Tips for your first trip

Iceland – 23 Essential Tips for Your First Trip

Paula Martinelli Blog, Everything you need to know, Image, Travel, Travel Tips 2 Comments

In this ultimate travel guide you will find all the essentials for your trip to Iceland

In this 23 Amazing Tips of things to know before your first trip to Iceland, you will find all the things you should know for your adventure in the Land of Fire and Ice! Iceland has so much to offer, from amazing waterfalls to volcanoes and craters, hot springs, geothermal areas and beaches with black sand and lagoons with floating icebergs.

First of all, I think everyone should visit Iceland at some point in their life. Iceland is one of those places that offers so much untouched nature, and any trip will be full of wonderful surprises. It is a perfect destination for nature lovers, photographers, families looking for some exploration together, couples, friends, or a solo trip.

Iceland is also the land of light and dark. Long summer days with near 24-hours of sunshine are offset by short winter days with only a few hours of daylight.

travel guide waterfalls you should see
Land of fire and ice

Iceland is home to a progressive and peaceful nation that has formed a modern society where freedom and equality are held in high regard. Iceland continuously ranks near the top for quality of life, gender equality, and democracy, and is one of the highest ranked countries in the world for health care, education and internet availability.

Iceland is an amazing destination, but it does require some preparation before your trip. Plan your itinerary ahead of time, budget wisely and enjoy this guide prior to your trip.

You may also want to read:

1- Travel Guide - Flight options

If you live in the US, take advantage of the proximity and the prices for flights. I flew from Florida, and took a direct flight of only 7 hours. I flew Icelandair and I was very pleased with the service – please note that you may need to pay for luggage, meals are not free, and they will only serve water and juice. I brought my own snacks for the flight. There are many options for direct flights from the US to Iceland, and some very cheap options, for example leaving from NYC for approximately $300.

There are over twenty-five airlines flying to Iceland with more airlines and planned routes being added over the upcoming years, and the best way to find cheaper options are:

  • Choose to fly during the low season (Iceland winter time)
  • Compare prices leaving from different airports, instead of only consider a direct flight from your town. Sometimes a domestic connection is a good option and will save you some money.
  • Use a site with price comparison, such as Skycanner

Here you will find the approximate flight times from international major cities to Reykvik, Keflavík International Airport

Departure City   Flight Time     Connection/direct  
New York 5h 40m Direct
London 3h 0m Direct
Copenhagen 3h 10m Direct
Los Angeles 9h 00m Direct
San Francisco 9h 00m Direct
Chicago 6h 35m Direct
Helsinki 3h 30m Direct
Paris 3h 20m Direct
Amsterdam 3h 15m Direct
Rome 4h 30m Direct
Toronto 6h 00m Direct
Montréal 5h 25m Direct
Oslo 2h 40m Direct
Berlin 3h 45m Direct
Barcelona 4h 30m Direct
Zurich 3h 40m Direct
Stockholm 3h 10m Direct
Boston 5h 40m Direct
Miami 8h 15m Direct
Dublin 2h 45m Direct
Tel Aviv 8h 5m Direct
travel guide know how to get to Iceland
My flight to Iceland was almost empty and I got a full section for myself

2- Iceland is expensive

Actually, Iceland is not only expensive. It is the MOST expensive country to visit in the whole of Europe.

Here are some estimates of what we spent for 2 people per day:

  • Accommodation at Airbnb: $100
  • Food with 2 meals from the supermarket and 1 meal at the restaurant: $120
  • Car rental + gas: $65

Which is an average of less than $150 per person per day.

It can be cheaper if you consider using a Hostel, cook your own meals, and share transportation with more people- at an average of $60 dollars per day per person.

I have prepared this very useful guide to plan your trip to Iceland on a budget, including pricing comparison for rental car vs. a camper van, what accommodation to choose from and best options for food.

 

Read more: How to travel to Iceland on a budget 

Icelandic horses - travel guide
Pet horses for free

3- Iceland is VERY safe

Great news here! Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world. The crime rate is extremely low.

It is one thing to think about safety related to crime, but it should also be related to our health during any physical activity, hiking or driving around the country, for example.

