Saturday, January 18, 2020

Iceland in Winter: Food and Dining

When we talked to people who had visited Iceland before our trip to Iceland, we heard that you had better like fish or lamb because that would be the only food available. Although I like both both lamb and fish and Tara likes fish, we were pleasantly surprised to find that many more options were available in Iceland. In Reykjavik in particular, there were some excellent food choices. I did have lamb multiple times and Tara and I both had fish several times, but we also had chicken, vegetarian dishes, and even a beef-based dish (though beef did seem less common and more expensive).

As stated in the earlier post "Iceland in Winter: Money," food is pricey in Iceland, but there are reasonable deals available and tips are not generally necessary. When you factor the tip into the price in some American cities (especially in Hawaii and Alaska), the difference in food costs is less significant. Compared to the other costs of the trip (flights, lodging, and car rental in particular), the food costs were not so out of line.

Breakfasts at the Iceland hotels are terribly expensive, but we only paid for breakfast on one morning. We enjoyed the complimentary breakfast buffet in the Haust Restaurant for the four mornings after the four nights lodging at the Fosshotel Reykjavik. Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon provided a complimentary breakfast buffet as part of their very adept handling of a power outage in the area over night and into the morning the next day. On the morning after our stay at Hilton Reykjavik Nordica, we had to leave really early to return our rental car to the airport and join the Gate 1 tour's transport from Keflavik Airport back to Reykjavik. We ended up eating breakfast in the previously mentioned Fosshotel Reykjavik's Faust Restaurant, but paid for that breakfast (7,000 Icelandic Krona or approximately $57 US for the two of us) because we were not yet checked-in guests.

Lunch prices varied, but we typically paid between $40 and $50 US for lunch. Dinner prices were only a bit higher, tending to range from around $45 US for two of us to just over $60 for the two of us. We ate lunch and dinner more than once each at the food hall (Hlemmur Mathöll) close to Fosshotel Reykjavik because of its wide selections of cuisines and interesting twists on common cuisines.

The Hlemmur - Mathöll website explains the variety of cuisines available: "Hlemmur - Mathöll seeks inspiration in the famous European cafeteria, where together under one roof ten ambitious food traders and restaurants unite."

Some of the restaurants we tried in Hlemmur Mathöll were Kröst grill (tasty dinner), Braud & Company (bakery), Bánh Mi (phở), and Til Sjávar & Til Sveitar (skewers with lamb and chicken).

Flatey Pizza in Hlemmur Mathöll offers very thin crusted pizzas with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and other interesting flavors (Neapolitan style) that I had not tried on pizza before. For example, several of their pizzas have dates on them, which tasted better on pizza than I imagined. The photograph of Flatey Pizza shows their menu in Icelandic, but they did have a paper menu on the counter with the English translation.

Fuego Tacqueria in Hlemmur Mathöll offers several different types of tacos based on pork, chicken, and fish.

On our last night in Reykjavik, the weather was unpleasant again (wind driving snow), so we didn't want to walk far from our hotel but we still wanted to try something new. We chose the nearby Hamborgarafabrikkan, one of a small chain of "Hamburger Factory" restaurants. We enjoyed our meal there. It was my first time to have a lamb burger and I enjoyed it.

On the morning after our ice caving tour and seeing Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant along the way (where we could also get diesel for our rental car). This restaurant, Veitingasala Restaurant, is #1 of 1 restaurants in Svinafell on TripAdvisor. Although there aren't a lot of other choices in the general area, we enjoyed this one choice that we did have. They featured cod and au gratin that we enjoyed along with some other items off the menu. They also had a large restroom area.

Combining a good place to eat, to use the restrooms, and to fuel up the rental vehicle made this a convenient and welcome stop in an area where they're weren't many alternatives.

It's a relatively lengthy drive from the glacier lagoon back to Reykjavik. On the way, we stopped at the Valhalla Restaurant and Saga Center, which is currently ranked #1 of 1 Quick Bites in Hvolsvollur. We got there at opening time and had the restaurant and museums to ourselves. There was much to like about the place. We ordered dinner at the counter and perused their museums while the dinner was prepared.

