ICELAND TRAVEL TIPS: How to plan a trip to Iceland
The Icelandic landscape is characterized by a huge number of waterfalls, black sand beaches, glaciers, and colorful mountains. Discover all the essential Iceland travel tips with this ultimate guide. Find out why you should visit Iceland, the best time to visit, some essential travel tips, and much more…
Why visit Iceland
Iceland is also known as ‘The Land of Fire and Ice’ due to the extreme contrast in its natural landscapes. From glaciers to volcanoes, waterfalls, fjords, black sandy beaches, colorful mountains, and natural hot springs this small country really has it all!
Despite being a popular destination amongst adventure seekers Iceland offers plenty of relaxing activities such as natural hot springs, wildlife watching (whales and orcas), and many independent restaurants and cafes serving traditional Icelandic cuisine.
Of course, the land of fire and ice doesn’t disappoint when it comes to finding a perfect adventure: Glacier hikes, ice climbing, scuba diving, snowmobile…you name it!
Essential Iceland travel tips
LANGUAGE: Icelandic is the official language, however, English is widely spoken.
MONEY/ATM: The legal currency of Iceland is the Icelandic Krona. ATMs are widespread in the biggest cities (Reykjavik). Cards are usually accepted.
ELECTRONIC APPLIANCES: In Iceland, the power plugs and sockets are of type C and F, commonly known as standard europlugs.
VISA: Most passport holders traveling to Iceland for tourism reasons don’t need a VISA to enter the country. That includes the US, the UK, and most European countries.
Best time to visit Iceland
The best time to visit Iceland truly depends on the reason for traveling as each month offers different activities and landscapes. Generally speaking, there are two main seasons, summer (from June to August) and winter (from December to March).
The summer months are by far the most popular time to visit Iceland; warm temperatures and extremely long and mostly sunny days are a perfect combination for hiking, exploring, and enjoying water activities. The weather conditions allow for self-driven tours of the country and off-road adventuring.
Nevertheless, the winter season offers a huge amount of popular activities such as ice caving and climbing, snowmobile tours, and most importantly the chance to see the famous northern lights.
How much is a trip to Iceland?
Generally speaking, Iceland is pretty expensive compared to other European countries. Use these Iceland travel tips to organize your holiday on a budget. These prices are rough estimates.
Airbnb and hotels are widely available but it is necessary to book in advance, especially in the summer season. A double room in a standard hotel is between 120 to 150 US. There are plenty of more luxurious and expensive options starting from 500-600 US a night, such as the Silica hotel and the Panorama Glass Lodge.
Icelandic food is not cheap. A standard meal for 2 people will cost just over 100 US. There aren’t many cheap options, therefore an AirBnB with a working kitchen is recommended.
Luckily the country has a lot of free outdoor sights ready to be explored. Nevertheless, organized activities and day trips in Iceland are generally quite expensive. Most activities range from 60 to a few hundred US per person. Admission to the blue lagoon ranges from 70 to 100 USD, and Ice caves glacier tours are just over 100 US (more if the trip starts in Reykjavik).
What to eat in Iceland
Icelandic food is simple and reflects the harsh natural landscape of the country. Nevertheless, there are panty of options and unique dishes to try, including the famous fermented shark meat and delicious Icelandic salmon.
Officially the most popular Icelandic dish! This fermented shark comes with a strong ammonia smell. It is often served in cubes on toothpicks. Definitely, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to push your culinary taste to the next level.
Fish Fish Fish:
Fish and seafood make up a great portion of Icelandic food. It comes in many forms: Lobster soups, grilled salmon, fish stew…Most restaurants offer a “catch of the day” with freshly made bread and vegetables.
Despite not being a traditional Icelandic delicacy, hot dogs have become surprisingly popular. Baejarins Beztu Pylsur is Iceland’s most well-known and frequented restaurant, often with a long line of people waiting to pick up what is now known as “the best hot dog in the world”.
Best things to see and do in Iceland
Whatever you are visiting in the summer or winter season use these Iceland travel tips to narrow down the best things to do and places to visit.
Reykjavik (All year)
Despite being the capital of Iceland and the westernmost major city of Europe, Reykjavik is not as big as one would imagine. Each year visitors are drawn here by the popular music scene, delicious food, luxurious resorts, and geothermal baths and spas.
Reykjavik is also the entry and exit point of the country being only 30 minutes away from the biggest international airport. Many travelers decide to spend their nights in the capital city while joining organized day trips, others only allow a couple of days in Reykjavik before renting a vehicle and venturing on solo trips across the country.
Some of the most popular attractions are Hallgrimskirkja Church, visible from almost every corner of the city, the Herpa Concert and Conference Hall, and the Sun Voyage sculpture. Simply walking around the streets of Laugavegur or Seydisfjordur can be a relaxing and unique experience with all of their traditional shops, street food, and art.
Iceland on a 4X4: Road trip (Summer)
Route 1, or the Ring Road, is a national road that circles the entire country. Because of the perfect weather conditions and long days during the summer months, a self-guided road trip is an extremely popular choice.
This long drive crosses many different terrains allowing you to appreciate the colorful and diverse landscape of Iceland; from lush green moss to lava fields, powerful waterfalls, and moon-like sandy beaches.
Allow yourself plenty of time for stops and detours as this country has so much to offer.
Driving along the Ring Road during the winter months is possible but challenging. The northern part of the country is off-limits, nevertheless, the section from Rekjavick to the Vatnajokull glacier is still accessible and kept safe by the Icelandic government and public services. Strong winds and snow are very common.
