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Iceland tips

Iceland Tips for a short trip

Iceland Tips article thanks to Reddit user JellyfishBig1750.

First, I’d like to thank all the contributors to this subreddit for the wealth of information, tips, and personal experience. My partner and I spent a little over a week in a campervan visiting and hiking the ring road, and then spent a couple nights at the Silica Hotel at the Blue Lagoon. It was an incredible and unique experience. I thought I’d share my thoughts.

Campervan and driving

Bring a bungee clothesline. Your clothing is going to get wet, and you’ll need a place to hang and dry it.

Get the gravel insurance. We drove around for a little over a week, and we had a cracked headlight and several cracks on the windshield. Even if you are a responsible driver, you can count on some idiots flying by you on a gravel road at 90km/hr.

Google Maps estimates were fairly accurate on the main highways when the weather was clear, but we often found it difficult to match the estimated pace when it was raining. Off the paved roads, the Google estimates were too aggressive. Many roads are just dirt and gravel, with potholes and sheep to dodge, which brings me to my next point…

I’d recommend renting a 4×4 if you can spring for it. Although it was July we encountered rain every day, and had a couple days where it was mostly rain. On the main roads, this is mostly a non-issue, but there are plenty of areas not too far from the ring road where we were glad to have the extra traction and clearance. Some campsite entrances/roads are also steep and muddy. If you are on a budget, you can definitely get by without it. My main point is that there are benefits to be derived from the 4×4, even if you are traveling during the summer or do not need F road access.

Count on making unplanned stops. I did an insane amount of research prior to the trip, and my map was packed with potential sights, but there were still cool spots and viewpoints right off the road that we discovered every day.

Gas stations are NOT difficult to find, even manned ones. This one might be a little controversial. Many of the posts and guides I read emphasized the importance of filling up whenever you see a gas station. I don’t think I ever dropped below half a tank and there did not seem to be any shortage of gas stations. It’s possible that the van we rented just had a massive gas tank, but even little towns and villages have a pump to use. The only time I went a long stretch without seeing a gas station was when driving to Landmannalaugar and back.

Most gas stations have plastic gloves you can use when filling up. This helps prevent your hands from smelling like diesel for hours.

We rented our van from Cozy Campers, and would not hesitate to use them again. The van performed well, was clean, and was easy to use for cooking/eating and converting to a bed. The provided comforters were plenty warm for summer nights, and there was a heater that we could use as well. Pillows were a little too soft for me. The panorama roof made it easy to vent while cooking.

iceland tips

Clothing in  Iceland

Whatever your shoe preference, just know that they are going to get pretty wet on the outside. There will constantly be rain, wet ground, stream crossings, and mist/spray from waterfalls. I know a lot of people love their trail runners, but I wore waterproof hiking boots. I was able to keep my feet warm and dry throughout all the hiking, stream crossings, etc. I also had a pair of crocs to wear around camp. Between those, I never felt like I needed something else.

Bring a waterproof jacket and rain pants. I’ve never worn rain pants before this trip, and I may not wear them again until returning to Iceland, but damn was I glad to have them. As previously mentioned, there was rain at least once per day while we were there. The only thing I would have done differently is to get full-zip rain pants so they were easy to put on and take off with shoes on.

Wear layers, keep layers with you, especially if you are hiking. When I hiked Kristinartindar, I started with joggers and a tshirt and ended up adding rain pants, a fleece, a buff, a beanie, and a waterproof jacket to my outfit by the time I reached the top. The weather changes quickly, and even more so when you introduce changes in elevation. When I was driving around, some stops would be sunny and warm, others cold, rainy, windy.

Woman standing in Iceland black sand beach in dog rain moody weather cold winter rocks waves

General planning tips Iceland

If you are trying to get the PIN for your credit card, do it early. This might depend on the company, but I tried to get a PIN on short notice from Citi, Chase, and Alliant, and all three said they had to snail mail the PIN to me. The only time I needed the PIN was for gas stations, and I ended up buying prepaid cards in case I needed to fill up at an unmanned station. As it turned out, I never need them and ended up using them at manned stations at the end of the trip.

Always keep 5 100 ISK coins per person with you for the campsite showers. 10 to be safe, if you can. We ran into an issue one night where we had not stopped in any towns and only had 4 coins left. Since we got in late, there was nobody around and we had to shower in 4 minutes with two people in a small campsite shower. Good times.

Everything in Iceland closes early. Don’t count on things being open past 5pm. This is exacerbated by the extended daylight hours, as you will likely be out and about until pretty late in the evening. Plan ahead for stops and shopping so you’re not in a position where you don’t have the requisite supplies and end up eating a $25 gas station quesadilla for dinner.

Campsites are everywhere, and most of them have the basics you need (bathroom, hot showers). Check the Happy Campers Campsite Map. We ended up only staying at our planned stop once, but had no issues finding a suitable alternative every other evening.

