As you’re planning your Icelandic vacation, there are some common missteps you’ll want to avoid. This will help your Iceland planning, and assist you in making the most of your time there. Read on to learn what not to do when visiting this unique island nation.
Iceland Planning Mistake 1: Failing to Consider the Season
Many of Iceland’s most popular destinations are best experienced during specific times of the year. For example, if you have your heart set on seeing the Northern Lights, you’ll want to plan your visit during the fall and winter months. This is when the sky is at its darkest for the better part of the day. This is covered in-depth in our article Northern Lights in Iceland: The Best Locations in Each Region.
Is your goal is to spot Iceland’s teeming puffin population or hike the trails near its majestic waterfalls? If so, summer is the ideal time to visit. Do keep in mind that if you travel during the winter, you’ll have fewer daylight hours to see other sights before the sun fades.
Iceland Planning Mistake 2: Underestimating the Weather
Iceland’s climate tends toward extremes and can change on a dime, regardless of the season. You may be expecting cold, wind and rain and end up being surprised by how mild and sunny the weather turns out to be. Alternatively, you could arrive in the middle of the summer and experience rainy, windy and cold conditions. Even after checking the forecast for your trip, be sure to pack for all possible conditions. Also, dress in layers each day.
Weather is also an important factor to consider when driving in Iceland. Are you planning to rent a car to explore the far corners of the island or travel the Ring Road? If so, take any predictions of severe weather seriously. This is covered more in Driving in Iceland Etiquette: Dos and Don’ts.
Remember that the weather in Reykjavik may be vastly different from conditions in the mountainous regions. Throughout the year, but especially in winter, “low-key hurricanes” are not uncommon. These can significantly impede your ability to drive safely.
High winds are known to create a “white wall” of airborne snow that cuts visibility to near zero. This forces drivers off the road to wait out the storm. Keep an eye on the nationwide weather warning system and road conditions and follow any guidance they provide.
Iceland Planning Mistake 3: Not Venturing Outside Reykjavik
As Iceland’s capital and most populous city, Reykjavik is a bustling hub of Icelandic culture. It can be tempting to limit your vacation to the comforting confines of the metro area. However, if you don’t push yourself outside that comfort zone, you’ll miss out in a big way. Many of the spectacular natural attractions that make Iceland a unique travel destination are outside the capital area.
Renting a car is by far the best way to get out of the city and experience Iceland’s varied terrain and quaint rural culture. The Ring Road, the country’s main highway, will take you around the island. You will go past many of its most popular destinations.
During the course of a single day, you’ll have the opportunity to see:
- Powerful waterfalls
- Vast glaciers
- Ancient lava formations
- Steaming hot springs
- Verdant farmland
Be sure to take the time to chat with friendly locals to get a sense of what daily life in Iceland is like. Also, enjoy some of the unusual culinary delicacies like harðfiskur, dried fish with a jerky-like texture that’s a dietary staple in Iceland. More about this is covered in What to Eat in Iceland: Sampling Iceland’s Unique Cuisine.
Even if you opt not to rent a car, at least book a tour that takes you beyond the outskirts of Reykjavik. You have dozens of options for exciting excursions, including whale-watching outings and day trips to ice caves, glacier lagoons, the Golden Circle and many more.
Iceland Planning Mistake 4: Ignoring Reykjavik Completely
Iceland’s natural wonders are one of the country’s biggest draws. However, be sure to allow yourself some time to explore the capital city as well. A modestly-sized city in terms of population, its culture rivals that of cities many times its size.
Reykjavik boasts dozens of world-class restaurants, museums and other attractions. There are also quaint cafes, lush parks and geothermal pools. You’ll meet fellow travelers from across the globe. All this will be done while soaking up a significant component of Iceland’s unique culture.
On a budget? Never fear. Check out our article 5 Free Things To Do In Reykjavik.
Iceland Planning Mistake 5: Not Researching Costs Ahead of Time
Vacationing in Iceland is known for being expensive. It comes by that reputation honestly. Between flights, lodging, car rental or other transportation, fuel and meals, the costs can really add up. And that’s before you factor in the price of tours, admission to attractions and other entertainment.
Be sure you do your research on travel costs and other items on your agenda to help you plan a realistic budget. Most restaurants fall somewhere on the spectrum between high-quality and fine dining. Expect to spend a minimum of $20 per person, per meal.
If you’re a drinker, be warned and stay cautious. Alcoholic beverages are subject to extremely high taxes in Iceland, so your tab can climb quickly. Check out our article 9 Best Iceland Breweries for more on what to do.
If you’re concerned about costs, do what the locals do. Visit the liquor store and enjoy your beverages in the comfort of your hotel room or camper van.
Guided tours in Iceland can also be pricey. You may want to prioritize your can’t-miss excursions and then reevaluate your remaining budget. The average bus-based day tour is about $80, and semi-private tours via jeep or minibus can run two or three times that amount. Depending on how much traveling you plan to do, renting a car may be a more economical approach, but keep in mind that fuel in Iceland can be 80 to 90 percent higher than the world average.
Iceland Planning Mistake 6: Playing it Safe
With its extreme weather, volcanic terrain and unusual traditions, Iceland can feel like an alien world to visitors from the U.S. or even other European countries. Resist the temptation to stick to the known and familiar, and dive headlong into the unique opportunities the country offers to get out of your comfort zone and experience new things. Go swimming in a thermal spring.
Stay up until dawn searching the sky for the Northern Lights. Sample the roasted sheep’s head and dried fish. Get off the beaten path and take the road less traveled—but make sure to bring extra clothes and fill up your gas tank first.