I can't believe it's already 2016. This time last year, I was having a panic attack as I began planning my month-long trip to Europe. Now, I am counting down the days til Iceland 2.0 - I'm going at the beginning of February with my cousin for a second road trip around the country.
I've been meaning for quite a while to write a more thorough account of my first trip there, and have obviously just not gotten around to it. Anyhoo, what better time than the present (months after the actual experience)!
1. Iceland's second city, Akureyri, is very cool
We only got to spend one night in Akureyri, but I would've loved to have more time there. The town is cute and walkable, and while certainly primed for English-speaking tourists, a less crowded "urban" spot than Reykjavik.
2. And so is Reykjavik
Reykjavik has all the trappings of hipness that are making it such an appealing destination for young travelers, including boutique hostels, artisanal coffee shops, and chic restaurants. Do research online or get a guidebook to find the cool spots hidden in the city's nooks and crannies, and avoid mainstream tourist traps like the Chuck Norris Grill. Be advised though, if you're trying to take advantage of the nightlife, things don't get going til about midnight.
3. ROAD TRIPPING IS ESSENTIAL
Reykjavik is very cool, but if you want to get a real Icelandic experience and avoid heaps of tourist groups, you'll have to leave the city and the surrounding area. My favorite thing about Iceland is the lack of people, so for me this was definitely a must. Even if you spend all day driving and don't get out of the car once, the scenery you'll see from the road will blow your mind. Iceland's topography and natural beauty are other worldly and unlike anything I had ever seen before. It's worth the cost and planning involved!
4. Always buy gas
Like people, gas stations can be few and far between. If you pass one and still have half a tank, better to fill up just to be safe.
5. Puffins are smaller than you'd think
Like almost as small as a pigeon! If you aren't able to get very close, you'll need a long lens to photograph the little guys.
6. Liquor stores keep very weird (short) hours
If you're able to find a liquor store in Iceland that's open, stock up while you can. Or better yet, get everything you need at duty-free at the airport. Hard alcohol can only be bought in a Vinbudin (Icelandic for liquor store) and depending on the location, they're only open for very limited times. The good news is that beer (and chocolate!) can be bought in convenience stores.
8. The Mexican food isn't very good
I mean, obviously. Considering how far Iceland is from Mexico, and the lack of Mexican people, and the cost and trouble it'd be to import Mexican ingredients, this one is kind of a no-brainer but hey, sometimes you make stupid choices to get a margarita.
9. But the gas station food is great (really)!
Since gas stations are sometimes the only buildings you'll find for hours on the ring road, they have to pull double duty as human fueling stations as well. I had some delicious "meat soup" and a crepe-like Icelandic pancake at one, and the hot dogs are always lauded by locals and tourists alike.
10. ICELANDERS ARE FUNNY
One of the best experiences I had in Iceland was English comedy night at a bar called Gaukurinn in downtown Reykjavik. The mostly Icelandic comedians were all hilarious, and watching stand-up by locals with specifically Icelandic opinions on specifically Icelandic topics will definitely give you an insight into what the culture is like.