Iceland Travel Guide
Iceland, the ‘Land of Ice and Fire’, is famed for its almost mythical natural beauty and extreme weather conditions. When we visited, we knew that we were about to embark on the biggest adventure of our lives so far. You could spend several lifetimes in the epic ‘Land of the Gods’ and you still won’t discover all it has to offer.
This travel guide to Iceland will prepare you to make the most of your trip, although nothing will prepare you for the sense of awe you’ll feel when you finally get there! We spent 3 months in Iceland and toured the country on our trusty push-bikes — you can take the Dutch out of the Netherlands, but you can’t take the Netherlands out of the Dutch!
We camped almost every night, mostly in the wild, sometimes going days without seeing another living creature. The surroundings blessed us with magical sights and breathtaking wonders. Few places in the world offer this kind of experience in this day and age.
Sounds like your kind of trip? Then this Iceland travel guide is for you!
Plan your trip
Iceland surely is special, and to ensure you have the best time possible, it’s well worth taking your time planning your trip. There’s a lot to think about when planning a trip to Iceland, and we’ll go over the essentials below.
How to Get to Iceland
You can either sail or fly to Iceland. The ferry sails from Denmark to Seydisfjordur (in the east of Iceland), via the Faroe Islands. Smyril Line is currently the only ferry operator with a route to Iceland, and they provide a weekly service year round. The ferry can accommodate vehicles as well as passengers, and is a great choice if you wish to visit Iceland in your own vehicle. Costs vary depending on the time of year, number of people, type of cabin, and type of vehicle (if any). The journey takes 3 days, which includes a stop in the Faroe Islands.
When flying to Iceland, flights land in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, in the South West of Iceland. When flying from Europe, you can normally find flights for around USD$300-USD$600. For flights from outside of Europe, you can expect to pay considerably more.
Do You Need a Visa to Visit Iceland?
An important question to ask yourself is ‘do I need a visa to go to Iceland’? Depending on where you’re from, you might need a Schengen Visa for Iceland. Visitors from the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as a few other countries, can visit Iceland for up to 90-days visa free. For longer stays, they’ll require a Schengen Visa.
Almost all visitors to Iceland must present a valid passport and must have a return ticket booked. The exceptions to this rule are visitors from EU countries. Visa and passport requirements can change suddenly, so before booking your trip, be sure to check the specific requirements for you.
When is the Best Time to Visit Iceland?
Iceland is a stunning place to visit at any time of the year. However, there are some things you can only see and do in summer, and some you can only see and do in winter. The best time to visit Iceland really depends on what you want to get out of your trip. Despite the icy name, the country actually enjoys a fairly mild cool sea climate, with the best weather typically between May and September.
- Visiting Iceland in winter: ideal for those wishing to see the Northern Lights, climb frozen waterfalls, and explore ice caves. Days are short though, with just 4–6 hours of sunlight.
- Iceland in spring: wild waterfalls, new-born lambs, and not many other visitors, spring is a good time for those seeking solitude, though some roads may still be closed.
- Iceland in summer: the magical midnight sun, pleasant weather, and little chance of road closures make summer in Iceland ideal for those looking to camp and explore the highlands. But, summer storms aren’t uncommon, so be prepared!
- Iceland in autumn: amazing colors and fewer crowds, early autumn offers plenty of opportunities to explore the highlands when everyone else has gone, while late autumn is a great chance to catch the first glimmer of the Northern Lights.
Preparing a Budget for Iceland
While planning your travels, you’ll need to work out how much an Iceland trip costs and create an accurate budget. There’s nothing worse than getting excited about the trip of a lifetime, only to run out of cash and not be able to enjoy it to the max. Take into account everything from getting there, accommodation, travel in Iceland, food, drink, and excursions.
While we kept to a pretty strict budget on our trip by camping and cycling, we also spent a bit of time looking at the various costs to travel Iceland.
Budget - shared $30
Budget - private $80
Budget meal restaurant $20
Beer in pub $6
Small 2WD car from $40
Small 4WD car from $85
Small camper Van from $90
Petrol per Liter $1,75
What to Pack for Iceland?
