If you’re preparing to travel to Iceland, these Iceland travel tips will help you along the way. Iceland is one of the most popular European destinations, and for a good reason. It’s an easy connection between Europe and North America, and the landscape is natural and surreal.
Iceland’s landscape can be found nowhere else. A mixture of hot springs, glaciers, wet deserts, lava fields, and a dizzying amount of waterfalls makes Iceland an adventure destination dream. No matter how you’re planning to travel to Iceland, these Iceland travel tips will make your trip better!
The Best Iceland Travel Tips
There is No “Best Time” to Go
So, when is the best time to go to Iceland? The short answer is that it depends on what you want when travel to Iceland. Are you searching for warm (ish) weather and the midnight sun? Or do brisk winter nights, fewer crowds, and the Northern Lights strike your fancy?
When I traveled to Iceland in July, I enjoyed partying under the midnight sun and hiking in a t-shirt. Another time we visiting in October and the fall colors were simply unique. To top it off, we saw the Aurora Borealis for the first time.
If I were to pick ideal times, it would be June, October, and December. Generally, November and March are the months to avoid as they’re in between seasons (cold rain).
Credit Cards Are King
Never once did we use cash in Iceland. Credit cards are accepted everywhere – even in public bathroom stalls. Of course, it never hurts to have some money on you, but I wouldn’t convert much of it to Icelandic Kroner. If you need tips for travel banking, we have a post.
We suggest you carry around 5,000 ISK to get out of any unknown situations. Get yourself a credit card with no foreign transaction fees and provides you travel rewards for using it. Here are a few of our favorites.
Drive the Ring Road
Iceland’s Ring Road, or Route 1, takes you around the entire country – like a ring! It’s one of the best road trips you can take in the world and brings you to some of the best spots in Iceland.
The route took us about 12 days (including time in Reykjavik), but if you are short on time, you can do it in 5-7 days. However, be prepared to spend a lot of time in the car.
Along the route, you find some amazing things to do in Iceland the Mývatn Nature Baths, Skógafoss, and the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
Drive the Golden Circle
If you only have a short amount of time to travel in Iceland but want to get out of Reykjavik (and you should), consider renting a car to drive the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is a 300-kilometer route looping in and out of the capital.
It’s only a one-day drive or tour out of Rejykavik and will take you to some fantastic sights. Including Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Geysir and Strokkur. You can also loop in the Kerið volcanic crater and the town of Hveragerði, the hot springs capital of Iceland.
A Helpful Guide to Driving the Golden Circle Route in Iceland
Head to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula
If you have extra days in Iceland, one of my top Iceland travel tips is to head to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It’s only a two-hour drive from Reykjavik. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula has been dubbed “Little Iceland” because it displays a wide variety of beauty found throughout Iceland on a compact peninsula.
Waterfalls, cathedral churches, a glacier, and numerous mountains can be found on the peninsula. Side note: This is also where you can discover Kirkjufell, the famous mountain from Game of Thrones. It’s shaped like an arrowhead. 😉
Consider Skipping the Blue Lagoon
Since you’re reading our blog, I assume you aren’t living under a rock. You’ve probably heard of the Blue Lagoon in your Iceland travel research in that same train of logic. The famous geothermal spa plays host to over one million visitors a year.
The Blue Lagoon is an Instagram fanatics’ haven, and it should be for the high price tag. However, did you know the Blue Lagoon isn’t natural? Or that the water is the runoff of Geo-Thermal power plants? It’s not advertised on their beautiful website, but it’s true.
It seems silly to go to an artificial pool (and a hella expensive one at that) in Iceland, a country littered with natural geothermal pools. The Blue Lagoon is a tourist trap at its finest, and all locals will tell you that. If you’re on a budget, consider going to one of Iceland’s local pools for a swim and a chat with the locals or visiting a natural pool. There are even a few natural pools around Reykjavik that you can visit.
However, if you don’t mind the price and crave the mud masks and outdoor spa in Iceland, it probably is right up your alley, and you’ll like it!
Don’t be Afraid to Get Naked
Speaking of pools, you will have to shower before entering if you go to a public pool in Iceland. This is a non-negotiable aspect of visiting an Icelandic pool. You must shower utterly naked in an open shower.
The Icelandic people take their hygiene seriously and don’t want anyone’s dirty bodies infecting their pools. They use minimal water treatment in the natural geothermal water that fills the pools.
I appreciate knowing that every person has showered and scrubbed when I am in the swimming pool before entering. Showers are separated by sex, so everyone is comfortable. I wouldn’t suggest skipping around the naked or shower part as it may get you a few scowls from the locals, or you could even get kicked out!
Rethink Eating Out
Iceland is one of the most expensive countries to visit, and these costs will hit your wallet hard if you go out to eat. Coffee and a bagel in a local cafe will quickly run you $18-$20, and the average meal out at a restaurant will cost anywhere from $35-$70. I wouldn’t even consider ordering a cocktail with that meal either – we’ve paid less in posh Manhattan bars.
