In this travel guide I gathered all Iceland travel tips needed to plan your very own independent road trip through Iceland. Based on my experience traveling the ring road as well as the golden circle route and staying several days at the capital Reykjavik.
I traveled Iceland together with my friend and fellow YouTuber Gareth Leonard from mid October until the beginning of November with the goal to produce a comprehensive video series about the country. Use the following navigation to jump to the iceland travel tips you are most interested in:
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1. Why Iceland?
Iceland is the world’s largest volcanic island and a true dream destination for outdoor lovers and photographers. Located south of the Arctic the island is not only home to 30 volcanic systems, with the Vatnajökull glacier also the largest glacier of Europe can be found here. Therefore you’ll come across many impressive waterfalls (fed by glaciers), hot springs, active volcanoes, geyser’s, black beaches, glacier lagoons, ice caves, fjords and much more…
Through Movies, Social Media and world famous shows such as „Game of Thrones“ Iceland became a very popular hot spot for travelers from all around the globe. Over the past few years, tourism in Iceland tripled. Especially in the summer months the island is booming due to much longer days. But also in winter months Iceland is an attractive destination as it is perfectly located to see the northern lights (I saw them during my time in the north).
The best way to explore the island is, without any doubts, a proper road trip. While you get to see gigantic glaciers and the most spectacular waterfalls in the south, the central highlands are the perfect playground for hikers in summer. In the north you can witness the volcanic activity on the island, in contrast you can relax at the lesser popular fjords in the west and east.
To get an overview I put together a list of my favorite places in Iceland:
2. Best Time to travel to Iceland
Regarding the weather, the daylight (up to 20 h!) and the chances of spotting whales, the summer months from June-August are the best time to travel to Iceland. Especially if you plan on hiking in the highlands you should focus on summer as this is the time when most roads are likely to be open. The biggest downside of traveling in summer are the masses of tourists you have to share the roads, accommodation and sights with. It can be overwhelming!
But no worries, also the shoulder season in May and September often offers stable weather but you can also come across the first road closures. If you want to gamble a bit more you even have the chance to have some sights all to yourself when you come in April or October – but in matters of weather conditions you need to be prepared for everything.
The winter months from November to March are the best time to go for ice cave tours and to spot the northern lights as the days are way shorter (only 4-5h of daylight in Dec/Jan). Be warned: the weather will be rough, even though it might be relatively mild. This is why many roads will be closed from December to February and you won’t meet many other tourists.
As stated I’ve been traveling in October and November and got quite lucky with the weather, didn’t have to deal with many other tourists and got to see northern lights. Therefore one of my first essential Iceland travel tips would be to go for the shoulder season!
3. Language & Communication
Icelandic is one of the most difficult languages existing. Just take the eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull as an example which challenged news hosts worldwide. Luckily you can easily get around with English as most locals speak English fluently.
Nevertheless learning a few words in the local lingo can go a long way – here are a few words and phrases you should learn:
- „Foss“ = waterfall
- „Fjall“ = mountain
- „Jökull“ = glacier
- „Takk“ = Thanks
- „Góðan daginn“ = Good day
- „Já“ = yes
- „Nei“ = no
4. Prices & Budget needed for traveling Iceland
Unfortunately all the beauty of this island comes with a high price tag. Like in many Scandinavian countries also here you have to calculate with a bigger budget.
a) Prices for Hotels in Iceland
Depending on the time of year a double room in a hotel/B&B will set you back 100€ – 200€, which means you should factor about 80€ per person on average. A good option to save money on accommodation is to rent an RV/campervan (read more about this in section 9).
b) Flights & Prices for Rental Cars in Iceland
You’ll most likely spend the next big part of your budget on renting a car and getting into Iceland. A Dacia Duster (most budget-friendly 4×4) with full insurance package and extra driver will cost you around 720€ per week with SADCars. Additionally, you need to calculate the costs for gas at about 1.60€ per liter. If you want to travel along the ring road for 2 weeks like we did this will sum up to roundabout 1,800€ (with many side trips on F-roads off the ring road).
In contrast to this flights to Iceland are fairly cheap – from Europe, you can get return flights including checked luggage for as little as 200€ (e.g. WOW air from Berlin).
c) Prices for Restaurants in Iceland
Also for meals, you need to have a proper budget: a normal dish in a restaurant will cost you 40-60€, even fast food options such as burger combos at gas stations are priced 20€! The cheapest option if you want to eat out are Hot Dogs for 4-7€. Therefore we chose to go grocery shopping in the local supermarkets (Bonus & Krona are your best choices here) and only went to restaurants a few time to try the local cuisine.
d) Entrance Fees in Iceland
Good news: almost all natural sights such as waterfalls are free of charge. This is, of course, different for tours & activities: a 4-6h ice cave tour is about 150€ (with Localguide), the famous blue lagoon is about 85€ including transfers (with Reykjavik Excursion).
