In this Iceland - All you need to know before visiting Iceland post, I bring you all the information and useful tips what you need to know before your Icelandic adventure.
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In this Iceland - All you need to know before visiting Iceland post you will find all the useful information and tips what you need for preparation of your Icelandic adventure.
Iceland basic facts and information
Iceland is an island country in the North Atlantic Ocean. It is located just below the Arctic Circle, between Greenland and Norway. Its main peculiarity is that it lies on the boundary between the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates. This is also the reason for its origin, as magma rises from the depths through the fissure formed by the separation of the two plates. The island is therefore characterized by significant volcanic activity. Iceland has 140 volcanoes and more than 1.000 craters.
While the contrast is stark, as more than 8% of Iceland is covered by ice.
Iceland is the closest to Scandinavia in cultural, economic and linguistic terms. No wonder, since Iceland's first settlers were Vikings fleeing Norway in the 9th century. (Before that, the island was probably inhabited by a few Irish monks.) The island has a population of about 370.000, most of whom, nearly 60%, live in Reykjavik and the agglomeration.
A special fact is that, because of the low population, there is an application whereby, before dating, the two parties check if there are any family links between them (the potential couple) , going back a couple of generations. With such a small population, this is really necessary.
Another fun fact about Iceland is that there are no traditional surnames, as the full name consists of the person's first name and the patronymic formed from the father's first name. The name formed from the father's first name looks like his first name + "s+son" for a boy or "s+dóttir" for a girl.
When to visit Iceland
Iceland lies directly below 66,5° of the Arctic Circle. Therefore, as in the Nordic countries at similar altitudes in the north, the length of the day depends to a large extent on the month of the year.
The summer months of June to August are the peak season for hiking in Iceland, with the sun setting for only a few hours. But in mid-July, even during the "night hours", the sky is not dark. Then, at the end of August, the darker nights start, with 5-6 hours of darkness at night. Winter days, on the other hand, are mostly fully dark, with only a few hours of light during the day.
So if you want to explore Iceland's beautiful places properly, you should visit in the summer, late spring and early autumn. But if you also want to give the northern lights a chance, the best time to go is in late spring or early autumn, when there is still full light during daytime and dark hours at night, when you might be lucky enough to see the northern lights.
Few people know that auroras are not only in the north, but also in the south. The northern lights are called Aurora Borealis and the southern lights Aurora Australis. But because northern lights are easier to see and are available in more places, when people talk about the aurora, they usually think of the northern lights.
The phenomenon of the aurora is caused by charged particles in the Earth's magnetic field emitted by solar flares. When these collide with particles in the atmosphere, the excitation causes light to be produced.
But this kind of activity is not enough to see the aurora. Darkness at night and clear skies are essential. It is advisable to move away from city lights if you want to see strong colors.
But of course, with the aurora borealis, nothing is guaranteed.
There is no such thing as a 100% success here, because you really need a combination of factors. So here, success requires being in the right place at the right time.
Of course, in addition to luck, our own preparedness is also important, as there are already Aurora forecasts that can be a significant guide to viewing the aurora.
In these apps (Aurora, Aurora Fcst) you can see the KP index, the degree of geomagnetic activity. This index ranges from 0 to 9. The higher the value, the greater the chance of seeing the aurora with the naked eye, because at higher values, the visibility slides further south. So, for example, at a KP index of 2, you may only see something in the northernmost part of Iceland (or not even there), but at a value of 3 or 4, there is a good chance that you will see something in the whole of Iceland. But again, I stress that clear, dark skies and being awake are essential... :D
When you're in a place anywhere in the world where there's even a tiny chance of seeing the aurora, it's worth updating your location in the Aurora app and setting it to send you a notification. Then you have a much better chance, as the app will notify you to watch the sky in the next hour or so, if the conditions are promosing.
We were in Iceland at the beginning of September, so it was already dark at night, and one night, we were lucky enough to get a bit of a clear sky, and then we could see the northern lights, faintly for a few minutes. It was a great experience, especially as the beginning of September is not the real aurora season, but we were in the right place at the right time. :)
The weather in Iceland is very varied and sometimes incredibly windy. You literally have to be prepared for any weather here. You can have hurricane-force winds, torrential rain, but also beautiful sunshine. And the best part is that it can all happen in a quarter of an hour. So if you are going to Iceland, I think the most important thing is to dress in layers. Because it is easily possible that you will need to put on sunscreen while wearing a T-shirt and trousers, however on the same day you can also feel cold in a T-shirt, two sweaters, two windbreakers, a scarf, a hat and two pairs of trousers.
So it really is extreme weather. What's also very important is rainwear. If you are lucky then you won't need it, but if you can't get somewhere with a roof quickly, you can get soaked to the skin in minutes without proper rainwear. And in Iceland, don't rely too much on using an umbrella, because windless weather is pretty rare, and there are usually winds (especially during rainy periods) so strong that you're lucky to stay on your feet at all, don’t even think about holding an umbrella over your head.
