Iceland Travel Tips for your first adventure in Iceland! Everything you need to know, from what to pack to what travel apps to use.
Iceland is a dream destination for any traveller. But you can’t just jump on a plane and get to Iceland without knowing these Iceland travel tips.
After five weeks in Iceland, I want to share with you all my best tips on how to explore Iceland, all my tips and tricks about Iceland, and things I wish I had known before getting there.
I’ll try to keep it short and only share the essentials Iceland travel tips and tricks that will help you save your budget. So without further ado, let’s dive into my top travel tips for Iceland.
1. Research the best time to visit Iceland
Depending on what you want to see (Northern Lights, puffins, or ice caves), the ideal time to visit Iceland may vary.
I’ll make it easy for you and list all the seasonal stuff and when to travel to Iceland to see it:
- Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) – The best time to see the Northern Lights is during the dark winter months, typically from late September to late March. Clear, cold nights are perfect for this.
- Midnight Sun – This phenomenon, where the sun barely sets and it’s light almost 24 hours a day, occurs during the summer months, primarily around the solstice in June.
- Ice Caves: Visiting ice caves is a winter activity, as they can be dangerous and prone to melting in the warmer months. The best time to visit is from November to March.
- Puffin Spotting – Puffins usually arrive in Iceland to breed around mid-April and leave in mid-August. The peak time for puffin spotting is typically early July.
- Whale Watching – While some species can be seen year-round, the peak season for whale watching is from April to September.
- Wildflower Bloom – Wildflowers usually bloom in the warmer months. The best time to see them is from late May to early July.
- Reindeer Spotting – Reindeer are easier to spot in winter months, typically from December to February when they come down to the lower ground to forage.
- Highland Roads (F Roads) Opening – These roads, leading to the heart of Iceland’s beautiful and rugged interior, are usually only open during the summer months, from late June to September, depending on weather conditions.
- Glacier Activities – Glacier hiking and ice climbing are usually best in the spring and summer months, from April to July when the days are longer.
- Hot Springs and Geothermal Pools – These can be enjoyed year-round but are particularly delightful in the winter months, offering a warm respite from the cold.
2. Rent a car
Public transportation in Iceland is limited. Renting a car will give you the freedom to explore at your own pace.
My travel tip for Iceland is to get all the insurance for your rental. Icelandic roads are like nothing you’ve seen before, and car repair shops are not cheap.
3. Drive safely
Weather conditions in Iceland can change rapidly, leading to potentially dangerous driving conditions.
4. Pack warm and waterproof clothing
Iceland’s weather is notoriously unpredictable.
Depending on the time you choose to visit Iceland, you might have a different experience regarding the weather. You might be inclined to judge the Icelandic weather based on that single experience.
I specifically choose to visit Iceland during summer because I dislike cold weather.
For the first two weeks, I couldn’t go anywhere without my raincoat on.
Then July came, and it was the sunniest time I’ve ever seen.
I was surprised more than a couple of times to have over 20 C degrees, and I was going out in shorts and sandals.
Then, depending on where I was heading, sudden winds would start blowing out of nowhere, and it would feel so cold I would run for the car.
The sun may be shining, but the wind chill and sudden changes in weather can make it feel like winter. Therefore, another top Iceland travel tip is always wise to be prepared for colder conditions, even if the forecast seems mild.
Packing List for “Sunny” Iceland:
- Thermal Base Layers: These can be layered under other clothing to provide warmth without adding too much bulk.
- Fleece or Mid-layer: Perfect for insulating and trapping warmth.
- Waterproof and Windproof Jacket:
- Waterproof Pants
- Warm Hat and Gloves: Even in milder conditions, a cold wind can make a significant difference.
- Wool or Thermal Socks
- Sturdy Waterproof Hiking Boots
- Scarf or Neck Gaiter: Useful for sudden chilly winds.
- Sunglasses and Sunscreen: The sun, especially when reflecting off snow or water, can be intense.
- Swimsuit + towel
- Day Backpack: To carry extra layers, water, snacks, and other essentials.
- Reusable Water Bottle. Refill and reduce plastic waste!
- Portable Charger
Always remember the Icelandic saying: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”
5. Use credit and debit cards
While I was in Iceland, someone asked me how much cash do they need for their upcoming road trip.
You don’t need cash.
If you travel long enough, you might find some places that accept only cash donations, but during my 5 weeks of living there, travelling all across the country and shopping in all sorts of places, I never needed cash.
