Iceland, though small, is seeing an increase in the number of tourists each year. With almost two -thirds of the population living in or near the capital city of Reykjavik, the rest of Iceland is practically uninhabited, by my standards. A few houses here and there along with some abandoned farm houses and horses grazing in the vast green pastures is all you will see if you venture beyond this city. This makes travelling in Iceland difficult, especially during winter. By reading countless blogs and articles, we managed to stay out of trouble during our one week there. Here, I have listed down all tips to travel in Iceland during the harsh winter months.
(P.S: I feel the first paragraph does not do justice to the mind blowing beauty of this country. More details coming up on that)
Do: Do spend some money to rent a good car. You will find thick slushy snow mud on the road and a good car with studded tires is a must to navigate these. You do not need a 4×4 if you stick to the paved routes although we did get one. It was simply the seat warmers that kept me going during the whole trip! Snuggling yourself into the warm car can really bring you back to base after the cold that hits your face when you step out.
Don’t: Please don’t drive off-road. Iceland has pretty strict rules regarding this and they really value their vegetation fully aware that it takes decades, if not more, to grow back what is lost.
Do: Do stick to paved roads. Route 1 has a small stretch of gravel roads, in the south-east, but if you set up your GPS to avoid all gravel roads, it may show you a longer but comfortable route. We did just that. Please note: during winter; if you are driving to the east towards Egilsstadir, it is best to take route 92 and 96 instead of route 1. This is because there is a big aluminium factory at Reydarfjordur and these roads are more likely to be cleaned of snow faster than the main road.
Do: Do take the weather seriously. We went crazy checking the weather every half hour- trust us, it does change very often. The owner at this cafe where we stopped for coffee said, ‘Being a weatherman in Iceland is not really good- nothing you say is true and no one heeds you’. Google should serve you well for the weather forecast and check road.is for clear updates on the road situation. They clearly tell you if the road is slippery, clear or impassable and you can find your route accordingly. We swear by this website and did everything as per what they said.
When this page says the road is ‘extremely slippery’, it sure is slippery!
Do: Do carry layers, lots of it. There will be times, especially the 40 minute walk in the ‘gravel desert’ to reach the plane wreck in the middle of nowhere, where you will feel like stripping your layers one by one. Also, during the glacier walk, when you hike and climb up so much that you start to sweat in the middle of all the ice and snow!
There will also be times when you feel like wrapping up your face with all the woolens! This is me stuffed like a pillowcase with all my 5 layers.
Do: Do budget well. Things are expensive here! Honestly, I did not pay too much heed to all the articles that told me so. However, with our first meal at Reykjavik, I knew this was not something we could keep up for the next 7 days! The bakeries are warm and nice and you can have a good breakfast here. If you folks want to cook, you can choose from a variety of hotels/guesthouses which have shared kitchen and these worked fine for us! Especially during the drives in the north of Iceland, where there was no decent restaurant to stop by and have our meal!
Do: Do ask your rental car folks for a Olis gas station discount card. You get a little discount when you top up your car with the very expensive fuel along with a free coffee and 10% discounts at all restaurants at Olis station- that includes Quiznos. If your credit card has a 4-digit pin, then you can use this card to pay at all the self serviced pumps else you need to get one of the gas cards as well.
Don’t: Don’t convert all your cash into currencies, instead right at the airport at the Arioni Banki counter, convert your cash into a currency card for a one time charge of $15. This saves you a lot of hassle of foreign transaction fee being charged when you use your credit card plus having no left over change by the end of the trip. Having the Arioni currency card also makes you eligible for discounts at some of the shops, restaurants and hotels. Cards are accepted at every nook and corner of this country, which makes matters quite smooth.
Do: Do keep your receipts to get your tax refund. We have never really paid attention to this at any of the previous countries we have been to but because this place is extremely expensive, I got a 25% cash back for the beautiful woolen blanket I got from Geysir. I also had to buy waterproof snow boots because apparently the one I used to walk around with in Boston were not good enough for Iceland and I ended up paying twice of what I would have paid here. The tax refund calmed me down. Remember to explicitly ask for a receipt that will allow you to claim the tax refund.
This is indeed a very beautiful country still practically untouched. Go forth, heed these tips and you will definitely have a good time:)