Tips for visiting Iceland

92 posts in this topic

Hello all,

considering the bubbling huge community in TT, I might rather well ask a few queries about travel. I am an avid traveller and i love to explore new countries and cultures. One of my dream destinations is Iceland. The unique geographical location of Iceland just fascinates me. Considering that its close to the north pole there is a huge possibility that it cant be visited all through out the year. But i was wondering, if anyone here has views and thoughts about when is the best time to visit iceland. I dont exactly know what to expect from the country as it is so varied in its offerings. I want to experience Northern lights as well as hike and explore the mountains, geysers.. Since this summer is out of the question for me, i was like thinking perhaps i can do a trip there during Christmas..So that follows up my question..

Have anybody been to Iceland during Christmas or december?.. if yes, is it really worth to visit there during winter? I would love to hear about the different advantages and disadvantages of visiting iceland in Winter.

 

i dont know if i queried all my doubts but i guess one can expand it during further exchanges here.

Thanks

Krish

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Considering that its close to the north pole there is a huge possibility that it cant be visited all through out the year.

Yes, it can be visited all year. It's well south of the Arctic Circle in a temperate zone, protected by the Gulf Stream. While the winter weather's not great, neither is it as cold as it is here in Munich. In January when we have -27°C it may be +7°C in Reykjavík. However, Iceland is very well geared to tourism since they receive some 400,000 tourists annually and only have a population of 300,000. This is mostly set for the high season in summer from May through September. A number of tours aren't available in winter. On the plus side, hotels and cars cost half as much in the off-season, and even that's frightfully expensive.

 

Northern lights are very iffy. They don't so much have weather in Iceland as they do weather previews. I've experienced rain, snow, sleet, drizzle, sun, rain, snow and sun inside a four-hour span. You generally have a better chance to see a better show up north in Akureyri but the town has little else going for it unless you like boarding in winter.

 

Being south of the Arctic Circle, it's never totally dark in Iceland. On December 22 you can still reckon with 3.5 hours of official daylight and 4-6 hours on either side of that not of darkness but of an eerie sort of twilight. Christmas and New Year's are awesome, but not so hot if you don't know anyone there. Not just shops but restaurants and bars close, even the 24-hour convenience stores. t's a time for family and friends and it sucks to be a tourist. In the week before Christmas the planes are stuffed with Icelanders returning home for the holidays. I've seen many tourists go hungry around both Christmas and Easter.

 

Advantages: fewer tourists, much cheaper

Disadvantages: shit weather is a bit shittier, driving outside Reykjavík is much more of a challenge and can be downright suicidal, more limited guided tour selection

 

woof.

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Thanks BadDoggie. Have u been staying in Iceland for long? Great to hear that.. From your reply i understand that even though winter has its moments, it is not the best of ideas to make a trip there in December? I have been thinking that perhaps i would go to Iceland alone as a tourist. I guess, that would make things a little worse if i cannot move around in the cold. Regarding tours, i rather would like to explore the places alone with a map than taking an organised tour. But am not sure if that holds good for a confined country like iceland. What do u suggest? Yeah, i understand that it would be handy to know a friend living there who might take you around to places.

btw. how is the general hiking and trekking situation in Iceland? If the transportation outside the capital city is suicidal, is there any other way to explore the waterfalls and the mountains?

Krish

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There is only very limited public transportation outside the capital, so unless you want to go backpacking for a week or so (not such an appealing option in winter) you will probably want to consider hiring a car. There's enough in the SW corner of the country to see to keep you occupied for a week; if you want to explore the rest of Iceland then you will need a lot more time. Although not the world's largest country, it's slow to get around. Although potentially visitable at any time of year, I would go in the summer when the days are longer and warmer and all the roads are open.

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Hi,

 

My girlfriend and I were just in Iceland this past June. I can recommend visiting during this time of the year. Getting around the island is tedious. We rented a 4x4 and drove the entire ring road (Route 1). We stayed at hostels and spoke with other tourists who were backpacking, i.e. didn't rent a car. They said that there's a bus that travels along the ring road and picks them up to go to the next local village or next site/place of interest. They said it was a real time constraint and getting from the hostel to the stop was sometimes far to walk. The backpackers traveled in groups of 2s and 3s, sometimes more.

