The first time I traveled to Iceland, it was for a layover so I didn’t put too much thought into what to bring; I was mostly packing for the destinations after Iceland. I realized I should have put much more effort into preparing for Iceland! The second time I went to Iceland, I googled and read blogs and researched as much as I could to figure out what I needed to bring. Since Iceland is the new hot spot for travel, here are my top FAQs about Iceland to help you prepare for future Icelandic travel!
1. Where Should I Stay?
Reykjavik is a small city, for being the capital of a country. If you’re in the heart of the city, it’s walkable, but unfortunately many hotels are on the outskirts of downtown Reykjavik. One of the most important FAQs about Iceland: where should you stay?
Reykjavik Downtown/City Center (101) is the heart of Reykjavik. It’s where most of the shops, restaurants, and bars are. You’ll probably spend most of your time in this part of the city. The hotels in this area are very expensive, but there are some affordable hostels and guesthouses.
Austurbær (105) is east of Downtown Reykjavik. This is a more residential neighborhood, so you won’t find any bars or restaurants here. It’s a short walk to downtown or there are plenty of bus routes where you can easily get downtown or anywhere else in the city. It’s a little cheaper than downtown, but you don’t have the luxury of walking out your door to the bar and easily stumbling home at the wee hours of the morning.
Vesturbær (107) is west of Downtown Reykjavik. It’s a charming neighborhood close to the sea. It’s about a 30-minute walk to downtown, or there are plenty of buses coming by to take you to the city center. There are some cheaper hotels and also a couple Airbnbs in this neighborhood.
Laugardalur (104) is outside of the city center but perfect if you’re looking for something more than a main street of restaurants and bars. This is the neighborhood with many family friendly outdoor activities: the Reykjavik zoo, botanical gardens, and large outdoor swimming pool. It’s also close to public transportation to drop you off in the city center if you want to venture over for some city life.
Seltjarnarnes is a small town just outside of Reykjavik. It’s a peninsula where you can find the Grotta lighthouse and one of the best places to see the Northern Lights. There’s also a walking trail perfect for summer strolls by the sea. You can always catch a bus to get around the town or into Reykjavik for some excitement.
2. Where are Good Places to Eat, Solo or Otherwise?
Iceland is an island surrounded by fish, which means amazing seafood. Click To TweetThere are lots of fancy restaurants where you can order expensive plates, but I stayed away from those. My recommendations are to spend your money on adventures and eat cheaply!
First, I’ve been to Bjarni Fel Sports Bar twice now, and both times it was great. It’s a low-key, casual place to grab a drink and dinner, whether solo or in a group. You can eat at the bar or sit at a table. They have average-priced meals (for Iceland), including lots of seafood options. You can also try many Icelandic beers here. I’d definitely go back.
Second, no trip to Iceland is complete without a stop at Baejarins Beztu hot dog stand. It’s a little outdoors hut with picnic tables, so you can stay and eat your Icelandic hot dog or take it and walk. Hot dogs at Baejarins Beztu are only about $4 and are world-famous! Click To Tweet
Finally, I did some research about the best places to eat in Iceland and I didn’t get a chance to check them out myself yet, but Liz from YoungAdventuress.com, Kate from AdventurousKate.com, and Anna from TheWeekendJetsetter.com, among many others, all recommend the Laundromat Cafe in downtown Reykjavik for a great place to grab a bite to eat or a coffee.
3. Do I Need Sunglasses in Winter?
Everyone knows the farther north you go, the less sunlight there is in winter. I mistakenly thought that on the winter solstice or within a month on either side, Iceland would have no daylight. Surprise – I was wrong. I visited Iceland in late November and late December and while I didn’t need sunglasses, I did use them.
When I went to the Blue Lagoon on New Year’s Eve, the sun rose around 11:00 a.m. and set around 3:00 p.m. However, the Blue Lagoon is so crystal clear and blue and the snow around it is white, and the sun does reflect off these two colors. I didn’t have sunglasses on in the Blue Lagoon because I wanted to try the mud masks, but I did wear sunglasses while exploring and picture-taking afterwards. If nothing else, it helps block wind from your eyes, causing you to tear!
October and November are the rainy season, so I didn’t need sunglasses in late November. It rained all day, only clearing up around 3:00 p.m., just in time for one hour of sunlight. I didn’t bring sunglasses and didn’t regret not having them, even with my sensitive eyes.
So the short answer to this FAQs about Iceland is: while even the most sensitive eyes won’t be distraught by not having sunglasses in winter in Iceland, there is still sunlight (and wind) and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring sunglasses.
