Travel Q&A: (nearly) everything you wanted to know

Happy new year everyone!

The holiday season quickly came and and went and everyone was busy with family, study, work and occasional S.A.D., but we are back with full speed (and full belly from all the Christmas dinners) and enthusiasm to give something helpful and worthwhile to you.

Lately, Iceland is on top of every travel destination articles and bucket lists, so if you also got lured by the promise of dancing Northern Lights, chubby birds and cute horses, and you are planning your vacation of your dreams to the paradise of the northernmost capital and its surrounding, here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions from the people who have already been there, done that.

When should I go?

Anytime. Iceland is beautiful in every season, although there are some factors to consider when planning a holiday, namely: fog, zero visibility and strong wind.

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If we exclude these factors (which are most likely to happen during the winter but the picture above was taken in July, so really, ANYTHING can happen ANYTIME), I would say the best time to visit Iceland is in the summer. You can enjoy the neverending days with spectacular midnight sun, appreciate the nature with its thousand colors (and still, there is snow. There is always snow.), and won’t freeze to death while camping.

The winter paints the sky green and purple with Northern Lights, but the days are very short – by the end of December there is only a few hours of daylight and due to the snow several roads might be closed down, so this might not be the season for exploring the whole country. However if you’re planning a short layover in the capital, you will see the beautifully decorated downtown with its real-life gingerbread houses (not edible!) that put you in the holiday spirit right away.

Spring and fall: the closer to the summer the better chances you have for good weather. Northern lights are visible from October to April, so if you want a little bit of everything, these seasons might be the best for a visit to the Land of Ice.

You can check the weather forecast in English here.

For how long should I go to Iceland?

You can spend months here, expolring all the county if you want and if you have all the financial backup and the will to see everything, however, most people’s itinerary won’t exceed one or two weeks, but you can still make the most of your time in Iceland. If your intention is to go around the Ring Road, you will need a week-ten days to fully enjoy every stop that you take. You can easily drive around in four days as well, but you wouldn’t want to rush when you are surrounded by mountains, horses and waterfalls, would you?

In case you are just stopping for a weekend between two connecting flights, make sure you at least get a glimpse outside of Reykjavík. Most daytours are not more than 8-10 hours and are undoubtedly worth every second.

Actually, it doesn’t matter how long you are going to stay, you will always want to come back. I promise.

What clothes should I take with me?

Naturally, a lot depends on the time you are planning to visit Iceland, but a few things are certainly essential almost any time of the year: your warmest clothes, bathing suit, waterproof jacket, and sunglasses. Although, there are low-budget airlines offering trips to Keflavik, the awful truth is that you are not going to save money on only carrying your cabin bag, as even in the summer, the nights tend to be cold enough to make you gear up on all the sweaters, ponchos, and boots that you can possibly rummage out of your closet. Sure, you want to hike the beautiful mountains, so your hiking boots should also fit in your suitcase. Iceland is the land of hot water pools in the most unexpected places so make sure you will carry your bathing suit anywhere you go (a useful tip kids from someone who has been there done that: taking a plunge in your underwear in Hveragerdi is a story to remember, but not wise. At all.) If you decide to come in the spring-summer, you will definitely be in need of a pair of sunglasses to look cool and protect you from the sun, even at night. Reykjavík is famous for its crazy weekend partyscene and festival life, and if you have any party outfits that you haven’t dared to rock yet, this is your time to shine.

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Should I change money?

Well, of course if you want. Although, you will be able to use your credit or debit card with no limit anywhere (and by anywhere I mean even in public toilets). In most places you can also use, pounds, dollars or euros, so if you forgot to change money before, you will be in no trouble. However, if I were you I would stock up on some coins. They have fish on them.

A friendly warning to everyone: Iceland is expensive. You will probably feel after a night out of “let’s have a shot everyone, I pay”, that it might have been a better lifechoice to invest into a small apartment back at home for the same price. But it is the way it is, and you have to adapt to it.

