This is one blog post I have been wanting to write for a very long time. Iceland is amazing. Period. If you haven't been, please put it on your bucket list! Not only are the people amazing (hello fellow Scandinavian kids!!), but the history is phenomenal, and the rugged terrain is absolutely stunning.
We were lucky enough to finish off our European honeymoon with five days in Iceland and it was the most perfect way to end our trip! I want to help you out with some quick do's and dont's for traveling in Iceland.
DO: Fly Icelandair.
No, this is not sponsored (although, I'm down if they are!), and I hate flying, but this was the best flying experience I have ever had. I've always considered Canadian airlines to be super friendly, but Icelandair had them beat hands down! The flight crew was wonderful and the coach seats were super comfortable! They've since added the Saga Class and I'm hoping to try that out when we head back to Iceland! BONUS POINTS: Gave us really nice earphones and great Icelandic water. Carry-on, checked luggage, and refreshments were all INCLUDED in the price we paid. Halle-freaking-lujah!
DO: Rent a vehicle rated for the highlands.
You've landed in Keflavik. Now what? You can take a car service, bus, or rent a vehicle to get yourself around in Iceland. My recommendation is to rent a car, but make sure you get a 4X4 rated for the highlands! Doing this allows you to save time, and money, by being your own tour guides! Not only did we find the bus trips expensive, but I do not people well, so being stuck on a bus with 60 other people is pretty much my own personal hell. We were able to travel, at our pace, and see all the beautiful sites that Iceland has to offer. Definitely recommend seeing Thingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Godafoss waterfall!
DO: Go to the Blue Lagoon
You just have to. It's like someone combined a warm hug, a hot bath, and an Antivan all in to one. That's how good the Blue Lagoon will make you feel. Depending on the time you pick, it's going to run you around 12,000 ISK (~$130CAN) per person but includes your entrance, a drink, your first mud mask, and access to the saunas and steam bath.
DO: Take the time to discover downtown Reykjavik and Old Harbour!
Not only are there tons of amazing shops to explore, but the arts scene is amazing! There are lots of museums. From Icelandic Punk and Maritime museums, to penis' and whale museums, there really is something for everyone! Also, if you happen to be in the area over the weekend, make a stop at Kolaportid Flea Market in Old Harbour! Not only can you score beautiful Icelandic sweaters there, but you will get them at about 1/3 of the price! If food is priority for you, I highly recommend the Laundromat Cafe! The food was great and the atmosphere was cozy! Also, try the hot dogs. Don't ask what's on them, or what's in them, just try them. They are delicious and the best place to get them is at a harbourside stand called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur! Bring cash and be prepared to stand in the always-present line. I promise it will be worth it!
DON'T: Go crazy on tours.
Some are definitely worth it. Some, not so much. They are all going to run you about $100/person so choose wisely. They add up quickly! I highly recommend the whale watching. Even though we went in December, it was such a gorgeous ride! Things to skip: Northern Lights Tour Bus. Let me tell you a little story about the Northern Lights Tour Bus. We were on our third day in Iceland, I was sick as a dog, and we just spent the better part of the day whale watching on the north Atlantic. I was cold. I just wanted a very hot, very sulphur-y (their water smells like sulphur sometimes) shower and my bed. But my husband had never witnessed the northern lights. And we ended up with tickets for that evening and the bus left at 9PM. Now northern lights are no screaming hell for me. I grew up in northern Canada and they happened ALL. THE. TIME. They are pretty but honestly mean jack shit because I've seen them dancing in the sky since as long as I can remember. So, in a true testament of my love for my new husband, I agree to two things: 1) I'm going to people. With lots of people. In an enclosed bus. While I'm sick. and 2) I'm dragging myself away from my shower/bed at 9PM! For reals, I'm an 80 year old woman when it comes to bed time. I'm an early riser, do not mess with bed time! So yah. Love husband. So we load onto this bus, and I keep mentioning to my husband that it's cloudy. We're not going to see anything when it's cloudy. We start out and we head off to our first destination. Guess what? It's still cloudy. No northern lights. Second stop. Oh look, still cloudy. No northern lights. This continues on, and each time this lovely Icelandic tour guide optimistically tells us "sometimes they shine so bright you can see them through the clouds". At 1AM, I finally look at my husband and I tell him she's full of shit. You can't see diddly squat through the clouds and that they've been blowing smoke this whole freaking trip! Finally, we get back to our condo and laugh about how ridiculous the whole evening was. On a happier note, because we rented said 4X4 mentioned above, we detoured from Keflavik the next night after dinner and he was able to see a beautiful display of northern lights. Also, it was a clear night. (One last time for those in the back: Don't look for northern lights when it's cloudy!)
DON'T: Forget your coat.
Even in the summer months, Iceland is on the cooler side! When we went in December, it was a balmy 1 degree celsius! For Canadians, that's money. For Texans, they might want to die without a sweater. Dress accordingly and always check the weather for where you are going! My personal favourites were my Varma Icelandic sweater with an Under Armour base layer and a down puffer vest. These three things got me through 99% of our hiking and exploring! In regards to footwear, I would recommend a good hiking boot, and definitely something that is waterproof. To be 100% honest, I wore my Manitobah Mukluks and a pair of wool socks through all of it. They were warm and super comfortable.
DON'T: Be an early bird.
I'm an early bird. I was up, showered, and ready to roll by 8AM. Things do not open at 8AM. They open at like 11AM. Always check the opening times for the sites you're looking to see!
DON'T: Break the rules
This seems like an easy one but simple things like speeding can come with a hefty fine. Driving off-road where you're not supposed comes with an even heftier fine, and is crazy dangerous. Don't swim or hike where you're not supposed to. Don't go off the beaten path. It is the Land of Fire and Ice for a reason. The puddles literally boil. Don't be stupid.
DON'T: Walk into the piggy grocery store thinking you know what's what.
Unless you speak/read Icelandic. I guarantee that you do not know what's what in a Reykjavik grocery store. There's a lot of delicious food in Iceland. There's also a lot of really weird stuff. Like fermented shark. and whale meat. And mystery meat that was mixed into a hash that we bought at said piggy grocery store. See, we rented a condo. We liked the idea of having more of our own living space and we ended up getting a place that was a two minute walk from the harbour. It was phenomenal! But, we decided that since there was a stove and all the cooking supplies, that we could cook some of our meals at home. Just. Don't.
You're going to feel like a rockstar driving up to the Bonus grocery store (piggy store). You're going to think it's a healthier choice than eating out. Again, just don't. We went to Bonus, and we bought some coffee cream (it was buttermilk, or liquid yogurt, definitely not cream), we bought some breakfast hash (with onions and what we thought was bacon, definitely not bacon), and we bought some meat (thought it was beef, definitely not beef). I will rarely say this, but just eat out.
DON'T: Ask where the nearest McDonald's is.
They don't have them. They have Subway. We may or may not know this after the mystery meat incident.
And last but not least,
DON'T: Miss out!
Traveling to Iceland was one of the best trips I've been on. I’ve barely touched on all the amazing things to see and do in this country, but the land and culture are completely gorgeous, and totally worth the trip! You’re going to love it!