Travel to Iceland, land of extremes and contrasts, on the edge of the Arctic Circle. This is the opportunity for fabulous geology, glaciers, volcanoes, lava fields, waterfalls, geothermal areas, natural baths, and black sand beaches, which make up wild landscapes, depending on the sky and the lighting, invoke the beginning or the end of the world. With its cracked, uplifted, smoking, upset soils, revealing in places the bowels of the Earth, Iceland was once considered the gateway to the Underworld.
Today, more than 2 million tourists tread this island every year, the discovery of which never leaves you indifferent. Because, like its relief and its stark, harsh colors, Iceland can only inspire whole feelings.
There are so many opportunities, for the backpacker in love with nature and wide-open spaces, to marvel at the course of a stay, hiking in almost lunar landscapes, walking on a glacier, and observing humpback whales, gawking at dawn boreal ...
1. When to travel to Iceland?
Between June and August, it is the ideal combination of very short nights, thus prolonged daylight, and mild temperatures. It’s also the very high tourist season, with the prices and the crowds to match. If possible, favor a stay from the end of May to the end of June to avoid summer school holidays.
1.1 When to travel to Iceland to see the Northern Lights?
It is, outside towns and villages, at night, in clear weather and during the winter months, that one can have the opportunity to contemplate this fascinating luminous phenomenon, caused by the entry of ionized solar particles. In the higher layers of the Earth's atmosphere near the poles. The more intense solar activity, the more beautiful the phenomenon. With any luck, we can see auroras as early as September and through April.
1.2 When to travel to Iceland for the scenery and hiking?
For hikers keen to discover Iceland's unique landscapes, the best time to visit is between June and August.
Be aware that in June, as in September, most of the indoor slopes are not yet open or are already closed, as are a number of huts (or even accommodation in general, some closing at the end of August) The downside is that this is also the time when the tourist season is in full swing and prices are very high.
2. Travel to Iceland; accommodation
They are not of a poor standard, but they often lack character and, above all, charge very high rates, which always leave an aftertaste of poor value for money; rarely less than ISK 25,000 per double room, but often closer to ISK 35,000, or even more. The price generally includes the buffet breakfast. This allows you to save on the lunch break if you fill your stomach well.
The Icelandic term gistiheimilið (pension) covers a wide range of establishments, from family houses with a few rooms for rent to actual mini-hotels.
There are all kinds of them, from stylish contemporary boarding houses to those with anonymous or outdated decor. The bathroom is often common.
Most of the time, comfortable, these family-friendly establishments provide a kitchen, TV lounge and breakfast buffet (either included or at an additional cost of ISK 1,500-2,000).
Some guesthouses offer the down option at a very reduced price. Typically, the down option costs ISK 6,000, a double room costs ISK 14,000-20,000, and self-catering from ISK 15,000 per night.
2.3 Youth hostels
It is one of the friendliest and cheapest ways to stay in Iceland, especially since you can almost always cook and wash your clothes. Most youth hostels have dormitories and double, triple or family rooms, sometimes with bathrooms, which often have nothing to envy of those in guesthouses.
Some hostels are very far from the main road or the center, therefore, difficult to reach for those without a vehicle. Those in the "big" cities are open most of the year, but the others only operate in the summer or part of the year.
Note that some hostels in town work in "self-service," on the model of guesthouses. No reception and code at the entrance, provided when booking.
There are tjaldsvæði (serviced campsites) in almost all towns, farms in rural areas, and along the main hiking trails. The best have washing machines, cooking areas, and hot showers; others have only a cold tap and a toilet. Some are attached to the sundlaug (municipal swimming pool), with access to showers for a small fee.
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3. Travel to Iceland, transportation
The perfect way is to rent a car in Iceland. Most of the sites to see are surrounded by nature, and it's a shame to have to take organized bus tours; the prices are quite expensive and you have little time to discover each place. Avoid taking one from the car rental counters at the airport; it is three times the price. You just have to be careful in winter because the weather conditions can be difficult and better to have a little experience of driving on snow.
On the other hand, in July-August, the prices are more expensive. For solo travelers or those who do not want / cannot drive, one can buy bus passes on the circular route that circles Iceland or 4 × 4 buses, which cross Iceland from the interior through the highlands. You can stop whenever you want in the stopover towns and take the bus a few days later.
4. Travel to Iceland; food and drink in Iceland
Iceland is not a country famous for its food, and most restaurants serve classic burgers and fish & chips. There are still a few specialties to try, such as herring, lamb, or dried fish such as harofiskur or bitafiskur.
As for drinks, you have to try Icelandic beers like Viking, Gull, or Boli. There is also the local alcohol, Brenninvin, a potato brandy flavored with caraway, an aromatic plant. At 37.5 ° C of alcohol, the Icelanders nickname it "svarti dauði," that is, the "black death" A real Viking drink! Better not to have too sensitive a throat. In any case, it warms.
5. Travel to Iceland; security
In 2018, the Global Peace Index still ranked Iceland as the safest country in the world.
With the exception of overflows due to alcohol consumed in impressive quantities on weekends or at parties and gatherings, the greatest dangers in Iceland are traffic conditions on certain tracks and the lack of tourists' ability to drive on them.
Another area of concern is the outbursts of Mother Nature (volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods, etc.), which are the subject of close surveillance by the authorities.
Also, watch out for the wind, which can be very violent. Hold your car door tight when opening it.
6. A few unusual facts about Iceland to finish
- You have to shower naked in the pool before going for a swim.
- The hot water in the bathroom smells of sulfur. It feels weird at first, but it's good for the skin!
- Many Icelanders believe in elves, trolls, and other mysterious fairies, and there is even an Elven school in Reykjavik where one can earn a degree in "Studies and Research on Elves and Other Invisible People."
- Icelandic horses are the “cutest” in the world… Very small, we meet a lot of them on the sides of Icelandic roads. With their thin mane and beautiful eyes.
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Originally published on Live Positively.