Welcome to Iceland Travel FAQ!
Here they are: all of the most popular questions I’ve been asked about traveling to Iceland ~ all answered in one place! Forget going to ten different sites to get your questions answered (like I did)…all of your Iceland questions are answered here! Questions are broken up into general categories, to make sifting through them a little easier. Either read the whole thing ~ or just skip to the section that you’re interested in.
Let’s Get Started!
Safety & Solo Travel
Q: Is Iceland safe?
A: Yes. It is, in fact, the #1 safest country in the world, according to the Global Peace Index (GPI). Check out the link here. Fifteen people are in jail in the entire country ~ that’s how safe it is here. Women leave their babies on the street while they grab coffee. Personally, I felt entirely safe in Iceland, traipsing about the countryside both solo & with friends.
Q: Is Iceland a good place to travel solo?
A: Yes and no. In terms of personal safety & a lack of crime, Iceland is entirely safe, & for that reason, a great place to travel solo. However, it’s also extremely expensive. Like, VERY expensive. So, unless you have unlimited funds, it’s a very expensive place to travel solo. The cheapest accommodations I found were in Akureyri at the Backpackers Hostel ~ rooms were $22/night, & they were phenomenal. However, hostels in Reykjavik average around $40/night & up ~ quite expensive for a hostel. Also, though Iceland is safe in terms of crime, the weather (& the WIND) is entirely unpredictable & potentially dangerous. So, would I want to be driving the entire Ring Road and/or doing some crazy hike by myself in Iceland? Absolutely not.
Weather & Packing Guidelines
Q: Like, HOW windy is it in Iceland?
A: Like, deafeningly, crazily, eerily, howling-ly, maddeningly, wondrously ~ WINDY!!!! It’s CRAZY. I’ve never seen (or felt) anything like it in my life. Without my thick jacket & wool scarf, I would have been chilled to the core. But the best answer to this question comes from the guy at the rental car place. Some young kids in front of us had rented a flimsy little Suzuki jeep. He pulled his glasses down, looked at them & said, “When ye open the car doors ~ hold on to them, lads, otherwise they might fly off!” My friend & I snickered, meanwhile, the looks of confusion mixed with terror on the young lads’ faces had us laughing for hours. Point is: the wind is so strong in Iceland, it has ripped doors off cars, & blown cars off roads. I promise. Look it up on YouTube here.
Q: Would you ever camp in Iceland?
A: HELL NO. We rented a tent & sleeping bags, fully intending to camp throughout the Icelandic countryside. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Here are the two main problems: 1) The fucking wind! Try setting up a tent in 75-mph winds ~ & see how you like it. Just try it. I dare you. Then try sleeping with this howling wind practically blowing your tent away all night long! And problem, 2) In October, it got dark around 6PM. Inevitably, we were eating dinner, still driving or sight-seeing, or in a hot spring at 6PM ~ meaning we would have needed to set up our tent in the DARK, with major WIND. Not happening! Certainly, people do camp in Iceland, & it’s probably easier to camp in the summer ~ but they’re a heartier, more prepared sort-of-people than we are soooo….make your own judgments there. Another popular option would be to rent a camper van in Iceland, which many people do when they’re driving the Ring Road. Many campgrounds are closed in the winter though, & that small space can start to feel pretty confining ~ but, it’s an adventure! Camper vans will run you about $120/night.
Q: Is it always raining in Iceland? When can I get the best pictures?
A: During a one-month trip in October 2016, it rained or snowed nearly every day, at least a little. Typically, it began in early morning & lasted until about 2PM. Meaning, the mornings were almost always overcast or raining ~ hence, not great for picture-taking. I found the afternoons and evenings (into the sunset hour) much better for picture-taking, because the weather usually cleared by then. I don’t know if I got lucky, but my sunsets across-the-board in Iceland were phenomenal. Like, pinch yourself, ridiculously phenomenal. They definitely made up for the bad weather in the mornings.
Q: Does it really rain sideways?
A: Yes. Absolutely. Think about it: it’s almost always windy in Iceland, therefore, it MUST rain sideways! It has to. For this reason, I would never bring an umbrella to Iceland ~ it will get mangled & probably take your eye out in the process!
Q: How should I pack for Iceland?
A: Two words: LAYER UP!! I’ve actually written an entire post on this very topic ~ click here for an “Iceland Packing List.” Bottom line: it’s pretty chilly year-round in Iceland, so the packing list will apply whether you are visiting in summer or winter, with some minor adjustments. And always bring a bathing suit ~ there are natural hot springs all over the country that you will definitely want to take advantage of.
