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Iceland

Iceland Travel Guide

Iceland feels like the end and the beginning of the world. With boiling mud, floating ice and geothermal steam, Iceland’s active landscapes are a reminder of how natural forces contoured our world. Everywhere you go in Iceland, you feel happily insignificant, yet deeply connected to the vast landscape. As we drove around the ring road, we were mesmerized by the contrasts in the landscape’s color, texture, and height. Snow-capped mountain ranges majestically frame tiny colorful fishing villages. Treeless black mountains seem to plunge into golden farmland. Moss-covered lava fields are dotted with statuesque horses. Iceland is a place that defies all easy definitions. But, in one word, it’s magic.

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Ultimate Iceland Travel Guide

Iceland Travel Guide Overview

  • When to visit Iceland – regions, activities, budget considerations
  • Iceland Basics – currency, payment culture, tipping etiquette
  • Where to Go in Iceland 
  • What to Experience in Iceland unique things to do and see
  • What to Eat & Drink in Iceland
  • Driving in Iceland – tips and useful websites
  • Where to Stay in Iceland 
  • How to save money in Iceland 
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Krýsuvík / Seltún Geothermal Area, Iceland | Moon & Honey Travel

When to Visit Iceland

When deciding what time of year to visit, consider where you want to go, what you want to experience and your budget. 

 

Where do you want to go in Iceland

There are certain places in Iceland that are only accessible in summer, or weather permitting. 

The Interior

  • The Interior is also referred to as the Highlands. If you want to explore the Interior, plan on traveling to Iceland in the summer: (Late June), July, August, (September). Here are some of the highlights of the Highlands:
  • Landmannalaugar in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve: views of Ryolite mountains, geothermal baths and Brennisteinsalda volcano.
  • Laugavegur hiking trail, 55 km trek from Landmannalaugar to Thórsmörk (Þórsmörk in Icelandic)
  • Thórsmörk (Þórsmörk in Icelandic), hiking destination in the Highlands
  • Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Range
  • Hveradalir (valley of the hot springs), geothermal area
  • Note: While it’s not possible to drive into the interior with your rental car outside of the summer months, you could still reach the interior with a Super Jeep Tour.

The Westfjords

  • Vestmannaeyjar in Icelandic. You can access this region in winter, but depending on the weather conditions, some roads are inaccessible. Also, some roads are simply not serviced in winter. A few tips:
  • You can’t drive to Dynjandi waterfall or between Ísafjörður and Patreksfjörður in winter.
  • You can’t hike Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, the uninhabited northernmost region of the Westfjords, in winter, spring, or fall. The only realistic time to come here is mid-June to end of July.
  • Personal experience. We booked a night in Ísafjörður (mid-April), but couldn’t get there, because of the road conditions. A week before, however, it would have been no problem (so it just depends on the weather). We were able to access Patreksfjörður via Highways 60 and 62 without a problem. 

Westman Islands

  • The Landeyjahöfn ferry connects the mainland to the Westman Islands (mainly between mid-May and mid-September). But on days when the weather conditions are bad (mainly in winter), the ferry doesn’t operate. If the Landeyjahöfn ferry doesn’t operate, there might be one from Þorlákshöfn (Thorlakshofn). So realistically, the best time to see the Westman Islands is in summer.
  • For more details on how to get to the Islands, check out the Visit the Westman Islands Website. 

 

What do you want to experience in Iceland

  • Driving the Ring Road might be possible all year long, but it’s not advisable in winter. In the winter, roads can be impassable. Even when we drove the Ring Road in April, we experienced less than favorable road conditions: icy roads, low visibility, potholes a plenty. We drove sometimes for hours without being able to see a thing (just endless white).
  • Northern Lights can be visible between mid-September and mid-April. Your ability to see them will depend on cloud coverage, solar activity and light pollution. When we visited in April, we met people who saw them. We didn’t, mostly because of cloud coverage and because we were to lazy to wake up at 3:00 a.m. when it most promising.  
  • Puffin Sightseeing (Late Spring – Summer) – Atlantic Puffins are seabirds that spend most of their lives at sea, but return to land to breed during spring and summer. It’s possible to see them between early April and early September. If you really want to see them, it’s a safer bet to come between May and August. We didn’t see them in mid-April (because it was a long winter).
  • Visiting Ice Caves is a winter activity (November – March).
  • Hiking the Interior is a summer activity (mid-June to early September)
  • Touring Fjallsárlón or Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoons) on a boat is a summer activity (usually mid-May to mid-September). You can definitely visit the lagoons outside those months, but there will be no tours in operation.

