Today i talk about my travel experience in Iceland, with some important things to know before going, and lot of tips, like how to drive and best period to go.
Sometimes it can be a little bit tricky to visit this place, due to some particular aspects which can find people unprepared…I’m going to discuss some tips which helped me very much in making a better journey.
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DISCLAIMER: the present article has been realized in pure amateur form with a mere recreational, personal, non profit intention. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee in any case the absence of errors or the freshness of the informations reported. For this reason he strictly invites any reader to also search for more informations about the same arguments inside other external sources, and to report any eventual mistake to the author through the Contact page on this website. In any case the author will not be responsible for any action committed by anyone following the reading of the informations reported inside this article
BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN ICELAND
Dear friends, since many of you have asked me for a list of the best places to see in Iceland, i have decided to write a dedicated article with the list. I invite you to have a look at it by clicking on the link below:
HOW TO SEE THE AURORA BOREALIS
I have also written a long article here to talk about all the informations i used to see the aurora borealis:
update 2016: 25 NEW TIPS ABOUT ICELAND!
I have recently published a new article containing 25 more Iceland travel tips together with those contained in the present article.
For this reason, after reading this article, i suggest to check this new one linked below. Each tips is reported throughout the travel story with a mark like “TIPS X/25“:
HOW TO CHECK FOR WEATHERCAST IN ICELAND
The first thing to care about once in Iceland is the weather….how bad it will be and where……
The first thing i realized was that by checking the weathercast conditions of a specific place by putting its name, it was a little bit useless, since i needed to know the general conditions of the country, not that of just a single city.
To solve this problem, luckily, i found a beautiful real time and prediction map of Iceland (below) which is very useful to precisely understand the situation, so that one can move in turn.
It also shows the wind, and some more useful informations, by selecting the options on the bottom menu
1) Click on the map below to open the real time view of rain and clouds
2) Select the Time from the bottom right menu
3) Ensure that Cloud & Rain is selected in the bottom right menu
— Dark: clear sky areas (good to see the aurora borealis)
— Grey: clouds without rain (not good to see aurora borealis)
— Blue/Green/Red: rain (not good to see aurora borealis)
MY ADVICE: DON’T TRUST TOO MUCH EXTENDED PREDICTIONS
it is important to understand the the weather in Iceland can be predicted for no more than 12 hours. I can’t count how many times the weathercast was wrong, even from today for tomorrow. Icelandic people, after interviewing a couple of them, agree with me, and believe that weathercast is not that helpful if one hopes to predict the weather for the next week
Concluding, it’s important NOT to check the weathercast for multiple days in advance before going in Icelan BUT only for the next 5/10 hours!!
HOW TO DRIVE AND RENT A CAR IN ICELAND
Following i’m reporting some important factors to consider when renting a car and driving in Iceland
- RENT THE VEHICLE AT THE RIGHT AIRPORT: many people get confused by this and make the wrong reservation. It happened to my friend too. The problem is that Iceland presents two airports in the west, Reykjavik and Keflavik. Basically, the one used for international flight is Keflavik and not Reykjavik. However, for conventional reasons, on flight companies website the Keflavik airport is generically referred to as Reykjavik, something that easily confuses people
So basically, what i recommend is to do the following:
1- Book your flight
2- Check your destination airport code on your confirmation email
3- If the destination airport code is KEF, then you must book the car at Keflavik airport and not at Reykjavik
You are advised. If you book at Reykjavik, you will be in trouble!
- WIND STRENGTH: it’s very important to not drive fast in Iceland since the wind sometimes is tremendously strong (the Windyty map shown above can also show the wind speed by selecting it in the bottom menu)……and in Iceland, strong means very strong…..Furthermore, since lot of people rent a jeep, some jeeps like the Suzuki Jimny tend to be unstable at high speed, because they are conceived more for off-road driving rather than for high speed driving.
