Don’t let this photo fool you. Iceland is not all about the ice.
We only had 5 ½ days to check out Iceland compared to the 14 we spent meandering through Scotland. Keeping this in mind we wanted to plan our travel itinerary thoughtfully to get a nice taste of Iceland without feeling rushed.
Here are our travel top tips for enjoying Iceland
Hit the duty-free shop at Keflavik Airport.
If you like to enjoy a bit of wine, beer, cider, or spirits while you travel, it’s best to stock up at the duty-free shop. Alcohol, especially when purchased at a restaurant can be expensive in Iceland. Take advantage of the prices and one stop shopping available at the shop. It is not just about the alcohol. The shop offers a variety of domestic & international products as well. For example, a bar of traditional Icelandic chocolate will only set you back about 399 ISK ($3.25 at time of publishing). While you are at the airport you may want to check out a Currency Card from Arion Bank. No need to get used to a new currency during your trip to Iceland – just use the Card and pay for everything in Icelandic króna. (Click for Currency Converter)
Rent a car & be your own tour guide.
Just like many other things in Iceland renting a car can set you back a few dollars. The cost of our 6-day rental car in Iceland was roughly the same cost as our 14-day car rental in Scotland. With that said having use of our own vehicle while traveling through Iceland was a definite plus. We were free to get off the beaten path and travel at our convenience. Since there was only two of us we rented the smallest and cheapest car that was available. I found the best price for our rental on the Argus Car Hire Site.
Use Hella as your base.
After landing at Keflavik airport and picking up our rental car we took the 134km (83 mile) ride to the city of Hella. The journey took us about 1,5 hours. We chose Hella as our base because of its proximity to the Golden Circle and other sites that we wanted to explore further east. We booked our 3-night stay at the Lax-á West Rangá Lodge which is located near the bank of a river and enjoys views of the volcano Hekla.
Shop like a local.
One way to save money and experience the local culture at the same time is to shop like you’re a native Icelander. Get off the road and head into a local supermarket. In Hella we found a market called Kjarval Hella where we bought food, drinks, and other provisions. This allowed us to prepare our own snacks & meals. Store employees and customers were more than happy to help us navigate the store and to assist with some translations. We always find it interesting to shop in a neighborhood supermarket, especially one in a foreign country.
Take the trek to Jökulsárlón and Vik.
Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon, bordering Vatnajökull National Park in southeastern Iceland. It is about a 3.5 hour drive from Hella but well worth the trip. I cannot say enough about our experience at this beautiful site. If I had to rate the experience I would put it up there with my top 10 favorites of all times.
I highly recommend that you take a boat tour while you are there. Just make sure you book in advance as it gets busy during peak season. On the way, back to Hella make sure to stop at the village of Vik and visit the nearby Black Sand Beach-Reynisfjara. Pay attention to and honor the posted safety signs. Seriously, you don’t want to be swept out to sea like this guy.
Don’t just drive the Golden Circle.
Well of course you are in Iceland you should do what every other tourist is doing and drive the scenic Golden Circle. But please make sure that you check out other nearby hidden gems, like the Secret Lagoon (not so much a secret anymore) in Hvammsvegur, or give Ethiopian food a try at Minilik Restaurant. The lagoon was really cool, no actually it was really hot. Visiting the Secret Lagoon gave us our first glimpse of Iceland’s many hot springs.
Ride an Icelandic horse.
The horses in Iceland are like no other horses I have ever seen. They are short and sturdy and at the same time majestic, calm, and beautiful. You will certainly see them walking about as you drive through the country side.
We had the opportunity to go on an enchanting horse riding tour at Hestheimar which is right down the road from Hella. There is just something special about riding these peaceful horses, with the great volcano Hekla in the backdrop, that will touch your soul forever.
Stay in Reykjavik for a couple of days.
You need more than a couple of days to truly enjoy Iceland’s eclectic capital, but if you are pressed for time 2 days will suffice. We found a place on Airbnb that was self-catering and within walking distance to downtown. We chose this option over a hotel because we wanted to get that “local vibe.” Additionally, staying at hotel usually feels sanitized and touristy, something we try to avoid when traveling. You should just get out and explore Reykjavik on foot. The main area is quite compact and easy to get around.
Visit the Blue Lagoon.
That’s right, I said it. I went there, and so should you. Despite what I read about the Blue Lagoon being too touristy and cliché we took the 45-minute drive from Reykjavik to the spa. Was it crowded? Yes. Were there allot of tourists? Yes. Was it a bit pricey? Yes. Was it worth our time, money, and efforts? A resounding YES!!! Sorry to disagree with all the Blue Lagoon haters out there but we immensely enjoyed our time at the spa. And we’re not being paid to write this post, by the way! For one, the silica mud which is prevalent at the lagoon ended my 10-year battle with scalp psoriasis. Aside from the obvious health benefits, the Blue Lagoon was a memorable experience that I highly recommend to anyone visiting Iceland.
In closing I’m sure I could come up with a 10th travel tip for visiting Iceland but why be like everyone else. Just remember traveling is all about owning your experience. Get off the beaten path (tread lightly) and don’t be afraid to go against the flow.
I will never forget the view from the plane as we flew into Keflavik Airport. From above, Iceland appeared to be a land not from our planet. Its alien landscape looks more like the surface of Mars as opposed to an island sitting in the North Atlantic. I say all of this as a compliment towards the uniqueness of Iceland- a truly unforgettable travel experience.
Disclosure: This is a genuine and non-sponsored post about Iceland but may contain some affiliate links for the places where we stayed at. All opinions and travel are mine.
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