Basic Information On Traveling Iceland

Iceland Mini Travel Guide

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Everything you need to know for your trip to the land of fire and ice.

Throughout this Iceland mini travel guide, we will provide you with an overview of all the basic information you might need for planning your trip to the land of fire and ice. You will also find links to our in-depth articles about everything you might be interested in further so that you will hopefully leave 'Dear Heima' with the advice and info you've been seeking. If not, you can always shoot us an email or reply to our newsletter so that we know what other topics to cover in the future. 🙂 At the end of this mini guide, you will also find a list of more extensive guides about 'Hot pots and hot springs of Iceland', 'Wild camping in Iceland', 'Insider tips on saving money on your trip to Iceland', 'Iceland outdoor activities' and even more.

1. What do you have to know and keep in mind traveling to Iceland?

    • It definitely makes sense to quickly check if one of Iceland's 31 currently active volcanoes is showing signs of unrest. You can get such information on en.vedur.is under the “volcanic eruptions” section.
    • To be safe, check some Icelandic news sites before your trip (like Iceland Monitor) to be aware of which forces of nature might cause you trouble (when there is a storm forecast lots of roads will close down and you might have to reschedule some of your stops and overnight stays.)
    • If you want to pay Iceland a visit in winter then you should rent a 4x4. Especially in the eastern part of the country, the roads are still partly gravel and the snow can be massive. Traveling around the island in a caravan is dangerous in winter, and we would advise against it.
    • If you are from Europe you don't need a power adapter – you do need a European one if you are visiting from for example the States, though.
    • No vaccinations needed.
    • Citizens of the EEA don't have to have any kind of visa just their passports (has to be valid for at least three months after your stay) and are allowed to stay in the country up to three months without any registration whatsoever. If you are from other countries than in most cases getting a visa isn't a struggle.
    • Almost everyone speaks English so you can travel the country easily without speaking any Icelandic.
    • Iceland is all year round Greenwich Mean Time (UTC+0). There is no daylight saving time clock changes.
    • Bringing your pet is a problem. There are incredibly strict guidelines and your darling will have to stay at home during your vacation.
    • Make sure to get a proper travel health insurance before you leave – you can't get one while already traveling.
    • You can get maps of Iceland for free at all tourist information and most gas stations.
    • Your cellphone will have perfect signal almost everywhere on the island - only when roaming the highlands you might be cut off from civilization, completely. All township over 200 inhabitants are covered by GSM. The Icelandic phone companies are Siminn, Vodafone, TAL and NOVA and they all offer phone-cards – just in case you don't have Internet and telephone service abroad covered in your contract. You can buy said phone-cards at all manned gas stations of the country.
    • If you are coming to Iceland for horseback riding then there's also a few things you have to keep in mind. It is not allowed to bring used leather riding equipment and even if it isn't leather it has to be disinfected and you will have to be able to prove so. Similar rules apply to fishing gear. Make sure to get all necessary information if you want to bring any kind of equipment to Iceland. (You can easily do so via the Federal Foreign Office.)
    • You might want to study the custom regulations in any case. The amount of alcohol you are allowed to bring is extremely limited, foods are only permitted up to three kg (and absolutely no raw meat of any sorts) and tobacco is also strictly regulated.

2. Suggested trip length and season for an unforgettable stay.

Both highly depends on what you want to do and see and what other preferences you have.

 

    • If you want to go camping then definitely go between June and end of August
    • If you are longing for Northern Lights then November to early March is your season
    • If you want to see an ice cave then winter is the right time for that
    • If you want to go blueberry picking then August is just your time
    • You can hike from April until late October
    • You can ski almost all year around (but November until April is the season of snow)
    • If you are interested in wildlife like puffins and whales then April until September is when you should go
  • If you want to see the arctic lupines in full bloom then make sure you travel the country end of June/beginning of July

 

In our opinion, you should at least stay for a week to get a good impression on what Iceland has to offer. We don't really recommend traveling to Iceland in March/April/May since those three months can be really nasty weather-wise but other than that: all year round is a good time to travel to Iceland! The summer is filled with endless daylight and therefore endless possibilities. The winter is just magical. When the sun hits the snow the entire country glitters and sparkles. The sunsets are breathtaking, up to two hours the sky turns into a humongous rainbow. When the Northern Lights are painting the landscape green during the longs nights then trust us: it's a sight you will never forget.

If you are looking for further information on what you can do when traveling Iceland ...

