“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
Top Five Destinations In Iceland
- 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!
- 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.
- Jökulsárlón Glacier Lake, Lagoon, and Diamond Beach Glacier lake is the deepest lake in Iceland and, due to warming temperatures, has grown four times in size in 50 years. The lake and lagoon are filled with icebergs of all sizes that break off from the glacier and head out to sea. Many can be found on the beach and in the pounding surf. It is as if diamonds are strewn across the black sand, thus the name Diamond beach. As much as you prepare for the sight, it is beyond magnificent in person. People stand there in silence, taking in this unique and incredible sight. It is a dream to photograph, and we could have spent hours doing so. We were there for sunset, which brought a glow to the icebergs that were surreal.
- Iceland’s Raw Nature Waterfalls, geysers, National Parks, endless lava fields, black sand beaches, hot springs, puffin migration, whale watching, hiking, gorgeous coastline, geothermal areas, and glaciers.
- 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.
- Ring Road There’s nothing quite like an Iceland road trip. Especially when driving past the breathtaking scenery that includes volcanoes (some currently erupting), icebergs, waterfalls, glaciers, black sand beaches, rainbows, Iceland horses and sheep, and the magical northern lights. The dramatic landscape is constantly changing, and when you think I have seen it all, it only gives you even more. If you have driven Ring Road, you are missing out on the best of Iceland. We completed Ring Road in 3 1/2 days and wished we had more time, but we will be back!
Did you know?
- 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%
- U.S. 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 country’s population falls out of the middle class.
- In 2008 the nation’s banking system systematically collapsed, leading to an economic crisis. It led to political instability. In 2014 they mostly recovered, believed led mainly by tourism.
- Most Icelandic are descendants of Norse or Gaelic settlers.
- Iceland pioneered transmission and power transformers.
- Industry in Iceland: Tourism accounts for 10% of the 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%.
- On average, the island where fire meets ice has a volcanic eruption every four years. 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 Mcdonald’s 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.
- Do you want 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 entirely to penises.
- There are no mosquitos in Iceland.
- Babies nap outside frequently, especially if their 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 favored Icelandic breakfast is hafragrautur, which is simply prepared oatmeal.
- Icelandic Skyr is the favored dairy product 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 where you can stand on two continents simultaneously. In North America and EuroAsia.
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 restaurants, cab drivers, porters, bartenders, and other service workers. Credit cards are accepted everywhere.
- Overall, the clothing is stylish and well kept. The Icelandic 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! You will undoubtedly take a dip often between the Blue Lagoon and all the Geothermal-heated pools and hot springs. Icelandic people love outdoor bathing year-round, dating back to the Viking ages. It is 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 with 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 anywhere.
- The roads are 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. Even in an out-of-the-way village, a beer 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, and 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. A country with few people is 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 liquor stores.
- The Icelanders adore their black licorice. Anything licorice, even chocolate-covered licorice.
- If taking the bus from the airport to Reykjavik (it 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 comes from the earth’s core. 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. It is some of the cleanest water anywhere.
- Iceland has a rich seafood and fish diet. It will be 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 was beautiful and elegant, even in the simplest of places. It is obvious they take great pride in their food. The flavors, the colors, and 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 on 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 of 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 condition we ever drove in. Whiteout conditions in howling 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 thank goodness we did. That road closed later that night. The first two we could take did not open for days, and we had a flight the next day.
- Iceland’s geology draws many but 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, keeping sustainability in mind is essential when you visit. What keeps Iceland so unique is its raw, untouched beauty. If we don’t take responsibility for protecting 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 country has a high concentration of writers, artists, and musicians. There is a profound art culture with many talents.
- Icelandic speak excellent English. Since people come from all over the world to work in the travel industry, you will hear them often speak English among themselves.
- It is one of the safest countries in the world.
When to go to Iceland
Though the most significant tourist draw is in the summer, 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 discourage a time, it would be December and January, when the days are very short. Of course, unless you seek the Northern Lights, there lies the issue. Is there really a wrong time?
