It really surprised me how many times this question got asked whenever I told people I was going there this summer. When I said, “just Google Image ‘Iceland,’ you’ll understand…” and then they understood perfectly.
Despite doing so much research for Iceland and seeing all the places I was going to visit in photos online, nothing, I repeat nothing prepared me for what was to come. It is impossible to articulate properly what Iceland is really like, except, “WOW” and “When can I go back?!” It is like a whole other world at times.
So, while other travellers were boarding gates to Málaga in shorts and flipflops at Gatwick Airport, we were boarding our flight to Keflavik International Airport at the neighbouring gate, donned with our woolly hats, jumpers and waterproof jackets prepared for what was to come. We had landed on Mars. Or so it seemed.
This is by far the most meticulously planned trip I have ever organised. Researching what activities to do, whether to do day-trip tours from Reykjavik or hire a car, how to find affordable accommodation etc. There as so many amazing things to see and do there so we wanted to make sure we were making the most of our time. Secondly, Iceland can be expensive if you’re not careful, so doing it on a budget required making some tough decisions.
Renting a Car
The best decision we made was hiring a car. If you or someone in your party can drive, seriously consider it. After a few calculations, it turned out to be so much cheaper to hire a car for five days and travel around the island, rather than pay for individual day-trip tours from Reykjavik every day and stay at a hostel there. Hostels and day-trips add up quite quickly! However, if you are a solo-traveller, day-trips might work out cheaper as you can’t share the cost of car hire with others.
It cost us £300 to hire an Automatic 2WD car with Blue Car Rental, who I would highly recommend. We split the cost between the three of us (£100pp + petrol).
We had asked for GPS with our car, but on arrival we were told that they had run out of GPS navigation systems and we would have to make do with paper maps (the horror as they were not very detailed). We were advised to go to the nearest petrol station and buy an Icelandic SIM card so we could get 3G internet and use GPS on my phone. This turned out to be much cheaper, but my phone battery suffered a lot from it obviously. Instead of a Suzuki Swift Automatic 2WD, we had been upgraded at no extra charge to a KIA Rio Automatic which was bigger and we had plenty of room for all our rucksacks in the back!
Although I have been driving in the UK for four years, this was my first experience driving on the other side of the road and using an automatic car, so naturally I was rather nervous for this part of the trip. I was relieved to find out that driving on the other side of the road was not that bad after all, and once I had got the hang of that, I could relax and enjoy the driving.
Driving in Iceland
Iceland’s main highway, the Ring Road, is a road that circles around the country and has many points of interest along the way so you have many reasons to stop and stretch your legs. It takes about 10 days minimum to drive around the entire country, so we decided to just stick to the south as we didn’t have that much time.
The fastest you can drive in Iceland is 90kmh (55mph) which isn’t actually that fast. Plus, driving on the mostly flat and straight Ring Road makes it, for the most part, stress-free. As Iceland is sparely populated, there aren’t that many cars on the road either. Personally, it was a great country to drive in for my first road trip as I didn’t have to worry too much about other traffic, directions were easy to read and I could just focus on enjoying the scenic drive. Now I know I can drive anywhere in the world and not just countries on the Left! The one thing that was difficult to get used to, is that you have to have your lights on during all weather conditions – it can be difficult to remember when it’s bright sunshine and good visibility, but you still need your lights on!
As the scenery is so beautiful on the drive – passing active volcanoes, glaciers, mountains, completely flat and desolate plains – people are always stopping on the road to get out and take pictures. The road has been made with this in mind and there are plenty of pull-over points on the road for you to pull-over in safe places. How thoughtful.
The Icelandic are a tenacious and optimistic people for living in such harsh conditions. They’re not like us Brits who complain constantly about the weather. If it rains, they will either not bat an eyelid and tell you “this isn’t rain, but ohhh have I have seen rain!” or they will say “just wait five minutes, the sun may come out.” Living in this environment however is understandable, when there is so much natural beauty and wonder wherever you look. They are so lucky! Having nature on your doorstep, fresh air all around, the Northern Lights in winter… it makes up for putting up with the cold.
Hostel in Reykjavik: Hlemmur Square
Car Hire: Blue Car Rental (highly recommend)
AirBnB: Natalia Home guesthouse https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/2407489 (highly recommend)