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I was in Iceland for a 2 day volleyball tournament and then used a rental
car to tour the island clockwise in two weeks: west - north - east - south.
See my Iceland-specific tips here.
2 day volleyball tournament (yearly Easter tournament in a different
European city every year); stayed with Icelandic girls
- Soaked in the Blue
- Björk performance
- Hvalfjörður (a fjord), Reykholt
(small town), Deildartunguhver (Europe's biggest hot spring), Hraunfossar
(waterfall straight out of lava rocks without a river above it)
stayed overnight in a lovely farm guesthouse, had the entire 3 storey
farm to myself
- Tried to
go all the way around Snæfellsnes peninsula but couldn't because
of snowed up road and severe fog
- Up to Hvammstangi,
overnight stay in lovely wooden hostel with seals on the beach in front
old houses with grass roofs
art museum, cafes, visit to good swimming pool, stayed in comfortable
- Godafoss waterfall,
and on to Mývatn area
in Mývatn area: stayed at practical Eldá guesthouse, soak
in hot lagoon
- Toured Mývatn
area: Hverir hot springs, Krafla vulcano, Hverfell crater, etc.
- Saw northern lights!
cute harbour town in beautiful fjord: stayed at the lovely hostel
stayed overnight at Hvammur guesthouse (not recommended)
lake with icebergs where I spotted 3 seals; ice blocks on the black
volcanic sand beach
national park; Vatnajökull = huge glacier; Svartifoss waterfall
stayed overnight at lovely Bölti guesthouse with amazing view
cute church with grass roof
cliffs and beach
stayed overnight at lovely remote hostel with grass roof and amazing
views on Eyjaffjallajökull glacier
stayed in cabin at Eldhestar Hotel (quite expensive and no kitchen),
did a horse ride
- Geysir (Strokkur
geyser and various hot springs); Gulfoss big impressive waterfall
stayed with Icelandic girls again
national park with Inga from Reyjavík
Iceland is a
developed country in a very rough natural environment. It's worth knowing
these little things about the habits and differences before you go:
- Icelanders pay almost anything with a
debit card, even their beers at the bar and a hamburger or a cup of
coffee at a petrol station. So no need to take out huge amounts of cash,
just have some for emergencies and pay the rest with debit / credit
card. Mastercard / Maestro accepted everywhere.
- At swimming pools, lagoons and hot tubs
you need to wash yourself and your hair very thoroughly without
swimsuit on and using the soap provided before you go in.
- Many of the ordinary swimming pools rent
out towels. Many also have hot tubs, a sauna and Turkish steam bath.
- At the Blue Lagoon and the hot lagoon
in Mývatn (and other baths with high sulphur value): take off
all your jewelry or it will turn black by oxidation.
- At most places you will need to take your
shoes off in the hall. They will not be stolen. A pair of woolen indoor
house shoes can come in handy.
- Many places inside are very hot (heating
cranked up, it doesn't cost them much since they take it from natural
sources), so bring some T-shirts too.
- Try to hog 10-Kronur coins for payphones.
- Accommodation: in summer phone ahead to
see if they have space left (ideally book well in advance); in winter
phone ahead to see if they're open at all and what the latest arrival
- Bring a sleeping bag; sleeping bag accommodation
(unmade beds) are way cheaper than made-up beds. Or bring camping gear.
- Self-cater (cook your own meals) to keep
costs down. Bring herbs and spices in small containers from home, as
well as plastic sandwich bags and some aluminum foil. Buy the rest (coffee,
tea, food) in Icelandic supermarkets. It's about 20-50% more expensive
than European supermarkets. All hostels and most guesthouses and camp
sites have fully equiped kitchens with pans, plates and cutlery, toaster,
sometimes toast iron, microwave, water boiler.
- Bring fleece hat and good scarf and gloves,
it's often windy and cold outside.
- Bring good sun lotion, the cold wind might
make you forget about the fierce sun.
- Bring hiking shoes that can deal with
some water / mud. I can tell you from experience that sneakers with
air (water...) holes are not always great!
- Outside the summer months you may
be lucky and spot northern
lights. It needs to be very cold and crisp, and a very clear night.
In the afternoon pay attention to white smears in the sky (almost like
airplane trails), these may be a prelude to northern lights. Ask locals
for their predictions. They say there is more chance of spotting northern
lights in the northern part of the country, i.e. Mývatn area.
But there are no guarantees...
- Tipping is not customary and is sometimes
taken as an insult. Simply do not tip in restaurants, taxis etc.
- The tap water is drinkable (although it
tastes a bit of sulphur).
Driving in Iceland
- If you're not planning on driving in the
interior, or to Dettifoss or Landmannalaugar, then a normal rental car
will do for the Ring Road. Otherwise a 4WD is better.
- Don't try to read all the blue road signs,
they are just the names of farms. The yellow signs indicate towns /
- An important road sign is the one
stating 'Malbik endar', indicating a transition from paved road to gravel
road. Slow down, do not brake hard on the gravel.
- Pay attention to the road conditions and
the very changeable weather before you start driving. This is a good
website for it: www.vegagerdin.is
- Pay attention to these signs:
they indicate a touristic point of interest like a waterfall, an old
farm, church, a hot spring... Often there is not a lot of space to brake
/ make a turn, so slow down on time.
- When buying petrol, you often need to
pay in advance at a machine (with debit card or credit card), and decide
upon an amount in ISK. Some machines allow you to leave the amount open
and opt for 'fill up'. Some petrol stations have signs for 'Full service':
a guy will fill up your tank for you. Petrol is more expensive in remote
villages. Get it at bigger towns.
- Pay attention when crossing bridges, often
the road is damaged before and after the bridge.
- Near most bridges there is some space
to park. Comes in handy for photo stops (bridges are often near beautiful
waterfalls or streams).
- Do not count on finding restaurants, lunch
rooms ar nice cafes along the ring road. Your best bet is having junk
food at a petrol station, or checking a guidebook beforehand to find
a restaurant in a town (and hoping for it to be open), or self-catering.
- Have enough drinking water with you, and
some extra for emergencies.
- Bring CD's with your favourite music;
on many radio stations it's 20% music and 80% Icelandic chattering.
In the mountains you might hardly receive any station at all.
- You should have your headlights on at
all times, so in daylight too.
- Even with a 4WD you are not allowed
to drive outside the roads (be it paved, gravel or dirt roads).
What are you waiting for? Go!
Iceland is unique and so beautiful! And very
easy to travel in. The people are friendly, helpful, most of them speak
fluent English and they generally have a good sense of humour.
I recommend holidaying there to anyone who loves nature and vulcanic activity.
Don't let the weather deter you. Just count on the worst weather you can
imagine, that way you can only be pleasantly surprised on good days. Plus
you can always soak in a hot tub or lagoon when you're cold. :-)
Iceland is not cheap but you can save money by camping or using hostels
(sleeping bag accommodation), self-catering and buying your plane ticket
well in advance.
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