1. Top 11 Iceland Travel Tips
I am often contacted by foreign friends who are planning to travel around Iceland. Where should they go in Iceland? What should they do in Iceland? How should they prepare for travel in Iceland?
There is no easy way to answer these questions; different people enjoy different things, and Iceland has much more to offer than can be seen and done during a single visit. But regardless of the person who seeks my advice, I always pass on at least one of the following recommendations.
To make the most of your time travelling in Iceland, take note of our top 11 travel tips before setting out on your adventure.
1. Go Sightseeing at Nighttime
You can expect some of Iceland’s most popular attractions to be a bit crowded during the long summer days of high-season. But if you are indeed visiting in mid-summer, you will be blessed by the unremitting midnight sun whose light lasts for 24 hours.
Taking advantage of the endless days by travelling at night will let you avoid the crowds and experience a personal, magical moment of timelessness in nature’s amber embrace.
The roads will be silent, the towns and villages asleep, and the stillness of the bright night air will be as enchanting as the wilderness it envelopes.
Those who do not feel comfortable travelling alone by night, can always seek the assistance of the handful of experienced guides who lead small groups on midnight sun tours, such as Golden Circle tours, horse riding tours, and midnight sun mountain hiking tours.
If you are not used to the bright summer nights of the Arctic, and actually want to sleep during the night, you should remember to pack a sleeping mask, just so that your body will know when it is time to go to sleep.
2. Buy Food Straight from the Farm
When driving around Iceland you will eventually come to realise that the entire ring road is beset by three chains of rest and service stations, that offer the exact same assortment of overpriced junk food regardless of their location.
An ideal alternative to shopping at these stations is to buy quality locally sourced products directly from the people who make them. A great number of Icelandic farmers have opened their doors to travellers and sell local farm products, including meat, fish, and organic fruit and vegetables for a modest price.
In certain areas, farmers have even set up little self-service huts where travellers are trusted to help themselves to fresh fruit and vegetables and pay for what they take without supervision.
To find the farmers who sell their products directly to the consumer, you can either visit the Farm Food Direct homepage or download the Handpicked app, in which the locations of people around Iceland that have something unique to offer in food and drink have been mapped out.
2. How to Travel to Iceland
There are plenty of reasons why Iceland is one of the hottest travel destinations: it’s home to some 30 active volcanoes, steaming hot springs, and bubbling geysers, to name a few of its natural attractions. The Land of Fire and Ice is also famous for specific sites, like the largest glacier in Europe by volume and crystalline ice caves that can only be explored in the winter. And that’s to say nothing of the flickering Northern lights above.
While it’s hard to plan a bad trip to Iceland, it’s easy to get caught up in the logistics. For a stress-free trip to see Iceland’s wonders, consult our comprehensive guide as you plan your trip.
When to Go
Winter, which goes from October through the beginning of March, brings with it short days and lots of precipitation. But despite its name, Iceland doesn’t get unbearably cold. Temperatures will hover around freezing, or 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The lack of daylight can be troublesome (during the solstice, in December, daylight is limited to less than four hours), especially for travelers venturing far away from Reykjavik and the capital’s well-lit streets. But the impermeable darkness also means excellent conditions for viewing the Aurora Borealis, and major savings. Airfare can drop by a third during the off-season, and discounts can be found on lodging, food, and activities, too. You’ll also find much thinner crowds at some of the country’s most popular attractions.
Summertime can offer travelers nearly 21 hours of daylight, with the sun rising as early as 2:55 a.m. near the end of June and setting just before midnight. Moderate temperatures, typically in the 50s and 60s, can be enjoyed from May until September. July and August are the peak tourist months. Extra daylight for sightseeing is an obvious draw for Iceland-bound travelers, but visiting in the winter shouldn’t be discounted.
How to Get There
Icelandair and WOW Air, the two Iceland-based carriers, are your best bet for direct and affordable flights to Iceland. WOW Air is known for selling $99 one-way tickets to Iceland from major U.S. hubs, though recently, the fares have dropped to as little as $70. Travelers based in the United States can catch flights from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Miami, New York, and Boston.
