Went to Iceland for a week to shoot an intimate destination wedding for these adventurous lovebirds and some other good stuff. Adventures of our travel diary are below but I also added some things to know when traveling to Iceland per request from a few people. So here ya go!
I fit a weeks worth of stuff in a carry on and still had room. I packed 4 pairs of jeans (white, blue and black), 9 shirts (all white, grey or black - didn't wear them all) one sweater, one 'cute' blush shirt, one maxi dress, a swim suit for blue lagoon, flip flops for walking around in the hotel (i have a thing; also they will come in handy at the blue lagoon) and a pair of tan booties. I like to keep my color palette easily interchangeable so that I can pack light. I never check my bag no matter where Im going, especially if I have a connecting flight which you will for Iceland unless you're leaving from NY, Boston, or LA. I wore dark brown hiking boots (if you don't have any, you may want to get them; sneakers will not be your friend in Iceland- ground can go from rocks to mush to straight water within steps) a grey t-shirt and thin grey hoody and black sweats on the plane. I also brought a huge winter jacket because when we traveled it was 20 degrees. Also don’t forget your universal adaptor, you will need the European setting. If you plan to travel more than 5 times this year I also suggest springing for TSA Pre-check or Global Entry; its worth it. You need to do this at least a month in advance and it takes 3-4 weeks to process after your interview.
The airbnb's in Iceland are super cute of course, but because we already knew that food is very expensive, we opted for a cute hotel that served breakfast in the morning to help stretch our budget. Also, we weren't sure what food would be available to us at the grocery store, and although everyone speaks english, food packaging is mostly all in Icelandic. We felt like it would just be less stress to just have at least one meal prepared without any real thought. The hotel and the airbnbs we looked at were basically the same in price, so we felt that the included breakfast gave us more bang for our buck. We stayed at Reykjavik Lights hotel and loved it. Our wi-fi was strong, our room was warm, and we had the most amazing view. For breakfast they had eggs, bacon, sausage, croissants and other pastries, fruit, pancakes, cottage cheese (they love this), cereal, coffee, water, tea, juice, etc. We were also in walking distance of a pizza place (literally they share a wall), thai food, the cutest coffee/smoothie shop, chinese food, mexican food, and a Hilton that had a restaurant inside.
You don't have to buy bottled water in Iceland. Iceland has some of the purest water on earth. As a matter of fact, they bottle it up and sell it back to us under a brand called Icelandic. This water is literally the same as the tap water in your hotel bathroom. So once your water bottle that you bought at the airport is empty, just fill it up at any tap. Voila, Icelandic. Its very good.
Everyone speaks English
So no worries Americans, you do not have to attempt to learn Icelandic. It’s hard anyway, you would never get it, but I dare you to try.
The Keflavik International Airport is like a souped up ikea. Wooden floors, aesthetically pleasing duty-free stores, and you don’t have to go outside and get on a bus just to to get to another terminal (ahem..JFK). The airport is about 40 minutes away from Reykjavik. You cannot fly into the Reykjavik airport, its not for regular, domestic flights.
Get one. (And make sure your reservation is for KEF Airport, not Reykjavik.) You cant get around Iceland properly without a rental car. They have cabs and buses of course, but Iceland is expensive. If a hot dog costs 10 dollars, I don’t even want to know what a cab ride costs. Make sure your reservation is for an automatic car (if you cant drive stick) because in the US automatic is typically chosen for you, but when we arrived to the Iceland Hertz they had us down for a manual (wasn’t on my US reservation) and we had to wait an hour for them to find us a car. Rent a Yaris if you can. Its great on gas mileage like a Toyota Prius and you’ll need plenty of gas in Iceland because everything of interest is no less than an hour away from Reykjavik.
When you bring your rental car back to the airport, you have to bring it to a parking lot thats about a 10 minute walk to the actual airport doors. Theres a little bus stop but by the time it comes you could've already been at the airport. It will seem weird, but its right. You just enter the parking lot, leave the car in a spot, and then drop the keys off in the box (if before 5am) or with an attendant in the parking building.
In Iceland you drive on the right side of the road and your steering wheel is on the left (the same as driving in the US). Your miles are written in kilometers and the speed limit is 90 on the highway, so people drive 90-100. Although there is no crime in Iceland (see below) we were warned by a nice Icelandic woman not to leave our car running on the side of the road (you'll get out every 2 minutes to take photos) because kids may come by and jump in as they think its funny to take tourist's rental cars. So no matter how cold it is, just take the keys with you. You can however leave things in plain view, phone, wallet, whatever, no one will take it. We didn't try this, but we saw other cars with phones in plain view while they were in the store.
The Ring Road is amazing however you are not allowed to stop your car here to go take pictures. You must pull off on an access road or pull off in designated areas. There are tons of little half roundabouts that you can pull into designed specifically for stopping to take photos, so use them.
There is no crime in Iceland. Its true, look it up. The police do not even carry guns. We saw one police car in the entire 7 days we were there and it was because someone wasn't paying attention near the Blue Lagoon and hit the car in front of him, which is like so hard because there are literally 5 cars on the road at any given time. There are parking meters all over downtown Reykjavik but no parking attendants, so I don't know how that works.
The gas station is a little different, I had never seen this before. When you pull up to the pump and put in your credit card, the pump gives you different prepaid options for your gas. It’ll give you options to pay like 3,000 krono, 5,000 krono, 10,000 krono, etc. So basically whichever one you click, that’s what will be charged to your credit card whether you needed all of it to fill your gas tank or not.. So I would suggest starting with a lower amount like 3000 or 5000 krono so you don’t waste money. If it fills up, great. If it stops, then you know you need more gas, and just do it again. Hope that makes sense.
