Iceland is a beautiful island located northwest of the United Kingdom and just east of Greenland. It’s one of the most picturesque places on Earth and 9 out of 10 tourists say they would return. This stat is so true that I started planning my second visit before the first one was over!
There were many things that I did not know prior to my trip so I am sharing some tips about what to do and not to do while you visit the country.
DON’T: Pay a lot of money for multiple tours
DO: Rent a car and drive yourself
The cost of living in Iceland is sky high!!! Couple this with tourist prices and everything is ridiculously priced. Tours can cost anywhere from $50 to upwards of $300. Why spend all that money when you easily do most of the activities yourself?
For example, Grayline charges 11,990 ISK (~$105) for a tour of southern Iceland and 101 euros (~$114) for a Golden Circle and Fontana tour. These two tours alone cost about the same as my rental car so it’s no surprise that I went with the car rental.
Renting a car in Iceland is extremely easy; I recommend that you shop online for the cheapest car that has one key thing: unlimited mileage. There are many international and local car rental companies at the airport and most of them provide shuttles to and from their location to the airport. If you’re apprehensive about driving in a foreign country, take a deep breath because there is nothing to worry about. The roads in Iceland are no different than American roads (unless you’re from Michigan.) You can save a good amount by not paying for any guided tours that involve driving you to a popular tourist site. The only tours I recommend are for activities such as whale watching, snorkeling or finding the Northern Lights.
DON’T: Limit yourself to Reykjavik
DO: Explore other parts of the country
As I mentioned above, driving in Iceland is easy. There are paved roads and highways that go around the entire island nation. The scenery will make you feel as if you are driving through a stack of extremely beautiful postcards. Iceland really takes the word picturesque to a whole new level. I recommend not rushing your drive; if you see a beautiful place, stop and take pictures!
Google Maps also works perfectly so you won’t need to use an old-fashioned map. Don’t be alarmed that a lot of the highways only have two lanes. Iceland has a very small population and they do not need six-lane highways. The drive from Reykjavik to Vik is about 2 hours while the drive to the furthest point of the Ring Road (Gullfoss) is only 1.5 hours away. Reykjavik is a nice city but there is a lot more to see outside of its limits.
DON’T: Eat out every day
DO: Save money by purchasing food at local supermarkets
Re: the cost of living in Iceland is sky high. Icelandic meat or lobster soup will set you back $17-20 at most restaurants. I don’t know about you, but I am not used to paying more than $10 for a bowl of soup. If you are on a budget, you can make your money go a lot further by limiting the meals you eat in a restaurant and grocery shopping instead. I spent $17 for a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, and bread; it was delicious, but I got way 2-3 meals and beverages for about the same price at the grocery store.
Bónus and Krónan are two relatively affordable grocery stores. I visited both and Krónan seems to have a wider range of items. Unlike Bónus, it also has prepared foods.
DON’T: Pack for your hometown’s weather
DO: Check the weather ahead of time and pack layers
The weather in Iceland is unpredictable. I visited from September 30 – October 4 when the temperature ranged from the low 40s to low 50s. It was also super rainy and gloomy. I checked the weather a week before and it predicted temperatures in the mid-to-high 50s. I was glad to have packed layers of fall-appropriate clothing, along with a rain jacket. Don’t bother bringing an umbrella because Icelandic winds rival Chicago’s and your umbrella will probably flip inside out. Opt for a cute, water-resistant jacket instead.
DON’T: Waste your money on bottled water
DO: Drink the delicious tap water
The water in Iceland is very safe and probably better than the water in your home country. It also tastes great, unlike the chlorine and fluoride tainted Florida tap water I am used to. I do not recommend that you drink or brush your teeth with the hot tap water because it smells like sulfur. If you don’t know what that smells like, imagine rotten eggs. This is because hot and cold water in Iceland comes from two different sources. The hot water is heated by geothermal energy so it’s great for your skin but not so much for your mouth.
DON’T: Exchange cash at the bank or airport
DO: Use your debit and credit cards freely
Millennials, take a breather: you do not need to use cash in Iceland. In fact, Icelanders prefer that you use cards. Tips are also not a part of the culture so again, there is no need to bother with withdrawing money. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted everywhere and I did not have any issues using my American Express card.
DON’T: Assume that the exchange rate will work in your favor
DO: Use a currency converter
Re: re: the cost of living in Iceland is sky high! At the time I wrote this, 1 ISK = $0.01. It would be easy to assume that your dollar is going to go far here but that is far from the truth. Iceland is an (isolated) island with many natural resources. However, those resources are mostly related to marine life (aka fish.) Most of the land in the country is not able to be farmed, which means that a lot of fruit must be imported. Iceland also imports a lot of gasoline, electronics, cars, etc. What does this mean? Everything is way more expensive than necessary!
For example, I saw a pair of Apple Earpods at the mall on sale for 7,990 ISK. That’s about $70 for a pair of $30 earphones. The price of gas here is also high. It’s sold by the liter at around 191 ISK/liter ($1.68) when I was here. That comes out to a little over $6 per gallon. I recommend that you always whip out the currency converter everywhere you are if you do not want to overspend your travel budget.
That’s all, folks! Let me know if you’re visiting Iceland soon and what you plan on doing.