Iceland Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Iceland, the land of fire and ice, is a captivating destination nestled in the North Atlantic. Known for its breathtaking natural landscapes, including glaciers, volcanoes, and hot springs, Iceland offers an unparalleled adventure for tourists seeking both serenity and excitement. With a unique blend of geothermal wonders and untouched wilderness, it’s a place where nature takes center stage.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 馃搮

The best time to visit Iceland as a tourist largely depends on your preferences and what you want to experience. Here are some factors to consider for each season:

  1. Summer (June to August):
    • This is the high tourist season, as the weather is milder, and the days are long with nearly 24 hours of daylight, allowing for more outdoor activities.
    • You can explore Iceland’s lush landscapes, go hiking, and enjoy a wide range of tours and activities.
    • The downside is that it can be crowded, and prices are higher during this period.
  2. Spring (April to May) and Autumn (September to early October):
    • These shoulder seasons offer a good compromise between decent weather and fewer crowds.
    • The landscapes start to awaken in spring, with snowmelt and budding vegetation, while autumn brings beautiful fall colors.
    • These seasons are ideal for those seeking a more tranquil experience.
  3. Winter (October to March):
    • Winter in Iceland is known for its enchanting Northern Lights, making it a popular choice for those interested in this natural spectacle.
    • You can also enjoy activities like ice caving, snowmobiling, and relaxing in geothermal pools.
    • Keep in mind that it can be very cold, with limited daylight hours, so plan accordingly.

Ultimately, the best time to visit Iceland depends on your personal interests and what you want to experience. Consider the weather, your preferred activities, and your tolerance for crowds and cold when making your decision.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 馃殞

Getting around Iceland as a tourist can be an adventure in itself, and the best way to explore the country depends on your preferences, budget, and the time of year. Here are some of the most common ways to get around:

  1. Rental Car:
    • Renting a car is one of the most popular options for tourists. It provides the flexibility to explore Iceland at your own pace.
    • Most roads are well-maintained, but conditions can vary, so it’s essential to choose the right type of car, especially if you plan to visit the highlands or drive in winter.
    • Be sure to check the weather and road conditions regularly, as they can change rapidly.
  2. Public Transportation:
    • Iceland has a limited public transportation system, primarily buses. The main bus company, Str忙t贸, operates routes connecting major cities and towns.
    • While public transportation can be a cost-effective option, it may not provide the flexibility to access remote or less-traveled areas.
  3. Guided Tours:
    • Many tourists opt for guided tours, whether in a bus or a smaller group. This is a convenient way to explore Iceland’s highlights, especially if you prefer not to drive.
    • There are various tour packages available, such as the Golden Circle, Northern Lights tours, and multi-day adventures that cover more extensive parts of the country.
  4. Domestic Flights:
    • If you plan to cover long distances quickly, consider taking domestic flights. Air travel is relatively efficient and can save you time, especially if you’re visiting places far apart.
  5. Biking and Hiking:
    • For the more adventurous travelers, biking or hiking can be a fantastic way to explore Iceland’s stunning landscapes. There are numerous trails and routes for these activities.
  6. Ferries:
    • If you want to explore some of Iceland’s more remote islands, you can take a ferry. Popular destinations include the Westman Islands and the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago.
  7. Taxi and Ride-Sharing Services:
    • In Reykjavik and larger towns, you can use taxi services or ride-sharing apps for shorter trips.

The best way to get around Iceland ultimately depends on your travel style, interests, and the time you have available. Many visitors choose a combination of these transportation methods to make the most of their Icelandic adventure. Be sure to plan ahead and consider the weather and road conditions, especially if you’re driving or cycling.

What’s the Official Language?

The official language of Iceland is Icelandic. Here are some useful Icelandic words and phrases for tourists:

  1. Hello – Hall贸 (pronounced haht-loh)
  2. Good morning – G贸冒an morgun (pronounced goh-than moh-ruhn)
  3. Good afternoon – G贸冒an dag (pronounced goh-than dahg)
  4. Good evening – G贸冒a kv枚ld (pronounced goh-tha kvuld)
  5. Good night – G贸冒a n贸tt (pronounced goh-tha noht)
  6. Please – Vinsamlegast (pronounced vin-sahm-leh-gahst)
  7. Thank you – Takk (pronounced tahk)
  8. Yes – J谩 (pronounced yow)
  9. No – Nei (pronounced nay)
  10. Excuse me – Afsaki冒 (pronounced ahf-sah-keeth)
  11. Sorry – Fyrirgef冒u (pronounced feer-ir-geh-vdoo)
  12. How much does this cost? – Hva冒 kostar 镁etta? (pronounced kvasst kos-tar thet-ta)
  13. Where is the restroom? – Hvar er kl贸sett? (pronounced kvar er kloh-set)
  14. I need help – 脡g 镁arf hj谩lp (pronounced yehg tharf yow-lp)
  15. I don’t understand – 脡g skil ekki (pronounced yehg skeel ek-ki)

Learning a few basic Icelandic phrases can enhance your experience and help you connect with the local culture while visiting Iceland. Many Icelanders also speak English, especially in the tourist areas, so communication should not be a significant barrier for most visitors.

