I'll start by saying that this country has one of the most captivating landscapes I've ever seen. There is so much to see -- so many natural wonders, so much fresh, local food, hip coffee shops and art galleries but also sprawling, rural farms. If you're planning a trip to Iceland, I'll spare you some time and let you get on with your planning -- here are some of my recommendations.
Truly did not have a bad meal in this country - but I will say, expect to pay anywhere from $25-50 for breakfast and lunch and likely, more for dinner. We had a delicious breakfast at Stofan but my food was $27. Here are some places we ate/recommend:
Stofan: I read a review of this place on Conde Nast Traveler's site and was drawn to it -- and it was the perfect refuge for us when we arrived in Reykjavik at 7am and couldn't check in to our hotel until 2pm. Cozy, warm, and tastefully eclectic. Breakfast was around $25-$30. $-$$
We got a Groupon and stayed at Hotel Cabin, which was nice enough, but really enjoyed Airbnb-ing it on our road trip. There are plenty of farms with accommodations off of Ring Road. Airbnb is a great way to meet and converse with locals, too. Click here to use my link for $40 off your first trip with Airbnb!
Packing for Iceland seems a lot more daunting than it should be. First, research the time of year that you're going. I can't speak for winter, late summer, or any other time of year for that matter -- we visited the second week of May, and had a rough average temperature of anywhere from 40°F to 50°F. Wind, rain, and snow make a difference, of course, and we had a bit of all of that. I would recommend a solid waterproof coat ( got mine on sale for $99 from Patagonia) and a good pair of waterproof hiking boots (I bought lightweight waterproof snow boots, they worked really well). Fleece-lined leggings are good to have, and then a few sweaters for layering under your coat. You probably won't need much else, except maybe a beanie to keep ears warm, and wool or just warm, clean socks. I brought gloves but didn't use them because I was constantly photographing using my camera, and couldn't effectively press buttons on my DSLR with the chunky extra layer on my fingers. First world problems.
Don't forget to bring your converter, toothbrush, etc, etc. A list can be found on my definitive & portable Iceland Itinerary, where you can save a copy for yourself and tweak it however you choose!
My favorite thing to do prior to traveling to a different country is reading a book about that particular place or set in that particular place. Books that will elevate your experience in Iceland:
The Little Book of the Icelanders by Alda Sigmundsdóttir -- Alda provides quirky and quick insight into Icelandic life.
The Iceland Chapter of The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner -- I loved this book! If you love travel and are the slightest bit self-aware of your own happiness in a given time and place, I think you'll really enjoy it, too.
Also, while in Iceland, stop into their bookstores and peruse the shelves. You might find an interesting read to take home with you (but warning: you'll pay a lot of money for it).
Be wary of the dangers of Iceland. This is one of my favorite articles about all the things that can kill you in Iceland. It kind of seems funny at first but a lot of tourists actually have died from not making conscious decisions in such an unpredictable land.
Decide what you want to see and how you're going to see it. If you're looking for my complete and portable Ring Road itinerary, click here!
Blue Lagoon: a 20 minute drive from the airport and a 50 minute drive from Reykjavik, a trip to the Blue Lagoon is very doable. If you arrive in Iceland early before hotel check-in, just go straight from the Keflavik airport, store your luggage in one of the Blue Lagoon's storage areas, and relax in the silica laden geothermal pool. I was skeptical at first, because I heard how touristy it was, but the amenities are really well done and the architecture blends with the surrounding craggy hills. This was one of the coolest experiences, and I wish we would have made more stops at geothermal pools in Iceland!
Golden Circle Tour/Other various tours: We hear it's best to skip it. Just rent a car and tour yourself! More on that under the "Drive" section above.
GOOD TO KNOW
Tolls: We only encountered one toll, heading south from Akureyri back to Reykjavik just before we arrived in Reykjavik. It was 1000 króna, about $10.
There are no public restrooms in Reykjavik -- you must go into a cafe and order something and they'll give you a key. Most shops don't have restrooms! I advise you to go while at lunch or dinner.
Of course, you can only plan so much. Doing a bit of reading and planning before can make your life easier while you are there, but leave some room to be spontaneous. You know this. Let adventure take over and you will absolutely come back with some of the best stories and memories of this magical, unpredictable, and very much alive country. Reach out in the comments or in the "contact" section if you have any questions!!