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 Any visit to Iceland must involve lots of planning. There’s so much to see and do in the country, and 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!
Travelling around in Iceland
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. Meanwhile, tours are an all-in-one package for those that aren’t comfortable with driving themselves. The roads can be quite a challenge during the winter months.
Tours are available for almost all of the main activities in Iceland and it’s easy to get by without your own car. Most attraction 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.
Whilst many organised tours can be on the expensive side, there are many benefits. They include:
- Professional organisation: tour operators are skilled at their job, as they do this day in and day out. The entire tour will be highly organised, so you can sit back and relax without having to plan.
- Experience Iceland like a local: by going on a tour, you’ll get to see the main sites and experiences of Iceland with local, knowledgeable guides. These guys know Iceland like the back of their hands.
- Stress free: you get picked up from your hotel in the morning and dropped off in the evening after the tour. Some tours have a central meeting point.
Our recommended tour operators:
Car rental is the cheapest way to see Iceland, and also the most flexible out of all the options. It’s ideal for the adventurers out there, who like to go off the beaten track and explore hidden wonders of Iceland. Another huge benefit is that there’s no need to wait for other people. You can travel at your own pace!
Here a few car rental companies we recommend:
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. We recommend monitoring the official Icelandic roads website here.
- 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 (gravel roads) 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 rock, ash and gravel damage to the car. It’s well worth the small additional charge.
- 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!
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. Icelandic food is some of the healthiest in the world due to high health and environmental conscience of Icelandic people.
It’s no secret that Iceland is an expensive country on the whole, especially when it comes to food and drink. When visiting Iceland for a longer period of time, it can get quite costly if you’re planning on eating out all the time. A burger and fries at the trendy Yuzu burger will cost around 3300 ISK and depending where you go, it could cost more! Here are some of our Iceland travel tips for eating out in Iceland.
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. They favour family run restaurants and independent cafes and it’s a welcome change.
Food and drink Iceland travel tips
- For those that are visiting for a longer period of time, we recommend staying in accommodation that has a kitchenette/ cooking facility. You can use this to prepare your meals at home on an evening.
- Be sure to buy your food at the more budget-friendly supermarkets, ‘BONUS’ and ‘KRONAN.’ You’ll save a lot of money by shopping here, compared to the more expensive stores like 10/11.
- Bring a bottle of water with you, as there are refillable drinking station in many areas and it tastes better than bottled water from the shop. Seriously!
- Pack a packed lunch on the days where you’ll be travelling to more remote areas. You can buy food from a supermarket or make it in your apartment.
- Do your research before you head out to eat, as prices vary dramatically depending on the restaurant. Most restaurants have their menus available online.
- If you’re looking for a rapid lunch and don’t fancy making your own food, stop off at a local gas station and grab something quick to eat, like a hotdog or slice of pizza. It’s affordable, quick and easy!
- We recommend bringing a variety of different snacks with you for your travels in Iceland. They’re great hunger-fillers and will also help keep costs down, instead of buying them all the time.
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.
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.
Depending on where you plan to base yourself when staying in Iceland, prices can vary from £50 per night, anywhere up to £400 per night. If you’re on a budget and are looking to keep costs to a minimum, keep in mind the following:
- 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. They range from farmhouses to boutique hotels with a view of the Northern Lights.
- The capital city of Reykjavik is the most popular place to stay. 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. At the time of writing, the exchange rate with other popular currencies is:
£1 GBP = 170 ISK
$1 USD = 130 ISK
€1 EUR = 143 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. Then you have tours, which cost an average of £80 per person. Even though it’s expensive, Iceland continues to attract numerous visitors due to how amazing the scenery 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 costs are very reasonable, meaning our budget didn’t completely break the bank. Budget airlines operate frequent flights from Europe.
You shouldn’t visit Iceland with the intention of spending very little, as you’ll miss out on some of the key attractions. There are some great ways to save money whilst having the full Icelandic experience.
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 accept 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.
- 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 lots of cash alone!
- Although attractions such as the Blue Lagoon may seem expensive at £60/$80 each minimum, they’re a one in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t let the price dictate your trip too much.
- 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.
- Most people in Iceland pay for everything by card, so it’s not necessary to bring cash with you.
For more money saving tips for your Iceland trip, check out our Iceland on a budget travel guide.
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 clothing to pack for Iceland
If you’re visiting in winter
Iceland boasts all-year round cold temperatures that reach -15 degrees or lower in the winter, and highs of 15 degrees in the summer months. Whilst you’ll need slightly warmer clothes in the winter months, you’ll more-or-less need the same clothes no matter the season. The only difference is the lack of thermals and layers in summer compared to winter. See below our packing list when travelling to Iceland.
- Waterproof hiking boots – these are a must!
- Thermal under-layers (for the winter)
- Hat, scarf and gloves
- Thermal socks (for the winter)
- A heavy, wind and waterproof coat (a lighter waterproof coat for the summer months)
- Jumpers (slightly thicker ones for the winter)
- Swimsuits (for all those thermal spas!)
Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world and crime rates are extremely low. Therefore, you needn’t worry about any crime happening during your stay. However, the main thing to take note of when visiting is the weather conditions, especially if you’re visiting in the winter months. The greatest danger is being stuck in a snowstorm, so be sure to check the Icelandic weather website throughout your journey.
- 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.
Seeing the Northern Lights
One of the main reasons Iceland attracts hundreds and thousands of tourists each year is due to the Northern Lights. The Northern lights are a natural light display in the sky that are caused by magnetic fields. They create unusual flashes of green, and sometimes pink. We’re sure you’ve seen the pictures! Here are our top Iceland travel tips to increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights.
- The best times to see the Northern lights are from November – April, with February being the best month overall.
- Be sure to take your camera, as you’ll be able to see the aurora much more clearly on your lens, as opposed to the naked eye.
- Try to head off to a quieter location with little-no light pollution, as this will make it easier to spot the Northern Lights.
- If you can, we recommend staying in different areas in Iceland, as this will increase your chance of seeing the aurora.
- There are guided Northern Lights tours that you can go on, which are a great option for those who aren’t planning on a renting a car in Iceland.
- Some hotels will wake you up in the night in order for you to see the Northern Lights. Ranga Hotel in South-West Iceland is particularly well known for this!
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 visit and you can now go prepared. 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!
By SusieAuthor bio:
I’m a passionate traveller that loves a sunny beach holiday, but also appreciate the cultural side to a trip and checking out undiscovered destinations. I’m the go-to Toucan Traveller for great holiday stories, cool photos and foodie recommendations.