Blue Lagoon Questions
Q: Is the Blue Lagoon worth it (worth the money)?
A: In my opinion, yes. Unless you’re on a super tight budget, I would definitely recommend a visit to the Blue Lagoon. Why? Because there is no place in the world like it, & because it’s more picturesque than other nature baths in the country, in my opinion. The pictures you get here are unreal. Also, the sheer SIZE of it is something to behold.
Q: How far is the Blue Lagoon from the International Airport? How far is it from Reykjavik?
A: The Blue Lagoon is about 20-25 minutes from the International Airport in Keflavik. There are many buses & tourist buses that make this route, & I would recommend taking them versus taking a taxi ~ taxis in Iceland are ridiculously expensive! Most international flights arrive early in the morning, and there are plenty of shuttles operating at this time. The Blue Lagoon is about 45-60 minutes from Reykjavik, depending on traffic & weather conditions. Because of its proximity to the airport, it’s best to visit the Blue Lagoon either the day you arrive or the day you leave Iceland.
Q: What does the Blue Lagoon cost compared to other nature baths?
A: The minimum price for the Blue Lagoon was about $55 US dollars ~ $90 if you want a robe, towel, and other amenities. Other nature baths around the country will range from $5-8 (for a public pool-type facility), to $15-25 for a more scenic bath like the Secret Lagoon near the Golden Circle. Myvatn Nature Baths, another popular option in the north part of the country, is $20-25+, depending which package you choose (prices current as of October 2016). So the Blue Lagoon is considerably more expensive, and definitely more touristy ~ but in terms of beauty, in my opinion, it’s worth it.
Q: Does the Blue Lagoon wreck your hair?
A: Ummmm the short answer is yes, it absolutely does. It will feel like horse hair if you leave it in there long enough. It’s pretty gross. Some of my hair actually broke off, near the bottom, sooo…that was strange. But! I finally figured out how to remedy the problem ~ and I wrote a post all about it, because with the wrong shampoo & conditioner, my hair felt like horse hair for weeks. Read here for “How to Fix Blue Lagoon Hair,” so that you don’t look & feel like a “Creature from the Blue Lagoon.”
Accommodations & Wi-Fi
Q: What are typical hotel prices like in Iceland?
A: Let’s start with hotels: it’s hard to find a hotel room for less than $100/night in Iceland, particularly in Reykjavik. To get under $100, you’re going to need to find a hostel, B&B, Airbnb, or try Couchsurfing ~ all of these will be your best bet to get under $100/night for accommodations in Iceland. In Reykjavik, standard hotel prices range between $100-300+. Rooms tend to be small, too. Standards here are not quite what you’ll be used to if you’re coming from the States.
Q: What were your favorite places to stay in Iceland? How much did they cost?
A: In Reykjavik, I loved both the Radisson Blu Saga as well as the Hilton. Both rooms were booked for free with points (thank God) ~ but would have been in the $150-200+ range. Highlights at the Radisson include their amazing breakfast buffet, while the Hilton Reykjavik offers free massages in their spa’s hot tub. Heaven! In Keflavik near the International Airport, I stayed at & LOVED the Nupan Deluxe Guesthouse. I returned here no less than four times ; ) It’s super charming, family-owned, an easy walk to downtown Keflavik, & offers single rooms for $45-50+, double rooms for $80-90+. In Grindavik, near the Blue Lagoon, we stayed at the charming Lagafell Guesthouse. Rooms are white & serene, it’s about a 10-minute drive to the Blue Lagoon, & we saw the Northern Lights here! Rooms cost about $45-50 for a single, or $90 for a triple (with a shared bathroom). Up in the Northern part of the country, I stayed five nights at the Akureyri Backpackers Hostel, for $22/night. A better deal than this simply CANNOT be found in Iceland! The hostel is located right in the heart of downtown, has an adorable restaurant & bar downstairs that’s perfect for socializing or working on your laptop. Showers are downstairs & HOT, & they have plenty of recommendations for local sight-seeing. All ages were staying here (not just kids in their 20’s). Highly recommended.
Q: Where is all the action happening in Reykjavik? What is the main street in Reykjavik?
A: Laugevur Street. It is filled with tons of bars, restaurants, & shops.
Q: How is the Wi-Fi in Iceland?
A: Excellent. For being a rock in the middle of the ocean, all by their lonesome, they have some pretty fantastic Wi-Fi. For example, I was climbing a small mountain in the southern region of the Keflavik Peninsula, with no town even remotely close. I thought my phone was in “Airplane Mode,” so I was shocked when my phone buzzed in a new text message. With my T-Mobile International Plan, I got service in Iceland with or without Wi-Fi ~ meaning I could pull up Google Maps & navigate myself easily around the country. My friends, however, with regular Verizon service, could not text or pull up their maps unless they were on Wi-Fi.
