Iceland is extraordinarily beautiful and unique, almost otherworldly. You need to visit! But before you book your ticket and start dreaming of waterfalls, glaciers and adorable Icelandic Horses, check out my 11 Best Travel Tips for Iceland.
Read these 11 Travel Tips to help ensure that your trip to Iceland is phenomenal.
I LOVE Iceland. I love it so much that I have been there five times (and am still dreaming about returning). The first time was an epic road trip around Iceland with my brother. Followed by three solo trips, and I’ve recently returned from a fabulous mother-daughter adventure. I’ve visited in different seasons, so while I’m not Icelandic, I’ve spent time in this incredible country and am thrilled to share what I’ve learned.
Here are my 11 Best Travel Tips for Iceland!
This page contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you purchase through my links (at no extra cost to you). I ONLY recommend companies and products that I have personally used, love, and trust.
Don’t be afraid to Travel Solo
I adore solo travel. Okay, I don’t always love eating alone, but if you’ve ever dreamed of a solo trip, here’s that little nudge you need. Go to Iceland!
According to the Global Peace Index, Iceland is the safest country in the world. It’s also easy to navigate. The main highway, the Ring Road that encircles the country, is, for the most part, only two lanes. You’re more likely to see a flock of sheep than another car.
Best of all, Iceland is the land of magical moments. You don’t need anyone to be totally enthralled by the Northern Lights. Or how about taking a hike that ends with a dip in a steaming thermal river? And I’ll never forget watching a pod of Orcas swim past while I stood on the shore beneath a snow-capped volcano.
If you’ve EVER dreamed of a solo trip, safe and beautiful Iceland is the perfect place to start.
When is the Best Time to Visit?
Iceland is a stunner at any time of year. But every season has its pros and cons. My top travel tip for Iceland is to visit in the FALL.
September and October are ideal months to travel to Iceland:
- There’s lots of daylight to explore and take pictures.
- Iceland’s moss-covered lava fields are transformed into an autumnal shade of rust.
- Late September to late March is also prime time for the Northern Lights.
November is perfect if you like a cozier, slower vibe:
- Shorter days mean you can sleep in and still snag a sunrise photo at 10 am.
- However, your planning needs to be a bit more thoughtful, as the sun sets around 4:30 pm, which limits how much you can see and do in a day.
- Early November twilight brings out the Christmas lights that Icelanders string up to beat back the encroaching darkness.
Winter in Iceland:
- Winter is a beautiful time to visit Iceland, but the main drawback is not the cold but the limited hours of daylight.
- Surprisingly, winter in Reyvkvik isn’t as cold as you might think. The average low from December to February is -2°Celsius or 28°Fahrenheit.
- But Iceland’s North Atlantic location means that winter is dark. It’s dark out more than light, limiting how much of Iceland’s natural beauty you can get out and see.
- Despite the darkness, I’m tempted to spend Christmas in Iceland. They don’t have just one Santa but 13 Yule Lads, plus Christmas beer and a Yule Cat.
Summer has the best weather and biggest crowds:
- Tourist sites, especially in the Golden Circle, will be crowded.
- You’ll need to book everything well in advance to avoid disappointment.
- By best weather, I don’t mean hot. If you hit 20°Celcius or 68°Fahrenheit in July, you’ve found yourself in an Icelandic heat wave.
- The limitless daylight means that you could theoretically travel and tour 24 hours a day and visit a stunning waterfall at 2 am for an Instagram-worthy photo without any other tourists.
- But you’ll need to pack an eye mask if you want to get any sleep.
What to Pack
In Iceland, the weather is always changing. You might wake up to snowflakes and dark skies, but the day ends with a glorious golden sunset. Since you never know what to expect weatherwise, dressing in layers is the ultimate Iceland travel tip.
Layers are essential, even in the summer, because Iceland rarely gets warm and is never hot. Here are my five must-pack items, regardless of the time of year that you plan to visit.
- Waterproof Outer Layer: Ideally, with a hood because it will rain.
- Comfortable Boots: Hiking boots are a great option, although I prefer Blundstones. I love their versatility. I wear my Blundstones to hike during the day and pair them with a dress and black tights for dinner. Just remember to douse them with waterproof spray pre-trip.
- Bathing Suit: Icelanders have a “pool culture,” which means they love to soak and chat in the warm waters of their neighbourhood swimming pool. So take a dip at the local pool, head to a thermal spa or hike to a natural geothermic pool or river.
- Bight & Colourful Fleece: While fleece adds a cozy layer of warmth, a bright pink or red one photographs well against Iceland’s dramatic landscape.
- Water Bottle: Iceland has some of the cleanest water in the world, right out of the tap. So, there’s no need to buy bottled water. Bring your own bottle and fill it up before you head out for the day.
Don’t trust the weather report or even what you see out the window. Always expect some wind, which can make a pleasant temperature feel drastically colder.
The wind makes umbrellas useless. But I’ve found that layers help. I always keep a hat and mitts in my purse for extra protection. And take hot chocolate breaks, which isn’t exactly a hardship.
