Iceland & What I Wish I Had Known Before Going – Part 2

I went to Iceland last month for a long weekend with my friend Stephanie.  We flew WOW Air from Boston and I used Citi Thank You Points to get myself from Charlotte to Boston in order to rack up a few more EQMs.  For each new country that I visit I make sure to pickup a lonely planet book for that country and I do a decent amount of research & planning ahead of time.  Lucky for me I had a friend (shout out to Evan) that had just visited Iceland 1 month before my trip so I was able to pick his brain on a few things during my planning.  Despite that, I’d say that I probably should have done a bit more research because I have a list of Things I Wish I Had Known before going to Iceland.  I’d like to share that list with you in hopes that your trip goes a tad smoother than mine did.

Note: this is a continuation of Part 1.

6.  Geysir.  On our 3rd day we drove to Vik to see the Black Sand Beach and along the way we stopped to see a geyser and to hike along the mountain ridge at the top of the Skogafoss waterfall.  The one thing that I wish I had known about the Geysir Park is that there are several geysers, but only one worth waiting to see.  There’s nothing worse (to me) than to be standing around in freezing temperatures for 15 minutes when the wind is quite strong  only to find that you were waiting for the wrong geyser.  The one to watch is called Strokkur and it erupts every few minutes.  (Sidenote: on the way to Geysir we stopped to say hi to these Icelandic horses.  I love their hair!  It is one of the purist horse breeds in the world and they have 5 gaits, 2 more than the 3 that we are used to in the US.  (Facts about these adorable long-haired nuggets that I found interesting.)

Icelandic Horses

Icelandic Horses (that hair though!)

7.  Skogafoss Waterfall.  Next on our journey to Vik was Skogafoss.  Hands down my favorite part of the whole trip.  It’s adjacent to Eyjafjallajökull volcano which erupted in 2010 and grounded flights across Europe (20+ countries closed their airspace) affecting 10 million travelers!  The waterfall itself is impressive but be sure to hike to the top and don’t stop there.  Once you reach the top climb over the small wooden staircase and hike along the mountain ridge.  You’ll continue to uncover more and more of the winding river that culminates with Skogafoss waterfall and the best part of all is that you’ll be one of very few people up there.  I couldn’t believe we had these beautiful unobstructed views of glaciers, volcanos, winding rapid-like rivers and waterfalls all to ourselves.  The pictures below don’t even compare to seeing it person!  (It started raining at some point hence the water on the GoPro lens.)

Stephanie warming my frozen hand at Skogafoss

Stephanie warming my frozen hand at Skogafoss

The winding river rapids that culminates with Skogafoss Waterfall

The winding river rapids that culminates in Skogafoss Waterfall

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Panoramic taken from my hike at the top of Skogafoss

8.  Seljalandsfoss.  The halfway point of our day 3 road trip was the Black Sand beach in Vik.  Legend has it that the protruding rock formations are trolls that were caught by sunlight and frozen in time.  The waves here are the biggest I’ve ever seen in person but I’m guessing way too volatile (not to mention cold) for surfing.  On the way home we stopped at our final waterfall Seljalandsfoss.  This one is cool because you can actually walk behind it.  (Apologies for the distorted pics, it’s very misty back there and it was impossible to keep the GoPro lens clear.)

Black Sand Beach

Black Sand Beach

behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall

behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall

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view after walking behind Seljalandsfoss

9.  Driving at Night.  The entire 2 hour drive home was in the dark.  I’m a pretty confident ballsy driver but this one had me scared.  It’s been a long day of driving and hiking so I’m pretty beat.  A 2 hour drive in Iceland isn’t like a 2 hour drive in the US (or at least the parts of the US that I’ve driven).  There are long stretches of nothing but countryside.  These long stretches have no street lights.  And it’s a narrow 2 lane road: 1 lane going each way.  You’re not driving on flat land either.  It’s hard for me to describe the landscape of Iceland but let’s just say that accidentally veering slightly off of the road while going 100km/hour could be hard to correct and possibly even fatal at certain points because there are no guard rails sometimes.  Imagine driving on a winding road through the mountains with no guard rails and no street lights in freezing temperatures while it’s raining!  Half of the vehicles on the road are either semi trucks or gigantic 4×4 road monsters (for tours i think).  Given all of this, I felt the need to drive with my brights on until I saw an oncoming car.  The scary part was no street lights.  Imagine walking from a lighted room into a totally dark room.  It takes your eyes a few seconds to adjust.  Then imagine before they adjust, walking back into the lighted room.  Now imagine walking back and forth between the lighted room and the totally dark room over and over and over never giving your eyes the chance to fully adjust.  Each time there was an oncoming car I was blinded by its headlights.  Needless to say after 2 white-knuckle hours of this at 100km/hour I needed a few drinks once we got back to Reykjavik.

