Traveling to Iceland
Traveling to Iceland:
- Geography, Language & Money
- Getting there: Transport; Luggage storage
- Emergency information/US Embassy
Iceland is a unitary parliamentary republic with Reykjavik as the largest city. Iceland is located near the Arctic circle. The climate is temperate due to being moderated by North Atlantic Current. The population is around 350k and is mostly concentrated around the capital.
Ethnic makeup is white with ancestry from Norway, Ireland and the United States. The language is Icelandic. Children are also taught English, Danish and often an additional language such as French or Spanish.
Icelands’ currency is the króna. As of 8/2021, $1.00 USD = 126 ISK (krónas).
If you are going to visit Iceland, you will need a credit card (or debit card) that has a PIN number. For about 99% of your purchases, everything from souvenirs to using the bathroom (that’s right, it cost money to use the bathroom there), you will use plastic. For gas fill ups for your rental car, you will need a PIN number or you can go inside and pay with the attendant. We never had the need to use paper currency. Everything is electronic and I mean everything. We did give out $5-20’s in US bills as tips to service people. Unlike the US, tipping is not required, however we felt many who waited or helped us went above and beyond. None of them had any issue accepting US dollars.
Tip: Prior to leaving we did notify our credit card company and banks that we would be traveling overseas. Being able to get texts every time a purchase was made helped us keep an eye on our card activity and the texts from our bank are in US dollars confirming what we just purchased. You should note that when purchasing an item it often gives you the option of buying it in ISK or USD. As I understand it, you get better money exchange rates by selecting ISK.
Tip: When purchasing items, ask for the VAT form. It is a receipt that you fill out and turn in at the airport and can receive money back. I think we got something like $45 back on our credit card. To do this you must go the VAT tax counter at the airport BEFORE checking yourself and luggage in to the airliner. The whole process was pretty quick and painless.
Traveling to Iceland is a relatively quick 6 hour flight from Washington, DC (IAD) on Icelandic Air. Upon arrival at the airport you will pass a duty free section but don’t get too excited about the SIM card and Icelandic candy at the shop you are passing as it is for departing passengers only.
Tip: If flying Icelandic Air, bring the old school 3.5mm stereo earbuds for the inflight entertainment. I only carry the new Apple earbuds which don’t work with the older stereo plugs which made it an issue.
After you pass through customs you will exit at the duty free customs shop for arriving passengers. Since Iceland has a tight control on acohol, be sure to purchase it here as it will be significantly cheaper.
It is important to note there are two airports on the west side of the island: KEF (most international flights) and the airport in Reykjavik. When arriving at KEF, your transportation options are as follows:
- Rent a car
- Take a bus (charter or city)
- or take a taxi
As of 2021 and due to COVID, car rentals in Iceland are big $$. Prior to my trip, I saw car rentals (2WD compact cars) going for $700/day. I got lucky in that I reserved several weeks before the start of the tourist season. I felt fortunate getting a car for $200/day. Be sure to select the correct car for the type of driving that you will be doing. Standard 2WD cars can not go on F-roads which are offroad (non-pavement). Iceland rental companies do offer a variety of 4WD options. Either way be sure to get comprehensive insurance coverage as there is plenty of gravel to damage windshields, sheep to hit, and volcanic ash to damage your rental.
Something else to watch out for is getting out of a car when the winds are high. If you exit with the wind to your back (or rear of the car), the strong winds can damage the car door when you open it. Basically it acts like a sail and damages the door hinge. Seems crazy, but I have heard of lot of people having this happen to them. Park into the wind and it won’t be a problem.
Since we only used the car for one day to go to the beach at Vik, Iceland, I reserved seats on the Reykjavik Excursion bus from KEF to the BSI terminal in Reykjavik.
BSI bus terminal became our hub from which we explored Reykjavik. The fare was reasonable at $90 roundtrip/person. The trip lasts about 40 minutes and is quick and efficient.
The last option is hiring a private car or taxi. I asked a taxi driver how much to get from KEF airport to Reykjavik and he quoted me around $140 one way. Considering the cost of gas on the island, that price really doesn’t surprise me.
If you take a red eye flight and arrive early in the morning to Reykjavik, your hotel may or may not check you in early. We got lucky at the Hilton Nordica and were able to check in early and catch up on some sleep. I highly recommend you check with the hotel you are staying at beforehand regarding this matter. If they can not do early check in, you can often check your luggage in with them so you are free to explore the city with out having to haul luggage around.
Another option we used twice while in town as the self service luggage storage lockers located throughout the city. Probably the most used one was the unit at the BSI bus terminal. We found it was often filled and required us to go up the street to the city pool where they offered more lockers. I belive the price was around 24 ISK per day. Since everyone comes into the BSI bus terminal, the city pool just a 1/2 mile up the road was a good alternative as many travelers didn’t know about the location. Fore more info on luggage storage.
Bureau of Consular Affairs, Overseas Citizens Services
What can you do to get help in an emergency? Contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, or call these numbers in the United States:
- From Overseas – +1 202-501-4444
Report a Lost or Stolen Passport:
- From the U.S. & Canada 1-888-407-4747
- From Overseas +1 202-501-4444
International phone code- +354
Important Icelandic phone numbers:
- Emergency services (police, fire, and ambulance) Tel: 112
- Police Station Tel: 444-1000
- E.R Emergency Room Landspítali Hospital Tel: 543-2000
- Dental assistance Tel: 575-0505
- Sjálfsbjörg (self-help) association for people with disabilities Tel: 550-0300
- Search and Rescue Tel: 570-5900
Icelandic Online Emergency Resources:
Safe Travel gives you travel conditions, PLB rental, and the ability to file a trip plan with Iceland SAR. This is a good website to review prior to your trip. https://safetravel.is/
Iceland SAR is another resource, especially for those doiung outdoor activities. http://www.icesar.com/
Current Road Conditions and Webcams: http://www.road.is/
Like everything in Iceland, food is expensive. If you are coming from a high cost of living area in the US (such as myself), the prices were too much a shock. Lunch entrees ran $20-35; dinners varied on how fancy of a restaurant you chose.
We had a meal at Lamb Street Food which was very reasonable. We had lamb wraps and soft drinks and the total for two meals came out to ~$40.
Right next door to Lamb Street Food is Valdis Ice cream which was really good (and very popular).
Along with lamb, Iceland is known for it’s hot dogs (called Pylsa). Yep, you read that correctly. They are kind weird blend of lamb and beef with crunchy onions. It tastes much better than it sounds. You can get them all over the island, but an easy popular spot is at the gas stations. Unlike in America, where the food in a gas station is low grade junk, the food they serve at the Iceland gas stations is actually pretty good. You can also fill up your water bottles with Icelandic water which is some of the best water I have ever had.
Want to try the local culture, my wife and tried the fermented shark which I have to say is equal parts unique and disgusting. Proceed at your own risk on that one. Puffin, whale and horse meat are also other options. I wanted to try them but didn’t get a chance.
Lastly, unlike the US, no need to tip service people. We still did on an occasions as we like to reward people who go above and beyond their jobs.
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