- F-ROADS REQUIRE 4X4 JEEP: Iceland road network is divided into 2 types of roads; normal paved road, and special unpaved road called F-roads, each one having a precise number.
Before taking an F-road, it’s useful to check on the web if it is opened or closed on the official website of Icelandic roads network below. Some of them are just opened during summer
This is an example of an F-road, the one who takes from Gullfoss to Hveravellir, the F-road 35
Please note that rented cars, except if they are 4×4, cannot access F-roads. Moreover, i used the maximum caution while driving along them and sometimes it was even possible to find a river crossing along some of them (not all anyway), reason why i think it’s a good idea to be followed by a second vehicle to receive immediate assistance in case of trouble if one decides to cross a river.
In general, i can say that if one drives carefully, F-roads without river crossing are enough affordable with a 4×4 vehicle (to know if a f-road contained a river crossing, i bought the Ferdakort map indicated below)
- WHERE TO RENT A CAR OR JEEP: to find good car/jeep rental offering, i checked the website of AutoEurope, which is not a rental company, but a broker which searches for the best company with the best prices at the moment. It allows to search for both standard 4×4 vehicles as well as 4×4 vehicles with extra full insurance coverage options (although something can be still excluded like the damage on the bottom part of the car). You can find the assurance coverage type inside the description of the vehicle
- MAP OF ICELAND: buying a map of Iceland for me has been useful to better plan my journey, together of course with the use of a GPS. I have found 2 options:
1- Buy the official Iceland Ferdakort map: rather than buying it online, i have found that every supermarket or department store in Iceland is selling it like seen in the picture below. So, once arrived in Iceland, is very easy to enter in any Iceland supermarket and buy one
2- Download Vegagerdin Map: although little bit less precise and complete, you can also download and keep this map on the mobile phone. It’s a PDF map format, with some river crossing indication and F-Roads from the official website of Iceland road management Vegagerdin
- MOBILE SIM CARD: while in Iceland i decided to buy an Icelandic mobile sim card of the SIMINN or NOVA companies, at the department store of Keflavik airport after arriving (open also in the night), or onboard of Icelandair flights.
It can provide an extended 3G internet connection throughout the country, by helping in getting the last updates about the weather while far from wifi areas, although some international companies like Vodafone can still provide an eventual additional rate without the needs to buy a new sim (however it seems like at present time, buying a SIMINN or NOVA card is more convenient, at least for surfing on internet)
3G/4G Iceand coverage Map: to see the complete coverage of mobile 3G and 4G connection in Iceland, you can check the official map of the SIMINN mobile operator by clicking here ICELAND 3G/4G MOBILE COVERAGE MAP
Places to buy a mobile sim card of SIMINN: apart from Keflavik dep. store open also in the night and Icelandair flights, i have found a page from the official website listing all the sale points throughout the country. Although i haven’t checked this personally, i suppose it should be possible to buy it. Following is the list of outlet stores selling Siminn card. I haven’t found the same for NOVA.
How much does it costs: i recently bought the NOVA sim card and i paid it around 14 Euros, allowing me to have, apart from the standard calls, 1Gb of internet traffic, plus free calls to other Nova simcards
No registration needed: countrary to other countries, there’s no need to register, or provide an ID card, or compile a module. You just buy it, and use it…that’s it
PLEASE NOTE: since i have used both NOVA and SIMINN cards, i have found that while NOVA must only be put in the mobile phone to be used, the SIMINN card requires to call the assistance number to put the card code to activate it. A little bit annoying……don’t know if things will change……however, for now NOVA looks more easy to be used
- USE OF THE 4WD: the first time i used a 4WD jeep, i ensured to know how to activate and use the 4WD, and the 4WD with short gears too. They are foundamental and they often saved my day. To know how to do it, just ask to the car rental personnel and they will show how to do it
- RIVER CROSSING: When i planned to pass a river crossing, i firstly learned how to do it by asking to some expert friends to help me. Doing it with 2 jeeps is highly recommended, since it is very risky, especially for novice people.
