Know before you go: 6 things that could ruin your trip to Iceland

Nov 10, 2022

What to know before you go to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland

Are you planning a trip to Iceland? I don’t blame you- it might be the most magical place I visited in 2022!

But there are a few things that no one told me when I decided to take a spontaneous trip to the land of fire and ice. We’re talking vacation ruining, money guzzling things that you HAVE to know.

You’ll read countless articles about the best things to do in Iceland, the food in Iceland, budget travel tips for Iceland, and the unmissable sights. Iceland is an adventure and nature lover’s dream, and it’s one of the friendliest countries in the world. In fact, it’s the #1 destination I recommend for first time solo travelers! 

But there are a few important things I want to make sure you know before you go to Iceland- things that I didn’t know that landed me in some *interesting (expensive, nerve wracking, awkward, disappointing) situations. 

Know before you go: things that could ruin your trip to Iceland

Gas pump quirks in Iceland

Pumping gas is weird in Iceland. Why?

(1) Gas pumps do not accept credit cards. You must bring a debit card if you are renting a car! 

(2) You need to pay careful attention to what kind of gas you put in your car. In Iceland (typically) the gasoline pump handle is green and the diesel pump handle is black. This usually confuses people from the United States, where the green pump handle is diesel.

Speed cameras in Iceland

Iceland is famous for the Golden Circle, a stunningly well-maintained road around the country surrounded by endless rolling green hills, waterfalls, rainbows, and the sea. 

While the maximum speed on most of the Golden Circle Iceland is 90 km/hr (56 mph), I saw 1 police car my entire time there (no joke, it was at a donut shop- the jokes write themselves). The Golden Circle also isn’t crowded, and between gorgeous scenery and the nature of a road trip- hopping from one incredible stop to the next- it’s too easy to push the speed limit. 

What you won’t see (initially) is the many, MANY speed cameras. And in Iceland, speeding fines are no joke and the cameras are real. Going so much as 10 km/hr over will mean a ticket in the mail for several hundred dollars weeks after you arrive home from your vacation. Just enjoy the ride and go the speed limit- aside from the ticket and fine, see #6 below if you need another reason to keep your speed in check!

When can you see puffins in Iceland?

Picture this: you’ve driven half the Golden Circle over several days and are especially excited to see all of the adorably fluffy puffins featured in every article you read while planning your trip to Iceland. And surprise! There aren’t any. 

Sinking disappointment, teary-eyed “kids” (adults), and 2 hours sitting on top of the sea cliff hoping to catch sight of the 1 puffin that a stranger swears they saw flying around “earlier.” 

Avoid this situation with solid pre-planning. I know every travel influencer preaches a go-with-the-flow/planning-isn’t-sexy/just-get-lost attitude, but spontaneity shouldn’t mean stupidity. Do your research. Is the biggest geyser at that famous hot spring dormant at a particular time of year? Is this year’s weird drought causing low flow in those waterfalls you’re planning to hike 10 miles just to see? Will I cry if I leave Iceland without seeing a puffin? 

Yes, there are parts of Iceland where the window of time for seeing puffins is longer than others. This is because puffins only come on land to breed, lay and incubate eggs, and raise their chicks, which happens in the summer. Where I went (Dyrhólaey Sea Cliffs) the recommendation to see puffins was May-September, but while I was there in September, there wasn’t a single puffin. I was fortunate to see one in Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon the following day, but the guide said it was the only time in 4 years that he’d seen one there. 

If something is particularly important to you on your vacation, plan it meticulously. And with puffins, I’d advise you to come in the middle of the recommended time period to be safe (July-August). 

When can you see the Northern lights in Iceland?

You know what would be a super bummer on your trip? Seeing on a Northern lights tracking app or website that there’s only a minuscule chance of seeing them, going to bed, then waking up to see pictures and stories from everyone about how amazing they were last night -___-  I saw them at the end of the summer when the apps said there was only a 10% chance!

Is drinking alcohol in Iceland expensive?

Iceland is expensive. At the time of publishing, 1 Icelandic Króna = 0.0069 US dollars and goods in Iceland carry an 11% tax on food and a 24% tax on other goods. If you’re going to Reykjavik (I recommend at least 2 days there!) and want to enjoy some adult beverages, use the Reykjavík Appy Hour app to find happy hours near you! Reykjavík is bursting with cool little restaurants and you don’t want to miss out.

You can also buy your alcohol from the duty-free shop at the Keflavik International Airport when you land. I also recommend buying snacks for your road trip at the duty-free shop.

Be careful of sheep while driving!

Few things can ruin a trip faster than hitting a fluffy, squishy, adorable animal with your car. Before you ask, no- I did not hit one. But there were 2 close calls that brought me to tears. Sheep outnumber people in Iceland, and while you’ll see them everywhere, you may not see them darting out from behind rows of bushes in front of your rental car.

Solo female travel Iceland- Is it safe?

YES. Ladies, Iceland is one of the best places to travel solo as a female in Europe! Iceland is a progressive country and ranks #1 for gender equality. The incredibly low crime rate, constant proximity to nature, small towns, and English speaking population make Iceland a great destination for first time solo female travelers from the US and globally.

Looking for more? Don’t miss the best-of-the-best!

Are you new here? Let’s be friends! I’m Sarah— a solo female traveler (& world’s okayest travel blogger) helping you travel the world, discover surprising destinations, & have a laugh getting off the beaten path. Scroll to the bottom of this page to sign up to stay in touch (I promise not to spam you- just to share the best travel hacks, guides, itineraries, embarrassing stories, and unmissable experiences)!

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