The good news is that in most of the souvenir and clothes shops you are able to ask for a tax refund, if you leave a lot of money there (which you surely will because they are filled with all kinds of goodies). You should definitely do that, as who would say no to a little extra money at the airport when leaving the country? Noone. You can check more about the tax refunds here.

Is the tapwater drinkable?

I know that this is a big issue in most of the bigger cities around the world, but once you get to Iceland you have to ask yourself the question: is there anything that can be called more than drinkable? If there is, then it is Icelandic water. Anytime you would like to purchase bottled mineral water in a store (for more of a reason than to have a bottle to fill it with more tap water in the nearest bathroom), be prepared to have people laughing at you. The water that you have in the tap, is the purest spring water without any chemicals. THE. PUREST.YOU.CAN.GET. Drink as much as you can while you’re here.

Can I camp?

Of course you can! But only if you don’t care about hypothermia. Camp sites are usually open between May and August, and there is a reason for that. Once I camped outside in 0°C and although my sleeping bag was designed for much colder weather and I was wearing everything I could to protect my head, it wasn’t a nice experience. It’s not very pleasant to wake up in the morning with a frozen nose and a terrible headache. You don’t want that.

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Should I rent a car or take daytours?

Renting a car means freedom. You can go anywhere, anytime. We’ve rented several cars from different rentals and here are the tips we can give you:

  • ALWAYS have insurance. You never know what happens and the gravel roads can be quite tricky.
  • A normal 2WD is enough if you only want to drive the Ring Road, but if you want to go on F-roads you’ll need a 4WD. It’s not a rip-off, those roads are really tough to drive on, you might need to cross rivers or huge piles of snow or drive in the deep mud, so it’s worth paying more than awkwardly calling (if you have reception. Most of the times on F-roads you don’t. Just sayin’.) the rescue team and paying a fine. Trust me.
  • Protect the environment: I understand that you are the King of the Road in your amazing Jeep and offroad driving sounds very cool, but the moss you’ve been drifting on for 10 minutes needs 50 years to regrow. You’ll be a grandparent by then.
  • If the road is marked ‘IMPASSABLE’ it’s impassable. It means that there are obstacles in the way, for example LOADS OF SNOW. Or it can also mean that the road hasn’t been maintained for a while. Any case, you shouldn’t try to impress people and drive on it, or the same situation might occur with the rescue team that I mentioned earlier.
  • Always be aware of where the next gas station is. If the red light blinks, fill the tank. The next opportunity might be 100 km ahead of you.

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If you don’t have the luxury of a driver’s licence, or the money to rent a car for a week, then day tours are always a valuable option. You have to sacrifice your freedom of stopping anywhere you want as you will put your precious sightseeing time to your tourguide’s competent hands, but in return, you will get loads of funny and entertaining pieces of information about Iceland (and some inappropriate jokes), that you otherwise would have to search for yourself.

Road conditions in English available here.

Northern Lights: When? Where? How?

This is a tough question. There are several influencing factors when it comes to this mind-blowing phenomena.
Firstly, it needs to be dark, so the months between October and April are the best. If you go light hunting, make sure to leave the lights of the city behind you as far as possible (hint: it’s not that difficult).
Secondly, you’ll need a clear sky, so start to sacrifice some baby goats (or whatever your preference is) to Fortuna, because through a thick layer of clouds you won’t see anything. And as we mentioned earlier, the winter months are quite unpredictable (no, sorry, it’s unpredictable all year round), so prepare for the worst so you can be triple happy if you catch the lights.
Thirdly, there has to be northern light activity, right? You can check it here.

Some general remarks: we’ve been living and travelling around the island for quite some time now, and there are some things that we’d like to tell or ask you if you come for a visit. The first, and most important one is to remember 112 is the emergency number, call it if you’re in any kind of trouble. Another thing: please, respect the environment. I could rattle hours about how fragile Icelandic flora and fauna are and how long it takes for them to regrow. There are trashcans at every stop, so please use those, or collect your garbage and throw it away at the end. Don’t be an asshole. Thanks.

Have a nice trip everyone!