Reykjavik, Iceland

7 things you need to know before visiting Iceland

February 28, 2019 18 Comments

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!

Northern Lights

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.

bus iceland
Credit: Reykjavik Excursions

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.
Find A Hotel: Secure the most affordable and reliable accommodation on Booking.com. Receive €15 off your first booking with my link here.
Travel Insurance: Think you don’t need travel insurance? Think again! Protect your trip & gear with World Nomads, the best travel insurance company there is.
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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18 Comments

  • Tay March 7, 2019 at 3:39 am

    I always thought the lagoon was all natural.. wow, who knew?
    Very interesting post! I plan to visit soon and only now realize that there’s so much I don’t know about Iceland. These are some really helpful tips. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ciara March 13, 2019 at 12:53 am

      Thanks for your comment! You are going to love Iceland! I can’t wait to go back.

  • Sarah March 8, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    Huh, this is a lot of information I did not know about Iceland. Thank you for this! I need to get to Iceland sometime in my life and these are definitely good tips.

    • Ciara March 13, 2019 at 12:54 am

      Thanks for your comment – you definitely need to go, it’s a magical place!

  • Andrea Peacock March 9, 2019 at 3:55 am

    This is one of my favourite Iceland posts I’ve read, so helpful and interesting! I definitely hope to visit there one day 🙂

    Andrea | https://andreapeacock.com

    • Ciara March 13, 2019 at 12:54 am

      Awhh thanks so much, that means a lot! You really should try to visit, it’s amazing!

  • Vicky March 9, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland!! The place is beautiful (even if the Blue Lagoon isn’t strictly speaking a natural phenomenon!). Great post: I’ll have to check back when I get around to booking a holiday 😀

    • Ciara March 13, 2019 at 12:55 am

      Thanks for your comment! It was at the top of my bucket-list for a long time!

  • Sab March 18, 2019 at 1:28 am

    Thanks for sharing this, going to Iceland in 1.5 days this was a really nice one to read. Especially hearing about the weather ? I used to live in Ireland so I thought the same as you, but glad i’m perioden wrong before I finished packing ?

    • Ciara March 25, 2019 at 2:49 am

      Thanks so much for the comment! How was your trip? We went in May and experienced sun, hail, rain and snow. Crazy!

  • Laura April 11, 2019 at 7:45 am

    These are super interesting facts! Helpful as well, especially the part about the quickly changing weather. Iceland is such a stunning and intriguing country to visit.

    Xoxo,
    Laura // afinnontheloose.com

    • Ciara April 15, 2019 at 11:39 pm

      Thanks for your comment Laura – yeah the changeable weather is unlike i’ve ever seen. On one short bus journey it snowed, rained and then the sun came out and then suddenly it started snowing again. Lots of layers is definitely needed! Oh Iceland is simply stunning!

  • Surabhi Kaushik May 11, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Absolutely loved your post. Gorgeous pictures and fantastic tips. Iceland has been on my bucket list forever now. Hope I can visit sometime.

  • Omo and Eulanda September 3, 2019 at 7:53 pm

    Hey Ciara – Your photos are super cool! Everything you’ve said about Iceland is spot on. We’ll go back some time too…but perhaps avoid Reykjavik and try to keep costs down.

    • Ciara September 6, 2019 at 12:13 pm

      Thanks so much guys for the comment and I am so glad amazing travel bloggers such as yourselves agree with what i’ve written! I want to go back to visit too, it’s such a beautiful country!

  • Dominika October 9, 2019 at 5:56 pm

    Such a great post!

    I never realised the Blue Lagoon was man made!

    Prices aren’t that different to Oslo. Scandinavia is really expensive (unless you live in Scandinavia as prices are actually really affordable for the wages) which always pains me as food and drink culture is amazing and whenever I visit I want to eat/drink everything ?

  • Kanika Bakshi October 26, 2019 at 6:52 am

    Hi Kaira, thank you for sharing the wonderful insights of Iceland with us I was about to plan my next trip to Iceland will surely keep all the tips in mind and plan accordingly it would be a great honour if you could suggest the best time to visit.

    • Ciara October 26, 2019 at 11:15 pm

      Thanks for your comment Kanika – I’ve been to Iceland late in the winter and early in the spring. It depends on what you are looking for – if you want to see the Northern Lights then you need to try visit during the winter months. I honestly think you can visit any time of year and have an amazing time – just remember to pack lots of layers as the weather is so interchangeable!

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    Welcome to my blog! I'm Ciara, a native of Dublin Ireland. I'm an introverted wanderer who loves to explore this gorgeous planet of ours. I try to live by the motto 'Feel the fear and do it anyway' which has led to some ridiculous mishaps along the way. Join me as I try to complete my never-ending bucket list. Read More

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