Many have said this and I will say this again – Iceland is one of the most amazing countries you will ever visit. It has so much to offer, the sights and the sounds come together in such a majestic amalgamation of beauty that will blow you away. Truly. So if you are in Europe and ever get the chance, you cannot miss Iceland. It will be worth every dime you spend. (That being said, you can save a lot by doing careful planning!) Of course we can’t resist but provide an insight to what it was like for us and to share the tips we learnt along the way.
Melrose and I both went to Iceland on separate trips with separate groups of friends and with varying itineraries, we both took away a different experience, both wonderful, but different. We document our journey through Iceland in hopes to share the tips as well as cautionary advice for you to maximize and make the most out of your once in a lifetime trip to Iceland!
It is no doubt that flights to Iceland are expensive, especially if you are travelling from Singapore or anywhere in Asia. It gets way cheaper if you fly in from Scandinavia (plus, chances are you will get a direct flight.) Airlines you can look at are SAS, WOWair, Icelandicair, Norwegianair and EasyJet.
Tip 1: Book with SAS Youth if you’re under 26
SAS youth prices, as with FinnAir youth doesn’t show up on SkyScanner so be sure to explore this option. I got return tickets to and from Oslo for 624PLN which is roughly 222SGD which is dirt cheap! What’s great is I also got 1 free checked bag and the flights are to and from the main airports (e.g. Oslo Gardermoen) which saves you hefty airport transfer fees to get to the main city center. I like SAS also because they have a generous compensation fare structure and if your flights get delayed, the compensation is amazing.
Tip 2: Renting a Car
We highly recommend renting a car over booking a tour bus any day. Not only would the road trip be way more fun, you get more time for pictures at sites you like and less at those you feel can be skipped. Moreover you get to decide when and where to stop, and most importantly during winter, you have the flexibility in chasing the aurora borealis!
I rented a car from a less popular car rental company – Green Motion and the rates were a lot better online than the other bigger companies. They will pick you up from the airport and drive you to the pick up area so it wasn’t an inconvenience at all. We got a 7 seater Chrysler Grand Voyager but because the car was so big, while the rental was cheap (1,491SGD for 12 days including basic insurance), the mileage was terrible.
Mel used Hertz and they provided her a Skoda Octavia, auto 4WD, inclusive of basic insurance, GPS. It costs about 62000ISK (around 620SGD) for 5 days – which is pretty affordable as well!
*Standard tips for renting a car in Europe (or anywhere really):
- Check thoroughly for scratches all over the vehicle as this can save you hefty costs when scratches already present are later deemed to be made by you. Once you find ANY scratch/dents do notify the agent you were talking to and follow through by witnessing that they keyed the damages into the system. The only thing to save you from any trouble is if its in black-and-white!
- Get insurance as it will save you the worry. This is especially so in Iceland where the gravel roads and snow can damage your vehicle substantially. But of course the car rental company will always push you every insurance they’ve got, for instance Sand and Ash which Green Motion insisted is needed if we were to drive along the southern coast of Iceland, yet we never experienced any sand storms at this time of the year. Better be safe than sorry I guess. Read insurance policy wordings so you know what is covered and what is not. We we warned many times that if your door blasted off, no insurance would cover that so were very careful with the doors in windy areas.
- We navigated the Iceland roads with GPS as even if we bought data, we would often be out of reach for any signal and with much off-road driving, the GPS was our best friend. (Of course, remember to save GPS coordinates of sites and have them handy and in the right format/learn how to convert it.)
- Book the car under someone who is 24 or older to avoid the young driver surcharge.
- Okay this tip may be a little controversial but there is no need to EVER add additional drivers.
- If you do book a vehicle rental online from a third party site, any costs of the damage will be charged to your card but refunded by the third party company so it would be best (cash-flow wise) to simply get the basic order online, and add on anything additional with the rental company additionally. There will be chance to add insurance later on in person.
- Manual cars are always the cheapest (in terms of rental and mileage) so opt for this option if you can drive stick.
- Take note of road closures as it can waste a lot of time and fuel if you make your way into a closed road only to be ordered to turn back by policemen on horses. A useful site is roads.is.
- Take note of speed cameras – the only operational one I noted was in the tunnels so do not speed there, the fines are hefty.
- Lastly, it is always best to discuss amongst a group of friends sharing the cost of the rental, who would bear the cost of any damage – the driver, or would it be split among all passengers? This could save not only the trouble but also your friendship in the end.
Tip 3: Spliting an AirBnB or a cabin amongst a group usually can work out to being cheaper than a hostel. Do look at booking.com for apartments as well! Not to mention, hostels have hidden costs, in one hostel we had to rent linens and towels for 9EUR per night, which was half the cost of 1 bed in the hostel! You can consider bringing sleeping bags if you intend to rely on hostels a lot but for that night I just decided to sleep in between my blanket like a burrito (blankets were complementary).
Take note that before you book accommodation, check what is included – most importantly check if it includes a kitchen!
Tip 4: One thing I learnt travelling in a group of 7 is that usually people only accept a booking of 4 or 6 or 8. So obviously, book for 6 and usually it will be no problem for the last person to squeeze in. Of course, do not exploit this. Travelling in even numbers would definitely be more advantageous when booking apartments.
