🇮🇸 10 Things Visitors Should Prepare for When Traveling to Iceland

Vik, Iceland
Vik, Iceland

Our family had the opportunity to visit Iceland in the Summer of 2021 for 11 days. We rented a camper van and completed the drive around Iceland’s famed Ring Road. Based on our experience we have put together a list of 10 things visitors to Iceland should be prepared for. We have learned these lessons first hand (sometimes the hard way) and would like to share our experience so that you are better prepared for your amazing adventure!

Check out our very detailed blog “A Return to Normal: Iceland by Camper Van” as well as Iceland: Suggested Itinerary for additional information.

  1. You NEVER know if the water is going to be very hot or extremely cold!
    I totally understand that the temperature of Iceland’s lakes and rivers could be impacted by geothermal heating and the mixing of glacier fed waters. Depending on where you're at and the proportion of the mix will determine the temperature of the water. I was not prepared for the fact that this could also sometimes apply to the water coming out of a faucet! Where I live the water out of a faucet starts off cold and you have to wait for it to warm up. Sometimes in Iceland it starts out warm and you have to wait for it to cool down!
  2. Water almost ALWAYS stinks!
    Warm/hot water will smell sulphuric or like rotten eggs. This is due to its geothermic origins. This includes water from the faucet, in the shower, and yes all those beautiful thermal baths. Warm water from the faucet also has a distinctive taste. However, if you allow it to chill and for the minerals to settle, the taste is very pure. In fact, Iceland’s tap water is one of the cleanest in the world!
  3. If visiting a bath or spa be prepared for nudity in the locker rooms!
    Not a big deal but it's always good to be mentally prepared! Locker rooms are separated by gender and clothing is required once you leave. You are required to shower while fully nude before leaving the locker room and entering the baths. This is for cleanliness purposes, which I’m sure everyone can appreciate. If you have children, I recommend preparing them as well. We spoke to our 6 year old daughter beforehand and it was still a bit of a shock. If modesty is in your nature, don’t let it deter you from enjoying the geothermal bath experience. We were able to find ways of keeping our eyes down and ourselves covered while also following the rules.
  4. Be prepared!
    When venturing outside of Reykjavik you should always:
    • Know the weather and be prepared for it to change quickly.
    • Know the current road conditions and that they can also change quickly.
    • Decide where you plan to camp for the night. Determine your options for camping if you can’t make it to that location. Where can you camp if you can make it a little further?
    • Be very aware of how much gas you have at all times and where the next gas station will be. We never let our tank get below half full.
    • There are very few restaurants and they often have very limited menus. Always carry provisions. We kept our van stocked with camp meals and instant ramen and ended up eating every bit of it.
    • Have a map, cell service is spotty.
  5. Be flexible!
    When planning out your itinerary for Iceland you have to allow for some flexibility. For example, when we first hiked up to Fagradalsfjall it was not erupting. At the time we didn’t think that was too big of a deal because we were just so excited to be there. That evening while out to dinner we saw on live feed that the volcano had started spewing lava again! We knew we had to do the hike again! We reworked our schedule, eliminated some activities, for the following day so that we could venture back. Even then we didn’t know if we were hiking it until we woke up that morning and saw the smoke rising from the area of the volcano. It was well worth adjusting plans for the experience!
  6. Be careful with your rental vehicles!
    One trick we learned in Iceland is to take a video of the car in its current condition when you picked it up. It is very easy to damage a vehicle in Iceland and you will be charged for it. High winds frequently damage doors as the wind catches them while opening. Also, sheep are everywhere and they aren’t necessarily afraid of cars.
  7. Weather can change quickly, dress in layers!
    All too often a chilly overcast morning can turn into a blazing hot sunny afternoon. Or vice versa. I have never been hotter than the one time we hiked out to Skaftafellsjökull.
  8. It may look like a small island but there is A LOT to do!
    I definitely made the mistake of over scheduling us on our trip to Iceland. There is truly an unlimited amount of activities and I wanted to do them all. It also doesn't help that it doesn’t get dark in the summertime so you literally hike in the middle of the night! I am not sure I wouldn't make the same mistake even if we went again. Give yourself grace and flexibility if you are not able to achieve all that you originally set out to see and do. We had to remove many “wishes” from our suggested itinerary as we went on a daily basis.
  9. Pack sleeping masks and be aware of the time!
    During the summer it is pretty much light 24 hours a day. If you are not watching the time you could easily stay up and hike well into midnight. Since it is so light, I recommend a sleep mask to help you sleep and wind down after all the day’s excitement.
  10. Iceland can be pricey!
    Budget accordingly. This is because a lot of the goods are imported. Our family brought a lot of dried meals with us. We were allowed a free checked bag so we figured we would just bring some camp meals with us instead of paying almost double for them in Iceland.

Don’t forget to check out some last minute items we purchased from Amazon we found essential during our travels in Iceland: Quick dry camp towels were great for campground showers as well as shower totes. Sleep masks were a must for trying to sleep when it was light 24 hours a day. As well as a Multi Ports USB Car Charger to keep all our devises charged while in the camper van. We also love any opportunity we we have to bring along our favorite Rumpl blankets.