Iceland Recap and Suggestions

Iceland is a fascinating country. If you read our blog you probably enjoy the outdoors and will love the beauty of rugged Iceland.

Below are some of the things to keep in mind should you choose to visit this stunning country.

Driving in Iceland

We drove 2,712 km in Iceland. That’s almost 1,700 miles, or nearly the distance from Oakland, California to Dallas, Texas.

Andy did all the driving and found it to be pretty straightforward. He felt as if he was still in the States because we drove on the right side of the road and the steering wheel was on the left.

The familiar driving position coupled with roads, landmarks and towns being very well marked limited stress behind the wheel, allowing him to focus on the driving and avoiding distracted tourists behind the wheel of their rentals.

Even though getting around was pretty easy, we relied on Google maps everyday (particularly when Laurie – the copilot fell asleep) and for the most part it worked well to get us close to our hostels and landmarks.

Rental Cars

Renting a car is easy in Iceland. Our recommendation is to rent from the major companies located at the airport. You’ll recognize most of the names there – Hertz, Avis, Budget, etc.

While it costs a bit more to rent from the major brands, the counters are at the airport proper avoiding the up to 90 minute wait for a shuttle to the offsite location.

We rented from Firefly, an off site company. Thankfully we only waited about 30 minutes for the shuttle van to pick us up. The car was cheap and worked well, until it didn’t.

We don’t know if this would have happened with rentals from the major companies but we experienced brake failure and received a haphazard explanation that they are usually too busy to maintain their fleet consistently.

Andy found this explanation unacceptable and hopes the major companies hold themselves to more stringent repair requirements.

One more tip – Park far away from other cars, particularly in windy places. Park facing the wind so your door doesn’t rip off the car when opening it. No joke.

Also, if you are thinking about renting a camper, we have no direct experience with this but saw A LOT of campers on our travels.

Using American Credit Cards for Purchases

You can use a credit card in most places in Iceland.

Gas stations are well spread throughout the Ring Road. American credit cards generally do not work at gas stations since there is no pin associated with it for purchases (debit cards don’t work either).

Because of this, as an American you must use gas stations with attendants to either purchase a prepaid card inside or kindly ask them to unlock the pump and pay afterwards.

Gas stations serve as mini grocery stores and many have cafes associated with them. We can’t speak to the quality of the food but at least you can count on them to have something to eat.

Cell Service

We had WiFi everywhere we stayed and only needed to worry about cell coverage while on the road.

In terms of international phone coverage there are some options:

You can buy a SIM card as you would in any other country so long as your phone is unlocked.

Another option is to use international plans through your carrier. Both AT&T and Verizon offer international plans for $10 per day which extend your home plan to wherever you are. Our pre-trip research indicated decent coverage with Verizon but less was said about AT&T.

At times there was slow Internet speeds but we had service almost everywhere.

Water

You can drink water from the tap. The water is delicious and, according to Iceland, chemical and additive free.

While you can buy bottled water we never felt the need.

Some of the water in the geyser belt smelled of sulfur but we never got sick.

Public Pools

We chose to skip the fancy commercialized hot springs (Blue Lagoon and Mývatn Nature Baths) and instead spent time and money at the public pools. They were awesome! Most have kid pools, water slides, lap pools and hot tubs and cost around $10 per person.

Year round, this seems to be a popular way for adults to relax while keeping their children entertained.

Seasons and When To Visit

Summer is the most popular time to visit Iceland. The weather is generally nicer with long hours of daylight. This also equates to more people.

You can access more of the country in the summer than you can other times of the year. For example F Roads that lead to Iceland’s interior are only open and accessible during the summer months.

In the shoulder seasons there are less visitors and flights and lodging are cheaper, but the weather is unpredictable. And even though there is less daylight your chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis is slim.

Winter brings more darkness and your best chance to see the northern lights. These are their coldest months but from what we read and heard, the Ring Road is open all year round (major storms close parts of the road at times) and you get to see the waterfalls and other attractions with the added beauty of snow.

Helpful Websites

Verdur.is has the most accurate weather for Iceland. We checked this website every evening to know what to expect the following day.

We also checked it to track Aurora Borealis activity.

Road.is has the most up-to-date road conditions info for all of Iceland. This is another website we checked every evening to ensure we could get to where we wanted to go.

Thanks for reading our Iceland blog. We hope our posts will be useful when you plan your trip to this magical land.

Laurie finally got a picture of a sheep up close!

