Any visit to Iceland must involve lots of planning. There’s so much to see and do in the country; both summer and winter can provide different challenges. Browse through our ultimate Iceland travel tips guide to make sure you’re prepared for what is sure to be an amazing trip!
If you’re staying in Reykjavik city centre, almost everything is within walking distance and there’s no need to drive. However, if you’re in Iceland to see the amazing countryside, you’ll need a car, bus or private transfer to take you out into the wilderness. Car rental is the cheapest option and it gives you a lot of freedom, whilst tours are an all-in-one package for those that aren’t comfortable with driving themselves – the roads can be scary during the winter!
Tours are available for almost all of the main activities in Iceland and it’s easy to get by without your own car. Most attractions outside Reykjavik (such as horse riding, glacier hikes and the Blue Lagoon) all offer transfer services to and from your hotel in Reykjavik.
Although tours can be quite expensive, they offer:
- Professional organisation – you’re in safe hands
- A chance to see the main sites and experiences of Iceland with local, knowledgeable guides
- Stress free – you get picked up from your hotel in the morning and drop off in the evening after the tour
There’s a wide range of tours available. You can go horse riding, scuba diving, whale watching and the ever-popular Golden Circle tour route.
Our recommended tour operators:
Car rental is the cheapest way to see Iceland. It also allows a lot of freedom – simply stop off when you see a cool photo opportunity. There’s no need to wait for other people; you can travel at your own pace.
Although car rental prices vary based on the company you book with, we found a 3-day rental of a small Volkswagen Golf only £100 for 4 days with full insurance. Use a comparison website such as Skyscanner and check prices and reviews for hire companies before booking. Budget car rental at Reykjavik Airport is recommended but there are also a number of off-airport companies 5 minutes away from the terminal.
Our top Iceland travel tips for renting a car:
- Iceland is a right-hand drive country and if you’re from the UK, this can be a big change as the gear stick is on the other side of the car. Take some time to adjust to the driving and controls in the car park before setting off.
- Iceland is a sparsely populated country with long, straight and empty roads outside of Reykjavik. Driving is a breeze when the weather is calm and clear, particularly in the summer.
- Winter can be challenging and scary for both drivers and passengers due to flash snow storms and low visibility. Drive slowly if you get caught in a hazardous weather situation and always check the weather forecast before setting off.
- Iceland’s main roads are all well maintained and most people are fine getting by with a small car. If you’re driving on ‘F’ roads (i.e. off-road), you must have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. Smaller, gravel roads are fine to drive on with all car types, however drive slow as bounce-back rocks can cause car damage.
- On a similar note, opt for the full insurance package with the hire company so you’re covered for any accidental rock/wheel damage to the car. It’s well worth the small additional cost.
- Use a handy navigation app such as Google Maps to plan your route before setting off. It’ll save you a lot of time and you’ll see more!
- Always keep you petrol tank fairly full if you venturing into the wilderness.
Food and drink
Icelandic food consists of lots of dairy, lamb and (being so close to the sea) – fresh fish. Popular foods include the famous Skyr yoghurt, Hangikjot (smoked lamb), Kjotsupa (lamb soup) and other hard to pronounce dishes. Although Icelandic food isn’t particularly amazing, it’s some of the healthiest in Europe due to high health and environmental conscience of Icelandic people.
You’ll find food and drink to be quite expensive compared to most other countries, whether you’re eating out or grabbing a snack at a supermarket. However, you can find moderately priced eateries snack bars in larger towns and Reykjavik city. If you’re looking to indulge in local cuisine such as Svid (sheep’s head), you’ll find many local restaurants in Reykjavik and the surrounding small villages that serve up national favourites. If you aren’t too keen on the local delicacies, Iceland has lots of Western European restaurants and food influence; we actually had a delicious fish ‘n’ chips meal out in the wilderness of the South Coast.
One of the great things about Iceland is the lack of chain restaurants, in favour of family run restaurants and independent cafes.
A note on alcohol:
Alcohol was actually banned in Iceland between 1915 and 1989 but these days you’ll find it to be accessible in most hotels, bars and restaurants and you can buy take-home drinks at specialist liquor stores. Similar to the food, alcohol is very expensive and the average cost for a beer is around £8-9. However, the quality of the local beer is actually very good! Try Einstock – it was our favourite.
Top food and drink to try in Iceland:
Skyr – we loved this delicious yoghurt snack. It’s available plain or in a variety of flavours.
Water – yes, this is definitely a weird one to include but we found the fresh tap water of Iceland to be the best we’ve ever tasted. There’s no need to buy bottled supermarket water.
Fresh fish – being an island, Iceland has plenty of restaurants and cafes serving up fresh Atlantic seafood caught that day.
Pylsur – an Icelandic hot dog made from pork, beef and lamb, with plenty of toppings to choose from.
Service charges are included on most restaurant bills and extra tips aren’t expected.
- The cheapest places to stay in Reykjavik are guesthouses, rented apartments and hostels.
- As accommodation is limited in Iceland, book far in advance to secure the best prices, particularly during peak season. Find out more information on booking accommodation for the best prices in our guide here.
- Sometimes booking multiple hotels can make your trip easier if you’re planning to driving to other areas of the country, rather than returning to Reykjavik every day. Small-town hotels offer a unique place to stay and range from farm houses to boutique hotels with a view of the Northern Lights.
- Chain hotels aren’t so common in Iceland, in favour of local, independent businesses.