Like other Scandinavian countries, Iceland is, for the most part, a cashless society.
Note that the official currency in Iceland is the Icelandic króna.
If you really need cash, you can always use an ATM to get it. But you will not need it. If you want to add a tip at the restaurant or bar, you can ask for the tip to be added to your bill, and you can pay the entire amount with your bank card.
6. Get internet data on your smartphone
You’ll need an internet connection to use the GPS and stay connected during your Iceland road trip.
You have three options:
- buy roaming data from your data provider (it might be too expensive or unavailable),
- buy a new SIM card from Iceland,
- use an eSIM and always have control over how much data you have left (recommended).
If you want to make sure you’re always connected because you don’t want to be lost there, get the Airalo app (you need a smartphone to support eSIMs), and you’ll never have to worry again.
If you run low on data, you can always top it up by buying extra GB. It’s so easy and works extremely well.
7. Pack snacks
Food in Iceland is expensive. Bringing snacks from home can help you save money.
If you’re travelling to Iceland with only your carry-on (it’s possible, I stayed there for 5 weeks and only had a carry-on), then get snacks from the supermarket before setting out for the day.
I recommend always carrying some protein bars. I discovered some protein pancakes in Kronan, and those were my favourite snack for the entire time I spent in Iceland.
Near touristic places, you’ll find restaurants and other places to buy food, but they might close early or have overpriced snacks.
8. Try local food
Don’t miss the chance to try local delicacies like Skyr, Hangikjöt (smoked lamb), or even Hákarl (fermented shark) if you’re adventurous!
The fermented shark is an Icelandic delicacy, and you can’t find it anywhere else in the world.
If you’re willing to try it (it’s not as bad as they say), you can find it at the weekend flea market in the port (Tryggvagata 19, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland).
There’re a couple of food stalls in the back, and one sells this shark. And the best thing is that you don’t have to buy it; they offer tastings (but these are limited, so go early).
But the best place to try the fermented shark is at the Shark Museum in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. You can visit the peninsula on a day trip from Reykjavik.
The museum is managed by a family, and they are one of the few Hákarl producers in Iceland. So you get right to the source. I really enjoyed this visit.
9. Book accommodation and rental cars in advance
Especially during the high season (June-August), accommodations can fill up quickly. You can find the best prices for Iceland accommodations on Booking.com.
If you don’t want to worry about this, then your next best option is to rent a camper for your Icelandic road trip.
10. Respect the environment
Stick to marked paths, don’t litter, and avoid disturbing wildlife or vegetation.
Wherever you’ll go, there will be signs and info points to list the rules on how to be respectful.
11. Use Local Maps and Apps
Useful for finding hidden gems and staying updated on road conditions or Northern Lights forecasts.
Here are my top Iceland travel tips and apps to help you on your trip:
- SaveTravel.is – to check for safety tips, guidelines and eruption news
- Ruv.is – news website
- MBL.is – news website
- Road.is – road and driving conditions
- Vedur.is – weather, wind, quakes, everything
- AllTrail.com – app for hiking trails from all over the world, including Iceland
12. Visit a geothermal spa
Iceland is world-famous for its geothermal activity.
And that’s why you’ll find so many hot natural springs, public pools and spas with hot tubs of different temperatures (up to 44C/111.2F).
Some of the most popular are:
- Blue Lagoon, which is 40 minutes away from Reykjavik (closer to the Keflavik airport),
- Sky Lagoon in Rekjavik,
- Hvammik hot springs just 1h North of Reykjavik
- Laugarvatn Fontana, which is a nice stop on the Golden Circle
Make sure to book your slot in advance, as these are popular attractions.
13. Don’t miss the golden circle
This tourist route covers several iconic sights, including the Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir geothermal area, and Þingvellir National Park.
You can also book a day tour to see all Golden Circle attractions.
14. Take a glacier tour
ICEland is undoubtedly a place where you will see ice, no matter the season.
Home to some of the largest glaciers in Europe, Iceland offers the unique opportunity to hike on a glacier. But only with a certified guide for safety reasons.
Make sure to book your glacier tour in advance.
15. See the Northern Lights
The best viewing is in dark, clear conditions (no clouds) between September and April.
16. Explore Reykjavik
The capital city has many attractions, including the Harpa concert hall and the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church.
Don’t miss the Perlan Museum in Reykjavik, my favourite place.
To make sure you see all the cools spots, use the hop on hop off bus for a day.
