Planning a Trip to Iceland: A Comprehensive Guide

Iceland is truly one of the most unbelievable places on Earth! You’ll get to experience steam coming from the ground, exploding geysers, powerful waterfalls, floating icebergs, and so much more. 

Are you planning a trip to Iceland? 

Lucky you! 

Iceland is truly one of the most unbelievable places on Earth! You’ll get to experience steam coming from the ground, exploding geysers, powerful waterfalls, floating icebergs, and so much more. 

And if you’re truly lucky, you might wake up one morning to the news that a new volcano erupted in Iceland! It happened to me in July 2023, so never say never! But volcanic eruptions are unpredictable, and nobody knows for how long they last, so if you’re reading this in 2023, here’s my DIY guide to how to get to the 2023 volcano eruption in Iceland

But let’s dive deep into all there is to know when planning an Iceland trip. This vacation in Iceland is on any traveller’s bucket list, so you want to make sure you get the best out of it. 

I’m not going to lie, there will be a lot of info coming at you, but I swear that this guide on how to travel to Iceland is the best one you’ll find online! I have been there, done all of these and much more. Don’t believe all those expensive businesses trying to sell you stuff you can get for less! 

So, is Iceland a good place to visit? You bet! It’s amazing, and by the end of it, you’ll only wish you had more time (and energy). Let’s dive deep into this trip planner for Iceland!  

Best time to visit Iceland

What’s the best time to visit Iceland? Well, there is no definitive answer to what’s the perfect time to visit Iceland, and that’s because I said offers different things in each season, but the two most important seasons that we all refer to our winter and summer – the season of Northern Lights or the midnight sun. 

You cannot have both, and you will have to choose. 

I choose to visit Iceland during June and July because I prefer warmer temperatures and more light. 

Also, the weather is a very important factor when road-tripping across Iceland. So make sure to check the latest weather reports (including wind, Earthquakes, clouds, Aurora forest and more) on Vedur.is

planning a trip to Iceland

Midnight sun in Iceland

Obviously, there is a clear advantage when visiting Iceland in summer when I’m talking about summer, referring to the end of June until the end of August. 

This is considered summer in Iceland, and this is when the weather is the warmest. 

Also, another big advantage of visiting Iceland in summer is that you will have nearly 24 hours of daylight. After the middle of July, the night will start to go appear, but it won’t get truly dark until September. This means that you’ll be able to visit more during one day because you have a lot of light. 

However, the only place in Iceland that sits in the Arctic Circle is Grimey Island, a tiny island just a bit North of Iceland. There’s a daily ferry during summer that leaves from Dalvik and takes you there. On Grimsey, the sun doesn’t set for one entire month during summer (June 6 – July 7). You can check the exact daylight hours here

Winter and Northern Lights in Iceland

A lot of people associate Iceland with Northern Lights bird. If you’re planning a trip to Iceland to see these dancing lights, then you have to come to visit Iceland in the winter. 

However, visiting Iceland is not the same in winter; depending on when you decide to visit Iceland during its winter months, you have a bit more or less daytime; however, you will have a lot of nights. 

What’s great about the long night in Iceland is that it will allow you to see the Northern Lights, a.k.a. Valdora, which are a true blessing of nature. 

The Northern Lights cannot be seen if the sky isn’t completely dark, if you’re in a city where there are a lot of lights or if the sky is cloudy, if all these conditions are mad, then you’ll get to experience it louder. 

Basically, the Northern Lights are always up there, but they require these particular conditions to be observed by the human eye; if you are chasing the Northern Lights, you can check out this website to see the forecast. It’s important always to keep an eye on the weather forecast, the cloud forecast and also the Aurora forecast because sometimes there is stronger activity, and sometimes there is less activity. Nevertheless, if the sky is clear and it starts, you’ll see something.

In the end, it’s up to you to decide if you want to see the Northern Lights or if you want to enjoy warmer temperatures during the day and more hours of light that allow you to visit more of Iceland. 

Natural miracles note that given that the summer months are shorter than the time that you can see the Northern Lights or a lot of tourists prefer summertime. The pictures stick. The season starts in July and lasts till mid of August, during this time. 

