In this article you can find in nutshell all you want to know about traveling to Iceland. If you are already in the process of planning your stay, you can read it to better plan and organize your Icelandic trip, what to take with and what not to forget. Or, in case you don´t know much about Iceland yet and you look for some inspiration, this article will introduce Iceland and maybe, who knows, will persuade or advert Iceland as your next destination perfectly tailored for you. Or if you are just killing time, then have a productive procrastination.
Iceland – essential information
Iceland is a volcanic island in the Nort Atlantic area just midway between Europe and North America. Icelandic is an official language, but English is widely spoken and you can use it without limits. Icelandic capital – Reykjavík – is the northernmost capital in the world. ‘White nights’ and really short days are characteristic for this Iceland and and diverse and beautiful nature. Icelandic króna is the official currency, just be sure you can use your card anywhere (even by a street vendor of rainbow flags on the Reykjavík pride) so you may not come into contact with icelandic cash if you don´t want to.
Why to Iceland
A treacherous question. The greatest enticement are breathtaking natural wonders of this volcanic islands. Northern lights, puffins, glaciers, geysers, geothermal pools and fumaroles, volcanos, rainbow mountains, picturesque villages or in the Northern Seas living creatures seals and whales. All this and many many more attraction allures millions of tourists a year to Iceland. Although a lot of places mostly in the south-east area of Iceland (where the Golden Circle is just a part of it), there is still a stunning number of places you can be all alone. A perfect inspiration for you can be a post about the most beautiful places in Iceland in photos, top 10 Iceland or you can simply find what suits the best for you in the clever map of Iceland.
Icelandic fauna and flora
To be honest the Icelandic flora is not the main reasons the hordes of tourists are invading Iceland. You cannot find much trees in Iceland, not to mention forests and for the flowers is penurious as well (except the moss of course!). But, what Iceland cannot offer you in flora compensates with fauna. You can meet reindeer in the East, you can find polar foxes in the West, seals along the shore. Puffins in the summer months and whale watching tours. Eager to know more? Just continue to the article Animals in Iceland and the best spots for observation.
Iceland is a really expensive country, but just with a bit of knowledge (which is available here on the web) you don´t have to spend a fortune. You can enjoy 2 winter weeks in Iceland in the winter just for 500 Eur/USD or 900 Eur/USD during the summer and if you want to add highlans, add another 200 Eur/bucks (+ travel costs of course). Don´t skip the article on How to save money in Iceland without missing anything.
How to get to Iceland
As you already know (or you just read it a bit above) Iceland is an island, so there are basically two options on how to get there.
First and the most popular option (preffered by 96% of travellers) is to come by plane. It is quick and relatively cheap.
The other option is to come by ferry MS Norröna of the Faroese company Smyril line which connects Denmark, Faroe Islands and Iceland. This method would be of your preference in case you want to come by your own car, camper, with motorcycle or you are an adventurer who cannot the other way.
This topic is described in the article How to get to Iceland in detail.
When to go to Iceland
In Iceland the (touristic) year is basically divided into two seasons. The main season – the summer one (June to August) can offer you white nights, when the sun sets just bellow the horizon. You can go to explore Icelandic highlands which are literally unattainable during the winter. You can admire a beautiful puffins and enjoy a relatively stable weather with temperatures around 10°C (50°F).
The off season time is from September till May. It is characterized by short days and too long nights quite often lightened by the Northern lights and when the black lava fields coated by snow look like to be covered by sugar. The temperature is around freezing point (0°C/32°F) with often snowy precipitations and when taking a bath in the natural geothermal pools has its magic. From the angle of your wallet, the price of the winter Iceland may be half as demanding as the summer time, but the experience may be almost of the same intensity. This topic is discussed in the article Seasons in Iceland and when to go.
Weather in Iceland
There is a very poignant joke about the Icelandic weather which stays as: ‘Iceland in the summer is like an opened fridge. 8° (46°) and eternal light.’ And the winter one as the closed one with temperatures around 0° (32°F) and completely dark. I just would like to add than a really windy fridge indeed with wind speed of 15 m/s (34 miles per hour) to be completely unexceptional.
Icelandic weather is strongly influenced by the Gulf stream and is surprisingly stable. In the summer the temperature does not exceed 15°C/59°F and in the winter does not drop under -5°C (23°F). But Icelandic weather is completely unpredictable and you have to count with every possibility all the time. The highest which I can remember was 8°C/46°F and beautiful blue sky, while on the other hand I experienced -2°C (28°F) and the snow storm in June. There is a saying about the weather in Iceland. If you don´t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes. Write down the website www.vedur.is and read the article Weather in Iceland.
What to put on
As you already know from the paragraph just above, the Icelandic weather is everything but predictable and you really have to be ready for everything all the time. And how? Layers is the right answer. First and foremost a light breathable layer, then the warm one and finally the water/wind resistant one. And good shoes are a must. Read more and in detail on What to pack and not to forget for Iceland.
