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Good to know before travelling to Iceland

Iceland, a really extraordinary destination. The beauty of the scenery, the nature, the snow, the mountains, the sea and lakes are indescribable. The beauty of the nature made us felt out of the world, as if we were the only ones on this land.

While Iceland is really a lovely country to explore and travel, there are things which are good to know before travelling.

How much cash to bring
You really don't have to bring a lot of cash to Iceland because payment can be made using credit card almost everywhere, i.e. supermarkets, petrol stations, hotels, eateries, restaurants etc, I could even use my credit card at the roadside stall to buy icelandic hotdog bun! We changed 100 Euros into ISK and we couldn't finish using it because it was so convenient to use credit cards there. However, when you want to pump petrol at the self service petrol station, make sure that you know the PIN number of your credit card. Otherwise, you'll have to find a petrol station that have service staff to help you.

The Sulphur smell in Iceland
I believe many of you would have heard people saying that Iceland smelt of sulphur or the tap water have a sulphur smell or taste. The truth? Not so exaggerated that wherever you go in Iceland will have the sulphur smell la, only certain places have that smell, and it's quite mild. For the 7 days I'm there, I dun remember smelling unbearable sulphur smell in the air. In fact, most places, towns, cities do not have the sulphur smell in the air.

As for the tap water, Iceland actually has one of the safest and cleanest drinkable tap water, but make sure you dispense the really cold tap water for drinking, because hot water from the tap tends to have the sulphur smell. So, COLD TAP WATER for drinking. Get it? As for the hot water, whether it has the sulphur smell varies when you are in different hotel, or in different parts of Iceland.

Language of Iceland
Generally, the people in Iceland can speak English, so tourists do not have worry about communication problem. However, if you really want to learn how to pronounce Icelandic words, it's really a challenge, and remembering the spelling of Icelandic word is also a chore!

What to wear
We went in December, when the temperature was really low. The highest temperature we experienced throughout our 8 days there was 2 degrees celsius and the lowest was minus 11 degrees celsius. In such cold weather, the layering and the clothes to bring are very important.

The rule of thumb is to wear a thermal inner wear, followed by a sweater (avoid sweater that is made of cotton) or fleece jacket, followed by an outer jacket that is wind and water proof. I personally find down jacket where the outer cover is either made of polyester or nylon the best. Forget about cotton when going such cold countries, cotton only makes you feel colder, that's what I learnt, in the hard way. Go for materials such as polyester, fleece, wool etc.

Walking in Iceland
The roads are quite slippery during winter, so walk carefully. After a while in Iceland, you will realise which patch of snow is safe for stepping and which are the slippery ones. Try to step on fresh snow, they are less slippery. Avoid those icy, shiny patches, these are ice and they are the killer. It will be good to wear shoes with rubber soles that have a good grip.

Day and night hours in Iceland
We went during winter and hence, the day light was very short. Sun start to rise at around 10 plus, and even at 12 noon, you will not get a very strong sun, it's like the sun is at setting mode at 12 noon. But don't worry, it will be bright enough for you to drive, travel around and enjoy the scenery. Then at 4pm, it will start to turn dark, but total darkness only comes at 6+pm. So from 4pm to 6pm, you can still travel but with grey skies. Hence, if you are visiting Iceland in winter, you have to plan your time well. Taking into consideration the short day light and your driving speed will be slower as well due to the road conditions.

But you do not have to worry if you are travelling in other times of the year because in summer, there's midnight sun in Iceland, so you have a lot of time to spare and enjoy the scenery.

Self Drive in Iceland
Driving in Iceland was well, an adventure, especially during winter. The roads in Iceland were generally quite straight with some curves around the mountainous area. It's the weather that makes the drive difficult.

Important to have Internet Connection
It is important to have internet connection when you are out as the weather conditions in Iceland changes quite fast, and you have to check the road conditions before you decide on which path to go. We bought an Icelandic Sim Card from the Tourist Information Centre at Reykjavik which cost 2000ISK, it only lasted for 3 days. The instruction manual states that we can top up the credit online but we were unable to do so, dun really know why. So, our best solution is to top it up at petrol station.

