In recent years, Iceland has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. It has also become a prime destination for many Hollywood blockbusters and it’s not hard to see why. There are so many contrasting elements that add to Iceland’s beauty; waterfalls and geysers, glaciers and volcanoes, lakes and mountains. It’s memerising but strange all at the same time.
I loved our trip to Iceland and I already can’t wait to go back. There were, however, a few things that surprised me and some things I wish i’d known before our trip. Planning a trip to Iceland? Read on for some tips and surprising facts.
The weather is unpredictable and changes quickly
I thought that coming from Ireland, I would know exactly what experiencing four seasons in one day felt like in Iceland. How wrong could one person be?! The weather changes quite dramatically and very quickly so be prepared. Bring a waterproof jacket with a hood, sturdy walking shoes and plenty of layers and don’t bother with an umbrella, its too windy.
Also, as the weather is so interchangeable, try not to be too disappointed if that means certain attractions are unavailable or the visibility is poor. It kind of comes with the territory when visiting Iceland and can’t be helped. We lost out on seeing the Northern Lights but that just means we need to visit again. Win-win!
Take the bus, not a taxi
Take it from me, do not travel by taxi in Iceland, unless you are willing to spend an extortionate amount of money. Instead, use the hugely reliable bus service called Flybus. You can book this in advance online here. They provide an hourly service and there is a Flybus awaiting all arriving flights. You will then travel by coach to the City Center Bus Terminal (BSI) which usually takes 45 minutes and then depending on where you are staying a smaller bus will drop you off at your designated stop. The cost of a return ticket is around $53/€47.
Helpful hint: Arrange your departure the night before you leave with the help of your host/receptionist. This will ensure that you leave right on time for your flight the next day.
Also, if you don’t have much time to spend in Iceland and you really want to visit the Blue Lagoon, it’s possible to do this using the Flybus service. They offer a return ticket to Keflavik Airport or Reykjavik city centre and there are great storage facilities for your luggage on site too. This might come in handy if you are on a quick layover.
The Blue Lagoon is Man-Made
The Blue Lagoon is one of the most popular attractions in Iceland, I mean who wouldn’t want to visit a hot spring surrounded by a stunningly beautiful landscape after hiking or sightseeing all day. Surprisingly though, the Blue Lagoon is, in fact, a man-made lagoon, the water is a result of runoff from the geothermal plant next door. It’s not toxic in any way but not quite the natural attraction it’s hyped up to be. Also, the lagoon itself is not located in Reykjavik, it’s around 45 minutes away so keep that in mind if you plan on visiting. There are various price options, we paid €120 each for the comfort experience which includes a round bus trip, towel, mask and a drink.
Helpful hint: Do not let the water touch your hair. The minerals will wreak havoc on your hair for days no matter how many times you wash it so use lots of conditioner and keep it away from the water.
I loved my experience at the Blue Lagoon and I would highly recommend it. However, on my next visit, i’d love to check some of the other low key natural springs too.
Food is very expensive
Before we went on our trip, we were well aware that Iceland is as an expensive country to visit but I was still left surprised at the price of food there. We paid €32 for two sandwiches and two soft drinks one day. Crazy right?! There are a few ways around this if you’re trying to stick to a budget.
Helpful hint: If you’re on a budget or don’t want to spend a huge amount on food and drink, bring a few breakfast bars, pot noodles and a reusable water bottle in your luggage. The water in Iceland is perfectly safe to drink.
There’s a rather funky budget store called Bonus where you can buy drinks, snacks and all sorts of different things like gloves and toothpaste. You can’t miss its bright yellow exterior and their beloved pink pig symbol everywhere. You need to check this place out and make sure to try out some Icelandic snacks when you do. One of my favourites was Harðfiskur, a dried and salty fish snack. Liquorice, skyr yoghurt and other dried fish snacks are also popular.
There is no McDonald’s or Starbucks
McDonald’s and Starbucks are everywhere, or so I thought. I have seen both of these chains in the most remote of places. So imagine my surprise to learn that Iceland has neither. I’m not really a fan anyway but just in case you’re expecting to find your coffee of choice in Starbucks, you won’t.
McDonald’s did attempt to set up shop here once but it never really kicked off and when the recession hit in 2008, they left. There is a cool coffee culture in Iceland and food stands with quick bites if needed so its no bad thing that these signature brands are nowhere to be seen.
Alcohol is not readily available
Alcohol was prohibited in Iceland until 1989 and even now it’s still almost impossible to purchase alcohol unless you’re in a bar or a restaurant. You won’t find it in supermarkets or 10-11 (small convenient stores) and while there are ‘wine shops’, they are spread out and hard to find.
That’s not to say that the nightlife isn’t any good in Iceland. Our host told us that at the weekend, the centre of Reykjavik comes alive with music, dancing and lots of alcohol. You do need to be over 20 and there is no fancy dress code. There are hefty fines for debaucherous behaviour though so be careful.
Icelandic people believe in elves
A lot of Icelanders believe in elves and most are open to the possibility of their existence. Keep an eye out when travelling around Iceland and you might see ‘elf-houses’ álfhól which Icelanders built for elves to live in. Our bus driver told us lots of stories about elf sightings and that a former member of parliament believes an elf family saved his life in a car accident. I thought he was joking and now regret not asking him more about it. Mythology and folktales are very important to Icelandic people. If you’d like to learn more about this, there is an elf-school that you can enrol in and after four hours obtain an elf diploma.
Going to Iceland Soon? Plan Your Trip In 4 Easy Steps
Book A Flight: Find the cheapest flights on Skyscanner, the ultimate go-to flight search engine.
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Travel Guide Book: Love guidebooks as much as I do? Then check out my favourite guidebook on Iceland here.
These are just a few unique aspects of Iceland, there are so many more. Have you been? What surprised you?
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