ICELAND TRAVEL GUIDE CONTENTS
At a Glance
Iceland Quick Information
Electricity Socket: 230V AC electricity. Power outlets are usually two-prong round sockets. To avoid the hassle of having to buy new adaptors for everywhere you go, we recommend picking up a Universal Travel Adaptor before you leave.
Visa: Iceland is a member of the Schengen Agreement but not the European Union. They offer Visa-free to travel to all EU countries including those, not in the Schengen, and Schengen approved countries such as most of the Americas, Australia, and NZ for 90 days. Nationals from other countries such as Russia Asian Citizens and South Africa need to apply for a Schengen Visa before traveling to Iceland.
Safety: Iceland is widely considered one of the safest countries in the world. Crime rates and the terror threat are incredibly low. Iceland is an active geothermal island with glaciers, volcanoes and rough seas so care must be taken and professional advice sought when exploring is rugged terrain but if the natural environment is respected, you are in safe hands.
Language: Icelandic is the official language and can be very difficult. Fortunately, as with most Scandinavian countries, English is spoken widely and often very well. Be prepared with a few Icelandic phrases to win the locals over but they will be more than happy to help if they can.
Transportation: Iceland is one of those places where you will need your own form of transportation due to the vast ruggedness of the entire place. This is why campervan rentals or car rentals are so popular in the region. Due to the high cost of living, renting a campervan also allows you to save money on accommodation. The road conditions are pretty safe, however, it is advised that you don’t go off-roading. The weather also dictates a lot of road safety precautions so make sure you head local warnings.
Iceland Trip Planning
Best Time to Go
It is best to visit Iceland between May and September as the weather isn’t limiting, meaning that all mountain roads will be accessible and there will be more daylight than darkness. Best Time to Go: June to August (All of Iceland)
In a nutshell, the weather in Iceland can be broken down into three seasons:
- Low Season (Oct-Apr) – heavy snow means mountain roads will be closed as well as some minor roads. Although winter activities are still on offer, there are only brief spurts of daylight with long nights.
- Mid Seasons (May & Sep) – occasional snow means that mountain roads can be closed, but this is the optimal time to visit to avoid tourist crowds.
- High Season (Jun-Aug) – ideal weather and endless daylight comes with tourist crowds, higher prices and the need for pre-bookings so make sure you keep this in mind.
Iceland is one of the most expensive places in Europe so budget travelers need to beware. However, as in every country, you can travel around for as cheap or as expensive as you want. If you’re on a tight budget, you can travel Iceland for about $90-200 a day with accommodation usually being your largest expense, and this is a budget that caters for hostel stays, cooking most of your own meals, and using local transportation. You can also opt to travel with a car (or a campervan) which will help save some money on accommodation. For a guide to different types of travel, here is a rough break down of costs:
Budget: kr3,500-7,500 ($30-70) Dorms / kr1,200-1,800 ($11-17) Camping
Mid-Range: kr12,000-28,000 ($115-265)
Splurge: kr30,000-40,000 ($285-380)
Food (Typical Meal For One)
Lunch: kr1,500-2,200 ($15-20)
Cafe meal: kr2,500-3,500 ($25-35)
Top end restaurant: kr4,000-7,000 ($40-70) per dish
Local Bus: kr3.50 (<$1) per journey
Long Bus Journey: kr8,800-9,300 ($84-88)
Car Rentals: kr5,000-10,000 ($50-100) per day
Countrywide Bus Pass: kr42,000 ($400)
What to Pack for Traveling Iceland
For Iceland, you will need lots of layers because it’s seriously cold! Seriously, however cold you think it is, it’s colder. Make sure to bring lots of thin items that you can layer, preferably thermals that are breathable, as you can add or remove layers to regulate your temperature as needed. When it comes to cold weather, we recommend Merino Wool thermals and a good down jacket. Investing in high-quality stuff is worth it as they will also last you for ages.
Although Iceland isn’t necessarily a skiing destination, take a look at our ski packing list for a detailed account into what to wear for cold climate. For a complete guide on what to pack for Europe, check out our full article.
Best Things to Do in Iceland
Absorb the Unique Atmosphere of Reykjavik
Although a relatively small city, Reykjavik compensates for its size with its vibrant and trendy atmosphere. Full of hip cafes, bustling pubs and high-energy clubs, you can be sure that you’ll find plenty of things to do in Reykjavik during your time in Iceland.
As well as great vibes during the day and an epic party life at night, Reykjavik also boasts a charming mixture of old town architecture with a modern and innovative twist. Iceland is a great lover of design and technology, so although you’re surrounded by stunning natural beauty, you’re never out of touch in this incredible city. From the airport, you can save money and take this shuttle to Reykjavik center.
Hike the Golden Circle Route
A popular tourist hiking trail in Iceland, the Golden Circle Route covers around 300km in the highlands, stretching from Reykjavik to the Southern uplands and back. A perfect activity for hiking enthusiasts, this trail also covers the area where most major attractions and activities are, such as the Kerið volcano crater, Hveragerði greenhouse village, and the Hellisheiði geothermal power plant.
One of the most incredible experiences on this route has to be standing at the rift zone on the edge of the North American Plate and looking out towards the Eurasian Plate rift in the distance, and it is definitely something that you have to experience for yourself!
You can opt to do this yourself if you’re traveling by camper van but you can also easily just go on a Golden Circle day tour which takes you to the best of Iceland’s waterfalls, lakes, and geysers
Bathe in the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland and it’s no surprise why. This huge, milky-blue spa is a sight to behold, not to mention incredibly relaxing even with the masses of people around you.