Tip 5: Not only is food expensive in Iceland, it is also very hard to come by especially if you are not residing in a town for the night. Cooking became our only option for some nights so it’ll be good if you pack necessities from whichever country you are travelling from provided you’ve got space and weight – it will probably be cheaper. To save time preparing for food, bring along food pastes or just buy/bring spaghetti and sauce. On the drives in the day stopping for lunch was also hard as there wouldn’t be any food option for miles so of course prepare for this and pack sandwiches for the road.
In Iceland, Netto is the discount supermarket that has the cheapest groceries. However don’t rely on it as it was hard to come by and usually only in the main towns, and they close at 1600 or 1800 the latest.
Rainbow Trout @ Seabarrel, Reykjavik
Tip 6: Eat the seafood in Iceland, it has one of the freshest seafood I’ve ever tasted.
Tip 7: My biggest tip for anyone visiting Iceland is to cover the entire ring road. Seeing the vast landscapes change every few hours and as the days went on was amazing. I will link my Iceland itinerary below but driving in Iceland was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had – every stop was picturesque. There is only 1 exception to this rule for that see Tip 10.
Tip 8: Sometimes you have to park the car and hike somewhere – to a waterfall or glacier or canyon. A rule we established to make the hike in as short of a time as possible was to hold the photos for the hike back. Not only would this save you tons of times, you will also begin to realize once you see the main attraction, the journey was a lot more enjoyable with the conversations held than the pictures taken.
Tip 9: Don’t spend more than 2 nights in one location if you aim to cover the entire ring road as you will soon come to realise that you would be making detours – wasting mileage travelling out and then back to the accommodation. Of course I acknowledge that living on the road like this will be no doubt tiring but trust me it is very well worth it.
Also I found that when we were nearing the end of our trip with 3 nights stay in Akureyri, we got lethargic and succumb to sleeping in the whole day and not wanting to get out of our warm, cozy apartment.
In Iceland, they use Icelandic Krona. I will suggest to change a maximum of 40EUR and use everything by card! In the shops/supermarket, cards are widely accepted. The rates aren’t that bad (especially if you’re on exchange and have a euro card – the rates are even better by card than the money changer). Money changers are more readily available in Reykjavik and the airport (Don’t count on finding another one soon once you leave Reykjavik!). For convenience sake, you could just change it at the airport as you don’t know when is the next time you see a money changer.
Consider flying back from Akureyri Airport to Reykjavik as that will save you 6 hours of driving time and probably 1.5 full tanks of fuel. You can also check with your car company if it is possible to drop off the car at Akureyri, it usually is. Fly via Air Iceland and book through their website, this is a domestic flight that will land in Reykjavik Domestic Airport not Keflavik International Airport so take note, you will have to take a bus to Keflavik International Airport that costs around 2,200ISK but this also gives you free time to explore Reykjavik if you have several hours before your international flight out. Air Iceland also gives you a free checked bag and another tip, if you’re a youth under 25, go for the standby Youth tickets that are almost half the price of standard tickets. Of course this carries with it a risk, you will only be let on if there are seats. In the mean time you are placed on waitlist. So get to the Airport early as the priority begins at the check in desk. It was well worth the risk for me as the flight was only half full as morning flights are generally less popular, but this may not apply in Summer which is the peak tourism season. Be sure to read the complete fare structure here to get the full picture: https://www.airiceland.info/terms-conditions
Tip 11: Weather
When you first touch down, don’t be too disheartened if the weather is gloomy, Reykjavik has been known to be the pretty gloomy especially in the winter and spring. As you drive out the weather gets better and better, at least it did for us. So do not fret if the first few days are gloomy. Of course do prepare for it, if you are travelling in winter or early spring, dress warm and dress waterproof because the rain can get everywhere and being wet through long car rides is not going to be enjoyable at all. A useful and accurate site to keep track of the weather in Iceland is vedur.is.
Tip 12: Bring a tripod!
Seems like a redundant advice but isn’t going to Iceland also about taking nice photos? Be it the Northern Lights or vast array of stars or the beautiful waterfalls, a good and sturdy tripod allows you to take better shots as well. I brought a tripod and it was worth the weight considering the number of good shots i got from the trip.
Travelling in summer vs winter vs spring
One last tip is a dilemma I haven’t quite figured out. Travelling through Iceland in Winter no doubt presents you with fewer hours of daylight however prices of everything are half of that in summer! Also, you’d get the chance to catch the Aurora Borealis on more than one occasion, most likely. In summer on the other hand the weather is perfect – you get long days, clear skies and sun! Of course the downside is prices hike for almost everything – accommodation, air fares, even car rentals. Now thinking about it I think we went at a great time – mid to end March where the weather was decent, hours of daylight were plenty, we managed to catch the Aurora Borealis and prices were still cheaper than would’ve been in summer!
So that is all the tips we’ve got for you. Venture forth to explore this land, my friend!
Visit our blog to get the link to my itinerary to Iceland!
Penned by Divya
Edited by Melrose