If you are planning a trip to Iceland for the first time, this blog post on ten Iceland travel tips will prove handy for you. Keep reading to find out all the dos and donts you should know before planning your trip.
This blog is a result of my love for travelling and writing. This post is not sponsored in any way and all opinions expressed are my own.
With that said, let us begin!
Iceland is a dream destination and we felt extremely privileged to have visited it this year. The country is stunning, with picturesque spots literally everywhere. We have a whole post on our most stunning pictures from Iceland to give you some serious travel inspiration! If you are planning a trip to Iceland for the first time, make sure to check out our complete guide to One week in Iceland and our Iceland travel budget with tips to cut costs,here are a few travel tips for Iceland that you should know.
You can also read our in depth post on the Thailand travel tips for first time visitors.
10 ICELAND TRAVEL TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT SEASON TO TRAVEL
This is probably the most important Iceland travel tip that you should keep in mind while planning your visit. Iceland is a beautiful year round destination, but you should choose the right time to visit depending on your interests and comfort level.
Summer (May-August) is a good time to visit as the weather is generally perfect. You can experience the phenomena of the ‘Midnight Sun’ when the sun shines for 24 hours! This gives you plenty of time for sightseeing though it may also cause a little problem with your internal clock. Summer is also when you can get to see puffins and go on whale watching tours. The cons: No northern lights and plenty of crowds which drive up the prices especially in July and August.
Winter (October-March) is perfect for experiencing the Northern Lights and getting to visit ice caves. The days are short, so there is very limited time for sightseeing and it tends to gets really cold with snowfall. There is no chance of seeing puffins and whales however.
My advice: It is best to avoid JULY-AUGUST which is peak season.
NOTE : We went in the shoulder season of September which was something of a mixed bag. The weather was stormy and wild on at least one day, moody with/without mild drizzles on a few days and sunny too on a couple of days. Windy almost everyday but that is true for any time of the year there. However, there were much less tourists so we got to enjoy all the stunning sights without the crowds. This was a huge plus for us and the prices do tend to be a bit less compared to peak season.
2. BE PREPARED FOR UNPREDICTABLE WEATHER:
So you chose your season and started making plans. Good. But Iceland is not a place where you can call the shots: That distinction goes to ‘Mother Nature’! Iceland abounds in wild and unpredictable weather, so be prepared both physically and mentally.
Physical preparation means packing suitably. My tips: Always dress in layers, a windcheater is a must and so is a rain jacket. It rains any time and is almost always windy. Icelanders have a favourite saying: “The weather is never bad, it is you who is unprepared”! If it is summer, wear one layer less; if winter one more. Long thermal underwear, fleece gloves, socks and mufflers are must.
Mental preparation can be harder to achieve. After all no one wants their dream trip to be ruined by weather. But weather changes any time, storm alerts are issued and activities can get cancelled. We were extremely lucky that even on our one proper stormy day we did do all our sightseeing as planned (tho we got drenched and were freezing but we viewed it as an adventure and a taste of the real, wild and rough Iceland!)
We were exploring the Golden circle that day and full credit to our guide who handled the day beautifully. However, lots of other activities such as Northern light hunting tours, glacier hiking and lava caves did get cancelled that day. After all no one will risk safety.
So take it on your chin, stay upbeat and move on for the next day.
Throughout our stay, I viewed Iceland as one of the frontiers of the planet, like Alaska, the Arctic and Antarctica. This made me very accepting of the weather and in fact made me feel even more connected to the place and our planet.
3. CARRY YOUR CARD FOR PAYMENTS
Iceland like the other Scandinavian countries prefers digital payments over cash. Even outside Reykjavik in the smaller towns and villages there is no problem with card payment. We did pay by cash at a couple of places but that was because we wanted to finish the little cash that we had brought with us.
Keep small amounts of cash handy to use at restrooms. Because much of the payment is by card, make sure you find out the international exchange fee rate of your bank so that you don’t end up paying a ton of extra money as bank fees.
4. EVERYTHING IS EXPENSIVE
Till now, we had only travelled in Asia (mostly around Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia) which are great budget destinations. In that sense, Iceland was a giant leap for us financially. We had to research a lot, so Iceland’s reputation as a very expensive destination was something that we already knew by the time we landed. Everything starting from transportation, accommodation and food is expensive. You have to make some pretty major adjustments to keep your budget in check. Guided activities are expensive and if you include stuff like glacier hiking or whale watching tours, be ready to shell out more. Iceland is an expensive country to visit so make sure you know about all the costs.
