I pride myself on being pretty organised with my trips but I must admit; Iceland was, strangely, one of my most shambolic and well-planned attempt at travelling EVER. Simultaneously. I know, it doesn’t make sense. I learned so much, but I also caught some major L’s. I’ve put together 9 “need-to-knows” about Iceland, in the hopes that your expectations will be managed and your plans will not go to pot like a few of mine did.
1. What’s that smell?
Rotten eggs. Well, it’s sulphur, and Iceland is shrouded in the naturally occurring fragrance thanks to the geology of the area (i.e. because of the volcanoes and geysers and stuff). Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever read any posts or watched any vlogs where anyone describes this. You think Iceland, and you think cute Blue Lagoon pictures and the Northern Lights. Well, the smell hits you as soon as you exit the airport, but you will quickly get over it. You’ll be reminded when it pops up again, though… carried by some Atlantic rush of wind direct to your nostrils, or even when you turn on the hot water for your shower. Don’t let it put you off from going – now that I’ve told you, you won’t be shocked. You’re welcome.
2. Króna, króna bills y’all
The national currency is the Icelandic króna (ISK), not the Euro. If you want to, change a small amount of money in advance i.e. don’t try to get Krona the day you fly, because you will only be told it has to be ordered in. Yes, I’m guilty of this ridiculous schoolgirl error. In any case, you can use your card for any purchases. I found we didn’t have many things to buy other than an obligatory fridge magnet and petrol since we rented a car for the trip. Many places accept foreign currency (the type that folds, not the type that jingles), but they return the change to you in króna.
3. Book the Blue Lagoon in advance
Those major L’s I was talking about? Well, as I unfortunately found out, you cannot just turn up to the Blue Lagoon and expect to get inside. You will be hating from outside the club, in the cold. It is an absolute must to pre-book your visit, as it isn’t unusual for the experience to be sold out 3-4 weeks in advance. Ideally the day you arrive or the day you leave is a good time to visit, since the Blue Lagoon is near the airport in Keflavik. If you’re using a sat nav, two Blue Lagoon’s may come up – do not choose the one in Reykjavik, because you will end up at a random gym 40 minutes away from your intended destination. Yes, this happened too. Another L, enough to spell my name with on the topic of Blue Lagoon alone!
It’s probably a good idea to double check that the Blue Lagoon has availability during your trip dates before you book your flights. If you happen to miss out on the Blue Lagoon, the Secret Lagoon is a great alternative – not only is it a more authentic Icelandic experience, it is also cheaper. More authentic means doing hot springs the Icelandic way – you’ll need to take a naked shower before dipping into the Secret Lagoon. No, not with your swimsuit on: cheeks out, naked. Not for the sheepish, but again, like the sulphur smell – you get over it very quickly!
4. BYOF (Bring Your Own Food)
Eating out (in fact, existing full stop) in Iceland is fairly expensive. My eyelash technician told me she and her boyfriend spent £42 on KFC in Iceland between the two of them. If that’s not extortion please, then what is it? On our trip, we bought and packed noodles, cuppa soup, sweets crisps and cakes. Not the healthiest, I admit. But guess who was able to return home and book two more flights for this year because I didn’t financially die in Iceland? That’s right, me!
5. Dress the part
The weather during our trip was fairly mild, but with strong, cold winds. The fact that we were only a stone’s throw away from the Arctic Circle meant layering was key. One big fluffy jumper is not the way to stay warm. Start with a vest, a light shirt, then a jumper and a decent coat, thermals for your legs and whatever you like on top – you’ll be nice and toasty. Gloves and a hat are also a must for the winter! When it rains in Iceland, there is no such thing as trying to hold up an umbrella – do you think the Icelandic winds will respect your rain prevention-contraption? Ha!
I also made sure my baby sister and I had some solid walking boots. I bought us some waterproof Berghaus hiking boots and these were honestly a star buy – SO necessary. We went on hikes through glacier-carved valleys, through rivers and up rocks on a proper geography field trip vibe. All the while, our feet were warm, dry and secure. Trainers will definitely not be sufficient in Iceland, so leave them at home.
6. Travel heavy
Add one bag of checked luggage, and you could probably get away with sharing this between at least three people which is what we did. You need layers, jumpers and a change of brightly coloured coats if you want to stunt in the stark Icelandic landscape. EasyJet will not respect you trying to carry on more than one cabin bag. IcelandAir (who have sense and were amazing to fly back home with) have no problem with a backpack or handbag in addition to your cabin bag. You’ll also need this if you’re bringing food from home but you could also shop in Icelandic supermarkets. We made a few visits to the grocery store called Krónan and discovered that if we had bought noodles from here instead of back home, we actually would have saved even more!
7. No lighty, no likey?
Be comfortable with the idea that you might not see the Northern Lights, even if you visit Iceland during the months they are most likely to be seen. My cousin, sister and I all had dreams we saw the Northern Lights and so we were certain we would catch a glimpse of them IRL. However, the intense cloud cover coupled with our sustained unwillingness to go out in the night looking for a break in the sky (except on one night) meant it just wasn’t to be. Regardless, we still had an amazing time and we would go back to Iceland in a heartbeat and take a chance on the lights again. You can check out the aurora forecast here.
8. Get your stamina up
Everything that Iceland is must be seen whilst outside. If you don’t like the outdoors, maybe you are lost? The views, the lights, the geothermal pools, and the sights are all outside. Some sights demand a lot of walking to reach, too. Be prepared to be one with nature and to get your step count popping all the way off, especially if you visit the site of the crashed US Navy plane which is at the end of a 40 minute walk (though a shuttle is available for a fee of ISK 7,000 – I shall leave you to convert to GBP and laugh).
9. Weather watch
The weather in Iceland is incredibly changeable, and you could witness 3 to 4 different weather states in one day or even within a few hours. For any extreme weather alerts, be sure to check out this website, which will come in super handy particularly if you’re planning on driving. For us, driving in near 30mph winds was definitely an experience we will never forget and staying below the national limit was best for battling the winds.
Are you planning a trip to Iceland, or have you been already? We’d love to know if you have any additional preparation tips to share, or if these points have helped your prep!