After 11 days in Iceland, and only 1 shower, my boyfriend Dan, and I returned to the US a bit financially poorer, but way richer in experiences.
We got to ride some horses (not ponies), saw a bunch of sheep, a seal, and a reindeer, and unfortunately did not see a single puffin. We ate a bunch of instant noodles, pasta, PB&J sandwiches and cereal. We drank a few beers and bought a super fluffy sheep skin. We played a lot of card games, and shockingly enough I won (once, but still I’ll take it)! We drove (I drove) approximately 1,600 miles and didn’t break the rental camper.
And in case you want to go to this magical country, where every direction you look is an absolutely stunning view, here’s a few things we learned about traveling.
Get the extra insurance on your rental car.
Normally I skip the insurance, since I’m a cheap Vermonter and would much rather spend that money on some beer, but for this trip we went ahead and got the extra gravel protection insurance. Which was a relief to have as many of the roads, even the main roads, are a mixture of rough gravel for miles and miles on end. It was nice knowing that the many rocks being flung up at the car weren’t going to potentially cost us in repairs.
Speaking of rental cars, get one.
I can’t imagine going to Iceland with out getting a rental car. The ring road is absolutely amazing and the difference in landscapes is worth getting your butt in a seat for a few hours. We went the camper route, which was nice as we didn’t have to pay more for hotel rooms or hostels and didn’t have to set up a tent at the end of the day. Although if you do have the budget, I would suggest to get an off road vehicle because many of the roads do not allow cars unless they have 4 wheel drive and there were some pretty cool things we missed out on because of our low clearance vehicle.
We probably stopped at least 100 times just to take photos of everything. And since we were in no rush to get anywhere stopping for a few moments never hurts. The scenery is amazing in Iceland, and although you can’t capture the beauty with a camera, it never hurts to try. There were a few times when we should have stopped for photos, like when we saw a sunbathing seal or a reindeer, and I will probably forever kick myself for not getting that photo. Take photos of the mundane too, cooking in the van, dinners, make goofy faces, be as un-Instagramable as possible.
Icelandic horses are not ponies.
This one I already knew from being the crazy horse girl growing up, but it’s so hard to resist calling them ponies. The breed developed over time, evolving to adapt to Iceland’s harsh and rocky terrain, so the horses got smaller. They even developed their own gait called a tolt to help them navigate the land. And they’re sure cute. I dragged Dan on a horse ride at the end of our trip, and it was fulfilling a childhood dream, I only wish we could have gone faster! And luckily there is about 1 horse for every 3 people in Iceland, so there’s loads of opportunities for horse photos.
It’s kind of expensive, but instant noodles are still good.
Iceland is kind of expensive, we knew this going in, but still paying around $8 US for 2 coffees hurt a little bit (not that it stopped us). We chose the museums we went to carefully (at least so we thought, more on that later) and hit up a lot of the free attraction sites. Camping every night was also way cheaper than renting a room, so that made things easy as well. We tried to keep our costs down by eating a lot of pasta and instant noodles, which are still great even after my college and hiking days. We ate out a few times, but other than that made our own meals. I think that helped to keep costs a bit lower for us, but if you have the budget, definitely eat all the food you can.
See as many waterfalls as you can.
The many, many waterfalls the Iceland has are amazing. My favorite one was still the first one we saw, Seljalandsfoss. It might be because it was the first one we saw, or the fact that you can walk right behind the fall, and it’s just this massive amount of water thundering down. So cool! We also went to Dettifoss, which is Europe’s most powerful waterfall. The road getting there was a bit long, a lot of dirt roads, but it was totally worth it. I’d recommend taking the road less travelled side, rather than the nice paved side to see Dettifoss.
Icelandic sweaters are awesome.
If it had been in our budget, we would have come home with at least one Icelandic sweater each. Apparently knitting it taught in schools, so the wool sweaters are beautifully made. Every stop we made had at least one Icelandic sweater wearing person around, we tried to find one in our budget and unfortunately couldn’t bear to part with our money. It might be something I’m kicking myself for years down the road, but they were also pretty itchy so I’m not sure the sweater would have seen much wear anyways. We did buy a sheep skin though, so fuffy!
All museums are not created equal.
We went to a grand total of 3 museums, again the budget watching, and two out of the three were pretty great. The first one we went to was the Lava Centre in Hvolsvöllur, which was a really cool and interactive museum. I’m all about the interactive museums! This one let you feel the ground shake for different types of earthquakes, and there were a lot of interactive volcanic eruptions. We learned that Iceland is home to 32 volcanic systems, has around 130 volcanic mountains, and 39 eruptions in the 20th century. Highly recommend.
We also went to the Icelandic Phallological Museum, which I found very entertaining! It might not be suitable for all travelers to Iceland, but when a museum has more than 250 different penises and penile parts, it’s hard not to go. Other than the fluid preserve glass jars of dicks, there was also folklore and a few pretty funny poems. Also highly recommend.
The last museum we went to was the Viking Museum. Sounds awesome, right? Wrong. It would probably have been a giant waste of money, if it hadn’t been so bad. Just the fact that it was so bad made the 40 minute trip out of Reykjavik worth it. It took us all of maybe 10 minutes to read through the information and hop on the viking ship they have hanging. We did get to pet a sheep once we were outside, so that helped a little. Unless you are a huge fan of slightly boring videos (like the history ones you used to watch in school) I’d say this might be a pass on your list.
Hotpots are pretty sweet.
We initially thought about hitting up the Blue Lagoon, but after a few reviews, it sounded a bit too touristy. One thing we read was that it was basically a spa centered around a lagoon, bit over the top for us. So we skipped that one and instead waited until we were up pretty north. Dan found this really cool hotpot on hotpoticeland.com and even though it took us a few u-turns to find it, it was worth it. We had to walk though a few fenced pastures and across a cute little bridge, but when we got there, we had the place to ourselves. Fosslaug was built from stones and turf just beside a hot spring, and near the river Svartá. We had the place to ourselves for a bit, and it was one of the quieter, just the two of us things that we did.
I’m sure we learned a lot more things about Iceland, and definitely about each other, but I’d have to write a novel to get it all down. In the end if you are thinking about going to Iceland, do it. Adventures are out there and in the end it’s really only money. Wouldn’t you rather be rich in experiences and maybe have to eat a bit more instant noodles?