The Valhalla dining area is a large dining hall with wood bench seating and wood tables and is reminiscent of viking dining halls. The menu had several different options. One thing that struck us about the menu is that a person looking for alternatives to lamb and seafood would definitely find it here where there were lots of options such as chicken, beef, and sausage. We enjoyed the food, the viking hall setting, the museums, and the really good prices of the food. We're glad we stopped there on our way to Reykjavik.

While we were at the Perlan, we ate at their Ut i blainn cafe. The food was good, but the view was spectacular! The rotating area was not working, but there were few enough people there that we were able to get a seat next to a window with a great view of downtown Reykjavik and the harbor.

We had made reservations for the Ut i blainn restaurant for dinner, but kept having to change the reservation to later nights to accommodate changing Northern Lights plans. We ended up canceling the dinner reservation altogether to attempt to see the Northern Lights on one of the last nights, but the cafe worked out well for lunch.

There are a few dining options in Vik and we ended up eating lunch at The Soup Company. This lunch was a bit pricey, but we enjoyed it and I liked the opportunity to try a tasty lamb and vegetable soup. They also had a good chicken noodle soup and some simple sandwiches we enjoyed.

When departing Iceland, we had a long wait at Keflavik Airport because we got there roughly 4 hours before our flight to avoid taking chances with weather closing the road between Reykjavik and the airport. We ate lunch there at Nord Restaurant. We both had fish entrees and were happy with them. An important note about that eating establishments in that part of Keflavik Airport (including Nord Restaurant) is that they are intended for departing passengers rather than arriving passengers. The vendors scan your boarding passes before taking orders. Arriving guests are diverted away from this area by signage as they leave the gates and head toward baggage claim.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Iceland in Winter: Lodging

We stayed in three hotels while in Iceland and we stayed in two New York City hotels flying to and from Iceland. I summarize our experience at each of these five hotels in this post.

The "core" of our trip was scheduled via Gate 1 Travel, a company we had used for our first trip to Europe. This trip to Iceland was one of Gate 1's "independent" vacations ("6 Day Iceland's Northern Lights - Fosshotel Reykjavik"), meaning that they arranged the flights and hotels and the rest was up to us to plan and do as we saw fit. It was really less "independent" than this sounds because we purchased three "optional" excursions through Gate 1 for three of our days in Reykjavik and we had the same bus driver and same tour guide for the first two days' activities (third day was canceled due to weather and road conditions). The hotel we reserved via the Gate 1 "independent" package was the Fosshotel Reykjavik. For the days outside of (before) our Gate 1 arranged days, we reserved on our own a single night at Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon and a single night at Hilton Reykjavik Nordica. We enjoyed all three of these Iceland hotels.

 

Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon

We chose to spend a night at Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon so that we would be close to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon for our morning ice cave tour the next morning. This was our most costly hotel night (just over $300 US), but it was really nice to be within 30 minutes driving time of that glacier lagoon, which was the rendezvous point for the ice caving tour. This hotel was used for our first night in Iceland so that we would have plenty of time to get from the airport in Keflavik to this hotel and only have a short drive to the snow caving pick-up point the next morning.

We had some inclement weather on that first day in Iceland and the road conditions were a bit sketchy at times due to blowing snow and ice on the roads, but we made it to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon with no significant issues and after visiting beautiful south Iceland locations such as Reynisfjara, Vík, and Reynisdrangar that are on the way along the Ring Road.

The dodgy weather continued to cause issues that night and power was lost from at least the glacier lagoon to the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon. The staff at Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon made the best of the situation of having no power that night. While we did not see the power come on in our rooms the entire time we were there, we were comfortable overall. The staff arranged for complimentary "cold dinners" for all guests and this was welcome as there are extremely few dining options in that area and the "cold dinner" had more variety and was tastier than I anticipated it being.

The rooms had no light due to the power outage, so they gave guests small candles that we could use in our rooms. Together with our mobile telephones and other electronic devices that provide light, we were able to get situated and had a good night's sleep. The toilets were not flushing without power when we went to bed, but they must have connected generators during the night because the toilets started working and there was light in common areas of the hotel. In the morning, we were provided with a complimentary breakfast that included hot items. Given the normal cost of dinner and breakfast at Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon, the complimentary dinner and breakfast were significant.