Following, a couple of videos:
- DRIVER POCKET GUIDE: following as a further help it’s the official website of the Driver Pocket Guide of Iceland
- OFFICIAL ROADS CONDITION REAL TIME MAP: as said above, one last time, I find very useful to check the official website of roads in Iceland which reports in real time the situation of the roads, especially if they are open or not to transit. They have a great real time system online easy and very informative:
Furthermore, still in regards of road indications and directions toward popular places, since some roads like the F223 to particular place like for example the Ofaerufoss waterfall are not indicated on Google Maps, it is possible to check the Vegagerdin Official Road Map which present the entire coverage of roads with the indication regarding whether they are paved or not
- FREE OFFLINE GPS FOR YOUR RENTED CAR IN ICELAND: if you want to save some money by not renting a GPS device which costs many dollars per day, or if you have one on your own but still don’t want to spend money to buy the Iceland map, there is still the option to download an excellent free GPS application with free updated maps for smartphone called Map Factor Navigator (i tried it on Android, maybe there is also an Iphone version), which allows to download an entire free GPS map of Iceland for just 6 Megabytes and navigate offline without having a mobile internet connection.
What i really appreciated of this software and its Iceland map, is that it really includes all off-roads, which sometimes are even missed on Google Maps, like those to Lakagigar craters, and even the one to reach the wreck of the crashed DC3 airplane situated between Myrdalsjokull glacier and the Vik beach
It makes use of the open maps from the website OpenStreet GPS Maps and they of course includes lot of useful POI (point of interests), like fuel stations, supermarkets and restaurants
I have personally used it during my entire trip in Iceland and it worked very nicely!!
NOTE OF CAUTION: if you decide to use it, do the following:
1- Home download: download the application and the Iceland map in advance at home
2- Test it at home: Be careful and make all the tests at home to get accustomed with it
3- Find and save places at home: Find in advance at home all the important points you want to visit through the map and save them as a “favourite points”. Beware that if you try to search for places by entering their name, some of them could not be found. For example, if you search for a waterfall called Ofaerufoss, which is far from every possible town and less known by people, of course the GPS can’t know what it is! Rather, you should firstly inform yourself on google, find the place, and then scroll the map on the GPS to find the exact point, tap on it, and save the point as a “favourite point”. By doing this, Map Factor can seriously help you in finding every place of Iceland, since it really includes many many uncommon off-roads
4- Put it on a second smartphone: of course it’s possible to lose a smartphone, especially while traveling. For this reason, to avoid problems, since i was traveling with my girlfriend, i also installed the GPS application on her phone and save the favourite points also on it, to be sure that in case of problems, i could have used her smartphone
5- Keep a paper map: to avoid potential problems, just in case something goes wrong, ensure to have a Ferdakort map, which can be bought as i explained above in every supermarket.
BEST PERIOD, WHEN TO GO TO ICELAND
Tricky question. Here is a short list of facts which i used to better decide which period would have been the best for me:
- if i wanted to enjoy daily landscapes, i would go there in summer. There are lot of day hours and few night hours, i think i can still drive in the night with sun light, and all the critical areas are open for transit
- if i wanted to enjoy the northern lights i would go from September through beginning of April, although if i also wanted to visit glacier ice caves the ideal time frame would be from late November to early March
- if i wanted to enjoy both the northern lights and landscapes without the strong cold, (by also renouncing to ice caves) as a compromise, i would go there in late March or beginning of September. In terms of landscape colors, September is more greeny, while late March is more browny and partially snowy
HOW I DECIDE WHAT TO VISIT AND WHEN
These are some tips i used to decide what and when:
- Low Speed limits: wherever i went, the maximum tolerated speed limit was 90km/h, and sometimes even less. So, i couldn’t run faster than this, and as i expected, getting in a place required 30% of time more than that i had calculated in advance. Keep this in mind
- Stopping for taking pictures: Iceland is full of beautiful spots that forced me to stop my car more than once to take a picture…..than the pictures became 2, than 3 and than dozens…..and the time went by…..it’s good to keep this in mind while planning the traveling distances, because lot of times will fly away due to this
- “Chase the sun” strategy: yes, while visiting Iceland, i find very useless to decide in advance where to go. If one really wants to enjoy the beauty of places, i believe that the right sun light is needed. For this reason, i personally prefer to always study the Windyty cloud and rain map shown above to check the sky condition every single day, and decide only after day by day where to go, depending by where today the sun light will be present. Infact, it can happen that in a place is raining, while in other one not, or that at a certain time there will be some sun light.
