
- Mercedes Vito 4WD, 17 days: 4900 € (insurance included)
- Summer houses: 200 euro per night, linen and towels included
- A meal for 6 (main menu, drinks): between 70 and 90 euro
- A taxi between Keflavik village and the Blue Lagoon: around 50 euro (there are cheaper buses from the airport)
- Into the Glacier (Langjökull): 139 € (adult) – 70 € (12-15 years) – free (below 12 years)
- Lava Centre (Hvolsvöllur): 28 € (adult) – 14 € (6-15 year) – 70 € (family pack)
- Whale expedition Husavik (North Sailing): 71 € (adult) – 26 € (8-15 years)
- Boat trip Jokulsarlon lake (amphibian boat): 39 € (adult as of 13 years) – 19 € (10-12 years)