It would have been nice to have power while at the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon to experience that hotel in its full capacity. However, even in the diminished capacity of being without power, the hotel was impressive as was its staff. We really liked the room with its view toward the Ring Road and ocean. It had a particularly impressive view of the star-filled sky. With the power out all around us, it was easy to see the stars.

 

Hilton Reykjavik Nordica

After our day of ice caving and seeing some sights as we drove back along the Ring Road to Reykjavik, we checked into our first hotel in Reykjavik, the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica. This large hotel had numerous amenities, but we didn't get to experience most of them because our stay there was brief. However, we enjoyed the large room. We enjoyed the view of the Old Harbor even if we could barely make out the harbor in the darkness of the winter night and morning we spent there. This nice hotel was slightly cheaper than the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon, but was still almost $290 US for a single night.

 

Fosshotel Reykjavik

We spent four nights at the Fosshotel Reykjavik and really enjoyed it. I don't know our cost for this hotel because it was included in the Gate 1 Travel package that bundled airfare and lodging costs. We were not able to check into our room that morning because the rooms were not available yet and advertised check-in time was not until the afternoon anyway. However, Fosshotel Reykjavik has a storage room where we could store our luggage.

We had really bad weather that morning and most tours were canceled. Fortunately, our Gate 1 tour, which was a "City Tour" of Reykjavik, was able to proceed because no roads in the city were closed.

While we waited for our city tour to start, we decided to eat breakfast at Fosshotel Reykjavik's Haust Restaurant. While we normally would not pay that price for breakfast because we don't eat large enough breakfasts to justify it, we did on that morning because it gave us somewhere comfortable to sit and something to do (eat) while we waited and we did need to have breakfast. We would have breakfast there for the next four mornings as well, but those were all included in the price of lodging, so we only paid for that first morning before check-in. The breakfast selection was large (it's a breakfast buffet) with fruits, pancakes, breads, potatoes in various forms, eggs in various forms, Icelandic yogurt-like skyr, and more.

We liked our room and the staff was friendly and helpful. One of the strongest aspects of staying at Fosshotel Reykjavik is its location. We had really close proximity to the harbor, to the Laugavegur area, to Hlemmur Mathöll (where we ate several meals), to a taxi station, and to the Höfði house.

 

Other Observations Regarding Iceland Lodging

  • There is obviously far less lodging available outside of Reykjavik than there is in the greater Reykjavik area.
  • Many lodging establishments in Iceland provide rooms with shared bathrooms. This was not the case for any of the hotels we stayed in: Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon, Hilton Reykjavik Nordica, and Fosshotel Reykjavik all had private bathrooms for each room.
  • Tour buses typically are not allowed to pull up directly in front of hotels in Reykjavik. They typically go to designated bus stops very near the hotels. For example, bus stop #12 was immediately next door to Fosshotel Reykjavik. Most tour providers can provide instructions and maps to indicate which stop is used for each hotel. Also, the hotel staff know which bus stop the tours pick up people at from their hotel.
  • Taxis typically do not queue up in front of the hotels in Reykjavik to wait for passengers, but instead should be called to come to the hotel. The Fosshotel Reykjavik was really close to a taxi stand.
  • Tips are generally not expected for Icelandic housekeeping and other services, but overall Icelandic lodging costs are expensive.

 

Conclusion

All of our hotels in Iceland were warm and comfortable. This was welcome after adventure-filled days in the cold, often windy, and sometimes snowy weather.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Iceland in Winter: Money

When you read about traveling to Iceland, it is a common theme to read about how expensive it is to vacation in Iceland. While some of the costs in Iceland for our winter Iceland vacation did seem a bit high, the overall cost of the vacation seemed in line with some of the other vacations we've taken over a similar duration. This post talks about some of the expenses and other money issues we observed while in Iceland.

Currency

It can be a bit of a surprise that Iceland has its own currency (Króna, Íslenska Krónan, ISK) instead of the Euro. At the time of our trip to Iceland, the conversion rate between the United States dollar hovered around 125 ISK to $1 USD (and 138 ISK to 1 Euro).

