A lot of people have been asking me about Iceland, mainly because they want to go themselves. So let’s get ready to go to Iceland folks!
Going to Iceland can be a bit tricky, since a lot of the activities can be weather dependent. If you’re like me, you probably want to do the most touristy things: Northern Lights, Ice / Crystal caves, hiking around the mountains, maybe see some Puffins. Well here is what I can tell you.
- Winter season starts October 1st and ends around mid May
- The Northern lights are much easier to see during winter time (and even more common from november to january, and under sub zero temperatures)
- Some restaurants / attractions in the smaller cities simply do not open in the winter time
- Ice / Crystal caves availability are based on weather.
- Puffins only really show up from May – August
- Things in Iceland (car rentals / hotels) are generally cheaper in the winter
So really, determining the when to go is very important, based on what you want to do. The cost factor for flights / hotels is actually not as big of a deal as it may sound right now, but i’ll explain that a little later.
My Trip Details (Budget)
- Route : Icelandair (Toronto: YYZ to Iceland: KEF) , Icelandair (Iceland: KEF to Copenhagen: CPH)
- Cost: Round trip was $806.73 after tax
- Icelandair is constantly doing promotions to bring people to Iceland. The spirit of the promotion is “Go to Europe, and stop at Iceland for free”. For my girlfriend and I, we originally wanted to go to Iceland, so we just took this opportunity to visit Copenhagen as well. We bought just the flight tickets and not any type of hotel / activity package. But there’s a lot of options on the icelandair website for that type stuff if you’re interested in doing big tours.
- Company: SadCars http://sadcars.com/
- Cost: 570 Euros (Breakdown: 584 Euros for the Car. Extra driver fee of 10 euros a day. A shovel. Discount if you pay upfront on the day of booking)
- Type of Car Rented: Toyota Rav4 (maybe a 2004)
- This one is a little interesting. So when I did my research, SadCars was by far the cheapest option for driving a car in Iceland. For those of you who know me, I don’t usually nickel and dime when it comes to renting cars, but when Hertz quoted me ~1200 Euros under the same terms, I said screw it, and went with SadCars. Of course the trade off is, you get a much older car here and sometimes the car felt like it was going to die on us. But the company got some solid reviews online, and it lasted 2300km around the entire country for me, so…. i can’t complain! Service was super friendly, so everything went well.
- Depending on what you want to do, you NEED a 4WD car. If you’re strictly going to stay on ring road, you’re fine. But any type of going up a mountain / not on ring road action will be on asphalt roads. This means things will not be smooth, and roads will have massive holes. Most car rental companies will also tell you straight up a 2WD drive car cannot be used to go to location A,B,C and charge you up the ass you disrespect the advice.
Coming from Toronto, I had to learn to respect gas prices the hard way in the great crazy continent of Europe. I’ve been to the UK, Italy and France before, but I never really noticed the gas prices since I took the metro or taxi. For Toronto it’s about $1.20 – $1.40 per L, while in Iceland it’s easily double. So if you plan to drive a lot, you gotta put that into the budget. For my trip, I drove ~2300km, and spent ~$550 CAD on gas. I also made a rule to prioritize finding a gas station anytime we are at half tank. If you’re staying on ring road, there is a gas station at every city or town, so you don’t have to worry too much. But if you’re going off ring road, I would say make sure your car can go AT LEAST 200km, or else you’ll have to call someone to save you.
Cell Phone Plan
I, like most people, have problems being disconnected from the world. One would think that I’d be okay with it, seeing as i’m going to Iceland, which is untouched by man for the most part, but i take my data connectivity very seriously :). Simminn is the way to go https://www.siminn.is/. They have a store in the mall of Rejavik. Just buy the sim card, plop it into your phone and boom, local minutes, LTE in major cities, 3G everywhere else = no problem. ( I used google maps for most of my navigation ) A friend gave me his sim card from his last trip, but even after topping it off minutes and using like 4GB, i only spent like 25 bucks CAD.