Check the Icelandic Road Administration website everyday
Everyday, before starting our journey, we will check the Icelandic Road Administration website for road conditions. Most of the smaller roads are closed during winter because they are covered with thick thick snow. That's why it is important to check the website to ensure that the road you are travelling is safe to drive.

This is a sample of what you will see on Icelandic Road Administration Website
How do we gauge whether we are comfortable on driving the different road conditions?
For us, easily passable (green) is of course okay, spots of ice (yellow) and slippery (sky blue) are manageable too, wet snow/snow (white) is a bit tedious and tired to drive on, just have to really slow down. We tried driving a while on extremely slippery (dark blue), and we never ever want to try it again. It was so slippery such that our car skidded, and it is really difficult to control the car unless you are very experienced. We also drove once on difficult road conditions (black), because we were stuck in a town and we have no choice but to brave through it. It was snowing heavily and visibility is almost zero, with snow flakes hitting on our windscreen. It was super scary, if it can be avoided, I will never want to be in that situation again.

This was what we saw when driving on 'difficult road condition', we could barely see the road.
Pumping Petrol
Make sure that you have sufficient petrol to last you for your journey as the petrol stations are quite far apart, we always pump full tank whenever we see a petrol station to avoid getting stuck because of an empty tank.

Stock up food
Stock up lots of food in your car! You never know if you will be able to find an eatery or restaurant nearby when you are hungry. I will suggest buying food from the bigger supermarkets like Bonus, 10-11 etc, because those small small ones that are not chain supermarkets are more expensive.

Should I get a 4WD?
Some roads in Iceland is only passable with a 4 wheel drive. These will be indicated as F roads on the maps. You are also less likely to get stuck with a 4WD on roads covered with soft snow. Moreover, if in the event that you are stuck in soft snow, you will have a higher chance of getting out of it with a 4WD. Hence, it will be good to rent a 4 wheel drive in Iceland.

Driving on extremely slippery road conditions
Some tips for you if you are driving on extremely slippery kind of road, especially when you are going uphill. Do not brake because you scared your car will skid, if you brake, your car will skid even more, and the car will be stuck. The trick is to drive at a steady speed and focus on controlling the car. We learnt it the hard way, we were trapped on the mildly uphill extremely slippery road in the middle of the night. Hubby felt that the car was skidding and hence, he stepped on the brake and we were stuck. The car skid when he wanted to start driving, and he was afraid and stepped on the brake again. The next morning, our guesthouse host taught my hubby the technique to drive on extremely slippery road, and it was really useful for the rest of our journey. However, I will suggest to avoid this kind of road if possible if you are not an experienced driver for such conditions.

Tips for catching northern lights!
Every night when we were in Iceland, we will check the websites to see if there's aurora activity and the condition of the cloud cover. Out of the 7 nights in Iceland, we saw aurora for 3 nights!

We will first check the aurora forecast website, this website indicates clearly the level of activity. The higher the level or KP numbers, the higher the aurora activity.

If there's activity for the night, check out the Iceland weather and cloud cover website. If the total cloud cover is thick, then don't bother to stay up and wait for the aurora, you won't be able to see unless you are adventurous to drive to areas with lesser cloud covers.

If the KP number is high and there is no or little cloud cover, then you'll have a good chance of seeing the auroras! Auroras do not necessary appear during midnight. As the sky turned dark quite early during winter, we saw once at 7pm and the other 2 times at around 9pm. It appeared only for around 15 to 30 mins each time, and even though we waited and waited, the auroras didn't show itself again even till midnight, and that's when we gave up and went to sleep, so there's really no specific timing as to when the auroras will be dancing in the sky. Also, you really don't have to drive out to mountainous areas to see the auroras. No doubt the auroras will be clearer in areas of darkness but we are able to see the auroras just outside our guesthouse on all 3 occasions.

Lastly, Icelanders are very friendly and it is a very safe country. Enjoy the beautiful scenery in Iceland, it was really spectacular!

See my posts on my Iceland trip!


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