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Iceland Travel Guide

Iceland Travel Guide

Iceland Travel Guide

“The problem with driving around Iceland is that you’re basically confronted by a new soul-enriching, breath-taking, life-affirming natural sight every five goddamn minutes. It’s totally exhausting.”

Stephen Markley
Iceland Horses

Top Five Destinations In Iceland

  1. Reykavik This charming “big” city has incredible food, shopping, lively bars, vibrant nightlife, lovely colorful houses, landmark sites, unique districts, waterfront, great museums, and cultural richness. It has it all!
  2. Siglufjordur A small atmospheric fishing village in a narrow coastal fjord 25 miles from the arctic circle, was once the booming fishing capital of Iceland. This piece of heaven captures your heart with its charming colored homes and lively harbor. The scenery is nothing less than breathtaking and a great place to watch the Northern Lights.
  3. Iceland’s Raw Nature Waterfall, geysers, National Parks, Black sand beaches, hot springs, puffin migration, whale watching, hiking, sea, and the glaciers.
  4. Blue Lagoon Geothermal seawater drawn to the surface through geothermal extraction wells emerges enriched with silica, algae, and minerals-that endow this unique fluid with its healing, rejuvenating, nourishing abilities. Bathe in these gorgeous warm blue waters among a natural lava field. The water renews every two days. It is a wonder for the senses and body and an absolute must-do.
  5. Ring Road There’s nothing quite like an Iceland road trip. Especially when driving past incredible volcanoes, icebergs, waterfalls, glaciers, breathtaking scenery, and the magical northern lights.

Did you know?

Iceland Stats

  • Population: 350,734
  • Capital City: Reykavik
  • Currency: Icelandic Kronur (ISK)
  • Government type: Unitary Parliamentary Republic
  • President: Guoni Th. Johannesson
  • Ethnic groups: homogeneous mixture of descendants of Norse and Celts 81%, population with foreign background 19%
  • Languages: Icelandic, English, Nordic languages, German
  • Religions: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland (official) 67.2%, Roman Catholic 3.9%, Reykjavik Free Church 2.8%, Hafnarfjordur Free Church 2%, other religions (includes Asatru Association, The Independent Congregation, and Pentecostal) 8.1%, none 6.7%, other or unspecified 11.3%
  • US State Department Risk Level: 3 due to Covid
  • Terrorist groups: N/A
  • The surface area is around 39,000 square miles, the size of Ohio.
  • GDP 19.8 billion
  • The workweek in Iceland is 43.5 hours.
  • 60% of the Icelandic population lives in Reykjavík.
  • Iceland is a geographically young land because it sits between two geological plates, North American and Euroasia tectonic plates.
  • Half the power from Iceland comes from renewable geothermal energy.
  • Iceland was one of the final places on earth people settled in.
  • Iceland is a very eco-friendly country and is one of the cleanest places on earth.
  • The oldest democracy was established there in 930 AD.
  • Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world.
  • Iceland takes equality seriously and is one of the most feminist countries. They elected to first female president.
  • Only 3% of the countries population falls out of the middle class.
  • In 2008 the nation’s banking system systematically collapsed, leading to the economic crisis. It led to political instability. In 2014 they mostly recovered, believed mostly led by tourism.
  • Most Icelandic’s are descendants of Norse or Gaelic settlers.
  • Iceland pioneered transmission and power transformers.
  • Industry in Iceland: Tourism accounts for 10% of GDP, followed by Agriculture, fishery, manufacturing, aluminum, finance, energy, innovation, and technology.
  • Climate is subpolar oceanic.
  • Life expectancy is 83 years old.
  • The literacy rate is 99%.