For a full-service experience, Icelandair offers travelers complimentary soft drinks, tea, and coffee; a free checked-bag, carry-on, and a personal item; and includes in-flight entertainment. While tickets are more expensive than WOW, the airline has developed a reputation for its free stopover program, which lets you spend up to seven nights free in Iceland. They even offer a Stopover Buddy: a local who will take you to see the country’s greatest hits, free of charge.
U.S.-based travelers don’t need a visa to visit Iceland, as it’s a part of the Schengen Agreement (a group of 26 European countries with visa and passport-free borders). You will, however, need a passport that’s valid for at least three months after the date of your departure.
All international flights land at Keflavík International Airport, which is a 40-minute drive from the capital, Reykjavik. Travelers can take the Flybus airport shuttle to Reykjavik Bus Terminal for 2,500 ISK ($21.50) or spend a bit more for the Flybus+ option, which will deliver you directly to your hotel or Airbnb. Cabs also frequent the route between the airport and downtown Reykjavik, and will cost you about 15,000 ISK ($130).
Beginning in February 2017, travelers have the option to catch a domestic connection from Keflavík Airport, which had previously only served international flights. Three times a week, travelers can fly to the northern city of Akureyri, which can be difficult to reach when heavy snowfall and ice block the only road to Iceland’s second-most populated area.
Unless you’re planning to remain in Reykjavik, driving is your best option for exploring Iceland. In addition to major rental companies like Hertz and Budget, travelers should consider Green Motion (this European rental agency specializes in eco-friendly vehicles) and Campervan Iceland — a great option for saving money while still seeing all of the vast island.
3. ICELAND ON A BUDGET: 15 WAYS TO SAVE MONEY IN 2019
It’s supposedly one of the least budget-friendly countries in the world — which made visiting even more appealing to me. I always view expensive countries as a challenge.
Figuring out how to visit an expensive country on the cheap is like solving a puzzle to me and I relished the challenge of finding out if visiting Iceland on a budget was possible.
And, after multiple visits to the country, I can tell you that traveling to Iceland can be done on a budget. It’s hard but not impossible to do.
Is Iceland expensive? Sure. The country is small, has a short growing season, doesn’t have a lot of crops, and has to import a lot of things it needs.
But, I’ve always found that the more expensive a place to live is, the more the locals work at finding ways to save money and beat the system. This holds true in every expensive country in the world outside of tax shelter countries like Monaco, Bermuda, or the Seychelles! Those places are just hopelessly expensive.
But, anyways, back to Iceland…
Can Iceland travel be expensive? Yes.
Can you beat the system and visit the country on a budget? FOR SURE!
You just need to be mindful of your spending.
How Much I Spent During My Last Visit to Iceland
While I was there, I spent an average of $54 USD per day (and I could have done it for less). Most of my money went to food and accommodation. Here’s a breakdown of my expenses (rounded to the nearest whole dollar) from my last visit which lasted close to ten days:
- Food: $200 USD
- Accommodations: $180 USD
- Alcohol: $80 USD
- Transportation: $95 USD
- Activities: $39 USD
At $54 USD a day, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. Sure, I wasn’t eating fancy meals at restaurants (though I did eat out a couple of times) and I certainly couldn’t pay for activities such as whale watching, guided glacier walks, or helicopter rides. And, while those would have been fun to do, I found enough free activities to fill my time.
Suggest Budgets for Iceland
How much does it cost to travel Iceland? Well, not as much as you think as you can see. On the low end, you could get by on 6,500–8,000 ISK ($60–$75 USD) a day. That budget includes using local transportation, staying in an Airbnb, a hostel, with Couchsurfers, or camping; taking limited tours; cooking most of your food (restaurant meals are really expensive); and limiting your drinking.
For around 10,000 ISK ($94 USD) per day, you could eat out, drink more, and take more organized tours and paid activities. At 17,500 ISK ($163 USD) a day, you could stay in a budget hotel and eat out for the majority of your meals. At 25,000 ISK ($234 USD) a day or more, you can do whatever you want!
Extreme budget travelers who plan on hitchhiking, cooking all their meals, Couchsurfing, or camping with their own gear can get away with spending around 4,300–5,400 ISK ($40–$50 USD) per day.
