After two amazing weeks in Iceland we said “Sjáumst síðar” (see you later) and hopped our Icelandair flight back home to Canada. Two months later, we’ve had time to reflect on the places we stayed, the roads we traveled and the adventures we experienced. So just as we did after our trip to New Zealand, we’ve compiled a list of “stuff” to share: things that were notably different from what we’re accustomed to in Canada, our top picks for things to see/do in Iceland and a few other topics worth mentioning.
Food & Drink
- In general, restaurant food is really good, but fairly expensive compared to dining out in Canada. For example, K ordered fish and chips for supper one night priced at the equivalent of about C$54 and it came with only one piece of fish. One reason is that Iceland has a VAT (value added tax) – currently 24%. Another is that restaurant staff (including servers) are mandated to be paid a proper living wage, which is reflected in the menu prices. Also, a lot of ingredients are locally grown (thanks to cheap hydro-electricity and abundant geothermal heat, there are a lot of greenhouse operations). We generally found the portions to be appropriately (i.e. not too big, as we tend to find when traveling in the U.S.A.). And a final note on the restaurant front is that reservations are almost always needed, at least during the busy summer tourist season.
- Tap water is great throughout Iceland, so no need to waste money on bottled water.
- We followed our standard practice of eating a hearty breakfast (included in the price of the hotel room almost everywhere we stayed) and dining out at supper time. In between, we’d use supplies from the nearest food store for snacks, sandwiches, and skyr – a type of particularly protein-rich yogurt specific to Iceland that we loved!
- If you like seafood, especially fish, you’ll really like eating out in Iceland. I think I had fish for supper every night but two and it was always very fresh and very well prepared. Even K liked eating fish in Iceland!
Geocaching wasn’t anywhere near the top of our list of reasons to vacation in Iceland, but we still wanted to add another country to our geocaching map. So we opted for opportunistic geocaching (i.e. searching for a geocache if there happened to be one where we stopped anyhow, but never really going out of our way to look for one). We were impressed with the first few geocaches we found in Reykjavík. They were well placed, appropriately hidden and in good shape. In fact, we found the second biggest physical container geocache we’ve ever found right in Reykjavík! By the end of our holiday, we’d found 60 geocaches in Iceland, more than 10% of the active geocaches in the country at the time of our visit. Many of them were earthcaches, which only seems appropriate given the many unique aspects of Iceland’s geology. And last (but not least) on the geocaching front, we finally reached our 4000th find milestone, a traditional geocache hidden at the Thingvellir UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We hired a driver / photo guide for most of our stay in Iceland. By the end of our trip, we’d traveled almost 3000 km in his super truck, much of it on “4×4 only” roads made all the more challenging by multitudinous creek crossings, late season snow pack and steep grades. It’s fair to say this is not our preferred mode of in-country travel, but it’s the one that made the most sense given that we planned to cross the Highlands twice and that we wanted to do some relatively remote access hikes.
If we had any experience driving 4×4 vehicles, we might have rented such a vehicle and driven ourselves. But since one of our main reasons for visiting Iceland was photography, it made more sense for us to go with a package deal: driver / photo plus super truck.
One of the best things we came across during our pre-trip planning process was an open source map set we loaded onto our handheld GPS unit. They didn’t include auto-routing (which was fine, since we had a driver), but they proved helpful when we navigated our way around Reykjavík and Akureyri on foot, as well as with decisions at unmarked forks on the hiking trails.
- It’s our understanding that tipping is generally not required in Iceland – that a living wage is included in posted prices. That being said, you may wish to consider leaving a tip of somewhere up to 10% for truly outstanding service.
- Iceland has a Value Added Tax (VAT), currently 24%. Everywhere we went, VAT was included in the posted prices.
- Since our last major trip (New Zealand), we found a credit card that doesn’t add a spread to the posted foreign exchange rate (home country Amazon VISA card) so we used that for any larger bills. Otherwise, we followed our tried and true practice of making fewer, large ATM withdrawals to minimize service fees and paid cash as we went.
Other Bits and Pieces
- If you’re staying in Reykjavík on a weekend, DON’T stay downtown unless you’re going to take part in the bar scene which goes until about 4 a.m. Even with earplugs, we didn’t get much sleep our last couple of nights in Reykjavík.
- Of the seven hotels we stayed at, our favourite was Hotel Highland where we had a bit of a suite with a big living room where we could all hang out together in the late afternoons & evenings. It made for a nice change from parents in one room and boys in another. The location was great for hiking in Landmannalauger and photography excursions in the south and central Highlands. While the breakfast buffet was fairly basic and the evening menu selections were quite limited, our suppers here were truly excellent!
- There aren’t many sunny days and the cloud cover is quite low, so if you’re at all susceptible to SAD (seasonal affective disorder), just be aware.
After a fair bit of deliberation and discussion, we finally agreed on three things we recommend any summer visitor to Iceland must experience, assuming physical condition and budget permit:
- Half-day hike at Blue Mountain in Landmannalaugar;
- Long day hike from Basar to Skógar;
- Half-day trip inside a volcano;
After 14 days that included 150 km of walking/hiking, stops at countless waterfalls, almost 3000 km of riding in a super jeep and taking almost ten thousand photographs between the four of us, this is the last post in our series about Iceland…at least until our next visit!
If you find anything we listed helpful OR if we’ve overlooked something that ought to be listed, please leave a comment to let us know.