To sum it all up you should calculate with a budget of 2,500€ – 3,500€ per Person if you plan on doing a 2 week lasting road trip in Iceland like we did (4×4, full insurance, combination of Hotels/B&Bs and apartment rentals, restaurant visits & grocery shopping, flights).
Of course you can have it much cheaper if you: go for the camper van option / travel in low season / travel shorter or if you travel with a group of people and share costs for apartments and rental cars. But I also want to tell you that this island is totally worth all the money – the stunning landscapes and experiences are simply priceless!
5. Icelandic Cuisine
Unfortunately this part will be relatively short as the local cuisine is not only expensive but also…uhm…let’s say „limited“. Even though you can find more and more exceptions especially in the capital Reykjavik (e.g. the Hlemmur Streetfood Hall), the typical icelandic cuisine is focussing solely on fish and lamb. Traditional dishes include delicacies such as boiled sheepshead or fermented shark.
I myself ate way too many HotDogs (which are actually pretty good and relatively cheap) and can also highly recommend to try a traditional fish stew (best in the old harbor of Reykjavik) as well as the lamb stew (head over to the guys of „Icelandic Street Food“ in Reykjavik). For breakfast, I often had the „Skyr“, a tasty Icelandic yogurt which is rich in proteins and comes in several flavors.
Regarding drinks I mostly had tap water (it’s so good here!), alcoholic beverages are very expensive and can only be bought in special liquor stores (what looks like beer in the supermarkets is actually malt beer). Nevertheless I had a beer every now and then – I can highly recommend the „Kaldi“ but also the cheaper „Viking“ is a solid choice.
6. Safety & Health
Even though you need some budget to travel Iceland the good news is that Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world. The highest safety risks are caused by the force of nature and the weather. Beside volcano eruptions, you should be warned of the very strong winds in Iceland (always hold onto the car door when getting on and off the car) which also affects your driving. Make sure to always check the current weather and road conditions here.
I always advise on getting travel insurance as it is important to have you covered in case anything happens throughout your trip. I recommend the travel insurance by Safety Wing:
7. Get In & Visa needed in Iceland
Direct flights to Iceland are available from many major airports in North America and Europe. The main carriers you should look into are Icelandair and WOWair. While the budget airline WOWair offers low prices it is worth looking into the packages of Icelandair as they offer a free stopover of up to 7 days for flights between Europe and North America!
If you don't want to rent a car in Iceland you should use one of the shuttle services to cover the 50km from the airport into Reykjavik. Depending on the ticket option you choose (one way or return) and the destination (drop off & pick up at your hotel or central bus station) you'll end up spending about 19-25€ each way. You can book your ticket online either with Gray Line or Flybus, I used both companies and can recommend using their services.
Iceland is part of Europe and also within the Schengen area, which means you can usually stay up to 3 months without needing a visa if you are from the UK, U.S., Canada or an EU country:
8. Rental Car, Insurance, Routes & Itineraries for your Iceland Road Trip
One of the most important Iceland travel tips is to rent a car to explore the island. Depending on your length of stay, season and travel style you can choose between a budget friendly compact car to get to the easy accesible and popular spots, a 4×4 to get into the highlands and to be able to drive on the so called F-roads or an RV for a longer, cheaper road trip.
a) Our rental car choice
You can find a number of car rental options in Iceland and prices vary depending on season and package. I chose to work together with SADcars on my video series and went for a 4×4 Dacia Duster (…despite this sponsorship, you can be sure that I give you an honest review here!).
The duster has been a reliable choice for our trip along the ring road, the golden circle and many f-roads. We were very happy with the service (airport pick up, briefing and advice regarding insurance packages) and the car, even though we needed to change the car during the pick-up (minor issue with a warning light, another duster was provided immediately).
b) Necessity of a 4×4 & Car rentals in Iceland
SADcars is one of the most budget friendly options on the island and offers several packages on their website – from compact car to RV. Other popular car rentals are Blue Car (compact cars, SUVs, 4×4) and Geysir, for RVs companies such as Kuku Campers and Happy Campers get the best reviews.
