Tied with Xinjiang, China, Iceland is one of my favorite regions in the world to visit, no matter the season.
Like many of the Nordic countries, the locals are kind, the food is delicious, and the country's infrastructure is cozy yet modern. While it's true that destination travel is on a rise and the region is experiencing a rise in tourism, there are many ways one can “experience” the country in a unique way. Depending on how long your trip is and your propensity for adventure - I'd recommend you to venture beyond the paved (geothermally-heated) path.
Note - I thought San Francisco was expensive. If you were looking for a budget trip, you may want to look elsewhere: plane tickets are deceivingly cheap, but once you arrive everything begins to add up quickly. Food comes in at ~$30 USD / person / meal.
If you're like me and hate carrying cash, you're in luck! Most places in Iceland (even those far away from the nearest city) accept credit card. I've never spent a single Euro in Iceland - I only wish this applied to the rest of the EU!
Parka/coat - in the spring and fall, it rains quite often.
Boots - trudging through snow in canvas or leather shoes is no fun. Take the less fashionable but smarter route and pack some watertight shoes!
Pants - less for the wetness and more for the wind. Consider multiple layers (long undergarments are great).
In a single day you may go through a number of different climates. Bring a trusty sweater or two to adjust.
Iceland uses the Europlug (CEE). Bring one or borrow one nightly from the place you stay.
Although I didn't bring one, Iceland has no regulation on small drones right now. This place is a dream come true for aerial creatives.
Keeping your hands warm will be important when you're driving and trekking around.
Huh, a swimsuit? Yes. One of the highlights of my life is the memory of going from the freezing cold into the warmth of the local hot springs. It's a must, if you visit the country.
Love them or hate them, budget airlines are here to stay and growing fast. I wasn't looking forward to my flights, but I was wrong. I actually really enjoy flying WOW - so long that you plan in advance, go in with a positive "why not?" outlook, and purchase tickets with the expectation of paying more, you'll be in good shape! Download movies & buy food/drinks before boarding.
If you'd like to do any sightseeing in Iceland, you ought to get a car. All the major rental services - Hertz, Sixt, Enterprise - are all available, as are local services as well (a quick Google search will suffice). Most roads are a pleasure to drive, but depending on where you'd like to go, you may or may not need a 4x4 to access them.
When in Europe, do as the locals do. That is, use Booking.com
If you're chasing the Aurora Borealis, this is a handy map to check the upcoming forecasts and your chance of success. The lights require dark & clear skies that are present in the winter and springtime (till late March).
Road Conditions Tracker
In the wintertime, driving gets a little scary if you're not used to the snow or rain. Don't worry though! Icelandic roads are geothermally heated and ice doesn't really build up. Regardless, should you be making a long trip, this is a handy tool for you to plan in advance.
If you're like me, you don't want to be caught in a sticky situation without any coverage internationally. Thanks to Kati's dad Jeff's suggestions, I browsed through most of the options - Travel Guard hands down has the best options. Budget $20-50/person so you can rest easy - it's a small price to pay for something that I hope you never have to use.
Kati and I personally aren't the biggest fans of staying in Airbnbs when we travel. That said, there are some nice ones in Reykjavik and around Arnastapi. Quality of supply is dependent on seasons in Iceland. They're around the same price as staying in a hotel.
Super unique experience staying in what feels like the middle of nowhere in a modern cabin (check out the images).
Hotel Katla Hofdabrekka
Photos don't do the place justice. Clean, reasonable rates, and in front of a beautiful lake. Easy to get to.
41 A Townhouse Hotel
Stunning place in the heart of Reykjavik with great accommodations and nearby activities. We found this place too late, on the last two nights of our first trip. I wish we stayed here for our entire stay in Reykjavik.
Friðheimar (Fridheimar Farms)
Really cool dining experience inside a tomato farm in a greenhouse. Great pastas, tomato soup, and breads.
Fiskmarkaðurinn (The Fish Market)
Fantastic seafood - one of the best in Reykjavik (others would say the nearby, similarly-named Grill Market is better). Unique rustic bread in a bag.
In my opinions, the best Fosshotel in Iceland. It feels like you're in the middle of nowhere. We celebrated Kati's birthday at the only place open on the peninsula that freezing, blizzarding evening, which fatefully was here. Best seafood soup I've ever had (I can't believe it was at a hotel).
As a hot dog fan, I came here not believing the hype (some would agree with this assessment). But I left more than satisfied - the dogs are made with a mix of lamb, beef, and pork. They taste and feel totally different than anything I've ever had in the states or Germany. Fantastic spot, albeit touristy.
Good tapas place in the middle of Reykjavik. From my good friend Sam: "Really good whale, lobster, puffin, lamb, etc. good place to try some of the iconic icelandic foods in small amounts without dedicating a whole meal to it."
Charming cafe on the edge of a cliff. Not easy to get to but good food and even better views. Special place.
Beautiful hot spring nearby some of the popular geysers. Locals frequent.
Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
This is the site of the famous DC 3 plane crash. It's now easier to find - you can park off a seemingly random place on a highway from Reykjavik to Vik and there is a marked trail that will take you to the plane. Please note, it's a long walk (1 hour each way). I almost don't want to share the location, but here it is on Google Maps.
Hruni Hot Spring
Another place I hesitate to share, but will for the sake of the public. Hruni is a hot spring that the locals go to. Google some photos - it's a rustic, really fun experience.
Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon
Great spot for photographers. Walk a bit along the beach and you'll quickly find that there are "diamonds" of ice all around you...
This is without a doubt the most beautiful place I've been to in Europe. It's a bit of a trek, but totally worth it. Fantastic views, very few tourists, and great food + hikes.
Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss
Two crazy waterfalls that a lot of people visit on their trips. I hesitate to recommend popular destinations, but these are must-sees, especially if you can go behind Seljalandsfoss.
Vik is an awesome town that's nearby a lot of awesome rock formations and black sand beaches. If you do visit, make reservations at the restaurants in town, as there aren't a lot of seats and you may be left waiting for an hour before eating.
No matter where, no matter when - you must take a dip in a hot spring at least once during your trip.
Iceland is home to some incredibly magical trails. My favorite hike was the trail connecting Hellnar and Arnarstapi, but you really can't go wrong with anywhere in the country.
Tour a glacier
When in season, find a local service that will take you inside a glacier. It's an otherwordly experience.
Even if you're venturing out without a map, you're bound to see some incredible views.
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