Things they don’t tell you about Iceland

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What You Need to Know Before Traveling to Iceland (Winter Edition)

We just got back from a winter trip to Iceland, and man, what a fun trip we had.  We also only had 7 days (with flights), so we tried to get everything in that we could.  Lots of research went into planning our trip, and we decided to stick to the west and south ends of the island.  But you always learn way more being there than you do hearing about it, so we collected our info of  “Things No One Tells You About Iceland”, and wanted to share with you!

1.   It really is icy!

I know, I know…duh, right?  Or…not duh…cause in elementary school, we grew up learning; “Greenland is icy and Iceland is green!”  Well, in winter months, Iceland can get VERY icy and cold, and snowy.  Yes, Iceland is green and has some great landscape, but don’t let the fifth-grade- you, steer you wrong…it still gets icy.

 Things to do in Iceland, for your Iceland Travel Vacation. Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon Iceland, and so much more.  Here are Things they don’t tell you about Iceland. What you should know before you go. Iceland in the winter is such a great trip! #iceland #travel


2.  Northern Lights

There are 2 types of Northern Lights.  The first are the “regular”, beautiful northern lights… the kind you picture right away when someone even says “Northern Lights”… But, there’s also a second kind of Northern Lights, and we learned that those are known as the “boring lights”.  These lights are grayish in the sky and first appear as a cloud streaking across the sky.  We argued with each other about them being the Northern Lights or not, and I lost…they were! We went with an awesome photographer friend who snapped a picture of it, at a long exposure, and guess what?!  Those lights were SUPER green!  It was like some other kind of world!  The lights also disappear almost as fast as they come.  And they come back “on” at random times.

 **Photo Credits to Brian from http://www.routinevideo.com (This is why you bring a photographer friend with you on your trip! ;) ) **Photo Credits to Brian from http://www.routinevideo.com (This is why you bring a photographer friend with you on your trip! 😉 )


3.  Short Days in the Winter

Long days in the summer, super short days in the winter.  We went in the winter, and the days were short! 10:30ish the sun would “rise” and “set” around 4:00.  Now I put “rise and set” in quotation marks, because, the sun never actually went above us!  It had a tiny arc on the horizon and barely got up in the sky.  Nothing I had ever seen before, or really even thought about.

 **Photo Credit to Brian from http://www.routinevideo.com


4. Silfra Snorkel

Silfra Snorkel… is super cool.  You swim between 2 tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia.  And as far as I could tell, you can touch each side.  Not simultaneously unless you are scuba diving lower in the water.  But it is FREEZING!! Not only are the temperatures in Iceland during the winter around -1 degree Celsius, but the even the water hovers around -1 degree C, throughout the year.  It’s the freshest water I have ever tasted, and it was clear forever…but (and not to be a debbie downer) you’re really just swimming between a bunch of rocks for 30 mins, and that’s all you see.  Is it super cool?  Of course! Where else can you swim between and touch the 2 tectonic plates?! But is it a must-do?  In our opinions, not really.  We’re really glad we did it, but it’s not something that I would scream at you to put at the top your bucket list right this minute. Like the idea of it, then go for it!  Like I said, really glad we did it…would never do it again.


5.  The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is just as beautiful as everyone says, and yes, I definitely think it’s worth it…BUT I always pictured the Blue Lagoon as some awesome natural hot springs that would be perfect to go float around especially in the winter time.  We’re here to tell you…it is, and it isn’t.  You can look up the history of the Blue Lagoon if you want, but it is a man made hot spring and a natural hot spring combined.  Apparently man started it on accident, and it became the face of Iceland.  But that’s not our news…our news is that, the Blue Lagoon is actually hot AND cold.  Floating around in the lagoon this winter, we would run into some really warm spots, that you would stop in until it passed you by, and some cold spots too.  Most of it was lukewarm when we were there.  You get a free Silfra Mask with your entry ticket, so another mask isn’t really necessary, but we got the package with another mask and used them quickly.  They have a swim up bar that is really awesome too.



6.  Food is Expensive!!

Like really expensive!  We’re from Los Angeles…we are use to overpriced cocktails and inflated dinner prices.  But Iceland does not compare!  A BASIC meal can cost you anywhere from $30-50.  A burger and fries set us each back $25.  A bowl of soup…$20!  Just be sure to budget for food while you are there.

Again…FOOD IS EXPENSIVE!!

That being said…food over there is not necessarily the greatest.  We tried as hard as we could to find “Icelandic” food, and failed.  Even talking to the locals…there’s not really such a huge thing as “Icelandic food”.  When you see whale, shark, and penguin on the menu…that’s really meant for you…the tourist.  They don’t eat that stuff at all!  They try to find the best burger, and pizza, just like here in the states.  If they’re cooking at home, it’s your typical lamb, fish, and beef…or reindeer on special occasions, we were told.  So just know before going, budget in pricey food…really pricey food…and don’t expect “Icelandic cuisine.”