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Day 10 – Bye Bye Iceland

October 24, 2018

Lambafell to Keflavík

We woke up to a dark sky. Like most mornings it was hard for Laurie to get out of bed.

We kept the day’s itinerary simple – swimming pool, return car and head to airport.

It was a 90 minute drive to the outskirts of Reykjavík where we wound through a neighborhood to the Árbæjarlaug pool.

This pool was used to foreigners as they had the instructions for the changing rooms written in English. Apparently this was confusing initially to others as well!

By this time we were pros.

We quickly changed and jumped in the pool at the base of the slide. The water in this pool was not as warm as previous ones but it was much warmer than the outside temperature and falling rain.

It had an exposed (as in not enclosed and thus colder) stairwell to the top of the slide. The 5 degree weather did not deter us from playing on the slide for a good 20 minutes. A few slides in Andy showed Laurie how to use a swinging motion to gain momentum and go even faster.

It was not as fast or exhilarating as the slides in Akureyri but it was faster than the ones in the previous pool.

Laurie swam some laps while Andy hung out in the hot pots and massaged his neck and shoulders under a powerful fountain.

We spent about 90 minutes in the pool splashing about and moving our bodies before the 9 hour flight home.

The car drop off was uneventful other than a few trips past a round-about trying to locate the entrance to a gas station.

Andy did let the rental car company employees know he was displeased with the brakes of the first car and got a haphazard apology. He believes Europeans don’t do apologies very well.

We paced through the airport multiple times stretching our legs prior to the flight.

As US citizens we had the privilege of multiple extra security checks. While most people procedeeded through the passport check with green lights, us Americans received a red light and loud buzz as we attempted to go through the turn style.

We were corralled to a separate line and had to answer questions on our purpose of travel, where we had gone, where we had stayed, etc. The agents were very friendly, particularly after Andy talked them up and Laurie made them smile attempting to pronounce the names of various places.

Once through Passport control we figured we were good so we wandered the extent of the terminal.

Our gate was through another checkpoint where they sent all Americans into a small room and patted us down and went through our bags. Apparently they do this because of TSA requirements. Or maybe it is a way to employ a lot of people..

In any case, the agents were all friendly and we had plenty of time to spare so it wasn’t a big inconvenience.

By the time we got to our gate people were already lining up. We joined them and waited another 20 minutes before they began loading the plane.

Wow airlines has very specific guidelines on the size of “personal items” vs “carry on.” One couple on our flight got in a huge argument with the airline staff because their carry on did not fit in the plastic measuring containers. Apparently they took off the luggage wheels to make them fit to avoid the extra charge.

We were glad we had payed a little extra to check in bags in addition to carry on luggage and a personal item to avoid this hassle.

We took a bus to our plane, inhaling our last breaths of cool, crisp Icelandic air before ascending the steps to our bird.

Once on the plane we settled into our seats, Laurie eyeing the empty rows in hopes of snagging one to sleep across. The suspense grew as the time between the buses extended.

There were no announcements but it seemed too good to be true to have so many empty seats. Eventually the facial expressions on the flight attendants relaxed and a large number of people boarded the plane. We had waited for a few dozen travelers who had been delayed and were connecting to our flight.

Suddenly the chances of sleeping comfortably on the plane diminished and we resigned to our original seats.

The flight was fine – long but fine. We snacked, napped, walked and repeated.

Coming home is never as fun as leaving but we were content with our trip. We had a great time and will certainly visit Iceland again in the future.

Tonight we are grateful for sleeping in a horizontal position and loving family who welcomed us home with salad!

Larger than normal thermal activity near the main road

Day 8 – No Tomato Soup For You!

October 22, 2018

Akranes to Skógar

We woke up in the dark, refreshed from a good night’s sleep.

We had planned another full day with stops at some of the sights we had missed on our original drive to the southwest part of the country.

But first we had to leave the hostel. When Andy went to put on his shoes, one of them was missing.

We were both perplexed, there were 2 doors to the hostel but the missing shoe wasn’t at either.

Did someone take it by mistake? That could potentially be the cause if both were missing, but not just one.

Did someone use it as a door stop? Nobody else was awake other than a French family whose room was next to ours. Laurie was about to ask them when Andy opened a closet near one of the doors and found the missing shoe.

Thank goodness. We really didn’t want to spend precious daylight shoe shopping, particularly since everything would be uber expensive and we are quite fond of our waterproof Keen boots. We suspect the young kiddo at the hostel hid it thinking it was funny, but we will never know.

