The Definitive Iceland Travel Guide

September 25, 2023

An incredibly special destination, whether you go in the summer or winter, the sights in Iceland are amazing. On my first visit there, I was mesmerized by the stunning natural beauty, the culture, the local people, and of course the Northern Lights. However, there are some obstacles, including the unpredictable weather and the high costs. In this guide, I will tell you how to plan a perfect trip to Iceland without breaking the bank, plus lots of tips and advice to help you enjoy your time to the fullest. Let’s get started.

Northern Lights

Things to Do Before You Go to Iceland

Save Money – Iceland is expensive, and you’ll enjoy your vacation more if you don’t have to worry about every penny you spend. Plan for the cost of extra snacks and drinks – especially hot chocolates and cakes to warm up after a day in the cold! Later in this guide, we’ll talk about how much a trip to Iceland costs.

Consider Traveling Off-Season – Iceland gets very crowded in the summer months of June through August, so avoid the crowds by visiting during another time of year. Keep in mind, that it will be just a little bit colder in these slower months.

Less Spontaneity, More Planning – Due to Iceland being relatively expensive and requiring a lot of driving, I highly recommend planning out each day with a carefully laid out itinerary. By avoiding spontaneity, you can be sure not to miss any important attractions.

Book Accommodation in Advance – Reservations should be made well in advance, especially if you’re traveling during the summer season.

Buy Travel Insurance – Travel insurance is always a good idea – it’s better to be safe than sorry. In case something goes wrong, you can rest assured you’ll be protected.

Book the Blue Lagoon Beforehand – Iceland’s most popular attraction needs to be booked a few weeks in advance. It’s near the airport, so most people visit after they arrive or before they leave.

Pack Carefully – The weather in Iceland is unpredictable, meaning you should pack lots of warm layers, waterproof clothing, and more. Later in this post, I’ll share a list of what to pack for each season.
Set Up a Data Plan – We recommend using eSIM services offered by eSimple for traveling abroad. This hassle-free system makes sure you’re always connected to the internet, no matter where you roam.

What is the best time to visit Iceland?

Iceland has a rather mild climate, but during some months of the year, it is almost not recommended to visit. The extreme temperatures during December and January make it difficult to enjoy the surroundings, especially if you are sensitive to the cold. 

There is no doubt that the best months to visit are July and August, with temperatures reaching around 14-15 degrees Celsius during the day, while the winter, from December to March, can be very cold and challenging due to snow and ice.

It is important to note that in the summer the night never comes, while in the winter the days are very short and you can experience the magic of the Northern Lights that paint the sky of Iceland green. The northern island, on the other hand, is almost inaccessible in winter but becomes a popular tourist destination in summer.

best time to visit Iceland

What clothes should I pack for a trip to Iceland?

Regardless of the time of year, Iceland always requires comfortable and practical clothing that is suitable for spending time outdoors. Below, I’ll show you which clothing to pack by season, including shoes. My advice? Always take a pair of spare socks with you in your backpack and if possible bring an extra pair of gloves in case one gets wet.

What to Wear in Iceland During the Winter

If you’re planning to come to see the Northern Lights, bring:

  • A Thermal Windbreaker
  • Waterproof Hiking Boots
  • Snow Boots
  • Thermal Socks
  • Gloves / Scarf / Neck Warmer / Hat
  • Ski Pants
  • Fleece Sweatshirt
  • Long-Sleeved Thermal Shirts
  • Thermal Tights (for women)
  • Hiking Pants

What to Wear in Iceland During the Summer

Coming during the warmer months? Bring:

  • A Waterproof Jacket
  • Hiking Boots (preferably waterproof)
  • Sneakers
  • Thermal Socks
  • Scarf / Warmer / Hat
  • Sweatshirts
  • Short-Sleeved Shirts
  • Hiking Pants 
  • Shorts 
  • Swimsuit
Iceland During the Winter

Renting a Car in Iceland

While traveling through, Iceland, it is highly recommended to rent a car. Without it, you will have a very hard time getting around (unless you are traveling as part of an organized tour). Renting a car in Iceland is fairly straightforward, but it is important to keep in mind that it is relatively expensive compared to other countries.

The first thing to know is that if you are staying in the more popular areas, such as the Golden Circle, you will not need a special car. However, if you want to explore the most northern areas, or those less touristy in the west – you will need to rent an SUV with a four-wheel drive. 

If you are going to travel to Iceland in the winter, make sure you have winter tires. It is also advisable to purchase full coverage insurance for both passengers in the car, as the roads may be icy and slippery.

I recommend choosing a rental car that will be available to pick up directly from the airport. Please note that you can only rent a car if you are over the age of 21 and of course, you need to have a valid driver’s license.

Traveling in Iceland by Bus

Is it possible? Only if you are okay with organized tours. You can take tours in the most popular areas of Iceland or even to interesting attractions, such as the Blue Lagoon, the Golden Circle, the glaciers, and more. The prices are not cheap, but it is a great option for those who do not want to worry too much about the planning details of their trip.

Traveling in Iceland by Van

Iceland is a popular destination for van or RV lovers for the simple reason that you can park almost anywhere, thanks to the local law allowing you to stop anywhere for one night. There are also many places and parks specifically for RVs that make for a simpler stop.

