We get it. You’ve seen those #travelismypassion instagram shots from Iceland, seen Bieber dancing around the country (trampling all that beautiful, delicate moss), listened to a friend of a friend who said you could drive the entire ring road in 2 days and you’re super excited and dreaming about travelling to Iceland!
Well you should be excited! This country is amazing! But take it from us, there’s a great way to explore this beautiful country, and there’s a not so great way, but don’t worry we are here to help you do this the right way!
Tip 1: Don’t spend all your time in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is cool! It’s an interesting city and there are some great cafes, restaurants, things to see like the Harpa concert hall, the Hallgrímskírkja church and streets to explore in the old town. However, it’s also a pretty small city and one night in the capital is enough to see it.
Plus if you want to see the incredible nature that Iceland is famous for, or dive into authentic Icelandic culture, then you need to head elsewhere – if you stay in Reykjavik you’ll constantly be driving back and forth on the same stretch of the Route 1 road, which is a waste of time when there’s so much to see!
So our advice, plan a multi day road trip and stay in the countryside close to the sights – there are so many good hotels, guesthouses, airbnbs (for all budgets) and also restaurants, museums, ice cream shops (important!), tour operators, and local pools, the list is endless!
Bonus tip: if you stay in the countryside you’re also more likely to see the Northern Lights (if you come at the right time of year) as you’ll be away from the light pollution in the capital.
Tip 2: Don’t rush, but take your time
Iceland is the second biggest island in Europe – the idea that you can “see it all” in a week or even a couple of weeks is misguided and don’t be deceived by the number of miles between sights – it will take you longer than you think to drive between them! But this is not a bad thing!
We love the idea of slow travel. Embrace the idea of quality over quantity. The goal behind your trip to Iceland should be that you don’t get back home and need another vacation after the vacation.
Iceland is all about nature and nature needs time to experience it properly. Instead of checking off a list of photos you have to take or places you have to see, take the time to breath and fully enjoy the place and the moment. If you have limited time to explore the island then don’t try to put the whole ring road into a five day itinerary, instead pick a region to discover properly. Trust us, it will be worth it.
No matter which part of Iceland you decide to visit, there is a lot to see and experience everywhere. Take the chance to dig into the area properly, get to know the locals and their secret spots that are definitely not on the tourist map. Iceland is big and lots of it is unexplored – why not take the challenge and find your own waterfall, that maybe doesn’t even have a name yet?
Tip 3: Don’t only follow a bucket list
But be flexible! And we don’t just mean physically (though if that is your thing we do have a weekly yoga class at Midgard that you are welcome to join!).
Before coming to Iceland you might have created a list of things you “have to do” and an exact plan of how you are going to do them.
Be open to changing these plans! Firstly, the weather might change them for you, but also, meeting locals might too. Ask the locals you meet for their personal recommendations to experience their Iceland, the real Iceland. Very often “their Iceland” begins just a few meters away from a main tourist attraction. There are for example dozens of stunning waterfalls around Skógafoss – that barely get any visitors.
Build some time in to explore the things you didn’t even know to look for.
Tip 4: Be cool, don’t be a fool
Did you hear the story about the guy that got his car stuck in a river? The couple that had to be rescued just meters from the road? The friends that ignored the weather warning and got stranded? Well we did, and we hear them all time, don’t be like them!
There are several websites that are a must for every traveller in Iceland and will help keep you safe and happy.
On safe.is you get an overview of all the essential safety information and some general tips for staying safe in Iceland.
On vedur.is you will get a very detailed weather forecast – in Iceland we have the saying that “you don’t make the plan, the weather does it for you”. Is there a snow storm coming in? Is it going to be super windy where you want to hike? That’s the kind of information you can get on there. Be aware that the weather is changing very quickly, so we usually only look at the next 24 hours.
Road.is gives you information on the road conditions. Is there any snow/ice on the road? How strong is the wind? Is the road closed? It might not happen often in your home country, but in Iceland our main highway (the ring road) gets closed quite often during winter time. People can get stranded in various places and have to wait for the storm to pass. Of course, this can be annoying, especially if you have booked a tour the next day or if you were planning to go back to the airport for your flight home. But please respect the road closures, they are put in place for a good reason!
Another thing to look at are the road classifications – to drive an F Road you really do need a 4×4 designed for this. Especially when it comes to river crossings – our top tip would be do not attempt them! You might see Icelanders crossing deep, mighty rivers in their modified vehicles. Your rental Dacia Duster is not up to it. You might pass one small river and build up misplaced confidence, you might continue doing this until you hit a river that is just completely impassable with your car. If you get stuck (which you most likely will) it will quickly turn into a horror show not a holiday – an expensive and in several cases also deadly mistake.
Many of us at Midgard work in the rescue teams and are called out to save people, but we would much rather meet you for a drink in our bar or whilst guiding one of our trips! So please respect the rules, they are there for a reason, the top one being your safety!
Tip 5: Don’t buy bottled water, it is a scam!
We call bottled water that you can buy in the stores “tourist” water, as no Icelander would ever buy it. Our tap water is pure springwater, naturally filtered through lava for centuries before it reached your tap.
So do yourself a favor, save money and make the tap water (we call it “kranavatn”) your drink of choice in Iceland. Best way is to bring a reusable bottle for your trip – people will fill it up for you everywhere (gas stations, restaurants) or you can even fill it up yourself in one of our clean rivers (that’s what we are doing during our hikes).
Tip 6: Don’t be Bieber
You can be a Belieber if you’d like, that bit we’ll leave up to you. But regardless of what you think about his dance moves, respect our nature and don’t trample on it please!