I. LOVE. ICELAND.
My obsession with Iceland started about 2 years before we actually ended up going. Until I got there, I wasn’t sure what it was that drew me to this country. I only knew vague details about Iceland. At first thought, what word “ice” doesn’t exactly scream luxury resort vacation. It was unpopular, unchartered territories for most tourists. That was it! It was unique and beauty was still kept untouched by tourists. I wanted in.
I’ve been to over 20 countries in my young life and by far, Iceland is my favourite country. I am usually looking for architecture, history and culture when I travel. I didn’t see an abundance of this in Iceland, rather just pockets of civilization as you explore this tiny island. But soon enough I realized, everything I wanted to take in was in front of me……nature in its most primitive form.
Iceland is one big outdoor adventure filled with hiking. You’ll see different terrains, mountains, more waterfalls than you can take in, volcanic darkness and views from the coast into the distant waters far away from the next form of life. If you don’t like any of that, don’t bother going. In fact, don’t bother reading further.
We went in July, during the Midnight Sun (almost 24 hours of sunlight). It was surreal! Frequently confused because we weren’t sure what time of day it was. We would be driving around 10PM or 11 PM and the sun was still out as if it was a late summer afternoon. Night time felt like neverending twilight. Due to the lack of darkness, we didn’t see the northern lights. If you want to see that, the best time to go is April/May or Oct/Nov. However, the risk with that snowfall, roads closures and not be able to walk up to attractions safely (not hiking).
We decided since it’s our first time, I rather see more than the northern lights. Also we wanted to drive. We spent 4 days and 3 nights exploring Reykjavik, Golden Circle, drove south to Vik, the Blue Lagoon and Keflavik.
For more on our itinerary, check out my blog post here: How to See Iceland in 4 days
Driving! I highly recommend it! It’s the best way to see everything. You will not and could not get lost. The roads are extremely easy to drive on. The main roads are well maintained. Signage was clear (although they did lack warning signs to let you know your exit is coming up. There were frequent U-turns involved). We barely used GPS and mostly opted for an old school map (Michelin Iceland Map 750) that I bought from Amazon instead. We weren’t getting much signal on our mobile phone anyway so the paper map came in really handy.
Prior to our trip, I mapped out all the main place we wanted to see in Iceland. We were there for a very limited time, so we needed to make sure we covered as much as could. I simply took my map and circles every point of interest and we planned a driving route from that. It saved us a lot of time not having to figure out where to go next.
We rented a small hatchback from SAD Cars, which fit exactly myself and I plus our two suitcases. Full disclosure, the cars at this rental are nothing to write home about, it’s really “sad” looking cars but they do the job! There’s a free shuttle service to and from the airport as well.
If you’re not comfortable with the adventure of driving and off to the unknown, there are a variety of tours available.
We went during the summer – mid-July. It was around 10 degrees celsius for the most part. It ended up going up to 20 degrees with some sunshine on our last day there! If you plan to go around this time, be prepared for rain. I recommend a good and warm rain coat. I also recommend hiking boots (non-slippery), as there are an abundance of waterfalls to see and get really close to. Because Iceland growing in popularity only recently, the paths around the main attractions are not quite built for tourism yet, so you CAN fall in.
Since we were on the road for the most part of the day, we didn’t spend too much time enjoying a nice meal for breakfast and lunch. We bought groceries from “Bonus”, this is their “discount” store and supposed to be the equivalent of our No Frills stores (price wise), it’s more like Metro/Sobeys ha! We mostly ate bread with deli meats, cheese and fruit for breakfast (true continental!), then packed the same combination of food for lunches on the road. We simply would find an amazing view as we drove along, parked and enjoyed a low-budget meal in front of a volcano or glacier or horses.
Despite the not-so-glamourous breakfasts/lunches, our food budget was still high because I wanted to enjoy really nice dinners to make up for the cold meals. I really wanted to discover true Icelandic cuisine at the very best restaurants. We budgeted around $275 CAD per day for both for 2 people.
Check out my blog post on Icelandic food:
Iceland is not cheap. Make sure you remember that before you get there.
Flights from Toronto, Canada (or anywhere in Europe that WOW Air or Icelandair flies from) is pretty inexpensive. We flew from Amsterdam. I have seen round trip fares from Toronto for around $400 – $500 CAD, sometimes down to the mid $300s or up to the high $600s. It’s safe to say, it’s a cheap “trip” if you’re coming from Toronto. Definitely under $1, 000 in flights.
Why I say it’s not cheap? Here’s a rough idea (based on 2 people, 4 days, 3 nights) – All in Canadian Dollars:
- Accommodation (AirBnb): $528 total
- Food: $1, 100 total
- Dinner: $30 to $50 per person per meal
- Fast food: $14 to $20 for a basic “fast food” take out (McDonald’s does not exist in Iceland!)
- Alcoholic beverage: $15 to $20 per drink
- Car rental (SAD cars): $392.35 *free shuttle to and from the airport about a 10 – 15 min drive
- Gas: ~$100 total
- Coffee: $4 for a small drip coffee (yikes! Don’t bother looking for a Starbucks)
- Misc. expenses: ~$700 *entrance fees, Blue Lagoon, snacks, bought small souvenirs etc.
Tips for the weary traveller
- Leave your cash at home – no really. Credit is accepted everywhere! We couldn’t pay for a lot of things in cash most of the time (like the gas station!). We also had a lot of leftover Euros – sigh. In fact, if you’re going to bring cash, change it to Icelandic currency (Króna). They gave us the stank eye when we tried to pay in Euros. Also, bring a back up credit cards just in case your primary one does not work. We got stuck using only one of our credit cards because everything else wouldn’t work for some reason?
- “Foss” – means waterfalls. You will see this everywhere!
- Everyone speaks English so it’s easy to ask for directions. Signs/labels are rarely in English though!
- Don’t mind the fart or boiled eggs smell everywhere you go – it’s just the sulfate. Everyone uses the geothermal waters. It makes for good fart jokes though