Accomodation in Iceland
There is a huge variety to choose from accommodation options in Iceland and your choice of accommodation would affect not just your Icelandic experience, but the final budget as well. You can sleep in tent or just under the stars (or better to say midnight sun), in hotels, hostels or campervan. The good thing is that if you know how to organize things, the affordable accommodation does not have to be a big deal even in the high season. Just be sure to read the article Accommodation in Iceland.
Where to go
Iceland is of a very diverse nature and each and every part of it has its own charisma and style. The most popular tourist road is the road nr. 1 – The Ring road. It can offer you a sneak peak into everything Iceland has to offer. Reykjavík and surrounding its lava fields, South shore all its beautiful waterfalls and popular spots, the Snæfellsnes peninsula is pointedly nicknamed as small Iceland, a majesty and sparsely inhabited Westfjords, where polar foxes say good night, East fjords with the nature so similar to the Norwegian, the North part where seemingly nothing happens and finally central highlands covered by snow in the winter and shining in all possible colors during the short summer. You can read all about in the article Parts of Iceland or let yourself be inspired by Interesting Icelandic itineraries.
Stay safe in Iceland
Iceland is a raw and in many places still completely wild nature and as you probably know, it can be unmerciful. There is about 25 dead tourist in Iceland each year. You wont be surprised when I tell you that drowning, falling from cliffs, freezing to death or complete exhaustion are the most frequent causes of death. Be sure to check the website safetravel.is and for you own safety and well being read attentively the article How to stay safe in Iceland.
Public transport in Iceland
In case you don´t have a car at your disposal while in Iceland, you can use the public transport for the whole time or even to combine it with your own/rent car. It is important to say, that to move relatively independently around Iceland without having a car is definitely complicated, but not impossible. Buses may take you to all the possible corners of Iceland, ferries can take you to adjacent islands and you can use a interstate flight connections as well. Surprisingly, the airplane ticket can be cheaper then the bus ticket. To read more just visit the page Public transport in Iceland.
Driving in Iceland
Drive a car is without doubt the best option how to experience and enjoy Iceland. Just be sure that even in case you are an experienced driver, you´ll be facing a lot of new challenges and interesting experiences. Single lane bridges, narrow tunnels, gravel roads, unpredictable road closes and detours. River crossings in the central highlands where the roads are so bumpy than just a 15 km/h (10mph) is a furious Fittipaldi speed. Icy roads in the winter with almost zero visibility and to all of it you can add a really strong wind. Please note the website road.is and look at it regularly. What is true in the morning may not be true even yet before lunch. And for your own security, read several times the article Driving in Iceland.
Renting a car in Iceland
As mentioned just above, having a car here in Iceland give you a real freedom to explore Iceland according to your preferences. And similarly to driving in Iceland, Iceland has its own specifics with rental cars. Which one exactly you want to rent is mostly dependent on where you want to go. There are 3 basic type of cars to choose from. Standard 2WD, standard 4WD and modified 4WD. And additionally, you should thing about what insurance to add to it. Apart of standard car rentals, you can use in Iceland peer2peer car rental service directly from Icelanders. Read all about the topic in Renting a car in Iceland.
Campervans combine the advantage of hinterland for cooking and sleeping with flexibility of the car. You can choose from all possible combinations of capacity and terrain transmittance. From small campers for just 2 people (e.g. Dacia Dokker) over big campers for up to 6 people (e.g. Renault Master) to all terrain campers such as Land Rover Defender. Just be sure it is NOT legal to camp outside the designated area anywhere in Iceland while traveling with campervan. Read more about the Campervanning in Iceland.
Planning your Icelandic itinerary
From experience in consulting with others (and even from my past own experiences) people tend to have overoptimistic travel plans for their dreamed trip to Iceland. It all start that Iceland seems to be so small on map while sitting in front of the computer in the living room and all the beautiful sights seem to be so easily reachable, like on a palm and just few steps. But the reality is different. Iceland is really huge and a lot of places is really difficult to reach (even with a 4WD). There are no highways in Iceland, you won´t be traveling quicker than 70 km/h (45mph) in average . Please do not fall into trap ‘I want to see it all’. It is not possible in 3 weeks not to mention in one week. Have a look onto realistic and interesting week long itineraries for your perfect and safe journey.
To be hones, I would hesitate to name Icelanders as gourmands, but to be perfectly honest, there are some type of food you should try to gain an ultimate Icelandic experience. First and foremost it is sheep and fish soup, one is better than the other! And, of course, other sheep and seafood, starting with dried fishes and ending with whales. Skyr, a special Icelandic type of yogurt (just much tastier) or a bread baked in the geothermal heat of the Earth. For many controversial and not comprehensive meat from puffins – would you like to have a puffinburger? And we shall not to forget an foodporn experience par excellence: Hákarl – a fermented shark meat. In combination with Brennivín you´ll remember Iceland for a really long period of time after your departure. Hungry and eager to read more? Then read more about Icelandic Gastronomy.