Rent a car
To travel around Iceland, you must rent a car. Now which type of car? It will well depend on the time of the year you go. I would suggest you renting a jeep either way but those are usually more expensive. Although if you are going during winter months, I would strongly recommend it. We went in the end of February thinking the weather would be OK, so we chose a Mazda 2. I am telling we had difficult struggles in some points of our trip. But in the end, everything was fine and the car (and us) survived. We rent our car with the agency Greenmotion and they were fantastic. No problems at all. We did the reservation online and on the day a driver picked us up until their office where we got the car. The same happened on our way home.
GPS in Icelandic
Keeping the theme around cars, we rented a car with GPS since we were driving for so long and we wanted to be sure we knew how to get to the different points. Now, please when organising your trip make sure you know the name of the places in Icelandic, not only in English. Yes, we hadn’t thought about that so, let’s say, the two first trips were really difficult because we had no idea how the places were called in that “weird” language. Seriously I am here saving you of big problems.
Fill up the gas tank
Other life-saving tip – every time, listen – EVERY TIME you see a gas station fill up your car with fuel. It doesn’t matter if you don’t need to, it doesn’t matter if you have fill up the tank of the car on the last city you passed through. IT DOESN’T MATTER!!! Fill up the tank in every opportunity you have, because you may go through two cities that are quite close to each other and after that spending miles and miles driving without having the chance to do it. Trust me you don’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere because you ran out of gas. Do it! To not regret later.
When you pick up the car make sure you know if you can drive on the “F roads”. What are now the F roads? They are the roads that gives you access to the highlands of Iceland. In them you can encounter a lot of loose gravel, some even contain deep and wide rivers that you have to go through in order to keep going. To drive in these roads, you have to rent a 4×4 vehicle and it is recommended that you drive on them in a group of at least 2 in case any trouble arises. If you are not a confident driver, I will recommend you avoiding these roads. Obviously with our Mazda 2 we couldn’t travel in these roads but to be fair most of them were closed due to the bad weather.
I am going to talk about two types of apps/websites: To help you on the road and To help you “catching” the Northern Lights
Help on the road
You can download this app through this link: https://safetravel.is/112-iceland-app
This app have two functions:
- For emergencies you press the red Emergency button and your current location will be sent by text to the 112 response center. Even in more remote aeras where your phone shows no signal if you click the red button there is a possibility that a text message is sent.
- The other function is the green Check in button, so you are informing the emergency services your current location if something goes wrong. It stores the last 5 locations you logged in.
I know using this app can sound a bit paranoid but honestly Iceland can be a lonely place especially if you are lost or injured or if you ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t have to use this app fortunately, but that doesn’t mean we were not careful and prepared in case of an emergency.
Iceland Offline Map
Click to download the app: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.mapapps.mapyourtown.iceland&hl=en
I cannot say how useful was this app, so I truly recommend it. As the name suggests you don’t need to be connected to the Internet to use it and it is a big help to find your way or just to check if you are going the right direction.
The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration
If due to the bad weather some roads are closed and you want to find out if it will affect you, you can visit their website (super useful). Alternatively you can call them on +354 522 1778 (English answer) / 1777 (Icelandic answer) so you have an update from them about when it is expected the road to be re-opened. The website is http://www.road.is/.
On our first day we got stuck in Reykjavík due to a big storm and their website was really helpful as their service by phone call, so we could know when the road we wanted to go would re-open that day.
Help for Northern Lights
This was the website we most followed not only in Iceland but also in Norway: http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/
It will give you the forecast for 3 days, giving you the strength (bigger or lower probability) of seeing the Northern Lights.
Icelandic Met Office
This website gives you not only a forecast for the Northern Lights as well as the “cloudiness” of the skies. Basically, to see the Northern Lights you needs 3 things: To be in the right region of the globe (in Iceland you are), darkness (i.e. night) and clear skies. It is this last thing that influences the most. So, you have to be on the dark which means Winter months are the best option but also clear skies which during the winter months can be difficult. So, if you see the Northern Lights you can call yourself a very lucky person because you were present when all the elements of nature worked together so you could enjoy this amazing phenomenon.