Following our recent adventures in Iceland, I thought it would be useful to share some advice for anyone thinking about planning a similar trip. So, here are some tips that we picked up during our travels…
Hiring a car is by far the best way to see Iceland. Yes, it’s possible to base yourself entirely in Reykjavik and join organised day tours to the Golden Circle and south coast, but you’d miss out on seeing so much along the way. We spent a full week touring around the south and east before heading to the capital, and it was a fantastic experience.
If you’re visiting in winter then I’d definitely recommend hiring a 4×4 with studded tyres – the photo above shows the kind of conditions we encountered, and we saw a few other tourists come off the road while trying to negotiate snow and ice in normal cars. If you’re planning a summer trip then a standard car will be fine on most roads, though by law you’ll still need a 4×4 if you want to drive on any of the mountain roads in the interior. We used Blue Car Rental, who were fantastic and sent useful email updates during the snow storm that hit mid-way through our trip.
Navigating around Iceland is fairly easy as there are so few roads; you’ll probably spend most of your time on Route 1, the ring road which encircles the entire country. Most roads are paved, but some are gravel; there are also lots of single-lane bridges, even on the main highways.
You’ll need to allow longer than you think you’ll need to get anywhere, as there are so many amazing views that you’ll end up stopping every few minutes! It’s also worth topping up with fuel whenever you see a petrol station, as they can be anything up to 80km apart in rural areas.
Driving in winter is perfectly do-able, but bear in mind that roads often get clogged with snow and are sometimes closed while they’re cleared. The Icelandic weather can also change in the blink of an eye (our drives often started in bright sunshine and ended with a blizzard), so stock the car with snacks, water, a blanket and enough money to pay for alternative accommodation, just in case you have to change plans. It’s worth asking locals for advice, but remember that they’re used to driving in these conditions – we soon learnt that a road which an Icelander describes as ‘a bit slippery in places’ will probably be a 200km sheet of ice…
Websites and apps
There are a few websites and apps that are invaluable when travelling around Iceland. Road.is shows detailed, real-time conditions across the entire road network and is a huge help when planning journeys. Also very handy is Vedur.is, which has hour-by-hour weather forecasts for every corner of the country.
In addition, it’s worth downloading the 112 Iceland app, which allows you to ‘check-in’ with a central computer from time to time, meaning the emergency services have an idea of your location should anything happen. You can also use it to dial the emergency number by text message if your phone signal is very low.
With such changeable weather, packing lots of layers is essential at any time of year. On most days, I wore thermal tights, jeans, thick woolly socks, a thermal t-shirt and a thick cardigan or jumper, together with a hat, gloves and scarf. I also had a waterproof coat with a down filling, which kept me toasty warm, along with snow boots and sunglasses (the sun is always low in the sky in winter).
Other useful items are a waterproof pouch for your phone (ideal for taking photos at thermal pools and waterfalls), and waterproof trousers that you can slip on over your jeans when walking around in wet snow. Finally, it’s worth taking an extra camera battery and a portable phone charger, as batteries drain quickly in cold temperatures.
Photography by Abi Dare