Funs facts

  • The island where fire meets ice has a volcanic eruption every 4 years on average. It is highly volcanically and geologically active.
  • Iceland is known for its waterfalls, glaciers, northern lights, volcanoes, black licorice, and brennivin.
  • Though beer is delicious in Iceland, with many brews made there, it was illegal until 1989.
  • The majority of Icelanders believe in elves.
  • There are no forests in Iceland.
  • There are no surnames or family names in Iceland – Icelanders use the traditional Nordic naming system. That includes the last name comprised of their father’s (or mother’s) first name with the addition of -dóttir (-daughter) or -son.
  • Iceland’s revenue from whale watching exceeds any income from whaling.
  • There are no McDonalds in Iceland.
  • Coca–Cola per capita consumption is higher than in any other country.
  • Icelandic horses have two additional gaits as compared to all other horse breeds.
  • Wanting to name your child something different? If the name has not been used before in Iceland must be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee.
  • Iceland students learn three languages in school; Icelandic, English, and Danish.
  • Iceland does not have a military.
  • The Icelandic police do not carry guns.
  • In Reykjavik, they have a museum dedicated completely to penises.
  • There are no mosquitos in Iceland.
  • Babies nap outside frequently, especially if parents are eating at a restaurant.
  • Iceland has approximately 130 volcanoes, of which 30 are active.
  • There is an app to prevent you from dating your cousin. With so few people, there is a possibility you could be related.
  • Homemade ice cream is a favorite of Iceland year-round.
  • The Icelandic favored breakfast is hafragrautur, which is simply prepared oatmeal.
  • Icelandic Skyr is the favored dairy product; it is comparable to curd or yogurt.
  • Iceland discovered America 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The great explorer Leifur Eriksson sailed to America and engaged in trade.
  • The word Geyser comes from Iceland. They had the first known geyser in the world.
  • Iceland is a costly country to visit.
  • Iceland is the only place in the world you can stand on two continents at once. In North America and EuroAsia.

Iceland Map

Good to know before you go

  • Tipping is not needed or expected in Iceland as it is included in your bill. If you get excellent service, you can round up a bill. This includes not only restaurants but cab drivers, porters, bartenders, other service workers. Credit cards are accepted everywhere.
  • Overall, clothing is stylish and well kept. The Icelandic’s are casual dressers. You won’t see jeans often, for when they get wet, they are not very comfortable. There is either a lot of snow or rain in Iceland. Since as travelers you will likely visit for some adventure bring comfortable and practical clothes. Thermal clothing is essential, even in the summer. Wear layers. You will find many natives wearing wool or fleece. Think waterproof! Jackets, pants, boots, etc
  • Always pack a swimsuit year round! Between the Blue Lagoon and all the Geothermal-heated pools and hot springs, you will to surely take a dip often. Icelandic people love their outdoor bathing year-round, which dates back to the Viking ages. It is basically volcanically heated pools, and they are scattered throughout Iceland.
  • Get away from Reykjavik. It is worth a visit, but Iceland is about its natural beauty. Visit the small fishing villages, the glacial lagoons, mind-blowing waterfalls, seaside wonders, and mountains that look painted onto the horizon.
  • Oh, the Icelandic ponies. When driving, has some carrots or sugar cubes with you. These charming animals are sweet and will often come to say hi.
  • If you can have an extended stay drive around Ring road, it won’t disappoint.
  • Iceland is about the outdoors. Hiking is a wonderful way to get out and visit the lava fields, grassy meadows, glacial ice fields, black sand deserts, and diverse ecosystems.
  • As anywhere in the world, Northern lights are a hit or miss when and if they will occur. If you are lucky enough to see some, they have some of the best there is.
  • The roads are quite good, but there are not many highways and is often head-on traffic. Iceland has made extra efforts to warn tourists about road safety as accidents have become an issue. Most of Iceland is uninhabited, so there will be long stretches with no towns or people.
  • Iceland is not for the budget traveler. You will see jaw-dropping prices in restaurants, tours, bars, and retail stores. A beer even in an out-of-the-way village will run you $15-18. Want to bring home gifts? Hit the duty-free on the way out of Iceland. The alcohol is exceptionally well priced there.
  • Icelandic people are resilient, tough, hard-working, independent as well as forward-thinking. They are shy by nature, competitive business people, and enjoy a high standard of living. They are rule followers, so their guests do the same. In a country with few people, they are not accustomed to waiting and can be impatient. They have a passion for culture.
  • A neat tip learned from an Icelandic Air pilot. Buy alcohol for consumption during your visit at duty-free coming into the country. It is much less expensive than even the liquor stores.
  • The Icelanders adore their black licorice. Anything licorice, even chocolate-covered licorice.
  • If taking the bus from the airport to Reykjavik (can be up to an hour trip), sit on the bus’s right side for the best scenery.
  • If you come across hot springs, you could be met with the overwhelming smell of rotten eggs. This is the sulfur as the water is coming from the core of the earth. Many beautiful springs can be hard to visit due to the smell. This smell will also come out of the tap for a few seconds in people’s homes. The water is safe to drink, though. As a matter of fact, it is some of the cleanest water anywhere.
  • Iceland has a heavy seafood and fish diet. It will be by far the freshest you will ever find in your life. The cod is especially amazing. For meats, there will be lots of lamb on the menu.
  • Plan time to visit the various National Parks. They are spectacular.
  • If you are a Game of Thrones fan, some of the show was filmed here. You can take a tour or drive out yourself.
  • Be adventurous with sampling Icelandic food. From puffins, sharks, whales, and horses, they do have interesting options! We have tried them all, and they were all excellent!
  • The cuisine in Iceland was exceptional. The presentation, even in the simplest of places, was beautiful and elegant. It is obvious they take great pride in their food. The flavors, the colors, the freshness were excellent. It could even be the highlight of your trip. Restaurants often are full so make reservations!
  • The Blue Lagoon may sound touristy, but it is magnificent and unique. Joelle has been there three times, Ryan once, while in the dead of winter, and would return tomorrow. Absolutely worth the time. It is a splurge but well worth it at least once. Schedule it your last day before flying out. They store luggage, have buses to the airport, which is minutes away, and what a way to relax before your flight: Book early; this place books out months in advance.
  • If visiting Iceland during months with snow and you are driving, plan for emergencies. Snowstorms come out of nowhere and can be severe. The major roads will suddenly close, and you could be stranded for an extended time in your car. Always have a tank full of gas, extra clothes, water, and snacks. This happened to us on our trip to Iceland. It was the worst winter conditions we ever drove in. Whiteout conditions in hollowing strong winds. All we could see were the yellow poles to mark the edge of the road and barely in the dark. Our only two roads back to Reykjavik suddenly closed. They aren’t kidding; they are closed, barricaded with police physically blocking passage! We did not panic and kept looking for alternatives. We found one which took us way out of our way but thanks goodness we did. That road closed later that night. Those first two we could take did not open for days, and we had a flight the next day.
  • Iceland’s geology is a draw for many, but it presents some unique risks and safety concerns. Tread carefully off the beaten path and do your research before going!
  • Download the road system website onto your phone. The locals we discovered heavily rely on it. Keep it open at all times.
  • Bring a towel for visits to local hot springs and pools.
  • As tourism increases in Iceland, it is essential when you visit, keeping sustainability in mind. What keeps Iceland so unique is the raw, untouched beauty. If we don’t take our responsibility to protect where we visit, that will not be preserved. Leave your heart there, not your footprints.
  • Iceland is one of the windiest places on the planet. The car rental agencies warn you to hold the car door tightly when opening, or it could be blown off. Take their warning to heart; they are not kidding.
  • This is a country with a high concentration of writers, artists, and musicians. There is a deep art culture with many talents.
  • Icelandic’s speak excellent English.
  • It is one of the safest countries in the world.