Make sure to pre-book everything in advance at least two weeks because you might get surprised how old accommodations, tours and activities can get fully booked for weeks.

planning a trip to Iceland

Visa and travel documentation

When planning a trip to Iceland, one of the most crucial steps is ensuring that you have the necessary visas and travel documentation. This not only guarantees a smooth journey but also prevents any unwelcome surprises at immigration.

Necessary documents for travel to Iceland

The documents required for travel to Iceland may vary depending on your country of residence.

  • Passport. All travellers will need a passport that’s valid for at least three months beyond their planned departure from the Schengen area. It should have been issued within the previous ten years.
  • Visa. Citizens from the European Economic Area (EEA) and many other countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan, do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days in Iceland. However, if you are not from visa-exempt countries, you will need a Schengen visa. This visa permits travel across all 26 Schengen countries, including Iceland, for a maximum of 90 days within a 180-day period.
  • Travel and Health Insurance. While not always mandatory, it is highly recommended that you have comprehensive travel and health insurance that covers medical evacuation, as medical costs in Iceland can be high.
  • Proof of Accommodation and Sufficient Funds. During your visa application or upon arrival, you may need to provide proof of your accommodation bookings in Iceland and proof that you have enough funds to cover your stay.

Tips for a smooth visa application process

  • Start Early. Begin the application process as early as possible. It can take a few weeks to process a visa application, and starting early ensures you have time to gather all necessary documents.
  • Understand the Process. The visa application process can be different depending on your country of origin. Make sure to check the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration’s official website or consult the Icelandic embassy or consulate in your country for detailed instructions.
  • Documentation. Prepare all necessary documentation beforehand. This includes your passport, application form, photos, travel itinerary, proof of accommodation, proof of sufficient funds, travel insurance, and any other documents requested.
  • Appointment. Some embassies may require you to schedule an appointment to submit your application. Don’t forget to verify if this is the case and schedule your appointment in time.
  • Follow Guidelines. Every visa application has specific guidelines – such as photo specifications or the format for submitting documents. Following these to the letter can prevent unnecessary delays or rejections.
  • Honesty and Completeness. Be honest and complete when filling out your application. Any discrepancies can lead to your application being rejected.

Remember, every traveller’s situation can be unique, and this advice is intended to cover the most common circumstances. Always check with official sources or trusted travel professionals when planning an Iceland trip.

planning for iceland

Deciding on the length and budget of the Iceland trip

The length of your vacation to Iceland depends on your availability and, of course, your Iceland trip budget. 

To give you some ideas about what to expect, you can check out Numbeo, which compares the cost of living in Iceland to any other city in the world. Simply select your city and see the difference in prices. 

As of July 2023, here are some costs that will affect your trip to Iceland:

  • Cheap restaurant meal per person – 2,500 kr (≈ €17.23 or $19)
  • Gasoline (1 litre) – 308 kr (≈ €2.12 or $2.34)
  • Imported Beer (0.33-liter bottle) at the liquor store – 365 kr (≈ €2.52 or $2.78)

I’ll tell you right now that your biggest expenses will start as you’re planning your trip to Iceland, which are car rental and accommodation. 

Flights and airports

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, you’ll probably land in Keflavik, a city that’s 45 minutes away by car from the capital city, Reykjavik. 

Iceland has a lot of domestic flights, which might be useful if you’re looking to reach some other city. But it will not be cheap. 

Iceland is really well-connected with both Europe and North America, and they have a busy airport. Find the best prices and flight connections on Kiwi

Kiwi is my go-to flight search engine, and it will automatically create flight connections, even with budget airlines. 

The only thing is that you’ll need to always make sure you treat each flight as a single flight, get your checked luggage from the first flight and re-check it for the first flight. It’s not as smooth as other big airlines, but it’s definitely more budget-friendly. Make sure to carefully read all the conditions before booking your flight. 

From Keflavik international airport in Iceland, most people choose to pick up their rental car and start their trip. 

However, if you decide to spend some days in Reykjavik, there’s no need for a car, as you can get a direct bus from the airport to the city centre. 

