1. It’s not the lush whale population or the midnight sun. It’s that Iceland can trace their linage to the first settlers.
2. It’s not Nordic lights, powerful glacier rivers or that 30% has university degree. It’s that half the population believes in elf.
3. It’s not natural hot spring, geysers or lava field. It’s that Icelanders fire up 600 tons of firework during the New Year.
4. It’s not lava fields, hot springs or the glaciers. It’s that 13000 km lead to uncharted wilderness.
5. It’s not Vatnajokul, the largest glacier in Europe or that Iceland uses 99% renewable energy. It’s that most popular restaurant is a hotdog stand.
6. It’s not picturesque landscape or thermal pools. It’s that the national dish is cured shark.
7. It’s not the Blue lagoon, hot springs, or the 130 volcanos. It’s that every year 10 rock bands set out to conquer the world.
(got bored on the flight and took note of the commercial.)
Top things to do in Iceland
1. Sight-seeing in Reykjavik, visit museums and galleries, people watching.
2. Do the Golden Circle to Pingvellir National Park (Iceland’s most important historical site, world’s oldest parliament), Geysir (geyser field) and Gullfoss (the golden waterfall)
3. Bathe in thermal pools and natural hot springs.
4. Whale and birth watching
5. Hike to volcanoes, walk on green-moss-covered lava field
6. Glacier hiking or walking tour
7. Ride among icebergs at Jokusarlon glacier lagoon and taste 1000-year-old ice
8. Whitewater rafting
9. Horse riding
10. Jeep tour around the country
11. Drive through the rough interior
12. Camp in different parts of Iceland.
13. Eat seafood and other Icelandic food (lamb, skyr, rye bread, hot dogs…)
14. Attend a Bjork’s concert
15. Place a rock on top of a rock pyramid and make a wish.
16. Before or during the trip, read Nobel Prize winner Halldor Laxness’s Independent People, a novel about an Icelandic farmer; Jared Diamonds’ chapter about Iceland’s environmental problem in his book How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and Roger Boyes’ Meltdown Iceland: Lessons on the World Financial Crisis from a Small Bankrupt to have a deeper understanding of the country.
Sample 10-day camping itinerary
Google map route will be uploaded soon
Start in Reykjavik, drive through the interior to the north, continue to the east and head south before returning to Reykjavik.
– Flight to Reykjavik.
– Have an easy day in the city, check out the city center and have a drink or dinner.
– Camp in Laugardalur, Reykjavik.
– Golden Circle: Pingvellir, Geysir, Gullfoss (Golden waterfall).
– Drive through the rugged interior terrain.
– Bath in thermal spring in Hveravellir.
– Camp in Hveravellir.
– Whitewater rafting at Varmahlid caynon glacier river.
– Camp by the sea at Reykir and bathe in thermal spring.
– Glaubaer turf-roofed buildings.
– Godafoss (Waterfall of the Gods)
– Cross the fjord along the coast to Akuyeri, the capital in the north. Lunch and shopping.
– Whale watching in Husavik
– Camp in Jökulsárgljúfur National Park
– Hike to Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Jökulsá canyon river, volcano Krafla and other active volcanic area.
– Camp at Lake Mitvatn.
– Hike to the top of a hill.
– Hike to the volcanos and walk around the crater
– Thermal bath at
– Helicopter ride over the volcanoes (optional). The airport is right by the camp site.
– Camp at Lake Mitvatn
– Crossing the barren mountains around Herðubrai.
– Kverkfjöll, Iceland’s largest geothermal area full of boiling mud.
– Ride to East of Iceland (might spot reindeers on your way). Observe the change in climate and landscape.
– Camp in Hofn
– Roundabout Vatnajökull from the east.
– Bus/boat ride among the ice-bergs in Jorkulsarlon glacier lagoon.
– Lunch at Jorkusarlon
– Drive to Scaftafell national park.
– Hike in Scaftafell to Svartifoss
– Camp in Vik by the artic tern colonies
– Puffin and artic tern colony at coastal clift Dyhorlaey.
– Scogaross and Seljalandfoss waterfall
– Cross to the Rainbow Mountain.
– Thermal bath in natural stream.
– Camp at Landmannalaugar
– Circular hike in the colorful mountain among boiling springs, hot rivers, lava
– Boil eggs and cook food in natural boiling water.
– Camp at Landmannalaugar
– Drive back to Reykjavik
– Shop for souvenir, have seafood dinner in the city center.
– Go for a swim in the pool next to the camp site.
– Camp at Laugardalur, Reykjavik
View 10-day camping trip in Iceland in a larger map
Camping is the best way to experience Iceland. Not only it is the cheapest, it is also the most efficient way to explore the country’s vast wilderness. I camped in different environment every day: the city Reykjavik, the open windy interior in Hveravellir, by the fjord at Keyflir, in the national park, by Lake Mitvatn, in the very remote rugged terrain of Landmannalaugar. Having a car is more convenient; but I also saw solo travelers doing just fine taking buses.
Many camp sites have additional cabins with beds and linens or only sleeping bags (cheaper).
As of 2011, there are 37 hostels in Iceland. www.hostel.is has all hostels in Iceland with up-to-date information.
