Peak season is around the corner. With all the mess good old Eyjafjallajökull caused last year, potential visitors may still be concerned about a trip to Iceland. However, eruptions able to disrupt air traffic as it happened in 2010 are relatively rare, so there are no actual reasons to be afraid.
For whoever is interested in traveling to Iceland in the next future, here are a handful of — perhaps useless — tips.
- Use the Internet wisely – This is a suggestion that will be useful before you actually come to Iceland. Many local hotels and guesthouses offer discounts to people contacting them over the internet. Sometimes you can get real bargains if you are brave enough to contact guesthouse owners through their websites, instead of blindly trusting rates you’re given at first. If you have no preference concerning the period of your stay, planning to come when peak season is over can help you keeping your trip on the cheap side.
- Bring good shoes and windbreaker – Unless you intend on coming to Iceland only for sitting at one of the local bars, one of the most important requirements is having a good pair of shoes. If you want to enjoy your stay to the fullest, you’ll have to do some serious walking, most definitely. Some of the most beautiful spots in Iceland, even in the Capital area, often present steep or uneven terrain. I had to throw away more than a pair of shoes because I ended with holes in the soles. It had never happened before and I’ve always liked to walk. You do not have to become a trekking champ, but you will find out that a solid pair of shoes will come in handy. Not to forget: summer in Iceland can be truly delightful. Not so very delightful when Nordic winds decide they’re having one of those days and they take it out on somebody. In this case, your everyday’s attire won’t do — unless you’re Batman. Insulating your body will make your stay so much more comfortable.
- Mix with the locals – I am always upset when I see visitors only hanging out with their fellow citizens, wanting to hear experiences and stories from a familiar point of view. Why not staying at home if you want to do that? If you’re in Iceland, go where Icelanders go, not where your tour operator tells you; ask locals for suggestions: they will give you interesting hints; buy food and stuff from stores where residents go, not from the first shop where you see a huge puffin winking at you: buying that woolen artifact you have promised your mother from the tourist shop will cost you a lot more than getting it from the Handknitting Association of Iceland or from small scale and rural markets; visit bars and cafés Icelanders like, not places serving the same things you could get at your favorite spots back home.
- Trust what you read in the media – I have read a lot of nonsense from foreign media: Iceland as top destination for the weirdest reasons and Reykjavík as one of the top places in the world to party until you drop. And so on and so forth. Iceland is not a strange planet inhabited by aliens. If you come to sell Bibles to primitives, you’re going to be bashed. Iceland is a peculiar country under many points of view: it has unique, breath-taking natural landscape, it’s great for acknowledging your place in the world and, for its sleepy quality, it’s an amazing place if you want to recharge your batteries. Many people come to Iceland before taking important decisions in life because Iceland has its own times and, most importantly, it makes you feel at home. It has its good and bad sides, but it’s not as exotic and crazy as they depict it abroad. Don’t expect to come to make up for things you cannot do at home, like getting wasted and hook up girls. Alcohol costs more than it probably does in your home country and girls are strong-willed and tough enough to make you regret any misplaced affectation of manliness.
- Always eat at restaurants – Of course, everyone is free to do what they wish. However, before coming to Iceland, you have to be aware that local restaurants are very expensive and there are only a handful of cheap alternatives around. Forget all about fancy restaurants, if you’re on a budget. If you want to eat out every day in Iceland, your wallet will be severely affected. As I said, there are a few alternatives available. If you’re the active type and you’re planning to frequently take part in excursions, buy your food at bakeries or supermarkets: sometimes they sell the same snacks and sandwiches served at cafés, but they cost less. If you are into fast food or take away, enjoy the organic treats of Litli Bóndabærinn in Laugavegur 41, have a slice of pizza from DeVito’s or try Bæjarins Beztu across the harbor — serving some of the best hot dogs in the world, according to ratings and reviews, but to be honest I haven’t tried the latter myself, since I’m not into hot dogs. If you want to take it easy, here are a few ideas for some of the most affordable places to eat in Reykjavík: Saffran, Á Næstu Grösum, the Noodle Shop (beware the service) or Babalù in Skólavörðustígur.
- Expect to see and get to know everything in a few days – Iceland is a country, hey! It’s not a small pocket-handkerchief plot of land. Don’t get fooled by its position in the world’s map. Forget about numbers: we are not merely talking about cities and population, we are talking about a country as a whole. Would you think you can get to know Austria in just a few days? Or Ireland? Well, Iceland is the same. Don’t trust your travel guide if it tells you any different.
If you have questions, feel free to ask. I am definitely not the most knowledgeable person, but even in the case I will not be able to answer, perhaps I will be able to address you to the right sources of information.