Real life example: one day it was raining everywhere. It was 9 o clock. The weathercast said that in the area of Haifoss waterfall, around 12 o clock some sun could have appeared for a hour or so. For this reason, we planned to reach Haifoss around that time, and we made a great choice. Infact, although raining, around 12 o clock the sun comes out for a hour and we were able to see a beautiful rainbow while enjoying this lovely waterfall. Look with your eyes the picture below
- Time of day and places orientation: one of the main factors to consider for me is the orientation of places…depending by the direction they are facing it would be useful to decide in turn the best time of day…for example, the Sejlalandsfoss waterfall faces west…it makes no sense for me to visit it in the morning or especially in the early morning because it would be completely in shadow…
So, to better decide the best time of day there are 2 options:
1- Check my article with best places of Iceland. In everyone i have reported the best time of day
2- Check these satellite maps in case of missing places in my article
HOW TO CALL FOR HELP IN ICELAND WITH A MOBILE APP
If it is necessary to call for help in Iceland, it is possible to compose the number 112, or, alternatively, there is a smart and useful application realized by SafeTravel which allows people, with just 2 buttons, to send the GPS position to the control center, and to alert the 112
The application is called 112 Iceland App, and it is possible to get more information here: SafeTravel 112 App
Here is a screenshot of the application running on my Android smartphone. It makes use of SMS by sending the GPS coordinates gathered from the GPS signal of the phone
HOW TO CHECK FOR LATEST ALERTS IN ICELAND
Often in Iceland, it is possible to assist to some particular phenomenons like volcano eruption and not only, which surely require some attention before going.
For this reason, apart from checking the general weathercast and other phenomenons like avalanches, river flooding and so on on the official website http://www.vedur.is, it’s also possible to check for latest alert on SAFETRAVEL.IS, where, by opening the website, a popup alert page will show up, by reporting the very last advices on the country
HOW I PREPARED MY CAMERA EQUIPMENT FOR ICELAND
Here some tips to prepare the equipment:
- Iceland is the paradise of waterfall. One thing that can be done is to get the blurring water effect. If it’s almost dark it’s easy to get, but what if it’s midday? i personally bought a ND filter, capable of reducing the light entering inside the lens, to allow the use of a longer exposure. I used a 16ND Hoya filter to be able to get that effect, but depending by weather conditions, a stronger or a weaker filter could be used like the 32ND or even the 64ND
- Bring a towel: I brought a towel with me. My camera has become wet most of the times due to the rain and the waterfalls…but i was ready for it..without a towel it would have been a hell!
- Clean the lens from water drops: when i visited waterfalls, for EVERY single picture i tried to clean the lens with the towel, because the strong humidity made the lens wet immediately, by also making in turn the pictures blurred
- Bring a tripod: useless to say, iceland is the paradise of aurora borealis. Without a tripod it’s almost impossible to take a shot. If you do it, remember to turn off the stabilizer while the camera is on it, otherwise pictures will be blurred!