Makes sure to check the meta-search of RentalCars (choose Reykjavik as the pick-up location) for prices and availability of the different local providers:
Whether or not you need a 4×4 depends on the weather and your travel plans. If you plan on going to the highlands and/or the east of the country (many gravel roads) or you want to visit in winter I recommend going for a 4×4. The so-called F-Roads are only open to 4×4, here you can find a map with all roads.
c) Which car insurance do you need for driving in Iceland?
Many underestimate the costs for car insurance in Iceland because this expensive isn't included in most of the packages car rentals advertise on their websites. Due to the often extreme weather and road conditions in Iceland I highly recommend to get a good insurance package rather than trying to save money.
Besides the liability protection which is mostly included I recommend getting the additional insurances for gravel protection, the sand and ash protection (‘SAAP' – covers expensive damages caused by volcano ash) and the Super Collision Damage Waiver (SCDW).
d) Itineraries & Road conditions in Iceland
If you plan on doing a complete roundtrip through Iceland the ring road measuring 1332km is the way to go. Iceland's road 1 leads all around the island to the majority of the sights and is mostly surfaced. You should factor about 7-10 days to drive the whole ring road – the more the better as you'll need some time to visit all the great spots along the road (probably one of the most important Iceland travel tips in matters of planning your route!).
The other popular route is the so-called “Golden Circle” which is a small ring road close to Reykjavik which is easily doable in 1-2 days. Additionally also heading down south to Vik (day trip) or even further to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon (2 days, overnight at Vik) are options I'd recommend looking into if you don't have enough time to do the ring road (you could also combine them with the golden circle).
In general, the roads in Iceland are good and well maintained, especially the ring road (1) and the golden circle. As soon as you leave the national roads and go off the beaten path it gets rougher and you have to deal with road closures more often due to bad weather (especially in the winter season). In the highlands and in the eastern part of the island you have to deal with gravel roads and partially huge potholes, so make sure to drive carefully!
Before embarking on your road trip you should checkout this awesome online map which shows you up-to-date information about road conditions, road closures and dangers you might encounter (we checked it every day before getting into the car).
9. Holiday Homes & Hotels in Iceland
If you want to go for a long road trip in Iceland where you want to see as much as possible a campervan is by far the cheapest option regarding accommodation, for summer hikers camping is another good budget option. Of course there are also several options for those who travel in colder months or are in search of more comfort – combining apartment rentals, hostels and hotels can be a good way to avoid blowing all your budget on expensive hotels.
a) Hostels in Iceland
In Iceland you can find several modern hostels which offer dorms as well as private rooms. One of the biggest issues though is the fact that the majority is located in the bigger cities such as Reykjavik or Akureyri, therefore, spaces are limited and I highly recommend reserving well ahead of time. You can find a good overview of hostels in Iceland over at Hostelworld.
My hostel recommendations for Reykjavik:
- Bus Hostel: the Bus hostel is located a bit outside the city center which makes it a great starting point for a road trip for 2 reasons – the car rental SadCars has its central office inside the hostel & the highway which leads to the ring road and the golden circle is right around the corner. The hostel itself offers a hip, modern design as well as great staff which helps you with everything needed. The rooms are clean and very budget friendly for icelandic standards. You can choose between dorms and private rooms, a shared kitchen is also part of the common areas.
- Oddsson Hostel: Located more in the center of Reykjavik the Oddson represents a mix of hotel and state-of-the-Art Hostel. I myself really liked the lobby which comes with a nice bar (regular events), a restaurant and an own room for karaoke. Beside budget friendly dorms you can book double rooms or even go for the ubercool Suite (expensive but pretty impressive).
b) Home rental & Apartments
When traveling with a group of friends apartment or even home rentals are often cheaper than hotels. Most of the houses and bungalows come with a well equipped kitchen which helps you to save budget on restaurants. For the video series we partnered with HomeAway/VRBO to showcase several apartments and houses available for rent on the island. Beside VRBO you can also use Booking and AirBnB to search for apartments and bungalows in Iceland.
- Arnastapi Cottages (Snaefellsnes Peninsula): these small, modern cottages (for 2 people) are located right next to the cliffs of Arnarstapi. A rich breakfast with a sea view at the nearby restaurant is also included!
- Nollur Farm (Akureyri, North Iceland): this modern house by the fjord (4-6 people, great for families) with outside hot tub and a big, open kitchen was most probably the coolest place we stayed at during our time in Iceland. The views are great and we also got the chance to see the Northern Lights right above our house. I'd recommend staying 2-3 nights in this area to explore Myvatn, Dettifoss, Godafoos and the Asbyrgi Canyon.