 

We didn't do much in the way of hiking, but there's still so much to see. We saw some people hiking on their way to one of the waterfalls in Skatafell Park. There were also tents set up, so I guess you could stay there as well.

 

It took us a solid 6 days to travel around the entire island:

 

1 night in Vik

1 night in Höfn

1 night in Seydisfjordur

2 in Akureyri

1 night in Osar, near Blonduos

 

Just some tips:

 

- Bring lots of money

- Bring a scarf, gloves and a Mutze. I actually wore all of them when whale watching in Husavik

- Bring ear plugs and one of those things you wear over your eyes when you sleep. This is true especially in the summer.

- Bring swimming trunks.

 

If you need anymore tips/info, let me know!

 

Regards,

JumpmanPro

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staying in Iceland for long?

I've spent quite a bit of time there, yes.

 

 

From your reply i understand that even though winter has its moments, it is not the best of ideas to make a trip there in December

that's not what I wrote, only that as a tourist, you have fewer tours available and long distance driving (say, from Reykjavík to Akureyri) is considerably more difficult. However it's not nearly as cold as it is here. The winters are generally mild by comparison but are considerably more precipitous.

 

Maps aren't great, driving is limited, not even the "highway", an undivided two-lane road which rings the country is fully paved, you can't go inland without a Super Jeep, and you'll see relatively little. Many of the tours are well worth the money, highly recommended for a start (like the Golden Circle). Driving can be difficult even in summer. If you insist on doing it make sure you have a day or two's worth of easy-to-open, non-perishable food and beverage (and toilet paper or tissues) with you just in case. It's easy to get lost.

 

I have no idea what you mean by "confined country". It's a huge island with few people, 99% of whom live within 40km of a coast. Inland is uninhabitable with its glaciers and volcanoes. If you're into hiking and trekking it's ideal as long as you have rain gear and lots of socks. You'll definitely need a bed mat of some sort since the island is volcanic and in many places, the only thing on top of the lava is a millimeter's growth of lichen. Exploring waterfalls unguided is a good idea if you've gotten tired of that nasty oxygen habit.

 

 

There is only very limited public transportation outside the capital

Hah! There's very limited public transport <i>inside</i> the capital as well. The <i>Stræto</i> (city bus lines) don't run often, and less so in the off-season.

 

You're right about the Southwest. That section is called "Reykjanesbær", a conglomeration of the smaller towns (including Keflavík) which comingled a few years ago. Very big with hikers, but not a lot to see outside of nature.

 

There's also the national bus some of which which travel around the country (both into and avoiding the West Fjords in the northwest) and some which just run between certain cities. The tickets aren't that expensive (there are special tourist tickets which let you hop off one and onto the next one a day or two later as many times as you want for 1-2 weeks), but travel is slow and most lines run only once or twice a day.

 

woof.

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Many of the tours are well worth the money, highly recommended for a start (like the Golden Circle).

I'll second that. I've been to Iceland a few times and have done the Golden Circle and a few others involving drives along the southwest coast, horseback riding over lava fields, and (of course) the Blue Lagoon. All were well worth the time and money and conveniently picked us up right at our hotel.

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@ everybody,

thanks a bunch. really useful tips.. I will keep on posting my queries as i get.. thanks a lot again. :)

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I'm thinking about going to Iceland some time this year (probably May or August).

Since I've never been there and I might be travelling on my own, I would like to join an organised bus/4x4 tour of the island for about a week and spend a few days in Reykjavik. Has anybody on Toytown taken part in one of those organised tours? If so, is there a company you can recommend? I found a few on the web, but most of them sound good of course, so some first-hand experiences would be very helpful.

Thank you!

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It was some years ago, but I went with Arctic Experience, who now seem to have been bought up. They were good because they have a couple of hiking tours, i.e. you're not just being bussed around all the time. The itinerary was a good mix between hiking and sightseeing. I think that "a few days" in Reykjavik might be pushing it a bit, unless you plan to take day trips from there (Blue Lagoon is the obvious one).