The Golden Circle (All year)
This is one of the most popular itineraries in Iceland, it’s an easy day trip from Reykjavik packed with incredible waterfalls, Geysir, and thermal pools.
The name golden circle comes from the main attraction Gullfoss, one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the country. Other highlights are the UNESCO world heritage site Þingvellir National Park (home to the famous diver’s paradise Silfra) and the many Geysirs along the way, like the Great Geysir and Strokkur.
Midnight Sun (Summer)
Due to Iceland’s proximity to the Arctic Circle, it is possible to experience this incredible phenomenon during the summer months with its peak being around the 20th-22nd of June – The further north you travel the more prolonged the summer light.
This allows you to plan activities 24 hours a day, including hiking, horse riding, and whale watching in the middle of the night. Admiring the midnight sun is a free and unique experience that can be observed from anywhere in the country.
The Westfjords (Summer)
The Westfjords region hides some of Iceland’s more unique natural wonders. This area is far less traveled than the rest of the country making it a unique and traditional stopover.
Some of the most popular highlights are the 14 kilometers long Látrabjarg Sea Clif, the beautiful red and golden Rauðisandur beach, the small and natural hot springs of Hellulaug, and the impressive Dynjandi waterfall.
Patreksfjörður, Ísafjörður, and Hólmavík are great places to use as a base while exploring the Westfjord region of Iceland, being slightly bigger towns with few hotels and restaurants options.
Waterfalls (All year)
An Iceland Travel Tips Guide isn’t complete without mentioning the country’s magnificent waterfalls. Some of the most popular and visited ones are Gullfoss, Skogafoss, and Seljalandfoss in the South; Godafoss and Dettifoss in the North; and Dynjandi and Glymur in the West.
Exploring these powerful waterfalls is possible all year round, nevertheless, some of the most remote ones might be difficult to reach during the winter months, especially in the north of the country. Some of the surrounding hikes can also be challenging when covered in snow.
Whale Watching (Summer)
The mixture of cold and warm sea water with long hours of daylight during the summer months, make Iceland a perfect feeding ground for a variety of whale species.
These excursions are widely available around the country, but more consistent throughout the year in Reykjavík. The summer months are the most popular and best time to enjoy this experience at its fullest, nevertheless, fewer companies run the activity during the winter months, when the landscape can be very dramatic and unique.
Whale watching is indeed a popular wildlife experience but Iceland has a lot more to offer, including sea puffins, seals, and dolphins.
Landmannalaugar Moutains (Summer)
Landmannalaugar mountains are a vast area of stunning and unique beauty in the heart of Iceland. Due to its remote location and difficult approach, they see fewer tourists compared to the rest of the country.
Some of the most memorable features are the colorful rhyolite mountains, a volcanic rock full of minerals such as iron and sulfur, and the many hot springs and natural baths along the way.
Venturing onto the Landmannalaugar mountains is only possible between the middle of June and the beginning of September as the F-roads connecting this area are inaccessible during the winter months. Driving a 4×4 car is always recommended as it allows for freedom of movement, nevertheless, there are many hiking tours available as well as public bus options.
Northern Lights (Winter)
The extremely dark Icelandic winter has its benefits. Between September and April, depending on the weather, it is possible to admire the phenomenon of the Northern Lights.
The best time and place to enjoy this natural wonder is on a clear night, away from the city’s light pollution. Luckily there are specific forecast websites available such as aurora forecast and Icelandic Met Office
Silfra Snorkeling and Diving (All year)
Silfra is easily accessible and part of the famous Golden Circle. This is the only place in the world where you can snorkel or dive between two continents, Europe, and North America, it’s also the clearest water on Earth with a visibility of over 100 meters. The water temperature is between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius throughout the year meaning a dry suit is required.
While snorkeling is an activity open to all, diving isn’t. A dry suit scuba qualification is required in order to join a dive in Iceland.
Most Icelandic PADI schools offer this qualification plus one fun dive in Silfra as a package deal. This will require at least 2 days and an average of 500 US.
Vik (All year)
Vik is a small town often visited by those traveling the south coast, it is the perfect place to stop and recharge after the long drive from Reykjavik. The village itself is home to one of the world’s most beautiful non-tropical beaches Reynisfjara, and the famous Dyrholaey arch.
Vik is a popular choice for those traveling toward the Vatnajokull Glacier, due to the high demand and limited amount of services it’s recommended to book your stay in advance.
Vatnajokull Glacier and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon (All year)
The Vatnajökull glacier covers an area of over 8000 square km on the southwest coast of the country. The glacier reaches 2000 meters at its highest point and covers many active volcanoes. No wonder why it’s considered one of the best things to do in Iceland, especially during the winter months.
Hiking the glacier is possible throughout the year, nevertheless, some activities are only available in winter, such as visiting the ice caves.
Right next to the glacier, it is possible to admire the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, (also known as Diamond Beach because of the many beautiful ice chunks reflecting the sunlight).
Blue Lagoon (All year)
Iceland has many natural hot springs to offer but the Blue Lagoon is perhaps the most popular of all.
Conveniently located only 20 minutes away from the only international airport the Blue Lagoon is a perfect way to start (or end) a trip to Iceland. The water temperature average at 37–39° C and it’s considered to have regenerative qualities.
Unfortunately, a day pass can be relatively expensive compared to the other hot springs in the country. More information can be found on the official website.
Have these essential Iceland travel tips made you eager to plan a trip to the land of fire and ice? Iceland is truly a unique country, full of surprises, activities, and extreme landscapes.
If you found these Iceland travel tips helpful, or have experienced any of these beautiful locations, let me know in the comments below.