Traveling makes us happy in so many ways we are not even aware of. It doesn’t matter where you are traveling to, how many days you mark on the calendar as “holidays”, whether you’re getting on a boat, on a plane, on a train or strapping up your hiking boots; traveling will do you and your heart a world of good!. That also applies to Iceland, which for many, is a dream road trip of a lifetime. We’ve made a list of 10 things to know for your first time in Iceland. Ready for your next big adventure?
Discovering other countries will definitely open your mind. Traveling often gives us the opportunity to live new experiences and learn about different cultures. We get to know people who despite their differences, are still similar to us. Now, we need to be aware of these differences if we want to avoid the anxiety of culture shock. The more you know about the culture of the country you will be visiting, the more prepared you will be for a different way of life. You might want to get out a pen and a paper.
#1 Traveling Around the Island
Iceland is a remote country in the North Atlantic Ocean. The island itself is not that big, but it is full of plenty of wonderful places to visit and enjoy. Luckily, there is a circular road that goes around the whole country. It is called the Ring Road, and from this main road, you can visit most of the main touristic points of Iceland.
The Ring Road is 1,332 km long (828 miles). We usually recommend that you set create a 10-day itinerary to drive around this road. That is the perfect length to enjoy the country without being in a rush. You can use both 4×4 vehicles and 2WD passenger cars on this road as long as you respect speed limits.
#2 English is Spoken Here
I know many travelers are scared of not being able to make themselves understood while abroad. Plus, Icelandic is a hard language. The words are long, and pronunciation is pretty complicated for most travelers. Well, good news! Almost every Icelander speaks English at a decent level. I don’t dare to say that 100% of Icelanders do, because some seniors in remote areas may not. But once you step foot in our country, you will notice how easy it is to communicate in the language of Shakespeare. Plus, there is a bonus: Icelanders speak not only English but also other Scandinavian languages such as Danish or Norwegian. So if you happen to speak any of those languages, communicating will not be a problem whatsoever.
#3 Currency and Costs
In Iceland, we have our own currency, and its name is the Icelandic krona. One dollar is approximately 121 Icelandic krona (this may vary according to the exchange rate). Don’t be fooled by the rate though, Iceland is still very costly.
Iceland is a Scandinavian country, and therefore its prices are among the highest in the world. Keep that in mind when planning your vacation. We’ve got plenty of articles with tips on how to keep the costs at bay. Just to give you an idea, a beer in Iceland can cost around $10. You’ve been warned!
#4 Payments and Using Credit Cards
Along with costs, comes the concept of payment. One thing that I love about Iceland is that you can pay for anything with a credit card, even bubblegum at a gas station. That means you don’t need to exchange dollars, euros, pounds, or any other currency for Icelandic Krona. That reduces your costs when it comes to commissions and exchange rates. Just be sure to check with your bank to see if they charge for using your credit card in a foreign country. Many merchants don’t, but you don’t want to get a nasty surprise when your monthly statement shows up.
#5 Tipping and Sales Tax
Tipping can be entirely different for your depending on the country you come from. If you are from the United States, then the difference is radical here. Like the rest of Europe, in Iceland, we don’t really tip. Waiters receive a normal salary, so they’re not relying on tips as part of their wages. Tipping is always welcome, of course, but it’s not mandatory, and there isn’t a minimum. So forget about calculating the 15-20% of the bill. If the service was incredible, just a couple of bucks will do. Also, keep in mind that everything you buy in Iceland comes with the 24% VAT already included in the price. So the price you see marked on an item is the final one.
#6 The Midnight Sun
Arriving in the summer? Well, you definitely need to be aware of the Midnight Sun. Due to Iceland’s latitude, the sun doesn’t really set in summer. It can be 23:00 and you still have sunlight available. This can be very jarring to your internal clock. Although most hotels have blinds and blackout curtains to avoid the light from creeping in, be sure to bring an eye mask. I would not be able to sleep properly without it.
#7 Iceland’s Northern Lights
If you want to come to Iceland to watch the Northern Lights, then you should not visit in the summertime. To be able to see the Aurora Borealis, you need clear skies, solar storms, and darkness. And because of the Midnight Sun, the last requirement is not met.
Northern Lights season ranges from mid-September until mid-April. The darker months are the most recommended (December, January, and February). You can join a tour or directly try to chase them yourself. You only need to check the aurora forecast website. It will tell you the possibilities and where the skies are clear. You are now ready to experience one of the most beautiful shows of nature here in Iceland!
#8 Weather in Iceland
Let’s talk about the weather in Iceland. It can be described mainly with one word: unstable. It can be predicted, but it continually changes. So much so that you can have four seasons in one single day. Generally speaking, Iceland is humid, rainy and windy. So checking the weather forecast is always a must when on the island.
We’ve got a couple of articles on how to dress for your trip to Iceland. Bringing the right clothes can make a difference between the perfect trip and a total disaster. And we don’t want that to happen, do we?
#9 Time on the Road and Driving Distances
As we mentioned before, you can go around the island by driving on the ring road. Everything is relatively close, and you don’t need to drive too long until you reach the next landmark.
Regardless of that, you still need to be aware of the time you need to spend each day of your itinerary. The speed limit in Iceland is lower compared to other European countries so for the same distance; it will take you longer to reach your destiny. The speed limit on the ring road is 90km/h, and some segments of the road are not paved so you’ll have to go slower. While driving on gravel roads, you must lower your speed. Always plan your trips with enough leeway allowing for unusual weather and road conditions. Flexibility is a must.
#10 The Best Way to Discover Iceland
If you are trying to find out which is the best option to explore Iceland, then stop thinking. The answer is a road trip!
There aren’t trains in Iceland and flights are not available to each small town or village. Driving provides flexibility, and you can customize your itinerary as you wish. If you rent a car, a motorhome or a camper be sure you will make the most of Iceland. There are several gas stations across the country as well as campsites, hotels, and facilities. Most tourist hotspots have a parking area where you can leave your vehicle. Tourism in Iceland is mainly set for this type of trips. Don’t hesitate, start planning your route.
10 Things to Know For Iceland 1st Timers
These are some tips and essential information for those of you who have never been to Iceland. We hope it helps when planning your trip. Iceland will not disappoint you, and I am sure you will love it so much that you will start planning a second trip as soon as you return. Most people do, and soon you will discover why.