When tours are purchased online in advance from Icelandic vendors, they are often purchased with Króna. This has some interesting implications. For example, two of our three canceled (due to weather conditions) planned excursions were purchased in Króna. They were refunded in Króna for the same amount upon cancellation, but the changing exchange rate (against the U.S. dollar) meant that we got back slightly different amounts back than we paid (a bit less for one and a bit more for the other). Likewise, while we booked hotel rooms well in advance for an agreed-upon price, the price was actually paid was a bit different at the hotels when we paid upon arrival because the exchange rate had changed slightly. The exchange rate between these currencies is not currently changing dramatically, so the difference in costs, payments, and refunds is often only a matter of a few dollars.

Credit Cards

Credit cards are very popular in Iceland. Using a credit card with no foreign transaction fee is the optimal way to purchase hotels, excursions, and other activities online before the trip and when in Iceland. We found Visa and Mastercard to be widely accepted in Iceland. Unlike our experience in central Europe, we found that the Icelandic vendors typically seemed to prefer credit cards over cash (for which they would have to make change). We worried that we'd need to recall our PINs for our chip-enabled credit cards and this was a worry because we almost never need to know the PINs in the United States. However, the only time we seemed to need a PIN was for purchasing diesel at the pump and paying at the pump. For other restaurants and shops, we did not need to use the PIN.

While in Iceland, we obviously used a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. However, it was important in a few of the pre-arranged tours to also use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees to make reservations online because the operator charged in Icelandic currency. We have a credit card that pays 4% back on travel charges but has a foreign transaction fee and another credit card that pays back 3% on travel charges but has no foreign transaction fee. We used the card paying 4% back for portions of the trip charged in American dollars (Gate 1 Travel deposit, New York City hotels, etc.) and used the card paying 3% back (but with no foreign transaction fee) for scheduling excursions and activities with Icelandic providers.

For more details, see Iceland Currency: All about Icelandic Money & A Currency Converter.

Food Prices

Dining out in Iceland can be costly. However, there are definitely reasonably priced options available. When you factor in that Iceland dining prices include compensation for the servers and others such that a tip is not generally necessary, the price of dining relative to other places can be not too different from some other popular vacation spots (such as Hawaii).

We stayed at the Fosshotel Reykjavik for four of our nights in Iceland and it is situated near Hlemmur Mathöll, which featured several food vendors across widely different cuisines and reasonably priced.

See my blog post of food in Iceland for more details on the food and associated prices.

Other Costs

We saved some money on our recent trip to Iceland because we went in winter. However, this also meant that we had other costs. For example, we purchased nicer coats than we normally use and gloves and waterproof hiking boots specifically for this trip. We'll use these in Colorado and in other areas we visit with weather conditions like Colorado and Iceland, but we purchased these specifically for winter in Iceland. See my previous post for more details on proper Iceland winter attire.

Our lodging costs in Iceland were high, but I've seen worse in expensive tourist areas such as San Francisco and deals can be found. Our cheapest per-night cost was likely at the Fossohotel Reykjavik, though I cannot know for sure the hotel cost because it was part of our overall Gate 1 Travel package that included flights. Our night at the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica was likely higher on a per-night basis and was priced just under $290 US for the single night. Our night at the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon was a bit over $300 US, but it's the only game in town when you want close proximity to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. We liked all three of these lodging establishments in Iceland and I intend to write about them in more detail in a future post.

Excursions and tours can seem a bit pricey in Iceland, but these deals often don't seem so bad once you factor in the high prices of can rentals (specially with the highly recommended insurance) and the high costs of gasoline and diesel. We also added Wifi to our car rental; this was very handy, but added to the price of the rental. See my previous post for more details related to renting a vehicle and driving in Iceland.

Conclusion

Traveling to Iceland is generally more expensive than traveling to many locations, but there are deals to be had from time to time. In our case, the portion of the trip covered in the Gate 1 Travel package was overall less expensive than the part of the trip we arranged ourselves. We paid more for our personally arranged lodging and renting and driving a rental car and arranging our own tours was more expensive than our days on tours with Gate 1.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Iceland in Winter: Reynisfjara, Vík, and Reynisdrangar

On our first day of our first trip to Iceland, we drove our rental car from Keflavik International Airport toward our first scheduled excursion, the Snowmobiling Tour on Myrdalsjokull Glacier. Although we departed from the airport later than we originally estimated and despite unfavorable weather conditions with blowing snow, we still were on schedule to reach our departure point 30 minutes in advance of our 12:30 pm departure time.

