Iceland is renowned for its diverse landscape and a wide variety of amazing things to see and do. There is so much to see, so much to do, and often in a limited amount of time. Planning holidays in Iceland might seem daunting at first, but we put together this guide to help you out.
Plenty of questions start to arise when it comes to planning a trip to Iceland. What is the best time of the year to visit? For how long to stay in Iceland? How to get around and find accommodation? What are the best things to do? These and other questions will be answered in this ultimate guide to planning a holiday in Iceland.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL TO ICELAND
Colorful mountains of Landmannalaugar, Iceland
After you've decided that Iceland is going to be your next travel destination, the next natural question is, what's thebest time to visit Iceland? And our answer to that is: It really depends on your preferences and what you want to do.
Summer and winter in Iceland are very distinct seasons, so the activities also vary a lot depending on the season. For example, if you come to Iceland for theNorthern Lights, it would be best to come during the winter months while the summer months allow you to experienceMidnight Sun.
These and other differences are described below.
VISITING ICELAND IN SUMMER
Summer time in Stokksnes, Iceland
The summer season is the most popular to visit Iceland, so it is recommended to book your accommodation way before coming to Iceland. Also, the attractions may be more crowded than the rest of the year.
Summer is also a season with the most daylight present, so it's not likely you'll see the Northern Lights. But the phenomenon called Midnight Sun, when the sun almost never sets, is also something to experience during the summer in Iceland!
Summer in Icelandis characterized by beautiful and lush greenery, wildflower fields, and great wildlife. It is when the whole of nature is awake and out there to enjoy.
VISITING ICELAND IN SPRING AND FALL
Landmannalaugar mountains during sunset, Iceland
Spring and fall last for a very short period of time in April and from late September to early October. Everything else is considered summer or winter.
Spring and fall are considered "shoulder months" in Iceland, with lesser snow and better road conditions but still not enough to call it summer or winter. These are also the times with fewer tourists, hence also the cheapest.
The spring and fall in Iceland offer moderate temperatures and plenty of daylight to explore things. Plus, you'll get an opportunity (although smaller than during winter) to spot the northern lights!
VISITING ICELAND IN WINTER
Bright Northern Lights during winter season in Iceland
The winter season in Iceland usually starts around mid-October and lasts till the end of April. Even though Iceland has a lot to offer at any time of the year, winter is a more quiet season compared to summer.
The daylight in winter in Iceland can be as short as 6 hours in December, but in March, it extends to almost 12 hours. This amount of darkness provides plenty of opportunities for seeing theNorthern Lights!
Driving in Icelandduring winter may be tricky or sometimes even impossible due to many road closures and hazardous driving conditions. Ice and snow cover the road, making some of the roads completely inaccessible.
Theweather in Icelandin winter is definitely not something worth putting off your travel plans. The temperature rarely gets below 0°c (32°F), and snow and wind can be overcome with a warm, weatherproof jacket and trousers.
Crystal Ice cave in Iceland
The winter season allows for plenty of opportunities and activities to explore! From Northern Light to ice caving, from skiing to exploring the Icelandic capital, there are plenty of things to do in Iceland in winter!
How many days in Iceland is enough? It depends on how much you want to do! Here we will break apart what can be done in 4, 5 to 7, 7 to 10, and 10 to 14 days!
UP TO 4 DAYS
Panorama of Reykjavik, capital of Iceland
If you don't have much time on your hands and stay in Iceland for up to 4 days, you'll have enough time to visit Reykjavik and what's around it. South Coast, Golden Circle, and Blue Lagoon are the most popular attractions not so far from the capital. It is recommended to stay in Reykjavik for the nights and take the day tours from there.
Mount Kirkjufell in Iceland
A few extra days will give you more opportunities to explore Iceland's countryside. A week in Iceland will allow you to take your time visiting Reykjavik and do the bigger part of the South Coast, and the Golden Circle. If you have additional time left, we advise you to take a tour of theSnaefellsnes Peninsula. Seeing "everything" in Iceland in just 7 days is not possible, though, so you'll still have to prioritize.
Can you do the wholeRing Roadin just 7 days? The answer is yes, it is possible, but you won't have much time to spend at the main attractions. If you do want to have most of spending a week in Iceland, we recommend doingthis 7-day tour around Iceland, which is perfectly customized to see as much as possible in a considerably small period of time.