The tourists whom I met were either on bus tours or traveling in their 4×4 rental cars. Independent travelers can use Iceland’s public transportation buses traveling on the Ring road, which circles the country. The buses are not frequent, depart only once a day at any point. At popular tourist attractions like the Golden triangle (Pevinglir, Geysir, Guffoss), the buses stop from 45 minutes to one hour, enable you to see them in one day. In other remote destinations, you have to wait for buses arriving the next day.
Hitchhiking is probably going to be difficult here. A woman traveler and I tried to hitchhike on our first day in Reykjavik. We couldn’t get anyone to stop for us, even from male drivers. Usually two females have the highest odd of getting picked.
I camped during my entire trip, eating with my fellow Czech campers and ended up eating supermarket sandwich, cereal, pasta, powder mash-potato and packaged Czech-style dinner. While I was grateful that I had a full breakfast, hot tea every morning and warm dinner every day in addition to saving a lot of money eating out. Iceland is still a very expensive place to eat out. Fortunately, I was able to sample various tidbits of Icelandic foods due to the resourcefulness of our tour guide. Once he bought a small box of shark meat from the super market for everyone to have a bite. This was more than enough. Shark meat, Iceland’s national dish, has no taste and smell like ammoniac; you need to wash down with strong alcohol. In other occasion, we fried cod bought from the supermarket. One day we visited a trout and salmon farm and sampled fresh smoked salmon before buying some home. Every breafast we had Skyr, an Icelandic product, something between yogurt, cream-cheese and ice-cream. It looks like yogurt, but when you scoop it, it felt like cream-cheese and when you eat it, it definitely taste like ice-cream. I ate three flavors Skyr: white, strawberry and honey. The best way to eat Skyr is to mix it with thin milk and add canned fruit for the sweetness. The last day in Reykjavik, I escaped my group, skipped dinner and had lobster soup, minke whale kebab at Seafood Baron, a small, lovely restaurant by the harbor, recommended by Frommer’s guide. The prices were affordable; you can’t find any where offering cheaper seafood menu. Their signature dish is lobster soup which has similar creamy, sweet and sour taste like the Thai Tom Kha. When I was there, except for one menu comprised of smoked whole-halibut, the rest were grilled sticks. Another alternative is the Fish & Chip, across the street. They offered fish menu from 1100-1500 ISK.
The weather changes abruptly from one moment to the next, from one place to another. Bring clothes for three seasons: summer, winter, spring/autumn when traveling in the summer. Bring extra clothing if camping as the temperature drops to zero degree at night. Pack a pair of clothes for the city (jean, khaki pants, t-shirt), warm hat, scarf, gloves; breathable t-shirt, waterproof sweaters, all-season hooded jacket, walking shoes or boots, bathing suit to take advantage of Iceland’s thermal pools, many of which are free.
(Seeing is believing. Dressing like this and we were still cold. Remember this is only in June.)
I was lucky to have an experienced tour guide who told us in advanced the weather condition and what to wear. I was here on my 2nd night, not yet used to the weather of Iceland and could barely sleep. To be on the safe side, always have a t-shirt, sweater and a windproof jacket (3 layers) plus 1 spare sweater for extreme cold regions, 2 layers of pants plus 1 extra. A warm hat which can cover ears and/or headband which is very useful in windy areas, waterproof shoes in all situation.
The interior and moutainous areas are the coldest. The warmest region is the eas and south-east. At least that was how I experienced.
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Icleandic Krona (ISK) is the currency. However, euro is accepted in most places (supermarkets, restaurants, shops, etc…) and the return is given in Icelandic krona. Please keep in mind that due to the recent financial crisis, Icelandic Krona has lost its value and isn’t accepted outside Iceland. Use all the money or exchange back into euro or dollars before leaving the country.
Iceland is an expensive country. I heard and read that prices went down after the 2008 financial crisis, but it was not enough. I can’t imagine the price tags before Iceland went under.
Currency exchange: 1 € = 165 ISK
Thermal swimming pool: 15 € /2100 ISK per day
Whale watching: 50 € (3 hour)
Rafting: 70 € (4-hour course)
Helicopter ride: 100 € (1 hour ride over Lake Mitvatn)
Souvenir t-shirt: from 3000 ISK
Wool hats, gloves: from 2500 ISK
Wool sweater: from 9000 ISK.
I bought two guidebooks before the trip: Frommer and Globetrotters. I like Globetrotters because it has a lot of colored photos of Iceland, almost on every page. The limitation of the Lonely Planet is that it has only a few pages in the middle with representative pictures of the destinations, and you have to search for images online, doubling the effort. I bought Frommer’s guide, Kindle version, later on, as I thought it would have more detailed information about the country. Both guidebooks are more tourist-oriented listing only things to see, to do, where to eat, basic facts about the country which are probably enough for many people. I expected to read more on historical and current events to have an understanding of the people and the nation. In this aspect, the Lonely Planet and Rough guide usually shine.
I ended up not using the guide books because I traveled with a travel agency which offered very good program and a very experienced tour guide. Additionally, free mini guidebooks published by Icelandic tourism industry have useful information.
See photos of Iceland.