What You Need to Know Before Traveling to Iceland (Winter Edition)
We just got back from a winter trip to Iceland, and man, what a fun trip we had. We also only had 7 days (with flights), so we tried to get everything in that we could. Lots of research went into planning our trip, and we decided to stick to the west and south ends of the island. But you always learn way more being there than you do hearing about it, so we collected our info of "Things No One Tells You About Iceland", and wanted to share with you!
1. It really is icy!
I know, I know…duh, right? Or…not duh…cause in elementary school, we grew up learning; “Greenland is icy and Iceland is green!” Well, in winter months, Iceland can get VERY icy and cold, and snowy. Yes, Iceland is green and has some great landscape, but don't let the fifth-grade- you, steer you wrong…it still gets icy.
2. Northern Lights
There are 2 types of Northern Lights. The first are the "regular", beautiful northern lights... the kind you picture right away when someone even says “Northern Lights”... But, there’s also a second kind of Northern Lights, and we learned that those are known as the “boring lights”. These lights are grayish in the sky and first appear as a cloud streaking across the sky. We argued with each other about them being the Northern Lights or not, and I lost…they were! We went with an awesome photographer friend who snapped a picture of it, at a long exposure, and guess what?! Those lights were SUPER green! It was like some other kind of world! The lights also disappear almost as fast as they come. And they come back “on” at random times.
3. Short Days in the Winter
Long days in the summer, super short days in the winter. We went in the winter, and the days were short! 10:30ish the sun would “rise” and “set” around 4:00. Now I put “rise and set” in quotation marks, because, the sun never actually went above us! It had a tiny arc on the horizon and barely got up in the sky. Nothing I had ever seen before, or really even thought about.
4. Silfra Snorkel
Silfra Snorkel… is super cool. You swim between 2 tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia. And as far as I could tell, you can touch each side. Not simultaneously unless you are scuba diving lower in the water. But it is FREEZING!! Not only are the temperatures in Iceland during the winter around -1 degree Celsius, but the even the water hovers around -1 degree C, throughout the year. It’s the freshest water I have ever tasted, and it was clear forever…but (and not to be a debbie downer) you’re really just swimming between a bunch of rocks for 30 mins, and that’s all you see. Is it super cool? Of course! Where else can you swim between and touch the 2 tectonic plates?! But is it a must-do? In our opinions, not really. We’re really glad we did it, but it’s not something that I would scream at you to put at the top your bucket list right this minute. Like the idea of it, then go for it! Like I said, really glad we did it…would never do it again.
5. The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is just as beautiful as everyone says, and yes, I definitely think it's worth it…BUT I always pictured the Blue Lagoon as some awesome natural hot springs that would be perfect to go float around especially in the winter time. We’re here to tell you…it is, and it isn’t. You can look up the history of the Blue Lagoon if you want, but it is a man made hot spring and a natural hot spring combined. Apparently man started it on accident, and it became the face of Iceland. But that’s not our news…our news is that, the Blue Lagoon is actually hot AND cold. Floating around in the lagoon this winter, we would run into some really warm spots, that you would stop in until it passed you by, and some cold spots too. Most of it was lukewarm when we were there. You get a free Silfra Mask with your entry ticket, so another mask isn’t really necessary, but we got the package with another mask and used them quickly. They have a swim up bar that is really awesome too.
6. Food is Expensive!!
Like really expensive! We’re from Los Angeles…we are use to overpriced cocktails and inflated dinner prices. But Iceland does not compare! A BASIC meal can cost you anywhere from $30-50. A burger and fries set us each back $25. A bowl of soup…$20! Just be sure to budget for food while you are there.
Again...FOOD IS EXPENSIVE!!
That being said…food over there is not necessarily the greatest. We tried as hard as we could to find “Icelandic” food, and failed. Even talking to the locals…there’s not really such a huge thing as “Icelandic food”. When you see whale, shark, and penguin on the menu…that’s really meant for you…the tourist. They don’t eat that stuff at all! They try to find the best burger, and pizza, just like here in the states. If they’re cooking at home, it's your typical lamb, fish, and beef...or reindeer on special occasions, we were told. So just know before going, budget in pricey food…really pricey food...and don’t expect “Icelandic cuisine.”
7. Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach
Do NOT miss the Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach. This was my favorite part of the entire trip. The Glacier Lagoon was beautiful and looks like a movie, with glacier pieces floating around...And right across the street, a black sand beach with crystal pieces washing up on the shore. It really is a sight to see. It’s about a 4 hour drive from Reykavik, so you’ll need a car, or to set up a tour around there, to get you there.