There are two bus companies – AirportDirect and Flybus

They cost about the same, and the only difference may be their schedules, so book the one that’s best for your arrival time. You can book your ticket online or directly in the arrival hall. 

Internet in Iceland

The best way to have Internet data on your home mobile is to use Airalo. I didn’t believe this works until I tried it for myself! There are tons of different plans to choose from, and you can always buy more data if you’re running low.

You don’t need to worry if your mobile carrier from back home works in Iceland or buy expensive roaming data packages.

Purchase a package from Airalo, and follow the instructions to install the eSim on your device. After you land in Iceland, use that sim to connect to the Internet and voila — it’s a miracle of eSim and the Internet.

The only downside is that Airalo only works if your smartphone supports eSims.

planning a trip to Iceland

Water in Iceland

Iceland is world-famous for its geothermal activity. This means the they have heat coming from the ground.

Seriously, you’ll be driving through the country and often see steam rising from the ground. They now use this steam to create electricity, though their many geothermal power plants. No joke, I haven’t seen anything like it. Basically, they are using only renewable energy. And they could be making more, but they don’t need it.

But this water has some sulphur in it. Which is why you’ll soon notice a characteristic smell each time you use hot water. It’s a smell of rotten eggs. After about three weeks, you get use to it. What’s cool about it, is that is feels like you’re in a cool spa each time you take a shower.

However, Iceland has some of the cleanest potable water in the world — It’s safe to drink tap water!

That’s why you should always have a refillable water bottle with you! There’s absolutely no need to buy bottled water in Iceland! It’s probably the same quality as tap water, but more expensive.

Choosing accommodations in Iceland

Iceland doesn’t offer a lot of accommodation options. That’s why it’s key to book your hotels the moment you start planning a trip to Iceland. 

The closer you are to a city, which are not that many in Iceland, the better chances you have to find something available and at a cheaper price. But if you’re planning to stay somewhere far away from any city, then the prices skyrocket. 

Some common places where most tourists stay during their trip to Iceland are:

I stayed and passed through all these places, and these are the best locations for some of the most popular places to visit in Iceland. 

If you get a normal car, you can either sleep in a tent at camping sites or will need to book a hotel. Use Booking for accommodation in Iceland and book your hotels in advance! 

There are simply not enough hotel rooms for all the tourists travelling in Iceland, and they often are sold out. 

Just to give you an idea, in larger cities, you may find hotels at about €90 ($100), but other hotels in more remote locations (such as near the Jökulsárlón glacier) will cost you a minim of €170 ($187) and might come with a shared bathroom at that price. 

Note that most accommodations, and especially budget accommodations in Iceland, have a shared bathroom but also provide a shared kitchen. It’s a mix of a camping cabin and a guesthouse. But I guess it’s a thing of the Nordic countries. 

If you decide to rent a camper, you will still need to pay to stay at a camping site. Rates will depend on the camping but might go up to €40 ($44). 

planning a trip to Iceland

Getting around Iceland

In Iceland, a lot of travellers decide to visit the entire country by going on a road trip around the island. 

This will take you a minimum of 7 days (depending on what stops you want to make). Since they’re travelling by car, a very common option is to rent a camper. 

Renting a car or a camper is, hands down, the best way to see Iceland!

Many rental cars offer all sorts of cars that convert into a camper. You can find a lot of offers on Northbound – Iceland’s dedicated car rental platform

Prices for campers are around €150 ($165) but can vary widely and depend on the size of the camper, the rental period, and the time of the year. Remember that summertime (July and August) are peak tourist times for tourism in Iceland, so make sure to book your car or camper in advance. 

If you decide to rent a normal car, I would recommend getting a 4WD since Iceland still has some gravel and dirt roads. There’s no way around it! 

Wild camping is now forbidden in Iceland! Here’s a map with all the campings open all year round in Iceland.

Public transport isn’t really a thing. There are public buses to get around Reykjavik and other cities, but they’re expensive, and their schedule might not work well with your visiting schedule. 

I’ve also seen some people hitchhiking, but only a couple of them. 

Reykjavik is bike friendly, and you will find many bike lanes all around the city. There’s even a cycling map that you can use if you want to see it all.