I’ll talk about the details as I talk about my route / experiences later on. But in general I budgeted about $150 CAD per night. I managed to stay within budget for most of the nights, and went a little more baller to $220 for the last night. But as i’ve said, i wouldn’t really nickel and dime in this category, because it is the food that kills the budget. Also other than the big cities like Rejavik and Akureyri, don’t expect any of the hotels / B&Bs to be luxurious. They’ll be more like a Best Western, at best (no pun intended i swear).
I’ll have a completely separate blog post about the type of food and the awesomeness of Icelandic food with lots of pictures. But for now, I want to talk about the destructive cost of food.
Eating out at any type of restaurant = $50 entrees (easily)
Eating out at any type of restaurant with a 3 course meal = $100 a person (easily)
Whether it’s worth it or not will depend on you as a person and the food you get served, but the cost will not change. Mind you i’m not talking about a Michelin Star restaurant or anything like that. I’m talking about eating at your hotel’s restaurant in the middle of nowhere, with a menu you expect to cost $9.99 in North America. Not here my friend, it’s going to cost you $50 bucks, and i re-emphasize, EASILY.
Now of course you can cheap out and go buy groceries. (Bonus supermarket is sort of like No Frills in Canada). For a portion of my trip, my girlfriend and I maybe spent a total of $150 dollars on groceries. We had sandwiches for lunch, ate random pieces of bread for breakfast (some hotels included breakfast), and we definitely saved a bunch of money by going to various bakeries in the city. But on this 8 day trip of Iceland, you probably want to eat out for dinner sometimes, try the local cuisine and truly experience Iceland. I encourage it, food is great, but i’m just telling you that the food bill will strike fear into your heart. According to my math I spent $1081.03 on food (between 2 people, across 8 days).
I imagine if you really wanted to cheap out, you could really bring that down to like $500, but you’re looking at groceries every day. In my opinion eating out is part of the experience of travelling, but that’s just my suggestion.
Icelandic Cuisine features
- Smoked Lamb
- A lot of fresh fish (cod / salmon/ herring)
- Different variations of whale / puffin / shark
- Skyr (it’s basically yogurt, my girfriend loves it, I have no idea why)
Everyone in Iceland speak Icelandic and English. I had no problem getting around / asking for directions. The only thing that might be tricky is pronouncing street names / tourist hot spots. Icelandic has some “special” characters that can make some words tricky to pronounce. For example: Jökulsárlón, Snæfellsne, Þingvellir. I honestly wouldn’t’ worry about it, just write it down and point to it when asking for directions. If you’re using google map, you can just “type” the letter and google maps will auto correct it. (Tip: Þ = th)
Þingvellir shown above which shows the cool tectonic plates, is pronounced “Thing Viller”
So yeah, that’s a lot of info to read but, Iceland isn’t a place to just get on a plane and go (trust me, I’ve travelled a lot too). It’s best to do your homework for the optimal experience, or you’ll just end up driving from city to city without enjoying the super fun stuff. Here are some major points / lessons learned.
- Don’t necessarily cheap out of hotel rooms, in the grand scheme of things, it’s the meals that will really cost you / save you money
- Get a sim card for your phone, it’s so cheap and google maps can save lives
- Check that your activities are “open” during the time you wish to go.
- A lot of cars in Europe are manual transmission, so make sure you can drive stick (our Rav4 though was auto, you can request it for sadcars)
- Budget for food, because the realization of 50 dollar entrees every day can seriously fuck with the budget.
- No one steals in Iceland and everyone is ultra nice. Show the people the respect they deserve.
- I would say for a comfortable trip (eating out 8 days, buying gifts, various activities), budget at the very least $2500 per person (really depends on activities, private tours change everything too)
That’s it for now! I’ll be back with my next post, and we’ll talk about what I did every day. What route I took, what I saw, and of course share some photos! Till next time.