Packing for Iceland can be tricky. It’s the kind of country that enjoys giving you 4-seasons of weather in one day, so you kinda need to be prepared for everything. Having said that, your packing list will invariably differ depending on when you’re traveling and what you plan to do.
When considering what to wear in Iceland, the best advice is to adopt the layer system. Wearing several thinner layers will keep you warmer than one or two thick layers, and it’s all about keeping warm when you’re out and about all day, even in summer. When considering what to wear in Iceland in winter, it’s actually a bit easier than summer, as you know it’s going to be cold! Here are some basics:
- Wind and rain-proof jacket (heavy duty in winter or a lightweight, easy to pack one in summer). Check out our review of the Fjallraven Keb Eco Shell Jacket if you want something real sturdy!
- Wind and rain-proof pants
- Thermal underwear (pants and top) in winter. We prefer Merino Wool clothing from Icebreaker.
- Hat and neck warmer: Merino wool buffs are ideal for both during winter and summer.
- Bathing suit: for when you check out the natural hot spots
- Sunglasses are useful whatever time of year you visit
- Microfiber towel
- Water bottle: there’s no need to buy bottled water in Iceland. Both tap and stream water are among the best in the world.We especially love the Camelbak Podium Chill water bottles, the dirt series to be precise. This water bottle keeps your drink cold twice as in warm circumstances and prevents it from getting frozen in cold circumstances. The dirt series also protects the drinking cap from dirt, which is very handy when cycling.
Things to do in Iceland
There’s so much to do in Iceland that you might find it difficult to know where to begin. A land of contrast, it’s not just ice and fire that are polar opposites in Iceland.
In the same small country, you can be pampered in a luxury resort, camp out under the amazing north sky, climb volcanoes, explore glaciers, embrace city life, bathe in natural pools, head to the beach, or lose yourself in the rugged highlands.
Your Icelandic adventure is likely to differ from ours, but here are some ideas to get you started.
Most people visit Iceland to indulge in its natural beauty. While this is a must, it’d be a real shame to miss out on Reykjavík, and it’s worth spending at least a day or 2 in the capital. It’s true that the city is expensive, but there are some free things to do in Reykjavík and you can cut costs by CouchSurfing. Check these wallet-friendly activities out.
- Enjoy a walking tour: check out this guided city walk with a local tour guide.
- Hit the beach: Reykjavík is not a big city and it’s fairly easy to walk, or even cycle, its coastline. Some highlights are Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach, the Grótta Lighthouse, and the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula.
- Explore the Botanical Gardens: free to enter and absolutely stunning, the gardens are home to over 5,00 species of plants, as well as birdlife. If you get hungry, the small on-site cafe serves up dishes prepared with herbs and spices grown in the garden.
- Hallgrímskirkja Church: an iconic attraction, it’s free to enter the church and take in the amazing architecture. Tickets to access the top tower and view the city are fairly cheap, at around US$5.
Reykjavík is also the best place in Iceland to do a bit of people watching, and enjoying the cultural differences over a coffee. It has a thriving nightlife with places such as the Lebowski Bar and their famous White Russian menu among the standouts!
Take a Tour
With so much to see and do in Iceland, sometimes it’s easier to let a pro take the lead. Tours in Iceland are among the most exciting in the world, taking in a huge array of sights and activities. Some of the best Iceland tours include ice climbing in an ice cave, the ‘Fire and Ice Helicopter Tour’, and minibus trips around the iconic ring road.
The cost of tour varies from season to season, group size, and the type of tour. Prices average out at around US$50 and US$250 for a day tour, while all-inclusive multiple day tours are available from US$400.
Marvel at the Northern Lights
In winter, numerous companies offer tours to some of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. Normally departing from Reykjavík, they’re an easy way to get out and catch a glimpse of this natural phenomenon. Of course, you can always go it alone, just check out our guide to how to hunt the Northern Lights and take a great photo of them.