We received an e-mail message a couple hours before arriving (but did not read it until about 30 minutes before arriving) that explained this first excursion was canceled "due to weather conditions on the glacier as wind and snow are beginning to pick up, creating a white out conditions." It was a quick lesson in preparing for change of plans when vacationing in Iceland in the winter. The positive of this cancellation is that it made time for us to visit Reynisfjara black sand beach and the charming gfishing village of Vík.

Reynisfjara black sand beach is located west of Vík í Mýrdal and relatively close to our anticipated departure point for the snowmobile tour. When we realized our scheduled tour was canceled, we were already near the exit to Reynisfjara and decided to go see it because our previously scheduled South Shore Adventure had been changed from visiting Reynisfjara (due to falling rocks) to visiting Dyrhólaey Peninsula instead (days later, we'd find out that tour was canceled as well; had we known that was coming, we would have visited Dyrhólaey while in the vicinity).

Reynisfjara beach is known to be dangerous (see video) if its waves are not respected (don't get too close, never turn your back to it, etc.). Falling rocks are also a potential danger at the east end of the beach.

We decided to go to nearby Vík í Mýrdal for lunch after visiting Reynisfjara beach. After arriving there and before stopping for lunch, we decided to return to the observation point near the beach to view and take photographs of the Reynisdrangar Sea Cliffs. The next two photographs shown the long black sand beach here between Vík and the ocean with Reynisdrangar.

As spectacular as this beach was, I was even more intrigued by Reynisdrangar.

After eating lunch at The Soup Company (Súpufélagið ehf) in Vík í Mýrdal, we proceeded to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and ultimately to our lodging for the night at Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon (Hnappavellir, 785 Öræfi, Iceland). Along the way, we saw a small but beautiful waterfall right alongside the road.

We also had seen the tourist-frequented waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss from the "Ring Road" (Road 1) as we had driven from Keflavik to Vik, but we did not pull up next to these significant warerfalls or take photographs of them because we thought we'd be back with the South Shore Adventure tour in a few days.

We drove past Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon so that we could see the glacier lagoon before the sun was completely down and then drove back to the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon to check-in.

Here are some photographs of the scenery between Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon and the glacier lagoon itself.

On our first full day of our winter Iceland vacation, we had already had our first scheduled excursion canceled (it would be the first of three canceled on this trip), but we were able to take advantage of the cancellation to see Reynisfjara, Vík, Reynisdrangar, and other beautiful winter landscape in south Iceland.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Iceland in Winter: Weather, Temperatures, and Layers

I have heard and read about Iceland's temperatures being similar to those of New York City and other large, well-known northern cities. When we were looking at temperatures in Iceland in the fall (even late fall) before our winter trip to Iceland, we noticed that the temperatures in Denver were frequently much cooler than those in Reykjavik. Temperature-wise, Reykjavik and Iceland do average higher low temperatures than some of these places, but temperature is not the only factor to consider.

What we found in Iceland in the first week of January is that the strong winds made it feel much colder than the ambient temperature measurement implies. While the effect of the wind on temperature was most prevalent near glaciers and glacier lagoons when the wind swept over the frozen and near-frozen areas before hitting you, the wind was strong even in areas of Reykjavik. This was another aspect of Iceland that reminded me of the state of Wyoming in the United States, which can also see strong wind frequently. I realized how dramatic the effect of the wind on perceived temperature is in Iceland when we descended into the ice caves from on top of the glacier. It was much more comfortable inside of the ice caves than on top of the glacier and the difference was the shelter from the wind provided by the caves.

We noted that while the Denver area's lows are lower than Reykjavik's, Denver's highs can often be higher than Reykjavik's. In other words, the range of low to high temperatures in Denver can often be much wider than and completely contain the much smaller range of temperatures in Reykjavik on a given winter day. It's also worth noting that fewer number of hours with sunshine on winter days in Denver are nowhere near as short on daylight as the days in Reykjavik (we had 4 to 4.5 hours of daylight while in Iceland). We didn't see the temperatures in Reykjavik get much cooler than freezing (lows usually around 0 degrees Celsius or just -1 or -2 degrees Celsius), but it often felt colder than that when outdoors.

