15 Top Tips for Travelling in Iceland

By Michael Chapman

Useful points to keep in mind when in the Land of Ice and Fire

15 Top Tips for Travelling in Iceland

By Michael Chapman

Useful points to keep in mind when in the Land of Ice and Fire

Visiting Iceland is among the top travel experiences available to globetrotters. As revered for its sublime and unique natural environment as it is for its rich and historical culture, discovering the Nordic island has become something of a pilgrimage for those seeking beautiful and dramatic locations.

Tips before you arrive to Iceland

Experienced travellers know all too well that an essential part of any overseas experience is looking forward to it beforehand. Researching your arrival destination can be a thrilling job in itself, building excitement for the trip ahead, plus laying out the groundwork for necessary logistics involved.

1. Pack and prepare for all types of weather

Packing bags for your Iceland holiday
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Anete Lusina)

People aren’t lying when they tell you Iceland’s weather is capable of changing from serene and tranquil one minute to dark and stormy the next. Sure, the seasons differ when it comes to temperature, climate, levels of precipitation and daylight, but that’s still not a promise the weather will behave predictably.

Prioritise thick layers of clothing when packing your suitcase, skipping over highly absorbent materials like denim in favour of wool. You will also need a beanie hat, scarf and thick gloves to combat both the winter chill and summer winds, as well as your most fashionable pair of sunglasses. Who said you couldn’t travel in style, after all?

2. Research the best attractions in Iceland beforehand

Vestrahorn mountain in East Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit. Norris Niman)

There is a wealth of articles, information sites, youtube videos and online photo galleries dedicated to showcasing the visually striking natural attractions that dot this Iceland. If you make sure to spend time before your visit getting to know these sites by name and location, you will have a far easier time planning your trip around the country.


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3. Learn some basic Icelandic words and phrases

tips for travelling in iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Ethan Hu)

Icelanders are rightfully proud of their English-language skills, with the vast majority of them speaking it with more fluency and poetry than I, as a native speaker, could ever think to muster. This lack of a communication barrier can be highly appealing to travellers daunted by the prospect of spending time in a place where they cannot freely communicate with others.

With that said, the Icelanders are even more proud of their language, one that is essentially unchanged from the Old Norse of the ancient sagas, the exact words and phrases and patterns of speech that settlers spoke here over 1000 years ago. 

While it might not exactly be necessary to learn any Icelandic, one should do so anyway, if only to immerse themselves in a unique and rich mother-tongue.  Here are a few to get you started;

  • Góðan daginn – Good day!
  • Já / Nei – Yes / No
  • Takk – Thank you
  • þú ert velkominn – You’re welcome

Travel Tips for when you're in Iceland

Now that you have safely arrived in Iceland, there are a handful of tips that will not only help acclimatise you to the new surroundings but can also save you money and oh-so-valuable time.

4. Buy booze at duty-free or state liquor stores.

Drinking in downtown Reykjavik
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Damien Petit)

Laws regulating the purchase of alcohol are somewhat stricter in Iceland than in many other countries across Europe. For one, it is not possible to buy any beverage in a supermarket with an alcohol strength of over 2.25%, an unwelcome discovery that has taken many a thirsty drinker by surprise.

If you’re looking to buy real beer, wine or spirits, you will have to turn to the state liquor store, Vinbudin. Open throughout the week save Sundays, these shops provide all one could need for a relaxed, albeit befuddled evening. As with everything in Iceland, the prices might be somewhat shocking to the system, so purchasing your drinks when arriving at the airport is a more fiscal choice.

5. Leave Reykjavik behind and explore nature

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: World Adventures)

Though small, Reykjavik is a city worthy of exploration, bursting with culture, history, dining, accommodation and fun things to do. Despite this fact, it’s an inescapable reality that most visitors to Iceland come here for nature and wilderness. With such splendid and dramatic scenery on show, it’s hard to blame them.

Two of Iceland’s most popular sightseeing routes, the Golden Circle and the South Coast, are accessible from Iceland’s capital city. You can check out such sites as Thingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal valley, and the unrivalled Gullfoss waterfall on the first of these trails.

Those venturing South will stumble across such treasures as Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls, Reynisfjara black sand beach and the iceberg-filled Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.

6. Feel free to drink the tap-water

A small waterfall in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Denys Nevozhai)

Iceland’s water is among, if not the purest water on earth. Such purity has its origins in this country’s mighty glaciers, the meltwater from which is filtered over the centuries as it travels by way of underground volcanic tunnels and rivers toward the ocean.

7. Take a dip in Iceland's swimming pools and hot pools

An aerial view of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Stephen Leonardi)

Speaking of water, bathing in geothermal hot pools is about as traditional an activity one can get while visiting Iceland. Many pools have formed naturally throughout Iceland, allowing for an immersive escape into relaxation whilst in the countryside.

If you can’t make it out to one of these natural pools, fear not! All of Iceland’s swimming pools utilise geothermal energy to keep them warm throughout the year. On top of that, many complexes come with steam rooms and hot tubs, bringing the potential for health, rejuvenation and relaxation to whole new depths.

8. Choose the right accommodation

There are many accommodation choices to choose from when staying in Iceland, from luxury hotels that suit Reykjavik’s metropolitan ambitions, to rustic guesthouses, airBnb’s and even farm stays! Regardless of where you wish to retreat to at the end of a long day, you can be guaranteed that Icelandic accommodation often exceeds the quality and comfort promised.

