Non-Stop Travel: DC to Iceland
If you’re stationed in the National Capital Region, then you HAVE to add Iceland to your bucket list. But it’s not even in DC! Obviously. But you can fly there non-stop from either IAD (Dulles) or BWI (Baltimore) in less than 6 hours, and there’s a big chance you’ll never be stationed closer. So why not take advantage of one of the hottest (and by hottest, I mean trendiest) destinations when it’s so close??!?!
I recently returned from my first trip to Iceland and barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer. You best believe I’m making another trip before I PCS. What follows is a summary of some key points to consider when traveling to Iceland.
When to Travel
This is a big one. The time of year you decide to travel makes a huge difference in almost every aspect of your trip. I traveled in mid/late May and found the weather to exceptionally temperate with lows in the low 40s and highs in low 50s. I never required anything more than a mid-grade sweater and pants to keep warm. To see my complete packing list, click here!
If you’re trying to see the Northern Lights, then your best bet is September through March. I missed out on them with my trip in May, but was able to take advantage of great weather conditions that left our in-country travel uninhibited. Friends of mine who traveled in late March said that the bad weather prevented them from getting to certain sites. Not to mention, it was very cold.
Also keep in mind the amount of daylight during different times of the year. Iceland’s proximity to the Arctic Circle means that it experiences “midnight sun” or almost 24 hours of daylight during the summer. The winter brings very short periods of daylight, which limits your ability to see some of the sites, BUT it’s prime time for the Northern Lights.
Lastly, peak tourist season is from roughly June to August, so while the weather may be fantastic, the crowds might be more than you’re willing to bargain with. Even our visit in May, while not crowded, was starting to see a pick-up of tourism. This can be potentially problematic when trying to book activities and excursions, and I don’t even want to think about how long the line would be for the rental car shuttle during that time (see next section).
SHORT ON TIME?
If you’re short on time and want to see more of what Iceland has to offer than what’s within driving distance from Reykjavik, consider taking short, in-country flights to access the remote parts.
Getting Around & Staying Connected
If you’re from the United States, you’ll find that Iceland is incredibly easy to navigate. I highly recommend renting a car as this will make your trip super convenient. Most cars are manual transmission, but I believe there are some automatic options if you’re willing to pay a lot more. There’s plenty of transportation via bus, but just trust me…you’re gonna want to have some freedom of navigation. Google Maps or Apple Maps worked perfectly fine on our phones and all the roads in Iceland are cataloged, so just type in your destination and GO!
We rented our car from SadCars and found them to be a really easy company to work with. Granted we had no car trouble, but they offer 24 hour roadside assistance. The downside of most of the rental car options is that they are not located at the arrivals terminal, and you have to wait for a shuttle that arrives every 15 minutes. The line for this shuttle is typically pretty long and we couldn’t all fit in the shuttle; causing us to wait another 15 minutes until the shuttle came back. It was inefficient and frustrating. If the line looks long, I’d recommend walking to the rental car office (10-15 minute walk), or renting from a place that has a car lot at the terminal.
For internet access, we tried two different things. On the first trip, we purchased the international data plan through our service provider. It was $10/day for each day that we used data. The second trip, we rented a wifi hotspot for $9/day from a kiosk at the 10-11 store outside of Customs. The hotspot was cheaper, but we had to make sure that it was consistently charged. I’d probably do the hotspot again. When you’re heading home, you just put the hotspot in the airport mailbox located by the Outsized Luggage desk.
As for currency, Iceland uses the Icelandic Krona (ISK), and the exchange rate is roughly 1 kr = 0.008 usd. I’d recommend not getting any cash as Iceland is largely a cashless society. We honestly never used cash the entire trip.
Where to Stay
Iceland can be a very expensive place to eat, stay and play. For this reason, we decided to save money on lodging so we could go all out on the food and activities. We opted to stay in a guesthouse for the first leg and used Airbnb in Reykjavik on the second leg. There are guesthouses abound in Iceland, especially outside of the capital. These typically offer private or shared bathrooms (ours had a shared bathroom, and while it was kept clean, we would most definitely spend the extra cash to have a private bathroom the next time). The other great thing about guesthouses is that they usually offer breakfast and dinner, and sometimes will even prepare packed lunches for you to take with you on your excursions.
What to Do
The options are endless and completely dependent on how long you stay. Our 4 day trip was broken into 2 day intervals as we traveled to Scotland midway through. On the first 2 day leg, we drove the Golden Circle to see the sites. This only took 1 day, so we spent the rest of the time eating and drinking in the Selfloss area (Southern Iceland). The second 2-day leg we spent in Reykjavik. We spent a day exploring the city, and the rest of the time we took a quick trip to hike Glymur waterfall and spent a few hours at the Blue Lagoon.
If you have a week to spare, I highly recommend driving the Ring Road, which goes all the way around Iceland. This is advertised as a 7 day trip with different stops along the way. It’s the best option to see everything that Iceland has to offer.
There’s plenty of other adventures to partake in! Stay tuned for my full 4 day itinerary!
No matter how long your trip, when you travel, or what kind of adventure you’re looking for, Iceland is one of those places you can return to again and again to find new places to explore. Even those places that you’ve already visited will take on a whole new life in different seasons. Happy travels!
about the author
Riley is an active duty US Army Captain and the Founder of Right and Up. She’s currently stationed in Washington, DC, with previous assignments at Fort Huachuca, Fort Bliss, Fort Riley and Fort Benning. You can typically find her eating embarrassingly large amounts of food in local restaurants, or exploring her military town with her husband, Sean and her dog, Gus. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!