Iceland on the road, land of ice and fire

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Iceland on the road, land of ice and fire

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Iceland is one of the few corners of the world still authentic and untouched, where the force of nature alone can make extraordinary what elsewhere would be boring: jagged coastline and windy, endless beaches of dark sand, fumaroles, geysers and active volcanoes that coexist with ancient glaciers and powerful waterfalls. A harsh, inhospitable and untamed land, but full of a unique charm that will thrill you.

Iceland at a glance

Iceland sits on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and doesn’t apply the Daylight Saving Time (DST). Offices and shops’ opening hours vary depending on the season. In general, longer hours are observed in Summer (from June to August) and shorter hours are observed from September to May.

Icelandic, a “Indo-European” language belonging to the sub-group of North Germanic languages, is the official language of Iceland. However, English is taught as a second language in Iceland and the Icelander speaks english fluently.

The króna or krona (KR) is the official currency of Iceland. Credit Card are accepted everywhere, even in smaller villages.

Iceland is a member of the Schengen cooperation, that allows citizens easily travel between 26 EU and EFTA countries (Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland). However, due to the actual Covid situation, please remember to check here for the most recent travels restrictions and entry rules.

Of course you will arrive in Iceland by plane. The airport (there is just one International airport in Iceland) is in the Reykjavik’s area. In the airport area you will find the main rent-a-car companies.

We love... Iceland!

Iceland is a small corner of the world on the edge of Europe still authentic and untouched. An untamed nature, whose forces oppose each other every day and with which human beings have to deal with, make it a unique and great land. Certainly difficult but with an undeniable charm. In Iceland, you will not find big cities, urban parks, historical buildings, museums or a wide variety of tourist services. We’ll tell you right now: if this is what you’re looking for in your trip, Iceland is not the right destination. Here, on the contrary, everything is discovery and you’ll have to pack a healthy desire for adventure and a pinch of spirit of adaptation and sharing. Iceland, in fact, has been discovered by mass tourism relatively recently. The low accommodation capacity, the presence of few urban centers and the difficult climate make the planning of a self-service trip to Iceland a real challenge especially if on the road! Moreover, because of the harsh climate for much of the year, the flow of tourists tends to concentrate in the (short) summer months and, to a lesser extent, in winter, when many areas of the island are difficult to reach by car.

Why travelling to Iceland?

Only one reason: here the power of nature can transform into extraordinary what elsewhere would be boring: small streams of hot water become inviting thermal pools surrounded by nature, large active volcanoes covered by glaciers invite you to pleasant walks, the midnight sun exponentially lengthens your days and gives extra time for your vacation. But Iceland is not just about beautiful landscapes. On the contrary, the isolation to which the island has long been condemned, has paradoxically allowed it to develop a rich cultural heritage, whose main manifestations are found in the long literary tradition, ranging from medieval sagas to detective novels, but also in contemporary music, visual arts and gastronomy that, in recent years, has reached enviable peaks of quality and innovation.

When to go to Iceland?

Iceland has a difficult and hostile climate that does not recommend a visit at any time of year. Its northern position exposes it, in fact, to the cold currents of the Pole, which, however, are mitigated in the south by the Gulf Stream. The result is a climate that tends to be cold and unstable, but that enjoys a limited temperature range between day and night and between hot and cold season. During the winter, in Reykjavík, temperatures are around zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), while in the north of the island, not influenced by the Gulf Stream, you can easily find -4 / -5 degrees Celsius (25 / 23 degrees Fahrenheit). In summer, temperatures generally do not exceed 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit). Rains are frequent and sunny and cloudless days are quite rare. Due to the abundant snowfall in the cold season and the not too high temperatures in the warm season, the snows melt only at low altitudes. The hinterland is therefore often frozen. However, here as in too many places around the world, unfortunately the total surface of the large glaciers has significantly reduced in recent years due to global warming.
Therefore, the advice is to travel to Iceland between May and August, when the climate is more stable and the melting of snow at low altitude allows you to move more freely around the island. This period is also ideal to experience the midnight sun, when the sun never goes below the horizon line, thus giving the traveler longer and more pleasant days.
As for the aurora borealis, although it is technically possible to see it throughout the year, the many hours of light typical of this period do not facilitate its observation. The advice, therefore, if you absolutely want to go to Iceland to see the aurora, is to visit the island in winter, possibly between January and March, when the weather conditions offer more opportunities to see it.

What to consider when planning a trip to Iceland?

