Friday, November 25, 2016

A Quick Guide to Iceland (19 Things You Need To Know Before Visiting Iceland )

Who wouldn't want to visit Iceland? If you are planning a trip to this majestic land of Ice and Fire, here are some tips I discovered during my recent Summer trip. Sharing is caring. 
Iceland flag

1. Flight tickets

Check on Use my Step-by-step guide here to book the cheapest flight to Iceland. Also, in the next article, I've compiled 10 secret ways to book cheap flights anywhere anytime
Skyscanner flight
For relatively affordable flight tickets, fly from Belfast, Riga or Denmark. 
Take WOW air or Easyjet.

2. Getting from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik Downtown

Hands down the easiest way to get to town is by shuttle bus. Upon reaching the arrival hall, you'll see 2 companies offering bus services- Gray Line and Reykjavik Excursions' Flybus.
I personally choose Flybus because I need to get to the BSI station. The ride took about 40 minutes
You can either buy a ticket to their bus terminal (Flybus and Gray line have their own terminals so do check before hand when're do you need dos top.) or top up €3 to arrive at the door of your hotel/ hostel (do check the availability before buying the tickets though. )

3. Mode of transportation in Iceland

Looking for adventures: Hitchhiking, rent a bike.
Make sure you put safety first! Before you go, check out my safety tips for solo hitchhikers.

Luxurious traveler: Helicopter Rides. 
Here is my helicopter ride experience with the most prestigious helicopter tour company in Iceland, Nordurflug. 

Family/ big group of friends: Rent a car or camper van
Here are 7 important tips to know before you rent a car in Iceland.

Going into the highlands: Rent a 4 wheel drive or follow a Jeep Tour

Without a driver license: Bus Travel
Hitchhiking works well along the Golden Circle in South Iceland but for the rest of the country, not so well. In this case, a traveler without a driver license should definitely consider buying a bus passport. There are a lot of companies selling bus pass but I found "Iceland On Your Own" bus passport by Reykjavik Excursion and SBA offering the best deals. Here is a detailed write-up about the passport breaking down the pros and tips of bus travel. 
Iceland bus passport

4. What to do in Iceland

- Icelandic Horse Riding
- Helicopter ride/ tour
- Cycling in Reykjavik
- Hiking
- Whales and Puffins watching
- Wandering off the beaten path... and many more.  
Iceland outdoor activity

5. Recommended Accommodation:

According to me, experience, looking for a Couchsurfing host in Iceland is extremely hard especially during summer times , but it would be A.W.E.S.O.M.E. if someone actually agrees to host you!

b) Airbnb
Pick up your free $35 today HERE.

c) Highly Recommended Hostel
Galaxy Pod Hostel (Capsule Hostel): Budget Friendly, clean, private and modern!

d) Camping
In Free or Paid Campsite. (See point 6)
Iceland Galaxy Pod Hostel

6. About Camping in Iceland

"Is it true that we can camp anywhere we want for free?" 
Yes and no. Yes you can camp anywhere for free in Iceland, unless you see a sign that states otherwise or it is within the boundary of a national park. 
However, it doesn't mean you should! We all need to respect the fragility of the land and protect this land from damage. Hence, I strongly encourage campers to stick to the trail and use designated campsites where they do exist. 
If you plan to camp in Iceland, read "Things you have to know before camping in Iceland" to understand the do and don'ts, where to find a campsite and what would you need to bring along. 
If you are renting camping gears in Iceland, I highly recommend Iceland Camping Equipment Rental. Click on the link to read how to rent camping gears. 

7. What To See in Iceland

- Waterfalls
- Rock formations
- glaciers
- geysers
- mountains
- Caves
- Volcano 
- Northern Lights/ Midnight Sun
- Churches 
Read more: 
Iceland off the beaten track

8. Highly Recommended Places to Eat:

a)  Matur og Drykkur
b) Local flea market, Kolaportið
c) Cafeteria of BSI Bus station
d) Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
e) Tapas Barinn

a) Strikid

b) Bryggjan

a) Naustið
b) Salka Restaurant
Iceland traditional food

9. What to eat in Iceland 

-Sheep´s head, svið
-Harðfiskur (Try eating it with butter!).
-Flatkaka with hangikjöt (flatbread with smoked lamb and butter).
-if you are not sure: order lamb or fish whenever you can.