We stayed at Fosshotel Núpar, Kalfafell. It was a quiet hotel in the middle of nowhere, but very quaint. We arrived at the hotel late one night to check in after a long drive, and were very hungry. There were no restaurants around, but one inside Fosshotel. The manager was kind enough to keep the kitchen open for the 5 of us to order dinner. Lifesaver! The rooms were cozy with huge windows...perfect for watching the Northern Lights. Fosshotel has an aurora alarm as well, where they will call your room, (even if you're sleeping), and alert you that the auroras are out. We were all too excited to sleep anyway, as this was the main reason for our visit. It's perfect for Northern Lights hunting, out of all the light pollution. And this hotel will give you the best bang for your buck that is both close enough to the Glacier Lagoon, and perfect for a Northern Lights hunt. We stayed here for 2 nights, and really enjoyed our visit. The staff was very friendly and told us where to go, and what we could do around there. We even ventured out the back for a fun little hike to take some pictures.
Fosshotel Núpar, Kalfafell had comfy beds, awesome views, and fit our budget. We ended up eating most of our meals at the restaurant too, as they had great food, and always something else we wanted to try on the menu. We recommend this hotel 100%! Check for bookings here.
8. Get Out Of the City
Reykjavik is not a huge city. It was actually pretty much just a touristy street of bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops. It's very cool to visit, but don't spend all your time there. We recommend getting out of Reykavik, as we found all of our favorite places outside the city. Although we did find some great places that are always fun to stop at.
9. Don’t try to visit every waterfall!
There are so many throughout the country that, unless you are on a waterfall seeing adventure, you’re not going to hit them all. We saw some great ones just on our drive to the Glacier Lagoon, without even searching them out. Unless you are going on a specific Iceland Waterfall tour...you really don't have to go searching for ALL of them.
10. Do Your Own Golden Circle Drive
The Golden Circle is a cool drive…you can see amazing waterfalls, hike to some extremely warm hot springs, walk along the edge of a crater, and find some exploding geysers. However, be sure to plan your trip around the daylight hours, and know that you can skip some things. The crater was cool, and we stopped because it was on the way, but we were there for less than 5 minutes. You look at it, cool…take a pic, move on. Of course we know there are some of you that love these types of things, and that’s great. Hit every single one of them! But, we’re talking to the people who dont feel as if they have enough time to see it all…and if that’s you, take a quick look and move on. And remember, you don't have to hit everything.
11. Check Out The Bridge Between 2 Continents
A secret Gem we never even heard about when we were researching things to do in Iceland…is The Bridge Between 2 Continents. It's about a 10-minute drive from the airport, and I wish we had known about this sooner, before our friends had to leave. We had one extra day to relax and explore, and that was our favorite day. We dined with locals, took a drive around the town, stopped by some lighthouses, went to the beach, and found this awesome, tiny, bridge. It’s a bridge where one side is the North American tectonic plate, and the other is the Eurasian Tectonic Plate, (kind of like SIlfra Snorkel). It was so cool, and took no time at all. If you want to be on each side of the plates and not freeze in Silfra Snorkel…this is a must do for you!
12. Rent wifi in your car!
We had a car rental from Cars Reykjavik, who had the option of purchasing wifi. We opted for that rather than the GPS, because with wifi, we could get GPS on our phones, and it was the same price for the GPS as it was for the wifi. When we got the car, they gave us this little device that would connect us to the wifi. We put it in our pocket and had wifi the entire trip!! No, we weren’t on our phones the entire time, and actually had a rule about it…but its great for when someone has a question about the Hot Spring you are hiking to in the middle of the mountains, and you need to google for some quick info. Gets you around with GPS, and for those of you with iPhone…free iMessages, (Android could just email or FB too). So since we had the wifi, and we were able to forego adding an international plan, and therefore saved money there. Be sure to check with you car rental company to see if they have the same device…but now I want this device here in the states, with me at all times!
13. If you are landing at 4:30 am…
...get a room for that morning! We thought we would be fine. Check in was around noon, so we could just go see the city, run into some stores, rest in the car a little, no worries. Wrong move! We didn't sleep much on the plane, and with the time difference, when we landed, it was basically bedtime. But as we soon found out…nothing is open at that hour. No stores, no food, no bathrooms…nothing! They seem to work when the sun works, and that wasn’t very long at all. If we could do it all over, we would rent a room for that extra day. Also, on that note…things were closing pretty early too. Sun down, people go home…so don't expect much shopping to be happening if you aren't out shopping during the day.
We really did have the best time, and may actually take a trip back to Iceland to see some more of the North. But it’s always good to have a heads up of random things no one tells you about, and we hope we have helped prepare you just a little for your adventure. You’re gonna have a blast!