... then you might wanna check out our extensive and utmost comprehensive 'Iceland Outdoor Activities - what to do in Summer / Winter (and in between)'. Find everything from outdoor fun that doesn't cost you a penny to the craziest and best tours you can possibly book, festivals to attend, food to try and cultural events to be a part of, right over here:

3. Icelandic Krona and paying on the island

The currency in Iceland is the Icelandic Krona. €1 equals 124,4ISK, $1 = ISK105,7 and £1=ISK141,7 – but since that fluctuates a lot we highly suggest installing the OANDA app on your phone to always be able to check the recent exchange rate.

You will hardly need any cash in Iceland since you can pay almost everything (pharmacy, restaurant, parking tickets, shopping) with a credit card – even at kiosks, bakeries and the candy floss booth at the street festival. Some souvenir shops even accept foreign currencies like Euro, Pound, and Dollar. Probably the only time you will ever need cash is when taking the public transportation in Reykjavik (if you don't get your ticket in advance). If you do prefer cash anyways then we would recommend exchanging money at the airport in Iceland since that most likely costs less than doing it in your country or withdraw what you need at some ATM (in this case you might want to ask your bank in advance what cost exactly that means for you). When you pay and the card reader asks if you want to pay in your currency or Krona then make sure to click Krona since that means less cost for you.

Icelanders pay their gas directly at the pump which might not always work with your international credit card. IF it works then you will need your PIN so make sure you memorize it. In case it doesn’t the huge stations have a counter at which you can pay and you will have to go in first, name the amount you want to spend and the pump you are using and after paying you can fill up your tank. (Beware, though, that as soon as you leave the big cities most stations do not have a shop and/or service personnel.) So, if you intend to leave the main roads make sure to get a gasoline charge card which works on all unmanned pumps.

4. Weather and daylight myths

The weather in Iceland is as wild as the country.

It's often windy, sometimes even damn stormy. In winter, there can be massive snowfall. There are calm and sunny days during the whole year as well, of course. We hardly ever witnessed week-long rain, most of the time the weather is rather constantly changing or as a famous saying in Iceland puts it: If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait five minutes.

 

It isn’t as cold as you might think. If you look at climate charts then you see average temperatures which give you a wrong idea of what the weather actually is like. Summer is a real lottery – one day it can be up to sunny 20°C, the next down to chilly 10°C, again. In winter, the temperatures can be best compared to the ones in Berlin (around 0°C) – but you might experience harsh gusts which make it feel way colder than it actually is. Cold season is unarguably longer than in other parts of the world, though and lasts until the end of May/beginning of June. There is no spring like you might know it or let's rather rephrase it this way: after winter comes spring, and then we are straight back to autumn. Summer (by definition) you won't find in the land of fire and ice.

The best page to check the weather would be the Icelandic site en.vedur.is but keep in mind that the forecast is only reliable for the day. So you best check every morning and then plan the day accordingly - that way you are (relatively) save.

 

Just like with the weather conditions there is another myth we want to bring to light: we do not have a polar night in Iceland. The shortest days in December and January are four hours of daylight but it's dawning quite a while (same for dusk). In January, the amount of daylight starts increasing up to 10mins per day. So within a month, we gain back an hour of daylight which indeed makes quite the difference. You should be aware, though that the daylight in winter is still limited and plan your trips accordingly.

5. How do I best travel to Iceland?

There are two ways to travel to Iceland. Via plane and via ferry.

  • There is one single line called Smyrilline plying between Hirtshals, Denmark, and Seyðisfjörður, East-Iceland (with a stop in Tórshavn, Faroe Islands) which is quite expensive with up to €900 per person.
  • You have a way bigger selection when it comes to planes and it is also cheaper. We recommend to check out the WOWair offers on their website. You can score a round-ticket for a great price. That means hand luggage only, standard seating and no catering, though – make sure to book that extra. When you can and wanna spend your bucks you can opt for a rather luxurious flight in the Icelandair Saga Class.
  • Various airlines are heading to Keflavik during summer (most of them start flying out the end of May/beginning of June and stop mid of September) - in winter it's down to the two Icelandic airlines WOWair and Icelandair.
  • You always land in Keflavik which is around 45mins away from Reykjavik. Even though Reykjavik and Akureyri (and a few more places) have a city airport they are mainly used for inland flights and for passengers traveling to the Faroe Islands and Greenland.
  • In order to get from Keflavik airport to your accommodation and you didn’t rent a car you will have to use the FlyBus. A ticket for the FlyBus costs €25 and is for both ways. A cab would cost you around €100 for one way so that's basically nonsense. The buses are going all day and there is always enough space for everyone arriving. If you pay additional ISK2.500 the bus will even take you straight to your hotel. If you are staying in an Airbnb and there is a hotel/hostel close by then just name that one to the driver (or when booking your ticket) in order to get as close to your stay as possible. You can pre-book your ticket here: CLICK! but you can also just buy them either on the plane or at the desk at the Keflavik airport. Besides the FlyBus there's a company called Gray Line Buses which costs the same and is equally good. Going to Reykjavik by car is super easy and can be done without navigation since it's one single road to follow and there are signs, everywhere.

