CELAND, known as the land of ice and fire, is one of the most fascinating places on our planet; the pure nature, the strange climate, the Nordic style and the beautiful landscapes attract millions of tourists, making it one of the most popular destinations of the last years. The country was proclaimed in 2018 the safest in the world, based on statistics related to political stability, terrorism and crime; however, Iceland is wild and reserves other types of danger that should not be underestimated!
Iceland is a country of Northern Europe, located above Great Britain, between Greenland and Norway. Reykjavík is the capital and its international airport is Keflavík. The climate is a cold oceanic type, with icy winters and cool summers; as it is conditioned by the winds of the North Pole and the currents of the Gulf, the weather is unstable and changes continuously. Sunny days are quite rare! The official language is Icelandic but English is very diffused as well. The Icelandic kròna is the official currency.
With this post we will try to help you to organize your Icelandic trip step by step. Are you ready? Let’s go!
1 DO I WANT TO SEE THE BOREAL AURORA OR THE MIDNIGHT SUN?
These two phenomena are not compatible and occur in different periods of the year:
the northern lights are visible from September to April, when the days are shorter and the climate is practically winter. If you want to have information about the aurora borealis visit the website: https://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora.
The midnight sun instead occurs from May to August, when the days are longer, and the temperatures are above zero.
Based on this, you will choose the period that suits you, so let’s go to the next point!
2 When to go to Iceland?
From NOVEMBER to FEBRUARY: during these months the climate is very cold, the hours of sunshine are few and you should be prepared to face snow and wind storms. Most of the roads will be closed due to weather, so it will not be possible to reach the heart of Iceland; RING ROAD, which cross the island, will be accessible instead. The advantage, however, is that you will see snowy scenery of infinite beauty, you will be able to go hiking on the glaciers and do snow trips but above all, with a little luck, you will be able to watch the Northern Lights show!
SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER: Temperatures begin to drop considerably and days to get shorter; MARCH-APRIL: Temperatures slightly increase but blizzards are still possible. The days get longer. During all four months there is still the chance to see the Northern Lights. The roads are more accessible but not yet enough to explore the whole island.
From MAY to AUGUST: the “Summer” finally arrives (if you can define this way), days are endless and the average temperatures are between 4° and 15° C. Since June, the roads are well accessible even if it can happen that, due to rain, some are to wade.
We chose to go between the end of May and the beginning of June, and, even though we didn’t the Northern Lights, we were happy to have daylight until midnight and cold but not so hard temperatures! This let us have much more time to see Icelandic landscapes and take pictures until late at night.
3 How many days and how to trave the itinerary.
You can do several things depending on how many days you are going to spend there:
- 3/5 days: visit Reykjavík and the Golden Circle.
- 1 week: you can go around the whole island (quickly), excluding Westfjords.
- 10 days: you can go around the island seeing everything accurately, always excluding Westfjords.
- 2 weeks: you can go all the way without exclusions.
After that, plan a draft itinerary (you can use Google maps to seize the distances) so you’ll figure out if you need a car to move and for how long, and where to choose accommodations. We got down to work by marking all the things we wanted to see and visit, possible excursions of that period and the accessible roads. So, we managed to create the out perfect itinerary.
Iceland’s offers are endless things to do and see, so do a search according to your needs. We still recommend 5 attractions you should not miss:
- Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
- Blue Lagoon
4 Book the FLIGHT
At this point, you have chosen the month that is right for you, how many days you’ll stay and what you’ll see; there is an important thing that you must not forget: if you have chosen to go to Iceland from MAY to SEPTEMBER, you should be aware that these are the most touristic months and, therefore, booking in advance is essential! In fact, Iceland is not yet completely prepared to accommodate the high number of travelers that actually comes every year, so the facilities are few and quickly sold out.
We advise you to start looking at various flight sites to compare prices several months before departure. We looked at sites like SKYSCANNER.COM and KAYAK.COM to get a general overview, and then booked the actual tickets on the official website. Iceland Air is an Icelandic airlines that offers direct or stop routes depending on the city of departure. Also TUI Airways offers routes for Iceland from London, Bristol and Manchester. However, we flew with Lufthansa, from Venice with a stopover in Frankfurt, buying the ticket 7 months before.
5 MOVING: Is the car necessary?
It depends on what you have decided in point 3: if you have a few days available and your idea is to stay in Reykjavík buying daily excursions, then you probably won’t need the car; the capital is small and easily visited on foot.
Instead, if you want to take a trip on the road going to Iceland’s adventure (like we did), then the car is one of your priorities! In our case, after having traced the itinerary and calculated the required days, we booked it on rentalcars.com, choosing between ALAMO, HERTZ, AVIS and THRIFTY. These rental companies always have new cars and offer different types of insurances. We also suggest taking the GPS, which is essential for the east and north area of the island, and to book the collection / delivery of the car at the airport (very convenient because you will not pay extra charges for taxi or bus but especially because you will feel already autonomous). Regarding the payment, they only accept credit cards.