Finally in the car with cozy boots, our first stop was to the local bakery. We bought a cinnamon roll larger than our heads to share on our last days in Iceland.

We left the town of Akranes via a 6 km underwater tunnel. It was rainy in Akranes and once again Laurie hoped that we would encounter different weather on the opposite side of the tunnel – again, this was not the case.

We had so much fun at the public pool in Akureyri we decided to go to as many pools as possible in our remaining days.

Given that it was 8:30 on a Monday morning, there were less people at the Lágafellslaug pool. The waterslides were not as steep or fast as those in Akureyri but we still had fun.

We went down the slides together (probably weren’t supposed to) to gain more speed. And there was nobody else there so we never had to wait. We had a blast! Laurie also swam laps while Andy alternated between the hot tubs and plunge pool.

It remained gloomy and rainy and the pool seemed to be the best place to be. Reluctantly we left around 10am to continue south.

We returned to Thingvellir National Park – a place we had accidentally driven through on our first delirious day without knowing its importance.

This site has both geological and historical significance. Iceland is the only place in the world where the rift between two tectonic plates is above sea level. They say the rift between the two plates widens by 2.5 cm each year.

Not only is it the meeting place of the North American and Euroasian tectonic plates, but it is the location where representatives from each clan met in the 10th century to discuss law on the island and create a commonwealth.

We joined the herd of people as we walked to the Öxarárfoss waterfall. In 7 days we haven’t heard as much English as we did in the hour we spent in this National Park.

It was cool seeing water fall off the shelf formed by the movement of tectonic plates but nothing as spectacular as the waterfalls we saw earlier in the trip.

As we pulled away Andy took a deep breath and tried to blow away all the clouds. We both want sunny skies but it it’s supposed to be cloudy and rainy for the remainder of our trip. But as we always do, we will make the best of it.

After leaving the park we turned onto Road 36 toward Kerid Crater. To our right there were many cars at a dam so we pulled in. As Andy neared his chosen parking space we heard a noise similar to running over a soda can.

Then, as Andy attempted to stop the car, the brake pedal went to the floor but the car did not slow. Andy pumped the brakes a few times and thankfully the car came to a complete stop just before hitting the concrete median and ruining the underbody of the car.

After a quick inspection Andy realized the right rotor showed extreme signs of uneven wear and there was no right front brake pad any more.

He was pissed but thankful this happened in a parking lot rather than on the highway or twisty mountain roads.

We called the rental car company and eventually the emergency service number. Three hours, one visit to the interactive energy museum, one cold walk and one Laurie nap later, a very nice service man met us with a new rental car.

We quickly moved our stuff to the new car and took off. We had to alter our plans quite a bit since we lost 3 hours of daylight but we were thankful to be safe and back on the road again.

As we turned into the parking lot for Kerid Crater both of us had an epiphany. We had been here before.

On our second day, when driving this same road we had seen a bunch of cars and tour buses so we pulled in. When we saw the 400 Kronar per person entry fee to see a crater we figured it wasn’t worth it and turned around.

Now we were back – and this time it was planned!

We laughed at ourselves for being so cheap, payed our entrance fees and walked around the top of the crater. It was pretty with the blue/green water in contrast to the red volcanic rock and vibrant green moss. Of course nothing was as vibrant as it could have been with heavy cloud cover and mist but it wasn’t raining.

We are glad we stopped here as this crater was formed about 6,500 years ago.

We continued south, having to pass up our original plan to have what many claim to be really good tomato soup at a farm with many greenhouses.

As we approached Seljalandsfoss falls the light was poor again so we kept driving to our hotel. It has turned into a long day.

Our hotel is about 5 minutes from Skogafoss, another really pretty waterfall we didn’t get to see on Day two.

We got out to take a quick look, with the intention of coming back tomorrow morning without the crowds to walk up the wooden staircase to the top of the falls.

We got settled into our hotel, enjoying nice features like views of a green mountain side and a heated bathroom floor.

We ate a delicious meal of locally caught Artic Char and roasted lamb in the intimate dining room of the hotel.

We are savoring the last few nights in Iceland and looking forward to our ice cave experience tomorrow, whatever the weather.

Tonight we are grateful for our boots (all four of them) and a working car.

Walking on the North American tectonic plate toward Öxarárfoss waterfall


Öxarárfoss waterfall


Disappointed travelers with a broken car


Kerid Crater


Can you find Laurie?


Skógafoss falls


Kia Cee’d – our new rental car. Quite possibly the only car in the world with an apostrophe in its name.