Although my family and I only spent three nights in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, I aqcuired a few tips to share with any traveler en route to the beautiful country!
- The Water Situation. The water source in Iceland is very natural, which means one can drink cold water directly from the tap instead of buying bottled water. The cold water source is very clean and actually mineral-enriched. However, this also means that the hot water comes from a different source and is filled with sulfur, making hot water smell really bad…
- Everything is insanely expensive. Much like my experience in Switzerland, I found everything from food to accommodations to souvenirs having high pricetags. A simple deck of cards as a souvenir probably cost about 15 USD, while the average meal would cost 30-50 USD per person. The cheapest meal we had was a bowel of noodles, about 15 USD in Iceland that could be bought for 7 USD at home. The souvenirs were expensive—more than 30 USD for a t-shirt? Just beware and be ready…
- Wi-fi is widely available. Surprisingly, basically every tour bus, hotel, restaurant, and even grocery stores offers free wi-fi. Instead of buying an expensive phone plan, I was able to have wi-fi connection throughout my stay in Iceland at no cost!
- Daylight hours are different. The sun is up for 24 hours in the summer and it can be almost completely dark in the winter. This means that, during my short stay in the summer, I never saw the sun go up nor did it go down… it was always shining bright! This allows for much more daytime activity than the average country has, and we usually spent long hours out into the night, sleeping at midnight with the sun still out. This may also lead to trouble sleeping, so bring a sleep mask if you need darkness to sleep!
- Stores have odd hours. While the sun may be out 24 hours a day, many stores have late opening and early closing hours. For example, a discount food store like Bónus opens at 11 am Monday-Thrusday, and 10 am during the weekend. So far the only store that I have seen open 24/7 is 1011, a quick food mart (but be aware that they also charge higher prices!). Stores also take advantage of the holidays and rarely open on special days. Don’t let the daylight deceive you!
- Seafood is a staple. Whether it is cured or smoked or cooked, seafood is a main food item in Iceland. This makes sense, as they are an island and island peoples tend to eat from the sea and what is plentifully available to them. That being said, they also have their own farms and self-produced vegetables and meat, although much is also imported.
- They have interesting foods. Some might call these exotic, Icelanders call them the norm. While in Iceland, I tried fermented shark (yes, shark!) and skyr, similar to Greek yogurt but with fewer additives. We also saw whale and puffin meat widely available, and one might be surprised to find lamb meat more popular than any other meat.
- It is cold. (Duh?) This should be obvious, given that it is Iceland, but Iceland is not only cold year-round but it is also very windy, adding to the already low temperatures. (Locals don’t recommend umbrellas for rainy weather as they would most likely just blow away). When I went in the summertime, temperatures did not exceed about 50° while winter temperatures always drop below zero. Just be really ready for the cold!
- Iceland is more green than ice. In fact, it might even be greener than Greenland! Iceland is cold, but there is no doubt that Iceland has beautiful and green scenery for anyone to enjoy.
- Relax and focus more on nature. Yes, the city of Reykjavik is exciting (2/3 of Iceland’s population lives there), but the beauty of Iceland lies out in nature amid the moss, hot springs, volcanoes, geysers, etc., so if you have enough time, definitely rent a car and drive around the country, for you may never see more breathtaking views anywhere else on earth.