Welcome to our comprehensive Iceland travel guide, the Land of Fire and Ice! From breathtaking landscapes to vibrant cultural traditions, this enchanting country has something to offer every wanderlust-filled soul.
In this blog post, we’ve curated essential information and insider tips to help you make the most of your Icelandic journey. Discover fast facts about Iceland, including climate, currency, and cultural etiquette. Explore the best time to visit, highlighting the seasons and festivals that bring this land to life. Uncover top attractions and must-see destinations, ensuring you don’t miss any of Iceland’s natural wonders. And learn about the best ways to get around, from renting a car to utilizing public transportation.
Fast Facts About Iceland
- Climate: Iceland has a cool oceanic climate, characterized by mild summers and winters. Average temperatures in summer range from 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F), while winter temperatures range from -3°C to 2°C (27°F to 36°F). It’s advisable to dress in layers and pack waterproof clothing due to the unpredictable weather.
- Local Currency: The currency in Iceland is the Icelandic Króna (ISK). It’s recommended to carry some cash for smaller establishments, as credit cards are widely accepted. Currency exchange is available at banks and currency exchange offices throughout the country.
- Power Voltage: Iceland operates on 230 volts AC with a frequency of 50 Hz. Visitors from North America and other regions using different voltage systems should bring a voltage converter and plug adapter for their electronic devices.
- Language: The official language of Iceland is Icelandic. However, English is widely spoken, particularly in tourist areas, hotels, and restaurants. You’ll have no trouble communicating with locals during your visit.
- Religion: The majority of Icelanders identify as Lutheran Christians. However, Iceland is known for its religious tolerance, and people are generally accepting of various faiths.
- Safety: Iceland is considered one of the safest countries in the world. However, it’s always recommended to take standard precautions such as securing your belongings, staying aware of your surroundings, and following any local safety guidelines or advisories.
- Cultural Etiquette: Icelandic culture values politeness, respect, and modesty. It’s customary to greet locals with a handshake and maintain eye contact during conversations. Removing your shoes when entering someone’s home is also appreciated.
- Tipping: Tipping is not a common practice in Iceland, as service charges are usually included in the bill. However, if you receive exceptional service, rounding up the bill or leaving a small tip is appreciated.
Best Time to Visit Iceland: Seasons and Festivals
Iceland’s seasons offer unique experiences, and the best time to visit depends on your interests:
- Summer (June to August): This is the peak tourist season, with long daylight hours, mild temperatures, and lush landscapes. It’s perfect for exploring the iconic Ring Road, hiking, and witnessing the Midnight Sun. The Secret Solstice Music Festival in June and the Reykjavik Pride Festival in August are popular events.
- Autumn (September to October): The landscapes are ablaze with vibrant fall colors, making it a picturesque time for photography. It’s also an excellent season for hiking, enjoying hot springs, and witnessing the Northern Lights as the nights grow darker.
- Winter (November to February): Winter in Iceland is synonymous with snow-covered landscapes and the captivating Northern Lights. It’s ideal for activities like glacier hiking, ice cave explorations, and soaking in geothermal pools. The Christmas markets and New Year’s Eve celebrations in Reykjavik are must-see events.
- Spring (March to May): As winter fades away, Iceland’s landscapes come to life with blooming flowers and migrating birds. It’s a great time for birdwatching, visiting waterfalls, and witnessing the beautiful transition from winter to spring. The Reykjavik Arts Festival in May showcases the country’s vibrant arts and culture scene.
Top Attractions and Things to See and Do in Iceland
- The Golden Circle: Explore the famous Golden Circle route, which includes three stunning attractions: Thingvellir National Park, where you can witness the rift between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates; the mighty Gullfoss waterfall, known as the “Golden Falls”; and the geothermal area of Geysir, home to the erupting hot spring Strokkur.
- Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon: Marvel at the breathtaking Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, where massive icebergs float serenely in a glacial lake. Take a boat tour to get up close to the mesmerizing ice formations or walk along the Diamond Beach, where ice chunks glisten like diamonds on the black sand.