 

What’s your travel budget

  • Iceland’s high season is mid-June through August, and not surprisingly the most expensive time to visit.
  • When we traveled in April, we paid no more than 80 EUR per night for accommodation. We saw that some of the guesthouses we stayed in increased their prices by 400% for the high season (ouch!).
 
Eldhraun, Iceland | Moon & Honey Travel

Iceland Travel Basics

Official Name: Ísland

Capital: Reykjavík

Government: Constitutional Republic

Regions: Iceland has 8 administrative regions.

(1) Eastern Region, Eastfjords (Austurland, Austfirðir); (2) Capital Region (Höfuðborgarsvæði); (3) Northeastern Region (Norðurland eystra); (4) Northwestern Region (Norðurland vestra); (5) Southern Region (Suðurland), (6) Southern Peninsula (Suðurnes), (7) Westfjords (Vestfirðir), (8) Western Region (Vesturland).

Population: 331,778

Language: Icelandic. English is spoken fluently by the majority of Icelanders.

Currency: ISK – Icelandic Krona. You can pay everything with a credit card. There’s no need to pull out cash.

Tipping Etiquette: No need to tip. Service and VAT are included in prices.

Water Quality: Excellent. You can drink tap water everywhere in Iceland. Sometimes the water has a slight sulphuric smell, but it’s absolutely safe to drink.

Something Interesting: Icelanders don’t have surnames or family names. Instead, they use the traditional Nordic naming system to create last names. A child’s last name is created by using the first name of their father (or mother) plus -dóttir (daughter) or -son.

 
Icelandic Horses, Iceland | Moon & Honey Travel

Where to Go in Iceland

Click the dots to explore specific destinations. You can expand the map by clicking the icon on the top right corner. The map is best viewed on a desktop.
Destinations
  • Golden Circle
  • Southern Iceland
  • East Fjords
  • Northern Iceland
  • Westfjords
  • Snæfellsnes Peninsula / Western Iceland
  • Reykjanes Peninsula
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Árinni kennir illur ræðari.

 

 

 

 

Icelandic Saying

A bad rower blames his oars.

What to Experience in Iceland

Our favorite things to see and do
Hverir, Iceland Road Trip Itinerary, 2 Week Itinerary

Watching the Earth Boil and Steam

Hverir [Northern Iceland]

You will smell Hverir (also called Námafjall geothermal field) before you see it. This red, blue and white bubbling paradise is the stinkiest, yet one of the most splendid places in Iceland. Hverir is a geothermal area located in Northern Iceland close to Lake Myvatn. As you breathe in the sulfur-rich air, you’ll find yourself mesmerized by the steam and boiling mud.

Krýsuvík / Seltún [Reykjanes peninsula]

Krýsuvík is a geothermal area that you can visit either to or from Keflavik Airport. The landscape is alive with steaming volcanic vents and boiling hot springs. A boardwalk guides you gently through this hissing field in a circular path.

Gunnuhver [Reykjanes peninsula]

The mud pools and steam vents in this geothermal field are named after a female ghost. Iceland’s largest mud pool can be found here. The gases emitted from the ground turn the surrounding lava rock into clay.

 
Eldhraun, Iceland Travel Guide | Moon & Honey Travel
Eldhraun

Driving through Eldhraun

Eldhraun is a massive moss lava field in Southern Iceland. If you’re driving the Ring Road, you’ll drive right through it, between Laufskálavarða and Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. This lava landscape was one of the most striking places we experienced in Iceland. It looks like an endless pile of giant river stones covered in green carpet. The wooly fringe moss can be as thick as 50 centimeters (19.7 inches) in some places.

This unique landscape is the result of an eruption that lasted between 1783 and 1784, known as the Laki Eruption (Skaftareldar). The devastating eruption led to disease, crop failure and other catastrophes in Iceland.