Q: What kind of electrical outlet do they use?
Q: What are the showers like in Iceland?
A: Hot, with good water pressure. Iceland is basically heated (for free) by geothermal energy, so hot water is plentiful all over the country. You may even find that the ground in some hotels is actually heated by this geothermal energy, which comes as a pleasant surprise when coming in from the cold.
Renting a Car in Iceland
Q: How much does it cost to rent a car in Iceland?
A: I rented a small, economy-sized car through Orange Car Rentals in Keflavik, which cost just over $50/day. In Akureyri, when traveling solo, I rented an economy-sized car on short notice through Avis, & this cost me $100 (though they double-charged me, & it took months to finally resolve the issue via Capital One’s disputes department). Then, with my friends, we needed a larger car, & thus rented a Land Rover Discovery, which ran us about $100/day (& we slept in it a total of two nights ; ). So the short answer is: renting a car in Iceland will cost you between $50-100+ per day, depending on the size of the vehicle & any extras you purchase. Camper vans will start at about $120/day, & go up from there.
Q: What’s it like to drive in Iceland?
A: For the most part, pretty easy. You drive on the right side of the road, just like the States, only there’s a heck of a lot less people on the road! You’ll probably see more horses than you do people. Your main problem with driving in Iceland is going to be issues with the weather and bad visibility: whether it’s from wind, snow, sleet, or sideways rain. If you’re uncomfortable driving in wintry conditions, then you may want to think twice about driving a car in Iceland ~ especially if you are traveling by yourself.
Money & Prices in Iceland
Q: How much cash do I need in Iceland?
A: To be honest, I didn’t take cash out once. Not once. I used my credit card everywhere ~ from gas stations, to hot dog stands, to hotels, to grocery stores, to tour guides, to car rentals….everywhere. Because it’s so expensive, I wanted to earn miles on all my purchases, soooo….I literally didn’t take cash out at all. If you do decide to take some out, I would keep it pretty minimal.
Q: What is the Icelandic currency?
A: The Icelandic Krona. The current exchange rate is approximately 113 Krona to 1 US dollar. For instance, $20 US dollars = 2,200 Krona. My personal trick? Move the decimal place over 2X, to get an approximate price. 2,200 Krona turns into roughly $22 US dollars (a close-enough approximation). Click here for a currency converter, from dollars to Krona. Because the prices are so high in Iceland, you want to be prepared before your trip, so that you don’t get absolutely ripped off when you first land, & are unsure what the heck you’re paying! The decimal trick should save you some grief & some money.
Q: What are typical food prices like in Iceland?
A: Expensive. Really darn expensive ~ particularly if you want to eat healthy (virtually nothing can be grown in Iceland ~ the soil is virtually all volcanic sediment). A salad will run you about $25, entrees with protein like fish or chicken will run you $35+, a cheap bottle of wine is about $50 (alcohol is SUPER expensive here) ~ & even soup will set you back about $10-15. The cheapest food you can find in Iceland is a hot dog, which is about $5-7. We typically ate only two meals out per day, & bought food from the grocery store to snack on in between meals. Eating out three meals per day in Iceland will quickly turn your trip into a very pricey one.
Q: How can I save money on food in Iceland?
A: You’ve got some options here. First, you can bring about 6 pounds of food into the country. So go ahead & pack some nuts or Kind Bars, crackers, anything that will pack & keep well in your bag. Then, if you’ve got a car, stop off at a Bonus Market in Iceland ~ you can find them in Keflavik, in & around Reykjavik, and then dotted around the countryside. I bought apples, nuts, and some other good snacks to keep with me in the car ~ prices were comparable to a grocery store in the U.S. A couple other options I really loved in Keflavik & Reykjavik: Lemon & Joe and the Juice. I particularly LOVE Joe and the Juice: they’re hip, play great music, the food & green juices are TASTY. Plus, prices are reasonable for Iceland ~ meaning it’s like $10-12 for a smoothie or sandwich! Ha! But at least it’s filling, healthy food.
Q: Do you tip in Iceland?
A: No. They include it in the price, which is also why the prices are so high.
About the Northern Lights
Q: Where did you see the Northern Lights in Iceland?