Where to Stay? 馃彣

When choosing where to stay in Iceland as a tourist, your decision will depend on your travel preferences, budget, and the regions you plan to visit. Iceland offers a range of accommodation options to suit different needs. Here are some choices:

  1. Reykjavik: The capital city has the most diverse range of accommodations, from budget hostels to luxury hotels. Staying in Reykjavik is a good choice if you want easy access to the city’s attractions, restaurants, and nightlife.
  2. Guesthouses: Guesthouses and bed-and-breakfasts can be found in various parts of Iceland. They provide a cozy and often more personal experience with local hosts.
  3. Hotels: Iceland offers hotels of all classes, including international chains and locally-owned boutique hotels. Consider staying in hotels if you want a comfortable and convenient experience.
  4. Hostels: Hostels are a cost-effective choice for budget travelers, offering dormitory-style rooms and private options. Reykjavik, as well as other towns, has several hostels.
  5. Airbnbs and Vacation Rentals: Renting a private apartment, cottage, or house through platforms like Airbnb is a popular choice for those seeking more independence and space.
  6. Farm Stays: Experience rural life by staying on a working Icelandic farm. This provides a unique opportunity to connect with the local culture.
  7. Camping: Iceland is a camping paradise with numerous campsites throughout the country. It’s an ideal choice for travelers with a camper van or tent. However, be sure to follow camping regulations.
  8. Mountain Huts: If you plan to hike in the Icelandic highlands, consider staying in mountain huts. These basic accommodations provide shelter in remote areas.
  9. Remote Lodges: For those seeking isolation and stunning natural surroundings, remote lodges can be found in places like the Westfjords and the Highlands.
  10. Glamping: Experience the Icelandic wilderness in comfort with glamping options that offer luxurious amenities in scenic locations.

When deciding where to stay, take into account your itinerary, the time of year, and the regions you plan to explore. Keep in mind that accommodations can book up quickly during the summer months, so it’s advisable to make reservations well in advance, especially in popular tourist areas.

What to Eat? 馃嵔锔

Iceland offers a unique culinary experience, with a mix of traditional and modern dishes, often featuring ingredients sourced locally. Here are some must-try foods in Iceland as a tourist:

  1. Icelandic Lamb: Iceland is known for its high-quality lamb, which is raised in the country’s pristine, open landscapes. Try dishes like lamb stew (kj枚ts煤pa) or a lamb chop for a taste of this tender and flavorful meat.
  2. Plokkfiskur: This is a traditional Icelandic fish stew made with cod or haddock, potatoes, and b茅chamel sauce. It’s hearty and comforting.
  3. Skyr: Skyr is a thick, creamy dairy product that resembles yogurt but is actually a type of fresh cheese. It’s commonly eaten with berries and sugar or used in smoothies.
  4. Icelandic Fish: Being an island nation, Iceland offers a wide variety of fish and seafood. Try dishes like grilled Arctic char, pan-fried cod, or fish and chips.
  5. Icelandic Hot Dog (Pylsa): You’ll find pylsur, Icelandic hot dogs, at many street food stalls. They’re typically made with a blend of lamb, pork, and beef and are often topped with crispy fried onions, remoulade sauce, and mustard.
  6. H谩karl: For the adventurous eater, h谩karl is a traditional Icelandic dish of fermented shark. It has a strong ammonia-like odor and a challenging flavor. It’s often served with a shot of Brenniv铆n, Iceland’s signature schnapps, to help wash it down.
  7. Rye Bread (R煤gbrau冒): This dense, dark rye bread is a staple in Icelandic cuisine. It’s baked using geothermal heat and is often served with butter, smoked salmon, or herring.
  8. Icelandic Lobster (Langoustine): Enjoy langoustine dishes, such as langoustine soup or langoustine pasta, to savor the flavors of Icelandic lobster.
  9. Puffin and Whale Meat: While these are controversial choices due to conservation concerns, some restaurants serve puffin and whale meat. It’s essential to be aware of the ethical implications of consuming these animals and make an informed choice.
  10. Icelandic Pastries: Don’t miss out on Icelandic pastries like kleinur (twisted doughnuts), p枚nnuk枚kur (thin pancakes), and the famous kleina (deep-fried pastry).
  11. Moss-covered Icelandic Lamb: This is a unique dish where Icelandic lamb is slow-cooked with Icelandic herbs and covered with a crispy layer of moss. It’s a modern and inventive take on traditional cuisine.