Traveler hiking to Landmannalaugar, Highlands of Iceland
Spending more than a week in Iceland gives you more freedom to explore even the farther destinations, such asReykjanes Peninsulaor the Diamond Circle in North Iceland. If you are traveling from afar, you could also take a couple of days to relax and recover from jet lag.
You could explore the whole island while traveling for 10 days straight during the summer, but you'll have to be ready to move every single day. If you're traveling on your own, you should check out this8-day,9-day, or10-dayself-drive tour around Iceland.
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon during the sunset, Iceland
There are multiple ways of traveling in Iceland, but they all can be put into these main categories:
Driving off road in Iceland
What is self-drive? Self-drive is the way of traveling when you rent a car in a host country, build an itinerary, and navigate yourself.
The main advantage of this form of traveling is flexibility. You can stay in preferred locations for as long as you want and adjust your itinerary based on your wishes.
The disadvantages of this kind of trip are, of course, that you cannot relax and always have to be cautious. Also, it can be more expensive considering you'll have to rent a car, buy fuel, pay for accommodation, and so on. Driving in Iceland, especially during the winter, can be challenging or, in some cases, even impossible.
Arctic Adventure mini bus awaiting for customers in Vik village, South of Iceland
If you prefer to leave the whole planning and handling part to others, a guided tour option might sound appealing to you. There are different types of guided tours. You can chooseday toursormulti-day tours, also can book aprivate touror a group tour.
The obvious advantage of taking a guided tour is that you don't have to worry about anything. You will be picked up from a certain location (there are a lot of day tours from Reykjavik) and taken to the places you'd like to visit. It is also usually cheaper than doing it all by yourself. Plus, you'll get the advantage of having an experienced guide, who can tell you more about the places and the culture of Iceland.
Packing for a trip to Iceland might seem daunting at first, but if you know what to prepare for, it gets easier.The weather in Icelandcan be quite unpredictable at any time of the year, so you'll need to prepare yourself for all kinds of weather.
Your packing list also depends on the type of activities you plan to explore. If you're embarking on many outdoor activities, warm layers are crucial, especially in winter.
PACKING FOR ICELAND IN WINTER
Warm first layer. The first layer is that closest to your body. It helps to keep in your body heat, and it should be breathable. Merino wool or synthetic thermals works perfectly for that.
Warm second layer. The second layer is between the first layer and the outer layer. Pack something warm like a fleece or wool sweater.
Waterproof/windproof outer layer. The weather in Iceland can change every 5 minutes. You'll thank us later.
Leggings and waterproof pants. Jeans won't do well in Icelandic weather.
Sturdy waterproof hiking shoes. No sneakers.
Gloves, beanie, and a scarf.
PACKING FOR ICELAND IN SUMMER
Waterproof jacket. Rain can appear at any time without any notice.
Warm jacket or a sweater. For colder evenings.
Lightweight hiking pants.
Layers, always layers. Wear layers like long-sleeve shirts, short-sleeve shirts, and vests that can be worn on top of one another. It can get very warm or very cold in an instant, so interchangeable layers are important.
FINDING ACCOMMODATION IN ICELAND
Finding accommodation in Iceland is easier than it sounds at first. There are many hotel options to explore, along with numerous farm stays, B&Bs, and guesthouses.
Yellow cabin in Icelandic highlands
Here are some of the most popular means of accommodation in Iceland:
Iceland offers a wide array of hotels, from budget-friendly economic city hotels to luxury resorts.
Icelandair Hotel in Víkis located among some of the most stunning locations on the South Coast of Iceland. It offers 88 rooms, all decorated with contemporary design. The hotel is just a stone's throw away from theReynisfjara Black Sand Beach, so you can gaze at beautiful basalt columns from your own room!
Hotel Búðirinvites its guests to the serene location ofSnæfellsnes peninsula. This elegant country hotel is located in the middle of a lava field, down by the shore. All the rooms feature handpicked items that symbolize the life of Iceland's upper class. The restaurant offers a menu including local lamb and fish.
If you're looking for a stylish city hotel, the101 Hotelin downtown Reykjavik may be ideal for you. Located on the side street from the main shopping streetLaugavegur, this hotel is perfect for exploring the city's main restaurants, museums, and attractions.