 Reindeer Sausage - (It's not Rudolph!) Reindeer Sausage – (It’s not Rudolph!)


7.  Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach

Do NOT miss the Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach.  This was my favorite part of the entire trip.  The Glacier Lagoon was beautiful and looks like a movie, with glacier pieces floating around…And right across the street, a black sand beach with crystal pieces washing up on the shore.  It really is a sight to see.  It’s about a 4 hour drive from Reykavik, so you’ll need a car, or to set up a tour around there, to get you there.

 **Photo Credit to Brian from http://www.routinevideo.com **Photo Credit to Brian from http://www.routinevideo.com


Accommodations

We stayed at Fosshotel Núpar, Kalfafell.  It was a quiet hotel in the middle of nowhere, but very quaint.  We arrived at the hotel late one night to check in after a long drive, and were very hungry.  There were no restaurants around, but one inside Fosshotel.  The manager was kind enough to keep the kitchen open for the 5 of us to order dinner.  Lifesaver!  The rooms were cozy with huge windows…perfect for watching the Northern Lights.  Fosshotel has an aurora alarm as well, where they will call your room, (even if you’re sleeping), and alert you that the auroras are out.  We were all too excited to sleep anyway, as this was the main reason for our visit.  It’s perfect for  Northern Lights hunting, out of all the light pollution.  And this hotel will give you the best bang for your buck that is both close enough to the Glacier Lagoon, and perfect for a Northern Lights hunt.  We stayed here for 2 nights, and really enjoyed our visit.  The staff was very friendly and told us where to go, and what we could do around there.  We even ventured out the back for a fun little hike to take some pictures.

Fosshotel Núpar, Kalfafell had comfy beds, awesome views, and fit our budget.   We ended up eating most of our meals at the restaurant too, as they had great food, and always something else we wanted to try on the menu.  We recommend this hotel 100%!  Check for bookings here.


8. Get Out Of the City

Reykjavik is not a huge city.  It was actually pretty much just a touristy street of bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops.  It’s very cool to visit, but don’t spend all your time there. We recommend getting out of Reykavik, as we found all of our favorite places outside the city.  Although we did find some great places that are always fun to stop at.


9.  Don’t try to visit every waterfall!

There are so many throughout the country that, unless you are on a waterfall seeing adventure, you’re not going to hit them all.  We saw some great ones just on our drive to the Glacier Lagoon, without even searching them out.  Unless you are going on a specific Iceland Waterfall tour…you really don’t have to go searching for ALL of them.

 Things to do in Iceland, for your Iceland Travel Vacation. Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon Iceland, and so much more.  Here are Things they don’t tell you about Iceland. What you should know before you go. Iceland in the winter is such a great trip! #iceland #travel


10. Do Your Own Golden Circle Drive

The Golden Circle is a cool drive…you can see amazing waterfalls, hike to some extremely warm hot springs, walk along the edge of a crater, and find some exploding geysers.  However, be sure to plan your trip around the daylight hours, and know that you can skip some things.  The crater was cool, and we stopped because it was on the way, but we were there for less than 5 minutes.  You look at it, cool…take a pic, move on.  Of course we know there are some of you that love these types of things, and that’s great.  Hit every single one of them!  But, we’re talking to the people who dont feel as if they have enough time to see it all…and if that’s you, take a quick look and move on.  And remember, you don’t have to hit everything.

 **Photo Credit to Brian from http://www.routinevideo.com **Photo Credit to Brian from http://www.routinevideo.com



11.  Check Out The Bridge Between 2 Continents

A secret Gem we never even heard about when we were researching things to do in Iceland…is The Bridge Between 2 Continents.  It’s about a 10-minute drive from the airport, and I wish we had known about this sooner, before our friends had to leave.  We had one extra day to relax and explore, and that was our favorite day.  We dined with locals, took a drive around the town, stopped by some lighthouses, went to the beach, and found this awesome, tiny, bridge.  It’s a bridge where one side is the North American tectonic plate, and the other is the Eurasian Tectonic Plate, (kind of like SIlfra Snorkel).  It was so cool, and took no time at all.  If you want to be on each side of the plates and not freeze in Silfra Snorkel…this is a must do for you!