Gas stations (Olin is a popular one, they also have Quiznos in each one, random) have FREE WI-FI! If you are one of those who likes to be on airplane mode when traveling rather than paying for a sim card or international plan, this will be helpful to you if you ever need to stop. If you do plan to get a sim card, make sure to have your phone unlocked by your service provider before you travel abroad (set aside 1-2 weeks for this process, they don't do it overnight).
Food and Prices
Everything in Iceland is expensive. Like, everything. It's basically double or sometimes triple American prices for the simplest thing.
But good news, everybody takes debit/credit cards. My wife always makes us exchange money at the airport because she always thinks we’re going to run into a vendor that doesn’t take credit/debit. But everyone in Iceland takes cards so we didn't need our cash, but used it anyway, because they give you ALOT of coins for change.
I would suggest deciding on a budget and then sticking to it. My food and activities budget for Iceland was $870 for a 7-day trip (including the rental car which was about $300).
Some places you can eat to help keep your budget in line are:
Noodle Station- They have an easy menu (noodles + beef (delish), chicken or veggies), and your food comes out almost immediately. Really good size noodle bowls for your money.
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur- a really popular hot dog stand so be prepared to wait in line at least 10 minutes
Reykjavik Fish- best fish and chips I’ve ever had! Fish is caught that morning. Also the restaurant is super cute inside
The “Icelandic Stare”
People are very nice in Iceland but there’s just one little thing. Iceland is 99.999999999 percent Icelandic people, read white. If you are Asian, you’re good, they seem to be pretty used to you. If you are Middle Eastern, again you’re good, head wraps and all. If you are black however…be prepared for adults (not so much children) to stare at you like they’ve just seen the loch ness monster. Give them about 5-10 seconds and their shock should wear off by then. If it begins to bother you, you can do what my wife and I started doing: just stare back at them, wave, or sometimes shout “heyyyyy!”. Black people don’t seem to visit Iceland much, so I think they are always just a little shell shocked to see us in real life. The wonderment in their eyes is like a child on christmas. Loved it.
Icelandic people (used to? still do?) believe in elves that live in caves. Theres even a town named after them. Hey! Maybe they think brown people are the elves? Idk…
Also, Icelanders aren’t accustomed to saying “excuse me” when they need to get by you or smiling ever. Everyone just kind of bumps each other like bumper cars. They aren’t being rude, it just is what it is, kind of like New Yorkers. Took a few days and several shoulder bumps to finally get the hang of that. American southerners beware and don't get your feelings hurt.
Its fun, do it. Its about 45 minutes away from Reykjavik. You have to get your tickets online in advance (try at least 2 weeks) as slots sell out really fast. Once you are there, you can stay however long you’d like. They have food to buy, a lounge, a steam room, etc. All general tickets come with a complimentary face mask also. There’s lockers for your stuff (they give you a waterproof wristband to lock it) and everyone must take a shower (with body wash that’s provided) before they enter the lagoon. People walk around the locker rooms naked, because Europe, so Americans try not to clutch your pearls, just keep it moving, nothing to see here.
How to lock a blue lagoon locker (since they don't explain and you don't want to have to ask the naked stranger next to you): empty lockers are already unlocked and open. Once you put your stuff inside, close the locker. An electronic timer near it will start to beep, telling you you have so many seconds to scan your wristband. Scan your wristband immediately before it stops beeping. Your stuff is now locked in and you will have to scan your wristband to pop the locker open. Remember your aisle and locker when you leave as your wristband does not have this info on it. Also, if you're visiting during cold weather, they have blow dryers available for you to use before you leave so you dont catch the freakin flu. When you leave, you do not have to wait in line if you didn't make any purchases with your wristband while you were inside. Just walk to the turnstile exit, scan your wristband, a little tray will open up and once you drop your wristband in, the turnstile will open and let you leave. Then of course you exit through the giftshop. Banksy.
Black people and curly girls: don't get your hair wet. ever.
Everyone else: if you want to get your hair wet, wash your hair first with the conditioner they provide in the shower. If you don't, apparently your hair will get really stiff and hard to manage for a while due to the stuff in the water.
The Ring Road
The Ring Road is the scenic highway that goes the entire perimeter of the island. Unless you are renting a van or RV and have time to kill I wouldn't attempt to see the whole thing. In total, it would take you about 24 hours to get back to your starting point. We ventured out in one direction our first day there and saw some cool stuff. The next day we drove to the Skogafoss Waterfall (one of the more popular ones), which is about 2 hours on the ring road. Pack snacks whenever you head out to the Ring Road because you will be hungry and there arent a lot of places to stop for food or gas or bathroom.
Rumors we heard but didn’t encounter
We were told that it’s hard to pack for Iceland because the weather can change by the minute. We went in April and the weather was cloudy and 20 degrees or sunny and 20 degrees so I don’t know about that. The forecast also said it was going to rain all week and didn’t.
We also heard that you have to be careful that your car door doesn’t blow off in the strong wind. When we drove about 2.5 hours away from the city, the wind did pick up but didn’t feel strong enough to take our car doors off so you can be cautious but I didn’t experience winds this strong. Gusts of wind did hit the car hard enough that you had to work extra hard to keep the car on your side of the highway. Stress city. Icelanders drive pretty fast as the roads are so empty but I would suggest not to try to keep up with them especially if you’re in a rental car you don’t own. Just get it back in one piece.
Check out some of our time in Iceland below and also the wedding I shot should be up soon, so come back to see all that magic.