Iceland Travel Guide – Basics and Advice

Seasons

First of all, if you like to explore Iceland, you have to decide in which season.

The high season is from about mid-June to mid-September. During this time, most roads are usually free of snow and most places are accessible. For example, Landmannalaugar, Þórsmörk or Hornstrandir – take a look at the Iceland Travel Guide – Breathtaking Places for more information. Only some highland regions can still or again be impassable, depending on the weather and road conditions. As a result, a lot of travellers visit the country at this time and prices are often more expensive.
Also note that due to Iceland’s location near the Arctic Circle, the day length around the summer solstice (approximately 21st June) can be up to 21 hours. Which means there’s no night between sunset and sunrise, only twilight. The highest temperatures are usually reached in July, with an average during the day of 13.3 °C (55.9 °F) and 8.3 °C (46.9 °F) during the night in Reykjavík. However, a very strong wind is quite normal in Iceland, which is why the perceived temperature is lower. This effect is also known as wind chill.

In the low season, from about November to March, some minor roads in uninhabited areas, as well as the mountain roads in the highlands, are usually closed because of the snow. Nevertheless, Iceland can be quite spectacular. A marvellous winter landscape, partly frozen waterfalls and with some luck, you can observe the Aurora Borealis, also known as Northern Lights, on the night sky. In addition, visiting ice caves at the Vatnajökull glacier is only possible during this time. Take a look at the Iceland Travel Guide – Breathtaking Places for detailed information. Furthermore, fewer travellers usually visit the country in low season and prices are often slightly lower.
In contrast to the very long days in summer, the days in winter can be very short and the nights very long. Around the winter solstice (around December 22), the length of the day is only about 4 hours. Furthermore, the temperatures are lowest in January. The average during the day is 1.9 °C (35.4 °F) and -3 °C (26.6 °F) during the night in Reykjavík. However, the temperatures near the highland regions are lower, with temperatures averaging around -10 °C (14 °C).

Visiting Iceland in April, May or October is of course also possible, but there are some disadvantages. Some minor roads in uninhabited areas, as well as the mountain roads, are probably still or again impassable, depending on the weather conditions, and it’s not safe enough to visit ice caves. However, the autumn colours in October can create a beautiful and melancholy mood before the first snow falls.

In order to calculate the sunrise, sunset and day length for a specific date, use the tables on the website Time and Date.

Weather and Northern Lights

The weather in Iceland is known to change quickly. In addition, a very strong wind is quite normal. Therefore, you should bring appropriate clothing and check the local weather forecast on the website of the Icelandic Meteorological Office (Veðurstofa) at least once in the morning. Possible travel warnings should be taken very seriously.

The Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, can be visible on the night sky from about September to the middle of April. However, the chance increases towards the winter solstice (approximately 22nd December), since the daylight decreases continuously and thus, the nights lasts longer. But even then, there is no guarantee that the Northern Lights will be visible since their activity vary. In addition, an at least partly clear night sky is prerequisite. In order to check both activity and cloud cover, simply take a look at the Aurora forecast on the website of the Icelandic Meteorological Office.

Also important to know is that artificial light deteriorates the view of the night sky. Thus, the view on the Aurora Borealis and the stars is much better in rural areas, with less or no artificial light at all, than near towns. In this regard, the NASA Worldview map is very helpful. This tool shows you the nighttime lights on the entire earth and thus, the places you should avoid in order to watch the Northern Lights and the stars.

Furthermore, the company Icelandair has dedicated an entire website to the Aurora Borealis, with additional information about this marvellous event on the night sky.

Entry Requirements

In order to enter Iceland, there are different requirements depending on your nationality. Citizens of European countries that have signed the Schengen Agreement or associated agreements, can enter Iceland with a passport or a biometric ID card. However, both must be valid for the entire duration of your intended stay. This applies to the following countries:
Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland.

Citizens of the following countries do not need a tourist visa, only a valid passport, which must be valid for at least three months beyond the intended stay. The passport entitles the holder from the date of arrival in Iceland for a stay of up to three months in the entire Schengen Area. This applies to the following countries:
Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Dominica, El Salvador, Georgia, Great Britain, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Romania, Samoa, San Marino, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Taiwan, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City, Venezuela.