- The Blue Lagoon: Indulge in ultimate relaxation at the world-famous Blue Lagoon. Soak in the milky-blue geothermal waters, surrounded by lava fields and steam. The mineral-rich waters are not only soothing but also beneficial for your skin. Treat yourself to a rejuvenating silica mud mask for the ultimate spa experience.
- Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach: Visit the dramatic Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, known for its unique basalt columns, towering cliffs, and powerful waves. Take a walk along the shoreline, but be cautious of the strong currents. Marvel at the stunning rock formations, including the famous Reynisdrangar sea stacks rising from the sea.
- Snæfellsnes Peninsula: Discover the magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula, often referred to as “Iceland in miniature.” It offers diverse landscapes, including stunning coastal cliffs, rugged mountains, charming fishing villages, and the iconic Snæfellsjökull volcano. Explore the Snæfellsjökull National Park and immerse yourself in the mystical atmosphere of this captivating region.
For a cultural adventure tour in Iceland, check out our post:
BEST OF ICELAND travel: Unforgettable Cultural Adventure Tour
The Best Ways to Get Around Iceland
- Renting a Car: Renting a car gives you the freedom to explore Iceland at your own pace. The well-maintained Ring Road (Route 1) provides access to many popular attractions. Make sure to check road conditions, especially during winter, and consider a 4×4 vehicle if you plan to venture off the main roads.
- Public Transportation: Iceland offers a reliable bus network, especially in more populated areas. The Strætó bus system connects major towns and cities, while smaller, specialized bus services cater to popular tourist destinations. Keep in mind that schedules may vary depending on the season, so plan your trips accordingly.
- Guided Tours: Joining guided tours is a convenient way to explore Iceland, especially if you prefer not to drive. Various tour operators offer day trips and multi-day tours that cover popular attractions and provide insightful commentary along the way. Options range from bus tours to specialized tours like glacier hikes and ice cave explorations.
- Domestic Flights: If you’re short on time or want to visit more remote areas, consider taking domestic flights. Iceland has several regional airports that connect to Reykjavik and other destinations. Domestic flights offer stunning aerial views of Iceland’s landscapes and can save you travel time.
Accommodation Tips: Iceland
When it comes to finding accommodation in Iceland, you have several options to suit your preferences and budget:
- Hotels and Guesthouses: Iceland offers a range of hotels and guesthouses, from luxury accommodations to budget-friendly options. Reykjavik, the capital city, has a wide selection, but you’ll also find options in smaller towns. Look for hotels that offer amenities like breakfast, Wi-Fi, and convenient locations for exploring nearby attractions.
- Farm Stays: For a unique experience, consider staying at a traditional Icelandic farm. Many farms offer guesthouse accommodations, giving you the chance to immerse yourself in the rural lifestyle and interact with friendly locals. Enjoy farm-fresh meals and the tranquility of the countryside.
- Camping: If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, camping is a popular and budget-friendly option in Iceland. With its stunning landscapes, camping allows you to fully connect with nature. You’ll find designated campsites throughout the country, complete with facilities like restrooms, showers, and cooking areas.
- Hostels: Hostels provide affordable accommodation and are great for solo travelers or those seeking a social atmosphere. Reykjavik and other major towns have well-equipped hostels with shared dormitories or private rooms. Some hostels even offer communal kitchens, laundry facilities, and organized activities.
- Airbnb and Vacation Rentals: Consider renting an apartment, cabin, or vacation home through platforms like Airbnb. This option allows you to have a home-away-from-home experience and the flexibility to cook your meals. It’s ideal for families or travelers looking for more space and privacy.
Iceland Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Visiting Iceland doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are some money-saving tips to make your trip more budget-friendly:
- Travel during the Shoulder Seasons: Consider visiting Iceland in the shoulder seasons of spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October). These periods offer favorable weather, fewer crowds, and often lower accommodation and flight prices compared to the peak summer season.
- Cook Your Meals: Eating out in Iceland can be expensive. Save money by cooking your meals when possible. If you’re staying in accommodations with kitchen facilities, take advantage of local grocery stores to purchase ingredients and cook your own delicious Icelandic-inspired meals.
