Things to Know Before Going to Iceland

Things to Know Before Going to Iceland

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Iceland has a lot of amazing places to see and it’s much bigger than you’d think. To truly appreciate it, you will need a plan of where to go, where to stay and what excursions to take. The most important advice we can give on this is do not visit Reykjavik area only. A lot of people do the city, Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle – and then miss out on the true beauty of Iceland. Our 6 Days in Iceland Itinerary post can give you an idea on destination places in the South and West Iceland. Make your trip an Iceland roadtrip to truly experience this amazing island.

Map of our Iceland adventures (6 days in Iceland)

Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning this trip:

Power

In Iceland electric devices use 220V power, which means you have to check all of your stuff to make sure it can operate on that, as US uses 110V. Most electronics will have 110V-220V built in. Most hair dryers and straighteners/curlers do not. There are some on the market that are compatible, but you have to check the label. If you plug in non-compatible equipment, you will fry it and can throw it away.

In addition, outlet plugs are different in Iceland, they use type C, E, F, same as most of Europe (with the exception of UK & Italy), so make sure to get enough plugs to power all of your devices.

Language

Pretty much everyone we encountered spoke English, at least enough to communicate. All of our excursions were conducted in English and we never had any trouble communicating with anyone.

This wiki travel site has some other great phrases and pronunciation tips. Here are a few basic words to know:

  • Yes – Já (yeah)
  • No – Nei (nay)
  • Thank you – Takk (tak)
  • I’m sorry – Því miður (thvee mi-thur)
  • Goodbye – Bless (bless)

The names of places are really long and hard to pronounce, we gave up after day one and to each other started saying the beginning few letters then made up the rest. One trick is knowing that names of places are actually a combination of several words rolled into one, so every waterfall will have ‘foss’ at the end of the name, lagoon will have ‘sarlon,’ mountain ‘fell,’ and glacier ‘jökull.’ That was really good info to help us figure out what these things were and make it easier to pronounce.

Currency

We didn’t bring any local currency and we were able to use credit cards for the entire trip. Make sure that your credit card company does not have international transaction fees.

Food

There are no chain restaurants, most of the places are locally owned and feature local food. Iceland didn’t really use spices till recently, so food is pretty basic. We had some great seafood in Reykjavik, we also had some terrible food in other places. Restaurants don’t offer a lot of vegetables and salads or fresh fruit. It was a hit or miss, so don’t expect it to be amazing.

As you get further away from Reykjavik, restaurants become sparser and places close early. At one of the small towns we ended up having a gas station hamburger for dinner because it was the only place open. And the burger was great!

Packing List

Check out our blog post on Iceland Packing Essentials.

Photography stuff

There are amazing and varying landscapes through Iceland. From waterfalls to cliffs, from snow covered mountains to lava fields, from northern lights to glaciers, you will want to photography everything, so make sure you bring a variety of equipment:

  • Your camera and comfortable waterproof carry case as you will hike up some hills and cliffs
  • An all in one lens with good zoom and a wide angle lens for all of the landscape shots
  • Water protection for your camera – it rains a lot and you will get mist from waterfalls, so you want to protect your equipment
  • Extra batteries and memory cards
  • Neutral density filter for best shots of motion blur on waterfalls and ocean waves
  • Travel size tripod – if you’re planning on taking pictures of the northern lights you will need a tripod, it’s also useful for motion blur on waterfalls
  • Portable backup device, tablet or laptop so you can back up your memory cards every night – you don’t want to lose all of your shots if case something happens

In addition, make sure to have your phone setup to back up to the cloud when you’re on Wi-Fi, that way all of  your cellphone photos will backup automatically each night when you’re in hotels.

Driving

We lucked out, our weather was great for most of the trip, so driving was a breeze. The Ring Road and Golden Circle Road are wide and easy to travel on. Since we were outside peak season traffic was not an issue. The only thing different was roundabouts – they are everywhere! After circling the tenth one in a mile, I wanted to scream “just let me drive straight.” If you’re from US and haven’t driven roundabouts much, brush up on the driving rules related to them.

This was our car in Iceland, it was a great little car and we fit everywhere.

Make sure you download off-line maps on Google Maps. There are areas with no reception, plus you don’t want to use your data. While you’re at it, download music to your phone so you can play it in the car for the same reasons.

Costs

Iceland is trying to attract visitors, so you can get some really good deals on flights and hotels, especially in off-season. Tours are pretty pricey and will count for a good chunk of your budget, make sure to account for it. The good thing is that there are a lot of activities that don’t require a guide, especially if you have a car. While, we’re on the car, the rentals are reasonably priced, but you will want to get some insurance, unless you’re using a credit card that has car insurance included.

Other useful info

  • Geothermal water is used to heat around 90% of Iceland’s homes/hotels. This hot water from the volcanic activities underground is full of sulfur and has a distinct rotten egg smell. Your bathroom will smell when you take a shower, but wear off on your body really quickly. Don’t drink the hot water. Cold water is regular and is drinkable.
  • Free Wi-Fi is available in most places, such as restaurants, gas stations, hotels, etc.
  • Make sure you check your international phone plan before traveling. Most likely talk and data will be very limited. I set up TravelPass with Verizon for $10 a day and ended up using it a couple of times. Most of the time we just used Wi-Fi, you can make calls and have full data access.

If you’d like to share the Iceland roadtrip tips on Pinterest, here is an image:

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