Wifi is available at most stops. In addition, our campervan came with a tablet/mobile hotspot, so we only really needed something the last couple of days. I ended up buying a 10GB SIM card at a gas station in Reykjavik for 3000 ISK.

iceland tips

Hot Springs / Spas:

Sky Lagoon – Nice facilities with a decent cafe. The 7 step rituals were a nice touch, allowing you access to a dry sauna, steam room, salt scrub, and mist room. It would have been nice to be able to revisit any of these steps individually at my own pace/discretion, but this practice seemed to be discouraged. The water was clean and a pleasant temperature. The views of the ocean were great and the floor of the main hot springs is smooth and pleasant to walk on. Very chill atmosphere. We went here right upon arriving in Reykjavik and it was perfect after a long day of traveling. Would visit again.

Landmannalaugar – Nice natural spring with the added bonus of the outstanding scenery of the Landmannalaugar area. Great to be able to do this after hiking the many trails in the area. The main downside is that it is a fairly long and cold walk back to your tent/van or shower facilities. Would visit again.

Secret Lagoon – I was disappointed in the size of the lagoon but there was plenty of space. Facilities were mediocre but admission was cheap and the water was a comfortable temperature. I can see the algae and other debris in the water being off-putting for some people. Would only visit again if in the Golden Circle area.

Lake Myvatn Nature Baths – Mediocre facilities. When we visited there was a strong sulfur smell from all the geothermal activity in the area. Steam room available but nothing to write home about. View was decent but this place is pretty far from the lake. No regrets in visiting, but no desire to return.

Blue Lagoon – Decent facilities. Very crowded. The locker room was a madhouse. Constantly dodging people taking selfies, etc. Atmosphere was more like a Vegas pool party, and less like a relaxing hot spring. Would not visit again.

Silica Hotel Lagoon – Only accessible to hotel guests. Open until 10pm. Pretty empty and very easy to access from your hotel room (like 30 seconds of walking). Decent shower facilities by the entrance/exit. Watch your feet when you’re walking though, as the ground is uneven and can be very rough/sharp.

Retreat Spa and Lagoon – Let me preface this by saying that a single person 5 hour pass is $300, so it may not be fair to compare this to the other options. There is a lot to write about here as the facilities here are extensive and top notch. You get a private changing room with a private shower, sinks, and hooks/shelves for clothing and towels. Your changing room also has the small amenities like q-tips, face and body lotion, foaming cleanser, etc, and they provide a pair of sandals and a robe for you to wear (the robe is much nicer and more comfortable than the one provided at the blue lagoon). There is a steam room with a plunge pool, dry sauna, a private lagoon, and a spa restaurant that is only accessible to people at the Retreat. There are multiple small rooms to relax in, including an area with hanging swing lounge pod. There are multiple bathrooms spaced throughout the facility. I think I used a bathroom about 5 times while I was there, and each time it was clear that an attendant had just cleaned it and restocked the hand towels, etc. There is also a DIY treatment area with a salt scrub station, silica body and face mask station, and algae body and face mask station. Each station has seating areas to sit in after applying the treatment and showers for cleaning off. In the treatment area, the attendants will provide you with cups of their house iced tea. Unlike the Sky Lagoon, there did not seem to be a limit to how many times you can visit the treatment area. You can go directly into the Blue Lagoon from here, though I doubt most people have any desire to leave the relative calm and comfort of the Retreat Spa. They have a no photo policy which I thought would be annoying, but came to appreciate after visiting the Blue Lagoon. Would visit again. It was a great way to relax after all the driving and hiking we did throughout our trip.

Blue lagoon hot spring geothermal spa in Iceland


Landmannalaugar area – I was skeptical going in, but photos just do not do this place justice. Such a unique and beautiful landscape.

Kristinartindar hike – I wish the weather was better, but until we got about 2/3 of the way up we had a clear view of the glacial tongue and the lake at the base. Pretty challenging hike with a lot of elevation gain and loose footing.

Dettifoss – I was blown away by the sheer volume and raw power of this waterfall. There were plenty of waterfalls to be seen, and all of them beautiful in their own way, but this one really stood. out. It’s ugly as hell though, with brown muddy water and mist that left a layer of fine dust all over everything I was wearing.

Landscape view of Landmannalaugar colorful volcanic mountains, Iceland


Lake Myvatn area – The scenery around lake itself is absolutely gorgeous, but none of the sites in this area really excited me, including the much-heralded nature baths. The flies are also very prominent here. If I could do it again I would just go north through Husavik and back down south by Dettifoss, skipping this area.

Thorsmork – The photos looked amazing. Maybe it was just because this was at the end of the trip, but the hikes and landscape didn’t have the same impact on me as the other areas of the country.

Blue Lagoon – See above.