Read our detailed Iceland travel budget for one week to know how much you should budget for Iceland plus plenty of cost cutting tips.
5. USE THE FLYBUS FOR AIRPORT TRANSFERS
Taxis are very expensive and I would not suggest one unless you have lots of spare cash! The best way is using the bus transfer service offered by Flybus . Their buses run hourly both to and from the airport to a number of bus stops in and around the city. Late night/early morning flights are covered too.
We found the service to be the most convenient and most economical. The buses are large, comfortable and with good luggage storage space. Check the bus stop nearest to your accommodation and you are set. Pre booking online can also give some discount on the ticket price.
6. SPEND AT LEAST A COUPLE OF DAYS IN THE COUNTRYSIDE
Another great Iceland travel tip! Reykjavik is the capital and the port of entry but don’t base yourself there for your whole trip. Make sure to stay a few nights in the countryside to get a feel of the real Iceland. We spent two nights in the south coast and a night in Snaefellness peninsula and loved it. Away from everything with only the stunning landscape for company was a beautiful experience. These places are also perfect for seeing the northern lights, away from the light pollution of the city. Switch off your phone and let your mind relax.
7. DON’T TRY TO FIT TOO MUCH IN YOUR PLANS
It can be tempting to try and see as much of the country as you can but do not attempt it. Iceland is a physically demanding country with plenty of hikes and walks. We used to get totally exhausted by the end of each day as there was so much to see. Give your body time to rest and recover.
Because of fickle weather conditions, always keep aside a day or two in case of activity cancellations. Check the weather forecast daily. Unless you are going for at least two weeks, do not try to see the whole country. There is no point just ticking off a list and rushing from one site to another. Give yourself time at every place. Iceland is a place to be experienced and felt.
OUR ITINERARY: We spent a week in Iceland and were pretty happy with our itinerary. We focused on the South coast, the South east and Snaefellness peninsula in the west coast of Iceland. It was managable though an extra day or two to relax would have been perfect. We did not include the Northern Highlands in this trip and have saved it for a future trip during summer to see the best of it. See our complete itinerary here.
8. ADD SOME UNIQUE ACTIVITIES IN YOUR ITINERARY
While hiking and exploring those stunning landscapes is the best part of Iceland, make sure to include a few activities that you may not get to do elsewhere. Depending on the season, for animal lovers there are whale watching tours, seal spotting and puffins.
For the adventurous traveler Iceland offers a plethora of activities. Glacier hiking, iceberg spotting and going down a lava cave are some of your options. In winter you can visit an ice cave. Try to include a hot spring visit. We got to experience a lot of unique activities there and cherish those memories. Just make sure to visit during the right season.
9. TRY SKYR
Now about Icelandic food! Skyr is probably Iceland’s unofficial national dish and make sure to try it. And what’s that you ask? CURD!!! Except that it’s the best curd in the world with a beautiful texture that just melts in your mouth. Skyr comes in different flavours and we tried a lot of them.
Icelanders eat Skyr for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And also as a snack in between meals. So do as the Icelanders do and just jump in! Skyr is also cheap and is a good option to keep those food costs down.
10. KEEP DOWN THE CAM AND JUST TRY TO SOAK IN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN
I am gonna be a broken record and keep repeating this again and again: Iceland is the MOST BEAUTIFUL country we have ever visited and we are pretty sure it is amongst the most beautiful ones in the world. The landscapes are mind-blowing and out of this planet.
So that means you go on clicking pictures to capture each and every thing. We did so too. We took more than two thousand pictures in the span of a week. But sometimes, it is so important to keep away the cam and just take it all in.
Iceland can be overwhelming. Just let yourself get carried away in the moment. Be present in the present and take back the memories of those feelings too and not just the memories in your cam and phones. At every place, after clicking some pictures we used to keep the cam away and just be there. And all we ever felt was this incredible sense of wonder, gratitude and happiness for being able to visit this once in a lifetime destination.
So these were my Ten Iceland travel tips for first time travelers. We hope these are helpful to you while planning a trip and you end up having a great time. Have you ever been to Iceland? Do you have any tips to share? We would love to hear your views and stories in the comments!