The first time I visited Iceland, I went out with a few Icelanders to a Thai restaurant expecting to get something reasonable – it was Thai food. Instead, I looked at the menu, decided against paying $35 for Pad Thai, and waited while the others ate their food. Then I went to an Icelandic grocery store after for some bread and skyr. True backpacker style!
Talk to the Locals
We found most Icelanders to be friendly people, so I encourage you to mingle with them. This can be hard as there are only 350,000 residents and 2 million tourists a year. On our recent trip there, we found more foreigners than Icelanders, and it became hard to be amongst the locals.
If you want to integrate yourself and learn more about Icelandic culture, head to the local swimming pools and local pubs and travel during the off-season when there are fewer tourists.
You are Safe
Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world! It was the third country I traveled to solo and the first country I hitchhiked around. The crime rate is shockingly low, which makes it an ideal place to travel for solo female travelers.
However, do not think you are 100% safe with the low crime rates because Mother Nature is a bitch. Clueless tourists find themselves in life-threatening situations 3-4 times a day in the high season. It is usually of their own doing. Iceland’s weather is notoriously unpredictable and life-threatening, especially if you are traveling Iceland in the winter.
Always use your head when in the wilderness, tell someone where you’re going if hiking, and make sure that you have a cell signal to call 112 in you are in unsafe conditions. I suggest checking out Safe Travel to stay updated on weather conditions.
If visiting Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach take the waves seriously, as several tourists have drowned after being swept away.
Iceland is a Great Honeymoon Destination
Many honeymooners will travel to beach destinations like the Bahamas or Hawaii for their particular trip, but we found Iceland to be a wonderful country for a honeymoon.
What sounds better, soaking up the sun on a beach while drinking a pina colada or soaking up the heat in a hot spring after chasing waterfalls in Iceland? Well, I guess both sound pretty nice.
Popular romantic activities include horseback riding, chasing the Aurora, and descending into a volcano. It’s a honeymoon for the active couple who hate tourist traps and sitting still.
Fuel is Expensive
If you plan to rent a car in Iceland, note that gas is costly. It’s a manageable expense to forget, so make sure to add it to your budget. At over $2/Liter ($8/gallon), I would suggest planning all of your outings accordingly and don’t waste any fuel. (You shouldn’t anyway!) We had a camper van for ten days and spent over $500 on fuel for our ring road trip. YIKES!
Go Cabin Hopping
Iceland has some of the most charming family-run guesthouses and cottages scattered across the country. If you are driving around the Ring Road, one of my top Iceland travel tips is to scope out a cabin for a night. Compared to hotels, they are some of the more affordable accommodation options.
Before our Icelandic horseback riding tour, we stayed in one charming guesthouse near Varmahlid called Hestasport Cottages. The place was warm and cozy, with a full kitchen and even a communal hot spring to enjoy in the morning or evening.
You can find many of these off-the-beaten-path guesthouses on Airbnb. Check out our post on tips for getting the perfect place on Airbnb.
Iceland is a Ski Destination
If you’re into skiing and snowboarding, Iceland has some fun ski resorts near Reykjavik, Akureyri, and Husavik. January – April is the high season for these winter activities. You can also go arctic heliskiing in the Skíðadalur Valley for the truly adventurous.
The mountains of the North are amazingly gorgeous. Unfortunately, we weren’t there in winter’s heart to participate in their heliskiing.
Bring an Eye Mask in the Summer
One of my top Iceland travel tips for the summer is to bring an eye mask. If you visit Iceland between April and September, it will light out when you are trying to sleep at 11 p.m. This can affect your sleep cycle, which may already be out of whack because of jet lag. If your hotel or guesthouse doesn’t have black-out curtains, I suggest packing an eye mask in your carry on luggage.
Even if your hotel has blackout curtains, I would still make sure to bring one just in case – they are cheap and light, so there is no reason not to!
I would pack at least the basic winter essentials no matter what time you visit Iceland. That is a hat, gloves, scarf, waterproof shoes, and a down jacket. Trust me, just one cold day with high wind, and you will thank me.
Don’t arrive in Iceland unprepared for cold weather, as it will cost you dearly to replace your suitcase with winter clothes in Iceland (remember how expensive gas is, now think about hand-knit mittens). The locals say there is no bad weather in Iceland, just the wrong clothes, and I couldn’t agree more!
Also, bring a bathing suit and a travel towel for all the geothermal pools! Here’s a complete Iceland packing list.
Bring a Water Bottle
All the water in Iceland is 100% drinkable. Along with the rest of Scandinavia, they say it is some of the cleanest water in the world, so there is no need to buy any bottled water and put more plastic into the world.
Get yourself a refillable travel water bottle and save your money and plastic waste.
Pick up your Rental Car from the Airport
If you plan to rent a car or campervan to get around, pick it up and drop it off at the airport. It could end up saving you a buck. Public transport from the airport is lacking, and the Reykjavik Express, one of the only buses from the capital to Keflavik airport, is 2400 Icelandic Kroner one way. That’s a $25+ airport transfer on a bus! I would recommend picking up and dropping off at the airport.
If you want to rent a camper van like us, Happy Campers is an excellent company to go with. We had a wonderful experience with them. You can easily book using this link, but make sure to book well in advance during high season as they are a family run company and sell their vans out well in advance!