It’s believed that the eruption affected mainland Europe as well. During the eruption, about 120 million tons of sulfur compounds were released into the air. The sulfur compounds mixed with the moisture in the atmosphere, resulting in sulphuric acid. The volcanic gas mist and ash fall resulted in withered vegetation, poisoned fields, and polluted groundwater. Between 1783 and 1785, Iceland’s population was reduced to a fifth and half of the country’s livestock perished. The mist traveled to Europe and as far as Asia, resulting in dramatic weather changes and air pollution. The calamities that ensued are called the Mist Hardships.

Visiting Eldhraun

  • There is a parking lot with official signage on the right side of the road (driving East).
  • The moss is very sensitive, so only use designated trails and roads when exploring.
 
Fjallsárlón, Iceland | Moon & Honey Travel
Fjallsárlón

Visiting Fjallsárlón and Jökulsárlón

No matter how short your trip is, don’t leave without seeing the frozen landscape of Fjallsárlón and Jökulsárlón. These glacial lagoons are the crown jewels of Iceland. We spent hours watching fragmented glaciers float and seals swim around the icebergs. In the early evening, the silence was only broken by the melting of ice and the peculiar sound of eider ducks.

  • When to Visit: Late Spring, Summer, Fall. In Summer, more ice is melting due to the heat and hence floating out to sea.
  • Fjallsárlón and Jökulsárlón are located in Southern Iceland. It takes 10 minutes by car to drive between them.
  • In the summer season (May – October), boat tours are offered at Jökulsárlón. Because we visited in April, we weren’t able to do this. In preparing for our trip, we read that Zodiac tours are the best way to go.
 
Hafnarfjordur Fish Racks, Iceland | Moon & Honey Travel
Hafnarfjordur Fish Racks

Watching Fish Dry in the Arctic Wind

The oldest food preservation method in the world is still being used in Iceland. That method is the drying of food in the open air. Icelanders gut and hang unsalted fish on wooden drying racks. The cold winter air dries the fish (usually cod or haddock), which results in a storage life of several years. Seeing fish heads swinging in the wind is chilling yet somehow hypnotizing. It reminds you of how so much has changed, and yet so much has stayed the same.

Interestingly, Icelanders aren’t the main consumers of stockfish. They have been exporting it on a large scale since the 13th century. Can you guess who the main consumers are today? Italy and Nigeria. Nigeria is actually the largest market for dried fish products in the world. They use fish heads in their soups and stews.

If you want to see rows and rows of drying racks, prepare yourself for the stench and go to:

  • Sauðárkrókur (Northern Iceland) – In this town’s harbor, there’s a collection of dried fish racks.
  • Hafnarfjordur (Reykjanes Peninsula) – If you’re driving south on the 42, the fish racks are on the left side of the road before the 417 juncture. GPS: 64°01’04.7″N 21°56’52.2″W
 
Grettislaug, Iceland Hot Pot | Moon & Honey Travel
Grettislaug

Soaking in a Hot Pot

The best way to warm up when the temperature is flirting with zero degrees is by jumping into a hot pot. Hot pots are warm natural baths. Some thermal baths are maintained regularly and charge a fee. These tend to be better, as they are both cleaner and hotter. Keep in mind that there may, or may not be a changing area. And because these are natural hot springs, there will be some algae.

Our favorite hot spring pool was Grettislaug. Located off the pothole-happy 748 road north of Skagafjörður, Grettislaug isn’t easy to get to. You’ll need a 4WD and some patience. When we arrived, the conditions were not perfect. It was bitterly cold and so windy that I (Sabrina) could barely open the car door. But, since we drove 45 minutes to get there, we were determined to get in. So we ran as fast as we could from the changing cabin to the hot spring in our bathing suits and beanies. And, oh my, was it worth it. The hot pools (there are two) hover at a glorious temperature of 43 °C. As you soak in the heat, you’ll see a bewitching mountain backdrop, turf houses, and horses. 

To locate a hot pot on your trip, use this website. We did notice that it’s a bit out-of-date, so fact-check the information before starting your drive.

 
Diamond Beach, Iceland | Moon & Honey Travel
Diamond Beach

Walking through Sculpted Ice at Diamond Beach

As icebergs melt and break off in the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, the broken pieces float out to sea with the tide. At Diamond Beach, you’ll see the ice float and land at the black sand beach. These icebergs look like sculptures, each uniquely and majestically sculpted by the ocean water.