Some go cycling around the country, but I don’t think I’ve seen more than a dozen people doing that during the month I spend in Iceland. They also probably got there by ferry to be able to come with their bike. 

This leads me to the last option to get to Iceland – by ferry. If you are keen on bringing your own car (and avoid renting a car in Iceland), you can get to Iceland by ferry. It’s not cheap, but neither is renting a car. Depending on the length of your Icelandic holiday, it might be worth considering taking the ferry from Denmark, which also stops in the Faroe Islands. 

planning a trip in Iceland

Driving in Iceland

Here are a few tips about driving in Iceland:

  • Don’t do anything illegal, fines are high, and there’s a lot of police on the road
  • Don’t speed; there’re a lot of speed cameras
  • Don’t stop on the road
  • Pay for parking, they have cameras 
  • Watch out for birds (there’re lots)
  • Drive on the F roads only if you have a 4WD and you’re an experienced driver
  • Drive carefully on gravel roads (there’s a risk of cracking your windshield or getting a flat tire)

Check out all my Iceland travel tips that you need to know for your first trip.

If you’re committed to going on an extensive road trip around Iceland, then I recommend getting this comprehensive audio guide for your self-driving itinerary.

planning a trip to Iceland
Icelandic fermented shark (Hákarl)

Culinary journey

Icelandic cuisine has been shaped by the island’s isolation and the resilience of its people. 

Traditional dishes often revolve around seafood, lamb, and dairy, with unique preservation methods like drying, fermenting, and smoking due to the harsh climate.

  • Seafood. Given Iceland’s location in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, seafood is a staple in the Icelandic diet. From the much-loved fish and chips to unique dishes like fermented shark (Hákarl), seafood is a must-try in Iceland.
  • Lamb. Icelandic lamb is renowned for its quality and flavour, mainly due to the free-range, grass-fed rearing of the sheep. Dishes such as Lamb Soup (Kjötsúpa) are classic favourites.
  • Dairy. Icelandic dairy products, especially the traditional Skyr, are widely consumed. Skyr is a creamy, yoghurt-like cheese that’s often enjoyed at breakfast or as a dessert.
  • Local Specialties. Apart from seafood, lamb, and dairy, some other unique Icelandic specialities include puffin, reindeer, and fermented shark. These may not be to everyone’s taste, but they’re worth a try for adventurous eaters.

For delicacies, make sure to try:

  • Pylsur – This is the Icelandic hot dog, often topped with raw and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard, and remoulade. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur in Reykjavik is the most famous stand.
  • Hákarl –  For the brave, this fermented shark dish is a traditional food that’s usually consumed with a shot of Brennivín, an Icelandic schnapps. I tried it with bread at the Shark Museum (on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula), and it wasn’t half as bad as it’s advertised. 
  • Rúgbrauð. This is a traditional Icelandic rye bread that’s slow-baked in a geothermal hot spring. Try it topped with smoked trout or pickled herring. Places like Laugarvatn Fontana offer tours to show you how they cook the bread and then let you have a taste. 
  • Skyr. Make sure to try this smooth, creamy dairy product. It’s delicious on its own or topped with berries. Find it everywhere in supermarkets. 

Health and Safety in Iceland

For any trip, ensuring your health and safety should be of paramount importance. Here’s what you need to know when travelling to Iceland.

Local Healthcare Facilities and Emergency Numbers

Hopefully, you won’t need this during your vacation in Iceland. But it’s good to know that there’s a high standard of healthcare. Local healthcare facilities are well-equipped, and medical professionals are highly skilled. 

In Reykjavik, the capital, you’ll find the largest hospitals and a range of specialist clinics. In smaller towns and rural areas, healthcare centres and local doctors provide primary healthcare services. It’s important to note that healthcare in Iceland can be expensive, particularly for non-residents.

In the case of emergencies, the national emergency number in Iceland is 112. This number can be dialled for immediate assistance from police, ambulance, or fire services. It’s crucial to save this number in your phone or keep it accessible throughout your trip.

Travel Insurance: What it Should Cover for Iceland

When planning a trip to Iceland, remember to purchase travel insurance. 

