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For how beautiful Iceland is, there are a lot of ways a vacation to the island nation can go wrong. The weather is unpredictable, some hot springs can be, well, a little tricky to find and “easy hikes” could quite possibly consume your entire day.
Iceland has quickly become one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations — so if you haven’t booked a flight deal yet, you probably will soon. During your first visit to Iceland, avoid these common tourist pitfalls, and you can have an incredible trip to the otherworldly destination also known as the Land of Fire and Ice.
1. Ignoring the Weather Forecast
If there’s one thing you need to know about Iceland, it’s their unofficial motto: If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. And truer words have never been spoken. In the span of an afternoon, you can experience blinding sunshine, terrifying hail storms, impromptu snowfall and crisp autumnal weather. Keep a close eye on the country’s weather site, Vedur, for the most up-to-date weather forecasts. And don’t forget to wear layers and keep a rain jacket or windbreaker close at hand.
2. Choosing Not to Rent a Car
If you’re only planning to spend time in Reykjavík, you can certainly get by without a car. But if you have more than two days to kill, you will exponentially improve your Icelandic vacation by spending a little more on a car rental. Some of Iceland’s most beautiful sites are seen just from driving around the Ring Road — something a tour bus won’t give you much of.
3. And Not Upgrading to Four-Wheel Drive
If you’re traveling in December, January or February, set yourself up for a successful trip and rent a vehicle equipped with four-wheel or all-wheel drive. Winters in Iceland can be brutal, and many roads shut down during the coldest months. If you’re thinking about getting around on the main road, you’re going to need four-wheel drive. And if you’re considering exploring the Central Highlands during the winter, don’t get your hopes up — these secluded roads are mostly impassable after heavy snowfall and only Super Jeeps have a chance at navigating them (and there are tours for that).
4. Visiting the Blue Lagoon in the Middle of the Trip
Until you’ve visited, you may not realize how ideally located the Blue Lagoon — a manmade geothermal pool —is for a visit right after your arrival flight, or before your return flight home. The spa and resort is located about a 40-minute drive from Reykjavík, but just a 10-minute drive from Keflavík International Airport (KEF). Make it easy on yourself and plan your Blue Lagoon visit as a bookend to your trip.
5. Underestimating the Hikes
Hiking is one of the most popular things to do in Iceland — during the warmer months, of course. Some of the best trails are off the beaten path and require a good deal of research. For example, a quick Google search for “Glymur Waterfall Hike” suggests that it will take you about an hour to reach the waterfall. But this waterfall is located in an area full of stunning sights that could take you the better part of an afternoon to see. All Trails is a great resource for gathering hikers’ ratings and information about trails all around the world.
6. Expecting to see Hot Springs Everywhere
Despite what everyone might tell you about Iceland, there are a limited number of hot springs. And the locals know what they’re doing: Many of them aren’t promoted as heavily as the Blue Lagoon to keep some of the privacy intact. Reach out to Instagram influencers based in Iceland to see if they’ll share some of their favorite local hot spring knowledge with you. And if that fails, check out Gamla Laugin, or Secret Lagoon. It’s not nearly as large or hyped as the Blue Lagoon, but it’s one of the oldest hot springs in the country and a local favorite.
7. Calling the Horses ‘Icelandic Ponies’
Yes, they are smaller than the horses you’re probably used to and their statures are oh-so-cute. But don’t call them ponies — you’ll be politely corrected by stable hands. Icelandic horses really are amazing animals. They’re able to achieve a fifth gait called tolting, which is a mix of a trot and a flying pace. Once you get the hang of it, it’s known as being a ride so smooth you can sip a drink without spilling a drop.
8. Forgetting to Bring Local Currency for Tour Guide Tips
Tipping is not required or expected in Iceland — in restaurants, on tours or at bars — but it is accepted, if you feel so inclined. “Tour guides often set up a system where they have a jar and label it ‘Tips,'” Sigrún Jóhannesdóttir, from Iceland Adventure Tours, said. “Often that leads to a few tips.” There’s a good chance you won’t use Icelandic krona during any other part of your vacation, especially with tours, as you’ll be paying for your experience ahead of time. So if you think you might want to tip, be sure to bring some coins along.
9. Insulting Elf Culture
Icelanders take their elves very seriously. You’re likely to find tiny, dollhouse-like homes dotting personal and public properties. These are elf homes, and are often made by the home owners to welcome in their mystical friends. There’s a lot of history around elves in Iceland, so try asking a resident about the local elf lore. And definitely take a half-day elfin tour on horseback.
Featured image by Jeff Sheldon / Unsplash.
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