Iceland Essential Travel Info

US Consular Emergency
The 24-hour number from a US Phone 1-888-407-4747
Outside of US 011-202-501-4444

US Embassy Reykavik
Laufásvegur 21
101 Reykjavik
Iceland
Telephone: +(354) 595-2200
Emergency Telephone: +(354) 595-2248
Email: reykjavikconsular@state.gov

Emergency Numbers
GENERAL 112

Road conditions website
www.road.is

Country Code
+354

Time Zone
UTC

Driving
Right side

Adaptors
“Standard” Euro plug
Type C or F

Tourism Office
https://visiticeland.com

When to go to Iceland

Though the biggest tourist draw is in the summer months, visitors are drawn to Iceland year-round. The seasons and experiences are so vastly different. Having been there in summer and winter, we can’t recommend which is best. If we had to choose, the winter months bring a pristine beauty not seen in many places on earth. While surrounded by the whitest snow, you will find hot springs with boiling water from the earth’s core. It is where fire meets ice. If we do discourage a time, it would be December and January, where to days are so short. Of course, unless you seek the Northern Lights, and there lies the issue. Is there really a bad time?

One of the biggest dangers in Iceland is the weather, which can be unpredictable and changes fast, especially between regions. During summer, the weather patterns are reasonably tame, though heavy and sporadic rainfall is not uncommon. In winter, they can be extreme. Heavy snow and rainfall in winter mean that many roads become impassable: If you are not prepared with adequate equipment and clothing, the consequences could be dire.