17. Visit local swimming pools
They’re an important part of Icelandic culture, heated by geothermal energy.
This is a budget-friendly alternative (and one of my top Iceland travel tips) to the crazy expensive spas that everyone is talking about.
During my 5 weeks in Iceland, I visited the public pools a lot and ended up paying less than 4 Euros per visit. Compare that to the 90 Euros+ entrance for the Blue Lagoon.
Except for the blue water, alcohol in the pool, and the option to take pics, it is exactly the same thing.
18. Be prepared for daylight variations
Summer days have almost 24 hours of daylight, while winter has very few daylight hours.
I specifically chose to visit Iceland from mid-June up to mid-July so I can fully enjoy the midnight sun!
And I loved it.
19. Take a ferry to an island
Iceland is an island halfway between the coast of Norway and Greenland. But it has a couple of inhabited islands.
The two most visited islands are the Westman Islands (on the South Coast) and Grimsey (the only place located in Iceland in the Arctic Circle).
They’re both home to a large puffin colony.
20. Look out for elves
Many Icelanders believe in “hidden people”, and you’ll see tiny elf houses in many gardens.
But you would be able to see the real elves as they live up in the highlands.
21. Be Prepared for High Prices
Iceland is known for being expensive, especially for dining out and accommodation.
Some Iceland travel tips to try to keep your budget on track are:
- Book all hotels in advance!!! It’s no way around it.
- Book activities in advance
- Try to cook your own food
- Bring snacks with you everywhere you go
- Drink tap water (bring a refillable water bottle)
- Keep an eye on gas prices (some gas stations are cheaper than others)
22. Enjoy the Nightlife
Reykjavik is famous for its lively bars and nightclubs.
Or at least try out some bars.
It not going to be cheap, but you can’t leave Iceland without having a taste of their popular Einstök beer, which is made using Icelandic glacier water!
There’s even a really cool Einstök bar on the popular Laugavegur Street in Reykjavik. It’s at Laugavegur 10.
23. Pack a swimsuit and a towel
For hot springs, pools, and geothermal spas.
I recommend getting a travel towel, one that doesn’t occupy too much space and dries up fast.
24. Don’t forget a camera
You’ll want to capture the incredible landscapes!
It goes without saying that Iceland is the absolute heaven for photographers, videographers, drone pilots, Instagram creators and YouTubers.
When the volcano erupted, the entire place was flooded by photographers from all over the world. I have never seen some many drones flying at the same time.
25. Take a horseback riding tour
Icelandic horses are unique and very friendly.
You’ll see them everywhere. They’re cute, and many farms organize horse riding activities for tourists.
26. Drink tap water
It’s clean, fresh, and safe – no need to buy bottled water. Bring a refillable water bottle.
I’m very picky with water, and I try to not consume any plastic when I can avoid it.
Icelandic tap water is the absolute best water. This Iceland travel tip will save you lots of money.
27. Visit in winter for ice caves
They’re only safe to enter in the colder months.
While hiking on a glacier can be done all year long, going to see the Vatnajökull Glacier’s popular ice caves is an activity reserved for winter tourists.
28. Check out local museums
Learn about Viking history, volcanoes, and more.
My favourite museums in Iceland are:
- Perlan Museum in Reykjavik
- Shark Museum, on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula
29. Always have a plan B
Due to changing weather conditions, sometimes you may need to adjust your plans.
That’s why I strongly advise you to make an Iceland road trip itinerary with more options than you might have the time to do because you can then always pivot and change plans last minute.
Check out my guide on planning a trip to Iceland.
I found this map of places and things to do in Iceland (from Adventures.com) to be a true inspiration.
30. Be aware of F-roads in Iceland
It might come to you as a surprise, but there aren’t many asphalted roads in Iceland.
The main road that everyone takes, which basically goes all around Iceland, is the Ring Road.
But if you want to drive towards the inner parts of Iceland, where the highlands and elves are, you will have to drive on an F-road.
F roads in Iceland are gravel roads, which occasionally imply river crossings and may have rough portions. To drive on a F-road, you will need a 4WD rental car.
My Iceland travel tip is to not drive on these roads unless you’re insured. Most rental car companies forbid driving on F-roads with small city cars, and that’s for a very good reason.
31. Bring a power adapter
Iceland uses Europlug type C and F plugs, and the standard voltage is 230 V.
If you’re coming from Europe, there’s nothing you need.
If you’re coming from the US, you’ll need a power adaptor.