 Things to do in Iceland, for your Iceland Travel Vacation. Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon Iceland, and so much more.  Here are Things they don’t tell you about Iceland. What you should know before you go. Iceland in the winter is such a great trip! #iceland #travel


12.  Rent wifi in your car!

We had a car rental from Cars Reykjavik, who had the option of purchasing wifi.  We opted for that rather than the GPS, because with wifi, we could get GPS on our phones, and it was the same price for the GPS as it was for the wifi.  When we got the car, they gave us this little device that would connect us to the wifi.  We put it in our pocket and had wifi the entire trip!! No, we weren’t on our phones the entire time, and actually had a rule about it…but its great for when someone has a question about the Hot Spring you are hiking to in the middle of the mountains, and you need to google for some quick info.  Gets you around with GPS, and for those of you with iPhone…free iMessages, (Android could just email or FB too).  So since we had the wifi, and we were able to forego adding an international plan, and therefore saved money there.  Be sure to check with you car rental company to see if they have the same device…but now I want this device here in the states, with me at all times!


13.  If you are landing at 4:30 am…

…get a room for that morning!  We thought we would be fine.  Check in was around noon, so we could just go see the city, run into some stores, rest in the car a little, no worries.  Wrong move!  We didn’t sleep much on the plane, and with the time difference, when we landed, it was basically bedtime.  But as we soon found out…nothing is open at that hour.  No stores, no food, no bathrooms…nothing!  They seem to work when the sun works, and that wasn’t very long at all.  If we could do it all over, we would rent a room for that extra day.  Also, on that note…things were closing pretty early too.  Sun down, people go home…so don’t expect much shopping to be happening if you aren’t out shopping during the day.

 When we finally found an open store to grab some food...this was all we could find!  Left California, to go to Iceland...to eat a California Chicken Avocado Sandwich!  When we finally found an open store to grab some food…this was all we could find!  Left California, to go to Iceland…to eat a California Chicken Avocado Sandwich!


We really did have the best time, and may actually take a trip back to Iceland to see some more of the North.  But it’s always good to have a heads up of random things no one tells you about, and we hope we have helped prepare you just a little for your adventure.  You’re gonna have a blast!

What about you? Have you traveled to Iceland and have some tips? Share them below!

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 Things to do in Iceland, for your Iceland Travel Vacation. Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon Iceland, and so much more.  Here are Things they don’t tell you about Iceland. What you should know before you go. Iceland in the winter is such a great trip! #iceland #travel

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30 thoughts on “Things they don’t tell you about Iceland”

  1. Great article about Iceland! It is an amazing place. If you are short on time and want to see to get a broad view of the country, may I suggest Eat in Iceland Scenic Food Tours, where you can get food, culture, history and of course the scenery all in one full day tour. http://www.eatiniceland.com Hope you make it back to Iceland one of these days!

  2. I’m having trouble finding a car rental with wifi..can you share the company you used? Your post is the only one I’ve ever seen mentioning it and I think it’s a really great idea!

  3. Do you know the hotels that can see " Northern Light" at night or" Ice Dome" in Iceland. I heard that you can see it from the place. Which month is the good time to see "Northern Light"

    1. Hi Sandy! There is a new "Bubble Hotel" that would be really cool to check out. They had just opened when we were there, so were booked solid. You can check them out here -> https://www.buubble.com
      There aren’t any "Ice Domes" in Iceland, like I had thought as well. I think those are in Finland and Norway. 🙂

  4. We’re about to head out to Iceland. So far, of everything I’ve read about Iceland, this is the first I’ve heard of the Bridge between Two Continents. Thanks for your tips!

    1. Hi Cindy!
      So happy to hear that. We loved the Bridge Between Two Continents. Such a cool little place. Hope you enjoy your trip! 🙂

  5. We are going to Iceland in mid November. Very excited! This article was very helpful.
    Where did stay overnight? Hotels or Airbnb? We have looked into airbnb….everytbing is so expensive. Suggestions?

    1. Hi Kim!
      So glad you enjoyed it. And you are going to have a wonderful time! We stayed in mostly airbnbs. We did end up staying in a hotel when we went to see Glacier Lagoon and the Black Diamond Beach, because there weren’t very many options around that area. We definitely found that airbnb we way cheaper than hotels over there. Have you tried airbnb before? If not, let us know, and we can send you a coupon for your first stay! 🙂

  6. I have a tip! Gas stations accept credit cards at the pump, but you will need a PIN. Make sure you know your pin, or apply for one before you go to Iceland and let your card company know you are visiting Iceland so you won’t have any problems.

    1. Oh, yeah thats a good one! We ran into something similar, when there wasn’t a person at the gas station to help…just the machine! Will have to add that! Thanks, Susan! 🙂

  7. Thank you for this very insightful article! I hope we can get the wifi deal with our car!

    Can you please tell me the month you were there? We are going for 10 days at the end of October and I’m still confused as to whether that is considered "winter".

