Iceland at A Glance
If you are planning to visit Iceland and are not sure where and how to start, you found the right place. Here you can find travel tips and everything you need to know before your trip of a lifetime!
Iceland is an island in the North Atlantic; a country of extreme geological contrasts. Widely known as “The Land of Fire and Ice”, it is home to some of the largest glaciers in Europe, and some of the world’s most active volcanoes.
Iceland is also the land of light and darkness. Long summer days with near 24-hours of sunshine are offset by short winter days with only a few hours of daylight.
It 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 not a member of the European Union (EU) but it is a Schengen Area Member State, which means it's a zone that allows unrestricted movement without passport checks and border controls for those living in any of the member states. If you are visiting from outside of the EU or the Schengen Area, you will only go through passport control at your first point of entry.
Citizens of many countries will not need a tourist or business visa for stays of less than 90 days in Iceland. There is a list of countries on their Directorate of Immigration site so check out those who do need a visa and those who don't.
Iceland is expensive....actually Iceland is the most expensive country in Europe.
But depending on your travel style, it's possible to travel to Iceland on a budget. Assuming that you're intending to camp and hitchhike your entire trip and that you don’t drink alcohol for the duration of your trip, it’s safe to assume that your Iceland trip cost will be about $60 – 75 per day/per person.
If you are planning to book your own place to spend the night, eat at a restaurant and rent your own car, it can be about $100 - 150 per day/per person.
For a full pricing comparison and how to travel to Iceland on a budget, check here.
Getting Around & Transportation
Public Transportation: Iceland is not comparable with the majority of European public transportation system, therefore, the most effective and efficient way to get around this island nation is by car. Check here for public transportation.
Camper Van: If you have opted for the camper van route, the only other thing you’d need to factor into your Iceland transport costs would be fuel prices, which, are high. The average petrol price as of April, 2019 is $1.76/litre (or $6.67 USD/gallon). Here I explain in detail the price comparison between renting a car vs a camper van.
Car Rental: If renting a car is your option to self-drive Iceland, there are a number of rental companies to choose from. While you may be inclined to rent a car through an internationally recognized company, often these companies charge a lot more than a local car rental company. Here is a good place to find options and compare prices and reviews. Also, keep in mind that cars with an automatic transmission often cost considerably more than a manual. So if you can drive a stick and want to save some money, by all means, make sure you’re renting a manual transmission.
If you are travelling on a budget, or opting for luxury, you will find accommodation to fit your needs in Iceland. The options you have are very diverse: Rent a camper van, hostel, farm house (B&B), cabin, mountain huts or hotel.
A few notes:
Remember it is recommended to book in advance during high season (summer) and that during summer the midnight sun may test your tolerance for sleep deprivation.
I traveled during the shoulder season (April) and used a combination of Airbnb and Booking.com and I was able to book one day in advance and paid an average of $80 - $100 per day for 2 people. I found the best option to use farm houses as they are pretty easy to find, are family owned and operated and provide an authentic experience to be able to interact with the lifestyle and farm animals.
Hostels in either of the 2 cities or large towns can be a good alternative where the cheapest dorm bed will set you back around $35 per night/person. Another benefit of staying in an Airbnb or hostel is they often offer cooking areas so you can prepare your own meals and save money even further.
What to Pack
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.
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)
- Sunblock (yes, I got a sunburn in Iceland)
- Chargers - computer, camera, cell phone...
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.
Iceland enjoys a cool temperate maritime climate thanks to the Gulf Stream, but the weather is known to change quickly, and often. Icelanders have a saying: “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” No matter the season, when you visit you should always have wind and water resistant outerwear, as well as extra thermal layers on hand.
As for winter, Iceland is not all covered by ice and snow as its name would suggest. In fact, outside of the higher altitudes or parts of North Iceland, snowfall rarely stays on the ground longer than a few days.
