Tips on traveling in Iceland

Iceland, what an adventure!

This island has been on our bucket list for some time now. It was actually going to be our second stop at the beginning of our world tour. However destinations got shifted around and we got here 11 months later!

It was so different from every place we had visited before. This is what made our time here so special and unforgettable.

But how did we plan our trip here? How did we manage to bring our winter clothing around for 11 month? How did we decide where to go and what to do? These are some of the questions we have been asked during as well as after our trip! Let me fill you in!

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What did we do with our clothing?

I have been following for months a couple of Iceland related Facebook pages Iceland – travel tips and Iceland – tips for travelers. They have been very useful for some tips but extremely stressful for others.

One of the things that worried me the most was how cold we were going to be since we were going in an in between season: April. Was it going to still snow? Or rain? Or both? I have slowly learned to filter what people say, but most of all I have realized that weather in Iceland is unpredictable all year around!

In our case, since we have been traveling for almost a year now, we haven’t been carrying all our winter clothes with us for the whole time. We actually bought most of it in Portugal, our last stop before Iceland!

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We found a Decathlon in Lisbon and bought waterproof pants, jackets and boots. In a moment of pure “mother stress” I also bought very warm undershirts which none of us ever wore! This was one of the tips that I did not filter well from the posts! Everything was pretty much on sale at the store due to the end of the season. That was not planned but so lucky for us! The waterproof shoes and jackets have been very useful more than once but the super warm shirts were useless, it wasn’t that cold after all.

Another interesting detail about our clothing is how often we wore the same things…… Since we were changing home every night, we often didn’t even take the suitcases out of the car (it is safe here). We had a spare change in a back pack and we would wear and wash the two outfits every time we had a washing machine. It made life so much easier!

How did we decide where to go and what to do?

We  knew we wanted to go all around the Ring road or Route 1. This is a national road that runs around the island and connects most of the inhabited parts of the country. The total length of the road is 1,332 kilometres.

We opted for renting a car rather than a camper van. Although houses or hotels can be pretty pricy in Iceland we didn’t want to be limited with places to go. We also added the option of a 4×4 to have a more adventurous way of exploring this country. It was very useful in a couple of occasions such as: in the snowy north as well as on an amazing Black beach down south!

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I looked up many blogs to get reccomandations on “must dos” in Iceland. It is a very popular destination now, so lots of people have things to say. It can get very overwhelming at times to read through everything! Honestly at one point we were almost tempted to cancel because it felt like everyone was going to be there. We are happy we didn’t!

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We planned the route out as best as we could, mainly to give ourselves some directions on where to book the houses. However in more than one occasion we did have to modify our plans. For example due to not very safe hikes for kids or simply not enough time in a day to see everything.

Anyway we believe that what we ended up visiting what was really important for our Iceland experience. I will share our full itinerary in a separate post! You can check out some photos here!

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Where did we stay?

As mentioned before, initially we thought about going in a camper van. However it was still cold in April so we decided against it. We wanted to  enjoy every moment of this trip without having to worry about freezing at night!

We booked all our homes on booking.com mostly in houses/apartments and cottages. We have met some amazing people who have shared some extra knowledge about this incredible country.

For a couple of nights we stayed at Brúnalaug Guesthouse and one morning our lovely host Anna let us visit her Paprika greenhouse!!! Together with her husband they own a paprika farm and our little cottage was right in front of it!  Anna explained us the whole process of growing the plants, taking care of them and then picking the peppers that are than sold all around Iceland. It was such a unique stay in this guesthouse, you never know where and when you are going to learn something new!

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We really enjoyed snuggling in a warm house every night after long days out. Some houses were also well equipped and we had a chance to do some baking and serious cooking.

Don’t worry about booking way in advance if you are going in low season. We booked mostly last minute and found plenty of options at reasonable prices for Iceland.

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What about food?

Iceland is a bit pricy, but not only for foreigners! As we have been told by an Icelandic, also for locals! So traveling with 3 kids can be a bit tricky at times.

