I have had the incredible opportunity of traveling to Iceland twice now. If you had told me that even 5 years ago, I don’t think I would have believed you at all! As Iceland has been doing all that it can to boost their country’s tourism efforts, it has become such a popular place to travel to and explore- even in this past year I have seen so many people have the chance to go. It may be the trendy place to fly to, but it’s still worth it if you have never been. The landscapes and opportunities for outdoor adventure are just incredible. If you too are planning a vacation there, I thought I would take a few minutes and share some of my best Iceland travel tips!
WHERE TO STAY & GO:
Flights to Iceland may be on the inexpensive side, but in my opinion they tend to make up for it in the cost of stay. Even an Airbnb that is offered as a shared house can be really expensive compared to what you may find here in the States. You will definitely find more places to stay available in Reykjavík, but I would recommend staying in different places each night so that you can travel to see more. Staying in Reykjavík is convenient to the city itself, and the Golden Circle ( a popular tourist route ) but it’s about 5 hours from some of my favorite spots along the Southern Coast- so we have found that staying in different Airbnb’s each night helps cut down on so much driving at once. Although the Golden Circle has some amazing things to see, it is honestly the spots that are far from the beaten path that took my breath away.
Selfoss is a great town to stay in if you plan on visiting the Southern Coast. It’s about 40 minutes South of Reykjavík, but has convenient grocery stores, restaurant options, and is a bit more populated than some of the more remote towns.
This past trip we rented a Lambhus cabin, that was about 45 minutes past Jökulsárlón, the famous (and WELL worth the drive to, glacier lagoon.) Staying there allowed us to travel along the Southern coast for the day, stopping at places like the black sand beaches of Vik, and one of my favorite spots, Dyrhólaey. When I stopped at Dyrhólaey last summer, it was a stormy afternoon, making the rock formations even more spectacular to view firsthand. Disappointingly it was bright and sunny this past trip, and I have to admit that it didn’t quite have the same effect! It still is a beautiful spot to see though and I would recommend making the effort to see it. The most important tip for snagging a great Airbnb in Iceland? BOOK IN ADVANCE!! They book out so far since it’s such a popular place to travel right now, and they are limited. If you don’t want to be paying 2-3 times what you expect, then please take my advice and don’t wait until last minute.
We also drove north of Reykjavík this trip, out around the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Along the peninsula we stopped for cocoa and waffles near the rocky beach of Hellnar, hiked to see the Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge, looked over all the cliff like coasts- it was all really incredible and I wish we had more time to enjoy more of it! Truly that is always the feeling I leave Iceland with- I wish we had more time to see it all.
WHAT TO PACK:
One of the biggest things I have learned about exploring Iceland, is that it requires a lot of time in the car, and you will spend more time away from populated towns and stores than near them. At least if you want to see the kind of places that I do. Having learned MANY lessons during my first trip, this year I was a bit more prepared for what to pack!
• A collapsible pour over like this one. If you enjoy a good cup of coffee, be warned, it is SO hard to find in Iceland, especially once you leave Reykjavík. Last summer I truly thought I was going to DIE with gas station coffee seemingly being the only option and it tasting more like a mud puddle than espresso of any kind. So this year I ground my own locally roasted coffee before heading out, and brought my own collapsible pour over- it was the BEST $7 I have ever given Amazon. It hardly took up space in my suitcase, and it allowed me to make a great cup of coffee whether I was leaving the Airbnb in the morning, or even in the car! I offered to pay for the cup, but most gas stations took pity on me and gave me a cup of hot water at no charge. Also bringing your own travel mug goes without saying. Remember- SO much car time!!
• An extra phone battery like this one. At the time of writing this blog post, the portable battery I linked to is only $14.99!!! This charges phone, iPads, etc with a USB cable. This was great for sharing a rental car with others and having an extra battery when the car chargers were being used. Remember- SO much car time!!!
• Sunglasses. Perhaps this goes without saying for some, but the first year I went I didn’t even think about bringing sunglasses. I think it’s because I always keep my pair in my car, and just never think about it when packing a suitcase, but when you’re driving ALL day to get to the awesome locations, you will be so glad you brought of them.
• Your own bedding. Depending on where you are staying- a lot of the Airbnb’s that we looked at charged extra for bedding. We all brought our own sleeping bags and that was such a lifesaver in some of the places we stayed!
• Protein Bars / Travel Snacks. Most of the time you will be traveling to remote locations that don’t have a lot to choose from as far as available meals. Iceland isn’t exactly…a foodie country so to speak. Packing a box of Lara Bars and Crackers for the car was a life saver for someone who gets as hangry as I do!!
• A Roll of Toilet Paper/ Tissues. Just trust me on this one. Depending on the level of your adventure- so much of exploring Iceland is a bit like camping. Let’s just say there was more than one time we each were grateful that we had a roll in the car!!
• Hiking Boots. Again, this depends on the level of your adventure, but all I knew was that cute sneakers definitely didn’t make the cut on my first trip, so this year I was prepared and brought my tough hiking boots. These were so great for rocky terrain and small hikes that we did to see some of the marked spots.
• Warmer clothes. Last year we visited Iceland in June, this year it was August. Both trips didn’t require jackets all the time during the day, but I was SO glad that I had a winter hat in places like the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, or the windy Snæfellsnes peninsula.
• When renting your car, request a WIFI hot spot! The first year we rented our car, upon arrival the company asked if we would like a GPS or WIFI hot spot. Our first instinct was GPS, but then we realized that if we had WIFI, than we could use our phones for GPS AND have access to email, social media, and iMessage texting! As I mentioned above, SO many of the locations we ventured out to were so remote and far from town, that even apart from staying connected as a business owner, having that WIFI meant that we had a better chance of finding our way out if we got lost, and could reach help if there were an emergency.
• Map out your trip and make a driving plan ahead of time! Our first year, we really flew by the seat of our pants when it came to what we should do each day. While there’s a fun time and place for that kind of spontaneity, because most of the places we ended up wanting to see were such a far distance from each other, we realized how much more we could have seen had we planned better. So this time, we mapped out every day and every spot we wanted to see via Google Maps. This not only provided a printed copy of our directions should the WIFI not be dependable. but it gave us an idea of how long of a drive each day would include, as well as allow us the opportunity to prioritize the spots we definitely didn’t want to miss so we could do as much as possible in the time we had.
• Hit up the grocery store after arrival- we stocked out car with water, fresh fruit, and additional snacks to have on hand. Even though we traveled with protein bars and a few snacks that we brought with us, this is not only a great idea if you’re traveling on a budget, but it takes away a lot of “hangry” stress when you haven’t seen a store in what feels like hundreds of miles!
I hope these tips are helpful as you plan your own Iceland adventure!! To see some of the maternity portraits I photographed during this trip, you can visit this last post here. Here are more landscape photographs taken on medium format film using my Hasselblad! I hope I get to return to Iceland for more adventure in the near future!