Greetings readers! As things have been pretty slow on the blog here lately, I thought I’d hand over the reigns for a post or two to some of my well-traveled loved ones. I’ll let Philipp and Helena introduce themselves, but suffice it to say that they recently returned from a pretty spectacular week in Iceland. Over the next few days they’ll be sharing with you photos and advice from their adventure. I’ll be adding some updates of my own in the near future, but in the meantime – enjoy! -Mariana
After using the blogs of so many other travelers out there to plan our very special trip to the land of glaciers, fjords and waterfalls – we thought that doing a blog post on our adventure in Iceland was the right thing to do.
For those who don’t know us, we are Philipp – Mariana’s literal brother from another mother, former German exchange student and adventurer on the European side of the Atlantic; and Helena – Philipp’s better half and travel companion, Spanish by origin but currently exploring the Swiss mountains and lakes with Phil.
Iceland has many things to see and do, and although the island itself is fairly small, it offers a wide range of different landscapes that change drastically in just a few hours of driving. Similarly, the country changes quite a bit between seasons. While winter offers you a chance to see the Northern Lights, summer means that all roads are open and you can explore some of the more remote parts of the island. We explored Iceland in late May and early June. For us it was clear that we wanted to drive the whole island and do the famous Ring Road.
In preparation for this trip, we relied heavily on other blogs to plan our stops, hikes, and route. Most people will recommend that you take at least 10 days to do the Ring Road plus detours. However, we only had one week in Iceland (Saturday to Saturday), so over the next few posts, we’ll be explaining how to see the whole island and its major attractions in just seven days.
8 Tips for Planning
Before we go into our day-to-day break down of the Ring Road, there are a few general tips that we think are super helpful in planning your trip to Iceland:
1. Get a good car
We cannot stress enough how important this is. We have both done road trips in many different countries but nowhere has a good car been as valuable as it was in Iceland. If you do the Ring Road, you will want to do detours to explore fjords, remote waterfalls, and mountains to do some hiking. Many roads (including parts of the Ring Road) are unpaved outside of Reykjavik. 4-wheel drive and good insurance (especially gravel protection) are highly recommended. A big tank is definitely an advantage because some areas are sparsely populated and gas stations are not as readily available as you might need. Get a comfy car because you will spend a lot of time in it. Our rental service also gave us free mobile Internet for the car. This actually ended up being extremely helpful. Although we had bought a map, using Google Maps and being able to look up restaurants was a huge lifesaver on many occasions.
2. Make a great playlist
For the same reason why you want a comfy car, you will want a good playlist. Every road trip becomes instantly better with great music, but this is especially true if you drive through lava fields and glaciers. We chose a mix of relaxed and mellow guitar tunes mixed with some good trippy ambient electronica (What?? No showtunes??? – Mariana 😉), which always seemed to come through at the right time.
3. Get out of Reykjavik
If you are still reading this and are unsure about doing the Ring Road, at least get out of Reykjavik. Many great sights along the southern coast (like Jökulsárlón) or up north (like Snæfellsnes) are easily accessible from Reykjavik. While the capital is definitely the cultural center and has some really hip and lively corners, it is the surreal landscapes out in the countryside that make Iceland unique.
4. Be prepared to smell bad
While we read about Iceland’s use of geothermal power to supply all of its heat, we were completely unprepared when turning on the water the first day. The sulfuric smell of hot water is omnipresent and will cling to you after every shower. Luckily, you get used to it quite quickly.
5. Pack for every weather possibility
This might be different depending on when you go, but in our experience, the weather changes rapidly in Iceland. We experienced everything from t-shirt and sandals weather to sporting sweaters with scarfs and raincoats.
6. Book ahead
Iceland is becoming more and more of a tourist destination. Flights are really easy to get from the US, Canada and Europe. We only booked a few weeks before and still got better deals then for some cities on the continent. But hotels and especially cars are often booked out. Doing the Ring Road with limited time means that you need to spend each night in a specific area. A lot of places only have one or two guesthouses – so you want to make sure you get a reservation for a place that makes sense for your trip. The same goes for the type of car you will want. Side note: both our preferred style of traveling is to be flexible and see what works when we are on our trip, but almost everyone we spoke to or blogs we read will recommend booking ahead.
7. Have your essentials ready to go
This is also Road Trip 101 but definitely worth repeating for a country like Iceland, where stores can be sparse in some areas. We always had food ready to go for lunches to do picnics on a hike or simply because there are not restaurants or stores between the towns. Our only sit-down meal tended to be dinner. Not all guesthouses serve breakfast, so having a few staples is a good idea.
8. No need for cash
Iceland is one of the most card-friendly countries we have seen. There really isn’t any need to carry cash even in some of the most remote places. The only time we had to make use of our cash was for a waffle from a food truck in Reykjavik.
Stay tuned for day-by-day directions to a one week trip on the Ring Road!