Consider the following inclusions:

  • Medical Coverage: This should include hospital stays, doctor visits, and medication. Given the potentially high cost of healthcare, ensure your policy has an adequate limit.
  • Emergency Evacuation: In case of serious illness or injury, particularly if you’re planning on visiting remote locations or engaging in outdoor activities, coverage for emergency evacuation is crucial.
  • Trip Cancellation or Interruption: This can cover financial losses if your trip is cancelled or cut short due to unforeseen circumstances.
  • Lost or Stolen Baggage: Covers the loss, theft, or damage of personal belongings during your trip.
  • Activities Cover: If you’re planning on participating in adventure activities such as hiking, glacier climbing, or snowmobiling, check if your policy covers these.
planning a trip to Iceland

Specific Safety Concerns for Iceland (Weather, Wildlife, etc.)

Iceland is a relatively safe country to visit. However, there are certain unique safety concerns to be aware of:

  • Weather: Iceland’s weather can change rapidly, leading to sudden rainstorms, winds, or fog. Always check the weather forecast and road conditions, particularly if you’re driving or hiking.
  • Driving: Iceland’s rugged landscapes mean some roads can be challenging, especially in winter or in the highlands. If you’re planning to drive, make sure you’re prepared and familiar with Icelandic driving laws.
  • Wildlife: Encounters with wildlife are unlikely to pose a significant risk in Iceland. However, birds like the Arctic Tern can be protective of their nesting areas and may swoop at perceived threats. Also, lots of birds fly over the main roads, and drivers may hit them. Be careful. 
  • Natural Hazards: When exploring Iceland’s beautiful natural features, always adhere to safety signs and instructions. This includes staying on marked trails when hiking and not venturing too close to the edge at cliff faces or waterfalls. Volcano eruptions are also common in Iceland, so don’t panic if the Earth starts shaking. 
  • Thermal Waters: If you’re planning to take a dip in Iceland’s many hot springs, be aware that temperatures can vary widely. Only swim in designated safe areas.

Ensuring your safety when travelling to Iceland primarily involves being prepared, staying informed, and respecting both the local laws and the power of nature. 

Also, when planning a trip to Iceland, always check safetravel.is for the latest warnings. 

planning for iceland

Top Attractions and Activities

What is Iceland like? 

Iceland is a country of diverse landscapes and thrilling adventures. From soaking in geothermal pools to witnessing the magic of the Northern Lights, the country’s top attractions and activities offer unique experiences that can’t be missed. So how do you start planning a trip to Iceland when there’s so much to do?

Here are some of the most popular sites and attractions in Iceland.

Reykjavik

As Iceland’s capital and cultural hub, Reykjavik is teeming with attractions. 

The iconic Hallgrimskirkja church, Harpa Concert Hall, and the Sun Voyager sculpture are must-sees. You simply cannot be planning a trip to Iceland and not see this church which has its architecture inspired by the famous basalt columns. 

The city is also home to many museums, such as the National Museum of Iceland and the Reykjavik Art Museum. But my favourite is Perlan Museum, which allows you to experience all that Iceland has to offer in only a few hours. 

planning a trip to Iceland

If somehow you already arrived in Iceland and didn’t go through the process of planning a trip to Iceland, then go visit the Perlan Museum and pin on the map everything you want to see. It’s like a Japanese restaurant – you see, you save on Google Maps, you see in real life. 

Golden Circle

This popular tourist route includes three stunning attractions: the powerful Gullfoss waterfall, the geothermal area of Geysir, and the historic Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.

You can do this route in one day, starting from Reykjavik. If you don’t have a car, you can join a tour of the Golden Circle.

Road Ring

This is the main road that goes all around Iceland. Many travellers choose to follow this road as a 7-day road trip (or longer) and stop along the way for all the attractions in Iceland. 

Honestly, if you have the time and the budget, this is the best way to experience everything Iceland has to offer. 

planning a trip to Iceland

!!! Warning: it will not be easy to plan an Iceland trip to include all the things you want to do, and it will not be cheap. That’s why you should start planning for your trip to Iceland as soon as possible, to make sure you don’t accidentally skip any of the fantastic places that Iceland has to offer. 