- Bragdavellir Cottages (East Iceland): these cozy, wooden bungalows (4-6 people) are also beautifully located and have been our base for touring the east of the country. The surrounding area is a great spot for hiking tours!
- Cosy Cottage in Vik (South Iceland): this house (5 people) in the south is the perfect place to relax as there aren't any neighbors around, just wide farm land. The waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss are just around the corner which makes it a great base to explore the sights around Vik early in the morning. Beside a big, well equipped kitchen and a cosy living room you can use the huge wooden terrace and enjoy the endless views.
- AirBnb: as stated you can also find many apartment rentals in Iceland on AirBnB. With this link you'll get a 25€ discount on your first booking on AirBnB!
c) Hotels in Iceland
Each year new hotels with amazing views are built in Iceland but they mostly come with a high price tag, especially during summer season. If you book early you have a good chance of getting a special deal – booking has the biggest selection on the island and offers special discounts on a regular base. If you are a regular user of Booking you might already have the “genius” status which gives you a discount on most of the hotels listed:
- Reykjavik overview at Booking
- Akureyri overview (North) at Booking
- Höfn overview (South East) at Booking
- Vik overview (South) at Booking
- Egilsstadir overview(East) at Booking
- Grundarfjordur overview (West) at Booking
- Highland Center Haruneyjar: biggest accommodation option in the highlands & good base for hiking in the area
- Oddsson Hotel (Reykjavik): Located more in the center of Reykjavik the Oddson represents a mix of hotel and state-of-the-Art Hostel. I myself really liked the lobby which comes with a nice bar (regular events), a restaurant and an own room for karaoke. Beside budget friendly dorms you can book double rooms or even go for the ubercool Suite (expensive but pretty impressive).
10. Weather & Clothes
The weather conditions in Iceland are very similar to Patagonia – also here you might experience all seasons in one day and have to deal with very strong winds. This means you should come well prepared and bring several layers, a good waterproof jacket is a must for any season as you'll get wet for sure (at least from the many waterfalls).
You can experience the best weather conditions in the summer: rainfall is at its lowest and temperatures are on an average at 15°C but can go up to 25°C. During spring and fall temperatures are on average between 5-10°C, but the likelihood of rain is pretty high. In winter Iceland often get loads of snow, temperatures are at around 0°C in the south and between -5°C and -10°C in the north with more extreme temperatures in the highlands.
Based on my own experience I put together a detailed Iceland Packing List:
My best Iceland travel tips regarding equipment are the following:
- 1x good, waterproof Hiking Boots –
- 2 x Hiking Pants, with the option to turn into a short pant (winter: choose a thicker one)
- 1 x Fleece Jacket – highly recommended for every season!
- 1 x waterproof Jacket – my choice is a bright orange one from Marmot (winter: take a warm waterproof winter jacket or combine with a down jacket)
11. Reykjavik, Golden Circle & Highlands
The capital is also the touristical center of the island: here you'll find most Hostels/Hotels, tour agencies and car rentals. If you don't plan on doing a big road trip in Iceland Reykjavik is the perfect base for day trips. But there also things to do in the city itself: the old harbour, the impressive Hallkrimskirkja and the nightlife are options you should consider during your visit.
Starting early from Reykjavik you could also do the “Golden Circle” and see geysers, a huge waterfall, a volcano crater and hot springs – all in just one day. Therefore the golden circle is very popular. If you plan on doing something a bit less touristy you should head to Reykjadalur, just a short drive from Reykjavik: this river is fed by hot springs and overs pools where you can take a dip totally for free – a great alternative to the expensive Blue Lagoon.
One of my iceland travel tips in summer would be to head into the highlands. From Reykjavik you'll need a 2,5h drive to get to the Highlandcenter Hrauneyjar which is located right in the area with the most picturesque hikes. The highlands are a true paradise for trekking lovers and over several options for short and multi-day-hikes (find more information in the books linked below).
12. West Iceland: Snaefellsnes & Wesfjords
On our big road trip around Iceland we started in the West with the first waterfalls Hraunfossar and Kirjjufellsfoss. My highlight in this part of the island was our trip to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and is highly recommended – here you can see already 3 attractions with the Snæfellsjökull glacier, the impressive coast of Arnarstapi and the mentioned waterfalls.
One of the Iceland travel tips by locals which is still a hidden gem are the Westfjords, only a few tourist make their way up here. The reason being is the fact that this region is far off the Ring Road and travelers would need to bring at least a few days to get to know the Westfjords.