Citizens from other countries do need a tourist visa in order to enter Iceland. Take a look at the website of the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration (Útlendingastofnun) for further information in this regard.

Flights

The Keflavík International Airport (KEF) handles all international flights and is located about 50 kilometres (31.1 miles) southwest of the capital Reykjavík. Well known Icelandic airlines that operate from this airport are Icelandair and WOW air.

In order to get to Reykjavík or to the Keflavík International Airport, you can choose between several bus companies. Well-known is the Airport Express of the company Gray Line and the FlyBus of Reykjavík Excursions. Furthermore, you can also use bus 55 of Strætó. The use of a taxi is not recommended since their service is expensive in Iceland.

In addition, domestic flights to several destinations around Iceland are offered by the companies Air Iceland ConnectEagle Air and Norlandair. Flights to the nearby Faroe Islands as well as to several destinations in Greenland, Scotland and Northern Ireland are also possible with Air Iceland Connect.

For scenic flights, take a look at Norðurflug Helicopter Tours in Reykjavík or the company Atlantsflug, which offers flights from the airport in Reykjavík as well as from the runways at Bakki and Skaftafell.

Ferries

Iceland is also accessible by sea. The company Smyril Line International operates a ferry line among Hirtshals (Denmark), Tórshavn (Faroe Islands) and Seyðisfjörður (Iceland) for the entire year. The direct passage from Denmark to Iceland is operated once a week and takes about 47 hours, whereby the transport of a car is also possible.

In addition, there are also some domestic ferry lines that are worth mentioning. The ferry Herjólfur connects the Vestmannaeyjar islands in the south of the country with the harbour Landeyjahöfn or alternatively Þorlakshöfn. The Sævar operates between the island Hrísey and the village Árskógssandur in the north, while the Sæfari connects the island Grímsey with the village Dalvík. And last but not least, the ferry Baldur connects the town Stykkishólmur, on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in the west of Iceland, and harbour at Brjánslækur, in the south of the Westfjords. In addition, this ferry also stops on the island Flatey during in summer.

Basics

Iceland is a marvellous but rather expensive travel destination, like most other Scandinavian countries.

The language is Icelandic, but English is widely spoken. Icelandic news in English can be read on the website of the Iceland Magazine and the Iceland Review.

The “króna” (plural “krónur”) is the currency of Iceland. Payment by credit card is common practice, whereby cash payment is of course also accepted. Credit cards like Visa or Mastercard work almost everywhere in Iceland, but a PIN is indispensable in some places, for instance at self-service petrol stations without staff in rural areas, where you have to pay directly at the petrol pump. An American Express credit card does not work at these stations and is usually only accepted in more expensive hotels and restaurants. Well-known banks are LandsbankinnÍslandsbanki and Arion banki, whereby ATMs can be found in most towns as well as at the Keflavík International Airport. Click on a bank for a list of the respective ATM locations.

Also worth mentioning is that Iceland uses the metric system. Therefore, the information is displayed either in metres (m), kilometres (km), kilometres per hour (km/h) or in litres (l).

The electrical standards are the same as throughout Europe (230V, 50Hz), whereby type F plugs and sockets are used like in Germany, Norway or Sweden. In addition, travellers from North America and some other countries need a travel adapter with a voltage converter.

Iceland is located in time zone UTC±0h, the same as the United Kingdom. However, Daylight Saving Time (DST) is not used.

Water and Food

First of all, the tap water in Iceland is safe to drink. There’s no need to buy bottled water. 

Regarding the purchase of groceries, stores like KrónanNettó or Bónus are rather cheap, while others like Kjarval, Samkaup or 10-11 are rather more expensive. However, the latter sometimes offer better quality, especially in terms of vegetables and fruits. The opening times of grocery stores vary depending on the store and location.

If you like to dine in restaurants, keep in mind that tipping is not common in Iceland. The service and the value-added tax (VAT) is already included in the price.