Rain is more common, with October being the wettest month. Also, the cool northerly winds can be strong at times so we recommend an insulated or down jacket for winter visits.
|January||-0.6 (30.9)||-1.5 (29.3)|
|February||0.7 (33.3)||-2.1 (28.2)|
|March||2.2 (36.0)||2.0 (35.6)|
|April||5.2 (41.4)||4.9 (40.8)|
|May||6.0 (42.8)||4.5 (40.1)|
|June||10.7 (51.3)||10.7 (51.3)|
|July||12.8 (55)||10.7 (51.3)|
|August||11.0 (51.8)||10.0 (50.0)|
|September||7.9 (46.2)||7.2 (45.0)|
|October||5.8 (42.4)||5.1 (41.2)|
|November||3.1 (37.6)||1.2 (34.2)|
|December||1.3 (34.3)||0.8 (33.4)|
When to Go
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-June through August. By visiting in April or May, September 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 to see Northern Lights 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
Best Time for Good Weather: The best time for optimal weather in Iceland is during the high season, particularly July and August when 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.
Great news here! Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world. 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 offers a huge variety of activities for everyone’s taste and fitness levels. You can stroll around a small town, hike up a crater or have an adventure such as ice climbing. Iceland has endless possibilities in every corner of the island, and these are some of the most popular:
Glacier hiking & Ice Climbing: More than 10% of Iceland is covered with glaciers, so it is the perfect place for glacier hiking and ice climbing. Glacier hiking tours range from easy to extreme, which means there’s an adventure that is sure to fit your style.
Hiking: Iceland is filled with wonderful opportunities for hiking; there are hiking trails in every direction. No matter which way you turn, you will find a hiking trail, but make sure to stay on the trails so you don’t ruin the natural landscape.
White water rafting: Iceland offers great options for white water rafting adventure. Even though none of the rivers in Iceland offer Class 5 rapids, there are three rivers that offer adventurous rides down the river, one of which is categorized as a Class 4 river.
Snorkeling or Scuba at Silfra: One very popular activity in Iceland is to snorkel in this spot well suited for underwater exploration: Silfra. Located in Thingvellir National Park, the Silfra rift is a fissure that lies between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The water is fed from the meltwater of a nearby glacier and visibility is top notch. Because the water is between 2–4°C, dry suits are necessary for the 30-40 minute float tours through the rift.
I was pleasantly surprised by the food in Iceland. I didn't have high expectations for the food, and I knew that options could be limited by the geography of the island. However, I learned that the key elements of the Icelandic diet have changed very little since the country’s settlement over a thousand years ago, with the most popular dishes still being fish, lamb and the Icelandic skyr (yogurt). Aside from lamb, you can also find traditional meats in grocery stores and restaurants like pork, beef and chicken.
Fish: You can find good options pretty much everywhere in Iceland. It is very popular to find a dish with the fish of the day, or fish and chips. Some of the popular fishes are haddock, Atlantic wolffish or cod, which has been caught by angling using live or artificial bait. Very fresh, and delicious!
Lamb: Another very popular dish you will find pretty much in every restaurant. Along with the fish, sheep have been the lifeblood of this nation since its arrival with the Vikings. The meat thus requires little seasoning; it is tender and has a mild flavor.
Skyr: You will see this yogurt taking a huge part of the shelves at the grocery stores, and I ate it everyday for breakfast. It is made by separating skim milk from cream, the milk is then pasteurized, and live cultures from previous batches of skyr are added. When the product has thickened, it is then filtered, and various flavors added, like vanilla or berries and more recently mango, coconut. Delicious and great protein source!
Controversial Meat - DO NOT EAT!
Do you ever crave horse, whale or puffin meat? Do you need to have these animal protein sources in your daily diet? I am sure your answer is NO! So, why do people still have the desire to try "exotic" or "delicacy" dishes while visiting a country?
In the past, struggling coastal communities in Iceland had to use all of the natural resources available for survival. But nowadays thankfully we no longer live in a survival mode. If the tourists stop this nonsense habit and do not sustain this type of behavior, we can stop restaurants and local shops from continuing this practice.
Be respectful, be ethical and be a responsible traveler!