With nothing comparing to this experience anywhere else in the world, the Blue Lagoon should be at the top of your list when heading to Iceland. Located in a lava field in Grindavík, head to Southwestern point and bathe until your heart’s content! Swimming in the Blue Lagoon is definitely part of our Iceland bucket list!
If you want to avoid the crowds, you can also head to Secret Lagoon as it is far less low key.
Feast Your Eyes on Gullfoss, Dettifoss, and Skogafoss
The waterfalls in Iceland are a must see wherever you are in the country as there is nothing quite like seeing tons of water cascading down mountains, surrounded by the majestic beauty that only Iceland can provide. Although all the waterfalls are epic in their own right, there are a few key beauties that you should venture to.
If you don’t have your own transport, don’t fret are there are plenty of awesome waterfall day tours which take you to the best locations. This particular one is very highly rated as it takes you to the best of the waterfalls in the South Island.
If you’re looking for the biggest and baddest, Gullfoss can be found in the Golden Circle and is a force of nature to behold! For the most powerful waterfall in Europe, feast your eyes on Dettifoss. If you’re looking for a unique sight, Skogafoss is created directly from two glaciers, Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull – you’re welcome!
Go Whale Watching
While in Iceland, why not see the amazing sight of their sea creatures launching themselves in and out of the freezing waters? Although an expensive activity, this is one of the best places to go whale watching, with over 20 different species just waiting to be spotted in the depths.
With dolphins and harbor porpoises being frequently seen, nothing compares to the great whales that you can glimpse around the island! Most tours leave from Reykjavik in the South or Akureyri in the North so it’s best to book on beforehand. This whale watching tour is one of the most highly rated one so make sure you book ahead of time.
Visit the Maelifell Volcano in Myrdalsjökull Glacier Park
For a journey to another world (or at least it feels like it), pay a visit to Mount Maelifell, a cone volcano formed by eruptions underneath the Myrdalsjökull Glacier.
Standing at 200 meters above sea level, you can enjoy this unique sight covered in green moss during the warm season. It is a truly spectacular sight, surrounded by other impressive volcanoes and natural hot springs dotted with beautiful Icelandic nature. Apart from this glacier park, there are tons of other activities like this 3-hour glacier hike in Skaftafell National Park.
Discover and Explore the Skaftafell Ice Cave
You can’t leave Iceland without seeing some of its most popular natural landscapes. One of the most dramatic has to be Vatnajökull National Park, where all you can see for miles around you is towering glaciers covered in ice and snow.
Aptly named the land of ice, this majestic scene is full of impressive ice caves just waiting to be discovered. One of our favorites? The Skaftafell Ice Cave. Go and you’ll see why! This 3-hour glacier hike in Skaftafell National Park is one of the best ways to see the attraction in my opinion.
Tours Around Iceland
If traveling by yourself isn’t your jam, check out the variety of tours that G Adventures has and the details and dates of each trip. We suggest using the filters in the sidebar to help you find a tour that fits your travel dates and travel style.
What to Eat in Iceland
Iceland is home to its own unique cuisine made up of its own raw materials and the freshest ingredients around. It’s no wonder really, as this island has been isolated for most of its history, so make sure you try some of its most popular dishes when you go!
Similar to most things, food is pretty expensive in Iceland which is why a lot of people tend to shop in groceries then cook their own meals in hostels or in their campervans. However, if you’re only in Iceland for a short amount of time, here are a few dishes that you need to try:
Similar to Greek yogurt but technically a cheese, this high protein and low-fat delicacy is often enjoyed with milk and some fruit. You will find this anywhere in Iceland and sometimes in smoothie form. Either way, it’s delicious!
Obviously, you can’t avoid eating fish in a country that is surrounded by water! Iceland has a great variety of fish available, all cooked in as many different ways as you can think of. The best part? They are all normally caught that morning!
An Icelandic delicacy, lamb soup is a warm broth-based dish, packed full of flavor with potatoes and root vegetables. As well as it being the perfect meal for the chilly weather, it is also just downright tasty!
Surprisingly, Icelandic hot dogs are a revered tradition and are a favorite among the locals. Made with both lamb and pork to create rich and flavorful dogs, pair yours with crunchy deep-fried onions, sweet brown mustard or ketchup and tuck in! Just expect long lines as it’s a popular choice!
Places to Stay in Iceland
The accommodations in Iceland can get expensive, so make sure to book early and research the best option for you. From camping in their national parks, staying in a hostel, or treating yourself to a fancy hotel, there is definitely no shortage of places to stay in Iceland. If you book in advance, your most affordable option may even be to rent a room or apartment on Airbnb! As Iceland is becoming insanely popular, we recommend checking sites like Booking.com, Agoda, or Hostel World.
To help you choose out the best places to stay in Iceland, here are our personal suggestions on where to stay.
Books to Read when Traveling Iceland
Here are a few recommended book titles to help you plan your trip to Iceland.
Iceland Travel Guide Rick Steve’s is awesome! His content anywhere in Europe is always so helpful which is why we recommend his Iceland guide when planning.
Iceland Lonely Planet If you’re looking for another guidebook, the Lonely Planet guide also has heaps of details and insider tips when it comes to mapping out your route.
The Little Book of Tourists in Iceland Written by an Icelandic local, this book walks you through important customs, traditions, and how the tourism boom has affected the locals. A must read for travelers in my opinion!
I Remember You love horror and thriller books? This book set in the town of Ísafjörður is a dark yet fun read which has a few insights about what life is like in Iceland.
Want More Travel Inspiration? Take a Look at this Video of Iceland
Looking for more tips and travel inspiration? Take a look at this video by Lonely Planet which shows off the best of what Iceland can offer.