Iceland scary food, sheep head

10. Where to Buy the Cheapest Groceries

BONUS, you know that yellow building with a piggy bank as it's logo, defining "budget-friendly".... Look! They even have a website!
Iceland Bonus

11. Some words about Alcohol

Don't be surprise if you can’t find your favorite beverages in Icelandic supermarkets. If you really need that bottle of beer, head to Vínbúðin, the state own liquor specialty shop. They have a website as well! But if you are arriving in Iceland by air (oh wait, who doesn't? ) stock up in the duty-free shops at the airport. I've seen locals doing it so alcohol should be cheaper there. 
Iceland beer, alcohol

12. Tipping Culture

Tipping is non-existence in Iceland. That explain the average quality service in most cafe. Opps, please don't get me wrong, I am not saying that they'll ignore you, I am just reminding us all that if we are looking for 5 star service where waiters come to your table with the widest smile asking if you need anything else, Iceland is probably not the place. Although I've been to some restaurant with exceptional good service!

13. The Language

Most of them understand English just fine. 
For the minority that don't speak the language, don't worry, all Icelanders I came across are extremely helpful, so if you do come across one, he'll probably draw or use body language to communicate with you. They'll try to help as much as you can. I know... I am the type of person who never take the correct path/bus/train on first attempt. Sigh. 

14. The Currency

The currency in Iceland is called Icelandic Krona (Not Euro!). They are really pretty, but the coins gave me serious headache! I recommend visitors to get familiar with Icelandic Krona before hand so that they don't have to waste time at the counter. 

15. Do you need a Bank Card? 

YES! Please remember to have your credit card ready, or at least your debit card with international transaction activated before you venture into Iceland.
Card is the preferred way to pay for anything, anywhere in Iceland, even the for paid toilets, you can pay the entrance fees by card. Most petrol stations in Iceland require card transactions and no cash is allowed.
The only time we needed to pay by cash was when using the Streató Public Bus and when accessing the washing machine at the campsite.  

16. How many days should I visit Iceland?

Let me break it down into a more comprehensive way, in point form, straight forward. Please bear in mind that these are only recommendations in MY OWN opinion, and everyone should make their own decisions based on their own preference and travel pace.  
Only the Golden Circle: 2-3 days (Some people even fit this into a day trip)
Golden Circle + South Coast: 4-5 days
Golden Circle + South Coast + the Ring Road: 12-14 days
Golden Circle + South Coast + the Ring Road + Highlands: 15-17 days

Read More: 
Iceland waterfall

17. When is the best time to visit? 

Again, it depends on your preference. What are you looking forward to see in Iceland? 
Here for the midnight sun, puffins, whales, roaming sheep (they are all over the place!), planning to stay in the campsites and don't mind the crowd? Summer is the best timing.
Here for the Aurora, ice caves and don't mind the cold? Come during winter then!
Want to beat the crowd? Come during the shoulder seasons-- Autumn and Spring!   
Iceland whale watching

18. The Weather

Don't be fooled by Icelandic Summer like me. 
It pretty much depends on your tolerance to cold, hence I was able to go around wearing a dress. You might be looking at some of my photos and thought maybe Iceland isn't that cold after all. To make things clear, I've been living in Russia for the pass 6 years and I don't consider -10 as cold (unless there are wind). 
So, do bring warm clothes, down jackets, gloves, scarfs, beanies and if you are hiking, don't forget your hiking boots! I hiked Langmannalaugar with a pair of Primark Shoes and an Icelandic avid hiker made fun of my shoes. "Wow, those are the perfect shoes to hike in Iceland."
Iceland weather

19. Do you need a Data Plan?

I'd recommend travelers to Iceland to shop for mobile data upon arrival. There are 3 mobile companies selling simcards: Siminn, Vodafone and Nova, with Nova's plan being the cheapest followed by Siminn.
We did not get a simcard due to the fact that we were traveling on buses that provide free Wi-Fi and the BSI station has strong Wi-Fi. Besides, we needed to unwind and didn't mind spending a few hours without internet.  

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Thank You for Reading! 
This post is based solely on my honest opinion or personal experience. 
If you have more tips, feel free to share them with me by commenting below!

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