Hey guys! Jessica here. A few weeks ago, I ditched Ricky, grabbed a backpack, and headed to Iceland on a road trip with two of my best friends. The whole trip was surreal, and as cliché as it sounds, it left me with a much greater appreciation for nature and the world around us. So fasten your seat belts, and let me give you some tips for travelling to this amazing corner of the world.
1. Rent a car and drive around.
If you can drive, and plan to venture past Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, I highly recommend taking a road trip. Iceland is the perfect place for such a trip, as there are so many things to see. The roads in Iceland were very simple to drive on and they were relatively empty once you got out of the city.
We rented a small car, while in retrospect we should have gotten a 4x4, since many of the roads that lead up to the volcanoes in the highlands (called the F-roads) are not paved or maintained. There are many large potholes and rocks which are not suitable for smaller cars.
This option was much cheaper than going with a tour group. The rental car for the five days cost 25,000 ISK (around C$350) from Procar. In addition, we filled up three times at around $90 per tank. Split three ways, we only spent roughly $200 in total – not terrible!
2. Stay in a cabin.
The best night’s sleep that we had was in a little cabin that we rented on Airbnb. The Heidi Cabin sits on a large farm nestled among mountains and had a beautiful, picturesque view. Many of the reviews said that you’d be able to see the Northern Lights during the winter months so I definitely have to book another trip! There were also many other cute cabins and cottages that I saw located within or close to the Golden Circle, all with beautiful views as well.
3. Walk around Reykjavik.
Reykjavik is completely and easily walkable. There’s a lot to see packed in a very small area. It's quaint, full of tight winding roads and unique houses with brightly coloured doors.
The Hallgrímskirkja, the tallest church in Iceland, cannot be missed. Sitting on a hill, this beautiful cathedral can be seen throughout the city. From the church itself, you get a great view of the colourful houses beneath it and of the mountains that surround Reykjavik.
Something else that I love seeing while travelling are old cemeteries. We took a stroll through the Holavallagardur cemetery. It was very peaceful and a little spooky, especially on a grey, rainy evening.
4. Go to a hot spring.
Seljavallalaug is a hidden pool located very close to the black sand beaches at Vík. It is one of the oldest man-made swimming pools in the country. It’s located within a 15-minute hike from the parking lot of a newer pool, and entrance is free. It’s mostly not maintained, and only cleaned once a year in the summer by volunteers. The pool's hot water comes directly from the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano above it. While the bottom of the pool is full of algae, there are breathtaking view. We also met an adorable dog who walked us all the way back to the parking lot!
And of course, the renowned Blue Lagoon is another must-do. We went on our last day before heading to the airport. We got the premium package which included slippers, a bathrobe, towels, two face masks, and a free drink of choice. It was a splurge, but was the perfect ending to a perfect trip.
5. Try some liquorice.
Everything in Iceland had lakkrís, or black liquorice, in it. From liquorice sauces to liquorice-flavoured gum to hard candies. Personally, I am not a huge fan, but they are worth a try! A very nice corner store owner allowed (read: forced) me to try some chocolate and caramel covered in liquorice, saying that the "American" kind was nothing like the real kind in Iceland. As it turns out, he was right, they were not so horrible! It’s definitely worth a try!
6. Go to the grocery store.
Food in Iceland is extremely pricey. We splurged only once on our five-day trip and went out to dinner. For a starter and main course, I spent around $90 – and that was at a “mid-priced” restaurant per the front desk at our hostel. The rest of the time, we went to the grocery store. While there were many to choose from, we mostly went to Bonus (whose logo is a pig) and bought groceries which were very reasonably priced.
One item that I really enjoyed was the single packets of filter coffee. This was a much cheaper alternative to buying coffee at a cafe! Also, make sure you try Skyr, a yogurt-like dairy product. It’s much thicker and creamier than the typical yogurt we get in Canada. Many come in little pots with spoons, so it’s perfect for the road!
7. Go to the Vinbudin.
Like everything else, alcohol in Iceland is expensive. While the beer from Bonus and other grocery stores seems pretty cheap, they all have alcohol content under 2.25%. Instead, go to the Vinbudin, the state-owned liquor store, to buy your beers, wines, and spirits. I’m not a big drinker and I went for the option with the highest percentage-alcohol-per-krona: Viking Lager, with an alcohol content of 7.0%. Eek!
8. Snack on Paprika Pringles.
This one isn’t specifically for Iceland, but all of Europe. I first discovered these on my first Europe trip many years ago, and I've been getting these as soon as my plane lands, every time I’ve been back. They are delicious, crispy, and salty. I always bring back a pack (or eight) for Ricky if he’s not with me, but mostly they're for myself!
9. Pack for all weathers.
While we were there, over the span of five short days we witnessed all four seasons. On the first day, it rained heavily and the temperature was around 6 degrees. We explored Reykjavik that day in the pouring rain, which seeped through my rain jacket, down jacket, and sweater. The next day, it was sunny and all I needed was a rain jacket. I would highly recommend bringing waterproof boots, jackets, and pants as well. The umbrella that I bought did nothing, as the wind broke it within 15 minutes of use.
10. A refillable water bottle or thermos
The tap water in Iceland is perfectly clean and drinkable. You can basically fill up in the streams along your hikes as well, as the water comes straight from the glaciers. I picked up a thermos along the way to bring hot tea to be enjoyed whilst hiking. Side note, the hot water from the faucets smells like rotten eggs, since it comes from the natural hot springs. It’s not dangerous – it just has a funky smell when running.
11. Sleep masks
Since we went in early May, there was a lot of sunlight. It was wonderful as it gave us a lot of daylight for sightseeing. Even late into the morning, the midnight sun kept the sky a kaleidoscope of blue and pink. While the curtains do an amazing job at keeping the sunlight out, sleep masks are also essential, as it’s a little weird to go to bed knowing that the skies are still bright.
12. Credit cards
Ditch the cash and forget exchange rates, because 99% of the places in Iceland took credit – infuriatingly, even the paid washrooms at Thingvellir National Park! (It was 200 ISK, or $2.70, to get in.) Talk about a good way to rack up some points! For some good credit card options while travelling, refer to Ricky's feature on credit cards!
13. Take the weather seriously.
Seriously. Upon arriving in the capital, the first thing we saw was a girl getting pulled out of the lake by paramedics. There are many warnings around the pier telling visitors not to get too close. The wind here is no joke.
14. It’s okay to cry.
Iceland is unlike any place I’ve ever been to. It is beyond beautiful. It was difficult to believe that the fantasy-like landscape was real. I didn’t know that the sunset could have so many colours, nor did I understand how the mountains can roll so far.
Every time we pulled up to a new sight, I found myself wondering how nature could be so amazing. I found it very difficult to keep myself from tearing up multiple times during the trip, because I literally had no idea how else to react to what I was seeing. So, let the waterworks flow – it rains so much there that no one will be able to tell anyway!
This trip was unforgettable. This was the first time that I've travelled exclusively with my friends, and we had a very bonding experience driving through Iceland together. If I were to go back, I'd go back in the winter so I can see the Northern Lights and would join a hiking group to explore further into the mountains. I can't wait to see more of the island with Ricky one day!
I hope everyone enjoyed reading this post! It's a bit different than what Ricky usually writes about, so please let me know if you hate this or want more content like this. It was a lot of fun to write, thank you so much to Ricky for letting me take up some room on his blog!!