- Use a transparent bag: to better protect the camera, i also used a food transparent bag, like those used to put the food in the freezer (in Italy they are called Cuki Gelo)..i liked to put one of them around the camera with the aperture facing the front side of the lens, by closing it in the front part with an elastic. I furtherly used a pair of scissors to create some little holes around the buttons to improve the comfort.
- Bring wide angle: panoramic shots will be a must, so a nice wide lens is foundamental for me. However, there’s a nice variety of birds too…it can be interesting to bring a nice zoom as well if you love birds watching
- Bring extra memory card and batteries: i also cared about bringing enough memory cards and an extra battery…once in the middle of nothing, there will be no place to buy one
HERE IS MY ARTICLE WITH TIPS TO AVOID BLURRY PICTURES:
EXTRA: WATCHOUT FOR BABY BIRDS ALONG THE ROAD!
Sometimes i found cute baby white birds (they are called Northern Fulmars) lying on the road like they were wounded and couldn’t fly anymore. But after a while i started to see many of them, especially between August and September.
Well, the story behind this phenomenon is weird.
These birds are not injuried, they are simply young bird not yet capable of flying, which are trying to leave their nest on the cliffs to reach the sea…..guess how….by lying on rivers……the problems is that while descending from cliffs they confuse the road with a river, and they stop on it by finishing to be killed by cars driving fast…..
Not only, the bad side is that if you ever try to help them, they will feel in danger and try to spew their vomit over you…..you are advised!
HERE you can read a story of a guy who tried such experience!
What a bad story…this is a flyer i have found in the main fastfood of Vik which explain what is happening
ICELAND: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)
– What are the best places to visit in Iceland?
Here I have written an article with my favourite places of Iceland with pictures
– What to do in Iceland? What activities are recommended in Iceland?
In iceland i did trekking, landscape photography, i also visited thermal baths, saw the aurora borealis, and it is also possible to do birds watching, visit glacier ice caves, see many waterfalls, geysers, and practice horse riding
– When is the best period to go in Iceland? Is it better winter or summer?
Iceland for me is beautiful during the entire year. Outside summer i can better see the aurora and visit glacier ice caves for example, while in summer every place is open and it’s perfect for trekking
– What is the less rainy month in Iceland?
Based on the statistics of Weatherbase, the month with less rain along the entire Iceland seems to be May, followed by June. So, it seems like these 2 months, in terms of “precipitations” level, are the most favourable for open air activities, although some areas open only starting from the second half of June, or even July
– Is Iceland a very cold place? When Iceland is less cold? Is it summer hot in Iceland?
Iceland in my opinion is not that cold, even in winter. Based on the statistics of Weatherbase, the minimum historical temperature of Reykjavik has been -18 degrees celsius. In comparison, cities like Toronto and Moscow can reach -38 degrees.
– When is it possible to visit glacier ice caves in Iceland?
The best period ranges from november to march, based on what tour companies usually propose on their websites. Check my article on ice caves for more info ICE CAVES GUIDE
– What are the best waterfalls in Iceland?
There’s no best waterfall in my experience, they are ALL beautiful. There’s no a top ten. Just check them all on the web and choose your favourites depending by your taste
– Is it dangerous or difficult to drive in Iceland?
I am a good driver, although not expert. In my strict opinion, is not that difficult except for river crossing. Main roads are very easy with modest traffic. By visiting the countryside and trekking areas, there are some special roads called F-roads. Some of them are simply unpaved, and as long as i rented a 4×4 vehicles everything was okay. Some other present river crossings, and these are the only roads to avoid if someone is not expert and if it’s not possible to drive with 2 jeeps in tandem. However, in my experience to reach at least 70% of most famous places there’s no river crossing. So my main recommendation is to check the Iceland road map, and try to figure out which roads are needed to reach one’s favourite places. Then one can decide which vehicle to rent, if a standard one or a 4×4.