There are also several local car rentals that offer the same services, at perhaps slightly higher prices than the companies mentioned above.
We believe that choosing a 4×4 car is necessary since many roads are unpaved and become dangerous when it rains.
6 ACCOMMODATION: Hotels, Wooden houses and Guesthouse.
This was certainly the funniest part of the road trip organization. Websites like booking.com and airbnb.com, are very reliable and offer hundreds of different types of accommodations.
For the first two nights we stayed at the ION ADVENTURE HOTEL, a Nordic style hotel we really loved! The other places we stayed were instead small independent wooden houses we booked on booking.com. Iceland is so different from Italy, we immediately noticed that it is a peaceful country where local people trust everyone;
Here it works like this: you book online, they charge immediately your credit card and the day of arrival, around 5-6 hours before you get there, you receive an email from the owner with all the instructions for the check-in and check-out; the keys are already inside the accommodation and sometimes a security code is also provided to enter. This system was really comfortable for us because it allowed us to be autonomous without having binding schedules, allowing us to organize our time in the best possible way.
On airbnb.com we found a design house in Akureyri where we stayed for 2 nights: it was the most beautiful house we’ve ever been! There is a possibility to book also a “Guesthouse” (a very popular habit in the country), it’s a family-run houses with some shared spaces for all the guests, like the bathroom for example.
However, we read many reviews on this type of accommodation and generally the Icelanders are very kind, hospitable and the accommodation is cheaper. For camping lovers, various areas have been set up to carry out this activity.
7 EXCURSIONS, To book them or not to book them? This is the dilemma!
Now, the biggest part of the organization is done! From here on, it’ll be all about conjectures. As we wrote on the title, to book or not to book the excursions? There are many things you can do in Iceland: walking on the glaciers, go for a ride with huskies on the sled, taking an amphibious boat on the frozen lagoon, seeing the Golden Circle and the Sneafellsnes peninsula etc. etc. However, the unpredictable weather could compromise your plans. In our case, by mutual agreement, we decided to book a month before only the Blue Lagoon because being a thermal pool, it would have been accessible even with adverse conditions. Instead we only booked the day before (after having carefully checked the weather) the whales watching. It was amazing seeing these mammals in their natural habitat!
We advise you to plan in advance the excursions you would like to do and, while you are there, to keep the weather monitored and book them if the forecast is ok. For some of them you won’t need any reservation, just show up at the desk and ask for information.
8 TRAVEL INSURANCE, yes or no?
In Iceland, hospitals are good and accessible for Europeans with a valid European health insurance card. However, some health services are charged, so we always recommend to subscribe for a medical insurance. Usually, we book on Columbusassicurazioni.it, where we look for the solution that offers the highest level of coverage combined with a “cancellation policy“, in case of unforeseen events, and a policy for lost luggage.
9 ROADS, How do I know if they are accessible?
www.road.is offers an overview of the routes updated in real time. This site turned out to be essential as it allowed us to change route when needed and avoid useless miles.
10 NATURAL HAZARDS, what are they?
You can’tunderestimate the Icelandic nature; there are no dangerous animals but the landscape, however, even if beautiful, can hide many dangers. First of all, the weather could be dangerous when it rains or snows a lot; then you should always be cautious about venturing into places like glaciers, cliffs and mountains. Be careful because not all attractions have definite and safe routes! Along our rout, we found plaques in memory of people who lost their lives in these places, so safety first… always! Consider all the possible risks in advance.
11 CLOTHING, but what should I wear?
As previously mentioned, weather changes continually, so we advise you to wear heavy clothes, to always bring a raincoat with you and to wear several layers of clothing. You’ll be able to use the umbrella only in Reykjavik, but in the rest of the island, because of the strong wind, it will be impossible to keep it open!
Moreover don’t forget the rain boots! if you are not comfortable to wear it all day, at least keep them in your car. You will need them for sure, not only for the rain but also for wading through rivers or to reach some waterfalls, like Gljúfrabúi, next to Seljalandsfoss.
12 How is the FOOD in Iceland?
In a word? Heavenly. Excellent food was the most beautiful discovery in the country, they really do their best to prepare delicious dishes! In Icelandic restaurants you will find fish dishes, organic vegetables grown in greenhouses, the “soup of the day” and Skyr, a cheese very similar to yogurt. Two typical dishes that we have not had the courage to taste are the rotten shark and the smoked puffin.
In Iceland there are very few villages compared to the infinite empty spaces, so you could find yourself looking out of the window and see only sheep for hours and hours without finding any eating place (did you know that in Iceland there are more sheep than people?); However get informed in advance about which restaurants are located in your way, so you do not waste time looking for them.
We discovered some really special places to eat, we’ll post a “restaurants / bars to try in Iceland”, and soon we will tell you our whole experience in this unusual but wonderful land! #staytuned