- Explore Free Attractions: Iceland boasts numerous natural wonders that don’t require an entrance fee. From stunning waterfalls like Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss to picturesque landscapes in national parks, there are plenty of breathtaking sights that won’t cost you a dime. Research and plan your itinerary to include these free attractions.
- Utilize Public Transportation: Public buses, like the Strætó system, offer an affordable way to get around major towns and cities. Consider using public transportation whenever possible, and plan your day trips around bus schedules to save on rental car costs. You can also explore Reykjavik on foot, as many attractions are within walking distance.
- Take Advantage of Happy Hours: If you’re planning to indulge in a drink or two, look for bars and restaurants that offer happy hour specials. This is a great way to enjoy Icelandic beverages and sample local craft beers without breaking the bank. Keep an eye out for discounted prices on drinks and appetizers during these designated hours.
Culinary Delights and Traditional Cuisine in Iceland
Icelandic cuisine offers a unique blend of traditional dishes influenced by the island’s natural resources. Here are some culinary delights to try during your visit:
- Icelandic Lamb: Iceland’s grass-fed lamb is renowned for its exceptional flavor and tenderness. The sheep roam freely in the pristine Icelandic countryside, resulting in meat that is succulent and full of character. Don’t miss the opportunity to savor lamb dishes like “hangikjöt” (smoked lamb) or “kjötsúpa” (traditional lamb soup).
- Seafood: Being surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean, Iceland offers an abundance of fresh seafood. Try the famous Icelandic delicacy, “harðfiskur” (dried fish), which is a favorite snack among locals. Other popular seafood dishes include “plokkfiskur” (fish stew with potatoes) and “lax” (salmon), which is often prepared in various ways, including smoked or gravlax.
- Skyr: Skyr is a creamy, yogurt-like dairy product that has been a staple in Icelandic cuisine for centuries. It’s high in protein, low in fat, and has a mild, tangy flavor. Enjoy it on its own or try it with fresh berries and a drizzle of Icelandic honey for a delightful breakfast or snack.
- Icelandic Hot Dogs: Don’t miss the opportunity to try an Icelandic hot dog, or “pylsur,” which has achieved legendary status. These hot dogs are typically made from a blend of lamb, pork, and beef, providing a unique taste. Top it with crunchy onions, ketchup, sweet mustard, and remoulade for the perfect flavor combination.
- Rúgbrauð (Icelandic Rye Bread): This dense, dark rye bread is a traditional Icelandic staple. It’s traditionally baked in the ground using geothermal heat, giving it a distinct flavor. Enjoy it with butter, smoked salmon, or as part of a hearty Icelandic breakfast.
Souvenir Ideas: Bringing a Piece of Iceland Home
When visiting Iceland, you’ll find a variety of unique souvenirs that capture the essence of the country. Here are some ideas to help you bring a piece of Iceland home:
- Icelandic Wool Products: Iceland is known for its high-quality wool, and items made from Icelandic wool make excellent souvenirs. Consider purchasing a cozy wool sweater, known as a “lopapeysa,” or opt for smaller items like hats, mittens, or blankets. These handmade items showcase traditional Icelandic knitting patterns and provide warmth for years to come.
- Icelandic Design and Crafts: Explore the local boutiques and galleries for Icelandic design and craftsmanship. Look for ceramics, jewelry, and textiles created by local artists. These unique pieces reflect the natural beauty and creativity of Iceland, allowing you to take a piece of Icelandic artistry home.
- Icelandic Food Products: Bring the flavors of Iceland to your kitchen by purchasing local food products. Look for items like Icelandic sea salt, wild berry jams, or herbal teas made from Icelandic herbs. These culinary delights will allow you to recreate a taste of Iceland long after your trip.
- Volcanic Ash Products: Iceland’s volcanic activity has resulted in an interesting souvenir option – products made with volcanic ash. From volcanic ash soaps and skincare products to lava rock jewelry, these items provide a unique connection to Iceland’s geology and natural wonders.
- Photography and Books: Capture the beauty of Iceland through photography books or postcards. Display these visual treasures in your home as a reminder of your Icelandic adventure. You can also find literature on Icelandic sagas, mythology, or guidebooks that provide further insights into the country’s rich culture and history.