If your Instagram feed looks like a giant ad for Iceland, you’re not alone.
Yes, the island country is having a moment, and yes, everyone you know is going.
From volcanic deserts and steamy springs to icy glaciers and black sand beaches, the stunningly beautiful country is the perfect long weekend vacation thanks to cheap flights and its location five hours from the East Coast.
However there are a few things you should know before booking your trip.
Food is outrageously expensive.
Living in New York City, one of the most expensive cities in the world, I thought I had a handle on expensive food.
I was wrong.
On our first day in Iceland, we went to an average looking little café, only to spend $18 on a bagel with a dollop of cream cheese, some lox, and a leaf of lettuce. This is by no means abnormal in Iceland where, according to Lonely Planet, an average lunch will set you back around $30. An entree at a nicer restaurant will be around $55 or more.
The water smells gross but is totally drinkable.
The water in Iceland has a very sulfuric scent (think rotten eggs), but is totally drinkable, and tastes completely fine.
No one told us this, and we spent a very dehydrated evening in an Airbnb after all the shops had closed.
It can feel like being back in the States.
There are so many Americans everywhere that sometimes I forgot where I was.
Iceland has a population of only about 332,000, but sees around 1.8 million tourists a year.
Given those numbers, professor Edward Huijbens of the Icelandic Tourism Research Centre told the Financial Times that locals are “outnumbered by the annual tally of US visitors alone.”
There are hordes of humans everywhere.
Everyone visits Iceland for its incredible natural wonders. This means that everyone in Iceland plans on seeing the same handful of sites. This again means that there are tour buses full of people at every little geyser on your list.
There is so much construction.
I was shocked by the number of cranes everywhere. The tourism boom must really be buoying the construction industry, as every attraction’s tourism center seemed to be getting an expansion, and cranes graced almost every corner of Reykjavik.
Limited daylight means you need to plan your trips accordingly.
Arriving in Reykjavik at 6:30 a.m. we were stunned to find that the sun wouldn’t rise for another three hours — and that it would set at around 5 p.m. And this in early November, mind you.
Obviously, sunlight hours aren’t an issue in the summer, but they become fewer and fewer in the winter, meaning you need to plan ahead. There are tons of things to see in Iceland, but many of them are at least 45 minutes apart, so take that into consideration given the amount of daylight you have.
Bonus points for thinking about where the sun and the shadows will be at any given time of day to maximize the sights you’re seeing.
Bathrooms are few and far between, plus many of them cost money to use.
Like I said, many of Iceland’s top sights are separated by vast distances. Make sure to plan your pee breaks accordingly.
Lots of time spent in car.
Did I mention the vast distances? Yup, you’ll spend a lot of time in your rental car or tour bus. It’s worth it, but something to consider when planning your stay.
Thermal pools are terrible for your hair.
The thermal waters are high in something called silica, which isn’t harmful, but will do a number on your hair. The Blue Lagoon provides conditioner to massage into hair before taking a dip, and warns that it can otherwise “become stiff and difficult to manage.”
You don’t need cash.
Everywhere takes credit cards. We had to buy bathroom passes at Thingvellir national park, and even that took credit card. In fact, I never even saw an Icelandic króna.
You probably won’t see the Northern Lights.
The Northern Lights are an incredibly unpredictable phenomenon, and a whole lot of different factors need to be working together for them to be visible, like season and weather. Apparently, a stay of seven nights is recommended in Iceland for the best odds of seeing them.
The weather is fickle beyond belief.
“Don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” is a real thing in Iceland. Dress in layers as it can go from balmy to freezing in seconds.
You need to book the Blue Lagoon in advance.
The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions — pretty much every visitor will make a stop there. Thus, they recommend that you buy tickets well in advance rather than just show up and hope to get in.
By the way, tickets start at $60, and that’s without a towel. Towels will set you back another $20. Did we mention it’s packed?