Public Transport

There are public bus routes to some nature attractions from about mid-June to mid-September, which are operated by the companies Reykjavík Excursions or Sterna Travel (Iceland by Bus). Many of the routes, however, are only served once a day. In addition, the company Strætó connects many towns and villages around Iceland. Also worth mentioning in this matter is the carpooling website Samferða – the Icelandic word for “accompany someone”.

Car Rental

Renting a car is definitely the best way to explore Iceland since this will give you the freedom to explore the entire country in your own time and not just some of the well-known tourist spots with busloads of other tourists. And Iceland offers so much more marvellous nature attractions – take a look at the Iceland Travel Guide – Breathtaking Places for more information.

The requirements for renting a car in Iceland are usually a valid driving license, which must be held for at least one year, and a minimum age of 20 years. For a 4×4 vehicle, the minimum age is 23 years. An International Driving Permit is not necessary unless your driving license does not use the Latin alphabet.

My first recommendation is the company Blue Car Rental, which is located in a building next to the Keflavík International Airport. I have had good experiences with them and the prices are fair for Icelandic standards. In order to learn more about your rights and obligations, read the terms and conditions and the rental agreement completely.

My second recommendation is the company KúKú Campers with their unique campervans. Although their office is located in the town Hafnarfjörður, about 40 kilometres (24.6 miles) east of the Keflavík International Airport, you can request a pick up and drop off at the airport. However, it’s important to know that with a campervan or a similar vehicle, you must use the official campsites in Iceland by law. So overnight stays on public parking lots or along the road are prohibited, unless you have the permission of the rightful landowner. Most campsites open in May or June and close around the end of August or September. The use of a campervan is not recommended between October and April since temperatures can drop below 0 °C (32 °F) at night and storms occur more frequently. See the sections “Weather and Northern Lights” as well as “Camping” for additional information. Furthermore, read the rental terms and conditions completely.

A general note, no matter where you rent a car, always check it thoroughly when picking up. Have the car rental representative make a note of any existing damages in the rental agreement and keep this document in a safe place. In addition, take photos of the rental car to prove the condition at the pickup.

In terms of car insurance, it’s always recommended to book a high insurance cover when driving through a foreign country. The Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) is mandatory for rental cars in Iceland as well as in many other countries. This standard insurance limits the drivers liability in case the car is damaged by certain incidents. Accordingly, the Super Collision Damage Waiver (SCDW) lowers the liability of the driver. The Gravel Protection (GP) covers, as the name suggests, possible damage caused by gravel that can be thrown up by passing cars. This insurance is well worth the money since there are a lot of gravel roads in Iceland. The Sand and Ash Protection (SAAP) is not essential, depending on your travel date and plans. Sand and ash storms can occur along the south coast due to the last eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull as well as in some highland regions from about February to April. These storms can cause great damage to the exterior of a car, so check the weather forecast and road conditions at least once in the morning and travel accordingly. Theft Protection (TP) is optional since Iceland is quite a safe country. However, use normal safety precautions and do not leave valuables visible in the car.
In addition, there are also credit card contracts, which include a limited insurance coverage abroad. However, read the terms and conditions very thoroughly before travelling.

Regardless of which car you use, there are more than enough petrol stations throughout Iceland. Accordingly, it’s unlikely that you will run out of fuel. Well-known operators are N1Olís/ÓBOrkan and Atlantsolía. A comparison of the current petrol prices per litre can be found on the websites Gasvatkin and GSM bensín.

Besides, it’s important to mention that there are many self-service petrol stations without staff in rural areas, where you have to pay directly at the petrol pump with a Visa or Mastercard and the associated PIN. An American Express credit card does not work at these stations. To refuel, follow the instructions on the screen at the petrol pump: insert your credit card into the card reader, enter your PIN and then the maximum amount of money you want to spend. This amount will be temporarily reserved on your credit card, but of course, only the exact amount of fuel you have received will be charged at the end. But please note that it may take a few days before the correct amount appears in your bank account. For a receipt, reinsert your card after refuelling. Entering your PIN a second time is not necessary.
Alternatively, you can buy prepaid fuel cards at N1 petrol stations, with a value of 3,0005,000 or 10,000 ISK.

