Ok, I get it now. You hear about Iceland for much of your adult life. You watch countless of pictures of waterfalls, sheep, sometimes together. You realize that its an easy hop and a skip away. But for some reason you keep postponing this giant national park in favor of places with better food and more culture. The reality is nothing you’ll see and hear will properly prepare you for the Iceland experience. When you come back, Iceland will feel like one of those vivid dreams you can only experience during a colonoscopy anesthesia.
You can pretty much forget everything your neighbors and cousins told you (like stay in Reykjavik and do day trips). This was a last minute trip to replace a badly damaged Yellowstone after severe floods. A 10 day, record breaking 7 hotel road trip around the Ring Road. If I would do this again, I would do it again, almost exactly the same. I will post a detailed itinerary, and more about the food when the time comes, but here are some of the things we learned. Some things were more expected than others.
10 days is ideal. Thats not to say you shouldnt do more, and you can do less. But 10 days for us city slickers felt like a good amount. Its also the minimum amount you need for the Ring Road which I wholeheartedly recommend over the more popular and accessible Golden Circle, Reykjavik and surroundings. People tend to allocate less for islands everywhere. Sicily is the best example, a two week destination but so many try to do it in five days. Dont make this mistake here.
Reykjavik is Skipavik. I always imagined the capital being remarkably foreign, meaning very different where one can enjoy the differences and experience local culture. Much of that went out the window by the time we found ourselves having dinner at a NYC style food hall. Its not so much that you cant experience some culture here, but considering everything else Iceland has to offer, one night in Reykjavik feels more than enough. We spent one day here, and we kept walking by the same streets, same cats and organized tours.
The Ring Road is strikingly beautiful. The Ring Road is the main road circling the island. I was expecting to find many of the attractions striking, but I really didnt expect the drive itself to be so mesmerizing. You will triple your old number of oohs and ahhs per hour record, especially in the north. There was one moment where we stopped at a random side of the road, all alone surrounded by greener than green mountains, waterfalls, and canyons. Narnia meets Jurassic Park. Do yourself a big favor, and do the Ring Road.
Forget the ATMs. After much deliberation we opted not to take out local money, and we didnt need any. We dont even know what the local currency looks like. Its liberating not to deal with this on vacation. We heard that the only time you might need some change is for remote bathrooms, but we didnt really encounter them. You can stop at any gas station, a shop/restaurant, or the occasional remote bush if needed.
Bring a debit card with a pin. On our first try, our pinless CC failed. Once we started using the debit card, we didnt encounter any issues. Fill as soon as you reach half a tank, as you may drive many miles without seeing a gas station.
Iceland Gas Stations are awesome. You can get fresh hot dogs, Skyr – the best Yogurt on the planet, borrow a device to check tire pressure, fill air and wash the car for free, and get any help you need from the super friendly workers. They will also change your baby and call your mom.
Food is actually surprisingly good. The rumors that Iceland cuisine is lacking is widely exaggerated. What it may lack in finesse they more than make up for it in great ingredients. Sure, some meals were better than others, but its hard to screw up fish, and lamb raised in this climate. Expect a lot of lamb, simple fresh fish, flaky fish and chips, fish soup galore with wonderful bread and room temp homemade butter (a luxury in NYC). Iceland is also known for Langoustines, but for the time being, they are importing them, as fishing is banned. I also love the little differences like paying for your meals at the cash register.
Double up on the snacks. Iceland will wear you down in a very good way. Its hard to calculate the time you’ll spend getting to the destinations, and the amount you’ll spend there. If the hike is more than an hour, take a bag with snacks and water. And if you’ll do the Ring Road you’ll be facing some long drives. The snacks will come in handy.
You dont really need to buy water. I had trouble understanding this concept but I get it now. Iceland has some of the best tap water in the world. You can fill your bottles not only from any sink, but from waterfalls and streams while hiking.
Less is more than you think. As with any destination, you will want to see and experience as much as possible. But Iceland is unique in the sense that as popular as it is, much of it is still relatively undiscovered. Most visitors concentrate on the the grandest, popular waterfalls, sometimes missing other gems in plain sight. The best example is Skógafoss. Most people spend less than an hour seeing this magnificence, not realizing that the hike that begins on top of it, is one of the most beautiful easily accessible hikes you will ever do. And there’s another incredibly unique waterfall nearby. You can easily spend a glorious half a day here. Less sites often means richer experiences, and its especially true here.
Book a few tours. As usual, the tours we booked were the highlights. At some point during this adventure you feel ready for someone else to take your hand and navigate. And you really dont realize how much fun it is to hike with a group until you do.
Supermarkets open at 10. This caught us by surprise early on. As a tourist you normally start your adventures early in Iceland, so plan accordingly.
No one in Iceland is actually from Iceland. Iceland hospitality industry is booming and needs a lot of help especially in the summer. Most of the people we met, from tour guides, waiters, to hotel managers, were from other Europeans countries. I think we only met around four people from Iceland.
Iceland is expensive. I saved the worst for last. I can book a beautiful chateaux in Loire Valley for less than a simple motel in Iceland. That’s not a joke. On average we paid roughly $400 a night. And in order to afford the car for 10 days (Blue Car Rental – best service, highly recommend) I had to tell the kids that they would need to rely on grandparents for continuing education. At the very least book well ahead of time. Not only you will have options, but you are not risking the entire east coast of Iceland to be sold out. A common phenomenon in the summer.
I’m sure I missed much. In short, Go!