Your eyes have never seen so far, there are no trees to block your sight, after all. Otherworldly beauty. The quietest peace. The most unforgiving winds.
If the 5+ hour flight across the ocean wasn't indication enough, you are now in a place unlike any other. Black lava rocks scattered from end to end, the greenest moss, the thickest white fog.
Yes, Mighty Ducks was (mostly) right: Greenland is in fact full of ice, and Iceland is very nice. Well, with some ice too, though. The weather can change without notice from one unbelievable extreme to another.
My husband and I went to Iceland the first time in Fall 2012, to see Sigur Ros in the Iceland Airwaves music festival - one of Iceland's biggest tourist draws each fall. It was chilly, sometimes windy and the weather was...unpredictable. That being said, October in Minnesota isn't usually pleasant either, so we didn't mind. I could talk about Iceland all day and all night for about a week, so I'll condense this for ya'll:
Who knows! But generally mild, believe it or not. In june it was about 55-60F, in October it was 35-40F. Because Iceland is so far North, a more important factor is what time of year it is, and therefore how much sunlight you're going to get in a day. In high summer the sun barely sets for a brief moment, and in winter the opposite. This makes a huge difference in what temperature feels like. Check the island alerts that were always either on a TV in our hotel or offered up by hotel staff.
Rent a car with 4 wheel drive. Get the GPS. Because Iceland has almost zero trees and such clean air, places look a lot closer than they actually are. When we visited in October, a heavy fog would roll in each afternoon and we would be driving in what felt like a white box, where we couldn't seen even a foot in front of us. It was actually kind of scary. In those kinds of instances you really do want some reassurance of where you are going. There are plenty of tour companies that will take you and a bunch of other people on a big bus out to some gorgeous place. That being said, one of my absolute favorite things about Iceland is that you can simply drive and drive, and stop at whatever gorgeous site you come upon (and it will be, indeed, one of the most stunning things you've ever seen every time).
Icelanders speak very quietly, unless they are drinking (which they love as much any of us). You might misinterpret this as rudeness at first. If you arrive at the airport at 6am (like we always do) many of the people working might be crabby- just like you would be working a shitty job at 6am. They party hard. They are generally quite nice.
Most of the island speaks fluent English, unless you happen to encounter someone very old (which you likely won't in Reykjavík or any tourist area). Even in the far reaches of the island, you shouldn't have much to worry about.
Many tourist restaurants in Reykjavík offer minke whale. Most Icelanders are vehemently opposed to eating whale. Do what you will. You can also get Puffin. A server once told us that the reason you can get puffin so many places is because they are such friendly animals, that they simply walk right up to humans, thus offering themselves up to their hunters. Doesn't that kind of make you love them more and want to eat them less?
All of that being said, I am a vegetarian. I was super worried about this before visiting. I was completely relieved and delighted to find that I did not, in fact, go hungry for even one meal. Every restaurant we went to had at least one vegetarian entree on their menu, and they were always delish. This is actually more accommodating than the food scene in the Midwest, so take that.
Laundromat Cafe (Reykjavík): My favorite veggie burger literally in the world.
Bergsson Mathus (Reykjavík): Healthful, casual, so designy. Grab some items to go and eat them in the park across the way like the locals.
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (AKA "THE hot dog place near the water", Reykjavík): Husband says "get everything on it".
Hotel Búðir is my favorite place in the entire world. Truly. So much so that on our honeymoon we got remarried there. It's about a 2.5 hour drive from Reykjavík. Nestled between the sea and stunning mountains, you will find a ridiculously well designed hotel, and a stunning little black church. It is PRICEY. But people come all the way from Reykjavík to eat at their restaurant, and its the perfect stop on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Please go there. Oh, also both of the two times we've gone there were total Icelandic hotties workin the front desk. Just sayin.
Other than Hotel Búðir, every hostel and hotel we stayed in was perfectly comfortable. One tip: Hotel Edda is a fairly widespread hotel chain, but they are only open in Summer because in the Fall-Spring they are, guess what, SCHOOLS. I would book your accommodations for the Summer months before your trip, but after September - April, I'd guess, the tourism drops dramatically and you don't need to worry as much about places being full. Hotel Reykjavik Centrum (not to be confused with a bajillion other hotels with "Center" in the title) is a favorite too.
Points of Interest:
Look for the command symbol with a word you can't even attempt to pronounce on the side of the road as you drive. Stop at it. There will be an incredibly well written sign (usually in at least 3 languages) with some history, explanation, and recommendations for where you are. Because tourism is so important, you will find yourself very well taken care of. Often there are well maintained wooden paths to where you need to go and you will barely, if ever, need those fancy hiking boots you bought because Iceland seems like an insane place to go. We literally never stopped at one disappointing spot.
1. Blue Lagoon (Bláa Lónið): DO ITTTTT. It doesn't matter than everyone does and its like, so well known. You will drive past it on your way to Reykjavik from the airport (you'll recognize it by the gigantic plumes of white steam in the distance). Stop. It opens at 9am. You'll likely be so jetlagged when you arrive that you will have ZERO qualms about hopping in, covering your face in mud, and grabbing a beer and ice cream bar. Or maybe that's just me. One tip: don't put your hair in. They don't always tell you that, but it will dry the crap out of it. Do cover your body in the white mud you'll find in crates on the outer perimeter.
2. Gullfoss Waterfall Ridiculous, stunning, amazing. Gotta.
3 . Þingvellir Go and imagine viking Parliament happening here. It's totally wild, easy to navigate and a really stunning piece of Icelandic history. Plus, a super easy trip if you are staying in Reykjavík.
To the West//
1. Black Church at Búðir : Mentioned above. Favorite place ever and I'm not even religious.
2. Djúpalónssandur Beach - its amazing and beautiful and one of those places we just happened upon by following the tourist symbol.
3. Stop in Arnarstapi (slightly West of Búðir) and eat at the little red house with the grass roof (Snjofell), just because :)
To the East//
1. Jökulsárlón: Giant glacial lagoon, crazy unbelievable looking, way in the East. You can get a glass of whiskey with ice from the glacier at the shop. I mean, come on. Oh, some scene from some James Bond movie was shot here too.
2. Svartifoss Waterfall in Vatnajökull National Park: Actually the most "hiking" we did, and it was not hard at all. Wear layers, strong shoes, and bring an empty water bottle to carry some glacier-cold and clean water away with you. Oh, you can drink most natural water (outside of Reykjavik!) in Iceland. NBD. That big fancy church in Reykjavik town center, Hallgrímskirkja? Based on this waterfall (but you'll find a lot of waterfalls that look like this).
+We have never gone up to the Northern half of Iceland- but it's part of the plan for our next trip+
Icelanders wear a lot of black, which I totally dig. There is a surprising amount of vintage here, and a giant mall with a Zara and everything. There's also a huge flea market in Reykjavík open on the weekends. Unfortunately we've never been in Reykjavík on the weekend, but it looks awesome!
1. Geysir - Clothing
2. Farmer's Market - Clothing
3. Hrim - house stuff. GUH I LOVE IT.
4. Suomi Prkl - cutesy stuff. GUH I LOVE IT TOO.
5. Herrafataverzlun Kormáks & Skjaldar - Menswear
Some final tips:
If you want to attempt pronouncing Icelandic words, start here.
Pick up a Grapevine paper - written in English, tons of tips, listing of events in Reykjavík.
You should probably just email me, because I have about a million more things to say.