What you need to know before heading to Iceland

Iceland is the new black

To say I am a big fan of Iceland is a bit of an understatement. You have probably noticed this if you’re following me on Instagram as it’s full of post from my recent trip. I’m not the only one with this fascination, as many others are now flocking to this tiny island nation in troves. While it seems that it’s become “the” destination to see, there are a few things you need to know before heading to Iceland.

before heading to iceland

What to know before heading to Iceland

Iceland is not like many other popular tourist destinations. Despite all the information available online, many visitors are still shocked when they arrive.  To avoid these pesky surprises, it’s important to learn more about the destination, before you head there.

Weather

Although Iceland enjoys a cool and temperate weather, it changes quite often and can be very unpredictable. It can go from sunny to rainy on a drop of a hat. One minute it’s clear and sunny, the next is a blizzard.  It can be raining heavily, followed by sunny skies. This also varies depending on where you are. The higher up you go, the windier and colder it becomes. It can be quite dangerous if you’re not used to this type of weather.

Depending on the time of year you go to Iceland, the daylight might be quite short or very long. That can impair visibility and road conditions in addition to the changing weather.

before heading to iceland kasiawrites

Clothing

Due to the changes in the weather, it’s important to dress appropriately. Living in a country where the weather can be quite similar to Iceland’s, I felt very prepared for this trip, however, I saw many who were not. Layers are definitely a must as is water proof clothing. You might also invest in proper footwear as running shoes or heels won’t get you far.

I actually saw people wearing jeans while trekking outside and freezing their assess off. Jeans can become quite uncomfortable when they get wet and stay that way for a long time, which makes them quite unpleasant when the temperatures drop.

Gloves, hats and scarves will also ensure you stay warm. There is nothing worse than frozen fingers when you trying to take a pic.

Getting there

Flying to Iceland has now become a lot more accessible with various airlines offering frequent and direct flights. One of the most popular options is Icelandair’s Iceland Stopover where travelers can stop here on route to another destination for up to seven days with no additional airfare charge.  If you’re looking for a small taste of Iceland, this could be a good option for you.

Once you’ve arrived, there are a number of ways to get around, from buses to car rentals to shuttle transfers. Knowing what you want to do beforehand will make it easier to decide on transportation.

What to see

Iceland is often referred to as the land of fire and ice, and for a good reason.  For me, it is also one of the most unusual places I’ve ever been to and one of the most breathtaking.

“With almost 80% of the country uninhabited, much of Iceland’s terrain consists of plateaus, mountain peaks, and fertile lowlands. There are many long, deep fjords and glaciers, including Europe’s largest, Vatnajökull. The landscape is characterized by waterfalls, geysers, volcanoes, black sand beaches, and otherworldly steaming lava fields.” ~ Inspired by Iceland 

In addition to stunning landscapes, Iceland has some incredible restaurants, music and shopping. No matter when you visit, there is plenty to do for everyone. The friendly locals are happy to chat with visitors about their homeland and are very helpful and informative. They are also interesting story tellers with many amusing tales.

Self drive vs guided tours

Once you’re here, there are many tour companies that offer a variety of tours, from nature and adventure, to health, wellness and even the quirky. Most tour companies will pick you up from a designated bus stop (there aren’t that many of them in Reykjavik) and drop you off at the same spot. All you have to do is make sure you get there on time. Bus drivers have a list of people they are supposed to pick up which makes it easy to get on the right bus.

The first time I went to Iceland, Alex and I decided to rent a car and drive around the whole island. This is always a good option, but it’s important to choose the right type of vehicle to drive around.  While the main roads are paved and save to drive on, weather conditions might unnerve those not used to driving in snow.  Most roads off the main road are pretty wild and having a suitable car, like a 4X4, will keep you safe and you’ll be less likely to get stuck or drive off into a ditch.

Expectations vs reality

Yes, Iceland is spectacular. You know what I’m talking about. The images that seem unreal and inviting. Whimsical and stunning. What you don’t see, however, is the work that goes behind them. The effortless capture of that moment in time actually involved a whole crew of people to make it happen. Other times, you’re not seeing the massive crowds of people who have been edited out.

Don’t expect everything you see to be the same as it is in promotional brochures and videos. And don’t risk your life to try to capture the same shot!

Northern Lights

I think most people have seen this natural phenomenon in a picture or a video. It is probably one of the top 10 bucket list items out there! What most don’t realize is what you see in real life isn’t the same as what you see in promos. The simple fact is that a camera lens sees the Aurora at a different spectrum than a human eye. While they might be a bit milky to you, your camera will pickup the hues and vibrancy behind the haze. Your phone or tablet, not so much.

“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson And lights!

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The Northern Lights (aka the Aurora Borealis), is still a spectacular thing to see. Don’t be disappointed, however, if your shots are not the same as those done by the professionals. Before heading to Iceland just for this, it’s a good idea to look up tips on best ways to capture them.

Nature

Nature is what makes Iceland spectacular. It is also unpredictable. You might go on that whale watching tour and see no whales. You can go on a tour to see the Northern Lights and don’t see any. As frustrating as that is, it’s also something that is a reality. One of the tour operators told me that someone demanded a refund of his tour because it rained. It rains in Iceland pretty often. To refund a tour based on rain would mean that most tours wouldn’t happen.

Again, read more about what to expect before heading to Iceland to avoid disappointment.

Be a responsible tourist

Iceland is one of the countries that has become overrun with tourists. The number of people visiting the country in recent years has grown exponentially.  While the country is profiting from the influx of tourist dollars, there is not enough infrastructure to support it. Iceland is taking great steps to ensure visitors are informed and respectful of the environment. You can even take the Icalandic pledge to enjoy Iceland as Icelanders do! I did 🙂

before heading to icaland

Have you ever been to Iceland? Do you want to? Let me know.


You might also enjoy: The realities of overtourism – are we part of the problem or the solution?I’m going to Iceland (again) and Iceland: land of fairies, waterfalls & volcanoes  


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