Note the summers rarely get about 60 degrees. Evenings can be cold. Dress in layers, but that is the rule to follow year-round. Winters don’t get much below freezing during the day, but the stiff winds make it feel much less. Iceland has mild temps overall; it is more storms and the wind that can play havoc. It makes quite a fantastic adventure.

  • Summer 46-58 °F (8-14 °C)
  • Spring 31-49 °F (-1-9 °C)
  • Fall 33-53°F (1-12 °C)
  • Winter 30-39 °F (-1-4 °C)

Our Favorite Iceland Resources

This resource section contains some Amazon affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Iceland Travel Books/Guides

Joelle’s first trip to Iceland was due to Icelandair’s stay overnight at no added cost offer (great advertising). She was flying solo to France for a family wedding and decided to stay one night on the way home. A thirty-six-hour stay in Iceland captured her heart. With such a short visit, only a couple of travel guides were purchased to research the trip. Since then, she has returned twice the last one with Ryan. It is a remarkable destination, and we can’t recommend it enough.

Rick Steves Iceland by Rick Steves and Cameron Hewitt

Full disclosure, we are huge Rick Steve’s fans; it will be rare not to recommend one of his wonderful guides. This is one of the best of his collection. We love his travel style and perspective. His off-the-beaten-path approach, together with his independent travel philosophy, matches well with how we travel. The guides never disappoint. This was his first travel guide of Iceland; it arrived on its release date, two days before the trip. It was our bible for Iceland. All his guidance was exceptional. This one is a must-have! Find this must-have guide here

Lonely Planet Iceland (Country Guide) by Lonely Planet

This guide is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what hidden discoveries await you. This was the book we researched much of the trip on before receiving the Rick Steve book. It does a good job advising what is worth seeing and what not. Good planning guide and would be a nice compliment to Rick Steve’s guide. Find this guide here

Our favorite websites

1. Official Iceland Tourism Site

2. Iceland Road and Coastal Administration For road conditions and weather. This is absolutely mandatory to have during months of snow. www.road.is

3. US Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs Iceland Country Info

We cannot encourage you enough to visit this website as you plan and prepare for your trip. This is the US Federal Government addressing the safety, security, travel risk, entry, exit, visa documents mandates, emergency US and Embassy contacts, health, local laws, special circumstances, threats, traveler vulnerabilities, government warnings, and transportation in Iceland. This is your best and most reliable resource for all this important info. Check back often before you go, as things can change quickly. Being prepared is essential in all travel, but especially internationally.

Iceland International Travel Information (state.gov)

4. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Travelers Health Resource

This CDC travel resource provides essential health info for your specific destination. Using their tool, you can determine which vaccines, medications, and health advice recommendations are needed for Iceland.

CDC’s Travelers Health Page for Iceland

Our favorite maps

Michelin Iceland Map 750

Easy to read maps with practical road and travel information. This sturdy map is essential when driving through the cities and vast and, at times, desolate landscape. The magnificent National Parks, Waterfalls, etc., are well marked. Great for planning before departure. Find this essential map here

Our favorite apps

Rome2rio: Trip Planner Trip and Holiday Organizer. Enter any address, landmark, or city in the app will instantly display all your travel options, booking info, along with accommodation providers and things to do. Find on your local app store.

Rick Steve’s Audio Europe This app includes a vast library of Rick Steve’s audio content. Get cultural and travel info. Includes self-guided tours of top attractions and historic walks. A must-have. Find on your local app store.

Drops learn Icelandic Makes language learning easy with graphics Find it on your app store

Icelandic News In English As described it is Iceland news in English Find it on your app store

My Aurora Forecast This is a great app to see where the Northern Lights are displaying, predicting the likelihood they will occur and where the best locations are. Find it at your app store.

Google Translate We used this often to practice proper pronunciations of Icelandic words. As we always encourage, it is essential to learn the basics to greet and thank people in the local language. Google translate was an easy app to use. If needed, you can enter text in English, and it will speak back in Icelandic to aid in communicating with locals. Furthermore, it came in very handy to translate text into images instantly.

Do you have a favorite Iceland travel resource? Share your favorites in the comments section at the bottom of this page or

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