This is the ultimate travel guide to Iceland. I cover what to wear, best times to visit the northern lights, and so much more!
Kyana Sue Powers
I am so excited for your trip to Iceland! You're going to love it and I want to make sure you have the best possible trip. As a foreigner living in Iceland, I have all the tips and tricks to make your vacation in Iceland unforgettable. I made all the mistakes so you don't have to! My years of traveling around Iceland will help you get the most out of your trip! I hope these help you settle in like a local.
The Ring Road, also known as Highway 1 goes around the entire Island. The route is 1323 km (822 miles). This makes for a great road trip to see a lot of the country. Don't forget to venture off side roads so you can explore areas like the Westfjords, Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Reykjanes Peninsula, and the Golden Circle.
This is Iceland's capital, meaning "smokey bay." Iceland has a population of only 370,000 and two thirds of the population of Iceland live in the capital region. The downtown is small and quaint. There are many amazing restaurants and museums to explore in Reykjavik.
The official language of Iceland is Icelandic, but you will have no trouble getting by using English. Nearly everyone in Iceland speaks perfect English. Road signs and menus might be a bit difficult to read but most places have menus in English if you just ask. Here are some useful phrases to learn before coming to Iceland: Góðan Daginn: Good Day , Takk Fyrir: Thank you, Bless Bless: Bye Bye
Iceland sits on the edge of the Gulf Stream so winter temperatures are colder here than you'll find in New York or Toronto. Winter temperatures can range from 14-32°F (-10-0°C) depending on where you are in the country. The summer time can get up to around 68°F (20°C) but the average temperatures are 50°-59°F (10°C - 15°C) and you'll find Icelanders basking in the sun at cafes and beaches every chance they get. It is also important to note that the weather can change quickly in Iceland.
The weather in Iceland is unpredictable in every season. It is important to always be prepared, especially for the hurricane force winds that are normal to Icelanders. I can't suggest enough to ALWAYS check the weather at www.vedur.is several times a day. It's also good to know that Iceland has many weather systems so if it's sunny in Reykjavik, it could be snowing on the south coast. There is a saying in Icelandic that goes "If you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes" and it couldn't be more true!
Water from the tap is fresh and filtered from the glaciers, it is pure, clean, and tasty. There is no need to buy bottled water when you're in Iceland. You may notice that sometimes the hot water smells like rotten eggs. This is due to the sulfur and the abundance of geothermal energy in Iceland. Icelanders have harnessed it to heat their homes. Don't worry, but the smell will not affect your hair or clothes.
You won't need bulky snow pants or snow boats in Iceland, but you will want to pack lots of layers - even in the summer. A good quality rain and wind proof jacket will make sure your adventures are not ruined by the weather. Good boots (like waterproof hiking boots) and wind/rain pants are highly recommended. Even if you get sunny skies, there are many beautiful waters to explore which can get you super wet as they are very big! Don't forget to pack a bathing suit and towel for all the hot springs!
Tip: if you forget or need any more clothing while you are in Iceland, Icewear stores are located all around the country and have affordable outdoor gear.
Electricity in Iceland is 220 volts, the same as in Europe. Remember to pack an adapter for outlets if you are coming from other countries like the US or Canada
Iceland is fully 5G capable. You'll find wifi almost everywhere in the country. I suggest using an eSIM app like Truphone or Holafly. They have different affordable options for fast data. You could also purchase a WIFI hotspot from your rental car or campervan company. Alternatively you could purchase a prepaid data SIM card from an Icelandic Mobile company like NOVA or SIMINN from their stores or many gas stations.
You will likely be visiting Iceland to enjoy the unique nature, which Icelanders are very proud of. Please remember that Iceland's delicate landscapes can take decades or even centuries to recover from misuse. Please do not collect rocks into piles, walk on or pick up the moss, drive off road (this is illegal) - even if it looks like someone else did before you.
You'll notice that there aren't too many signs, fences, or other barriers around nature. Icelanders trust you to use your common sense. If you see or hear a warning it is there for a good reason. Do not step over ropes that are blocking an area. Hot springs can be dangerously hot. Rocks near waterfalls can be slippery, and the ocean can be deceptively calm. Follow all local advice. Fences are usually put in place to keep sheep or horses from escaping, if there are ever steps or a gate over a fence, along with a path, feel free to take it! It will probably lead somewhere cool.
From mid-May through early August, it never gets fully dark. The midnight sun is an incredible experience to witness. From November through January, golden hour shines all day over the country for 3-5 hours each day. Check Iceland daylight hours here.
The northern lights can be spotted from September - mid April, but they have been observed as early as August. To find the northern lights just find clear skies away from any big lights. Check out my Northern Lights Tips for more information on how you can find the Northern Lights in Iceland.
If you are looking to purchase any alcohol for your trip, my recommendation is to stop at duty free. Alcohol in Iceland is owned by the government and the tax is quite high. The prices in the airport are nearly HALF the price at the alcohol stores around Iceland. As you can imagine that's quite expensive. The alcohol stores in Iceland are called VINBUÐIN , and they are few and far between in the countryside and also have strict and varying opening hours.
The Icelandic Krona (ISK) is used in Iceland. I personally never have cash on me. Iceland is very well equipped, Apple Pay and all major credit cards are accepted everywhere (please note American Express does not work in Iceland). Most Icelanders don't even carry around a wallet because their ID can also be kept in their smart phone wallet. Don’t forget to let your credit card and banks know you will be traveling in Iceland so they don’t shut your card off!
Grocery stores can be found all over the country, there is usually at least one in every town in the countryside Bonus (budget store), Kronan, Netto, Hagkaup (similar to a small Walmart but more expensive than the other stores)
In Iceland, we drive on the right side of the road. Many cars are manual but all rental companies have automatic options as well. Be careful when driving around the city as there are many roundabouts and in Iceland. Please note the INSIDE lane has the right of way. When driving around the country be aware of sheep and other animals that tend to wander into the road. In the winter time, the roads can also be slick or snowy, but all cars are equipped with winter tires in these times.
Blue Car Rental accepts all foreign drivers’ licenses as long as they are valid and in English or Latin Characters.
Gas is expensive in Iceland, coming in at around $8-9 USD/gallon. Blue Car Rental provides a discount pass for some gas stations in Iceland. The main stations are N1, Olis or ÓB, Orkan
There is no need to tip at restaurants in Iceland as the staff are paid very fairly and generously. It is not necessary to tip your guide but it is often done and not considered offensive.
Iceland truly is a bucket list destination for adventure travelers and nature lovers. Iceland has something for everyone, solo travelers, honeymooners, and families with kids!
Check out my itineraries for more detailed planning, including the best places to stay, Restaurants to try , an interactive map, and hidden gems all over Iceland.
Don't see what you need? Submit for a personalized itinerary , and I'll tailor to fit all your needs! I'm so excited for your trip to Iceland :)