Image credits: Unknown
I'm BEYOND excited to be planning a trip to the amazing Iceland with my wonderful fellow explorer parents this October!!! After much research and back and forth, the least expensive tickets for that timeframe with 1 stopover on the way there and direct flight on the way back cost $850.15 after tax (quite a good deal!!!)
Iceland is conveniently located in the middle of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and has definitely blown up in popularity with 2.3 million expected visitors due primarily to its gorgeous surreal landscapes, "Inspired by Iceland" marketing campaign and irresistible "stopover" deal.
As a huge fan of natural and rugged scenery, this trip is a dream come true. Iceland has been at the very top of my bucket list for being uninhabited (places with fewer people do have their perks :P) . I just thought I should share my itinerary and answer several questions which I figured out during my research process to ease the decision process of future visitors. Because, come on, who DOESN'T want to cross Iceland off their bucket list?!
So I know budget is probably the most important item, but I will leave it off until the end of the trip or so, when I have a better tally.
Tell me more about the geography in Iceland.
Iceland can be separated into the following areas - Reykjavik (city centre), Southwestern Iceland (Golden CIrcle etc), West Coast, the West Fjords (breathtakingly beautiful but least-visited, with dramatic fjords), Northwest Iceland (gentle & unforbidding scenery), Mývatn (an attractive lake just over an hour’s drive from Akureyri), Eastern and Southeast Iceland (a quarter of the country's coastal fringe, plus rugged highlands and a good chunk of Europe's largest ice cap) & the Interior (known in Iceland as “highlands” – Europe’s last true wilderness. This desolate and inhabited region consists of cinematic landscapes of infinite grey gravel plains, glacial rivers and lava fields punctuated by ice caps, volcanoes and jagged mountains).
How Long Should I Spend in Iceland?
Of course, I would recommend for as long as possible. However, this is not realistic for most of us, both time and money wise. The typical recommended duration is around 8 days, which would enable you ample time to explore beyond Reykjavik (the city centre) & the Golden Circle (Pingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, & geothermal area with geysers Geysir and Strokkur).
When Should I Visit Iceland?
This really depends on what kind of scenery you want to observe during the trip and whether you care about it being off-season.
We chose October as it is supposed to be the beginning of the Northern Lights season which we wish to observe.
Winter (Nov - Mar)
Pros: Opportunity to see light in all shapes and forms (including Northern Lights!), winter wonderland, lower prices,
Cons: Might get stranded due to volatile weather conditions, subzero temperatures, short days, lack of wildlife sightings
Summer (Jun - Aug)
Photographer: Turie Belegurschi (Source: www.guidetoiceland.is)
Pros: Long summer days, midnight sun, better weather, everything being more green & lush, accessibility of highland roads (access to raw and untouched portions of Iceland)
Cons: More crowds (peak tourist season), higher prices, difficulties securing reasonably priced accommodation in certain areas (or any accommodation for that matter)
We chose to travel by Iceland Air as tickets are fairly inexpensive and I have read fairly good reviews. I will update further with our experience travelling via Iceland Air.
How Do I Travel in Iceland?
My immediate suggestion would be to rent a car! Driving is the most efficient way to get around the Ring Road. Plus, tourist companies take away the hassle of planning, but you would have to fork out copious amounts of money and deal with touristic crowds.
Go online: The best deals are often found online and you do NOT want to be stranded in Iceland without a car. Thanks to the efficiency of my dad, we rented a Ford Fusion through IcelandAir which is striking in appearance and impactful in function. Budget for car rental $738.55 for 8 days (Fuel is going to be expensive though)
Other popular options include Hertz.com and reykjavikcars.com. The cheapest rental car company is SADcars.com (they even offer a 15% discount if you book online), though it seems to have received mixed reviews. Definitely do your research before deciding.
4WD or 2WD? A 4WD is definitely more expensive and consumes more fuel - however, it is suitable for the rugged terrain in Iceland, especially since the majority of time will be spent traversing the Ring Road in search of amazing treasures along the way in Iceland. Benefits of a 4WD include being able to drive into F-Roads (highland roads) and cross rivers, increasing your comfort when driving through gravel roads. If you intend to visit Landmannalaugar, Askja volcanic area or other sites which can only be accessed via F-Roads, a 4WD is your best bet! I read that people who rented a 2WD experienced difficulty so you may not want to cheap out in this aspect.
So I know that every inch of Iceland is crazy beautiful. What are some must-see paid attractions?
- Into the Glacier Classic Tour (Exploring the Langjokull ice tunnel by riding on a modified glacier vehicle) Price: 21,500 ISK/pax (not incl tax)
- Blue Lagoon (One of Iceland's top tourist attractions, a man-made geothermal spa on a lava field. Stay tuned for pictures of this amazing place!) Price: 6,800 ISK
- Jokulsarlon Amphibian Boat Tour Floating around and getting up close to icebergs on a glacial lake? #daymade I've heard amazing things about the Zodiac Tour, which enables you a closer look at the icebergs, but they may not be available due to seasonal conditions. Price: 5,500 ISK (I have a discounted ticket of 2,000 ISK as I reached out to them as a lifestyle blogger #perks)
I have heard amazing things about snorkelling between the North American and Eurasian continental plates. You can definitely check it out if you're an adventurer up for braving subzero temperatures.
Where to Find the Northern Lights?
Check the Aurora Forecast which provides critical information. Clear skies and high aurora forecast (above 3) will improve your chances of catching the Northern Lights. The forecast is continuously updated as the conditions change.
Where can I Find Food on a Budget?
Preparing our own meals seems like the ideal way to go, what with food being CRAZY expensive there! According to my research, grocery stores such as Bonus (popular for its wide range and low prices) and Kronar (wider selection of healthier food choices). For a comprehensive list of grocery stores in Iceland, http://iheartreykjavik.net/2013/07/the-ultimate-guide-to-food-shopping-in-Iceland/
Furthermore, inexpensive options include pizzerias and gas stations, waffle stands and hot dog spots. Skyr (an Icelandic soft cheese with high nutritional value in terms of protein made of pasteurized skimmed milk, with a rich texture and slightly sour taste) is a popular and healthy choice. TBH, I'm quite curious about Brennivin (Black Death, aka Iceland's signature distilled beverage, which has never been exported out of the country) I will see if I get the chance to try it ;)
Also, tap water is extremely clean, and best of all, free! So, drink to your heart's content!
Iceland is also famous for varieties of fish and meat soup, which I do not eat but will report back if my parents try it.
We are travelling anti-clockwise around the Ring Road and anticipate weather conditions that might disrupt some portions of travel.
I have a comprehensively planned 8 day itinerary to share, so feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and engage in discussions or if you want me to send you my itinerary. Would also completely appreciate any recommendations! Ciao for now, just counting down the days to Iceland! Will update the travel section once the adventure begins!