Planning for Iceland
If you enjoy road trips as much as I do > Iceland will be one of the most epic drives you'll ever do in your life. You'll be covering over 800 miles around the island, so you'll need at least 7 days. We had 9 days which included travel time. Looking back I would have tacked on an additional 3-4 days > maybe 5. There's just so much to see. Trails to hike. Hidden waterfalls to discover. Pools to swim. Places to just sit and stare in awe. While it is overwhelming to plan, a little effort makes it totally doable.
Figuring out the itinerary
Full disclosure: I acquired a guidebook and did not finish reading it. I wish I did, less time would have been spent trying to decide on things to do during this trip. I did not enjoy the writing because I was comparing it to my Myanmar guidebook at the time. But after the trip, I am finishing up reading the guidebook and am thoroughly enjoying it LOL!
You will get a lot of good information on itineraries for Iceland from many sites. I find that you will get the same information because people likely modeled their trips from the same sites you googled. The guidebook takes you as close to getting the full spectrum of the country as possible. You then have a better idea of places that most interest you. I chose Lonely Planet, 9th edition Published 02/2015. There are others such as Frommer's which is a more up to date version, but decided on Lonely Planet because I was already familiar with the layout.
If you simply do not have the time or the patience to read a guidebook, these are great starts:
- Alex Cornell: Thoughtful and very thorough. If I was to change up my itinerary, I would have probably modeled after Alex's trip. Plus, he's an amazing photographer!
- A Dangerous Business: Kuddos to Amanda for embarking on a trip to Iceland in the winter w/out a car. Here she accounts her 10-day adventure trolling around Iceland.
- Breath With Us: Lovebirds Hugo and Kristina outlines planning for the road trip. They are pretty spot on considering this article is a year old.
Traveling with someone? If you are as lucky as me, that friend will have the smarts to help you figure out the itinerary. I have to give all the credit for the planning of this trip to my bud, Kinjal. She happens to have a blog as well. Check out her insights at L' Hungry Planet.
You can download the entire itinerary via Googlesheets.
Whatever you end up doing, I can confidently say that there's not one place you will regret going. Iceland is amazing!
Flying through WOW Air
Here lies a group of unsuspecting travelers prior to boarding WOW. Wooed by its low prices and direct routes, we happily booked our flights. THAT is the extent of all the positives I've experienced with WOW. Note that if you are flying with WOW, everything will cost you a pretty penny. Let me count the ways:
- Pre-booked seats- these are not XL seats, these are regular seats.
- Checked in bags - pay in advance or you will pay a higher rate at the counter. How dare you inconvenience them at check-in.
- Water - they charge you for room temperature water.
The 8 hour flight will not include food, wi-fi or entertainment. But that's pretty standard, right? Top it off with a lost luggage (a future post) and you've got the makings of an unforgettable flying experience. $800 is a huge difference with their competitors, so I get it. Just read the reviews and think long and hard before hitting that booking button.
Let me bestow my wisdom on surviving this flight:
- Bring food & load up on drinking water at the airport. If you ask nicely, the flight attendant will microwave your food or provide you with hot water for oats or cup-o-noodles at no charge.
- I try to sleep at least half the time in the flight. Min 6 hours prior, try not to have any caffeine or sugar (fruit included). If there's time, I try to exercise. Also, pack some ear plugs and sleep mask.
- Buy alcohol if your airport has duty free - you'll need it for the flight.
- If you happen to forget to load up your phone with entertainment, here's a couple of puzzlers to figure out:
- How to recline your seat
- How to adjust the air
*It doesn't work.... LOL!
Lets end this rant on a high note. On our way to Iceland, we saw the northern lights! These are not the greatest and I didn't have a clue of what I was looking at, but there she is mid-flight:
For the Road
Make sure to rent a 4x4 car - there will be roads especially in the fjords that will require it. I saw a lot of tiny 2WDs on the road. While you can get away with this on most of Route 1, some parts of the road is not paved. The rental company will advise you to get insurance for this reason alone because of the damages incurred. Travel specific credit cards such as Chase Sapphire cover car rental insurance. So if you have this perk, no need to get it. Getting one from the rental company will disqualify the car from being covered through your credit card.