In Iceland it's necessary to be cautious when travelling due to hazards caused by weather and nature, where conditions can change at a moments notice. Nature is one of Iceland's many attractions, and while beautiful, it can also be harsh and unpredictable. It is important to be prepared, and aware of possible dangers, and know how to react in—or preferably prevent—difficult situations. The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue operates a useful website for travel in Iceland.

iceland travel guide explore Reykjavik

4- Car rental vs Camper or RV options

That was the first question I had when I decided to go to Iceland. My first decision was to contact the Camper Van companies and ask for a quote. I was planning to drive, sleep, eat and live in it for the whole time. After some considerations of not having my own bathroom, having to cook even after a long day of driving, and all the costs associated to it – rental + gas + camper parking…I decided to rent a car.

*Camper Van prices based on for 2 people with a small kitchenette to prepare small meals

Iceland travel cost comparison - transportation

5- Driving around Iceland

If you are planning to drive the Ring Road, you will be driving on the Highway 1 as it goes around the whole country in a shape of a ring. You will follow this 882 mile (1,323-km) long route to be able to see a lot of the country. You also can get venture off on other road so you can explore areas like the Westfjords, Snaefelisnes peninsula and Reykjanes.

Ring Road Self-drive travel guide

6- Iceland is 220 volts

The same as in Europe. If you bring your electronics from the US or Canada, you will need an adapter for both plugs and current. Iceland is wired society, and you will find internet hotspots almost everywhere.

7- How long do I need to explore Iceland?

You can have as short as a few days, or if you are lucky have a few weeks. It is recommended that you spend at least 3-4 days visiting. This will definitely not be enough time to explore all that there is to offer, but it will help you plan a beginner’s trip around the island. I drove the Ring Road in 10 days – it is possible to drive the whole circuit as short as 5 days, but it will be in a hurry. Or if you are lucky enough you can explore it at a slower pace in a couple of weeks.

Regardless of how long you decide to stay in Iceland, you can be sure to have a fantastic time and witness some of the world’s most breathtaking views. This Nordic island nation has something to offer for everyone, and there is no doubt that you will return home refreshed and content.

 

Read more: Iceland 10 days self-drive itinerary 

8- There is so much to explore outside Reykjavik

Get out of Reykjavik and explore the countryside. The northernmost capital is both forward-thinking and traditional when it comes to design, music and literature making it a worthy contender for your time however what really makes Iceland special is what lies outside the city limits. Spend a day or two here but be sure to go explore some of Iceland’s natural wonders.

iceland travel guide know where to find adventure
Glacier hiking in Iceland

9- CREDIT CARD vs MONEY

You won’t need money in Iceland, as pretty much everywhere you can use your credit card. I spent 10 days driving around the country and I didn’t see a Krone bill once.

 

10- Grocery shopping options

There is a Costco on the way from the airport. If you are a member, consider stopping to buy snacks and food before you continue your adventure. You can also find the local Iceland grocery stores Netto and Bonus for your grocery needs throughout Iceland. In smaller towns you can only find local stores with limited items to sell and also convenience stores. Make sure you stock up on snacks, gas and water before you leave the town – you may drive for hours without seeing anything.

iceland travel guide know where to buy food

11- The best time to visit Iceland

Maybe you have heard or seen somewhere that the best time to visit Iceland is during summer. But actually, any time is a good time to visit Iceland, it will only depend on your expectations.

  • Best Time for Sightseeing: Iceland is renowned for its numerous spectacular waterfalls, geysers, and volcanoes. In order to see as much as you can, you’ll want to have longer days, fewer crowds to interrupt the view, and weather that doesn’t make roads impassable. That means going in the weeks that frame either end of the high season, around the last week of May through mid-June, or anytime in September.
  • Best Time to Avoid Crowds: If you’re hoping for a more relaxed experience without the crowds, avoid going to Iceland in the high season, from mid-Junethrough August. By visiting in April or MaySeptember or October, you’ll encounter fewer tourists, yet the days will be long enough to enjoy sightseeing and possibly decent weather (5AM sunrise; 9:30PM sunset). The fewest visitors come between November and March, but this is also when inclement weather and short, dark days can affect your plans.
  • Best Time for Good Weather: The best time for optimal weather in Iceland is during the high season, particularly July and Augustwhen average highs are around 13°C, though temps can reach as high as 15°C or even 20°C. If you’re hoping to avoid the rain, the lowest amount of rainfall occurs in May and June, and temperatures are often a pleasant 11°C.
Ring Road self-drive travel guide