How to Save Money in Iceland: 15 Hacks to Help You
There are many things in Iceland that will eat into your budget and, in the land of $2.50 USD bottles of water, it’s easy to unconsciously spend money. A beer here, water there, a snack there can add up quickly, and suddenly you’ll find you spent an unplanned $100 USD. You have to work to save money here and be conscious of where your money is going. Keep track of every penny! On my first trip, I got tea just about every day (I love tea) but, at $3.50 USD a pop, it was starting to add up so I had to stop.
However, Iceland is a place full of FREE natural beauty and wonder and there are many ways to save money in Iceland. Here are all ways to travel Iceland on a budget, lower your costs, avoid my spending mistakes, and have extra money for your dream adventure excursion:
1. Hitchhike — Iceland is one of the easiest and safest countries in the world for hitchhikers. You can find rides throughout the country. It’s especially easy in the southern part of Iceland. Though harder, it’s also not impossible to find a ride in the off-season or in the sparsely populated north. I hitchhiked in the Westfjords and it often took me an hour or more to find a ride. However, in the south, you’ll rarely wait more than 15-20 minutes.
One way to find rides is ask around in hostels — people are usually driving the main ring road (M1) that circles the country, and there are only two ways to go on that!
2. Bring a water bottle — The water in Iceland is incredibly clean and drinkable. A plastic bottle of water costs about $3 USD, so bring a metal water bottle with you and refill from the tap. It will save you a lot of money and help the environment. There’s no reason to buy water here.
3. Camp — Camping is available everywhere in Iceland. You can camp in designated campgrounds for about $14 USD per night and some hostels allow you to put up tents too. Camping is significantly cheaper than hostels (see the next couple of tips). You’ll need to have your own gear and sleeping bag. Moreover, if you really want to save money on accommodation in Iceland, you can also wild camp and not pay any fees (i.e., just sleep anywhere you want!). It’s legal as long as there’s no sign posted to the contrary, it’s not private land (though some farmers might give you permission), and it’s not in a protected wildlife area. I met a Spanish guy who did this for most of his trip.
4. How Long to Stay in Iceland
It’s no secret that Iceland has become an essential destination to every traveler’s bucket list. This northern wonderland boasts some of the most fantastic scenery of the northern hemisphere, including glaciers, volcanoes and ice caves, forcing visitors to continue to come back for more. Whether you’re looking for a short getaway or a full backpacking adventure, Iceland has everything you are looking for. However, before packing up and heading north, here’s a few different itineraries to plan the perfect length Icelandic vacation.
If it’s your first time in Iceland, it is recommended that you spend at least 3-4 days visiting. This will definitely not be enough time to explore all that there is to offer, but it will help you plan a beginner’s trip around the island. There’s also an incredible Icelandic road trip for those who’d like to tackle Iceland’s iconic ring road. Technically, the full drive takes 24 hours; however, 7-8 days would allow you to visit all the major stops along the way. Generally, we advise to visit for not less than 7-8 days as you will then have sufficient time to explore much of the tours and attractions in Iceland and Reykjavik.
FOUR DAYS / THREE NIGHTS: WINTER ADVENTURE
Spend four days and three nights in the capital city of Reykjavik. This is a perfect place to visit during the winter in order to enjoy this winter wonderland.
- Day 1: After arriving at the Keflavik Airport, go to Reykjavík. Spend the day exploring the city and its museums, galleries, spas, thermal pools, and boutiques. The city is small so you should be able to walk to all of these places.
- Day 2: On the second day of your trip, take a small walking tour with a group guide in order to see the landmarks of downtown Reykjavik. Don’t miss out on the Hallgrímskirkja — a famous landmark in Reykjavik.
In the evening, if weather permits, go on a tour outside and view the northern lights.
- Day 3: On day three of your vacation, take a Golden Circle tour. On this tour, you will get to see a glacial waterfall (Gullfoss), the Great Geysir geothermal region that has regular eruptions, and finally, Þingvellir National Park, which is the site of the first parliament
- Day 4: On your last day of your trip, relax at the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa. Then, after you feel much better, you can catch your flight back home.
SIX DAYS / FIVE NIGHTS: CITY AND NATURE ADVENTURE
Spend six days and five nights in Iceland exploring both the city as well as the great outdoors. On this trip, you can visit the shops and museums as well as see wildlife, geysers, and waterfalls.