We had such gusts of wind at one of the lighthouses, for example, that we actually felt it was dangerous and had to hold on to each other and the handrail chain to keep us from being blown by the wind.
Be sure to check the official Icelandic weather forecast website https://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/elements/ for hourly map forecasts for wind, precipitation and temperature.
It's important to check this in the morning, as you may want to change the order of the days spontaneously if you don't have a tour booked, as it may rain in one part of Iceland and be sunny in another.
Also, for information on road conditions and safety, see safetravel.is.
Car rental is essential when exploring Iceland, as there are vast distances between the various attractions and a well-developed public transport network is almost exclusive to Reykjavik.
Before renting a car, it's worth defining what you plan to explore, but if you follow my recommended itinerary, you'll leave a few thousand kilometers behind in Iceland.
And in Iceland, not only is food and housing pricey, but petrol is also very expensive (in September 2023, petrol was almost 2,6 euros per liter.)
It is well known, however, that Iceland is one of the main leaders in the usage of renewable energy sources, and thus electricity is also produced from renewable energy sources. No wonder that electric cars are becoming increasingly popular in Iceland.
So it may sound completely unbelievable, but overall we got a lower final SUM by renting a Tesla than we would have if we had rented a regular petrol car. It’s because the rental company: Lotus Car Rental, provided free charging option for our car all over Iceland.
We were able to charge our car for free at ON, Isorka and Tesla supercharger stations with no limit.
In addition, they also had a full insurance (Platinum) package where no deposit was required and there was a 0 excess in case of damage.
So all in all, I highly recommend the Lotus Car Rental. Everything worked with them from start to finish, including the airport transfer.
They have 150 KW (ON, Ísorka) and 250 KW (Tesla) rapid chargers, which can fully charge the car in about 1 hour (~570 km range), but if you don't want to charge it to 100%, it's much faster, because the last 20% is charged a bit slower because of battery saving.
Alternatively there are slow 22 KW chargers, but they are quite slow, not so worth going there. And you also have to pay attention to the charger outlet type, because not all of them are compatible with all cars.
If you're not familiar with charging electric cars, they give you a quick guide, but what I would definitely recommend is that if you rent an electric car, you should download the ChargeFinder app, where you can filter by power, provider, location, type of charger, and find the best charging option for you and get information on its availability.
Many attractions in Iceland have parking lots with cameras, the average parking price is around 1.000 ISK - somewhere more, somewhere less. ('In September 2023, one Icelandic króna was 2,68 forints.)
Where we could simply scan a QR code via our phone and pay, we bought a ticket. I mean, where we stopped beyond the camera area, because there are some attractions where you can easily park in front of the cameras, so you can easily save a few euros just by walking a few more meters.
Useful apps, websites
To sum up, I think the most important apps and websites in Iceland:
The itinerary I've presented is perfectly doable with day trips from the same accommodation, but some people prefer to stay in more than one accommodation to reduce the number of kilometers driven.
We had our accommodation near Borg, and the day tripping worked perfectly well from there.
We booked our accommodation on Airbnb, but you can also get a good deal on booking.com. For 1-2 night stays, it's probably better to book on booking.com.
Even though Iceland is not an EU member state, Hungarian citizens do not need a passport or visa, but an ID card is sufficient for the entry.
Moreover, in the last few years, since the better availability of direct low-budget airlines, it has become much easier to visit Iceland, as it takes 4 hours by direct flight from Budapest to this Wonderland.
Usually tickets are not cheap, but we managed to get a great deal so the return ticket was a bit less than 100 euros per person. Plus we had the Wizzair Discount Club, however we could only take small backpacks with us.
However, since we are allowed to take food with us from the EU, we took food in an extra carry-on bag so that we didn't have to do the big shopping in Iceland.
And even having to pay the extra baggage fee, we were better off, because meat and dairy products are very expensive in Iceland. (I should note that until a few years ago, there was a significant multiplier, but since the last massive price increase in Hungary, the Hungarian food prices have unfortunately increased a lot. Some products still cost double in Iceland, but you can also find products that are priced quite similarly to the prices in Hungary... All this, of course, while the minimum wage in Iceland is about 2.600 euros, and the average salary is double that...!)
But even if you take groceries with you, it's inevitable that you'll go shopping in Iceland. The most popular and perhaps cheapest supermarket chain is Bonus, followed by Netto.
Grocery shopping in cities is a must, as you can travel hundreds of kilometers between cities without seeing a store.
It's worth taking care of your Icelandic SIM card in advance. I recommend the Airalo e-SIM for traveling abroad, which allows you to purchase your SIM while you're still at home and once you activate it at home, it's up and running as soon as you land.
It's not so bad, because a 3 GB internet package costs $10 (If you use my coupon code BERNAD4356, it's only $7, because you and I get a $3 discount! ;) )
Iceland has normal European sockets, so no need to bring a converter.
I think this gives you all the general information and things to know in preparation for your trip to Iceland.
In my next blog post, I'll bring you the specific 6-day itinerary.