6. Renting a car in Iceland

We always suggest pre-booking when renting a car in Iceland and to do so two to four months in advance. Rather, opt for Icelandic rentals (Geysir Cars or Route 1, even cheaper would be Budget Cars and if you go for a 4x4 then Cheap Jeep is a good option) since they tend to be less cost-intensive than Hertz and co. at the counters at the airport. If you want to do a little research and compare some prices then Guide to Iceland is a great site to do so.

  • If you go for a jeep you pay about €100/$120 a day, a regular car will be less expensive (with the absolute cheapest you can get being somewhat around €40/$50 a day). Real big jeeps can be up to €250/$300 a day. Insurances cost around 15-€20/20-$25 a day and a second driver is not necessarily included. In summer, you will most likely pay twice what you would pay in winter. The price of gas varies but all in all, it's similar to European prices with around ISK200 the liter.
  • If you definitely want to go see the highlands then make sure you opt for an all-wheel drive or, even better, a jeep.
  • Be aware that a lot of Icelandic roads are so-called F-roads (dirt/gravel roads) and that it is forbidden to drive them with a regular car.
  • In late autumn and winter, you will have very limited access to even the regular roads and might literally be stuck without a 4x4.
  • Usually, we aren't the ones to book every single insurance available but if you don't in Iceland then it might actually cost you A LOT of money – nature is unpredictable here.
  • If you want to rent a car in Iceland you have to at least be 21 years old (some accept 20-year-old drivers). To rent a jeep you have to be at least 23, sometimes 25. In every case, you have to at least have your license for a year to be able to get a car. You don't need an international drivers license if you own a license issued by the USA, Canada or European Economic Area. Otherwise, an international license would be recommended.
  • The traffic laws are similar to European countries. You drive on the right side of the road and overtake on the left. In a roundabout, the inner circle has priority, though. The speed limit in populated areas is 30 – 50 km/hour, on the ring road (which would be the Icelandic “highway”) it's 90 km/hour and on gravel roads it's 80 km/hour but you will probably drive somewhere around 40 – 50 km/hour on such roads since they can be super difficult to drive. Driving after enjoying alcohol is strictly prohibited and very (!) expensive if you get stopped by the police. Also, off-road driving is illegal!
  • Especially in winter ALWAYS check out the road conditions. Go to road.is – on their homepage you can always check which roads are inaccessible but you might also want to call their service number and ask about what they recommend you do and when you can expect the roads to open up, again.

If you are looking for further information on this topic ...

... then you might wanna check out our complete guide on renting a car in Iceland and staying safe in the land of fire and ice, right over here:

7. Traveling Iceland without a car

Public transportation

You only have to brave the bus schedule and make sure to carry some cash then you won't have any issues to explore Reykjavik and the greater Reykjavik area by bus. On strætó.is you will find all the schedules and the route network of the entire country, they also have an app for buying tickets and brochures and maps to take with you. A single ticket costs ISK440 and is valid on all buses in every direction for 75 minutes. If you plan on staying in Reykjavik for a little longer than you might want to think about getting a 9-rides-ticket (around €24 / $28) or a one-month-ticket (around €75 / $88).

Cabs are affordable but still more expensive than on the European mainland. (If you're in need of a cab, this is the number you would have to call: +354 5885522. You can reach them at all times and everyone speaks perfect English!)

Domestic Flights

Domestic Flights leave from Reykjavik city airport, only - not from Keflavik. They mainly go to Akureyri (capital of the north), Egilsstaðir (the biggest town in the east) and Ísafjörður (in the western fjords). There furthermore are Air Iceland planes (Airiceland) leaving for Greenland and the Faroe Islands, Eagle Air (Eagleair) is heading towards Höfn (down south) and the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar).

Motor coaches

There are various vehicles traveling the country, stopping at well-known tourist attractions and driving from one small town to the next – if you indeed want to go around the island you can only do so in summer, though. (Same for the highlands.)

Buses traveling the highlands are operated by Reykjavik Excursions – which by now offer bus passes for several passages and specific tours like southern part, main touristic highlights or highlands.

