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Adventures In Iceland

Helpful Tips For Your Trip

Iceland is the land of fire and ice which means you need to be ready for any weather, any activity, and all kinds of amazing experiences. When planning an international trip, no matter how many top ten lists or travel guides you’ve read, it can still be a daunting task preparing before you take flight. 

Last October, my fiancée Ruby and I visited Iceland for the first time with an eight-day trip to see the southern half of the country. Having grown up in the mountains and spending almost every weekend out camping, we were confident in our ability to be prepared for a weeklong adventure in Iceland with the help of guidebooks and travel blogs, but there were some things that we wish we had known before heading out to the island.

After completing our trip, we came back with some helpful tips and things to keep in mind when visiting for the first time that we didn’t see covered in those guidebooks. For one, October is the beginning of Iceland’s offseason, which presented challenges of its own that we didn’t expect. Some of the following tips are most relevant to off-season visits, but most can be applied to a trip any time of the year. 

What To Wear

We traveled to Iceland in the beginning of October which is considered to be a transitional time where the green grass of summer starts to brown, the winds become stronger, and rain or snow can show up unannounced. Because of this, it’s important to bring clothing for both the sudden cold or a nice warm day. During our trip we experienced gale-force winds and heavy rain sprinkled between a few days of beautiful sunshine. With that in mind, here are some essentials you should bring along:

Waterproof Hiking Boots

Good boots are one of those things that can make your trip much more enjoyable and allow you to reach places others can’t. Because there are waterfalls, rivers, and streams everywhere you walk in Iceland, it’s a good idea to wear waterproof boots that cover your ankles. Not only will they keep your feet dry when traversing close to waterfalls or hiking in the mud, but a good pair will also keep you comfy and supported for long days of adventuring.

Synthetic Or Wool Layers

The key to success is layering when it comes to being comfortable. A base layer, sweater or fleece, a puffy, and an outer waterproof shell will keep you warm and comfy while out adventuring. On a warmer sunny day, you will still want to keep your sweater or fleece on because the breeze can be quite chilly, but you will want to bundle up on the colder and wetter days. Being able to add and subtract layers is important when you’re constantly getting in and out of your car traveling from one destination to another with hiking mixed in. I

t’s also a great idea to get a pair of technical pants that have a water repellent quality to them so you can get up close to the waterfalls and not have to worry about sitting in soaking wet pants on the way back to town. In towns, or in the Capital of Reykjavik, you’ll want to pack at least one set of nicer clothes to go out since most restaurants are more higher-end than casual dining.

Food & Dining

Many restaurants and grocery stores close earlier than what you may be used to if coming from a larger city.  Don’t expect to roll into town at 8pm and find “open” signs everywhere. Like other tourism-driven places, restaurants and bars have much more limited hours during the off-season, when we visited. The same goes for grocery stores, so plan accordingly if you’ll be arriving somewhere later in the evening. Eating out at a restaurant is generally more expensive than comparable restaurants in the States–expect to pay roughly twice as much for a dinner out. If your accommodations have a kitchen, cooking your own meals with ingredients from a local market is a great way to save money and try more unique flavors than what you could find at your hometown grocery store.

Getting Around

Driving in Iceland is quite familiar when compared to driving in the U.S., though there are a few things to keep in mind when getting behind the wheel. All around the island, even in the remote parts, you will see speed cameras set up along the side of the road which will capture a picture and send you a ticket if you are driving over the speed limit. Additionally, throughout the towns you will find police on patrol catching speeding cars. Even a couple kilometers per hour over the speed limit and you could get a ticket. Take speeding seriously when visiting. You can also expect to drive long distances from place to place as soon as you leave the capital city of Reykjavik. Get road snacks, download some playlists, and get pumped to take in the beauty of the landscape from behind the wheel.

More Tips For Your Visit

No cash needed: pretty much anywhere you go, they will accept card rather than cash. We went the entire trip without seeing someone use a coin or dollar bill.

Most Icelanders speak English, making communication when out and about easier for English speakers. However, many written signs and information, like credit card machines, may be only in Icelandic, so you might have to just make your best guess.

Read the rental car fine print.  Almost half of the rental options are manual transmissions which could cause an issue if you don’t know how to drive manual and that’s the only car left at the rental agency. Just make sure your reservation specifies which kind of transmission to expect. Also, most of the rental cars are diesel so make sure you grab the right nozzle at the gas station before filling up or it will be quite a costly mistake. Lastly, the minimum rental age is 20 unlike in the U.S. where it is 25.

Airbnb’s are cheaper than you think in the off-season. Once October comes around, the number of tourists drops off, and the availability goes up and the price goes down. Consider renting a small cozy Airbnb cabin outside a cute town before checking the hotel options.

Go to the really popular stops at sunrise or sunset. We visited most of the popular spots like Skogafoss and Diamond Beach when the crowds were minimal and the scenery gorgeous. Many commercial tours take visitors to these popular spots during the middle of the day, so if you can plan to visit them early or late, you will have a more solitary experience. We lucked out and even showed up to a top destination only to find we were the only ones there. 

Landon Burnley is a Backcountry Honorary Gearhead who has been testing gear for Backcountry for over a year now and sharing his adventures along the way. He grew up in the foothills of the Sierras but now is based out of the PNW with his fiance and 2 dogs. Follow his adventures at @landominium.