Driving in General

The road 1, which is also known as ring road, is something like a highway in Iceland that leads once around the country. You have to drive on the right side of the road, while the speed limit in rural areas on paved roads is 90 km/h (56 mph) and on gravel roads 80 km/h (50 mph). In populated areas, it’s usually 50 km/h (31 mph). The headlights have to be turned on at all times while driving and the use of seat belts is mandatory.

Information about the current road conditions can be found on the website of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration (Vegagerðin). Check them at least once in the morning besides the weather forecast and drive accordingly. Possible travel warnings should be taken very seriously. If the weather does not permit safe travel, for example during a storm, even parts of the road 1 can be closed.

Do not park your car along the road 1 or another main road outside of towns in order to take photos, even if the landscape is marvellous. Always use a safe road lay-by instead. Also note that off-road driving is strictly prohibited by the Nature Conservation Act (Lög um náttúruvernd) in Iceland. The people are very keen to preserve the environment and offences can be punished with up to 350,000 ISK or an imprisonment for up to four years.

Also worth mentioning is that there are several single-lane bridges in Iceland, even on the road 1, which can be recognized by the road sign “EINBREIÐ BRÚ”. The rule for handling oncoming traffic is that the car closer to the bridge has the right of way, however, it’s always safest to stop and evaluate the situation in order to see what the other driver plans to do. Furthermore, the road sign “BLINDHÆД means a blind hill is forthcoming, while “MALBIK ENDAR” indicates a changeover from asphalt to gravel. Therefore, reduce the speed in order to keep the control over the car.

Most nature attractions along the road 1 are accessible with a normal car, however, there are also places in the highlands of Iceland – the uninhabited regions in the centre of the country – for which a 4×4 vehicle is essential. The associated mountain roads are always signposted with the letter F in front of the road number, like F26 for example. This refers to the Icelandic word “fjall”, which means nothing else than “mountain” in English. Driving on these unpaved roads is challenging, not least because of the often long distances, but also because of the often necessary river crossings. Thus, driving in a convoy with at least two vehicles is recommended, in case one vehicle gets stuck or has a breakdown. Also note that off-road driving remains strictly prohibited by law. More information about the condition and opening of the mountain roads can be found on the website of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration. The earliest opening of these roads is around mid-June, however, some of them may not be passable until mid-July.
In addition, popular places like Landmannalaugar or Þórsmörk can be reached by special highland buses during the high season, if the weather and road conditions permit. Known operators are Reykjavík ExcursionsSterna Travel (Iceland by Bus) and TREX.

There are no toll roads throughout Iceland. The toll for the Hvalfjörður tunnel between Reykjavík and Akranes ended in October 2018.

Last but not least some words about sheep. Yes, everybody loves them. But besides that fact, there are a lot of sheep in Iceland and they roam freely through the entire country from about mid-May to mid-September. Until the annual sheep roundup, which is called “Réttir”. Most of the sheep are rather shy towards people, however, they are used to cars. This is one reason why it’s quite normal that a flock gathers beside a road or sometimes even on a road. So be alert when you approach them and reduce the speed! The majority of the sheep will not move until the last moment and it’s also possible that a ewe runs to the opposite side of the street to their lambs or vice versa.
Discovering wild reindeers is possible in the east of Iceland in winter. They inhabit the eastern highlands and only venture into lower regions in order to find food.

Driving in Winter

In winter, the greatest danger is the wind. In conjunction with perhaps icy roads, exceptional strong gusts of wind can blow vehicles off the road, especially in rather exposed areas like in the south of Iceland. Approximately between the waterfall Skógafoss and the town Höfn í Hornafirði. Another danger is blowing snow, which can reduce the visibility while driving. This occurs either through snow that is lifted from the ground by a strong wind or through falling snow that is accompanied by a strong wind. Under extreme conditions, both can also lead to a whiteout, in which the horizon disappears completely and leaves no reference points at all. Therefore, always pay attention to the road conditions and the weather forecast.

A 4×4 vehicle is not essential to travel around Iceland in winter, but it’s recommended. The better traction on level roads and uphill is a clear advantage in icy and snowy conditions. However, this no guarantee for safety. You still have to pay attention to the road conditions and the weather forecast and drive accordingly.

Furthermore, the main roads to towns and villages are regularly cleared of snow, but this might take a while depending on their location and the weather. Also keep in mind that the day length is rather short in winter. Around the winter solstice (approximately 22nd December) there are only about 4 hours of daylight for example.

The use of a turn-by-turn navigation app is reliable for most parts of Iceland, as long as you also use common sense. Google Maps is a solid choice in this regard and also offers the option to download areas and navigate offline. However, the most accurate and reliable data is provided by OpenStreetMaps. There are many apps and websites that use OpenStreetMaps data nowadays, but for offline navigation, MAPS.ME is one of the best. The app is available for free in the App Store as well as at Google Play. HERE maps is not recommended for Iceland.

But regardless of which navigation app you use, never rely blindly on the estimated driving times. Always plan some extra time in case of adverse weather or road conditions, especially in winter.

In addition, there is a very reliable online map on Já.is, which also offers a 360° street view.

WiFi is available for free in almost every accommodation and restaurant in Iceland. In addition, the Icelandic providers SíminnVodafone and Nova also offer prepaid SIM cards for your smartphone, which can be bought in many stores and petrol stations.

Accommodations

First of all, keep in mind that over 2/3 of the Icelandic population lives in the capital Reykjavík and the surrounding regions in the southwest of the country. This means that large parts of Iceland are rather sparsely inhabited, while the highlands are even uninhabited. Therefore, the number of available accommodations is rather small in some regions, which is also why some accommodations are booked up months in advance. The best way to find available and favourable accommodations is to book as early as possible. Furthermore, rather look at smaller towns along the road 1 instead of the larger ones.

Hostelling International operates a lot of fantastic hostels throughout Iceland. A private room for two persons costs about 14,000 to 18,000 ISK per night in the high season – click on the price to see the current exchange rate. But please note that the prices on the website are member prices. You do not need to be an HI member to book a room, but I always recommend to apply for a membership in your home country, since you get a discount in most HI hostels worldwide and you support your national hostel organisation as well as their projects. The annual fee varies by country but is usually not expensive. Also note that the bed linen is not included unless it’s stated otherwise. In this case, bring your own sleeping bag or rent some bed linen at the hostel for a small additional fee. Most HI hostels are open all year and have guest kitchens. In addition, there are also many independent hostels in Iceland, especially in Reykjavík.

Hey Iceland, formerly known as Icelandic Farm Holidays, is a local travel agency that was founded in 1980. You can find a lot of accommodation on their website, from cosy bed and breakfasts to lonely cottages.

In addition, Bungalo offers the possibility to rent cottages of local families throughout Iceland. The company was founded in Reykjavík in 2010.

The Hvoll Guesthouse is located in the southeast of Iceland and a personal recommendation. The place is fantastic and well-equipped guest kitchens are also available. The bed linen is usually not included in the reservation, but you can rent a set for a small additional fee. Otherwise, you need to bring your own sleeping bag.

Of course, you can also use well-known websites like Airbnb or Booking in order to find an accommodation in Iceland.

Moreover, a sleeping mask can be useful, depending on your travel date. Remember that there are up to 21 hours of sunlight around the summer solstice (approximately 21st June). Some earplugs for sleeping might also prove useful, depending on your travel plans, the accommodation and the other guests.

Camping

The legal regulations for campervans, caravans or similar vehicles are strict: for overnight stays, you must use the official campsites or you must have the permission of the rightful landowner. Therefore, overnight stays in public parking lots or somewhere along the road are prohibited by law, unless you have a permission.

For traditional camping with a tent, the legal regulations are a bit more complex: you are allowed to camp for one night with up to three tents on uncultivated land, unless there’s a campsite in the immediate vicinity or it’s prohibited, for instance by a sign. For overnight stays longer than one night OR with more than three tents OR near inhabited areas, farms and on fenced farmland, you must first obtain the permission from the landowner. The use of the official campsites is always recommended though, in order to preserve the natural landscape. And of course, you can stay on them as long as you like.
Moreover, there are protected areas in Iceland, where camping is not allowed. Therefore, take a look at this website of the Environment Agency of Iceland (Umhverfisstofnun) for more information.

A map of all available campsites can be found on the official tourism website Visit Iceland, along with additional information like the respective opening times, available services, rates and photos. Most of them open in May or June and close around the end of August or September. Only some campsites are open throughout the year. Yet many campsites remain accessible even if they are closed, but of course, there is no staff around at this time. Furthermore, a reservation is usually not necessary.

There is also an association of campsites that publishes a camping card each year. This card entitles two adults and up to four children to the age of 16 to use the associated 42 places for up to 28 nights. Take a look on the website for detailed information.

In addition, several touring associations in Iceland maintain mountain huts along popular hiking routes. The best known are the Iceland Touring Association (Ferðafélag Íslands), the Outdoor Touring Association (Ferðafélagið Útivist) and the Touring Club of Akureyri (Ferðafélag Akureyrar), but there are also a couple independent operators.

Renting camping equipment in Iceland is possible at the company Icelandic Camping Equipment in Reykjavík. In addition, replacement gas cartridges for camping stoves can be bought at most petrol stations with staff.

But regardless of how, when or where you are camping, please treat nature always with respect and leave the place like you have found it. Take all your belongings and your garbage with you when you leave. Also note that campfires are prohibited throughout Iceland, you have to use camping stoves.

Some areas in Iceland, like the Eldhraun lava field for instance, are covered with thick layers of green to greyish moss. Even if it looks incredibly soft and inviting, please do not step on it. The moss took hundreds of years to grow like that and it will take another hundred years to cover the tracks of one person. And while you may think that one person makes no difference, imagine how such a place would look like if only every hundredth person of the millions of visitors each year would think the same.

Clothing and Footwear

Due to the weather, which can change quickly, the very strong wind and the rather low temperatures– see the section “Weather and Northern Lights” for detailed information – layers are the key to keep you warm. As a base layer, start with a shirt, leggings and socks made of a wool or synthetic. Unlike cotton, these two materials have the advantage of keeping you warm, even when the fabric is damp. For the middle layer, take fleece jackets or pullovers with you, preferably made of wool or synthetic, that you can put on or take off depending on the weather. For the shell layer, a waterproof jacket is essential for a trip around Iceland. Waterproof trousers are optional, but in winter recommended. Furthermore, outdoor trousers made of synthetic material are also a good alternative to jeans made of cotton, since they dry much faster. In addition, also take a cap, a pair of gloves and sunglasses with you. Last but not least, do not forget your swimwear if you want to visit some geothermal pools.

Concerning footwear, a pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots are essential for exploring the outdoors of Iceland. In winter, it is also advisable to bring crampons, as the ground can be covered with ice, especially near waterfalls.

Well-known Icelandic clothing brands are 66° NORTH and ICEWEAR. Both have several retail stores throughout Iceland. In addition, the Icelandic Store in Reykjavík is a good address if you are looking for a classic wool sweater.

Volcanos

Iceland has volcanically and geologically active regions due to the fact that the country is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a divergent tectonic plate that stretches along the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. This means that sooner or later there will be another volcanic eruption in Iceland. However, it’s not possible to determine exactly when or where this will happen. Maybe within the next ten years, but maybe not for another hundred or thousand years. A reliable indicator of volcanic activity, however, are earthquakes and their frequency, which is why they are closely monitored by the Icelandic Meteorological Office. Accordingly, an imminent volcanic eruption could be predicted some hours or some days in advance. More information about the various volcanic systems can be found in the Catalogue of Icelandic Volcanoes.

Emergency

In case of problems with a rental car or a breakdown, first contact the car rental company. Most, if not all, companies offer a 24-hour road assistance and can inform the nearest car garage or guide you to them.

For everything else, call the Icelandic emergency number 112. In addition, you can use the app “112 Iceland” to send an SMS with your current GPS location to the emergency service. The app is available for free in the App Store as well as at Google Play.

Map

Note: The hatched area in the middle of the country can be referred to as the highland.

© 2015–2018 Eric Hoffmann – Iceland Travel Guide – Basics and Advice

Iceland Travel Guide – Basics and Advices – ichbinkreativ

16 Comments

  1. J
    Jean

    Dear Eric,

    Thanks a lot for this nice report. This is great to get all those advices. I personnally know Iceland very well, went a lot of times. This is nice to have this compilation of advices for tourists coming for the first time.

    As a several time visitors of Iceland, I would like to suggest some links to be added, if you want to have your post exhaustif :

    – I would mention that campsites are mostly used by tents or caravans, they are about 170 camping grounds in Iceland and camping is popular among Icelanders in the Summer. You do not mention accommodations in farms : farmholidays.is ; tjalda.is is a site that lists campsites.
    – Equipment : you can mention iceland-camping-equipment.com where it is possible to rent everything for camping and hiking
    – getting around : I agree renting a car is the best option. However, not everybody can afford it so I would suggest to add the website from straeto.is

    The blog like you did is very useful and needed. Thank you very much for that. It is also really well done that is why I took the time to send you few addition, so it will interest an even larger group of tourists.

    Thanks for sharing your experience !

    • Thank you for your praise and your suggestions, Jean. =] I will definitely keep the articles up to date, so about what you have written:

      I know about Icelandic farm holidays, there are a lot of really nice accommodations (and people as well of course), but unfortunately there are also rather expensive per night in comparison to the HI Hostels or some Airbnb accommodations. I will consider in the future.

      About the map on Tjalda, I did not know this website so far, but the already mentioned map on Já seems to be more complete in comparison. Also in my experience the Google Map is not as reliable/accurate as the map on Já. At least for Iceland. But about camping sites in general and using a camper van, I will probably add some additional information in the next couples of weeks.
      Update 4th May 2016: The mentioned overview on Já is not available anymore and the map on Tjalda is still incomplete, so there is a new link to the official tourism websites of Iceland in the section camping.

      About the company Icelandic Camping Equipment, that’s a good point! I also stumbled upon them some time ago, so they will be included with the next update.

      Regarding Strætó, I think it’s a good way to get from one town to another, however, to explore the beautiful nature attractions of Iceland … It’s seems rather inconvenient.

  2. R
    Robert

    Thank you for this wealth of information. I am planning on taking my nieces (21 & 23) to Iceland for New Years. We will only be there from Dec. 29 landing around 6:45AM and departing on Jan. 2 around 5:30PM. We would love to do the Golden Circle, ice caves, and a glacier. Is this possible? Any recommendations? I know day light will be only around 11AM-3PM so I’m not sure how much we can get in each day. Are there any special events for New Years?

    • Well, this is difficult to answer. The weather is unpredictable and (driving) can be really harsh in the middle of the winter, especially in the more remote southeastern regions, to reach the Vatnajökull (ice caves and glacier hike tours). If you have been to Iceland once before, so you know the distances, and you are comfortable about driving during the night in winter, everything is maybe doable. However, it seems to me really stressful and you need to have luck with the weather.
      I would rather recommend to do the Golden Circle (Þingvellir – Strokkur Geyser – Gullfoss) and maybe the south coast (Seljalandsfoss – Skógafoss – Reynisfjara). Take a look at my second Iceland travel guide for detailed information about the places.
      If you are looking for guided tours, there are plenty companies which offer them – Reykjavík Excursion for example. But also every other company, which offer these tours, will do a fine job.
      About New Year’s Eve, some Restaurants will maybe closed, since many Icelanders celebrate with their families. There will be probably some bonfires at the evening around Reykjavík and, of course, fireworks at midnight. But there’s no official one in the city. The viewing deck of the restaurant Perlan in Reykjavík is a known spot to watch the fireworks.