Reykjavik is an Unconventional Capital City
Even though we lived in New York City, we’re not city people anymore. We prefer to be off hiking, on a beach or doing just about anything else, not in a busy city. However, Reykjavik is not the usual European city, and we enjoyed spending time in the charming city.
There are no high rises and few business suits, just a laid-back atmosphere surrounded by the ocean and mountains. If you only have a few days in Iceland, you can base yourself in Reykjavik and take day trips out or catch the local bus to places like Esjan & Glymur.
In my opinion, Reykjavik deserves at least one day of exploration, unless you’re there during one of its epic festivals – then definitely stay longer!
No Waterfall is Created Equal
It’s a well-known Iceland fact that the country has a ton of waterfalls. If you Google “How many waterfalls are in Iceland?” The number 10,000+ comes up. I don’t think anyone truly knows how many waterfalls are in Iceland.
The country is littered with waterfalls. They are all spectacular. However, some notable waterfalls make for a picture-perfect postcard opportunity. Here are a few of our favorites.
- Goðafoss: Waterfall of the gods in the Northeast
- Háifoss: A bit off the beaten track, but one of the highest in Iceland
- Morsárfoss is: Highest waterfall in Iceland
- Dettifoss: The most powerful waterfall in Europe
- Gullfoss: Along the Golden Circle and one of the most famous falls to visit
- Seljalandsfoss: You can stand behind this waterfall
- Skógafoss: A unique waterfall that comes directly from two glaciers
Plan For Iceland Travel
Book a Camper!
A campervan is the best way to get around Iceland on a budget. While a camper is slightly more expensive than a car, you can sleep and cook in it! Meaning you don’t have to search for any hotels or deal with costly restaurants in Iceland.
Plus you get to sleep in nature every night and still use a heater if you wish! If you want to travel with a Happy Campers van as we did (and you should they are the BEST!), make sure to read our full review. You can easily book using this link, but make sure to book well in advance during high season.
Book a Tour
Sometimes it’s nice not to have to do all the travel planning and let someone else do it.
When is the Best Time to Visit Iceland?
In my opinion, the best times to visit Iceland are June, July, September, October, and December – but it all depends on what you want! June-August is high season, but it is also summer in Iceland and when you will find the most pleasant temperatures. It’s also when you will experience the most amount of daylight and get the most out your of your trip. December is great because it is winter, you stand a strong chance of seeing the Northern Lights, it’s low season, and the temperatures haven’t gone to complete freezing yet.
However, my personal favorite time to travel to Iceland is during the fall months. It’s during September and October, when the leaves change vibrant colors around the country. Temperatures are still mild, and tourism is slowing down. You can see the full month by month breakdown for Iceland travel here.
Things to do in Iceland
There are so many things to do in Iceland that I could write a book about it. Unfortunately, I don’t have that time, so I’m showing you the ultimate Iceland bucket list here. Some things that are a must-do are going to an Iceland swimming pool, soaking in a natural hot spring, standing under a waterfall, and seeing the Northern Lights.
Photography Gear for Iceland
A high-quality camera is an essential packing item for Iceland if you want some great shots while on your vacation. We travel with our Fujifilm Camera and 200mm telephoto lens. Drones have sort of taken Iceland by storm and can capture fantastic footage as well. We had our DJI Mavic in Iceland, but make sure to use your drone responsibly as many locals are getting annoyed at the sight of them.
Whatever you do, do not forget a tripod for Iceland – especially if you plan on photographing the Northern Lights as you’ll need one for the long exposures.
Is Iceland Travel Expensive?
Traveling Iceland is pretty expensive. One of the most expensive countries in the entire world actually. Make sure that you plan accordingly and in line with your budget. It’s certainly possible to do Iceland on a budget of less than $100 if you are camping, cooking all your own basic meals, and traveling by public transport or score a good deal on a rental. The good news is that nature is free, and you’ll be able to see Iceland’s beauty without paying for it. So yes – it’s completely doable to have an affordable Iceland vacation.
If you plan on drinking be sure to pick up duty free alcohol before you leave the airport. A pint of beer can easily run you $15-$20!
More Helpful Iceland Travel Tips
- Icelanders speak Icelandic, but every single person I came across spoke English.
- The local currency is the Icelandic króna (ISK). ATMs are found throughout the country.
- Have I mentioned Iceland is expensive? Save money by eating in and cooking for yourself. Check out our Iceland grocery store guide for all the tips!
- Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world; however, it’s always important to use common sense when walking alone at night.
- Tipping is not customary in Iceland.
- Iceland has a strong internet infrastructure, and you should be able to stay connected easily.
Plan For Your Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Find Cheap Flights: Sign up for Going (formerly Scotts Cheap Flights) to get notified when prices get ultra low.
- Travel Adapter: Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Travel Backpack: We like the Nomatic Travel Backpack for our travels. Check the price here.
- Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always ALLBIRDS! Check them out on their site!
- Get a Travel Credit Card: We travel worldwide for free because we have leveraged our spending into points. See why you should get a travel credit card and how you can do the same with our favorite travel credit cards.