10.  Grillmarkaðurinn.  My friend Evan has traveled more than I have and he said that Iceland is probably the most expensive countries he’s been to when it comes to food/drink (hence why we took advantage of the Hilton Executive lounge for breakfast and road trip snacks/lunch).  For our last night Stephanie suggested that we do a 7 course tasting menu at Grillmarkaðurinn (Grillmarkadurinn).  It isn’t cheap but we had otherwise been very careful about our food/drink expenditures so we decided to treat ourselves.  It was a delicious crash course in Icelandic cuisine and included (among other dishes) puffin sliders, fried cod, duck salad, shark (I didn’t partake because I love sharks), ox rib eye and an elaborate platter of various desserts.

dessert platter from Grillmarkadurinn tasting menu

dessert platter from Grillmarkadurinn tasting menu

11.  Gas & Emergency.  Gas is about $8 USD/gallon!  Of course it’s measured in liters across the pond so you have to convert how many liters you think you need, and all gas pumps require prepayment.  So, if you determine you need 8,000 ISK worth of gas, you have to select that option, pay, then pump and hope 8,000 ISK fills you up, if not you have to start over.  So it’s backwards to the U.S., where we pump, let the tank determine how much we need, then pay.  Also, if things go south and you get lost, stuck in a glacier / blizzard, whatever, dial “112” from your mobile phone and that will connect you to Iceland Search and Rescue.  You probably will not need it, but good to know just in case.  The weather can literally change instantaneously and does all the time.  (Credit: Evan Thompson)

12.  Currency Conversion & Booze.  A girl in a ski shop taught me a quick conversion trick so you can know how much you are paying without having to do long division. Say for example you wanted to buy a bottle of booze and it costs 20,000 ISK, so all you do is drop the last two zeros (or 20,000) and then deduct 10%.  So the bottle of booze is approximately $180.  Booze is only sold in bars and certain wine/beer shops.  You can’t buy it in grocery stores, gas stations, etc.  I only mention this because if you want to buy some to take on a road trip or back to your hotel room, whatever, the wine/beer shops keep really limited hours.  Some are only open like 4 hours a day.  So you will need to plan around that. (Credit: Evan Thompson)

Well, I’ve said quite a lot about my trip to Iceland, I hope you find at least some of it helpful.  Please feel free to share any other helpful tips in the comments below :)  Thanks for reading!

11 thoughts on “Iceland & What I Wish I Had Known Before Going – Part 2

    1. Whitney Post author

      Unfortunately there were enough cars on the road to cause me to have to switch back and forth constantly (not just once in a while) for the entire 2 hour drive. If I felt blinded by the regular headlights of other drivers, then leaving my brights on certainly would have been an a-hole move on my part.

      Reply
    1. Whitney Post author

      I understand that however, it got annoying VERY quickly having to turn them on and off, on and off, on and off, etc….each time a car going in the other direction was in my sight. There were enough cars on the road to cause me to have to switch back and forth constantly for the entire 2 hour drive.

      Reply
  1. Pingback: Iceland & What I Wish I Had Known Before Going - Part 1

  2. Rick

    “So, if you determine you need 8,000 ISK worth of gas, you have to select that option, pay, then pump and hope 8,000 ISK fills you up, if not you have to start over.”

    Actually I dont think this is the case from my past memory… I think you can always select the highest ISK amount to pre-authorize the payment. If you end up spending less than that, it will cost you the actual amount and not the pre-entered amount. Therefore, I always selected the highest amount like 20k or 50k and I dont think I was charged that much from my credit card bill.

    Reply
    1. Rick

      These were the two different methods I used to bump gas to my rental car when I was in Iceland:

      1) Buy gas card from the gas stations or grocery stores. You then insert the gas card. You key in the highest predictable amount like 20k or 50k ISK. The machine will only take off the exact/lower price. You can insert it second time to get the receipt to make sure the exact amount rather than the pre-entered 20k or 50k ISK was charged. It’s ok if your gas card only has less than that because machine will only add the amount of gas according to the money left on the gas card.

      2) For most big gas stations, you can also use credit cards. I usually go in the store, ask them to “open the pump #.” They might ask you to leave your ID or passport with them just in case you gas and run. After you fill the tank, you come in the store and pay with your non-PIN credit card with signature and take your ID back. If your credit card has PIN capacity, you can just use it like a gas card without going inside twice and its process is similar to 1).

      You need gas card or PIN enabled credit card for those unmanned stations at night

      Reply
    2. Whitney Post author

      Thank you for clarifying :) I only pumped gas once and it was at the end of a draining day so I don’t remember having that issue either but I wanted to share what my friend shared with me in case it helped anyone. Thanks for reading!

      Reply

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