13. North Iceland: Diamond Circle & Northern Lights
The northern part of the island offers a range of attractions: high volcanic activity at Myvatn, hot springs, waterfalls and the unique Asbyrgi canyon are only a few things to do along the so called “Diamond Circle”. Starting in Husavik you can also go on whale watching tours from April till October (best to do during the summer months).
Regarding Northern Lights we got quite lucky at the end of October with the conditions in the northern fjords and got to experience a truly wonderful natural light show.
14. East Iceland: the most picturesque Road Trips
East Iceland is one of the least visited regions of the country and still kind of a hidden gem. Therefore one of my personal iceland travel tips is to go for a road trip along the south eastern coast which awaits with magnificent views.
The Hengifoss and the picturesque bay of Seyðisfjörður are the highlights up the coast and great for hiking. The southern part offers many viewpoints, make sure to stop by at the Stokksnes headland and the town of Höfn.
15. South Iceland: Glaciers & Waterfalls
Beside the Golden Circle, South Iceland is probably the most visited area for a reason. The high density of sights is a true tourist magnet: the waterfalls Skogafoss & Seljalandsfoss, the rock stacks at the black beaches of Vik and the unique Fjadralgljufur canyon are part of every Iceland photo album.
If you like it adventurous you should consider an ice cave tour (November-March) inside Europe's largest glacier (see tour options below). Not enough time for that? Then head to the glacier lagoons between Hof & Höfn to admire the impressive views of the calving glaciers.
16. Tours in Iceland
As you can see the touristic infrastructure in Iceland is excellent. Therefore you can find a wide range of tours on offer – you can choose between day tours or whole tour packages.
a) Multi-Day tours in Iceland
If you like to see more of Iceland you can easily combine your independent holiday with a guided tour. This way you don't need to bother about the organization, you get to know more about the country and you can travel with like-minded people.
After working with them in Peru I highly recommend the tours offered by G Adventures as their philosophy (working with small local businesses) and focus on sustainable travel are in line with my personal values. With many years of expertise you can expect well organized, fun trips in small groups:
- Best of Iceland (7 days): see the highlights along the ring road in just 1 week including the Golden Circle. The price includes all transfers, hotels, breakfast and local guides.
- Iceland Northern Lights & Golden Circle (5 days): a short tour which is offered from October-March and covers the Golden Circle as well as the waterfalls in the South. Hotels, Meals, Transfers and local guides are included.
- Trekking in Iceland (7 days): this summer tour takes you along the popular Laugavagur Trail from the highlands into the south. Accommodation, Camps, Meals, Transfers and local guides are included.
b) Day Tours in Iceland
If you are interested in the mentioned glacier and ice cave tours I highly recommend going with experienced guides to be safe:
- Localguide: this family run business is offering tours to the impressive glacier caves with true glacier experts. Though the tours are pricey you'll be guided through the glacier by very experienced guides and the best equipment. Highly recommended!
If you want to book a tour ahead of time, GetYourGuide is one of the best platforms to do so. Here local tour operators are offering all sorts of experiences to most parts of the country:
17. Recommended Iceland Travel Guide Books
If you want to come well prepared I suggest looking into the following guide books to plan your trip to Iceland:
The Lonely Planet Iceland is one the most comprehensive guide books for Iceland. Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests. It comes also with more than 37 maps. Available for Kindle and as Paperback.
>> get it on Amazon
Rick Steves Iceland
This is the best sold Iceland guide book for a reason: written by popular host and travel expert Rick Steve it offers a comprehensive coverage and many iceland travel tips for exploring Iceland, whether you've got a long layover in Reykjavík or two weeks to dive into the whole country.
18. My Iceland Travel Documentary
I visited all places mentioned in this guide during our 2 week lasting road trip through Iceland with my buddy Gareth. As always I also filmed a video documentary about our time.
The video is filled with practical iceland travel tips about each place and offers a personal view of our experience:
More Iceland Travel Tips?
I wrote this Iceland travel guide based on my own experience in Iceland. If you have been to Iceland as well and you have some great Iceland travel tips and recommendations please feel free to leave a comment below. If you liked the guide and found it helpful, I would appreciate if you could share it with your friends or link to it from your homepage!
Disclaimer: This post contains Iceland Travel tips but also Affiliate Links for services and products I’m using on my travels – therefore I can highly recommend using them. By using these links you won’t pay any additional fees! As part of my Iceland video series, I got supported by SADcars (rental car), HomeAway/VRBO (accommodation), Localguide (ice cave tour) and Oddsson (accommodation), this article was not part of this cooperation and none of the mentioned paid to be included. All recommendations, opinions, and ironic remarks are, as always, my own.