The GPS is not always part of the price of the car. Also, everyone seemed to have trouble finding places in the GPS. So test it out before you leave the lot. Pull up the list of sites you plan to go to and try a couple of these places. This will give you an idea if the maps are updated. If you happen to forget to test the GPS, download MeMap app. It's not the most up to date map, but it was a lifesaver when you're unable to connect while on the road. There is one thing that never occured to me at the time - there are special characters used for a lot of the names in Iceland: Jökulsárlón, Skútustaðir, Mývatn. There should be something on the keyboard of the GPS that allows you to use these characters. Make sure the rep walks you through how to do this.
Places in Iceland are not the easiest to say much less spell out. So if you've acquired a tip or direction from a local, have them write it down for you. Else, you will likely forget this a couple of seconds later.
Buying fuel is not one of those things you usually think of but wished I knew prior to this trip. Most of the fuel stations are automated but the difference is, it requires a pin code to be entered to authorize the card. If you plan to use a credit card, make sure to call and arrange for a pin number to be set. If you are planning on paying via cash or cannot set up a pin on your cc, then you must buy pre-loaded cards. These preloaded cards are not the most convenient because you have to use them for certain gas stations. From what I read, N1 seems the be the most popular. We didn't have too much of trouble filling up gas around the island. I did read that in the Westfjords area, the gas stations are few and very far between. Being able to have the independence to drive around the island is half the fun so don't be afraid.
Airbnb's in Reyk: The city is a short drive from the Kef airport and Blue Lagoon. So try to stay in the city center because there doesn't seem to be much to do in Kef or the hotel in Blue Lagoon. We stayed in the city center neighborhood which puts you in the center of food, drinks and sites.
Lambastadir Guesthouse: We were a little nervous getting here because our GPS couldn't find it. Luckily, we were able to get close enough via the coordinates we looked up online. It's right off the main road, you'll need to slow down a bit because the sign is pretty small.
IcelandAir Vik & Akureyri: The best hotels we've stayed at in Iceland. The buildings don't look much from the outside, but the interior is tastefully decorated. This place is on the pricey side but I think it's worth it. Dinner at the Vik location was superb. We didn't have time to enjoy breakfast, but we did go twice at their Reyk location - it was that good!
Hali Country Hotel: We had some not so nice experiences with the locals while in Reyk, but the folks in Hali Country Hotel restored my dwindling faith in Icelandic people. They are welcoming and so kind to us. Upon learning of our long drive to Mývatn, they packed up a huge bag of lunch filled with sandwiches and the cakes that we loved so much. This is highly recommended and get booked fast because of their close proximity to Jökulsárlón. This is also the spot we met our tour guide for our glacier hike. If you happen to stop by at their restaurant, look for a certain calendar which features a butt-naked local set in the Iceland wilderness. Chances are, that same local happens to be your chef. Just inquire with the waitstaff. LOL!
Activities to book in advance
- Blue Lagoon - Iceland's most iconic tourist draw, enough said.
- Glacier Adventure- We booked our glacier walk in Vatnajökull via Viator. We had the most badass guide - Skola. She's a no-nonsense gal who will keep you in line while you traipse on the ice. Highly recommend this tour.
- Þórsmörk or Thorsmörk- Don't let the map fool you, this place is a day trip at the minimum. We didn't make it here because we didn't anticipate needing advance booking. You'll need to book a bus or hire a high-clearance 4WD (super-Jeep) to cross rivers to get to the park.
Hope my insights help with your planning for your trip. I would love to hear your thoughts and experience if you've visited the island. I'll be writing more posts on our activities, experience with a lost luggage, road trip with friends and of course - food! So check back in soon!