Iceland was the coolest place I’ve ever been. And I’ve traveled to about 30 different countries – not a lot, but enough to say that Iceland has the most unique nature I’ve ever seen and the most unpredictable weather I’ve ever encountered. We were there in early March, 2016.
- Go North! Especially during the off-season. Southern Iceland is nice with its many waterfalls, but it’s also full of tourists. Some of them are seeing the ice for the first time (and with crutches) and then trying to walk on it. It’s funny at first, but after a couple of days the crowd gets annoying and humans looking like wobbling ducks won’t entertain you anymore. We headed to the North for the last 4 days, and it was magnificent! Since we’re not fans of buses full of tourists, we were happy to discover that there were almost no tourists in Snaefellsnes peninsula, and didn’t see a single tourist in Isafjördur – the biggest and coldest city in the North West of Iceland.
2. Bring proper gear! Especially when going during winter time. We were planning to stay in a tent that was made for conquering high peaks and we also had proper sleeping bags (for -25 Celsius). However, I was still cold, because we underestimated the weather. We didn’t go in Hawaiian shirts and flip flops, but we ended up buying solid winter jackets from a mall in Reykjavik before we headed to the North.
3. Get some ISK (Icelandic Krona) – when paying by card, your bank will most likely use their own conversion rate and you’ll lose a couple of Euros/Dollars/Yen on each purchase. Currency exchange offices try to rip you off as well, but not as badly as most of the banks. You’ll get ripped off anyway – it doesn’t matter if you use your card or get cash, because they won’t give it to you at the current mid-market rate – too bad TransferWise doesn’t support Iceland yet.
4. When renting a car, don’t let the car renters trick you into believing you need a 4×4 SUV. We didn’t get tricked, thankfully, but saw plenty of people who believed the salesmen and had 4×4 cars for their stay in Southern Iceland (completely pointless). We had a small Hyundai i10, and it did its job. Obviously, if you have the funds, and you’re not a fan of sleeping in a tent, then go with the SUV, since it has more leg room and sleeping space. Or if you’re not an experienced driver (like R).
5. Talk to the locals – they are extremely friendly and all of them speak really good English. In the North, our tour guide Haukur (yes, that’s his real name), who reminded me of a true Viking with his beard, gave us a lot of information about Iceland that we didn’t know – such as that the “meeting spot” for the Icelanders is a local swim pool! And later in Reykjavik, our Airbnb host gave us loads of good restaurant ideas and he was just fun to talk with.
6. Take a ski tour! Probably our coolest experience. I booked the tour a few months before the trip and knew it was going to be a hike on rented cross-country skis. It almost was, until we reached to the top of the hill. Then we had to get back down…
7. If you’re not a fan of the extreme, then don’t take a ski tour(!). Getting down was the coolest part of the whole thing (because we’re fans of the extreme)! The snow was fresh and suitable for some powder shredding, but definitely not for cross country skiing. I couldn’t see much, because everything was plain white and I also fell 4 times. Got a few bruises, but it was totally worth it. If you don’t know how to ski, then Iceland is not a place to learn skiing during the winter time, due to its steep mountains and unpredictable weather.
8. Go to the local swim pools. If the city has more than 8 houses, it’s likely it has a swim pool as well. The swim pool we went to in the North was in a city 5km outside Isafjördur, called Bolungarvik. It had 3 decent hot tubs and also a regular 25m swimming pool. Also, there was the weirdest thing I’ve seen in such a cold place – a running water slide. It was around -6 Celsius outside and the kids were sliding down and having fun. Quite mesmerizing.
9. Seek the Northern Lights. We saw the Northern lights for the first time in our lives. Even though it gets really cold in Estonia at times and Aurora Borealis appears here as well, we hadn’t seen it until Iceland! I had no idea that it moves around! I thought it would just appear in the sky and you can watch it, but it moves as if someone is making modern artwork in the sky. To see it, you need to drive away from the city. We drove about 500m from the closest street lamp, and were able to see it really clearly.
10. Take food with you, if possible. Groceries and eating out is relatively expensive there. For example, a dinner for two in a modest restaurant in Isafjördur cost us 63 EUR. The fish we ordered was absolutely delicious, and it was also our engagement celebration dinner, so no regrets! But it would get quite expensive to have all your meals in restaurants.
We hiked around this mountain – it looks like a short hike, but it took us 3.5 hours to do the full circle.
Well, at least he had fun… so much of it that he couldn’t smile anymore