- Day 1: After arriving at the airport and then traveling to the capital city of Reykjavik, take in the city by visiting the museums, naturally heated pools, restaurants, and nightclubs.
- Day 2: Go with a tour group for about two hours to view the capital city. On the tour, you will be able to see the highlights of the city as well as historic landmarks. There are also many interesting activities going on in the city that you will learn about on the tour.
- Day 3: Day three of your trip is to visit the Golden Circle. Here, you will see a glacier waterfall and get to see many geysers.
- Day 4: Visit the Blue Lagoon, a spa, on your fourth day in order to relax in naturally heated seawater. There are saunas, steam baths, and different treatments that you can choose from in order to help you unwind and relax.
- Day 5: On the fifth day, visit the south coast. Here, you will get to see the Seljalandsfoss waterfall which is forty meters high. Then, you will get to see the Sólheimajökull glacier. Finally, the last stop will be a black sand beach and then the Skógafoss waterfall.
- Day 6: On the last day before your flight, consider visiting the Reykjanes peninsula for another breathtaking view to take home.
5. TIPS FOR PLANNING A TRIP TO ICELAND
Thinking about planning a trip to Iceland? You’ve come to the right place! In this post, I’m going to go through everything you’ll want to consider for planning an Iceland trip.
This post covers a lot, including the different ways to visit and get around Iceland, some of the regions you might want to consider visiting for different length itineraries in Iceland, packing advice, practical considerations like electricity, money and tipping, tips on when to visit and where to stay, how much to budget for your trip to Iceland, as well as the steps you need to follow to plan the perfect Iceland trip.
This is based on our experiences visiting Iceland, both on a self-drive tour itinerary with Iceland Travel (which included car-hire, accommodation, and a suggested itinerary), as well as our own personal exploration in the country.
We’ll also be sharing a brief overview of our experiences with Iceland Travel, to help you decide if a self-drive type of trip we did is right for you, and how we picked that trip.
Steps For Planning a Trip to Iceland
Step 1. Decide When To Visit Iceland
The time of year you visit Iceland will make a big difference to what you see and how you experience the country, as well as how busy the attractions are. As an overview:
Visiting Iceland in Winter
Running roughly from mid-October right through to the end of April, winter is the least busy time in Iceland. The closer to December you visit, the darker the days will be – in mid-December you’ll get less than six hours of daylight! In March however this is up to 12 hours of daylight or more.
That darkness is great for seeing the Northern Lights, so if that’s a key cbonsideration for your trip, winter is the time you should visit. Winter means snowy landscapes and icy driving conditions (see our guide to driving in Iceland in winter), and some parts of the country, particularly the high ground, become inaccessible for all but the most extreme off-road vehicles.
I’d definitely not be put off visiting Iceland in winter. Temperature rarely fall far below freezing, there are far fewer visitors, and the wintery landscapes are stunning to behold. Plus, that chance of seeing the northern lights is tempting!
If you do plan on visiting Iceland in winter, check out our detailed guide to winter activities in Iceland to give you lots of ideas for what you can get up to, plus our guide to what to pack for Iceland in winter, so you’re prepared!
Visiting Iceland in Fall & Spring
April, late September and early October are about as close to fall and spring as you are able to come in Iceland. These are essentially the shoulder months, with longer days than in winter, less chance of snow and more roads and attractions likely to be fully open and accessible.
Whilst it’s not likely to be too hot, the winter chill won’t be around, and you have a better chance of greener landscapes. It also won’t be as busy as summer time, although the longer days will limit your chance at seeing the northern lights.
Visiting Iceland in Summer
Summer is the most popular time to visit Iceland, so prices are likely to be higher and attractions more crowded with visitors. Roads will be open around the country, making attractions more accessible, and a number of tours that weren’t possible in the other months will be operational.
The long days means that you aren’t going to see the aurora borealis. The country will be beautifully green and lush though, with colourful wildflowers lighting up the landscape if you visit when they’re in bloom. Also a great time to see wildlife.
Step 2. Decide How Long You Want to Visit Iceland For
There’s a lot to see and do in Iceland, and you could easily fill up two or three weeks here. There are also many attractions within easy reach of Reykjavik, so even if you just did a two or three day stopover, you’d still be amazed by how much natural beauty you could fit in. See our guide to some of the best day trips from Reykjavik for ideas.