    Another question – on another blog I read where cash is almost not necessary at all. Do you agree?

    1. Hi Vicki!
      Glad you found some useful info. We went in November, the week of Thanksgiving. I think technically, end of October is still their Autumn months, but it’s close enough to be prepared for winter in case.

      As for the cash…we did use our cards often. Honestly, I can’t think of a specific time we used cash. I grabbed a little because I like to have some from everywhere I visit, and in turn, used some of that.

      If it were me, I would say, grab a little out, just in case you run into something, but I would agree that cards were accepted pretty much everywhere!

      Hope you have a great time!! 🙂

  8. Great post, I’m going to Iceland next month, for the second time… I’m looking forward to the bridge you mentioned and the glacier lagoon. Thanks.

    1. We were so lucky to fund out about the bridge, the very last day we were there. Two places you should definitely check out. Glacier Lagoon was my all time favorite spot in Iceland! Have a blast!!

  9. This is SO helpful! Our family is traveling the first week of December. We land first thing in the morning, 0600 or so, and didn’t even think about stores not being open! So happy I stumbled across this page. You’ve given me a lot to think about while trying to plan this adventure

    1. Oh, so exciting! You will have a great time. And glad you found it useful. I would definitely say to bring breakfast or eat at the airport before leaving. Hope you have a wonderful time! 🙂

  10. My son and I went the Airbnb way and rented our vehicle. First day we stopped at the Pink Piggy grocery store and bought all our food to cook/ or make great lunch picnics. We went to the hardware store and bought four disposable bar-b-ques. It was so much fun cooking shish kabobs (one night chicken the next night beef) each night and then using the rest of the meat for our great foods the next day. Food is sooo expensive but this really saved our budget but we also got to eat what we wanted, when we wanted to eat. A lot of fun and great memories

  11. One of the people in your photo looks like a guy who worked at Hotel Laki when we were there in June 2017. Just curious. It really is a small country. We loved our stay there in June. The daylight never ends in June. The boutique hotels there are amazing. The Silica Hotel – Grindavik is the best stay in the country which is near the Blue Lagoon. They gave us free passes to the Blue Lagoon with our stay. It’s kinda like a moon walk in Grindavik. The Glacier Lagoon was the best adventure we had. It takes your breath away from the sheer beauty of the mammoth icebergs floating by the glaciers. Amazing.

    1. Hi Kim!

      Oh that’s funny. No, they’re all from the states. Guess you found their doppelgänger! 😉
      June sounds like a great time to go. We did the opposite and barely had daylight. And Glacier Lagoon was my favorite as well! Glad you had an amazing time.

  12. Such a great place to visit. We drove the ring road in 8 days. Such beautiful scenery that changes dramatically it seems about every 50 miles. We had a pre-planned itinerary but found some cool things to see at unscheduled stops. The only one I would skip next time is the old plane wreckage, too far to walk, wasted a lot of time. We ate in restaurants for dinner each night, and yes it was expensive but enjoyable. Hotels and hostels ranged from $80 to $400 per night and from adequate to excellent. The biggest disappointment was paying over $1200 to rent and old Hyundai SUV with 230k miles that had warning light coming on. It made it with out a break down though. Loved Iceland! Great article.

    1. Wow, sounds like you had an awesome adventure! Thanks for sharing. And glad you got to go! We skipped the plane too. Yikes about your car rental, thats crazy!

  13. GREAT article! And I agree with everything in it… I loved Iceland, and you were spot-on about the sites. Wish I’d known about the pocket WIFI… we did the international Verizon plan and, yep, it’s not’s real cheap – especially when you’re shelling out major kronas for food, and there are NO McDonald’s! Nope, not one. Akureyri, in the north, was really neat. We did all our laundry there at the Hostel/laundromat/bar/cafe place. And check out the Christmas store just outside of town, too. (I think Santa actually lives there…) We rented a 4WD SUV and glad we did… some of the roads will beat you to death – lots of gravel and potholes. True about the waterfalls ("fosses"…lol) – they’re all beautiful son choose wisely to save time. East Iceland, just east of Hofn, has a neat Viking village built for a movie that’s worth a stop. We went in late Sept/early Oct which was just right, I think. Fewer tourists, they’re gearing up for winter but it’s not too cold yet, and that’s when the auroras start to pick up. Just a lot to see on that island – I’d like to go back. Thanks you for all the info – great piece!

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words. We are glad you had a great time. Thanks for sharing your tips as well. Sounds like it was a perfect getaway! 🙂

  14. Impressive article! I learned a lot of tips! We are going this October & I’m looking forward to add the Glacier Lagoon & Diamond Beach and the Bridge between 2 Continents! Thanks to you! 🙂 Cheers!

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