If you're looking for accommodation with a more "personal touch", guesthouses might be a good idea. There are many guesthouses that welcome tourists all around the island. They are usually smaller than the hotels and are run by families. Since there are families living there, they are often referred to as "farm stays".
Some of the guesthouses are even located in the middle of animal farms, so you can feel very close to nature and the Icelandic way of living.
If you're looking for a budget-friendly stay and don't mind living with other people, hostels might be a good option. Especially for solo travelers, hostels are the perfect place to meet new like-minded people from all over the world. Find out more aboutsolo travel in Iceland.
Hostels usually offer a shared dorm and common areas, such as a kitchen and bathrooms. Some hostels even have their own restaurant or bar, where cultural events, such as movie nights or live music evenings, happen.
Airbnb in Icelandis a popular option among tourists. Not only it is cheaper than the hotels, but it also offers privacy and, in most cases, is good quality. The price of Airbnb for 2 persons in Reykjavik usually costs between 115-225 USD per night while hotel prices usually start from 150 USD and go up from there.
If you don't mind a bit of discomfort and like to stay close to nature, camping in one of the campgrounds is an option. To be ready, we recommend you read aguide to camping in Iceland.
Campsite in Vik village, Iceland
Here are some extra tips for accommodation in Iceland:
Book your accommodation at least a few months in advance, especially if you're planning to come during the summer season.
Many hotels in Iceland offer a wake-up call for Northern Lights service. Don't hesitate to ask them, so you would not miss this spectacular show.
Bring a debit or credit card with good exchange rates. Iceland is a virtually cash-free country, so you will probably pay for accommodation, food, or gas with your card. Make sure it has good international rates, so you don't have to suffer from large fees.
Pack the right adapters. Not all hotels have adapters for you. Iceland, like most European countries, uses plugs with two prongs.
HOW MUCH DOES A HOLIDAY IN ICELAND COST?
The overall cost of your trip to Iceland will depend on the type of accommodation you choose also, whether you chooseself-driveor aguided tour, and the number of days and activities.
The average cost of a trip to Iceland for one person is around $100-200 per day. It adds up to around $700-1400 per 7 days. It includes accommodation, transport, food, and activities.
Here are some money-saving tips that you could use in Iceland:
Stay in the countryside instead of a city. Smaller towns and villages in Iceland tend to be cheaper. Plus, you'll get a more authentic feel of life in Iceland.
If you're traveling during the summer, try camping instead of staying at a hotel. Camping may be a great option, especially if you're staying in a campervan. The price of a campervan is usually $90 a night for two people.
Food is especially expensive in Iceland, so make sure to have sandwiches and snacks wherever you go or buy some at the supermarket.
Taking a guidedmulti-day tourwith included transportation and accommodation is usually cheaper than paying for all of it separately. Plus, you'll get an expert guide to guide you through!
BEST THINGS TO DO ON A HOLIDAY IN ICELAND
There are plenty of things to do on your holiday in Iceland. Here are some of the best things to do:
1. VISITING JÖKULSÁRLÓN GLACIER LAGOON
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in South of Iceland
Jökulsárlón is worth visiting at any time of the year. During the summer, you can spot the adorable seals relaxing in the sun on the floating icebergs. On dark winter nights, it is the perfect spot for watching the wonderful Northern Lights.
2. SNORKELING IN SILFRA FISSURE
Snorkeling in Silfra Fissure, Iceland
Even if Iceland doesn't seem like a place you go snorkeling, it's actually the only place in the world where you can snorkel between two tectonic plates! Silfra fissure is situated between the tectonic plates of Eurasia and North America, which are drifting apart from each other. Won't it be too cold, you ask? Don't worry! Even if the water temperature stays around 35-37°F (2-4°C) year-round, your drysuit will keep you warm throughout the entire experience!
3. TREKKING IN LANDMANNALAUGAR
Trekking tour in Landmannalaugar, Iceland
Trekking in Landmannalaugar is probably one of the best experiences you can have in Iceland. The hiking trails go through a beautiful landscape with colorful hills and hot springs. Trekking in Landmannalaugar can only be done in summer.
4. GOING WHALE WATCHING
Whale watching tour in Iceland
Did you know that whale watching tours offer a 99.5% chance of seeing a whale? It's one of the best chances you can get! The whale-watching tours either start from Reykjavik or the whale-watching capital Dalvík. Go ahead and see those majestic animals yourself!
5. VISITING GOLDEN CIRCLE ATTRACTIONS
Gullfoss waterfall, Golden Circle sightseeing location in Iceland
The famousGolden Circle routeconsists of three main attractions: Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and Geysir. Visiting all three of them is essential for getting to know Iceland. Thingvellir National Park is called the birthplace of the nation since it is where the first parliament gathered.
Stay flexible- It's really hard to plan something in Iceland because of its unpredictable weather. Tours might get canceled. Roads might be closed. You'll just have to embrace it and find otherthings to do in bad weather.
Use theAurora appto get the most accurate predictions of seeing the Northern Lights. Even if Northern lights, as a natural phenomenon, is hard to predict, there are certain instruments to higher your chances of seeing them.
Shop at the budget supermarketsif you want to save money. Bonus supermarket is considered to be the cheapest place to shop for groceries.
Buy alcohol at the Duty-Free storeupon your arrival at the airport. Buying alcohol in state-run liquor stores is expensive. If you're planning to consume alcohol, it's better to buy it at the airport.
Shower thoroughly before entering a pool or a hot spring.Icelanders are very serious about personal hygiene, especially in public swimming places. Shower without your swimsuit before entering a public swimming pool or hot spring.
Know how to take photos of the Northern Lights.Seeing this spectacular phenomenon with your own eyes is something you will never forget, but if you want to share that memory with the one back home, you have to learn how to photograph them properly. Our recommendation is to use a tripod and a long exposure.
Underestimate the Icelandic weather.It can change very fast, so you have to be prepared for anything. Check theVedur websiteevery now and then to get the most accurate predictions.
Stop on the side of the road.Even if the road looks empty, never stop on the side on the side of the road. Reach the parking lot and then take a picture or check your coordinates.
Risk your life for a photo. Even if the photo on the cliff may look cool, the barriers are put there for a reason. The ground may be slippery regardless of the time of the year, and a strong gust of wind can come without warning.
Go on a glacier without a certified glacier guide.There's a whole science of navigating on a glacier. There can be hidden deep crevasses that you can fall into. An experienced glacier guide will make sure you visit the glacier safely.
Drive off-road.There are certain rules that you simply must obey when it comes todriving in Iceland. One of them is to never go outside the designated road. It ruins the landscape, and there are huge fines related to it.
Answer nature's call in nature.This may sound like a no-brainer, but it still needs to be reminded. The same goes for littering in nature.
Crossing the river in Iceland
Know that you know how to plan a trip to Iceland, it's time to start packing! Taking a trip to Iceland is probably one of the best decisions you can make. There are very few places left on earth with nature so pristine and so remarkable. Know someone who is planning a trip to Iceland? Share this guide with them!
FAQ on Planning a Trip to Iceland
What are the best tours in the country?
All of them! If it’s your first time planning a trip to the land of fire and ice, you’ll probably want to visit the Golden Circle and the South Coast. Trips to Iceland aren’t complete without a stop at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, located just off the Ring Road.
How much does a trip to Iceland cost? Is it an expensive place to visit?
The trip can be fairly costly, but they don’t need to break the bank. Read our post onPrices in Icelandto find out more.
How long should I spend in the country?
If you’re here on a layover, we recommend at least 2-3 days to explore Reykjavik and the Golden Circle. If you have more time, give yourself at least 6 days to explore the Ring Road. Ourvacation packageshelp you maximize your trip to Iceland no matter how much time you have.
Is Iceland safe to visit?
Absolutely! Our country is one of the safest in the world. Crime is almost non-existent. As with any place you visit, you should still keep your valuables and belongings in a secure location.
The most dangerous element is the weather. If you’re traveling without a guide or in an unfamiliar destination such as the Highlands, the weather can change rapidly and you might get lost or stranded. Always check the weather forecast and have the emergency services phone number on hand.
Are food and drink expensive?
It depends on where you shop. Many grocery stores are reasonably priced when it comes to local goods. Imported food and drink can cost you a pretty penny. At restaurants, lunch can set you back $20 while dinner will likely cost at least $50 per person.