12- You can't see the Northern Lights all year round

I was in Iceland during shoulder season (April) and I had no luck seeing the Northern Lights, so I asked the locals and they said the last time they saw it was in November. Keep in mind that the best time to see Northern Lights is late fall, when nights are most likely to be dark and clear. There are a number of conditions required for them to be visible, including guaranteed darkness, which is why the best time to see them is from late September through late March, when there are full dark nights.

 

Read more: 25 Amazing pictures to inspire you to visit Iceland 

 

13- Mind the weather & the wind

The weather in Iceland is unpredictable. It may be pouring rain and suddenly a beautiful sky opens with a sunny day – or maybe vice-versa. Expect your plans to change based on the weather. Be flexible with your driving and itinerary. It is the best way to not get upset if you need to face one (or many) bad weather days.

There aren’t a lot of trees in Iceland and it can be very windy. Beware of the win!. Like a local told me, sometimes they have 100km per hour hurricane winds, but still call it a “windy day”. Because of the wind, the majority of rental car damage happens when you open the car door on a windy day and you lose your grip. I even saw the wind blowing away personal items from tourists, like shoes and hats. There aren’t a lot of trees in Iceland.

A great site to refer to is road.is for daily (actually, updated every 15 minutes) weather updates. This will tell you just about everything you need to know (temperature, wind speed, etc.) so that you can go prepared! This site is a tremendous resource for travellers.

Iceland Travel Guide know the road conditions
Road conditions in Iceland - road.is

14- Be aware of Hot spring vs. hair with chemicals

Just between us girls…this one may be news for you, it was new for me too. I spent some time in a natural hot spring, and thought the water, with so much sulfur and minerals, would do good for my skin and hair. I was wrong about my hair, as I have highlights. After the hot bath, I washed my hair and while brushing I had very bad hair breakage due to the sulfer/minerals and chemicals/highlights.

Enjoy the baths...but just don't get your hair wet!

Also, note that you will need to take a shower in the locker room prior to going in the nature bath. Soap and shampoo are provided. After showering, you put your bathing suit on (also available for rent) and head to the nature bath. After leaving the nature bath, you can shower once again in the locker room.

Travel guide Myvatn Nature Baths Iceland

15- Shower with sulfur smell

In some places you will notice an odd smell coming from the shower. No need to freak out, it is just sulfur and the smell won’t stick to your skin, actually, your skin feels amazing after.

 

16- Guest Houses are amazing

If you choose to stay at Guest Houses, you can easily find and book them through Airbnb. They are pretty much everywhere around the country and very affordable (an average of $100 per day for 2 people). They are normally farms who build guest houses in their properties, therefore you will be staying on farms. Most of them have horses, sheep, cows, chickens and dogs. It gives you a feel for how the locals live. Some of them also offer a delicious breakfast included.

 

Read more: Iceland Travel Tips, everything you should know before your first trip

 

grass roof house iceland travel guide

17- Icelandic Food

Oh the Icelandic food is good! I have to say that I had the best soups in my life in Iceland. If you are like me, a soup lover, you are in heaven. I also love fish, and I had the best Cod and also a very popular local fish, Arctic Char they call local trout but it looks like and tastes pretty much, but even better, than salmon.  A traditional dish can be a protein (lamb, fish or chicken) with roasted potatoes and a delicious salad.

FAST FOOD IS EVERYWHERE - Hot dog, hamburger, french fries, pizza and fish and chips are EVERYWHERE! If you are looking for a quick fix for your hunger, you are covered and won’t have a hard time finding anything listed on this menu.

Travel guide food in Iceland

18- Roads may be closed without warning at the beginning of the road

Due to inclement weather, roads can be closed with little warning. One of the great resources is http://road.is. This site will let you know what is open or closed. If you get wireless or wifi service, check this site daily. I tried going to a waterfall in the Myvatn region only to find that the road was closed. This detour cost me about 1 hour. Had I checked road.is I would have known prior to heading in that direction.

Ring Road Closed
The upset part of me...

