Building on my “detailed itinerary in Iceland post”, I’ve compiled a list of information we found useful during our ten days on the island. These are my top Iceland tips for first time visitors:
First, be sure to read my post with our detailed itinerary!
GO AGAINST THE CROWD– In Iceland, we took a driving route that is reverse of what most tourists do. We visited The Golden Circle last, while many visitors do that first. Either way is fine! We found our route was a good idea because we ended with the crowded “mega popular” tourist sites last. With this, we found we didn’t need to spend as much time at the Golden Circle since we had already seen even more epic sights previously. If we’d started with the Golden Circle first, we would have spent longer there because we didn’t know better things were coming!
A SAD CAR MAKES YOU HAPPY – We rented our car from Sad Cars, and I highly recommend! You can often pay extra for a GPS in your rental car, but we used Google offline maps to help navigate. At times, an old fashioned paper map was needed as well, so it’s a good idea to pack one! We had no troubles at all with our car, it was comfortable and successfully drove on all the crazy “F-Roads” we encountered.
RENT THE GEAR – We rented camping equipment and gear from the Iceland Camping Equipment Company. We got a collapsible picnic table, a small tent, and a portable stove. After several days camping, having a warm meal and a table to sit at was perfection! On the plane over, we brought our own sleeping mats and hiking gear in our checked bag, but the rentals definitely saved us a lot of space!
IT AIN’T CHEAP – Food (and things in general!) here are incredibly expensive, especially if you are an American. I’m not exaggerating. Mentally prepare! Expect to eat almost entirely from grocery stores unless you are secretly rich 🙂 . The example I give is a gas station hot dog- It will run you $15 US, and that doesn’t include ketchup!
JUST SAY NO – The hunting and sale of mink whale as a delicacy is still common in Iceland, despite international pressure and protests. 🙁 Please be an ethical traveler, and DO NOT eat this dish. If you notice restaurants serving it, consider taking your business elsewhere. Also try to avoid places serving horse and puffin if you can.
WILD CAMPING – One of the coolest things about Iceland (which made our trip that much cheaper- and more memorable!) is that camping is permitted on most any public land. As long as there are no “Private Property”or “No Trespassing” signs, and you meet a few other requirements (in terms of number of tents, how long you stay, etc.), camping can be easy and often free or very cheap. When I went a few years ago, things were simpler. With the trending influx of tourism, there are now a few more rules and regulations regarding wild camping, so be sure to do your research before you go. CLICK HERE to read more details.
DON’T RISK IT – Iceland is full of dangerous terrain and hostile features. Like what? Well, there are some geysers, steaming fumaroles, and active volcanoes for a start. I saw far too many people being stupid and overly bold with selfie sticks and Go-Pros. Your life isn’t worth a selfie- watch those cliff edges and steaming geysers! Use common sense people!
SAY WHAT? – English is spoken by almost all the locals, and they have impeccable pronunciation! I’d tell you to learn some Icelandic phrases before you go, but I found it insanely tricky! Beyond reading signs and trying to pronounce place names, you should be okay without knowing it.
LET IT GO – In the public baths or hot springs in Iceland, it is an expectation that you shower and rinse your body before going in. This means you need to shower NAKED– not in your swimsuit. You can cheat at some locations (like The Blue Lagoon), but at most hot springs, you need to accept this is how it’s going to be. Yes, that means you will shower naked in front of the other visitors. There’s really no way to avoid it. Is it awkward and uncomfortable? Yes. However, it is simply a cultural norm you must adhere to. When in Rome…
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As always, all reviews and opinions are my own. However, some affiliate links are included which means if you choose to book any of the above tours I will receive a small commission.