The most dangerous part of Iceland's weather while we were there was not the cold, but was the wind. Not only did it make it extremely cold to be on or near the glaciers, but more importantly the wind reduced visibility significantly on the roads and led to airport and road closures. There were times when strong wind gusts pushed me a foot or two until I got myself braced against it. The wind would also blow snow across the roads and in some places decent size drifts of snow turned to ice could make things a bit dicey.

When you read almost any blog on Iceland in winter (and often even in other seasons), you read about the need for wearing layers. This is important because the weather can change quickly and dramatically. Layers are also important because when it's cool and windy outside, it's often quite warm in buildings and buses and other vehicles. When one is going between the outdoors and vehicles and buildings, the temperature can change quite dramatically. The buildings are largely heated with relatively low cost geothermal energy and are often quite warm.

For my layers, I wrote a long-sleeve shirt with an undershirt at all times. I also had a fleece pullover to wear over my long-sleeve shirt and under the coat for particularly cold situations (such as being on the glacier). For our coats, we purchased coats from The North Face store during a Black Friday sale based on what we read in the blog post "What To Pack & What To Wear In Iceland." The coats we used for the Iceland in winter trip are the men's Gotham Jacket III and the women's Reign on Down Parka (windproof and waterproof jackets/coats are highly recommend for Iceland in the winter). I also used North Face gloves (Men's Montana Etip GTX Gloves) and we bought quality waterproof hiking boots at Cabela's.

There are obvious safety issues associated with Iceland's weather, but the most common effect of potentially severe winter weather is its impact on planned excursions and activities. The weather can impact flights, buses, and all types of plans one might make for a visit to Iceland. I outlined in some detail the effects of Iceland winter weather on our own trip in my first post on Iceland.

It is prudent to have ready access to the web sites or other contact information for tour companies and other vendors you are working with in Iceland to find out if particular trips are canceled or delayed. For example, a major Iceland tour provided is Reykjavik Excursions (they provide the FlyBus airport transports, for example), and they have a cancellations page at https://www.re.is/tour-cancellation/. It's even possible that weather could force things to happen earlier than planned such as moving flights out to an earlier time.

The following links are to some articles about weather conditions in Iceland during the week we were there and the week after (the week of my writing of this blog post). Even reading just the headlines give a good idea of Iceland weather's most common effect: forcing changing of even the best-laid plans. Note also the local sources cited available in English (Iceland Monitor, Iceland Review, and Reykjavik Grapevine).

In addition to Iceland Monitor and Iceland Review, the best source for current weather details in Iceland is arguably https://en.vedur.is/. Iceland's beauty is arguably even more spectacular in winter and there are some activities you can only do in the winter, but you definitely have to be prepared for plans to be changed whether you like it or not when traveling in Iceland in the winter.

Iceland in Winter: Renting and Driving a Vehicle

We rented and drove a vehicle for the first couple of days of our trip to Iceland. This post summarizes some of our observations from renting a vehicle at Keflavik International Airport (KEF) and driving it in Iceland.

Renting Vehicle at Keflavik International Airport

When renting a vehicle at Keflavik International Airport, some of the rental companies have counters in the airport terminal itself and many of the companies require riding of a shuttle to their counters. When we arrived in Iceland just after 6 am in early January 2020, it was still very dark and there were blizzard-like conditions with blowing snow. This made it less desirable to walk out to the area to wait for the shuttle to the external car rental agencies. Dragging the suitcases on wheels across the side walk path to the spot for loading onto the airport car rental shuttle was not the most pleasant experience either. When selecting a company from which to rent a vehicle in Iceland in the winter, the location of the car rental company's counter (in the airport itself or accessed by shuttle) might be worth considering. The shuttle also means a delay in your departure of 20-30 minutes potentially as compared to renting from a company inside the terminal.

The shuttle makes several stops with different car rental companies at each stop as shown in the following image.

If the car rental company you're considering at Keflavik International Airport is on the sign shown above, it's a reminder that their counter is separate from the terminal and accessed by shuttle. The car rental companies with counters inside the terminal are Budget, Avis, Europcar, and Hertz.

We rented online in advance from Alamo via RentalCars.com, but Stop 5 is for a single counter representing Enterprise, Alamo, and National, which are all part of Enterprise Holdings (EHI Iceland).

