Iceland: Winter Road Trip

People who’ve been to Iceland told me that once you’ve been, you won’t need to go back. I can’t say that I agree. In fact, I’m already planning my next trip out there.

Dreaming of snow

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Back in late September, Oli and myself found ourselves looking online, hunting for some winter snow. We wanted somewhere beautiful and secluded, away from our typical city breaks. We had visions of us staying in the mountains in log cabins, wrapping up warm and going for walks in the snow. That’s how we came across Iceland.

We booked five days away (with a early morning flight home on the sixth day)’ spending two nights in the capital city, Reykjavík, and then we planned to go ‘beyond the wall’ (Game of Thrones was filmed there),  into the mountains to stay at the capital in the north, Akureyri.

Doing it on a budget

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There’s no denying it, Iceland is SO expensive. Think London prices and some. It suffered badly in the 2008 economic crash plus its tourism industry was screwed over when Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010. That, combined with the fact that pretty much everything is imported, means that the excruciating VAT prices could be the make or break of your Viking trip. But don’t let it be. Icelanders are suffering too and there are ways to get around it.

There’s a little bit of a housing crisis going on in Reykjavík at the moment as so many Icelanders are converting parts of their houses into Airbnbs to earn more dollar, so there are plenty to choose from. We stayed two nights in an apartment in the capital, with a shared kitchen and bathroom. That cost us around £130. Don’t be put off by the thought of sharing with other people because it saves you money and you’re out all day every day anyway so you’ll hardly even care. As long as where you sleep is warm!

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The best way to avoid the eye watering cost of eating out in Iceland is to stay in places that have a kitchen. Your average KFC meal will set you back a tenner each and a meal for two in your local Italian restaurant with two soft drinks, will cost you around £50 together. Instead, head over to the local BONUS (the cheapest supermarket around. Don’t get caught out like we did by shopping at the equivalent to Waitrose on our first shop…) and buy ingredients you can cook at home.

Because we’re not millionaires, we even went as far as bringing a bag of rice and some chicken stock from home and grabbing some fresh veg whilst we were out there so we could make veggie risotto. We also picked up ingredients for breakfast and sandwiches and general road trip snacks. Don’t go overboard though – the more money you save on food means the more money you have to spend on the fun things!

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There’s no denying the fact that there’s SO MUCH TO SEE in Iceland. BUT all of the sights are quite spread out (due to being forces of nature, Icelanders had no choice where to put their tourist attractions. Sorry about that). There are day excursions that will take you on mini tours but they are going to set you back at least £150 per excursion, and trust me, you’ll want to do at least three or four of them. Of course the benefit of going on a tour is that you don’t have to think about getting from A to B but you can do it so much cheaper if you hire a car and share the cost with some pals…

(Ps. Iceland don’t really do cash – it’s cards all the way!)

Getting around

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I would definitely recommend hiring a car and planning a road trip around Iceland. If you’re going in summer, your bog standard two-wheel drive will do the job just fine. However, if you’re looking to go in winter, I would highly recommend you get yourself a four-wheel drive. Petrol is a little bit more expensive than in the UK but when it’s shared between two of you it’s really not a lot considering how much distance you cover!

We were suckered into the cheap price offered by the hire car company for a two-wheel drive. We ended up with a very fashionable (not) pea-green Renault clio. However, we were caught out by the unreliable weather and ended up driving through a snowstorm in the mountains. To give you some idea of how scarey it was, they have reflective posts on either side of the road stations every 10m or so and at some points we couldn’t seem them until they were at our window… Our four hour drive to the north turned into a tense seven-hour trek. But Oli is a cool-as-a-cucumber driver and totally aced it so never fear!

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As soon as the snow hits, drivers will realise that they are never far away from a snow plough, keeping the roads clear. However, it’s worth noting that during winter, almost all of the roads become closed at some point and iced over. You can keep an eye on what the roads are doing on your trip here.

Embrace the weather

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There’s a saying in Iceland that goes: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” There’s a reason for that.

Because of the way the land lies, the weather is temperamental to say the least. It’s unpredictable and subject to major mood swings. That means that whatever time of year you go, you’re never guaranteed sunshine for your whole trip.

For us snow-hunters, Iceland didn’t disappoint. It snowed alright. From the moment we stepped of the plane, we were slapped round the faces by the bitterly cold, icy, sea wind. Little did we know – and nor did the Icelanders – that the weekend ahead was going to be the biggest snowstorm of the year so far.

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This stunning, Nordic country is home to volcanoes, mountains, thermal springs, geysers and so much more, which enables it to be powered almost entirely by green energy. It experiences long, hard winter nights and equally long, days in the summer. In January, sunrises at around 11am and sets at around 1pm, and in August the sun sets at midnight and rises at around 3am. When you head out to Iceland, you want to see it all!

However, the intense snowfall did prevent us from seeing many of the things on our bucket list. It didn’t ruin our trip though – far from it.  We got to see the beautiful countryside covered in a blanket of snow. And I’ll tell you this for free, the views don’t get any less impressive!

And what about the Northern Lights? I hear you ask. Like many tourists who seek them out, we were disappointed. They can be seen from Iceland between September and April but of course you are then cursed with cloud cover. It’s just hit and miss really and it just gives me an excuse to go back and find them! You can check out the likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights on your trip here.

You can keep an eye on the weather in Iceland here.

Doing it again

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If I were to do it again (which I totally will), I’d go out there with a bunch of pals – and Oli of course! – I’d hire a four-by-four car, and I’d map out a route before booking where to stay. Then I’d stay in different places every night en route.

Although the south is on the tourist run (the Golden Circle route is a tourist fave), I would still head north because there’s so much to see there too. Getting off the beaten track a bit is fun and makes the road trip that little bit more special.

Got any questions? Get in touch either via the contact page or catch me on Twitter @HollieBorland.

When we got home, we were looking through our photos and found a bunch of me where I really should have taken my Ray Bans off. In fact, I looked like Stevie Wonder. Just for laughs, and because we have bare photoshop skills, we transformed me into the Three Blind Mice. I’m crying with laughter! 

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