It can be overwhelming to plan a trip, especially internationally. Here is a follow up with some tips we learned from our trip to Iceland. For WHY you want to go see my post here.
Our friends Curt and Janine wanted to go to Iceland after their daughter’s wedding and asked us if we wanted to go to.
In planning our two week trip to Iceland, we started out by deciding how long we wanted to be gone and when we could go. (did you notice I didn’t even have to say we decided to go)
Ali’s wedding was in early August, and we both had college kids at home for the summer so we wanted to wait till they were back at school. We also didn’t want to go in the winter time because Janine say’s if she’s cold it’s not a vacation. ;)
This is why we went on August 23rd.
We picked two weeks because you have two days air travel and we wanted to drive the ring road around Iceland and read that 10 days was good but longer was better.
Let me just say this now. I read “you CAN do the ring road in a week but 10 days would be better”. I couldn’t agree more. You would be driving too much and not getting to spend much time seeing the sights. If you only have a week, I would visit every place you can between the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Golden Circle and Southern sites from Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón.
We started by researching tour trips offered, they book your hotels and rental car and give you a detail itinerary with maps and a gps. We did the math and decided between Curt and I, we could do it ourselves and save some money. BUT these were very helpful in seeing how long they spent at the different locations to help us begin planning ours.
We booked our hotels in March for travel in August/September. Some areas were already picked over so I wouldn’t push it any closer especially if you are traveling in high peak season June, July and August.
I use Booking.com for hotel reservations because they are all kept together in one source. There is a great app for easy access to the details with maps and contact info. They also have reviews which are helpful. I like to use Trip Advisor, as well for hotel reviews, “things to do” and restaurants.
We stayed at hotels, and a few bed and breakfast. Average price was $170 a night. Higher in Reykavik, less in obscure locations. All included breakfast. We would stay again at every place we booked. All owners/managers were very friendly and helpful in recommending restaurants, points of interests and answer any questions you have about Iceland.
The hotels were very basic. Tiny but tidy rooms. Full size beds (two twins put together) with twin size down comforters. All had tiny showers and most had electric kettles with coffee/tea supplies. Wifi was everywhere we stayed. We stayed in 8 hotels. 3 of them used hot springs water which smells like sulphur.
The breakfasts were all the same with breads, yummy jams, cold meats, some fruit, cereal, boiled eggs, tomatoes and cucumbers and usually some kind of pickled fish and cookies or sweet treat. And Skyr. Skyr is an Icelandic yogurt that is full of protein and no fat. We regularly bought it for snacks too.
We rented a 4×4 SUV. We didn’t necessarily need a 4 wheel drive but if you drive on a F road in a 2 wheel drive, your insurance is void. We wanted the option to drive on any road and we went on plenty of F roads, although rarely turned on our 4 wheel drive. Gas is expensive. $7 a gallon. (priced in liters at the pump) We took a gps with a Europe chip. Invaluable. Saves lots of time find hotels and helpful in estimating your arrival time to your next location.
Food is very expensive. I would not waste my time researching places to eat before you go, except in Reykjavík. There are not an abundance of choices in most places and we would ask at the hotel, grocery stores or gas stations for a recommendation. We also google some while at the hotel. Everywhere we ate was delicious. Lunch meals range from $15-$25. Dinner meals averaged $40-$60. This is the average we found. There is lots of fish and lamb on the menu.
For lunch we would stop at a grocery store or gas station first thing in the morning and buy sandwich supplies, fruit, skyr and chips. We refilled our bottles with tap water from the hotels. Then we had lunch supplies on hand and stopped at some spectacular picnic spots. A few times we ate lunch and did the sandwiches at dinner. We save a lot of time and money this way.
Curt and Janine told us to bring our thermos and coffee/tea supplies and we filled them each morning at the hotel and had a little late morning cup of joe at some spot that we wanted to spend a little extra time enjoying.
In researching what to do, I read lots of blogs, articles and reviews. I bought Lonely Planet Iceland. It was very helpful in planning. It’s not necessary to have but I wanted something I could hold in my hand and read. It was helpful to have on the trip when we came to places we hadn’t heard about so we could read and decide.
We put together a list of things to see at each location. We referred to it some. We would read the night before of what our options were and would decide over breakfast. Save plenty of time for just pulling over and taking pictures of the sheep, horses or vistas. We also changed our route a couple of times based on recommendations by the hotel owners. We did have reservations for every hotel ahead of time. This is a must do!
We went to several hot spring pools. Advise here is to bring two bathing suits because it takes them forever to dry. If you go to the blue lagoon, which I recommend, be sure and buy your ticket ahead online.
There are so many natural beautiful things to see and do in Iceland and of course they are all outside. The weather changes quite a bit. We dressed in layers. With temperatures from 40 to 65, from sunny to rainy and windy. You need to be prepared. Highly recommend rain pants and rain jacket, waterproof shoes and waterproof gloves. With these things you can keep on regardless of the weather.
My favorite resource pages: this one for short day hikes. We did 2, 3 & 4. Highly recommend them all!! Also this blog post is a great resource for selecting hikes. And Danielle had some great tips in her posts one for each day. We went to the plane wreck thanks to her! And this one for info on all the regions.
What we learned about the Northern Lights. They are there all the time but during the summer it’s too light to see. They have this website to watch for good nights. It just needs to be dark and clear. They can last from 10 minutes to all night. They come in different colors. We saw white (but looked green in the photos) They are much slower than I pictured. More like a lava lamp slowly changing across the sky.
How do you recommend to someone what to do? It depends on what you like to do. There is so much to see. We sought after waterfalls, lakes, vistas, oceans, wildlife, glaciers, interesting hikes, volcanos, geocaches, sweet churches and lighthouses.
One thing you won’t see is fast food, shopping, traffic or traffic lights or TV.
Seriously, it’s an amazing place to visit and very doable. Hoping I helped answer the questions I had too before going.