Iceland Travel Tips (What To Pack, What To Expect, Etc.)

I just got back from a 10-day trip to Iceland with my family, and can’t rave about this country enough. I knew going into the trip that it was going to be incredible and memorable and breathtaking, but it was so much more than I even knew to expect. Obviously the scenery and natural beauty of Iceland is beyond compare, but perhaps the best thing about the country is the genuine kindness that exists throughout their culture. This is a country full of people who are patient, smart, and friendly, and go out of their way to make you feel welcome. I came home wanting to be more Icelandic. (Also wanting to move to Iceland, open an Icelandic bakery, and raise Icelandic horses. But that’s a whole different conversation.)

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If you’re planning a trip to Iceland in the near future (which I strongly encourage you to do!), here are a few tips and details that might be helpful to know. I’ve included packing suggestions, foods/drinks to be on the lookout for, itinerary recommendations, and more (with some photos from my trip peppered in):

  • Packing: If you go to Iceland in the summertime, here are a few things I’d recommend bringing along:

-a rain jacket
-a fleece jacket
-lightweight long-sleeved shirts (good for layering under a fleece when it’s chillier)
-a puffy vest (I took this one along, and it was awesome)
-lots of pairs of yoga pants (I wore exclusively yoga pants — no jeans needed)
-a bathing suit (for the natural spring baths as well as public pools, which are amazing and worth checking out)
-good shoes, since you’ll be doing lots of walking (I took this pair and they were perfect — nice and grippy for trail walking and super comfy)
-a second pair of shoes for lounging/less intense activity (I recommend TOMS!)
-warm accessories for activities like whale watching and glacier outings (gloves, scarf, etc.)
-power converter (this one’s cheap and worked well for me)
-eye mask, to help you block out the light at night (I saved mine from the plane ride over)
-snacks for your trip (I packed nuts, Larabars, peanut butter crackers, etc.)
-DON’T bring a hair dryer, as there’s one in every hotel room
-DON’T bring a towel for natural springs/pools, as you can rent them there

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  • Food: You’ve probably heard about Iceland’s legendary, um, delicacies like putrid (fermented) shark and singed sheep’s head, but thankfully those dishes are absent from everyday menus. (I did give putrid shark, or hákarl, a try, and it’s absolutely terrible.) What my family found, though, was pure deliciousness in Iceland. Seriously. Every single meal we had was amazing. (Not just good. Amazing.) Whether it was a hot dog we grabbed at a roadside stand or a hotel breakfast or a dinner for the memory books at the famed Dill restaurant in Reykjavik, everything was incredible. Here are a few highlights my family and I discovered during our time in Iceland:

lamb: Get ready for some of the best lamb you’ve ever had. I don’t eat lamb regularly, but had it several times in Iceland, and it was incredible.
hot dogs: Iceland loves hot dogs, and they’re available everywhere! They’re traditionally served there with fried onions (yum!) and some special ketchup and mustard-like sauces unique to the country.
fish: Being an island and all, Iceland has lots of access to fish, and the result is deliciously fresh fish options in virtually every restaurant. You can always trust a restaurant’s catch of the day to be amazing.
skyr: I’ve blogged about my love for this protein-packed yogurt, and for good reason. It’s truly delicious and — lucky me! — consumed regularly all over Iceland. Get especially excited for skyr cake (a to-die-for dessert reminiscent of cheesecake).
baked goods: Speaking of sweet stuff, Iceland has baked goods down pat. Pop into a bakeri (bakery) whenever possible, and prepare for mouthwatering cinnamon rolls (often bigger than your face and iced with chocolate or caramel), tarts, beautiful cakes (many times with a meringue component), cookies, and more. I can’t wait to try to recreate some of these delicious treats in my own kitchen! Stay tuned for those recipes…
bread: Everywhere we went, we were greeted by freshly baked rye bread (a version far more delicious than what we know as rye bread in the States). It’s served at breakfast to be topped with homemade jellies and fresh cheese, or at lunch and dinner coupled with Iceland’s to-die-for butter.
Einstök beer: By far my favorite of the Icelandic beers I tried, Einstök’s white ale is wonderfully refreshing. I’m in the process of trying to hunt down a U.S. supplier of the stuff!

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  • Itinerary: Our family had the luxury of time, as we had 10 days to spend in the country. In that amount of time, we were able to rent a car and drive around Iceland’s Ring Road, around the perimeter of the country, both starting and ending our trip in Reykjavik. It was a perfect way to experience the country, because we were able to experience so many of its natural wonders, but also got to see both the rural and urban aspects. (It’s not atypical to see towns with fewer than 100 residents. Tiny!) If you’re thinking of taking a trip around the Ring Road, feel free to email me for our full itinerary (hotels, sights, etc.). I’d love to share it with you! My email address is annaskeller@gmail.com. A few call-outs:

-If you have some time in Reykjavik, sign up for a (free!) city walk tour with these guys. It will help acclimate you to the country, and give you a good overview of the city and its history. (Also good for staving off jet lag when you land!)
If you visit Mývatn, please be sure to visit the Nature Baths. It’s cheaper and less crowded than the famed Blue Lagoon, and well worth your time. They have both swimsuits and towels for rent if you need one.
-Another tip for Mývatn: invest in the head nets to keep the pesky midges away (or you can improvise with jackets, as we did):

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-The Iceland Riverjet tour is totally worth doing! (Here’s my family on our Riverjet tour.):

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-If you’re at all into horses, ride an Icelandic horse while you’re there. We took a ride on the coast in northern Iceland and it was incredible.

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Lava fields are totally unreal and make you feel like you’re on another planet. SO cool.
-You’ll see so many beautiful waterfalls it’s insane. Get excited. (You can even walk behind one of them!)

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  • Culture: I mentioned this earlier, but it warrants repeating. Get ready to encounter the kindest people you can imagine. This country is full of fluent English speakers who are proud of their country and working hard to make your time there enjoyable, easy, and memorable. We can all learn from Icelanders, as far as I’m concerned. (Coming back to America was pretty abrupt after so much friendliness!)

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  • Fun Facts: Some cool things to know about Iceland, whether or not you get the chance to travel there:

-The country is so small that there’s one single phone book for the entire nation — and it’s organized by first name.
-There are more sheep than people in Iceland.
-As many as 80% of Icelanders believe in the existence of elves and trolls. (I have to say, I don’t blame them, after visiting their country!)
-The Arctic fox is the only mammal native to Iceland (no polar bears here, although they sometimes float over on icebergs).
-When parents are naming their babies in Iceland, they must pick the name from an approved list. If the name they want isn’t on the list, it’s submitted to the Icelandic Naming Committee for review.
-Iceland is very progressive, and they were the first country to have a democratically elected female president (way back in the 80s).

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Happy Icelandic travels, friends. Skál!

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