Sternatravel offers round trips or to the western/eastern half of the country.

Motor coaches are usually the cheaper way to travel the country compared to renting a car but of course, you are bound to the schedules. They do have card-reader units, but we would suggest booking in advance, if possible.

(Car) Ferries

(Car) ferries are connecting Iceland mainland to the Westman Islands, Grímsey, and Hrísey and will also get you to the Westfjords. In summer, you can travel to Hornstrandir (the westernmost point of Iceland) by ferry. You can find a lot of information about all the ferries and providers here: Herjolfur // Seatours // Westtours

8. Accommodation

There are various options of where you can stay: hostels, hotels, Cabins, AirBnB, Camping, camper vans and Couchsurfing. There literally is no such thing as a cheap hotel or hostel – compared to every other place in the world.

  • There are beautiful, modern, well-equipped hotels all over the island, with places like Hotel Borg or the Tower Suites (both Reykjavik), Hotel Rangá (south), Deplar Farm (north) and the Fosshotel at Lake Mývatn (also north) being especially amazing. So if you have the budget you can go all in and indulge in luxurious stays. If you look for a beautiful apartment to rent then Room with a view, and Apartment K are very recommendable.
  • You can also find hostels all over the country. Kex hostel in downtown Reykjavik is the most famous but also the most expensive of them. You might want to check out HI hostel, instead which offers 30 unique locations and affordable stays all over Iceland and supports sustainable and responsible tourism! Go to Hostelworld to find an overview of all available hostels in Iceland and can compare prices, room options etc.
  • Renting a cabin in Iceland is easy – You can book cabins through various platforms (next to AirBnB) like Bungalo (an Icelandic company) or Homeaway where you can find everything from tiny cabins to luxurious houses in the countryside.
  • Last but not least you have the option of couch-surfing in Iceland. Especially young people love to connect with visitors from all over the world and are willing to let you crush for a night or two. If that sounds interesting, then check couchsurfing.com/iceland.

If you want to book via AirBnB but you're not having an account, yet then make sure to sign in via our link. That way you get €21 signed onto your account which you can use straight for your first booking.

9. (Wild) camping in Iceland

Not too long ago it was absolutely no problem to camp wherever you felt like it but with the massive increase in tourists, you will now have to camp on public campgrounds. In many places, it is officially forbidden to put up your tent, in others, you might still do so but could very well get into a lot of trouble with the farmers. We would advise all camping fans to plan your trips around public campsites and only camp wild if you are lost somewhere in the wilderness or have the explicit permission of the land's owner. Caravans that are self-sufficient can basically park wherever for the night (parking lots, not nature, of course). There are quite a few places to clear out your toilets around the country, as well.

Staying at a campground costs somewhat between €10 – €20, but we recommend buying the camping card! 41 campgrounds in Iceland are participating by now and you get an additional card on top which lets you save money when taking gas at one of the Orkan gas stations (the pink ones). You have to pay a special tax at every campsite in Iceland (which is around 80 cents) but they will charge per card and not per person (a card is valid for two adults and up to four kids /one tent / a camper or a caravan). The card can be used during the summer season which is from May 15th to September 15th. You are paying €149 ($180) for the season – it doesn't get any cheaper than this when traveling Iceland. Of course, Iceland has way more than those 41 campsites and you will easily find places to stay for the night. It is not necessary to book a spot in advance, but we would make sure to give them a call to make sure before you stop by.

If you go to tjalda.is you will find all the information you might seek and a map that includes all campgrounds.

Another thing that we consider 'good to know' is that we seriously suggest to only go camping during the summer season. Winter in Iceland is not just cold, it is also quite windy and dark, with lots of roads not being maintained, most campsites closed. High season for tents and camper vans is beginning of June to end of August (May and October are doable, as well!).

Don't park your van on the sensitive moss as it will never recover from that damage. Don't do your business into the ocean and even throw paper on top – that's disgusting and unnecessary.

10. Grocery shopping

Most shops and grocery stores in Iceland are open seven days a week which (obviously) includes Sunday. There are no regularized shop hours so you always have to check when the stores are closing. In general, you could say that during the summer months the stores will most likely be open from 09:00 am to 06:00 pm.

Just like everywhere, there are expensive but also cheaper supermarket chains. 10/11 which you will mostly find downtown is also called ‘the tourist trap’ because it is ridiculously overpriced. Hagkaup also is a little more cost intensive but best when it comes to fresh fruit, veggies, and bread. A little less expensive are Krónan and Nettó (they both have a really nice assortment of health food, eco-choices, and vegan options) and cheapest would be Bonus – the store with the funny pig as a logo. Beware that in some stores the price tags are electronic. During high season and when the place is really crowded prices might suddenly climb up to €4(!). Best would be to shop in the morning and to avoid the stores downtown.