One of the biggest dangers in Iceland is the weather, which can be unpredictable and changes fast, especially between regions. The saying goes, wait two minutes, and it will change, and it does. The weather patterns are reasonably tame during summer, though heavy and sporadic rainfall is not uncommon. In winter, they can be extreme. Heavy snow and rain 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 above 60 degrees, though in recent years, they are seeing a trend of temps into the mid-’60s. 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 wind that can play havoc. It makes for 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)
Exploring the wonders of Iceland in a Campervan
Iceland is a country of dramatic and wondrous beauty. Many sites will take your breath away and make you wish you could stay longer instead of driving two more hours to get to your next hotel. We did that ourselves and sometimes felt like we were missing out.
We couldn’t help but notice during our road trip around Iceland were campervans at every stop we made, lots of them! We saw them in all sizes, some with simple features and others quite elaborate. The occupants always looked so relaxed.
Since this is such a popular and fun way to see Iceland, we did some research to assist our readers in choosing the right company. We are most impressed with Cozy Campers. They are a family-run camper rental company that offers a wide selection of quality, hand-designed campervans that are comfortable and well equipped with all the essentials you need to make the most of your adventure! They have options for all budgets.
All Cozy Campers come with unlimited free 4G wifi, a tablet computer, a state-of-the-art heating system (it does get a bit chilly in Iceland), goose down duvets/comforters, mood lighting, free pick up and drop off, unlimited mileage, automatic transmission available, free camper cleaning to name some of the features they have standard. They also provide a 24/7 emergency phone number. They are customer-driven, and their reviews are pretty impressive. If you are considering exploring Iceland in a campervan, look no further than Cozy Campers.
For more info on Cozy Campers, check out their website at the link below.
Cozy Campers Iceland
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 few 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 in his collection. We love his travel style and perspective. His off-the-beaten-path approach and his independent travel philosophy match 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 with before receiving the Rick Steve book. It does a good job of advising what is worth seeing and what is not. A good planning guide would be a nice compliment to Rick Steve’s guide. Find this guide here.
Our favorite websites
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. U.S. 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 U.S. Federal Government addressing the safety, security, travel risk, entry, exit, visa documents mandates, emergency U.S. 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
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, accommodation providers, and things to do. Find it 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 it 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, learning the basics of greeting and thanking people in the local language is essential. Google translate was an easy app to use. If needed, you can enter text in English, which 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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Our Recommended Travel Resources
Our favorite travel insurance site!
If you are booking a trip, don’t forget to get travel insurance within 14 days of your first booking. We could not be stronger advocates of being well-insured. Not just for the little stuff but the big stuff like medical emergencies. We never leave home without it. Over the years, we have used many sites but have now found our go-to place. Squaremouth.com does a fantastic job; it has a user-friendly interface, they use top-rated and reputable insurance carriers, and most policies cover Covid medical issues and cancellations. They also mediate on your behalf if you have problems with your policy.
To empower you as a consumer, we suggest you read our blog post on the importance of travel insurance and how to get the best coverage from top-rated companies for an affordable price.
Medical transport back home from anywhere in the world
They are the premier global air medical transport. One caveat to travel insurance is that medical evacuation usually gets you to the closest facility to care for you. Medjet gets you back to the U.S. to the hospital of your choice once you are stable enough to fly. They cover Covid-related transports as well.
Medjet carries its own policies. The policy is only for transport and no other aspects of travel insurance. They have individual trip policies starting at $99 and annual policies for around $300. Most of their policies limit the age to 74 and younger. Prices are not based on age below that.
To learn more about how Medical Evacuation membership with Medjet Assist works, check out our blog post for a more detailed review.
Hotels, home rentals, BNBs, flights, and other transportation & tours
Expedia is a US-based company whose mission is to power global travel for everyone and everywhere. Whether planning a family vacation, booking for business, or organizing the trip of a lifetime, they are a fantastic resource. Wanderers Compass focuses on independent travel, and using sites like Expedia makes that possible. Every aspect of travel you would need, from airfare, accommodations, rental car, and cruises, to activities to do at your destination, can be booked on Expedia.
