In the past few years, Iceland has become a huge tourist attraction. With its volcanic beaches, national parks, hot springs,waterfalls and iceberg lagoons, it’s a paradise for nature lovers and photography passionates. We all imagine it to be quite expensive, and I’m not going to lie.. it is!
Clearly, your budget will dictate the kind of trip you’ll do. Some people like to go expensive hotels and eat in fancy restaurants every meal, but if you’re reading this I assume you don’t belong to that category.
Concerning accommodation, the cheapest option would be camping if you feel adventurous, don’t suffer for the cold and already have the gear. I wasn’t keen on buying it all and putting it on a plane to spend a little less. Also, I kind of like heavy blankets and heaters when it’s very cold, so I chose the cheapest option which would include a roof over my head and a bathroom. There are guesthouses, hostels and hotels all across the country, but in some areas there are very few so don’t wait too long to book, especially if you have a clear itinerary in mind and don’t want to spend too much.
For a 7 days holiday you can spend €80-100 per day, including accommodation, food, attractions, car rental and petrol. It may seem like a lot, but it’s not Thailand after all. Follow some basic rules and you’ll have an amazing time without killing your wallet.
As the Brits say, safety first! I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be concerned at all, but Iceland is a very safe country. The population is low and they all mind their own business and are friendly and polite. I didn’t explore the outskirts of Reykjavik, as far as I’ve seen it is a quite city to be a capital and I have never felt like I had to worry (hey, remember this is coming from an anxious person!). Only a couple of friends told me they had food stolen from their car and I’m pretty sure the thieves were hungry tourists. I can see how upsetting this can be, and you will as well when you’ll walk into a supermarket.
It is not common to see Police cars around, if anything not very far from Reykjavik. But they strictly obey to the rules and will not let it slip away if you decided to park your car on the road or where it cannot be parked.
Spoiler alert, in Iceland they speak Icelandic! Most of the names of places you’ll read should sound a lot different than what you have in mind.
Do try, but be open to understand what the locals say. Some of them speak English, and if you stay on the touristic route you’ll be generally fine. Worse case scenario you’ll order something for lunch that you wouldn’t have tried otherwise.
Driving in Iceland
There are different kinds of roads in Iceland, and it is quite important that you recognise them on the map and decide where to go. The route 1, commonly known as Ring Road, will enable you to go all around the country and it is the “busiest” one. It’s asphalted and pleasant to drive on, but at times you may have to take an F road. These are a lot rougher, especially when the weather conditions are challenging. There are huge holes and bumps which will make you wish for a 4×4 or simply a bigger car than our beloved Kia Picanto. How did it survive?
Driving will take a lot longer than you think, with frequent stops to enjoy the wonderful nature around you, and local traffic jam (see below).
As you can imagine, fish is pretty much everywhere in Icelandic cuisine. There is both wild and farmed fish, grilled and coupled with vegetables and bread or cooked in a delicious broth.
Bare in mind that a simple vegetable soup can easily cost €15, so doing your own cooking will make you save a lot! I left England with some food already in the suitcase. Things like snack bars, dried fruit and nuts are great to have breakfast or just fill that hole in your stomach when there’s not sign of civilisation for miles.
Guess what? Generally speaking, it depends on the time of the year you go. Quite sensibly, the colder the temperature, the heavier your clothing will be. In October the maximum temperature doesn’t easily reach 10°C during the day and it fluctuates around 0 degrees in the evening. No matter when you go, Iceland is windy and wet, very windy and wet. It may look like a sunny day, but it may rain profusely 5 minutes later (rainbow lovers, put your hands up!). A good pair of hiking boots and waterproof jacket and trousers are highly recommended. If you’re planning a weekend in Rejkyavik this may not be necessary, but beware…an umbrella won’t last very long. Indoors it’s nice and warm and a hot shower will be your best friend after a long day outside. Don’t worry if your hair and skin feel weird, all tap water in Iceland has a funny odour of sulfur which is supposed to soothe your skin and make you pull weird faces when your brush your teeth.
What about the aurora?
The northern lights (Aurora Borealis) can be seen only when the sky is dark at night, so if you choose to visit Iceland between the beginning of April and the end of August you won’t stand a chance. The best time is from the end of September to the end of March. The probability and intensity of it will depend on the Sun’s activity and weather conditions. You can consult the website www.auroraforecast.is, but bare in mind that you may have to wait for a few hours before it appears, and it can be for just a few minutes. Basically, the more patience you have, the better. I wouldn’t trust “Aurora tours” which promise you’ll see it. Your best bet is just to go at the beginning/and of winter (less chance of a cloudy sky) and spend some time outside. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll see a glimpse of it despite the numerous clouds.
Overall, I can’t recommend Iceland enough! I know the price puts a lot of people off, but it really is worth the sacrifice. Avoiding expensive tours like driving a quad, horseriding, diving in the reef and so on, will save you lots of money. But do consider that you are visiting a wonderful and diverse country and it may be a good idea to cut down dining out to live one more experience. Enjoy!!
Don’t forget to leave a comment or share this article if you think you have any questions or you think it may be useful to others. I’ll publish a post with a 7-days itinerary very soon! 🙂