Iceland is a captivating destination for any traveler and with a host of low cost flight options from North America and mainland Europe there has never been a better time to visit the land of ice and fire. Volcanoes, glaciers, the wind and the sea merge to create a landscape that is like nowhere else on Earth. Whether you come for the eternal sun of summer or in search of winter’s Northern Lights nature is sure to put on a show. If you’re looking to plan your visit here are a few tips for your first trip to Iceland.
This post contains affiliate links. The Casual Travelist recieves a small commision for any purchases made through these links at no additional cost to you.
1.Get out of Reykjavik and explore the countryside. The northernmost capital is both forward-thinking and traditional when it comes to design, music and literature making it a worthy contender for your time however what really makes Iceland special is what lies outside the city limits. Spend a day or two here but be sure to go explore some of Iceland’s natural wonders.
2. Don’t be afraid to drive. Coming from North America it was an easy transition for us as Icelanders drive on the right and the maps provided by our car rental agency were very easy to use.
3. Gas is expensive compared to the US and should definitely be factored in if you are trying to stick to a budget. Our car rental agency also provided us with a discount card.
4.We did not exchange currency for this trip as credit cards are widely accepted. Just make sure you have a chip and PIN card, especially for more remote gas stations.
5. For a true feel of Iceland be sure to stay at at one of the many family run guesthouses and farmstays that dot the countryside.
6.If you’re visiting in the summer be prepared for nearly constant daylight. While it does allow you to pack a lot of sightseeing into a day it can be exhausting if you don’t keep track of time. Most hotels and guesthouses will have light blocking shades but if you plan on camping or are a light sleeper I recommend bringing an eye mask. Also be aware that many restaurants and gas stations close around 9pm.
7.Food is a little on the pricey side but overall of very good quality. In fact I had some amazing grilled lamb skewers served out of a food truck at Vantajokull National Park. Traditional Icelandic fare consists largely of seafood and lamb but you’ll find burgers, pizza, pasta and salads on most menus. Expect to pay about $15 dollars for a decent hamburger or pizza and $25-$30 for an entree. Take advantage of the plentiful breakfast buffets offered at most hotels and guesthouses. We typically ate a large breakfast, a snack in the middle of the day and post-adventure dinner.
8. Meals are typically not included on most economy flights going through Reykjavik and can be pretty expensive when purchased on board. Bring some snacks or buy a sandwich at the airport.
9. Einstock is a fine, fine beer.
10. While it’s always a good idea to learn a few words of the language where ever you travel everyone I encountered spoke excellent English.(There was definitely a chuckle or two when I did try out my very limited Icelandic).
11. Despite what the guidebooks say, cafes and bathrooms near National Parks and major attractions may not be open. Carry some extra snacks and plan accordingly.
12. Some parts of Iceland look like Montana, some areas look like the moon. Most of Iceland looks like nowhere else on Earth. You will run out superlatives to describe Iceland’s landscape when you return home.
13. You’ll want to stop every 5 minutes to take pictures but a lot of what you see just can’t be properly captured. Sometimes you just need to look up from the camera and enjoy the view.
14. Much to my dismay the fuzzy Icelandic horses aren’t always the most cooperative models.
15.Be prepared for any and all kinds of kind of weather. Rain is common and the clouds are some of the most dynamic I’ve ever seen. As one Icelander I spoke to put it, ” There is no bad weather, only bad clothing”.
16. Try to get close to a glacier either on a glacier hike or a boat tour of a glacier lagoon, (as beautiful as glaciers are they can be quite dangerous, be sure to use an experienced guide). When I saw just how far some of the glaciers have retreated in recent years and the landscape left behind I was in awe of just how powerful and fragile glaciers can be. There are plenty of tours in Iceland with qualified guides that can help you experience the glaciers safely.
17. Lopapeysa, or the iconic Icelandic sweaters, are not just for tourists. Both warm and water resistant I saw modern interpretations on chic urbanites in Reykjavik and more traditional versions in the countryside donned for horseback riding and farm work. I even saw a couple of younger guys wearing them while ice climbing.
18. As much as I wanted to bring home a lopapeysa of my own I knew it would never get cold enough here at home to get much use. Luckily for me knitting is considered an art form in Iceland, Each of the rural guesthouses I stayed at in Southern Iceland offered up locally handcrafted items while in Reykjavik boutiques featured modern hats, scarves and sweaters. I ended up getting a beautiful light gray loose weave infinity scarf that will see plenty of use next winter.
19. If you plan on getting close to any of the waterfalls in Iceland make sure to wear your rain gear. I learned this the hard way.
20. You may see all four seasons in one panoramic view.
22. Don’t try to schedule too much into one day. Driving distances tend to take longer then you think and you want to leave plenty of time to explore and enjoy Iceland’s natural beauty. During our 4 day road trip of Southern Iceland we typically scheduled one big activity and stopping at 3-4 sights while on the road.
23. Sheep, they’re everywhere. I was honestly impressed at the seemingly impossible places sheep would end up.
24. The Blue Lagoon. Pricey? Yes. Touristy? You betcha. Worth going? Totally. I spent a few hours relaxing in the ethereally blue water here at the end of my trip and for me it was the perfect way to recover from my previous adventures. I recommend making reservations to ensure you get in when you like. There are several packages to choose from, we went with the Comfort Package at a cost of 60 Euro per person, which got us entrance to the Blue Lagoon, a free drink (go for the strawberry skyr smoothie), use of a bathrobe and a skin care sample kit.
25. You will start planning for your next trip to Iceland before you get back home. I know I did.