We opted for the optional Wifi and GPS to go with our rental vehicle, but we never used the GPS. Instead, we used the Wifi and connected our smartphones and their GPS/mapping applications (such as Google Maps) via that Wifi connection. The Wifi in the car worked really well for nearly every place we drove in southwest Iceland and Jökulsárlón.

Before leaving for Iceland, I visited my local AAA Colorado store to acquire an International Driving Permit (IDP). I never needed to show it our use it in Iceland, but decided it would be nice to have.

We opted to go with the full insurance ("zero excess") on the car we rented because we were only renting for a couple of days and the blizzard conditions happening as we were checking out the car prompted us to play it safe with full insurance that included coverage for ash and sand. The car we rented was listed on the online order as "Intermediate SUV - Nissan Qashqai or similar" and what we actually received was a Hyundai Tucson (which we generally liked).

Driving in Iceland

Driving in Iceland was generally easy to do and pleasant enough when the weather was decent. We did have a few situations (including for an hour or so after picking up our rental vehicle at the airport) where the weather was not good and the driving was more stressful. The most stressful times were when large amounts of snow blew over the road and reduced visibility significantly. The worst we saw was on returning our rental car to the airport a few days into our trip when there were times on the Reykjanes Peninsula connecting Reykjavik to the airport that we could only see a few feet in front of us as dense snow flakes blew forcefully across the road. Because the drive from the airport was also a time of bad weather, it so happened that some of the worst driving we saw was on that peninsula between Reykjavik and the airport. We did have some brief weather issues (blowing snow and icy roads) between Vik and Jökulsárlón.

Drivers drive on the right side of the road, similar to the United States and most countries in the world (the exceptions including Britain, Australia, and Japan). Outside of Reykjavik, speeds seemed to fall typically into three categories: 90 km/hour (~55 mph) for more rural, 70 hm/hour (~45 mph) for really small populated areas, and 50 km/hour (~30 mph) for villages and single-lane bridges. There are numerous single-lane bridges between Vik and Jökulsárlón that require the vehicle coming later to that bridge to yield to the vehicle that arrived at the bridge first.

There can be long spans of road between petrol stations. Our rental car, like many vehicles in Iceland, ran on diesel rather than gasoline. Fortunately, every station or collection of pumps we saw had a diesel pump. These pumps were the only places in Iceland that I needed to know my pin for my credit card's chip. We filled up often because we did not always know the distance to the next pump. There were some pumps alongside the road with nothing else there (no store or person). Automobile fuel (gasoline or diesel) is, as in most of Europe, expensive with Iceland fuel costs often being over twice as expensive as we're used to in Colorado.

There are numerous roundabouts in Iceland. Often, the existence of a roundabout implies a new village or population area. It is also required in Iceland to have lights on whenever driving regardless of the light conditions outside at the time. This isn't too difficult to remember for much of the day in winter in Iceland because there are so few hours of daylight (a little over 4 hours in early January), but I did forget a couple times in those few hours until someone flashed their lights to remind me.

Driving in Iceland outside of the greater Reykjavik area reminded me a lot of driving on non-interstate highways in the western United States. The Ring Road (Road 1) in particular reminded me of driving on some of the non-interstate highways in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. Much of the scenery is similar, the one-lane-each-way is similar, and even the rapidly changing weather with potentially strong wind gusts are common among all of these drives in the winter.

Outside of the cities along I-80 in Wyoming (such as Laramie, Rawlins, and Rock Springs), there are gates that can be used to close sections of I-80 in particularly nasty weather. Iceland has gates similar to these that are used to close down sections of the roads during particularly inclement weather. Some people ignore these and this type of thing happens.

Three particularly useful web sites when driving in Iceland are Iceland Met Office's Weather page (https://en.vedur.is/), the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration's Road Conditions page (http://www.road.is/), and SafeTravel.is. Iceland's emergency phone number (equivalent of 9-1-1 / 911 in the United States) is 1-1-2 (112). Other important telephone numbers when in Iceland are collected in "Important Phone Numbers." We also had the 112 Iceland application installed on our smart phones. I also found it useful to review SafeTravel.is's Icelandic Road Signs page before driving in Iceland.

I read several useful posts regarding renting a vehicle and driving in Iceland before our trip. Here are some of them: