25 tips you should know for your first trip to Iceland

Iceland is a captivating destination for any traveler and with a host of new low cost flight options from North America and mainland Europe there has never been a better time to visit. 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. Here are a few tips to help you plan your first trip to the land of ice and fire.

25 tips you should know for your first trip to Iceland www.casualtravelist.com

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.The enchanting black sand beackes of Vik, Iceland. www.casualtravelist.com

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.

Einstock-Iceland's best beer. www.casualtravelist.com

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.

 25 tips you should know for your first trip to Iceland www.casualtravelist.com

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.

25 tips you should know for your first trip to Iceland www.casualtravelist.com

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 Iceland’s  waterfalls make sure to wear your rain gear. I learned this the hard way.25 tips you should know for your first trip to Iceland www.casualtravelist.com25 tips you should know for your first trip to Iceland www.casualtravelist.com

20. You may see all four seasons in one panoramic view.

21. When the sun does come out it is simply spectacular. The blue of the northern sky is luminous and magnifies the vibrancy of the surrounding landscape by a thousand-fold.A beautiful panoramic view of Reykjavik Harbor. www.casualtravelist.com

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.Sheep. They're everywhere in Iceland. www.casualtravelist.com

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.

The Blue Lagoon is Iceland's most popular tourist attraction and is a must for any visit to Iceland. www.casualtravelist.com

25. You will start planning for your next trip to Iceland before you get back home. I know I did.

 

Have you been to Iceland? Please leave any tips or questions you have in the comments!

126 Comments on “25 tips you should know for your first trip to Iceland

  1. Great tips, I only got to see Reykjavik on my first visit, but I’ll be going back for more. Also, you are 100% correct about Einstok. I’m so bummed I’m not there this summer for their summer seasonal!

    • You definitely have to go back to see the gorgeous countryside. I’d love to try some of Einstock’s seasonal offerings.

  2. Just back from Iceland after doing a Nordic cruise. We had 2 days in Reykjavik and 1 in Akureryi – absolutely loved our time there, albeit a bit chilly!

    The landscape is fascinating, waterfalls, snow capped mountains, volcano’s, glaciers and geyser’s. I would certainly like to get back there again one day – I never did get to try one of their famous hotdogs after all…
    Penny recently posted…Did we like the Copenhagen Card? 48 hours in CopenhagenMy Profile

    • I didn’t have a hot dog either, now I definitely need to go back!

      • Well it’s always good to have an excuse to go back, right? 😀

        I do find it quite amusing that their hot dogs are almost a cult status item to eat. Apparently there’s a really famous seller from a little van by the port in Reykjavik, think he even has an entry on Trip Advisor.
        Penny recently posted…10 Travel quotes to inspire your wanderlustMy Profile

    • Thank you so much Tami, I’m glad you enjoyed it! You should definitely go and see what all of the fuss is about 🙂

  3. You share some pretty good tips here. We’ve been to Iceland once, and dreaming about going back. One tip from us is that you may consider to check into the Blue Lagoon Clinic Hotel instead of going to the Blue Lagoon. Not so touristy, and a great way to end the journey on Iceland.
    Monica @ wtraveltogether recently posted…Ancient City of NessebarMy Profile

    • There is so much more of Iceland I want to explore. I’ll definitely look into the Blue Lagoon Clinic Hotel for my next visit.

  4. I LOVE your pictures and all the tips. We want to visit Iceland to see the northern lights but now also to see all these beautiful places in your pictures. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Thank you so much guys, its hard to take a bad picture in Iceland. I want to head back myself to see the Northern Lights.

  5. Great post. I´m planning a trip to Iceland and your advices will be very helpful. Thanks!!!!

    • Thanks Giancarlo, I’m so glad you found them helpful. You will have an amazing time!

  6. Wow!!! Now i wanna go to iceland😊 I need to bring the kids… I’m sure they’ll have fun as well…

    • My friend Tamara atWe3Travel just took her daughter to Iceland, check out her sight for some great family travel tips.

  7. I have read many blogs over the years about Iceland and many of them contain all sorts of erroneous facts and assumptions but I must say your points are absolutely right on! So bravo!

    Having lived in Iceland for almost a decade, one thing I have learned is to have a very healthy respect for nature and not underestimate Icelandic wilderness and that includes glaciers. Many of them are quite accessible but they are very dangerous to walk on in summer when the deep crevasses might still be covered with a thin layer of snow. It’s wise to hire an experienced guide for a glacier hike and not try it on your own.

    Your photos are just fabulous, and I second you about the Blue Lagoon!
    Marie Valgarðsson recently posted…Iceland is currently in the middle of a culinary revolution!My Profile

    • Thank you so much for your kind words Marie, it means a lot coming from someone who has lived in Iceland nearly 10 years! Also, you make an excellent point about only accessing glaciers with a knowledgeable guide, I’ll update my post to include that. We don’t need someone else to try to drive onto a glacier in their rental car lol.

  8. Hi Brianna. So you made it to Iceland before me… I envy you. I’ve always wanted to visit this magnificent country, but there is so much to see and so little time. Your pictures are so beautiful, so enticing. You seemed to have been lucky with the weather. I think I would enjoy the Blue Lagoon too.
    Anda recently posted…Breakfast Cruise on Lake BrienzMy Profile

    • I couldn’t agree more with Anda! Iceland sure looks beautiful and is on my bucket list. Enjoyed reading along, thank you Brianna.

      • I’m glad you enjoyed this post Alyssa, Iceland is just stunning, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it when you make it up there.

    • Thank you so much Anda! As I’ve said before, its hard to take a bad picture somewhere this beautiful. Funny you mention the weather, our first day there it was 40 degrees F with gusting winds and driving rains, I was afraid the rest of our trip was going to be like that!

  9. I soooo want to go to Iceland! What about in the fall/winter? Any advice? We have limited times when we can go on vacation together and November or February might be the easiest, though coldest times to go…

    • I haven’t been during the winter but that shouldn’t stop you from going, plenty of people go to see the Northern Lights. Just remember to plan your sightseeing to accommodate for the shorter days and you should be fine.

    • The scenery is jaw dropping Beverly, I can’t wait to go back myself.

  10. This is on my short list, so I was very happy to see your post! Do you have any recommendation for farm stays? My son loves doing farm stays when we travel and I didn’t realize this was an option here. And the Northern Lights.. Can not wait! Thanks for the tips!
    Karilyn recently posted…Inspire Your Inner Artist at Watts TowersMy Profile

  11. Great post with some fantastic suggestions that would work well in any expensive destination. In expensive places I have a big breakfast and then often skip lunch altogether and of course drinking the local beverage is always a good idea!
    Jo recently posted…A unique experience in Quebec CityMy Profile

  12. I’ve been to Iceland (albeit way back in 1993), so if I return, these would be things I should know for my second trip to that country. 🙂

    I totally agree with you about getting out of Reykjavik; a highlight of my own visit was a day-trip to the Gullfoss waterfall, some geysers, and the field where the Althing (the world’s first Parliament) was convened in the year 930.

    The midnight sun thing is kind of trippy (I also experienced it in St. Petersburg and Alaska a couple of years ago). It’s a weird feeling to be walking around at 9 pm and need to be wearing sunglasses.

    I loved the lunar landscape near the airport.

    One thing I can’t do if I go back is drive. It’s not that I’d be afraid to; but being a true New Yorker, I don’t drive and don’t have a valid license. That would be an impediment to me renting a car, I would imagine. 🙂

    What do you mean that you can see all four seasons in one panoramic view? What do spring and fall look like? 🙂 I do remember that the name of the country is misleading, and the weather can be pretty decent if you go in the summer.

    “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.” This applies to many, if not most, destinations. 🙂
    Harvey (H-Bomb’s Worldwide Karaoke) recently posted…Fast times in Rapid City, South DakotaMy Profile

  13. Oh, I want to go to the Blue Lagoon. I’m a hot springs fanatic. I’d also love to visit a glacier or two, I worked up on one in the Canadian Rockies for 3 summers when I was a teenager, and learned to love ice and snow (at least in summer). Winter … not so much. Fab tips, thanks.
    Wandering Carol recently posted…Montserrat Mountain, Spain: a downhill tripMy Profile

  14. I should have known about these before we went last year. Anyway, I am glad our 3 days in 3 Iceland cities gave me the overview.

    • Thanks Michelle, Iceland is a country that everyone should visit at least once.

  15. I love your tip about just looking up and enjoying the view. Such a key to remember everywhere – but I can see why even more so in Iceland. I have not been but hope to get there in the next few years (and yes, I would love to see/experience the Blue Lagoon even if it is touristy). 🙂
    Elena recently posted…Visit The Beach in Washington DCMy Profile

    • Thanks Elena, especially as a travel blogger I think its even more poignant to to look up from the camera once in a while.

  16. What a comprehensive list of tips for travels to Iceland. I’ve always wanted to go but armed with these tips I’ll be much better able to plan and have a great trip. Can’t wait to try the food and that Einstok beer. Thank you!
    Sue Reddel recently posted…Exploring the Tastes of MilwaukeeMy Profile

    • Sue I do hope you make it to Iceland, its like nowhere else on Earth.

    • Joe, Iceland definitely is a must for any traveler. The landscape is just stunning.

  17. I’ve been planning a trip to Iceland with a friend for a while now, and this is just the first hand info we needed! The photos are stunning also. What a beautiful looking country!
    Amber recently posted…Interview – Tara PoveyMy Profile

    • I’m so glad this post could be of help. Iceland is simply breathtaking, I’m sure you’ll have a great trip.

  18. I loved Iceland too when I went in February last year and I’d agree with everything you’ve written – fabulous photos to accompany too. I’ll definitely be heading back for a couple of weeks some time – in the meantime I’m off for a 24 hour press trip on Monday – 24hrs such a tease!
    Suzanne – Travelbunny recently posted…Mouth-watering Mezze and a GiveawayMy Profile

    • Glad you liked it, let me know if you have any further questions on Iceland!

  19. Food is a “little pricey” you say.
    I guess $15 for a hamburger is “little” for rich folks.
    I’m wondering what “high-priced” is in your budget. ; )

    • Iceland is a notoriously expensive destination and I like to provide a reference point so people are informed.

  20. Just spent 10 days in Iceland driving the Ring Road – Loved it and want to go back. FYI – American credit cards are not chip & PIN at this time – just chip and signature so if you are driving buy gas cards – basically gas station gift cards – that you can use at the remote, unattended stations.

    • Driving in Iceland is amazing, I got just a small taste of it and I definitely would like to explore further. Great tip with the credit cards too!

  21. Iceland is my dream destination! I’ll be using a lot of your suggested tips! Thanks

  22. Your post reminded me of how much I loved Iceland! I enjoyed seeing puffins up close; the moss covered fields; and walking between two tectonic plates.
    Sarah Morrison recently posted…Why I TravelMy Profile

  23. Driving is definitely the way to go in Iceland. Due to the number of activities we wanted to do it actually worked out cheaper than going on lots of guided tours. Stock up at the Bonus supermarkets, they’re the cheapest. If you’re a drinker buy some before you fly to save some money, some hotels will even buy the alcohol off you at a premium if you aren’t a drinker.

    http://whatwaytoday.com/europe/iceland/iceland-self-drive-beats-guided-tours-around-reykjavik-the-golden-circle-and-the-southern-shores/
    Steve @ What Way Today recently posted…Best Travel Cooking TV Shows and Chefs | Food & TravelMy Profile

    • I also loved the freedom of driving to go and explore as I pleased.

  24. Hi Brianna!

    I am planning a sudden trip to Iceland next month. Thank you for all these great thoughts on Iceland.

    Can you recommend some resources to find guesthouses to stay at?

    Can we rent motorcycles or scooters there?

    • Check out icelandic farmstays to get a look at guesthouses. here’s a lot of gravel and ash in Iceland so I don’t think scooters are a great idea.

  25. I am headed there in September. Can’t wait. Since I work for a hotel company I will be based out of the Capitol. So will be day trips each day. I am so looking forward to it.

  26. Hi!

    So I have a 9 hour layover in Keflavik, Iceland, from 1:40 AM to 10:30 AM. I would really like to try to see a bit of Iceland before I fly back home, particularly Gunnuhver and Jaynesta (approx. 30 min away). Would it be safe and practical to travel around that time? I will be travelling in mid-August so I assume it will be light around that time. I would be renting a car; are the roads very rough? I’m moving to Asia soon so this may be my last time in Europe for quite a while. Do you think it’s worth it?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Sorry if this is a bit late for you Jade. I think it would be doable if you could get a rental car that time of night.

  27. Republic of Iceland. Great scenery. Interesting history. Interesting geology. But very pricey..RoI stands for rip off Iceland. A shame that everything is so pricey…….I wonder.. is it about greed!!!???

    • I don’t think it is about greed, its quite an isolated country and it takes a lot to get resources up there.

  28. Great tips, agree with all of them! Loved Iceland so your last tip was very true!! With regard to the food, hot dogs are super popular as well – and cheap which makes a change lol. #WeekendWanderlust

    • Rob, Iceland should be on everyone’s travel list. It really is like no where else on Earth.

  29. I’m still not convinced but my wife wants to go so we might do a stopover on our way back from London. I’m thinking it will be 4 nights. What would be your recommended to do list for that length of a stay?

  30. Pingback: Conquering the Land of Ice and Fire: Iceland – Backcountry Treks

  31. Hello,

    i am planning to visit Iceland in the month of July 2017, i have rented a car and really confused if i should go for 0 Liability cover provided by the auto car agency or should i go for comprehensive insurance which includes everything

    i am planning a trip to Reykjavik, Vik (black sand beach) and Hofn (stokksnes)

    Your advise will be highly appreciated

    Regards,
    Gaurav Wadegaonkar

    • Basic coverage should be fine of you are not going onto the F roads.

  32. What a wonderful post, I really enjoyed reading all the tips, ideas and what to do on this visit, fantastic job Brianna

  33. Pingback: Go Adventure Mom Tips for First Time Iceland Travelers - Go Adventure Mom

  34. Great tips! You’re totally right about the all weather readiness, and the blue lagoon is definitely worth it! Was one of my favourite parts of my trips to Iceland. I’m sorry the horses weren’t more co-operative for you!

    • Thanks Nina! I have to go back to see if I can find friendlier horses.

  35. Pingback: Things You Must Know Before Your Trip to Iceland – Travel Informations

  36. HEY! Thank you so much for the post 🙂
    Even as a local I really enjoyed your tips & tricks about Iceland. Keep up the good work and hope to see you one day 🙂

    Warmest regards,
    Egill and the team at Wake Up Reykjavik, Iceland

    • Thank yo so much Egill, I always love when locals appreciate my posts :). I can’t wait to return to Iceland!

  37. Pingback: Iceland - Big Sky Yoga Retreats

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