4. So, What Kind of Things Should I Wear?
On my last trip to Iceland, I wore leggings and Uggs. Learn from my mistake and do NOT do this! Especially during rainy season.
Iceland can get really wet, whether from rain or snow. If you plan to do excursions, which everyone in Iceland should do, prepare for wet things. Waterfalls will get you wet even in the sun; glaciers are made of ice, so glacier hikes will get you wet; snorkeling and scuba diving between the tectonic plates – well, that’s obvious; if it’s rains, just about every excursion is outside so you will get wet. The best thing you can wear on Icelandic excursions are waterproof pants and snow boots (like my new Sorel Joan of Arctic adorable snow boots, which keep your feet warm up to -25°F), even if it’s not snowing.
The best coat I found is a down-filled Michael Kors puffer coat. My sister swore by hers, so I gave it a try and swear by it too. I was so warm the whole trip! Plus, being car-coat length covers your hips and keeps you warmer than you’d imagine. I actually was sweating in Iceland in late November!
Don’t forget the gloves, scarf, hat, thick socks, and of course a going out outfit (which is expected to be fashionably warm) since the bars in Iceland stay open until 5:00 a.m. on weekends!
5. What Should I Remember to Pack?
My biggest regret was forgetting my outlet converter. It’s really hard to charge a phone in Iceland with an American charger – the plugs don’t fit into the wall sockets. I was lucky enough to find a USB charger at the restaurant at Gullfoss, but that was the only one I could find. I had to suck it up and buy a $20 converter at a convenience store (which, at least, is an option). Rule #1: remember to pack your converter!
Another thing I recommend bringing is some snacks. I brought things like oranges, peanuts, energy bars, and anything else I could eat for a quick breakfast while I waited for the tour buses to pick me up at my hotel. It saved money and time every morning that I could donate to better things like excursions and beer while in Iceland.
One pair of shoes should be enough in Iceland, as long as you plan accordingly. A good, cute, warm pair of boots (like those Sorel boots) are perfect for excursions or night activities. However, let me repeat myself: I don’t recommend wearing Uggs to Iceland.
Remember a bathing suit if you’re going to do any excursions with geothermal pools, like the Blue Lagoon! It’s easy to forget a bathing suit when you’re going to an arctic destination, but you really can swim in Iceland when in below-freezing temperatures. I definitely recommend an excursion like this at least once, so don’t forget your bathing suit!
If you have a professional camera and tripod, bring those too. Though you can capture the Northern Lights on an iPhone 6 or above, you will get much better pictures on a camera with a shutter that stays open for 30 seconds or longer.
Of course, there’s always the essential travel items for every trip. Check out my ultimate packing list to make sure you’re remembering the universal travel items.
6. What Excursions Should I Plan to Do?
There are SO many excursions you can try in Iceland! So what to do? Here are some things to remember when figuring out your itinerary:
1. Weather doesn’t always cooperate, but the tours go on anyway. I was thinking about booking a horse riding tour, but when I got to Iceland, I was glad I didn’t book it in advance! The Golden Circle tour operator said it hadn’t stopped raining in 2 months, which would have made for a wet, no-fun horseback ride. It doesn’t cost extra to book the day before, so if you’re traveling during an off-peak time, it might make sense to hold off on booking excursions.
2. Iceland is a land of extreme sports, which sometimes can be strenuous. Make sure you’re in shape if you plan to do extreme activities. Glacier hiking can be risky, although the guides do know the glaciers inside and out and will help you. Some things, like going to see the crashed plane where Justin Bieber filmed a music video, is a long walk from the road. Horseback riding can be uncomfortable if you’re not used to horses, or even too strenuous if you choose a more advanced tour.
3. Only in Iceland can you scuba dive between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The pictures look amazing, although I haven’t done it yet. What you might not know is that you have to be certified to scuba or they will only let you snorkel it, so that’s something to plan for if you want to do this excursion.
4. Check which tours operate in which season before you book a trip. In winter, things get wet and slippery and lots of pathways close, like the walkway behind the famous Seljalandsfoss waterfall or some paths in Thingvellir National Park. Also, Northern Lights tours only run in winter, because there’s not enough darkness to see them in summer. Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon only runs in spring, summer, and fall. River rafting tours only take place during summer.
Do you have any other questions about Iceland that I can answer? It’s a beautiful, magical, mysterious country that everyone should visit at least once in their lives! I’d love to help you plan your trip. If you have any questions about going to Iceland, let me know in the comments below!
Like this post? Pin it!
P.S. You might also like Tips to Decide Whether to Rent a Car or Take a Tour Bus in Iceland or 7 Best Apps for Iceland Travel