Hotels, Home rentals, BNBs, Flights, and other Transportation & Tours
Booking.com connects millions of travelers to memorable experiences, various transportation options, and incredible places to stay – from homes to hotels and much more. It is one of the world’s largest travel marketplaces for established brands and entrepreneurs of all sizes.
We always start with Expedia to check prices, but it sometimes says it is sold out. We then try Booking.com, and we find it lists plenty of rooms. It could be they are a Europe-based company. Try both before booking accommodations.
Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO)
Are you traveling with a family or having an extended stay at your destination?
With over 2 million bookable vacation rentals, VRBO connects homeowners with families and vacationers looking for something more than a hotel for their trip. The VRBO community offers families or groups various rental property types such as condos, cabins, lake rentals, beach houses, etc.
VRBO is under the Expedia group ownership now, which many were worried about, but it hasn’t panned out to be a concern. It is a massive network that has access to all forms of lodging should issues arise. Joelle has used VRBO for many years with her family with no problems.
As the leading marketplace for travel experiences, Viator believes that making memories is what travel is all about. And with 300,000+ experiences to explore—everything from simple tours to extreme adventures (and all the niche, interesting stuff in between)—making memories that will last a lifetime has never been easier.
With industry-leading flexibility and last-minute availability, it’s never too late to make any day extraordinary. This one site has it all and has experiences throughout the world. We use them often during our travels, especially for food tours. We especially take the time to read the reviews provided.
Tripadvisor, the world’s largest travel guidance platform, helps hundreds of millions of people each month become better travelers, from planning to booking to taking a trip. Travelers worldwide use the Tripadvisor site and App to discover where to stay, what to do, and where to eat based on guidance from those who have been there before.
With more than 1 billion reviews and opinions from nearly 8 million businesses, travelers turn to Tripadvisor to find deals on accommodations, book experiences, reserve tables at popular restaurants, and discover great places to see nearby. We use them for guidance and research on every trip; it is a valuable app for the independent traveler.
(Airport and sightseeing service)
A global leader in ground transportation for travelers. They help hundreds of companies around the world enhance their services and boost their revenue with our 5-star ride experiences and hassle-free automation
Founded in 2015 in Athens, Greece, Welcome Pick-ups goes above and beyond the standard transfer service as the first company to deliver a holistic, in-destination travel experience. From the moment a traveler arrives at a new destination until they return home, Welcome accommodates all their travel needs (transfers, travel products, things to do, information) as the easiest, friendliest, and most personalized solution.
Discover Europe by Train
Rail Europe sells train and bus tickets for travel across Europe. They cover 24 countries, 105 rail operations, and 20,000 stations. They are the official rail and bus operations agents in the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Rail Europe continues to add coverage all the time.
It is a fast, easy, and economical way to purchase European train and bus tickets. Eurail passes are also available to buy through their site.
An excellent source for travel essentials and guides
We now have our own Amazon Storefront with all our favorite travel accessories and gear in one place. Check out our travel store at the link below.
Amazon is one of the most comprehensive online shopping sources in the world. On behalf of their customers, teams worldwide provide lower prices, better selection, and rapid delivery. They offer a vast inventory, and their 1.7 million small and medium businesses worldwide selling on Amazon.com provide extensive options to customers.
We buy most of our travel books, accessories, and luggage from Amazon. We have ordered up to two days before travel and get what we need.
Thoughtfully Designed | Meticulously Constructed | Quality Guaranteed.
We have used this luggage for years, left briefly to try others, and returned to Travelpro. Travelpro luggage is carried by crews from over 90 airlines worldwide.
Travelpro takes the time to learn what travelers want and need, then builds it. The key factor for us is that it must be lightweight upfront and resistant to rough handling. Their luggage is the best, and we could not recommend it enough. It is our go-to luggage.
This article contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!
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