Icelandic cuisine has been evolving and embracing more international flavors, but trying the local specialties is a great way to immerse yourself in the country’s culture and culinary heritage.

What to See? 馃攳

Iceland is a land of breathtaking natural beauty, offering a wide range of must-see places for tourists. Here are some of the most iconic and stunning destinations in Iceland:

  1. Reykjavik: Start your journey in the capital city and explore its vibrant culture, including the Harpa Concert Hall, Hallgr铆mskirkja Church, and various museums. Don’t forget to stroll through the colorful streets of the Old Town.
  2. The Golden Circle: This popular route includes three remarkable sights:
    • 脼ingvellir National Park: Witness the meeting point of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates and the historic Althing, the world’s oldest parliament.
    • Geysir Geothermal Area: Experience the spouting geysers, including Strokkur, and bubbling hot springs.
    • Gullfoss Waterfall: Admire the powerful two-tiered waterfall and its immense natural beauty.
  3. Blue Lagoon: Soak in the rejuvenating waters of the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa with its striking milky-blue waters and surreal surroundings.
  4. Vatnaj枚kull National Park: Explore Europe’s largest national park, which features an array of stunning landscapes, including glaciers, volcanoes, waterfalls, and the otherworldly J枚kuls谩rl贸n Glacier Lagoon.
  5. Sk贸gafoss and Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls: Marvel at these magnificent waterfalls, with Sk贸gafoss being one of the largest and most powerful in Iceland and Seljalandsfoss offering a unique opportunity to walk behind the cascade.
  6. The South Coast: Take a drive along Iceland’s South Coast, known for its black sand beaches, basalt columns at Reynisfjara, and the picturesque village of V铆k.
  7. The East Fjords: Discover the charming fishing villages, dramatic cliffs, and stunning fjords that characterize the East Fjords of Iceland.
  8. Akureyri: Visit Iceland’s second-largest city, known for its botanical gardens, vibrant arts scene, and proximity to the stunning Go冒afoss waterfall.
  9. The Westfjords: Explore the remote and rugged Westfjords, where you can find awe-inspiring cliffs, bird cliffs, and serene fishing villages.
  10. Myvatn: Experience the surreal landscapes surrounding Lake M媒vatn, with features like geothermal fields, H煤sav铆k’s whale-watching opportunities, and Dimmuborgir’s lava formations.
  11. Snaefellsnes Peninsula: Discover this captivating area, home to the Snaefellsjokull volcano, Kirkjufell mountain, and the charming village of Stykkish贸lmur.
  12. The Highlands: For adventurous travelers, explore Iceland’s highlands, a remote and rugged region with surreal landscapes, including the famous Landmannalaugar and the Fjallabak Nature Reserve.

These are just a few of the must-see places in Iceland, but the country’s diverse and ever-changing landscapes offer countless opportunities for exploration and adventure. Whether you’re interested in geological wonders, outdoor activities, or cultural experiences, Iceland has something to offer every traveler.

What to Do? 馃摳

Iceland offers a wide range of unique and unforgettable experiences for tourists. Here are some must-do activities and things to consider when visiting Iceland:

  1. Chase the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Witness the natural spectacle of the Northern Lights during the winter months. Head away from city lights for the best viewing.
  2. Relax in the Blue Lagoon: Soak in the geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland’s most famous spas. It’s a fantastic way to unwind and take in the surreal surroundings.
  3. Explore Geothermal Areas: Visit geothermal areas like Geysir and Haukadalur to see geysers erupt and bubbling hot springs. The Strokkur geyser is a highlight.
  4. Hike to a Glacier: Take a guided glacier hike on one of Iceland’s many glaciers, such as Vatnaj枚kull, S贸lheimaj枚kull, or Sv铆nafellsj枚kull.
  5. Go Whale Watching: Iceland is one of the best places in the world to go whale watching. Husavik and Reykjavik are popular spots for whale-watching tours.
  6. Visit Ice Caves: Explore the mesmerizing ice caves that form in glaciers during the winter months. These natural wonders are a photographer’s dream.
  7. Go Horseback Riding: Experience the unique Icelandic horse breed, known for its friendly nature and special gait, the t枚lt.
  8. Visit Volcanic Craters: Explore volcanic craters like Kerid and Hverfjall for a closer look at Iceland’s geological wonders.
  9. Bathe in Hot Springs: Besides the Blue Lagoon, discover other natural hot springs and pools scattered across the country, like the Secret Lagoon in Fl煤冒ir.
  10. Taste Icelandic Cuisine: Sample traditional Icelandic dishes like lamb stew, plokkfiskur (fish stew), and skyr, and don’t miss out on the chance to try the infamous h谩karl (fermented shark).
  11. Take a Glacier Lagoon Boat Tour: Explore the ethereal J枚kuls谩rl贸n Glacier Lagoon by boat and get up close to floating icebergs.
  12. Visit Waterfalls: Iceland is home to many stunning waterfalls, including Gullfoss, Sk贸gafoss, Seljalandsfoss, and Godafoss. Each offers a unique experience.
  13. See Puffins: Iceland is a great place for birdwatching, and puffin colonies can be found along the coastline. Tours to view these charming birds are popular during the summer.
  14. Drive the Ring Road: Embark on a road trip around the Ring Road (Route 1) for a comprehensive tour of Iceland’s incredible landscapes.
  15. Experience the Midnight Sun: During the summer months, embrace the phenomenon of the Midnight Sun, when the sun barely sets, providing ample daylight for exploring around the clock.
  16. Visit Reykjavik’s Art and Culture: Explore Reykjavik’s vibrant art scene, museums, and cultural attractions, including Harpa Concert Hall and the National Museum of Iceland.
  17. Go Ice Climbing: For adventure enthusiasts, try ice climbing on glaciers with the help of experienced guides.
  18. Bathe in the Wilderness: Discover remote natural hot springs in the wilderness, offering a more secluded and authentic experience.

These activities showcase just a fraction of what Iceland has to offer. Whether you’re interested in natural wonders, outdoor adventures, or cultural experiences, Iceland provides a wealth of opportunities to make your visit truly unforgettable.

Culture and Safety 馃

Traveling to Iceland as a tourist is generally safe, and the country is known for its friendly and welcoming culture. However, like any destination, it’s important to be aware of certain cultural aspects and safety considerations:

Culture:

  1. Respect Local Customs: Icelanders take their culture and traditions seriously. When visiting, it’s essential to be respectful of local customs, including social norms, and practices.
  2. Punctuality: Icelandic people value punctuality, so it’s polite to be on time for appointments, tours, and other engagements.
  3. Alcohol Consumption: The legal drinking age in Iceland is 20, and it’s important to drink responsibly. Public intoxication is not well-received.
  4. Tipping: Tipping is not customary in Iceland, as service charges are often included in bills. While tipping is appreciated, it is not expected.
  5. Respect Nature: Icelanders have a deep respect for their stunning natural environment. It’s vital to leave no trace, not disturb wildlife, and stay on marked paths to preserve the fragile ecosystems.
  6. Language: While many Icelanders speak English, making communication relatively easy, it’s polite to learn a few basic Icelandic phrases to show respect for the local language and culture.

Safety:

  1. Weather Awareness: Iceland’s weather can be unpredictable and severe. Be prepared for rapidly changing conditions, especially if you’re exploring the countryside. Check weather forecasts and road conditions regularly.
  2. Road Safety: If you’re renting a car, drive cautiously, especially in rural areas. Familiarize yourself with Iceland’s road signs, and always follow speed limits and road rules.
  3. Emergency Services: Iceland has a well-functioning emergency service, accessible by dialing 112. In case of an emergency, do not hesitate to call for help.
  4. Wildlife Safety: Iceland is home to various wildlife, including seals and birds. Keep a safe distance and do not disturb or feed them.
  5. Water Safety: Iceland’s waters can be dangerous due to strong currents and rapidly changing tides. Be cautious when swimming in the ocean, and always follow the advice of lifeguards at popular beach areas.
  6. Crime: Iceland is considered one of the safest countries in the world with low crime rates. However, exercise normal precautions, such as safeguarding your belongings and being aware of your surroundings.
  7. Respect Nature: Safety in Iceland also involves protecting the environment. Avoid littering, stay on designated paths, and respect any area closures or regulations.
  8. Natural Hazards: Iceland is situated on a tectonic plate boundary and is prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. While these events are generally well-monitored, it’s essential to stay informed about any potential hazards during your visit.

Iceland is known for its strong sense of community and safety, but as with any destination, it’s important to be aware of cultural norms and exercise common sense to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.

Conclusion

For those who venture to Iceland, they embark on a journey like no other, where rugged beauty and untamed elements coexist in harmony. From the mesmerizing Northern Lights to the relaxing warmth of the Blue Lagoon, Iceland leaves an indelible mark on every traveler. Whether you seek tranquility or adrenaline-pumping activities, Iceland welcomes you with open arms, promising an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.