Diving Between the Tectonic Plates
Silfra, Iceland, is the only place in the entire world where you can dive between two tectonic plates. Having opened up after a series of monstrous earthquakes in 1789, the Silfra fissure is now filled with glacial meltwater. As such, divers and snorkelers alike can take to the water and take in a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Iceland is an incredible destination to go whale watching! These gentle giants are super curious and will often approach boats, so you’ll often get up close and personal. There are over 20 different species of whales that call the seas around Iceland home, 7 of which are more common, such as Minke Whales, Orcas, and Humpbacks. Besides whales, you can expect to see dolphins, seals, sharks, and an array of birds, such as puffins and gannets. You can find out more about whale watching in Iceland in our blog post right here.
With its black sands and huge chunks of blue glacial ice, there’s a reason why Diamond Beach constantly tops lists of the most unusual and picturesque beaches on earth. It’s simply stunning to behold and is absolutely worth traveling to check it out. No amount of exquisite photos will do it justice and seeing is believing.
Take a road trip in Iceland
One of the most amazing ways to see Iceland is to take a road trip. If you’re arriving by ferry, you can bring your own vehicle. But, if you can’t get your vehicle into Iceland, there are plenty of car-hire companies. Driving in Iceland is amazing. Enjoying an Iceland self drive holiday gives you full control over where you go and what you do, and you are free to stop off anywhere that catches your eye. It also works out cheaper than taking guided tours everywhere.
You can find out more with our comprehensive guide to getting the best rental car in Iceland, packed full of useful tips and tricks.
There’s a plethora of scenic drives in Iceland, taking in landscapes as varied as volcanoes, glacial lakes, beaches, and quaint fishing villages. The roads can be a little rough in some places, particularly the highlands, but rental companies provide an array of vehicles that are up to the task. Choose from 2WD for paved roads, like the Ring Road, or 4WD for more rugged trails into the highlands.
Check out our complete route guide of the Golden Circle in Iceland + Map for some inspiration.
Where to stay in Iceland
When we visited Iceland, we spent a lot of our time wild camping. Sadly, wild camping is no longer legal in the vast majority of places. There are exceptions to the rule, but these are normally only accessible by hiking to specified areas on public land. Fortunately, there are plenty of other places to stay in Iceland.
Camping in Iceland
While wild camping isn’t exactly easy these days, there are still plenty of official campsites that you can enjoy in Iceland. Camping is by far the most affordable type of accommodation in Iceland, and is also a national tradition. Every summer the locals flock to their favorite campsites around the country to meet with friends and family and enjoy the stunning nature.
Most campsites offer traditional tent pitches, as well as pitches for cars and camper vans. You don’t normally need to book in advance, allowing you the freedom to change your plans at the last minute. Different campsites offer different facilities and amenities, from the simplest field with a water tap, to fully equipped campsites with showers, hot water, and kitchens. Prices typically range from US$10 to US$35 a night.
Hotels and Guesthouses
Hotels are generally the most expensive type of accommodation in Iceland, while guesthouses and B&Bs are normally a little cheaper. The majority of the most expensive hotels are in Reykjavík, with luxury suites costing upwards of a thousand US dollars and regular rooms normally starting at around US$200 per night.
Outside of Reykjavík, you’re more likely to find guesthouses and B&Bs, mostly dotted around the ring road. There’s no shortage of options, with prices typically around US$120 per night. You might find cheaper options with more basic facilities.
Get a full overview of all available accommodations in Iceland on booking.com.
There are a number of hostels dotted around Iceland. Most can be found in Reykjavík, although there are several scattered among popular destinations, such as Selfoss, Keflavik, Akureyri, and Hvolsvollur. Most offer beds in dorm rooms as well as private rooms. They can be pretty expensive, with beds in a dorm room starting at around US$30 on average. Private rooms can easily exceed US$200.
The Airbnb network is rapidly expanding across Iceland, with a variety of different types of accommodation on offer. From a room in someone’s house, to a basic hut in the wilds, to cottages, and even camping pods and domes, there’s something for everyone. Prices are often similar to guest houses, but if you’re lucky you can grab a real bargain.
Sign up now for Airbnb and get €25 discount on your first booking + get €9 on any experience you book (with a value of over €43).
