I spent New Years and a good chunk of January overseas between England and Iceland. It was cold. It was hectic. And kinda fantastic.
I’ve been to England several times before, but this was my first time visiting Iceland. This post should serve as a little guide to Iceland, from a newbie’s perspective.
Everything you hear about Iceland is pretty much on point.
In winter, it’s cold. I was there in January.
It’s very cold, the days are short, and warm clothes are going to be your best friend – especially if you’re spending any time out in the wilderness – AKA 99% of the island. Once you get a few miles away from the largest city in Iceland, Reykjavik (with a staggering population of about 120,000, according to Google) there’s NOTHING. FOR. MILES.
You might come across the odd farm house, cluster of fuzzy horses (yes. FUZZY horses.), and small gas station, but that is it, my friend. It is a whole lotta nothing.
But BEAUTIFUL nothing. It’s easy to see why Iceland is such a popular choice for landscape photography, because ohmygawd. *superswoon*
Dat landscape doe
But during winter, the wet windy weather requires some preparation.
If you’re going to Iceland in winter, here’s some things to bring:
- At least one thick sweater
- A waterproof/windproof Jacket – preferably with a hood that won’t blow off
- Waterproof warm shoes – warm is more important than waterproof
- Moosetracks (spikes that attach to your shoes) if you plan to spend any time hiking around
- Earmuffs or a hat with ear flaps
- A warm hat
- Water resistant warm gloves
- A warm scarf
- Warm socks
You can buy stuff in Iceland of course, and they have great outdoors clothing – but like most things in Iceland, it’s expensive. Plan to pay at least $80 for a hat with ear flaps.
Accommodations in Iceland
You can of course do the usual hotel thing in Iceland, but for a more local experience, I’d suggest getting an apartment.
We rented an apartment in Reykjavik’s shopping district. It was easy access to all sorts of restaurants, shops, and a block or so away from the bay. We had 3 people to an apartment, which was pretty sweeeeeeeet. With an apartment you can enjoy some personal space, and have a full kitchen, and living room.
We rented from Reykjavik4you apartments, and they were perfect. Even better that we split the price! Savin’ money like an adult (which I totally am…) heck yisssss!
We watched Law & Order pretty much every night. Ice-T is my spirit animal.
Food in Iceland is not exceptional, in my opinion. It’s pretty much dependant on where you go, you can get a little of everything, and I never had a bad meal. But I didn’t have anything particular “Icelandic.” I was expecting to eat a freshly dug-up fish at some point. No such luck.
But we did have some great soup our first night. The tiny, crowded place was a couple blocks from our apartment.
Svarta Kaffid serves only 2 soups, one vegetarian one not, in bread bowls and they change each day. Eating in Iceland is as expensive as it gets, but this was really good and affordable. Especially if you’re there in the winter – HOT SOUP FTW! It does get busy, so if you stop by be prepared to wait, but it turns over pretty fast.
It is painfully expensive to eat at restaurants in Iceland. Although that’s slightly offset by the fact that you can get flights on the cheap to Iceland at the moment.
My [drunken] theory on cheap Icelandic flights has a lot to do with vampires. But more on that later…
Food in Iceland is good, but be prepared to spend something like $20+ per meal, per person. Yeah. It hurts a bit.
Just do like me and don’t look at your credit card statement until you’re home. (don’t do that it’s terrible financial advice)
How to save money on food in Iceland
If you’re in Iceland for any length of time I’d definitely suggest checking out the local grocery shops. Although still pricey, they’re nothing compared to having a precooked meal at a restaurant. We picked up some good meats, cheeses, yogurt, and fruit from the grocer then got some fresh-baked bread to go with it.
Home cooking is another good reason to grab an apartment rather than a hotel!
Reykjavik and beyond…
What to see in Iceland
We spent our down time in Reykjavik, but rented a car so we could drive around Iceland without the hassle or expense of a tour bus. We had a couple days that were planned as “Road trip” days.
The roads beyond the city of Reykjavik are well-maintained, but you’re likely to spend HOURS surrounded by nothing but the [drop-dead gorgeous] scenery, and, in winter, hitting the occasional white-out.
We wanted to check out The Golden Circle, a famous driving route that includes some drop-dead gorgeous landscapes, a giant (COLD) waterfall, geysers, and the secret lagoon (different than The Blue Lagoon).
We wanted to go to one of the natural hot springs, but didn’t feel like paying the high pricing or dealing with the extra crowd at the famous Blue Lagoon, so instead we checked out the “Secret Lagoon.” It was less expensive (about $30 with a towel rental) and we had plenty of room to swim around. We spent a few hours just chillin’ in the warm water at the end of our first road trip day.
Of course the real adventure didn’t begin until we had to get out of the water, into the cold, winter Icelandic night air, and run for the locker rooms, dripping wet.
Someone moved my towel.
I stole my friend’s towel.
Relationships were tested.
It was every man for himself.
Also, keep in mind that during winter, Iceland gets about 4 hours of sunlight a day, so you’ll be starting most of your adventures in the dark.
A 10-hour trip to the Glacial Lagoon
To get to the Glacial Lagoon you have to drive about 10 hours round trip from Reykjavik. If you can, I’d try to find somewhere to stay near the lagoon for the night, because that is a long day. But we did it in one.
And we did make a couple stops on the way.
Iceland, you’re a legend. I’ll be back.