Of course, staying in one of our transparent bubbles is an accommodation choice that doubles as an unforgettable experience set out amidst the Icelandic countryside. Warm inside, and with total views of the forests and hillsides that make South Iceland so unique, you’ll feel truly at home in one of our bubbles and might even catch a whole night of the Northern Lights above.

9. Take your camera and tripod everywhere

a photographer in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Bella Huang)

Iceland is a photographer’s dream, offering colourful vistas and diverse landscapes beyond every bend of the road. While a mobile phone might suffice for some, true shutterbugs will want to make the most of the visual offerings available to them, requiring more professional equipment.

To catch a picture of Iceland’s wildlife, a telephoto lens is a must, as is a fast-shutter speed and quick-eye. Anyone seeking to capture the Northern Lights will need a tripod to keep the image still, plenty of patience and the right clothing to ward off the winter cold.

10. Make sure to budget accordingly

Viti crater lake in the Icelandic highlands
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Ronan Furuta)

It’s common knowledge that Iceland is an expensive country to visit, made more pricey by the cost of other amenities like food, drinks and petrol while here. However, there are ways to help dampen one’s expenditure as long as one makes the most of the various deals and cost-cutting avenues on offer.

For instance, almost every bar and restaurant in Reykjavik offers Happy-Hour deals, which often equate to two drinks for the price of one. Similarly, supermarkets like Bonus and Kronan provide a wide variety of ingredients and ready-made meals that can be prepared at your accommodation for next to nothing.

11. Watch your gas when driving from site-to-site

Driving in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Robert Bye)

There are vast distances between Iceland’s towns, villages and natural attractions, much of which passes nothing but wide stretches of wilderness and farmland.

For this reason, keeping an eye on your petrol (or gas, if you happen to be American) is a must. In days gone by, travellers would have been forced to memorise petrol stations as they appeared on the map, lest they wind up stranded on the roadside, far from civilisation.

Today, with the help of smartphones and satellite navigators, guests will have to remind themselves to check the fuel gauge before diverting to the nearest petrol station accordingly. Nearest can be any significant stretch, so always ensure the vehicle is full of fuel before setting out on long drives.

12. Appreciate Iceland's wildlife

An Arctic Fox in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Jonatan Pie)

Iceland’s diverse wildlife is a crucial aspect of what makes its environment so beloved.

Whale Watching is among the top visitor’s activities, offering guests the chance to set out on the high seas searching for majestic marine mammals. With trips available in both winter and summer, the most common sightings in Icelandic waters include Minke and Humpback whales and Harbour Porpoises.

Birdwatchers are particularly keen on Iceland’s many cliffsides, where species such as guillemots, skuas, gulls and, of course, Atlantic Puffins choose to nest during the summer. Dyrhólaey promenade on the South Coast, and Latrabjarg in the Westfjords are two sites considered among Iceland’s best places to observe bird life.

13. Be on the lookout for elves, or Iceland's 'Hidden Folk'

A man inside an ice cave in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Davide Cantelli)

While it might seem strange to foreigners, there is a belief among some Icelanders they share the land with a race of magical elves known as the Huldufolk. Many stories from Icelandic folklore tell of these interdimensional beings luring stray travellers from the road, taking them deep into the wilderness where they, no doubt, meet an untimely end.

Alright, so a sincere belief in Iceland’s elves is waning, but that doesn’t mean cautious superstition still isn’t rife here. Only a few years ago, for instance, a proposed tarmac road had to be moved in the town of Kopavogur so as not to disturb a beloved and ancient ‘elf rock’.

If you want to learn more about these fascinating, albeit fictional beings, make sure to pay a visit to the Elf School in Reykjavik, as famously showcased in Richard Ayoade’s TV show, Travel Man.

While it’s always a little sad when a fantastic holiday comes to an end, there is no reason to wallow. After all, the experiences you have in Iceland are sure to remain with you for years to come and will no doubt end up reminding you as to plan a repeat visit in the future.

So, with that said, bear in mind these valuable tips to help beat the post-vacation blues after your time in Iceland is over.

Lupin flowers in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Michael Humphries)

14. Reminiscence over your Iceland souvenirs

Walking around the capital city, you’ll no doubt find yourself a fun and memorable item that will long draw you back to your time in Iceland. 

Fashionistas might look to pick up a traditional Icelandic sweater, known as a Lopapeysa. Woven of sheep’s wool, these thick and rustic jumpers are the best way of both fighting the cold, and keeping a little bit of Iceland with you wherever you go. 

Travellers looking for tasty delights would do well to make a stop at Reykjavik’s OmNom Chocolates, where their selection of cacao bars range from sea salted almonds to black barley. If you’re looking for a more authentic food product to bring back, try grabbing a bag of dried white-fish or a bottle of Icelandic schnapps, Brennivin.

15. Plan to visit Iceland in a different season 

In many ways, the seasons shape Iceland into entirely different countries. During the short summer, the land is green and abundant with purple lupin flowers. Sheep and horses roam the countryside, hikers stop at roadside cafes to enjoy a beer or coffee, and sightseers take their time moving from one attractive site to the other. 

In winter, Iceland takes on a much harsher, no less beautiful face. Farmlands, volcanic deserts and black beaches are blanketed with a thick layer of white snow. The sun rises above the horizon line for only a couple of hours, leaving the vast majority of the day in darkness. For those that dress themselves warmly, this environment is tantamount to a winter wonderland, and of course provides the chance to spot the Northern Lights above.


Travelling to Iceland?

Check our overnight tours with a driver guide that includes a one night stay in a bubble.
See Guided Tours

*Starting from ISK 74.900 per person