  3. M
    Mini Khanna

    I found your article the most direct and clear about all key points that I was looking for before touring Iceland. Thank you for taking the trouble to list things so well for a novice like me. Your map at the end is a goldmine.

  4. F
    Francisco Palleiro

    Thank you so much man! This will help us a lot!!

  5. M
    Maria Kolomvaki

    Hi guys! I would like to now which place visit! I will go Iceland for 4days 24 until 28 of February

    • Hi Maria,

      four days are not really much to explore Iceland, therefore, I would recommend that you focus your trip on the south. For example, you can drive along the “Golden Circle“ in one day and visit places like the Þingvellir National Park, Strokkur and Gullfoss. On the second day, maybe drive along the south coast towards the east and visit Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, the Dyrhólaey Nature Reserve and Reynisfjara. On the third day, and depending on where you stay for the night, you could maybe drive a bit further towards the east and visit Skaftafell and Jökulsárlón. Of course you can skip or add places along the road, depending on your interests. However, this example also depends on your own travel style as well as the weather and road conditions. See the travel guide for detailed information. So in the end, you have to make plans yourself that fit your travel habits as well as your interests. Safe travels!

  6. Thanks for all the useful information Eric, really appreciated.
    I’m a landscape photographer, and I have always been in love with Iceland and its wonderful landscapes. For the first time I’ll be able to visit and hopefully make the most of it. I’m taking my wife for a week long trip in mid-March, and hope that the weather will cooperate.
    Plan on spending the first day or two in Reykjavik, and then do the South road for two days (booked Skogafoss hotel) so that on the second day I can hopefully head to Jokusarlon and the Diamond beach for the day and come back.
    The last days of the trip we will be stationed back in Reykjavik and drive one day towards Geysir, and others towards Kirkjufell and the Peninsula area.
    I’m keeping my fingers crossed…. 😉

    • Hi Ivan,

      I am glad to hear that you found the travel guide(s) useful. Enjoy your visit to Iceland and may the weather be with you! =] 

  7. M
    Malika Gupta

    Hi Eric,
    I am looking for some advice from experts out there for Norther Lights..
    I am currently looking or Northern Light trip and got overwhelmed with reading online info. I then looked up your page and it has very good info
    I am looking for trip either in Feb (20th week) or March (18th week) as both are new moon weeks so at least I can check that dependency off my list. But I am not able to decide which month? Some forums tell Dec, Jan and Feb are best months and other March to avoid storms etc…
    I know you can’t guarantee anything but I am asking for a expert opinion which month you would pick (I won’t hold u to anything) ?Also do you run any tours which we can join when we are there?

    • Hi Malika,

      referring to the average weather, there are only minor differences between February and March. See the section “Weather and Northern Lights”. The biggest difference is the daylight. The daylength around the 20th February 2018 is 9:11 hours, whereby the daylength around the 18th March is already again around 12:01 hours. Regarding the Northern Lights, everything depends on luck in the end. However, if I had to choose, I would rather choose February. Hope that helps.

      And no I am not offering any tours, sorry. =] If you are looking for photography workshops, take a look the the companies ArticShots and Landscape Photography Iceland.

  8. A

    Hi Eric,

    Sie sind wirklich kreativ und toll. Yes the detailed writeup helped us a lot in understaning of Iceland. I stay in Berlin and planning for Iceland from 12th July to 19th July (myself (34 yrs), my wife (34 yrs) and baby (1yr10 months). Do you have some consultancy service where we can ask you more question on Iceland travel plan and you guide us. Well we are ready for your service charges though.

    I would like to get in touch with you. My email id is [hidden].

    Please let me know, and thank you very much for your write up.

    Bis dann, Tschuss.

    • Hi Ajay,

      thank you very much for the praise! If you have questions about Iceland, please, feel free to ask. I will gladly answer if I can. However, I can not plan or book the trip to Iceland for you.

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