With over 12,000 active hosts, Iceland has a buzzing CouchSurfing community. This is a great way to save on accommodation costs, while getting to know the locals — what could be better! Many hosts are based in Reykjavík, but you can find a couch in many places outside of the capital. There are also a ton of events hosted via CouchSurfing throughout the year.
Typical Icelandic Food
As an island nation, it’s no surprise that much of the most traditional Icelandic food consists of seafood. Fish, shark, and even seabirds have traditionally been eaten in Iceland, and while times have changed, you can still find most of these in abundance. Besides seafood, you can also expect to see lamb and mutton in various forms on most menus, as well as dishes from around the world.
- Icelanding Fish is something you must eat in Iceland. Fortunately, it’s everywhere! It’s extremely fresh, often caught the same day as it’s served, and can be dished up in a variety of ways. Almost 350 species of saltwater fish call the seas around Iceland home, including catfish, cod, mackerel, skate, halibut, and monkfish, among many others. For freshwater fish you’ll find some of the most spectacular salmon in the world.
- Traditional Icelandic food can be a bit scary at first, but there are some really tasty delicacies there as well. From Kjötsupa (chunky lamb soup) to Hákarl (fermented shark meat), there’s something for everyone!
- Controversial options include puffin and whale, although these are largely found only in tourist restaurants.
- Skyr yoghurt is the yogurt of Iceland. Rich, healthy, and delicious, it’s great for breakfast and comes in many flavors.
You can find out more about individual Icelandic dishes on our full guide to the most delicious and bizarre Icelandic foods to try.
One of the most exciting things about traveling is discovering the exciting tastes and flavors that other cultures enjoy. Sometimes you’ll find absolute delights that …
Must know before you go
While it’s great to know what to wear, when to go, and what to eat, there’s plenty more Iceland information you need to know before embarking on your trip. So, let’s take a look at the basics and little details that are so easy to forget.
What is Iceland’s Currency?
The currency in Iceland is the Icelandic Króna. For current rates you can check XE Currency. Many places, like restaurants and shops, will also accept US dollars, Canadian dollars, Euros, and Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish currencies. Most towns in Iceland will have at least one 24-hour ATM.
Locals rarely carry cash however, and typically pay for everything by card. So, if you prefer not to carry cash, don’t worry. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted credit cards. American Express and Diner’s Club come next. Electron, Maestro, and EDC debit cards are increasingly accepted at retail stores.
What’s the Language in Iceland?
The official language of Iceland is Icelandic, which is kind of similar to Norwegian but features some strange old-fashioned vocabulary and complicated grammar rules. As such, it’s among the most difficult languages to learn.
Fortunately, almost all Icelandic people speak English fluently. Most locals will also be fairly competent in at least one other European language, such as French, Danish, German, or Spanish. If you do want to learn some Icelandic phrases, here are the basics:
- Hello: Halló/Góðan daginn
- Goodbye: Bless
- Thank you (very much): Takk (fyrir)
- Please: Vinsamlegast/Takk
- Excuse me: Fyrirgefðu
- Yes: Já
- No: Nei
What Kind of Adaptor Do I Need for Iceland?
Iceland uses the 2-pin Type C European plug, common throughout Europe. Chances are, if you’ve been traveling in Europe, you’ll already have the correct adaptor, but it’s always best to double check. The electrical current in Iceland is 220 Volts, 50Hz. Visitors from the US, UK, and Australia will typically need an adaptor.
What is the Dialing Code for Iceland?
The international dialing code for Iceland is +354 and mobile phone numbers start with 6, 7 or 8.
What Is the Emergency Number in Iceland?
The emergency number for ambulance, police, and fire brigade is 112 in Iceland. This can be called from any mobile, fixed or paid phone and is free of charge.
Can You Drink the Water in Iceland?
Icelandic tap water is totally safe to drink, filtering is not necessary and buying water is a waste of money. Not only is the tap water safe to drink, you can also drink out of a lot of natural water sources without filtering! Just get some fresh glacier water in your water bottle and enjoy the freshness of nature!
Get the Iceland vibes by checking out below videos.
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