This post is for anyone out there thinking about going to Iceland. This isn’t a post about what to do and see, but for those of you who already know what this beautiful country offers and want to know important tips and advice on travelling there. I also hope that this post doesn’t come across as overly negative, as that’s not my intention at all. I just want to cut through the tourist websites and Instagram perfection, to try and reveal some realities to help anyone planning a trip to Iceland, decide if it really is for them, and plan their trip effectively.
1 – It will be VERY expensive
People say Iceland is expensive, but think about what your budget is, and double it. EVERYTHING is very expensive and out of anywhere I’ve been, Iceland (the central most popular areas anyway, e.g. Reykjavik and surrounding area) is probably the one where it’s hardest to travel on a budget.
We went because we were bought flights and accommodation as a Christmas present, and we easily spent over double the cost of this on activities. Activities and sightseeing are likely where you’ll spend most of your money. We only spent three nights there, but had near enough four full days to see all we could, and we crammed in the Golden Circle, South Coast, Blue Lagoon and seeing Reykjavik in this time. Unless you’ve rented a car (we didn’t so it’s possible but unlikely, this will be cheaper), you’ll likely need to use one of the tour companies to see the sights whilst you’re there, so need to factor in the cost.
As an example of cost, the Blue Lagoon, booking the basic package without transfer to and from there (which will likely cost a fair amount), is currently at the time of writng, 6100 ISK, so just over $60 per person, just for entry. Most of the money you spend on the tours will be on transport. For example the northern lights tour we took was essentially being driven out into the national park in a bus in the night, with tablets with some information, and cost approx 5800 ISK per person, so again around $60.
We tried to eat pretty cheaply even bringing our own snacks, and shopping at supermarkets for lunches etc. Still the cost amounted up after buying the occasional coffee etc. Restaurants around the city are very expensive, as are the lunch stops at the main tourist attractions.
So in summary be prepared to spend ALOT of money if you want to go to Iceland and experience lots of what it has to offer. We took the approach of whilst we’re there, see and do as much as possible, but you can get a sense of prices from the examples above.
2 – You need to book things in advance
This is something we luckily knew from doing our research. You need to book things in advance! Especially in the busy season which is the summer. We went in the winter time, January, which is ‘supposed’ to be the low season and still some time slots for blue lagoon were unavailable.
This is the key one, you NEED to book the Blue Lagoon ahead of time in advance. It’s become so popular that if it’s busy and you just turn up, you’ll either have to wait hours or won’t be able to go. To be safe definitely book a couple of weeks before you go if you can. As it’s close to the airport, it will save time (and potentially money) to go there on your way or way back to the airport from Reykjavik, and you can book transport with your ticket, which is what we did.
As we went in January and I booked a week before we went, I didn’t experience any problems with things being fully booked. However, I was extremely surprised to learn that although there were lots of coaches and people, we were there in the quiet season! So if you’re going in the summer, be safe and book in advance.
3 – There will be lots of people and other tourists
Following on from the above, we went to Iceland in January, which is a quieter time to go than in the summer. Yet there were still a lot of people there!
The Golden Circle was the busiest out of the tours we took. This includes the National Park, Geysir, and Gulfoss (the grand set of waterfalls this picture was taken near). At each location you’ll be dropped off at car parks with lots of coaches with other tourists and people. Each destination also has shops and toilets which you’ll have to pay for (luckily though you should have a toilet on your coach if you’re on a tour) but as probably expected they aren’t that cheap.
Iceland has become extremely popular in recent years, which is understandable as to absolutely stunning. But this means that you should expect lots of other people to be there, and if you don’t like places where you’ll have lots of tourists taking selfies and the like, you might want to consider venturing outside of the more popular locations around Reykjavik and the Golden Circle.
4 – You need to bring clothes for all weather
Hopefully without stating the obvious, weather in Iceland is extremely unpredictable and can change numerous times each day. So you want to make sure you’re fully prepared for all weather.
When we went in January, it was cold (as expected), but we experienced snow, rain and bright sunshine all with the same day. So bring warm clothes and waterproofs to keep you dry, and if you’re going in the winter, decent walking shoes or waterproof shoes are a must! It can get pretty slippery.
5 – The Northern Lights are NOT guaranteed
Sadly for us, and the other people on the three coaches that took us out to try and catch them, the Northern Lights are not guaranteed, even if the sky is clear, evident by my lovely picture of ‘the night’ above… We went out with mixed weather but had a period of very clear sky to see them and they didn’t show. To give you an example, my friend who went to Iceland saw them coming out of the airport on arrival, and took for granted that meant they’d be there every night, and he didn’t see them again.
You’ll often need to book in advance if you go to see the Northern Lights with a tour (on a bus), and by no means does that mean if you’ve paid you get a refund if you don’t see them. The way it worked for us is that if you don’t see them but the tour leaves and you go, you can go again for free until you see them. However, this a) means going out again between 8pm-1am to hope you catch them with no guarantee again, and b) if the coach goes and you don’t see them you don’t get a refund. They decide based on weather conditions if the coaches will leave, and only if the coaches don’t leave on your booked night will you get a refund.
So sorry if this post has seemed a little negative!! Even after all of the above, we had an incredible time in Iceland and absolutely loved it. I just wanted to write this post to help better prepare people for the realities of taking a short break Iceland so hopefully there won’t be too many surprises! Mostly, it costs alot of money, so is best to do when you have some savings and can see everything you want to.
If you want to learn more about our time there, you can check out these videos I took on my YouTube channel here.
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