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There's nothing too much to see in Reykjavik that you can't see in a day or 2 at the most. Perlan, the man-made geyser there, Hallgrímskirkja (currently being renovated), the bike/foot path on the north side of Reykjavik is definitely worth a stroll. Some nice view over the bay and mountains.

 

If you go around June 17th, you'll catch independence day, crowds of people, free concerts etc. if you are into that sort of thing. If you go on the 1st weekend in August, you will find the town empty because it's music festival weekend but if you want to go camping at a music festival, that would be the time to do it. 2nd weekend of August is gay pride. 3rd weekend is Reykjavik marathon and culture night where bookstores and cafe's are open all night. You can see the program for last years culture night at http://asp.reykjavik.is/menningarnott/pdf/EnPrint.pdf

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I booked the The Golden Circle Classic (AH12) with Iceland Excursions which cost 73,00 EUR per person back in June 2006. It was really excellent and my brother and me loved it. Only problem was that the coach engine overheated on the way back and we were stranded in the middle of nowhere for a short while! A minibus picked us up from our hotel and took us to the coach which was great as it took the stress of booking a taxi etc away.

 

This tour includes:

 

 

We start by visiting Nesjavellir, a high temperature geothermal area in the scenic landscape of Lake Þingvallavatn. From there we go to the Þingvellir National Park, where the Icelandic parliament Alþingi was founded in the year 930 AD. Þingvellir is geologically remarkable and the tectonic plate boundaries form a breathtaking scenery.

 

We continue to the beautiful waterfall Gullfoss, where we can walk so close to the edge that we might feel the mist of the glacial water on our faces. From there we journey towards the geothermal area around the incredible spouting hot springs of Geysir and Strokkur. We proceed to Skálholt church, the ancient seat of the Icelandic bishops. From there we travel towards Hveragerði, a small and charming horticultural village.

 

My favourite memory was standing on the edge of a volcanic crater taking a photo as well as visiting Gullfoss which is absolutely massive. Geysir stank of ammonia of course but it was funny to watch! In the church I remember seeing a 15th C copy of the bible (iirc) which was fairly impressive as I love old books.

 

If you have time, I'd recommend doing another tour as well to the blue lagoon but we were only there for the weekend.

 

Website

 

I also second the visit to Hallgrímskirkja as it's a very individual-looking church. You need maybe a day for Rekyavijk including a museum and shopping. Can]'t remember the name of the museum we went to but it told the history of Iceland and runes iirc. Oh, and the drinking age is 21 not 18 over there.

 

Read further tips on Rekyavik on this Iceland Toytown thread.

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Back in 1988 my girlfriend & I had ideas of getting married in 1989 & going to Iceland on our honeymoon.

 

In reality we got married earlier & went on holiday within Germany but Iceland is still on our radar.

We have in the meantime stood on another volcano or two (our daughter on the left):

post-10876-12626031805249_thumb.jpg

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Thanks for the advice so far. Keep it coming:-)

I'm definitely planning some excursions during my stay in Reykjavik, including horseback riding and whale watching.

 

@ UrbanAngel: Do you remember roughly how big the group was on your Iceland Excursions tour? (e.g.closer to 20 or closer to 40-50). I didn't really find this information on their website.

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Can't remember, have e-mailed them for you. Their website shows which coaches they use under 'Our Coaches' but doesn't mention which tours they are for. Will let you know.

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Sorry, forgot to post this. They got back to me within 2 hours yesterday:

 

 

The size of bus depends on the number of passengers booked each time. There is no limit on how many passengers are booked each day, additional buses are added as needed.

Bookings can be made on our website at www.icelandexcursions.is by phone or by e-mail as little as 1 hour before departure, in order to secure pick up from hotels.

 

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I took an Arctic Experience tour many years ago. Iceland is a stunningly beautiful place and there's nothing like sitting in a natural warm spring, drinking Brennevin while watching the northern lights.

There's no guarantee you'll see the northern lights but you have a better chance if it is dark. According to time and date.com days lengthen from around 17 hours to 20 hours during May but shorten from 18hrs to 15 hrs during August. So if you are deciding between May and August and want to see the northern lights you may be better off going in August.

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