- The capital city of Reykjavik is the most popular to stay by far. Pick a location in the centre of the city to be within walking distance of plenty of attractions, bars and restaurants.
- If you dare to brave the wilderness, camping is a cheap and unique option that’s very popular in the summer. Sleep under the stars with the company of Mother Nature. This Iceland travel tip isn’t for everyone, but you should try to experience it at least once during your stay.
The currency of Iceland is the Icelandic Krona. £1 GBP is currently equivalent to around 140 ISK.
Iceland is known for being one of the most expensive countries in the world and that’s no joke. Eat-out meals and drinks can be double the price of the UK and elsewhere in Europe and tours cost an average of £80 per person. Even though it’s expensive, Iceland continues to attract numerous visitors due to simple how amazing the country is, and it’s not all bad news with the prices!
We found the daily costs for food, drink and excursions to be quite high, however flights, accommodation and car rental are very reasonable, meaning our budget didn’t completely break the bank. Budget airlines operate frequent flights from Europe.
However, you shouldn’t visit Iceland with the intention of spending very little, as you’ll miss out on some of the key attractions, however, there are some great ways to save money.
Top money saving tips for your Iceland visit:
- Use a top-rated travel credit card such as the Halifax Clarity or Revolut card to get the best exchange rates available. Everything from parking meters to fast food vans accepts card payments.
- When you’re out on the road on a sightseeing tour, the only eating places around are expensive tourist cafes and petrol stations. Pack some sandwiches and snacks from breakfast or a supermarket to save money.
- One of our best Iceland travel tips is to sample the fresh Icelandic tap water, which is some of the best in the world! Take a water bottle a fill it up throughout your stay. There’s no need to buy bottles from the supermarket.
- If you’re looking to see sights on a budget, car rental is definitely the best choice. All of the main waterfalls, geysers, glaciers, beaches, etc, are free to visit, with the small exception of parking fees in some sites. This can save you hundreds of pounds alone!
- Although attractions such as the Blue Lagoon may seem expensive at £60 each minimum, they’re a one in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t let the price dictate your trip too much.
- If you’re looking for good nightlife, Reykjavik is a unique experience, with plenty of bars and clubs. Pre-drink at your guesthouse/hotel/hostel to save money.
- If you plan on buying lots of gifts and personal items, you can claim the tax back at the airport on departure so remember to keep all of your receipts.
Icelandic culture is rich with Nordic legends, elves, trolls and other mythical tales. The people are extremely friendly and are very progressive as a whole. Although it has a traditional small-town vibe outside of Reykjavik city, with old farmhouses and fishing towns; modern technology, infrastructure and design is instantly recognisable.
Take time to meet the friendly locals and learn about their culture and stunning landscapes. Locals are very knowledge and are happy to help. The local police force was also some of the friendliest officers we’ve met in the world and they’ll go out of their way to help you. Icelandic people speak good English, have a dry sense of humour and will happily have a conversation in most cases.
You’ll also notice beautiful countryside horses everywhere you go. Why not take a horse riding tour?
What to pack and wear:
If you’re visiting in winter
Icelandic winters are arctic, which can make getting around difficult. On the other hand, this does mean amazing snow-touched landscapes for your viewing pleasure! Aim to pack the following:
- Thick hiking boots – these are a must!
- Thermal under-layers
- Hat, scarf and gloves
- Thermal socks
- A heavy, insulated coat – another must have
- Sunglasses for driving glare
- A water bottle
- Warm clothes, including thick trousers and jumpers
- Swim suit for the Blue Lagoon
- Your camera
- A small backpack
- Power adaptors
If you’re visiting in summer
Even in summer the weather can be unpredictable. Pack the following to make sure you’re prepared for rain, sun and cold:
- Sun cream
- A waterproof jacket
- Warm clothing – jumpers, scarf,
- Hiking boot/hiking trainers
- Swim wear
- Water bottle
- A small backpack
- Your camera
- Power adaptors
- Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world and crime rates are extremely low
- Emergency services are wide spread and fast responding to most areas of the country
- The roads are well-maintained and safe but can be hazardous in bad weather. The biggest danger for any trip to Iceland is the unpredictable and erratic weather. Snow storms, heavy fog and storms are common so be sure to check the weather before long drives and take food supplies and a torch on all journeys
- Rural areas and attractions such as waterfalls have barriers and other safety measures so you don’t fall over the edge but you should be very careful anyway. There are some steep drops and slippery steps.
- Icelandic healthcare services are top-notch, but as always, make sure you have a good travel insurance package.
Top Iceland travel tips for making your holiday a one to remember:
- The best time to see some of the natural wonders of the countryside are at night, where most tourists have returned to their hotel. This is particularly true in summer when the nights are long and light. There’s something relaxing and peaceful about spending time out in a national park with practically no-one around.
- Camping is an activity loved by both locals and tourists. Find a secluded spot out under the stars and enjoy the beauty of Iceland. It’s best done in warmer climates but feel free to snuggle up in the cold depths of winter.
- Make every effort to push out of your comfort zone and try some of the weird and wonderful activities on offer. These include:
- Rappelling into a volcano
- Bathing in a natural spring
- Going fishing with the locals
- Snorkelling and cave exploration
- Glacier hikes
- Visit during a local festival
- Go on a horse riding tour
Thanks for reading our Iceland travel tips guide. We hope we’ve given you plenty of advice for a first time or returning visit to this icy paradise. The most important thing to remember is to pack well for the season in which you’re visiting and to be safe on the road. Don’t attempt anything too daring unless you’re with a trained guide.