So at the end of April, Rob and I took a one-week road trip along Iceland’s Ring Road. The trip was inspired in part by Rob’s layover there en route to Stockholm last fall, Icelandair’s aggressive ad campaign around D.C. and one too many Iceland nature videos. And late April seemed like a good time to go: We could both beat the tourist rush and celebrate our sixth anniversary.
We booked our airfare through Icelandair, and a “self-drive” tour package through Nordic Visitor. We’re typically travel do-it-yourselfers, but this tour package seemed like a happy compromise: Their travel agent set up a “suggested” itinerary, booked our car (with GPS) and guesthouses along the way, and off we went, free to decide what to do and how long to spend there.
I’ll write posts summarizing the highlights from each day, but a few general notes, culled from emails sent to friends and colleagues also considering trips to Iceland:
- Communications-wise, we borrowed an unlocked Droid from Rob’s brother and bought a local SIM card (2,000 ISK for the card, another 1,000K for 1GB data from Siminn). We had to go to an actual Siminn office outside the city center to get the card. (Vodafone is another major provider there.) But once we were set up, it was awesome — we even used the Droid’s tethering function as a mobile hotspot for my iPhone and Rob’s laptop.
- More analog, almost everyone we spoke to spoke English. Excellent English. Even most signs were billingual. It was super-easy to get around — and a little humbling.
- You can get by with a credit card for just about everything. We drew out cash once and ended up not needing it. All that said, Europe and Canada are big on this chip + PIN system for credit cards — something U.S. cards don’t support. It wasn’t an issue, except when we went to fill up the car and all the pumps wanted credit card PIN numbers. We got around by buying prepaid gas cards inside the petrol stations’ convenience stores.
- Money-wise, I don’t know if I’ve lived in DC for too long, or if Iceland’s economic troubles have devalued the Icelandic krona just that much vs. the dollar, but prices in Iceland generally didn’t seem that crazy-expensive. (That said, gas was still crazy-expensive — and in ISK, priced by the liter. It took some calculations to figure out what we were spending.)
- Since Yelp doesn’t have anything for Iceland, we relied on TripAdvisor for restaurant recommendations.
- If you go to a movie, don’t be alarmed when the movie stops halfway through for intermission. Apparently it’s a thing. (I was a little WTF when they stopped The Avengers right after a pivotal scene.) Also: compared to the U.S., concessions are pretty cheap. Be warned, though, with the candy selection: There’s a LOT of licorice (but also a lot of chocolate).
- If you want to go elsewhere in Reykjavik, you can get an all-day bus pass for 8,000 ISK from the tourist office in the city center (and other places, but that’s where we got ours). We each bought one to go to the Perlan building for its Saga Museum, and it was pretty easy to use.
- Outside of town, the Golden Circle (Thingvellir, Geysir, Gullfoss) is kinda touristy, but totally worth your time. You can probably get a tour bus from Reykjavik, or you can rent a car to go at your own pace.
- Further afield, Dyrhólaey, near Vik, is pretty awesome (though they may close it in early summer for bird nesting season — we saw puffins even while we were there!). And Jökulsárlón, the glacial lagoon on the southeast part of the island, is AMAZING but is probably too far for a daytrip.
- Driving-wise, the roads we encountered (particularly the Ring Road) were in excellent condition. The Ring Road is mostly paved. Out in the country, gravel roads are pretty common, but usually well-maintained. A little scary: a good number of one-way bridges and blind curves, and drivers that tend to speed. Be cautious. (That said, especially a ways from Reykjavik, we could go quite a while without seeing another car.) If you’re flying Icelandair, watch the short “how to drive in Iceland” promo video under the “television” category.
- Day 1: Reykjavik
- Day 2: Golden Circle to Vik
- Day 3: Vik to Höfn
- Day 4: Höfn to Mývatn
- Day 5: Mývatn to Sauðárkrókur
- Day 6: Sauðárkrókur to Reykjavik
- Day 7: Reykjavik (depart)