A: We saw them in Grindavik, a town close about ten minutes south of the Blue Lagoon. It was 8:30PM at night, & some guys in our B&B told us they’d spotted them, so we grabbed our boots & ran out the door to catch them. We also saw a more aurora-type formation, like a huge, hovering green arc in the sky, rising over the mountains near our hotel in Selfoss. Again, the time was about 8:30PM. We stayed up to watch them, hoping they would turn into the Northern Lights ~ but that night, they did not. Technically though, you can see the lights from just about anywhere in the country. I know people who’ve seen them in Keflavik, at the lighthouse by Gardir (a popular spot for Northern Lights tours), near Kirkjufell Mountain on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, up north near Akureyri, at the Blue Lagoon, & pretty much just about anywhere in the country. I even know people who’ve seen them right in Reykjavik, when they were especially strong. It all depends on the weather & visibility in the given area.
Q: How do you “find” the Northern Lights?
A: Check the Aurora Borealis forecast for Iceland. Seriously! They “forecast” the Northern Lights, based on weather patterns, & rate your chances of seeing them every day. If the number is “5” or above, you have a good chance of seeing the lights that night. Which means, grab your warmest jacket & bring along some hot cider, & prepare to camp out! It gets very chilly waiting to see the lights outside, so bundle up ~ you may even want to bring a sleeping bag. Another, easier way of “finding” the Northern Lights is to request a “Northern Lights Wake-up Call” from your hotel. Most hotels I stayed at offered this service ~ they will literally call you & let you know when someone spots the lights that night, then you can run outside your hotel & check them out! This option is a heck of a lot easier than Option #1 : ) Also, as an FYI, the Northern Lights tend to be active for 1-2 nights, then inactive for 3-5 nights. So, if people reported seeing them on a Monday night ~ there’s a very good chance that you’ll be able the Lights again on Tuesday night.
Q: Is a “Northern Lights Tour” worth it?
A: Ehhhhh….I heard mixed reviews on this. The problem is: tour guides can’t control the Northern Lights. I know many people who paid for tours, waited for hours, and never saw them. Then, what do you do? You’re out $100, & no closer to seeing the lights. If you have a car, I’d suggest just going it on your own. Talk to the locals where you’re at & ask where they’ve seen them ~ or where the best place to see them is. Go from there & make your own decision.
Q: What are the Northern Lights like?
A: The best way I can describe them is, it looks like the sky is alive and dancing. The lights we saw were greenish, and to me, they looked like two dragon’s heads coming together & then shape-shifting. They were wayyyyy high up in the sky, so even a camera on a tripod most likely wouldn’t have captured them. I was with two other friends at the time, & we’d driven our Land Rover out on an unlit dirt road just outside of Grindavik, & parked near a deserted, dark lighthouse. The whole experience was incredible, and with our heads craned up towards the night sky, we were in awe.
Q: Will my IPhone capture the Northern Lights?
A: Unless they are SUPER bright ~ no. I tried to take pictures with my Iphone ~ but they just came out like blurry green flashes. My Go Pro on manual mode with a slow shutter speed was a better bet for getting a good shot of the Northern Lights. I actually wrote an entire post on this ~ check it out here. Bottom line is, you’ll need a tripod & an actual camera if you want a fantastic shot of the lights. Keep in mind though, that many of the jaw-dropping Northern Lights pictures you’ve seen on Instagram are heavily, heavily edited. The lights, in real life, are stunning ~ but many photographers have doctored the images, & played with the colors to make them as dramatic as possible. Just something to keep in mind, with regard to managing your expectations on getting an amazing shot ~ especially if you don’t have pro gear.
Highlights & Conclusions
Q: What were the highlights of your trip to Iceland?
A: Seeing the Northern Lights; visiting the Blue Lagoon; all the magical sunsets; snuggling with wild horses; the spectacular lighthouses; Jokulsarlon Glacier (if you ask Icelandic people, this is often their #1 highlight in a country full of them); Godafoss Waterfall, in Northern Iceland, my absolute, favorite waterfall of all ~ the light there was spectacular & it wasn’t overly touristy; drinking on Laugevur Street, where my friend got dipped by a well-meaning gent ~ but instead, he dropped her on the floor….in front of the entire bar & band. Priceless.
Q: Would you recommend Iceland to other travelers?
A: Absolutely! 100%. It’s a truly spectacular country, perfect for people who love adventure & nature. If you’re more of a city person though, and nature bores you ~ it wouldn’t be my first choice for you. You’d be better off exploring one of the European capitals, where you can get a good fix of city life, night life, architecture, etc. However, if you are a true adventurer/explorer & love the feeling that you are discovering something new ~ then Iceland is meant for you.