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We had a nice meal out only one day in Vik, and it was worth every penny! Other than that, we ate sandwiches on the road at lunch and cooked our dinners at home at night. We don’t really do night life, so after a whole day out, a warm and cozy home was the place to be for all of us!

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There are 2 grocery stores that have better prices Netto and Bonus, we liked the first one best and always went there. So in the end food wasn’t a big issue for us. We shopped smartly and cooked bigger meal at home.

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What about activities?

We loved visiting all the natural environment but we also enjoyed some extra activities. We visited 2 museums: The Settlement Center – Landnámssetur Íslands with their Saga Exhibitions which were self guided tours offering insights on Iceland’s past and Viking World.

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We ventured into the lava tunnel, one of the longest and best-known lava tubes in Iceland. We also tried to go whale watching, but unfortunately it wasn’t our lucky day. April isn’t full season yet, so it is always a bit uncertain. The ride on the boat was beautiful and worth it anyway, we had a chance to see Iceland from the water.

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We also jumped in the famous geothermal pools. Since we heard mixed opinions on different places we decided to try 3 of them ourselves so we could make our own opinion! We went to Myvatn Nature Baths, the Secret Lagoon and the Blue Lagoon. The prices vary between the 3 of them, of course the Blue Lagoon is the most expensive also because if the most visited, but the other 2 are magical as well. In case you are wondering, our favorite was Myvatn Nature Baths.

How did we manage to do all these activities with 3 kids without going bankrupt?! In most places they are free or half price. For example the Blue Lagoon was the most expensive but there was no charge for the kids, so it was not as bad! All these activities were worth doing and the kids enjoyed everything!

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In the past months we have made ourselves a bit more “wifi independent” by purchasing Huawei router. We can be connected easily everywhere anytime. We arrive in a country and purchase an only data sim card. Usually we can find them at the airport but on our arrival here we were told that we had to go to the mall in Reyjavik. Not very convenient but we made it.

We were told that wifi wasn’t an issue in Iceland so we almost skipped getting a sim card. However we did stay in a couple of places where it didn’t really work well, so we were happy we decided otherwise!

Car Rental

We rented our 4×4 at Blue Car Rental and we loved it! It was super easy, you could actually walk over from the airport but we took the shuttle not knowing! We had booked one car, only to realize that our bags did not fit! Luckily they had a bigger one and very quickly we solved the issue.

We were so happy with our choice because it gave us more freedom to drive around specially when we found roads that needed a 4 wheel drive. It was a bit more expensive than a traditional car but totally worth it in Iceland!

Our car also came with free GPS. However we also have google maps downloadable version, so when you are driving in areas with no connection you won’t get lost!

One of the tips we received and have to share is to do all the necessary insurances because the weather is so unexpected here, that it can be extremely easy to damage the car! Don’t save money by skipping insurance in Iceland!Iceland 16

The weather?

Oh boy! When they tell you that Iceland is very windy, believe them!!!! It is the windiest country in the world and we got to experience that first hand, more than once! The last 2 days before our departure they also closed the airport due to the strong winds…..one important reccomandation for who rents a car is to never leave the car door open! The wind will blow it off and you will have to pay for that!

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When you don’t have windy days than you can be surprised with all kinds of weather. You can also experience all 4 seasons in one day! We went from rain, to heat, to snow and then to cool weather again. You simply dress in layers and see what the day brings!

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In conclusion

Honestly in the past few years we have noticed such an increase in tourism here in Iceland that it wasn’t as appealing to us as it was originally. As we planned our trip we were often wondering if it was worth it after all.

After 14 amazing days here, we have realized something important. To truly enjoy this country you have to follow your intuition and try to break away from all the touristy places. Iceland has so many amazing landscapes and hidden gems still to be discovered. If you improvise you might end up in a place like this! Yes, if you are wondering, we were the only ones on this beach…….check out our complete photo gallery to see more photos!

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