Traveling in Iceland by Van

Where to Stay in Iceland

So here is the bad news: Iceland is considered one of the most expensive countries in terms of accommodation and food. In fact, a simple hotel can cost you an average of 150 euros per night, excluding breakfast, and if you thought you were paying for quality, that’s not always the case. The good news, though, is that there are other, cheaper options available, such as hostels and guesthouses, apartments for rent, and a variety of other temporary solutions that will allow you to reduce your costs a bit. When it comes to Iceland, always book in advance through well-known websites like

Internet and Phone Access in Iceland

When it comes to internet access, you should never rely on local Wi-Fi as there are many areas with no coverage. In Iceland, you have two options:

  • Buy an Icelandic SIM card upon landing at the airport. Local prices for calls and internet are relatively expensive compared to other countries in Europe, but they are still a reasonable solution. Nova and Siminn are the two most popular and reliable companies in Iceland but keep in mind that they may not work in some parts of Iceland either.

Buy an eSIM for Iceland through eSIMple. This is my preferred choice when traveling, as it removes the hassle of having to search for somewhere to buy a physical SIM card. With an eSIM, you simply buy it online, scan a barcode, and when you arrive in Iceland, you can instantly start browsing. Another advantage is that you keep your regular number and continue to receive regular calls. The only disadvantage is that eSIMs are not supported by all devices. Check if your device is of the latest generation and is able to support this system.

How much does a trip to Iceland cost?

As noted earlier, Iceland is quite expensive and can cost a fortune, especially when compared to other countries in Europe. Transportation and accommodation are costly, but food is also not cheap (a main course can cost $40 per person!). You can save money by cooking and buying your own food at local and cheap supermarkets like Bónus and Vídir.

If you’re wondering about more concrete costs for traveling to Iceland, it starts at about $70 per person per day including everything, and it can go up to $250 per person per day or more. The range in prices depends on the type of trip you’re planning, the hotels you’ll stay in, how often you’ll eat out, what transportation you’ll use, and which attractions you’ll try.

How much does a trip to Iceland cost?

Go Whale Watching

Whale watching is hands-down one of the best things to do in Iceland. Over 20 species of whales and dolphins live in Icelandic waters, and they come in all shapes and sizes (some of the largest in the world).

The most common species of whales in Iceland are minkewhales and humpback whales. There is also a chance to see more rare animals, such as orcas and fin whales. While the whales are undoubtedly the reason you’ll be taking this cruise, you may also spot a variety of beautiful birds that live in Iceland. 

Whale-watching tours depart from three main locations: Reykjavík, Akureyri, and Húsavík. Húsavík is considered the “whale capital” because it has a great deal of animals passing through.

Enjoy the Nightlife in Reykjavík

What can you do in Iceland at night? Going out is definitely a favorite among locals, who will always jump at the chance to enjoy some good drinks.

Reykjavík’s city center is full of bars, cafes, restaurants, and exciting events. In most of them, you will see a mix of locals and tourists, which will guarantee you a night of conversation and the opportunity to meet friends from around the world.

To ease the pressure on your wallet, you’ll be happy to know that most bars offer a happy hour with great deals that last for at least 3 hours.

Visit Lake Mývatn

Mývatn is a beautiful lake located in northern Iceland. The lake is the fourth largest in Iceland, and several islands are scattered throughout it.

The area is known for its abundant wildlife and flora. You can find about 58 different species of birds in the area, making it a great place for birdwatchers.

Visit Lake Mývatn

Relax at the Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is one of the most popular places in Iceland, and for good reason. Not only is it renowned for its otherworldly beauty, but it also offers a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere. This geothermal spa has healing mud, which can be applied to the face and body while you soak. 

Its convenient location near the airport makes it possible to take a trip here either when you land or when you leave. Please note that you need to book your ticket in advance because the price is fairly expensive per person. If the Blue Lagoon is out of your budget, you can try other spa sites that offer similar experiences, such as the Secret Lagoon near the Golden Circle.

See Dettifoss Waterfall in Northern Iceland

Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. It is located in Vatnajökull National Park in northeastern Iceland, and it is one of the most spectacular natural attractions with the most dramatic views the country has to offer. Fun fact – the opening scene of the movie Prometheus was filmed there!

Soak in the Hot Springs

Iceland’s geological activity revolves around more than just the incredible volcanoes and earthquakes. It’s also about the hot springs! If you have never been to a hot spring before, I highly recommend trying out this relaxing experience. 

Reykjadalur, or literally “Valley of Smoke”, is actually a river that flows through the mountains near the town of Hveragerdi. The hike to the spring takes about 2 hours and is 3.5 kilometers long each way.

Dettifoss Waterfall in Northern Iceland

Admire the Northern Lights

One of Iceland’s biggest attractions that brings people from all over the world is undoubtedly the Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis. These green lights can be seen in the winter and only in the northernmost regions of the Earth. This amazing phenomenon is a must-see experience at least once in a lifetime.

The Northern Lights are notoriously elusive. To see them, the conditions must be almost perfect: with clear skies and no light pollution. When the lights do appear, there’s no telling exactly when, where, or how long these lights will dance in the sky. But that’s part of what makes them such a special show.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to maximize your chances of seeing them. The best way is to take a guided tour, as the guides know the best viewing spots. They can also provide you with plenty of fascinating scientific information and add even more color to this experience.

If a tour is not something you’re interested in, you can simply rent a car in Iceland and drive to a place that is away from the light pollution in Reykjavik. In remote rural areas, the visibility will be better than in the city. So be patient! It’s worth it!

Final Thoughts

I hope this guide has helped in planing your next trip to Iceland! It is an amazing destination and well worth the visit. I hope you enjoy.

P.S. Don’t forget to set up an eSIM for abroad to save money, as well as a lot of time and hassle!

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