1. Lodging fills up fast in the summer:
- Book early for the summer months. I was researching in November for a June trip and 57% of lodgings offered on Booking.com were already booked. I’m sure you could find something last minute, but your choice may be a $400 a night hotel, or a $50 hostel stay with 7 new friends in a dorm with a shared bathroom.
- Consider alternate lodgings (good tip for any destination) – homeaway.com or airbnb.com. We rented a lovely 2 bedroom apartment smack in the middle of Reykjavik for $195 a night. In Vik, we stayed in a cabin on a farm. Since these have kitchens, you can save money by eating meals in, even if it’s just breakfast, you’ll save a few extra bucks, and can have a more relaxing morning (and better coffee).
- Credit cards are accepted everywhere. Grab a few Krona at the airport for small purchases.
- Tipping is not the norm in Iceland. You may see a tip jar by the register.
- Things are expensive. NYC expensive. A cup of really crappy machine coffee can run over $3.
- Non Chip and PIN credit cards work fine, except in unmanned gas stations, you can buy a prepaid card for those.
3. Eating & Drinking
- Fish and lamb are on every menu, and it is fresh, incredibly fresh.
- Icelanders also eat puffin, whale, reindeer, horse and fermented shark (not for the faint of heart). Check out The Public House Gastropub for small plates of some of the local food.
- You pay at the cash register at many of the restaurants. Your waiter may or may not bring you the check, but mostly we went up to the register to pay. Splitting the check is a breeze, and they often asked if we wanted it split.
- Water is self-serve at many restaurants, look for glasses and a pitcher by the bar. I love this.
- Icelanders love licorice, and licorice and chocolate. Give it a try. Opal candy (and the liquor of the same name, see below) is not for the faint of heart. If you wish you could have a snack of cough syrup, this is for you.
- Brennivin is an Icelandic liquor, traditionally drunk after eating fermented shark. It’s nick-named “Black Death”, tastes a bit like drinking rye bread
- Opal is another liquor you’ll find, licorice and menthol. Reminiscent of Robitussin. Some people love it, it’s a love or hate taste for sure.
- Driving is relatively easy in Iceland, not a lot of traffic, and people are generally courteous drivers (I found Icelanders to be generally courteous in all things). If you are only staying in the Reykjavik you won’t need one, it’s an extremely walkable city.
- Be careful of livestock – mainly sheep – on the roads.
- Some gas stations are unmanned and accept only Chip and Pin Credit cards, these are different than the Chip and Signature cards most banks are giving out in the U.S., the cash advance PIN will not work. You can buy prepaid gas cards. Gas stations that are manned are no problem, but you can’t pay at the pump, go inside, tell the cashier your pump #, how much you want and they will turn the pump on for you — like back in the old days.
5. Other Tidbits
- Things are fairly expensive, New York City expensive. (Did I say that already?) We paid an average of $20-$30 per meal at a mid-range restaurant.
- Buy liquor at the duty-free store at the airport, it’s on the first floor of the airport on your way to the baggage area.
- The weather does change very quickly, be prepare, especially if out hiking.
- Give yourself plenty of time to stop and see things, be flexible.
- Pack layers, especially rain gear! My waterproof, rainproof shell was a wise purchase.
- Take an unlocked cell phone and purchase a SIM card at the duty-free shop at the airport. A Vodafone SIM with 300 mb of data lasted us for 4 days and cost just a little over $10. It was invaluable as a GPS. You can rent a GPS from the rental car company, but they charge too much in my opinion – $10 a day, and that won’t help you if you are exploring the city on foot.
- Take the Reykjavik City Walk Tour. Tip-based 2-hour tour of the city lead by one of two history majors. Fun, informative, and, as an added bonus, both very easy on the eyes.
- Try the chocolate with licorice, it’s surprisingly good.
6. There’s an app for that
- 112 Iceland App – Hit the Emergency button and a text message gets sent to the 112 call center. (112 is Iceland’s 911). You can also send them your location during your travels, so if emergency strikes, they can locate you quicker. Good app for backpackers and winter travelers.
- Reykjavík Appy Hour – Drink prices are high, but Happy Hours can save you a few krona. Many run from 4-8 p.m. This app shows you prices, locations and a brief description of the bar.