The cool thing is that as you’re driving, you will see small road signs to different places. If your Iceland itinerary is flexible, you can go with the flow and change your mind last minute. 

But for that, I strongly advise you to rent a camper van, because it will be much easier to find a camping ground for the night than it is to find a hotel. 

If you’re committed to driving the entire Ring Road, check out this 5-day Iceland itinerary to get you started. If you have more time, check out this 7-day itinerary in Iceland to give you more options on what to visit. And of course, you can always spend more days.

Taking the Ring Road itinerary more slowly is the best way to go. But most like to hurry because they want to keep the expenses as low as they can.

Vatnajökull National Park

This is the largest national park in Europe. It features the massive Vatnajökull glacier and stunning sights like the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and Diamond Beach. You can also visit the glacier lagoon as a day trip from Reykjavik

planning a trip to Iceland

This is the number one attraction in Iceland, and this is where you’ll find the largest crowd. Book boat lagoon tours in advance if you’re visiting in peak tourist season (July-August). 

Geothermal Spas

Iceland is basically a huge geothermal area, and that means that huge water reserves are heated up naturally by the Earth. This results in naturally formed hot pools.

While most tourists head over to the more popular spas such as the Blue Lagoon or Sky Lagoon (which are also heavily overpriced), you can save a lot of your budget by choosing the public swimming pools, which basically offer the same things at a much more affordable price. 

If you decide to visit those popular and overpriced spas, book in advance – they’re also full. 

And they’re in every city. Reykjavik has at least 20 public pools. Just search for “laug” (EN: pool) on Google Maps. 

Tip: if you’re doing the Ring Road road trip, you can stop at the Myvatn Nature Baths, in Northern Iceland, which looks exactly the same as the Blue Lagoon but at one-third of the price. Enjoy! 

There are many other popular places, but most of them will be located on the Ring Road, or close to it. Some super popular places are the Black Sand Beach (Reynisfjara), near Vik, Stuðlagil Canyon near Egilsstaðir and Goðafoss Waterfall near Akureyri. 

Various Activities Available

Iceland offers a multitude of activities that allow you to explore its beauty while quenching your thirst for adventure:

  • Hiking: Iceland is a hiker’s paradise with trails for every skill level. From the popular Laugavegur trail to the rugged landscapes of Landmannalaugar, there’s a route to suit everyone.
  • Whale Watching: Departing from places like Reykjavik and Husavik, whale-watching tours offer the chance to see a variety of whale species, dolphins, and seabirds in their natural habitat.
  • Northern Lights Viewing. You need total darkness to be able to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). This natural light show can usually be observed from late September to early April. But if you’re truly lucky, you might get a glimpse of it after the second half of August. I have proof! 
  • Snowmobiling and Glacier Hiking. Companies offer tours that allow you to hike or ride a snowmobile on a glacier, providing awe-inspiring views.
  • Exploring Ice Caves (you can visit the famous ice cave only during winter, but there’s one ice cave that you can visit all year round). Always go with a guided tour for safety reasons.
  • Bird Watching. With places like the Látrabjarg cliffs in the Westfjords and the puffin colony in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland is great for birdwatchers.
  • Possible Volcano Eruption. For 3 years in a row, Iceland had a volcanic eruption. I wasn’t aware of it until one morning I was woken up by an Earthquake (magma moves before erupting), and one week later, the 2023 Iceland volcano eruption became the largest attraction on the island. 

It’s needless to say that whatever you plan on doing during your road trip in Iceland, it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

planning a trip to Iceland

Respecting Local Customs and Environment

Iceland’s natural beauty and cultural heritage are key components of its appeal. As a visitor, it’s essential to respect local customs and the environment to ensure these aspects continue to thrive and remain for future generations to enjoy.

Icelandic culture is a blend of ancient heritage and modern adaptability, influenced by the island’s unique geography and history. Here are a few customs to be aware of.

Language

Icelandic is the national language, and it’s one of the oldest languages in the world. While most Icelanders speak English fluently, they appreciate when visitors make an effort to learn a few basic Icelandic phrases.