To have an exact idea of how much passable or not every road was, i checked the official roads map of Vegagerdin that i have indicated more above in this article. Check the link above
While to individuate the exact position of river crossings i personally bought the Ferdakort map indicated in the middle of this article, or also checked the official map of Vegagerdin, always report above
One important factor which i always like to underline is the wind strenght. While drive, try no to go faster like you would do in your country, since the wind can push the vehicle out of the road
– What vehicle is best to rent in Iceland? Is a standard car ok or 4×4 is better or needed?
In my opinion, in ANY case, i prefer to rent a 4×4, by eventually organizing the trip with a group of people to better divide the expenses. It will give me a further gear to visit more places without worrying too much about damaging a standard car over F-roads. Infact, although the first days i planned to visit only popular spots situated on paved roads, i found that in some instances the GPS brought me over a couple of F-roads, something i didn’t plan to do. So to avoid this inconvenient, it can be useful to eventually study the itinerary in advance, or to simply rent a 4×4 vehicle. As an instance we spent around 500 euros for 6 days for a 4×4, which, divided by 5 people, it was 100 euros per person…..enough cheap for me.
Two websites i used are Autoeurope and Geysir
– When is it possible to see the aurora borealis (northern lights)? Is it possibile to see aurora borealis in Iceland? and when is the best period?
I have written an article about this. It is a summary of all i know about it
– Which flight companies fly to Iceland? Which is the main airport in Iceland? Which is the nearest city to the airport?
Among the most famous companies there are Icelandair, Vueling, Easyjet and Wow Air. The main airport is Keflavik and it’s just half a hour far from Reykjavik, which is the nearest city
– In which Iceland airport will i land? in which airport should i rent a car? Reykjavik or Keflavik?
Well, this is something tricky which really confuse people. There are 2 airports west of Iceland. Keflavik and Reykjavik. The one used by international flight is Keflavik. However, the problem is that while booking a flight, some website tend to call the Keflavik airport as Reykjavik, by confusing people. So, be sure to rent a car in Keflavik. To ensure that you will land in Keflavik, just check the airport code on your flight reservation email. It should report the code “KEF”
– Where to stay in Iceland? Is it better a hotel, a bed and breakfast or farms?
There’s no particular choice for my taste. In the end i was forced by the circumstances most of the times. In fact far from cities there’s nothing more than bed and breakfast and farms (apart from hostels). However, i consider both of them very nice and pleasant. I have always found very good and clean places. I referred to these 2 websites to find good ones
– Which is the best area to visit in Iceland?
Some people like very much to make the entire trip of the circular ring road over the entire Iceland. However, in my strict opinion I prefer to drive less and concentrate more on activities. So, as a first time, i personally preferred to keep myself in the south west area, which goes from Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. After all it’s so full of things to see that i’m heading there for the third time and i haven’t finished to visit it yet (also because i’m not a “touch and go” tourist. I prefer to spend all the time i need in a place that i like)
– When is the best period to visit Blue Lagoon?
I believe all the time. Even in winter there’s such an incredible and mystic atmosphere especially when it is cloudy and foggy
– How long is the entire round trip in Iceland? How many km is the main circular ring road long?
As per Google Maps, the main circular ring road is around 1300 km long without north west fjords, around 1900 km long with north west fjords, and around 2100 km long with north west fjords plus Snaefellness peninsula
– Is Iceland a good place to visit with children?
– I think that kids would enjoy very much the peace and nature of Iceland, the relaxing atmosphere of farms, the horse riding (icelandic horses are small like a pony), and if they have an allowed age, even the thermal baths like the Blue Lagoon. Furthermore, the place is totally free of pollution…what’s better for kids?
– Is Iceland very expensive? how much is the life cost?
At present time, 2014/2015, i have found life to be not excessively expensive at least for a european tourist. I found no problem to buy food, to buy a mobile sim or to rent a car. Price are enough affordable for me, especially if compared to scandinavian countries. At the link below i have written an example list of prices i have found in 2015, although things can change in the future
Thanks for reading!
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