Buy your Booze at the Airport
Iceland has some unique and tasty spirits that I’d highly recommend sampling. But plan ahead because taxes on alcohol are high. Within Iceland, alcohol sales are limited to bars and restaurants and the state-run Vinbudin, which sells beer, wine and liquor from 11 am to 6 pm and is closed on Sundays.
The cheapest option is to buy your alcohol at the airport duty-free. You’ll have to walk through the Keflavik Duty-Free on your way to the luggage carousel. Prices here are approximately half of what you’d pay in town at the Vinbudin.
But what to try? One of my favourites is the 64° Reykjavik Distillery. This family-run micro-distillery forages local berries and botanicals to make delicious handcrafted liquors.
I’m a fan of their Lundey Puffin Style Blue Gin, named after the island where puffins nest and live from May to September. The blue gin named in their honour turns a pretty pink hue with the addition of tonic.
Angelica Pink Gin is created by mixing Icelandic botanicals like juniper and angelica with crowberries, bilberries, red current and arctic thyme. If you are a gin and tonic fan, this one is for you!
Also love their Blueberry Liquor. It’s a deep, purply blue and has an intense blueberry flavour. It is delicious drizzled-over vanilla ice cream.
How to get to Reykjavik
The easiest way to get to Reykavik is by Flybus. You can book online in advance. Or they have a ticket desk right at the arrivals exit. The buses are waiting outside the front door. It couldn’t be easier. The Flybus will head to Reykjavik’s bus station, where you’ll be put onto minibuses to take you to your hotel.
Taxis are the most expensive option, but they might make sense if travelling with 3+ people.
You don’t need a car in Reykjavik, and parking is limited but not impossible. If you want a rental car to explore the rest of Iceland after you’ve spent some time in Reykavik, suggest you rent at Blue Car’s Reykavik office near the harbour. You can return the vehicle to the airport at the end of the trip.
Where to Stay In Reykjavik
In terms of capital cities, Reykjavik is tiny and totally walkable. Pretty much everything you’d want to see is a few minutes walk away.
Recommend that you spend no more than a night or two here. But book in Reykjavik’s small downtown versus a suburb.
My favourite travel tip for Iceland or really anywhere is to stay near an iconic site to help guide you back to your hotel. In Reykjavik, it’s Hallgrímskirkja. This stunning church sits atop a hill and is an easy landmark to spot from anywhere in the city.
Since Iceland is expensive, I prefer staying in basic but clean guesthouses and then splurging on seeing the sights. Here are a few places that I’ve stayed and would recommend.
Snorri’s Guesthouse is just downhill from Hallgrímskirkja and away from the noise of the main shopping streets. The rooms are basic, and the price includes breakfast.
Sunna Guesthouse is my favourite. I’ve stayed here multiple times. It’s not fancy, the rooms are simple, but the beds have cozy duvets, and it’s always spotless. Every floor has a small kitchen. Plus, they offer a good breakfast, and if you’re lucky, your room might have a view of Hallgrímskirkja across the street.
Blue House B&B is just outside the central core and great if you have a car. We stayed here on our last night before heading back to the airport. The owners provide a lot of thoughtful touches and information and will even hook you up with a Northern Lights-Spotting WhatsApp group.
You don’t need Cash
In Iceland, everyone accepts payments by card. Even tipping the tour guide can be done by card. Of course, you can get some Icelandic kroner, but it’s not necessary.
Tipping isn’t Expected
The waitstaff will never say no to a tip, but it’s not expected. So if you had exceptional service, by all means, give a little extra, but the service is covered in the bill.
Shop at Bonus and Kronan
When in Iceland, you’ll need to determine where you want to spend and where to splurge. Great food is part of what makes any trip memorable. And Reykjavik has wonderful restaurants, especially if you love fish and lamb.
The best travel tip to save money while in Iceland is to shop at their discount grocery markets, Bonus with its bright yellow signs, pink pig logo, and the smiley Kronan.
You’ll find locations of both throughout the country, and the prices are very reasonable. The above accommodation suggestions also provide access to small kitchens, so it’s great to stock up on food, snacks and Skyr, which is thick and delicious Icelandic yogurt.
I’m a fan of tours and love the extra insights I get from a local guide. But Iceland is an easy country to navigate on your own, even solo.
While many people use Reykavik as a base to take tours from, this can be costly. Tours leave early, and the day is long even to do the nearby Golden Circle. A day tour to Jökulsárlón, the incredible glacier lagoon on Iceland’s southern coast, is a 14-hour day; 10 hours will be spent on the bus.
I’d rather drive and make little stops at all the places along the way that take my breath away.
A couple of travel tips for seeing Iceland outside of Reykjavik:
- Iceland has photo radar, so while you’ll likely never see a police car, you might still get a ticket if you’re not careful.
- Book your accommodations in advance.
- Most towns are small, and the town hub might be the gas station, where you’ll eat dinner and pick up a few groceries.
- Travel with a bag of carrots to feed the friendly Icelandic horses.
I hope this advice has been helpful so you can start planning your trip to Iceland. And if you want to discover more, check out my Perfect Day in Reykjavik Itinerary.