Hello: “Halló”

Goodbye: “Bless”

Please: “Vinsamlegast”

Thank you: “Takk”

Yes: “Já”

No: “Nei”

Excuse me / Sorry: “Afsakið”

I don’t understand: “Ég skil ekki”

Do you speak English?: “Talarðu ensku?”

Help: “Hjálp”

How much does this cost?: “Hvað kostar þetta?”

Where is the bathroom?: “Hvar er klósettið?”

My name is…: “Ég heiti…”

Nice to meet you: “Gaman að kynnast þér”

Tipping in Iceland

Service charges are included in bills in Iceland, so tipping is not customary. However, it’s appreciated for excellent service.

Swimming etiquette in Iceland

You simply cannot be planning a trip to Iceland without adding some geothermal spas on the itinerary. 

Public pools and hot springs are a significant part of Icelandic culture. It’s important to shower thoroughly without your swimsuit before entering the pools, as is clearly indicated in the changing rooms. 

planning a trip to Iceland

Unfortunately, I read a lot of comments online about this practice and noticed that foreign tourists try to avoid the “naked shower with others” part. This leads to a dirty pool. 

My personal opinion is that is nothing wrong with it. Showers and changing rooms are separated (male/female and, in some cases, undefined gender). Nobody is looking at you, just do the thing and help keep the pool clean. 

Since Icelandic people are very used to this, whereas foreigners are not, I noticed that the local public swimming pools are much cleaner than the popular spas, which are full of tourists. Just saying. 

planning for iceland

Respect for Nature

Icelanders have deep respect for nature, which is reflected in the country’s extensive efforts in conservation and sustainable practices. 

You’ll see many signs to not walk on the grass where there’s clearly marked trail. 

Always take your trash with you, even if there’s a bin in the middle of nowhere. If you don’t take it back, someone else will have to. 

Keep your distance from birds and, most importantly, birds’ nests. You’ll see signs of that. 

Pretty much use common sense, and try to leave no trace. We all travel to Iceland because of its gorgeous nature. Let’s keep it that way! 

Importance of Sustainable Travel and Preserving Iceland’s Unique Environment

Iceland’s environment is particularly sensitive due to the country’s geographical location and climate. 

The importance of preserving its unique landscapes and ecosystems cannot be overstated. Please keep in mind these guidelines when planning a trip to Iceland. 

Here’s how you can contribute to sustainable travel:

  • Stick to Designated Paths (helps to reduce erosion and protect local flora)
  • Don’t Disturb Wildlife (Admire them from a distance. Do not feed or try to touch them.)
  • No Off-Road Driving (It’s illegal in Iceland)
  • Always dispose of your litter responsibly.
  • Only camp in designated camping areas. 
planning a trip to Iceland

Packing Tips for Iceland

“What do I need to pack for Iceland?” was my first question after booking my flight. 

It comes down to the season – summer or winter. 

The weather is also changing frequently, so it’s better to have extra layers that you can take off than not having enough warm clothes. 

Iceland packing list

Clothing

  • Base Layers: Breathable base layers are crucial as you’ll be layering your clothes. Consider synthetic materials or merino wool.
  • Mid-layers: Pack sweaters or fleece jackets for warmth.
  • Outer Layer (Wind/Rain Jacket): Even in summer, rain is common in Iceland. A waterproof and windproof jacket is essential.
  • Trousers: Pack both lighter trousers and a pair of waterproof/windproof trousers.
  • Underwear and Socks: Again, materials like merino wool are excellent for socks. Pack enough for your trip’s duration.
  • Swimsuit: You’ll need this for the geothermal pools.
  • Hats/Caps and Gloves: Even in summer, it can get chilly, especially in the evenings.
  • Hiking boots: If you plan on hiking, good-quality, waterproof hiking boots are essential.
planning a trip to Iceland

Gear

  • Daypack/Backpack: A waterproof daypack is helpful for your daily outings and adventures.
  • Water Bottle: Staying hydrated is crucial, and Icelandic tap water is excellent to drink.
  • Sunglasses and Sunscreen: The sun can be intense in Iceland, and reflections off ice or water can increase exposure.
  • Travel Towel: Useful for hot springs and pools.
  • Camera Equipment: Don’t forget your camera, extra memory cards, and any additional gear you need. The landscapes are breathtaking.