You can’t buy alcohol in any supermarket (don’t be fooled, the cans of beer are alcohol-free). If you are looking for some Viking ale or a nice wine you have to stop by a place called Vínbúd which has very inconvenient opening hours. (11 am to max 8 pm during the week, on Saturdays they close somewhat between 2 and 6 pm, depending on the location and Sundays they are closed, completely.)

You DON’T need to buy any water! The cold water from the tap is of the highest quality and purer than almost everywhere on this planet. Make sure to drink the cold one, though – it is cleaner plus the warm water smells like sulfur in some places and tastes reaaaaaally awful. Just always bring your bottle and refill it.

If you are looking for more information on camping in Iceland ...

... find every single detail and information you might seek regarding regulations, prices of campgrounds and how to save some serious money, right over here:

If you are looking for further information on the food topic ...

...we wrote an extensive guide. Find every single detail and information you might seek about where to eat in Reykjavik (especially as a vegetarian/vegan) and where to best shop for food supplies, right over here:

11. Health insurance, doctors and pharmacies

If your insurance card has the EU stars on the back that means that you are covered in case of emergency while traveling the European Union and Iceland, as well. With such card, you can claim ambulant and stationary treatment but there can always come up unexpected issues and you really are better off with an additional travel health insurance. It's cheap(-ish) and saves you a lot of nerves and problems in case something happens.

If you are in search of some specific pills/creams/drops then look out for stores named Apótek or Heilsuhúsið – those are open during the regular shopping hours but of course, there also are some emergency pharmacies open during the night.

If you have to see a doctor during your stay in Iceland you should go to a so-called health center. Of course, the hospitals also do have an ER. The latter only applies to bigger towns, though and is not granted in the tiny villages and remote farms. If you leave the main roads (especially when headed to the highlands) then you should definitely take an emergency medical set with you. If anything serious happens there is a rescue service which can get you via ambulance or even helicopter.

On safetravel.is you can submit – and we suggest doing so if you go out for a several-days-long hike, plan to roam extremely off-grid or go somewhere really remote – your planned trips and tours. If something is happening and you do not have any signal then a patrol will be sent out to get you if you are not back by the date you previously submitted.

12. Winter specific information

You have to be aware that your possibilities are extremely limited from November until the end of March, sometimes April.

  • Camping is as good as impossible.
  • All routes and roads in the highlands are closed.
  • No way you can go for a trek, a bike ride or take your canoe for a spin.
  • When booking a car you have to be sure if Reykjavik and greater Reykjavik area are enough for you or if you are planning on driving further, maybe even around the island. If the latter is the case then a 4x4 is a MUST! Western and eastern fjords should best be avoided during that time since the gravel roads tend to be covered in massive snow and ice, can be closed down once you arrive there and at some point aren't even accessible by huge super jeeps, anymore. If you get an all-wheel drive and plan to take the ring road then stay on top of the road conditions at all times to see if parts of the roads are closed down and what you will be facing weather-wise. You find this information at road.is.
  • We always recommend staying in Reykjavik during winter and to plan a day trip from there.
  • Like mentioned before, the flights are limited to the two Icelandic airlines during winter. There can always be delays due to snow storms so if you book your flight make sure to sign in for the SMS update service to be notified if there are any delays or even cancellations.
  • Since the weather is unpredictable you might feel safer to book a tour if you really want to see something further away or more remote. We don't necessarily suggest booking tours in summer, but we would consider it in winter.

13. What to pack for your trip to Iceland

Bring rain boots, hiking boots and some smart and fancy shoes for when you want to hit the town and an additional pair (snowshoes) in winter. Pack swimwear for your hot pot experience, jeans, and a sweater for the town and some layers in case it gets cold. Also, pack sports clothes for the great outdoors and rain clothes, as well. In summer mix sports and rainwear with comfy pieces, grant yourself the possibility to layer and in winter opt for warm clothes. Beanie and headbands are a must all year, gloves are absolutely necessary during the dark season.

If you are looking for further information on this topic ...

... we created a free mini guide for you, including downloadable packing lists, which gives you an overview of what to bring, what to keep in mind and which clothes we absolutely recommend. Find the guide right over here:

Other articles with useful information about traveling Iceland

have a great trip to the land of fire and ice

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Dear Heima

Dear Heima