19- Bring CDs or music with Wi-fi, no good radios

There are several radio stations to listen to around the island. I found that the best station played music 50% of the time, and the DJ spoke (in Icelandic) for the rest of the time. Unfortunately, the car I rented did not have bluetooth.

Bring music with you, because you will be driving a lot. Our car had a CD player, but had I know I would have brought a bluetooth speaker.

 

20- Elves and Hidden People live in Iceland

Elves are a big part of the cultural landscape in Iceland, and many locals still believe in the existence of the Huldufolk or hidden people. The perceived existence of elves sparks environmental protests to this day.

Whether it’s laying a public road or building a new home, if the proposed construction has the potential to disrupt the lives of elves believed to be living in its path, it is likely to spark a public protest.

Hidden people are also thought to be behind things which cannot be explained. If you lost your car keys...the hidden people probably took them. They are mischevious folk!

Hidden Folk in Iceland travel guide

22- ESSENTIAL PACKING CLOTHES

LAYERS, LAYERS and more LAYERS!!!

It seems that every country I blog about I write the same thing: "bring layers". But especially in Iceland, you can have pretty much all the seasons in the same day...oh well, not necessarily summer, but I am talking about a big variation of a sunny day, rain, snow, heavy winds and then it will be sunny again.

Think about how you will travel. For example, I was in and out of the car multiple times a day in different weather. Get out of the car and start layering up...get back in the car and strip some layers off and lay them in the back seat. Keep your layers handy and be prepared to drive, get out and see things, and get back in the car. Think about your comfort so you can enjoy the experience.

The first thing is to check the weather of the season you are going to Iceland and pack accordingly. Here is a list with some essentials to pack:

  • Rainproof/windproof jacket
  • Rain pants
  • Lightweight wool sweater
  • Warm pants (leggings or hiking pants that you can layer)
  • Fleece jacket and pants (for layers)
  • Merino pants and long sleeve (for layers)
  • Rain pants
  • The combo: Gloves, Scarves & Hat
  • Warm socks
  • Waterproof hiking boots
  • Swimsuit and quick-dry towel (for visiting pools and hot springs - towels and swim suits are available for rent at swimming facilities)
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunblock (yes, I got a sunburn in Iceland)
  • Chargers - computer, camera, cell phone
    • Invest in a DC 12V to AC 110V car power inverter. They are not expensive and make a world of difference when driving. Charge your phones, camera, drone, laptop, tablet, etc. while on the road.

If you are doing activities such as horse riding or ice climbing, they provide all the gear so, no need to pack it with you.

ADDITIONAL PACKING ITEMS

  • Sunblock
  • Adaptor (car)
  • Day pack
Iceland Travel Packing List

23- LAST, BUT NOT LEAST – TRAVEL RESPONSIBLY, BE ETHICAL AND RESPECT OUR PLANET

To preserve one of the world’s most fragile environments, it is incredibly important that every Iceland traveler is conscious of their social and environmental footprint. Iceland is ahead of much of the world in terms of ecotourism.

You will notice that there aren’t many signs, fences or other barriers around the natural wonders in Iceland. Please use your common sense.

  • Do not step over ropes that are blocking an area - Hot springs can be dangerously hot and rocks near waterfalls can be slippery. One of the wonderful things about Iceland is that there are no imposed regulations about where you can and cannot walk. Everything is wild, and it is up to the traveler to take their own personal responsibility.
  • Don’t Vandalize the Moss - they are incredibly delicate and it takes decades to recover
  • Treat Wildlife with Respect – they roam freely so it is important to treat any animal you may encounter with respect. This includes the horses! And be careful with bird colonies!
  • Support the Whale-Watching Industry - Whale hunting has been a historically significant part of Icelandic culture, and you can still find whale served in restaurants and supermarkets throughout the country. Whale hunting is still conducted in Iceland today, but supporting the whale watching industry is the best way to help end this ancient practice permanently.

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Comments 2

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write such a thorough post full of practical info – I’m saving this one for when I make it to Iceland. Had no idea that I need to be careful of my dyed hair in the mineral springs, eek!

  2. Pingback: 2019 Iceland Ring Road Self-Drive - 10 Day Itinerary (with Google map)

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