Miscellaneous

  • Toiletries: Don’t forget the basics, and consider including moisturizer and lip balm – the Icelandic wind can be drying.
  • Medication: If you need specific medication, bring it along with necessary prescriptions.
  • Eyeshades: During the summer, Iceland experiences almost 24 hours of daylight. Eyeshades can help ensure a good night’s sleep.
  • Power Adapter: Iceland uses the Europlug/Schuko-Plug (type F), 220V.
  • Snacks: While you can buy them in Iceland if you have particular preferences, it’s often easier and cheaper to bring them with you.

Documents

  • Passport/ID: Necessary for international travel.
  • Driving License: If you plan on renting a car.
  • Travel Insurance Documents: Always have a copy on hand.
  • Hotel/Tour Confirmations: Keep a copy of booking confirmations.

Itinerary examples for Iceland

Travel itineraries in Iceland can vary significantly based on your interests. But here are a few suggestions just to help you start planning a trip to Iceland, for different lengths of stay in Iceland:

Three-Day Itinerary in Iceland

Day 1: Explore Reykjavik. Visit Hallgrimskirkja, Harpa Concert Hall, and the National Museum of Iceland, and take a stroll around the old harbour. You can even go on a whale-watching tour in Reykjavik.

Day 2: Take a tour of the Golden Circle, which includes the Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall.

Day 3: Spend the day relaxing at a geothermal spa. If you have time in the evening, consider a puffin-watching tour from Reykjavik. If you want more activities, consider a South Coast day trip (but it will be a long one).

One-Week Itinerary in Iceland

You can find a very detailed 7-day Iceland itinerary here, but this is a short version of it.

Day 1-3: As above.

Day 4: Visit the South Coast. Explore Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls, the black sand beach at Reynisfjara, and the town of Vik.

Day 5: Visit Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park and hike to Svartifoss waterfall.

Day 6: Visit Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach, and if you’re up for it, book a glacier hiking or ice-caving tour.

Day 7: Return to Reykjavik and explore any sights you missed on your first day.

Two-Week Itinerary in Iceland

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland for at least two weeks, consider driving the full Ring Road, which circles the country and hits many top sights. 

Start with the three-day and one-week itineraries, then continue on to visit places like the East Fjords, Lake Myvatn, Husavik (for whale watching), and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Tips for Crafting a Personal Itinerary

  • Know Your Interests
  • Consider Travel Time
  • Book in Advance
  • Be Flexible (Iceland’s weather can be unpredictable, and you may need to adjust your plans.)
  • Consider a Guided Tour. If crafting an itinerary seems overwhelming, consider booking a guided tour

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to travel. I truly believe we are all different and therefore, enjoy doing different things. Make sure to add to your Iceland road trip itinerary whatever you want to do, even when others are queuing up to some other place. 

planning a trip to Iceland

To sum it up, Iceland is a lot!

I tried my best to give you the best guide on how you should be planning a trip to Iceland. 

I had no idea, and the info I found online before arriving in Iceland wasn’t making my task any easier. 

All the Iceland guides were screaming that Iceland is expensive and then did not give me any practical information. 

So my response to that is that, while Iceland is expensive, a bit of planning ahead can turn this much sought-after touristic destination into an affordable one. 

The tourism industry is massive in Iceland, so everything you see will be a business trying to get you to spend money. But after spending 1.5 months in Iceland, I can sincerely say that there’s more to it than the $ 100 entry ticket to a spa! 

If you have any questions about planning a trip to Iceland, feel free to DM me on Instagram (@juliasomething) or email me at contact@juliasomething.com. If you need help with actually booking your trip, I can assist you with that, too (paid service). 

Iulia Vasile

Iulia is a travel expert, blogger, engineer, freelance copywriter, and a curiosity-driven personality. She sees travel as the ultimate tool for self-improvement and personal growth, and that's the main topic of her blog, Juliasomething.com.

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