“Conditions in Iceland May Be Different than You Are Used To”

By Cameron Hewitt

That warning — white letters against an alarming-red field — pops up on the seat-back TV screen as I settle into my Icelandair flight to Reykjavík. It’s a message from Safe Travel Iceland, warning tourists — as early in their trip as possible —  to be ready to share one-lane roads, to drive carefully on gravel, and not to get too tired driving late in the land of the midnight sun. But in a way, it also sums up my upcoming journey.

My early-summer guidebook research trip in Europe is underway. My first stop is, technically, Iceland — but I won’t be there for long. After an hour’s layover, I’ll continue to Great Britain (for a spin through Salisbury, Stonehenge, Cardiff, Ironbridge Gorge, and North Wales), then Oslo. But then, around the beginning of June, I’ll fly back through Reykjavík…and this time, I’ll be sticking around for a couple of weeks.

At Rick Steves’ Europe, one of our big projects this summer is to produce our first-ever Rick Steves Iceland guidebook. It’s a big step for us. While Rick has been to Iceland — and greatly enjoyed it — it has always felt “not quite Europe.” But our fans — who, like so many travelers, are making a habit of stopping off for a few days in Iceland on their way to or from Europe — have made it clear that they’d really appreciate the “Rick Steves take” on Iceland. And the numbers are astonishing: Tourist visits to Iceland are growing at an exponential rate. Last year, more Americans visited Iceland than all the people who live in Iceland. It’s clear that a lot of our readers’ travel dreams include Iceland…and it’s our duty to help them out.

Even before I boarded my flight, we already had a great guidebook in the can. Ian Watson, one of our most experienced guidebook researcher/writers and a longtime collaborator, lived in Iceland with his family for many years. He spent this past spring researching and writing our book on his adopted homeland. Now it’s my turn: In early June, I’ll be test-driving, polishing, and “Rick-ifying” Ian’s work. (Thanks to Ian for letting me use one of his photos for this post!)

As I’ve prepared for this trip, I’ve been surprised how many people I know are already experienced Iceland travelers. I’m sure a lot of you reading this have been there — and I’d love your input.

In the comments, please share your best Iceland tips. Favorite restaurants, hotels, museums, nightlife, or shops? Best day-trips (or day-trip companies)? Any particularly memorable experiences — food tours, scenic drives, volcano visits, and so on? What kind of information would you have found helpful in planning your trip? What tips do you share with your friends who are heading there? In general, what aspects of an Iceland trip should a Rick Steves-style book be sure not to miss?

I’ll collect everyone’s advice, add it to my already-lengthy list of leads, and make sure to take it into consideration as I explore Iceland.

Thanks in advance for your help. I’ll be posting later this summer with my observations about the land of ice and fire. Between now and then, however, I’ve got lots of other travels to report on. Next up: Wales.