Can I first applaud you on your choice of destination? As a Canadian who has a small obsession with European destinations, Iceland didn’t jump to the top of my list when it became a hotspot a few years back. Now with many airlines adding Iceland to their options, it’s never been easier to get there!
Although I’m someone who would pick history and architecture over an adventure holiday, visiting Iceland was an absolute delight. We were only able to stick to the southwest corner of the country, home to the famous Golden Circle, so I might need to go back. Probably. Highly likely.
Are you planning your first visit and not sure where to start? Here are a few things that weren’t so obvious to me when I was planning, but made things easier when I arrived!
There are no shortage of car rental options at Keflavik airport. You can hire a car from nearly every company under the sun! Whatever you choose, you need to make sure to get something with four-wheel drive. Your car will have snow tires in the winter months, which make driving on snow and ice much easier, but having the four-wheel drive option will give you peace of mind, and make getting out of sticky situations a breeze.
Also make sure you’re checking roads.is on a regular basis. The wind can be unpredictable, and when snow starts blowing across roads they quite often will close them down. This website will also show you which roads are clear, icy, snow covered, or closed all together. It’s updated throughout the day to keep everyone safe.
Eating & Drinking
The first thing everyone will ask you about your trip to Iceland is “was it really expensive?” Short answer, yes. But there are ways around it.
Start by getting an Airbnb with a decent kitchen. Better yet, stay in one in the middle of nowhere so you can catch the northern lights too! Eating out in Iceland is expensive. But if you shop at large grocery stores, like Bonus and Kronan, and cook for yourself a few of the evenings, you can really minimise your costs.
Find the restaurants you really want to spend money at (like Saegreifinn) and cook for yourself wherever you can. The beauty is outside anyway, not in the restaurants.
You can also drink the water from the tap, so don’t waste your money on expensive bottled water. It’s the same price as fizzy drinks! Bring a refillable bottle with you and taste a bit of nature.
If you’re a drinker, you’ll be happy to know that before you leave the secure area of the airport on arrival, there is a massive duty free shop. Pop in, stock up on your alcohol, and wander into the country ready to party. The wine and champagne were cheaper than in Dublin, and they also had flats of beer.
What to Wear
I’ll keep this brief. During a winter trip, don’t pretend your regular socks and a sweatshirt will do you just fine. This place is cold! Even if the temperature is similar to your home country, the wind bites. Invest in some thermals (I got mine at Uniqlo) for under your gear, and some really thick socks.
Get some ice grips, or something for your shoes that has grip. Our first host left some for us to use and I didn’t really understand why I would need them, until I tried to climb up the stairs next to a waterfall and thought I might fall in. There is so much snow that they don’t clear it as fast or as well as you might think. I spent a lot of time teetering along sheer ice!
Seriously, don’t assume you’ll be great at walking on large chunks of ice at a 45 degree angle, even in hiking boots.
Watch the weather! Similar to knowing what the road conditions are, the weather is well documented and you should take it seriously. There are a lot of flat areas across the southwest, and the wind whips across them as it comes off the Atlantic. We arrived just after a storm, got caught in one half way through the trip, and were flown out early before the airport closed for storm #3 in a week. This page will give you all the updates.
Another important thing to remember: don’t overcommit yourself. 2-3 items for a whole day doesn’t seem like much, but you may be underestimating the time it takes to drive down two-lane roads, in the wind, behind timid drivers, on icy roads, as the snow hits (again). A few things per day is plenty, and you’ll still be tired at the end of it!
If you’re visiting in the winter, embrace the adventure of it all. This won’t be your most glamorous trip. You’ll be wrapped up in layers upon layers with your hair blowing in every direction. But that’s the fun of it, no? Something different.
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