ACCOMMODATIONS – Mass tourism has been discovered in Iceland relatively recently and the accommodation offer is unfortunately (or fortunately, from our point of view!) not yet able to fully cover the growing demand.
Think about it: we chose Iceland as the destination of our August 2019 vacation in April of the same year and immediately set out to find accommodations for the different stops we had imagined doing. However, we immediately encountered a scarce availability of accommodations, even non-existent in rural areas and further away from urban centers. The few offers still available included beds in dormitories, shared bathrooms and prices that were decidedly high compared to the services offered.
The advice, therefore, is to plan your trip in advance, anticipating as much as possible the booking of accommodations and rental cars in order to have more options to choose from.
In our experience, we realized that the few hotel facilities available are almost entirely opted by the big tour operators for their organized trips and that, as a result, very little is left for self-service travelers. So, in the end we had to choose between giving up on the trip altogether, greatly limiting our freedom to choose our own destinations (and thus island exploration itself) or turning to a tour operator to purchase a travel package. Obviously, we opted for the support of a tour operator, but we chose a tailor-made fly and drive solution, which gave us the certainty of a safe and good quality means of transport and accommodation, but without giving up the freedom to plan our stops and choose our destinations.

CLOTHING – The choice of clothing to bring obviously depends on the time of year you are traveling in Iceland. We, as mentioned, stayed in August, when the weather is mild but highly uncertain and rains are frequent. In general, the advice is to bring layered clothing when needed. If the outside temperature will in fact be rather cold even in August (the thermometer will hardly rise above 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit), during a long trip inside a car you need to have the possibility to uncover yourself easily, just as it is better to cover yourself if you climb to the top of an extinct volcano or if you walk on a cliff, places that are often terribly windy.
Almost certainly, it will happen to you to be surprised by a sudden rain. We tell you: forget the umbrellas! The wind in these parts is quite strong and the umbrella would not be enough to protect you from the water, on the contrary it would break almost immediately. So get yourself some waterproof clothes and a windbreaker. And don’t forget to bring a coverlet to protect your documents, books and cameras from the water!

TOURISTIC EXPERIENCES – The boom in visitors in recent years has led to the emergence of a wide variety of companies and organizations throughout Iceland that offer visitors unique experiences in unusual places. Very much in vogue are, for example, whale watching boat trips, glacier tours, guided tours to hellish underground caves or extinct volcanoes. However, as is the case everywhere, the catch is often just around the corner! So be very careful when choosing a tourist service provider! Consider also that, if on the one hand this type of offer allows you to live experiences that can hardly be done safely alone, on the other hand the instability of the Icelandic climate and nature exposes you to easy cancellations, even at the last minute. So always prepare a plan B and check the terms of cancellation!
We chose, during our itinerary, to have two particular experiences: one successful, the other decidedly less so. We will tell you about them in the next posts dedicated to the individual stages of the trip.

Iceland on the road: is it worth it?

Absolutely yes, if you decide to visit Iceland during the summer months! In this season, Iceland is the ideal destination for a trip on the road: the Hringvegur (or Ring Road), which runs along the entire perimeter of the island, is usually passable in full by car, as are the main roads that go into the hinterland. However, while the Ring Road is almost entirely paved, the secondary and inland highland roads are unpaved. The less accessible roads are known as “F-Roads”. They run mostly inland and are normally closed during the winter months. They are often dirt roads, frequently interrupted by watercourses of varying depths that must be forded to reach one’s destination. If you are thinking of renting a car, therefore, the choice of the most suitable model varies depending on the route you decide to take: for a summer route that includes exclusively the Ring Road, a normal car will be sufficient, while if the route includes major detours on dirt roads, it will be appropriate to have a 4X4 vehicle. During our trip, we chose to drive along the legendary F35, a dirt road that, passing through desert areas, glaciers and an incredible variety of landscapes, leads from Reykjavík to Akureyri. Remember, however, that many insurance companies do not cover damage to the vehicle caused by driving on the F-Road or fording waterways. So check in advance with your chosen rental company to avoid unpleasant surprises! If you choose to rent a car, another thing to absolutely pay attention to is…the wind! That’s right, because in Iceland the wind can be really strong enough to be a danger not only while driving, but also during stops! We have verified it on our own skin: in some moments the strength of the wind can be such as to take the car off the road or, in the worst case scenario, to even manage to tear off a door! The advice, therefore, in the presence of strong wind is to slow down or stop and always park the car against the wind, being very careful when you open the door to get on or off.

Our Icelandic roadtrip

Welcome to our trip to Iceland! We dedicated 12 days to Iceland in mid-August 2019. Intense and wonderful days that gave us vivid memories and unique experiences. In hindsight, if on the one hand summer is certainly the best time to visit the island far and wide, on the other hand the choice to leave in the second half of August has reserved us a more unstable and rainy weather, which forced us on several occasions to reshuffle the planning of our destinations or to give up visiting places that instead we would have absolutely wanted to experience.
Our journey starts from Reykjavík, the northernmost capital of the world. Once we landed at the airport, we immediately got the rented car that allowed us to explore the island far and wide along the legendary highway No. 1, the Hringvegur (or Ring Road): a 1330 km ribbon of asphalt that crosses green valleys, mighty waterfalls, glacial tongues and mossy lava fields. Of course, we didn’t miss any stops and detours to admire the breathtaking landscapes, go in search of whales, walk on a glacier or simply, as is a must for every traveler who comes this far, take a relaxing bath in the natural hot springs that Iceland is rich in.

If you want to read all the articles about our Icelandic roadtrip, you can find them by clicking here!

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