If you’re preparing for your trip to Iceland these Iceland travel tips are sure to help you along the way. Iceland is one of the most popular destinations in the world right now, and for 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 make Iceland an adventure destination dream. No matter how you plan to travel around these tips on travel in Iceland are sure to make your trip better!
Iceland Travel Tips
There is no “best time” to go
So, what’s the best time to go to Iceland? Well, the short answer is it really just depends on what you want. Are you in search of 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. We have also been in October and the fall colors were just simply amazing. To top it off we saw the Aurora Borealis for the first time ever. 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).
Who needs an ATM?
Never once did we use cash in Iceland. Credit cards are accepted everywhere – even at public bathroom stalls. Of course, it never hurts to have cash 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. Make sure to get yourself a credit card that doesn’t have any 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. However, be prepared to spend a lot of time in the car. Along the route, you find the Mývatn Nature Baths, Skógafoss, and the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
Or drive the Golden Circle
If you only have a short amount of time 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 amazing 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.
Ditch the crowd and head to Snæfellsnes Peninsula
If you have a few more days in Iceland 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 the beauty that can be found throughout Iceland in 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 find 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. In that same train of logic, you’ve probably heard of the Blue Lagoon. The famous geothermal spa plays host to over one million visitors a year. It is an Instagram fanatics haven, and for a whopping $67 it should be! 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!
To me, it seems kinda silly to go to a man-made 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 it’s finest, and all locals will tell you that. If you’re on a budget then consider going to one of Iceland’s local pools for a swim and a chat with the locals or visit a natural pool. There are even a few around and inside Reykjavik, you can visit. If you don’t mind the price and crave the mud masks and outdoor spa in Iceland then it probably is right up your alley and you’ll like it!
Speaking of pools, if you go to a public pool you will have to shower before entering. This is a non-negotiable aspect to visiting an Icelandic pool. And you must shower completely naked in an open shower. The Icelandic 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. We don’t disagree with them!
I appreciate knowing that when I am in the swimming pool every single person has showered and scrubbed before entering. Yes, showers are separated by sex so everyone is comfortable. I wouldn’t suggest trying to skip around the naked or shower part as it may get you a few scowls from the locals or you could even get kicked out!
Don’t eat out
Iceland is one of the most expensive countries in the world to visit and these costs will hit your wallet hard if you go out to eat. A coffee and bagel in a local cafe will easily 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 $30 for pad thai and waited while the others ate their food. Then went to an Icelandic grocery store after for some bread and skyr. I was a true backpacker those days!
Talk to the locals
We found most of the Icelanders to be friendly people so I encourage you to get out and mingle with them. This can be hard as there are only 300,000 of them and 2 million tourists a year. On our recent trip there we found a lot 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, local pubs, and travel during the off-season when there are fewer tourists.
Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world! It was the third country I traveled to solo and the very first country I hitchhiked around. The crime rate is shockingly low, which makes it an ideal places to travel to for solo female travelers.
However, do not be lulled in by low crime rates because Mother Nature is a bitch. Clueless tourists find themselves in life-threatening situations as many as three to four times a day in the high season. It is usually of their own doing. Iceland’s weather is notoriously unpredictable and life-threatening, especially in the winter.
Always use your head when in the wilderness, tell someone where you’re going, and make sure that you have a cell signal so you can call 112 in you are in unsafe conditions. I suggest checking out Safe Travel to stay up to date on weather conditions. Take the waves seriously, like on Reynisfjara black sand beach, as a number of tourists have drowned after being swept away.
Many honeymooners will travel to beach destinations like the Bahamas or Hawaii for their special 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 tourists traps and sitting still.
Fuel = $$$$
If you plan to rent a car in Iceland note that gas is very expensive. It’s an easy expense to forget so make sure to add it to your budget. At about $2/Liter ($8/gallon) I would suggest planning all of your outings accordingly and don’t waste any fuel. (You shouldn’t anyways!) We had a camper van for 10 days and spent over $400 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 be sure to check them out. Compared to hotels they are some of the more affordable accommodation options.
We stayed in one charming guesthouse near Varmahlid, called Hestasport cottages before our an Icelandic horseback riding tour. The cottage was warm, cozy, 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 and an Airbnb coupon.
It’s great for off-piste skiing
If you’re into skiing and snowboarding Iceland has some fun ski resorts near Reykjavik, Akureyri, and Husavik. January – April is high season for these winter activities. For the truly adventurous you can also go arctic heliskiing in the Skíðadalur Valley. The mountains of the North are amazingly gorgeous.
Unfortunately, we aren’t pro enough for this type of skiing and we weren’t there in the heart of winter to take part of their heliskiing. However, we did camp out in some of the cabins and enjoy a nice soak in the hot tub.
Bring an eye mask in the summer
If you are visiting Iceland between April and September it will be light out when you are trying to sleep at 11 p.m. This can affect your sleep cycle that may already be out of whack because of jet lag. If your hotel or guesthouse don’t have black out curtains I would 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!
No matter what time you are visiting Iceland I would pack at least the basic winter essentials. That is a hat, gloves, scarf, 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 just think about hand knit mittens). The locals say there is no bad weather in Iceland, just bad clothes, and I couldn’t agree more!
Also, make sure to bring a bathing suit and a travel towel for all the geothermal pools! Here’s a full Iceland packing list.
Bring a water bottle
All the water in Iceland is 100% drinkable. Along with the rest of Scandivania, they say it is some of the cleanest water in the world so there is no need to buy any bottled water.
Get yourself a refillable travel water bottle and save your money and plastic waste.
Rent your car from the airport
If you plan to rent a car or campervan to get around make sure to pick it up and drop it off at the airport. It could end up saving you a buck. There is no public transport and the Reykjavik Express, one of the only buses from the capital to Keflavik airport is 2400 Icelandic Kroner one way. That’s a $24 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, a good company to go with is Happy Campers. 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.
Reykjavik is an unconventional capital city
Even though we used to live 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
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 wonderful and spectacular. However, there are some notable waterfalls that make for the picture perfect postcard opportunity.
- Goðafoss: Waterfall of the gods in the Northeast
- Háifoss: A bit off the beaten track, but one of the highest in Iceland
- Morsárfoss: Highest waterfall in Iceland
- Dettifoss: The most powerful waterfall in Europe
- Gullfoss: Along the Golden Circle and one of the most popular falls to visit
- Seljalandsfoss: You can stand behind this waterfall
- Skógafoss: A unique waterfall that comes directly from two glaciers
General Tips for all Visitors in Iceland
- Book a camper! If you want to travel with a Happy Campers van like we did (and you should!) 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.
- Check here if you’re wondering when is the best time to visit Iceland!
- The local currency is the Icelandic króna (ISK). ATM’s are found throughout the country
- If you’re doing a backpacking trip through Iceland make sure you have the proper backpack.
- Want to know what’s in the perfect Iceland packing list?
- Icelanders speak Icelandic, but every single person I came across spoke English.
- Have I mentioned Iceland is expensive as hell? Well, it is! 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 important to use common sense when walking alone at night.
- Tipping is not customary in Iceland.
- Iceland has strong internet infrastructure
- 15 Iceland Honeymoon Ideas That Make for a Memorable Experience
- The 15 Best Honeymoon Destinations in the World to go in 2018
- 12 Reasons Why You Should Travel to the Faroe Islands
- 50 Short Travel Quotes to Inspire You to TRAVEL
- Around the World with Instagram: Destinations to Make You Pack Your Bags