A season-by-season guide to planning an Iceland trip
Iceland may be a small country with only 330,000 residents. But the combination of high tourist numbers and a difficult-to-navigate language makes local knowledge a valuable resource for a visitor who wants to get maximum value from their Iceland experience.
In a country with turbulent, ever-changing weather, and extreme seasonality of sunlight, Iceland becomes several “different” destinations as the year unfolds, each of which requires very different travel planning strategies:
Summer is a relative term in Iceland. Local hero clothing brand 66 North’s slogan is “waiting for summer since 1926,” and that characterizes the country’s ability to maintain cool temperatures even at the time of the midnight sun.
Summer is the most popular time to visit Iceland. But this popularity carries a bit of cost to it
- Accommodations are at a premium, in terms both of price and availability everywhere – in Reykjavik, or outside the city. This increases costs and tightly limits spontaneity
- Popular sights are packed with visitors, especially around midday
- Rental cars are expensive
- Well-known restaurants can be tough to get tables
- Also: there are no Northern Lights during the Midnight Sun. It’s too bright.
A summer trip to Iceland can benefit from expert travel planning by taking account visitors group size, interest in natural or cultural attractions, and how much or little time they want to spend in Reykjavik.
Iceland is not a country where one can drive out of town and expect to find a vacancy at a roadside motel. There is a considerable variety of hotel, home and farm lodgings, but they can be difficult to find or book, and assembling an itinerary combining comfortable lodging, great natural and cultural sights and reasonable driving distances requires access to local knowledge. A GPS does not suffice.
Scarcity of accommodation ceases to be a problem when schools reopen in the Northern Hemisphere and the family travelers go home. Northern lights can even make an appearance. Bargains still require some effort to find, particularly as visitors tend to come for shorter weekend visits centered around Reykjavik.
The role of the planner shifts towards helping customers make the absolute most of a short visit: emphasizing hidden scenic gems beyond the still-overtouristed Golden Circle, connecting visitors with local guides and even residents who would host “Dining with The Icelanders” experiences.
Icelandic weather is often unpredictable. But in the Winter, it is predictably unpredictable. Wind, snow, horizontal rain and brief and occasional bouts of sunshine can be known to take place on a single day. What is predictable is the amount of darkness, up to 18 hours per day, which makes Winter prime season for Iceland’s Northern Lights visitors. However, skies must be dark and clear to allow for a Northern Lights experience, and that cannot be predicted at all.
So, from a travel planning perspective, Winter is the land of “Plan B” – where the game is to ensure each visitor a great visit, taking both decent and not-so-decent weather scenarios into account. It is also, when possible, a time to find good deals on well-appointed hotels and accommodation with their own thermal pools and dining options if it becomes difficult to get on the road.
Very much like Autumn, but with a most-different landscape. Temperatures normally above freezing, but with the many mountains and valleys covered with snow. In many ways,it’s the best time of year to visit Iceland. The last of the Northern Lights can be seen in March. The early light of the Midnight Sun can be seen in May. Accommodations tend to be quite available and rates more reasonable, especially with the help of a knowledgeable travel planner. And even the touristed sights of the Golden Circle can be experienced in relative peace.
The planner, year round
To sum up the role of the travel planner around the year focuses on four things: making the most of each visitor’s itinerary, securing the best deals on the right accommodation and travel services, connecting visitors with local guides and hosts for once-in-a-lifetime Iceland experiences. And, perhaps most importantly, providing support during the trip if itineraries require sudden changes or problems need to be fixed. Planning services may not be for everyone, but for visitors who want to go beyond the standard tourist path, they can open many doors, while creating a better-value experience of Iceland.
More information on personalized travel planning for you, your family, group of friends or workplace on www.icelandunwrapped.com
By: Mike Klein – A Netherlands based Iceland enthusiast.