 
Iceland Travel Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

What to Eat & Drink in Iceland

Icelandic Food

 

Geysir Bread (Geothermal rye bread) – Icelanders use geothermal energy to generate electricity, heat their homes and keep pavements snow-free. They also use geothermal energy to bake bread in the ground. This earth-baked bread is the best bread we’ve ever tasted. It’s moist, sweet, and delicious. We recommend eating geothermal bread at Laugarvatn Fontana Hot Springs (if you do the Golden Circle route) or Kaffi Borgir (if you explore Dimmuborgir and Lake Myvatn).

 

Harðifiskur – wind-dried haddock or cod. This popular snack can be purchased at any grocery store.

 

Icelandic Lamb – During the summer months, Icelandic sheep roam the countryside freely. They eat fresh herbs and plants and are never fed grain or given hormones. The meat has a distinct herbaceous taste.

 

Icelandic Drinks

 

Einstök Ölgerð Beer – we loved their Icelandic Toasted Porter made with Lager malt, Munich malt, chocolate malt, Bavarian hops, and authentic Icelandic roasted coffee.

 
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Iceland Travel Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

Driving in Iceland Tips

Rent a 4WD

This is a necessity. It costs more (we know), but from our experience, it was often essential in getting us from Point A to Point B. Iceland’s weather is so unpredictable. You’ll need to rent a car that can handle extreme weather and pothole a plenty of gravel roads.

 

Check the Road Conditions every Morning

Use road.is to find out what the road conditions are every morning before you begin your drive. After selecting a region, you’ll see a map of all the roads in the selected region. Each road is highlighted with its current condition: green (easily passable), orange (spots of ice), light blue (slippery), dark blue (extremely slippery), white (wet snow/snow), purple (difficult driving), black (difficult condition), red (impassable), and grey (no winter service).  

 

Check for Warnings and Alerts every Evening and Morning

Check the website safetravel.is for warnings and alerts. This site will provide up-to-date information on storms, road closures, wind gusts, etc… For example, the alert below notifies travelers that strong wind gusts are expected from Seljalandsfoss to Vík and from Skaftafell to Jökulsárlón! The alert advises drivers on bigger camper vans to not travel in the area. 

Safe Travels Iceland | Moon & Honey Travel

                      

Fill Up Your Tank Often

When there’s an opportunity to get gas, get it because gas stations are simply not everywhere. When we drove in the East Fjords, we drove hours between fuel stations.

 

Plan on Needing Extra Time on the Road

We often needed more time than what Google Maps suggested. That’s because the road conditions vary. Mountain roads take longer. Gravel roads take a lot longer (especially if there are lots of potholes). And, you’ll want to take unplanned stops to admire the scenery and the animals (reindeer, horses, birds, etc…).

 

Slow Down When Approaching a Bridge

We recommend slowing down before approaching a bridge because it can be difficult to assess whether it is a single-lane or a two-lane bridge from a distance. For single-lane bridges, the rule is whoever is closest to the bridge has the right-of-way.

 
Iceland Travel Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

Where to Stay in Iceland

You can stay in guesthouses, hotels, farms, and AirBnBs. You can also rent a campervan. Make sure to book your accommodations as early as possible, because they do fill up. To help you figure out where to stay, we’re going to share with you where we stayed plus top accommodations in each destination. For our 16 nights (in April 2017), we averaged 86 USD/70 EUR per room. The lowest we paid was 66 USD/54 EUR and the highest was 135 USD/110 EUR.

 
Iceland Travel Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

How to Save Money in Iceland

Icelandic Horses, Iceland | Moon & Honey Travel
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  • Living with Kati‘s Parents in Lockdown (Part 3). Do you know how to make lockdown/isolation/quarantine MISERABLE?  Kati’s family figured it out!  FAST😳! Fast as in the verb. Fast as in “abstain from food.” Fast as in cleanse. Fast as in 6 days of misery.  Yup, we’re fasting over here. It’s day 4 of starving and I’m not a happy camper.  To make the fast more effective, we’re eating Japanese apricots 🍑in the morning, which helps flush and detox your body. Sounds tasty, right? Well it’s freakin painful. Kinda feels like having food poisoning🤒. Anyway, if I live to see Friday, I’ll be treating myself to a pound of Sachertorte.  In all seriousness, this is kinda the ideal time to do a detox/fast. I can’t make any excuses (e.g. going to work, not enough time, dinner invitation, events, need energy to hike, etc...). And, it’s a real test in self-discipline - not my strongest trait.  Thank you Kati for pushing me to become a stronger 💪and healthier person. I’ll endeavor to be more gracious in the future.  Photo: Punta de Teno, Tenerife
  • Having a super productive day listening to “How you remind me” (more than once) 🙈, scrolling through period drama Instagram accounts (there are so many) and thinking about how it’s time to watch The Last of the Mohicans again.  What did you do today??
  • Living with Kati’s Parents in Lockdown (Part 2). See yesterday’s post for Part 1.  Living in the Austrian countryside with Kati’s parents had some huge advantages.  1. I get to master Austrian phrases like “Es ist mir Wurst” (it’s sausage to me), which means “I don’t care/ it doesn’t matter,” and my favorite expletive, “Geh scheissen,” which means “Go take a shit!!” 🙊  2. There are so many adorable childhood photos ⚽️of Kati around the house.  3. Watching Kati’s parents interact really proves that long-lasting, loving relationships do exist. ❤️Kati’s mom’s eyes still sparkle when she looks at Kati’s dad! They tease each other and explode into laughter every day.  4. Countryside living is super peaceful. 🌾We’re surrounded by farmland and vineyards. There’s no noise and hardly any traffic.  5. I get daily insight into why Kati is the way she is: patient, clumsy (breaking things), meticulous (especially with laundry), and unflappable.  6. Kati’s mom has an extensive doTerra collection. For those unfamiliar, doTerra is the Rolls-Royce of essential oils. That means I get complimentary doTerra treatments for sore muscles, insect bites 🦟 , and fatigue.  7. We have so much space. After living out of a backpack for months, it’s amazing to just settle in and use a closet.  Photo: Teno Mountains, Tenerife followed by photos of Kati growing up.
  • Living with Kati’s Austrian Parents in Lockdown.  So, first off, I'm extremely grateful that we have a safe landing place right now. If it weren't for Kati's parents, we'd be homeless.  But OH MY GOODNESS, living with your partner’s parents as an "adult" can be quite the test.  Here’s my life right now 😂  1. Kati's Mom says to me everyday (at least 3 times a day) “Isst du schon wieder??” (Are you eating again?) or “Hast du schon wieder Hunger? (Are you hungry again?) I’m not sure what she’s trying to say. 🍽  2. Kati's Mom also regularly inquires about my digestion. 💩 #pooptalk  3. I don’t understand Kati’s Dad. He speaks an Austrian dialect that probably most Germans wouldn’t even be able to understand. 🇦🇹 So, we can’t communicate and it’s often AWKWARD.  4. Kati’s Mom loves to show us her yoga positions. 🧘‍♀️ She’s been practicing yoga for years and she’s pretty damn good. But, we’ll be cooking dinner, and she’s like: watch me do Sirsasana.  5. Kati’s Dad thinks pants 👖 are optional.  To be continued.  Photo: Anaga Mountains, Tenerife. Finally published a few posts about our time in the Canary Islands > www.moonhoneytravel.com
  • Austria Lockdown Day 12.  As we settle into life in lockdown, I keep thinking about “time.” In some ways, time has stopped, or at least significantly slowed down.  There’s a whole lot we can’t do right now. We can’t go out for dinner. We can’t meet friends. We can’t go to a Therme. We can’t plan future trips.  The funny thing about all these constraints is that it’s creating space for new things… new thoughts, new routines, new activities.  Instead of planning trips and adventures and fantasizing about the future, I’m committed (more than ever) to today, just today.  I’m starting my morning with more intention. I’m taking time to breathe and sit in child's pose. I’m writing without pressure to post. I’m drinking more tea and likely eating way too many Manner Schnitten. And, I’m using my new electric lint remover with a vengeance.  How’s life in lockdown going for you?  Xo
Sabrina
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Sabrina