Rick and I are very excited. Our brand-new Rick Steves Iceland guidebook — co-authored with longtime Iceland resident Ian Watson — just went on sale. (In fact, you can buy it right here.)
I am evangelical about Iceland. It’s no secret that the country is hugely popular these days. But who knew that it would actually live up to the fuss? And believe me — it does.
Anytime something gets so popular, so quickly, it’s only natural to be skeptical. But Iceland is no empty bubble, ready to burst. It’s simply an amazing, long-underrated destination that’s finally getting its due. With its spectacular scenery, unique culture, and endearing people, Iceland has a way of getting under your skin. Flipping through the pages of our new book, I find myself fabricating excuses to get back there.
Of course, there are plenty of resources out there for Iceland-bound travelers. But we felt we could offer the destination our special “Rick Steves philosophy.” And we worked hard to design the book with our travelers in mind.
Because we realize that many travelers are visiting Iceland for very short stopovers, we’ve tailored our recommended itineraries to anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks — with detailed plans for everything in between. And we recognize that the biggest hurdle for many Iceland-bound travelers are the high prices. That’s why we gave budgetary concerns a special focus in this book (including our top 10 budget tips for Iceland).
Like our other guidebooks, Rick Steves Iceland is selective and opinionated: If on a short visit, overnight in Reykjavík, but dedicate your daytime hours to the epic countryside (even if it means missing a little in-town sightseeing). Consider skipping the very pricey Blue Lagoon ($100, vs. $10 for a neighborhood thermal swimming pool)…but if you do go, combine the Blue Lagoon with your transfer to the nearby airport to avoid pointless backtracking.
And, while Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the Westfjords have their fans, they didn’t make the cut for our table of contents. They’re a little too far out of the way to be practical for most visitors, and you can see similar (or better) sights elsewhere in the country. (If this sounds shocking, keep in mind that we don’t include Geneva in our Switzerland book, Bologna in our Italy book, or Thessaloniki in our Greece book. We recognize that our readers have limited time for their travels, so we make some of the tough decisions for them.)
Instead, we focused our coverage on the day trips most visitors are likely to undertake in Iceland — and we did those with gusto. The book features mile-by-mile, self-guided driving tours of the Golden Circle, the South Coast, and the West Iceland region near Borgarnes. And, for those who have a little more time, we also included a detailed chapter narrating the entire 800-mile trip around Iceland’s Ring Road, encircling the entire island — including some worthwhile detours you wouldn’t want to miss. We also included our favorite “Back Door” destination in Iceland: the lovely and fascinating Westman Islands.
We tailored our coverage to what we know Rick Steves readers expect: introducing towns with self-guided walking tours to help you get your bearings, scouring the countryside in search of friendly and characteristic accommodations, and providing cultural, historical, and — in the unique case of Iceland — geological context to help you fully appreciate the sights.
Recognizing that Iceland is a popular family destination, we also included an “Iceland with Children” chapter loaded with practical tips. And Iceland is one of only two Rick Steves guidebooks (along with Istanbul) that has a special “Experiences” chapter, outlining the many unique things you can do here — from whale-watching and puffin-spotting, to hiking across a glacier, to spelunking in a volcanic cave, to snorkeling in a fissure between continents, to tracking down the elusive Northern Lights, to simmering in a naturally heated thermal river.
Producing a new guidebook from scratch is no small feat. Once we decided to pursue an Iceland book, we committed ourselves to doing a first-rate job. But we also recognized that what we didn’t know about Iceland could fill several books. We needed to collaborate with the right partner. And the first person we thought of was Ian Watson. Ian has decades of guidebook-authoring experience. (He co-authored the long-out-of-print Rick Steves Russia and the Baltics guidebook, back in the late 1990s, and has heavily contributed to dozens of our other books since.) And he lived in Iceland for many years, where he learned the language, earned his Icelandic citizenship, and raised his kids. In short, it’s hard to imagine anyone better qualified to write about Iceland.
And so, Ian spent last spring writing the core of the book, informed by the savvy of a local. Only someone who lived in Reykjavík could knowledgeably explain the pros and cons of the dozen or so municipal thermal baths in the capital region. (For the record, Vesturbæjarlaug is just far enough out of town to feel more local than touristy, Laugardalslaug is open late, and Ásvallalaug is farther out but the best overall choice for families.) Ian knows which roads freeze over first in the winter, which “tour guide stories” are rooted more in legend than in fact, and which Reykjavík restaurants have the best-value lunch specials.
Last June, I landed in Reykjavík with Ian’s work in hand. Taking full advantage of the midnight sun, I spent nearly three weeks circling the island (putting about 1,800 miles on my trusty rental car — equivalent to driving the Ring Road, twice). I wrapped up a few of Ian’s loose ends and did some scouting on my own. Then I brought everything back to the home office in Edmonds, where I spent the rest of the summer finalizing the project, in consultation with Ian, our editors, and traveler extraordinaire (and fellow Iceland-phile), Dave Hoerlein.
In late August, I left our new Iceland book in the talented hands of our Book Department. It wasn’t an easy project: Our ace editors and mapmakers had to shepherd brand-new material covering a destination with unique challenges (one sidebar is entitled “The Many Ways Iceland Can Kill You”) and dauntingly long place names (my personal favorite: Kirkjubæjarklaustur). But the team handled it masterfully — including primary editor and project manager Suzanne Kotz, master mapmaker Dave Hoerlein, graphics coordinator Sandra Hundacker, and managing editor Jennifer Davis. (Meanwhile, I was on the road updating our guidebooks in Croatia, Bosnia, and Slovenia. Every morning I received a pile of questions from our editors and mapmakers. Whether in Korčula, Sarajevo, or Kobarid, it became my breakfast routine to mentally retrace my Icelandic travels so I could answer promptly.)
If you’re headed to Iceland, pick up a copy of our book. If you’re not convinced yet, stay tuned. Starting next week, I’ll be posting a blog series on traveling in Iceland, including lots of practical tips, photos of glorious landscapes, a few quirky anecdotes from my Icelandic travels, and some of my favorite discoveries from the new Rick Steves Iceland guidebook. (And if you have Iceland fatigue…check back in a month or so. Coming up this spring: Spain and Sicily.)
Happy travels…and Góða ferð!