Type in “Iceland must know” or “Everything Iceland” and you will find blog post after blog post on this amazing country. Most of the blogs say the same things. It’s no surprise that the secret is out about this place. Here are my 10 not so secret facts about Iceland, the Iceland must know facts.
Iceland must know: It’s windy
Iceland is first and foremost a very windy country. It’s in the middle of a turbulent ocean and there are not many trees to break the wind. There’s not much shelter either. The population of the whole island is 330,000 with about 2/3 living in Reykjavik.
The wind just rips through the island (and you), sometimes with snow but always with a chill. The weather may be mild year round but that wind is bone chilling so always be prepared for the cold. You’ll want to dress in layers or at least bring layers for warmth despite what the forecast reads. The wind will always make it colder and you never know when it’s coming. It literally comes out of nowhere.
Fight through the cold: Bring hand warmers! They are a lifesaver.
Iceland weather is unpredictable
You might think you’re going to visit during the warmest winter on record but then you arrive only to find out all roads are closing because they are getting a giant snowstorm. The next morning they tell you that no one expected it to be the storm of the century. The worst storm the island has seen in 70 some years. You just never know what to expect. Sun, rain and snow could plague your trip and it could happen all in 10 minutes or all in one day. It’s not what the cat will drag in but what will the wind bring in.
I went to Iceland in the winter on purpose to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). I expected and packed for the cold. I just didn’t know that I was also coming from the coldest winter in Oregon. Brrr…I was ready for a warm weather break but instead I stuck to my goals of seeing the lights. I didn’t know it was going to be so tough though. With the snow storms they didn’t come out until the last couple nights of our trip. I’m wishing I had more time with them to get better pictures.
Iceland is expensive
No, it’s really expensive. And might get even more expensive. Everything on the island has to be flown in. They don’t grow anything there. Iceland is mostly a giant lava field where not a lot grows except moss and grass. The parts that are not lava fields are giant glaciers. After the lava and the glaciers there’s not much land left that’s why they call it the land of fire and ice.
Petrol is about $9 USD/gallon and you’ll need a lot of it if you want to drive around the island. The country seems small but it takes a long time to get anywhere. Even the airport is 45 minutes from the city and the bus is not that cheap.
Pro tip: Plan your route ahead of time to avoid wasting gas getting lost. Download offline maps.
Food is pretty expensive if you plan on going out to eat. Gas station pizza is about $30, $12 for a hot dog and hamburgers $17. We paid $10 for one sandwich at a restaurant that was only two slices of white bread with one piece of lunch meat, one slice of cheese, one piece of lettuce and one tomato with a little mayo. No sides, no frills. Alcohol is even more expensive than the food. If you plan on drinking on the island you should pick it up at duty free. If you go to a liquor store you will pay $7 USD/ bottle of local beer and $42 for a pint of Jameson (only $28 in duty free—see picture). You can buy a whole big bottle of Jameson for $42 here in Oregon. That’s crazy for a pint!
Save money: If you have room in your luggage I recommend packing treats. I packed jerky and nut bars, the perfect travel food, plus, it saved me money. Even on the flights there you’ll want to pack snacks or pay the price, literally.
Iceland is small in population
You’ve already heard the population so it’s no surprise that the towns sprinkled on the island are pretty small. The towns may or may not have a grocery store, gas station or cafe. Some towns have it all in a one stop shop for food, grocery and gas.
Some of the “larger” towns have restaurants and cafes but usually not many and they seem to close early. If you are seeing the sights and want to grab a bite to eat after you might be out of luck. Everything seemed to close no later than 10 with most things closing by 8 or 9.
Buy food at discounts: If you didn’t bring a lot of snacks in your luggage consider picking up some groceries at Bonus or Kronan. Search online before you head out for your long drives.
Iceland is big in exploration
The island may seem small especially compared to Greenland or another country but to explore the island there’s only one “major” road. The road being called “major” because it connects the whole island. It’s THE road, the only road that connects everything. There are not any other roads that criss cross the island. There are other roads that lead to places but you’ll always have to come back to One, Route 1, sometimes called the ring road, the one major road. To most people that visit, the road won’t be that “major”. In fact, if you go far enough on this road you’ll find it’s mostly two lane with a lot of one lane bridges. These bridges are not temporary, they are the permanent bridges and they are not manned by lights or people. You must be careful when crossing, especially at night. You might end up in reverse. Most of the bridges aren’t too long but it’s still a bit of a scary experience. Also, do not think that because this road is the main road that it will not close. It will in Iceland’s many unpredictable storms. If it’s too windy or snowy they close ALL roads.
Road safety: Check this website for you go each morning. If we had done so we wouldn’t have driven in two feet of snow because roads were closed.
Iceland is beautiful
It’s an incredibly beautiful country from its waterfalls to its valleys and all the roaming Icelandic horses. From the glaciers and the mossy green rocks to the wildflowers. Considering the country is filled with volcanoes that have erupted on more than one occasion you wouldn’t expect all the color but it’s pretty green…unless it’s been snowing. Just don’t expect to see a lot of trees. If you do see a tree it’s probably pretty small and planted by someone in a town. I didn’t go to the northern half of the island so maybe there are more trees there.
Don’t feed the horses: Like any “wild” animal we don’t want them to rely on humans for food. They should eat the food that’s best for them, not what we read online about what they could eat. Let their owners feed them or let them roam for what they need.
Iceland is not a secret anymore
The secret is out about the beauty that Iceland holds. You won’t ever be alone on this island. In fact, the locals are finding it hard to even keep their secret spots a secret. They are having to find new secret spots that are even more remote than the last secret spots because those have been discovered and written up in magazines and blogs. Iceland is now busy year round thanks to the cheap flights and boundless beauty. There are times it’s less busy than others but overall expect to see crowds. There are many tour companies and buses you’ll see especially at the major attractions in the south.
There are predicted to be over 2 million visitors this year. I wonder if this will continue or slow down? I don’t know about you but I like my nature with natural sounds not crazy, screaming tourists with drones.
Iceland is cashless
You can buy almost anything on a credit card so no need to exchange your money for kronas. If your credit card does not have a pin in it at the gas pump you’ll need to go inside to buy a “gift” card to use at the pump. This can only be an issue if you need to pump gas after the store has closed. You might also need cash for parking meters if you plan to stay in the city.
Iceland rental cars are tricky
Manuals are cheaper than automatics. 4wd is a must if you plan to do any driving off the ring road. F-roads don’t allow anything else and those are the roads that can get you to the “secret” or not-so-secret spots.
The biggest expense that a rental car company will stick you with is a “wind took my door” fee. You MUST hold your doors tight when you open them. The wind has claimed many doors in Iceland. It happened to a couple at the rental car company when I was there and it was not a cheap repair. Sand, gravel and ash damage is also something they will charge you for. Be warned that the rental place will even look under the car with a mirror for damage when you return it.
Petrol pumps: The gas pump handle colors are switched from the States. Green in not diesel but unleaded. Make sure you put in the right fuel. (See image above)
Icelandic is hard to speak
Good news though! Everyone you’ll come across should speak english without even much of an accent. You’ll have no trouble getting around or asking for help. I’m assuming since you are reading this you speak English but just making sure 🙂 It’s nice to learn how to say hello and thank you in any country that you visit. It’s an effort that will usually have you in their good graces quickly. If you want to learn even more Icelandic I applaud you. Those words have more consonants and sneaky sounds than any other languages I’ve seen or heard.