Things I’ve Learned On My First Trip To Iceland

My husband and I went to Iceland beginning of September and drove around the Ring Road for 9 days. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life and here are some of the things I’ve learned before, during and after our trip to the Land of Fire and Ice.

  1. Iceland is even more unreal in person. The landscapes are so unique it looks almost like a different planet. It’s mind blowing.
  2. Flying to Iceland is a lot more affordable than you think. My flight from JFK was only $400 round trip. Icelandair and WOW Airlines are two of the popular airlines that fly nonstop from JFK and Newark. Book early to get the best rates.
  3. Flights may be cheap but everything else is expensive. I have been told about this before and I’ve heard about other travelers say the same thing but I did not expect it to be that expensive! A small cup of coffee from a gas station is $8. A bowl of soup $30. Burger and fries combo $44. Two Subway footlongs are $38. You get the idea.
  4. The weather is very unpredictable. Within an hour from the time I drove out of Keflavik Airport, I went through 3 seasons already. Rain, cloud, wind, and sun all came alternating every 10 minutes. It’s almost pointless to ask what the weather is going to be for the day in Iceland because it changes every 5 minutes. So, try to prepare for any weather before you head out.
  5. Rent a car. It’s definitely the best way to see Iceland. There’s a lot more to see than what the tour buses offer. You also have the freedom to venture beyond the tourist trail. For me, there’s no better way to see Iceland than doing your own driving. Make sure to get the car insurance too and if you’re planning to go off the main road, I suggest you get the sand and gravel insurance as well. We paid $1250 for an SUV including insurance for 8 days at SIXT. Book early to get the cheaper rates.
  6. Icelanders are the nicest people. Every single local we met all around the country was so nice. They’re such beautiful people and very friendly.
  7. Seeing the Northern Lights is not a guarantee. There’s always a chance that you would not see it on a single trip. It’s the most elusive attraction in Iceland. If seeing the Aurora Borealis is high in your bucket list then try to go between September-March, where there are full dark nights. You can check the activity forecast at and find a great spot to view it. You see it better in complete darkness and away from city lights. We were told that if we saw stars, then there’s a chance we’d see it so we looked for the stars every night and on our 5th night, we finally got lucky! By 12 midnight the lights started forming above us! Seeing the green lights for the first time was such an out of body experience. It’s unworldly and the feeling is indescribable. I’m still shaking my head as I’m reminded of the experience right now.
  8. Gas up whenever you see a gas station. You don’t know how far the next gas station would be so as a precaution, always keep your gas full if you can. We’ve seen some cars left on the side of the road because it ran out of gas.
  9. No need to buy bottled water. Icelandic tap water is as clean as water can be so drink up. It’s completely safe to drink.
  10. Load up on groceries before starting any road trip in Iceland. If you’re staying more than 3 days I suggest you do this unless you don’t mind paying a fortune for every meal. There aren’t also a lot of places to eat once you get out of the big towns so having food in the car will surely come handy. Take note also that grocery stores close early. There are 2 big grocery chains in Iceland. Bonus and Krona.
  11. Bring a nice camera. Iceland is a photographer’s dream. It has the most remarkable landscapes on the planet so get a good camera and take amazing photos. Use a nice camera for your photos and your iPhone for videos.
  12. Bring rain gear and a jacket even in the summer. As I said earlier, Iceland weather is the most unpredictable so staying dry or staying warm can make a difference in your vacation so better to have it than not.
  13. Yes, you can wear jeans in Iceland. Some people would tell you not to bring jeans because they’re uncomfortable when wet. That may be true but I did bring a pair and it was fine wearing them. Use your own discretion. Just don’t get carried away and buy a whole new set of wardrobe just for Iceland. Your regular clothes are fine but leave your shorts and sundresses at home. Bring a bathing suit for the hot springs and a good pair of hiking boots if you want to be more adventurous.
  14. Book accommodations in advance. Tourism is growing by the minute in Iceland and there aren’t a lot of accommodations available specially in the small towns. The best accommodations get booked up pretty early so make sure you book in advance. Also, find accommodations that offer free breakfast or has a kitchen. There’s no need to spend at least $50-70 for breakfast if you can make your own eggs and bacon in the morning. Trust me, it makes a difference. Some of the places we stayed at had no restaurants nearby so we had to make our own dinner and breakfast.
  15. September still gets you at least 14 hours of daylight. At least beginning to mid September. It’s nice to enjoy longer daylights because you get to cover a lot.
  16. Expect to do some hiking to get to the best attractions. Although, most attractions in the tourist trail don’t require a lot of walking, there’s a lot that do require a hike. The hikes are beautiful though. We actually loved the hikes. If you’re adventurous in nature, Iceland is the place for you. Bring good hiking boots.
  17. Most attractions are free. Isn’t it amazing? You can choose to pay for a tour or go on your own. The attractions are free including the most popular waterfalls. Take that Niagara! For glacier activities though, it’s best to hire a guide or go on a group tour. You certainly don’t want to mess with the glaciers and the icebergs.
  18. Watch out for F-Road signs. If you see this sign on the road, turn around. Regular cars are not allowed on F-Roads. These roads are pretty rough with rocks as big as basketballs and some of them have river crossings that a car obviously won’t be able to safely traverse.
  19. No need to rent a GPS. Google maps work as long as you download the map to use offline.
  20. Credit/debits cards are accepted almost everywhere in Iceland. I didn’t have to use cash at all. They accept cards almost everywhere.
  21. Don’t ignore danger signs at beaches. Sneaker waves are deadly. Also, don’t drive on beaches. We’ve seen a car stuck in the sand. Apparently, it happens a lot with tourists in Iceland. Rescue is not always available specially if you’re far from town so don’t do it.
  22. The Blue Lagoon gets sold out so book in advance. It is heavily marketed to tourists so it’s always packed. Saturday is their busiest day. It’s a man made lagoon and is fed by the water output of a geothermal power plant next door. They harness the water from 2000 meters below the surface to generate heat and electricity and then somehow the water ends up in the lagoon.
  23. English is widely spoken in Iceland. Most Icelanders speak English specially the younger generation. It’s almost like Iceland’s second language.
  24. Icelandic names are “impossible” to pronounce. They’re like tongue twisters and you don’t pronounce the letters the same way you do in English so it’s very confusing. The locals do know this and they’re very understanding and also willing to teach you if you ask them.
  25. Expect bus loads of tourists in the popular attractions. Usually in the Golden Circle.
  26. Iceland doesn’t have an army but make no mistake, they do have cops. Twice, we’ve seen someone get pulled over so they do patrol the roads. So be careful driving and pay attention to the speed limit. You don’t want to end up with hundreds of dollars in fines in the mail.
  27. The glaciers are melting at an alarming rate. Global warming is real and Iceland is proof. Scientists are saying that in 200 years there won’t be any ice left in Iceland. A sad and scary thought.
  28. Sheeps gather in groups of three. This may seem odd but we did notice that the sheeps do hang out in trios. There are a lot of sheeps in Iceland and you will see them cross the road or simply just stand on the side of the road and when they do, it’s a trio. Probably just a coincidence but I’d like to think this is a thing they do because it’s so cute.
  29. Traditional Icelandic food is very interesting. Fermented shark, blood pudding and dried fish are some of the most popular. We wanted to try the dried fish so we bought some and then realized that we couldn’t eat it inside the car or inside our room so my husband ended up bringing it back home. I still would love to try it.

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