20 Things you should know before visiting Iceland

Iceland is one of the most incredible destinations. Between roaring waterfalls, black sand beaches, and lava fields, Iceland really does feel like another planet…

Attracted by the wild and untouched landscapes, the unique natural encounters and the chance of laying eyes on the majestic northern lights, the number of people flocking there has been increasing rapidly. It’s a favourite destination for landscape photographers and given a growing number of travellers are choosing their next destination based on its Instagram appeal…

Here are a few things I think you should know before travelling to Iceland;

1. Iceland is not for the budget traveller
You are already probably aware of Iceland’s unfriendliness towards a tight budget. Don’t let the cheap flights fool you, the budgeting fun stops there.
You may soon be questioning whether you do actually need to sleep in a bed or eat anything besides pot noodles for the entirety of your trip.
To put this in perspective, a pint will cost you around £9, a hot drink and a pastry £20, a meal for two £70.

They are limited but here are a few tips on Budgeting:
Stay in hostels as opposed to Hotels.
Eat at fuel stations
Stock up on food at the budget supermarket Bonus.
Pack like food is limited in Iceland – bring as much with you as possible.
Don’t spend money on bottled water – the tap water is safe to drink.

2. Don’t expect decent images of the northern lights without a tripod.
One thing that really shocked me when seeing the Northern lights was the number of people there trying to take photos with their iPhone, with the flash on!
You don’t need a fancy camera, but whatever you do have – know how to use it, and how to change the shutter speed. Set it up on a tripod (doesn’t have to be anything fancy) and away you go.
(See my post on how to capture the northern lights)

3. Bring painkillers – you won’t be able to buy any in the supermarkets
The only place you’ll find painkillers is at the pharmacy, so we recommend you take them with you to save the hassle.

4. Pee now, pay next month.Yes, you heard right, you can pay for just about everything in Iceland with a card… even the toilets! If you’re like me though I still like to carry some cash around. Also, you will be expected to pay for the use of most toilets, especially in touristy areas and this charge is around 100-200isk.

5. Tipping is not required.
*Sigh of relief after you’ve just paid £70 for a meal for two* All prices, whether it’s for a meal or a taxi ride include the tip so no need to give extra!

6. Everywhere has Wi-Fi
Nearly all restaurants, buses, even rental cars have wi-fi which is great if you’re lost, or it’s been 24 hours since your last status update!

7. Don’t expect to buy alcohol in the supermarkets
Alcohol is sold in bars, restaurants, and cafes, but never in supermarkets because, believe it or not, this country once had total prohibition on alcohol right up till 1989. The ban has been lifted since, but you’d be lucky to find anything stronger than 2.25% except at the alcohol chain called Vínbúðin. If you’re wanting to drink while you’re there- save money by buying at the airport.

8. No Comfort Brands
If you’re a frequent traveller, you tend to get used to seeing familiar brand names no matter where you go, like McDonalds and the occasional Starbucks even. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), Iceland has none of the above.

9. Hold on to your hat
Just speaking from experience…

10. Everyone speaks English
Don’t worry, you don’t need to do a crash course in Icelandic before you travel.
Hvað segir þú? any ideas? … That means “what’s up?” Good luck trying to pronounce It!
Everyone in Iceland speaks English. Also, Icelanders are sharp, quirky, and full of wit, so do not be surprised if they hit you with lashes of wintry Brit-styled sarcasm faster than you can say, “Oh, so you do speak English!”

11. The Tap water is safe to drink
As I’ve said above, save money by refilling water bottles at the tap. The water tastes amazing too!

12. Get used to the smell of sulphur
If you’re not sure what sulphur smells like just turn on the hot water tap and wait a few seconds… luckily the cold water doesn’t smell!

13. Bring extra batteries for your camera.
If you travel in winter, the cold weather will drain your batteries in no time, so carry spares!

14. Expect changes in your plans – the weather is unpredictable
The saying in Iceland is, “if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.” It is so true! A bit like Yorkshire weather really… can be sunny one minute and gales and hail the next or vice versa!
I would definitely say book trips in advance but have a contingency plan in case anything happens. We had a 1 day express ice cave tour booked which was cancelled due to the weather so we booked another tour at short notice which was also cancelled! We didn’t want to waste one of our limited days in this amazing country so we hired a car instead and had an incredible time!

15. Hire a car!
Following on from the last point, if you do get the chance to hire a car while you’re there, even if just for a day I would totally recommend it! Just having the freedom to stop whenever, wherever you want…

16. The Blue Lagoon debate
Pricey? Yes. Touristy? You betcha. Worth going? Totally.
Despite some people saying it’s a waste of time and money, I disagree. If you get the chance you should go!

A few tips for the blue lagoon;

The changing rooms in the blue lagoon aren’t scary – if you’ve done research like me, you’ve probably come across blog posts saying that the changing rooms are full of nude people and they don’t have private changing rooms or showers. Yes, you will see some nude people, but they do have private changing rooms and showers so don’t panic.
Your hair will be fine- just make sure you cover it in Conditioner before and after you enter the blue lagoon
Remove any white gold or silver Jewellery.
Don’t wear contact lenses.
Consider a hat to stop your head and ears getting cold.
Bring your own food and drink to save money

17. Layers
If you are travelling in winter layers are so important! If you think you’ve got enough layers on, you’re probably wrong. Also, make sure you have a good pair of waterproof boots!

18. Book your Northern Lights tour for the first night you arrive
That way, if you don’t get to see them the first night you can just re-book it for the next night and so on… Don’t be too downhearted if you don’t get to see them!

19. Be Realistic 
We get it, you want to see as much as possible while you’re there. Bear in mind that if you go in winter you’ll only get about 5 hours daylight so seeing everything is going to be impossible! By packing too much into your itinerary you run the risk of spending far too much time rushing from place to place.

20. Take it all in
You’ll want to stop every 5 minutes to take pictures but a lot of what you see just can’t be properly captured. Sometimes you just need to look up from the camera and enjoy the view.

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