Iceland Travel Tips

Iceland Travel Tips: Things to Know Before You Go to Iceland

Julie Iceland 2 Comments

Planning a trip to Iceland can be very exciting. Whether you plan to be here for just a few days on a long layover or spend an extended amount of time exploring the island, there are some things you should know before you go to Iceland. Here are our Iceland travel tips, tips to help you have the best experience while in Iceland.

We spent just over two weeks in Iceland in July. During that time, we visited Reykjavik, the Golden Circle, drove most of the Ring Road, crossed the island on F-roads with a stay in Kerlingarfjöll, day tripped to Landmannalaugar, and spent some time on the Snaefellsnes peninsula.

We learned quite a lot about Iceland and have some great tips to share with you.

Iceland Travel Tips

Orientation to Iceland

If you are just starting to plan your trip to Iceland, you might not be clear about where everything is located. The most popular places to visit are Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon, the Golden Circle, and the Ring Road. Located along the Ring Road are glaciers, waterfalls, mountains, lagoons, canyons, and quaint coastal towns.

Reykjavik

Reykjavik

You can also explore the interior of the island, with a visit to Landmannalaugar, Thorsmörk, or Kerlingarfjöll. Road tripping around the Snaefellsnes peninsula or the Westfjords are also a nice add-ons to your trip.

Landmannalaugar

Landmannalaugar

Here is a map that helps explain where these places are located.

Iceland Map

On a quick visit to Iceland (4 days or less), most people base themselves in Reykjavik and day trip to the Golden Circle and south Iceland from here.

If you want to drive the entire Ring Road, you will need a bare minimum of 5 days, but 7 to 10 days is ideal (or spend even longer here), since there is so much to see and do.

If you want to visit Landmannalaugar or the central highlands, you will need to rent a 4×4, take a tour, or use public transportation. There are 4×4 buses that journey into the interior of the island on a daily basis.

Sigoldugljufur

Sigoldugljufur, a canyon that is only accessible by F-road.

How Much Does it Cost to Visit Iceland?

Iceland is expensive. It’s one of the most expensive countries we have visited so far, ranking right up there with Norway, Switzerland, and Sweden.

So, how much can you expect to spend while you are here?

The big expenses are your accommodations, meals, transportation, and activities.

For a mid-range traveler, it costs roughly $250 per day to travel through Iceland. Yikes!! Multiply that out for a family of four and you are looking at spending roughly $1000 per day.

What did you get for this nice chunk of money?

Accommodations

Mid-range, 3-star hotels and apartments roughly cost $250 per night for a double room.

Of course, camping and hostels will be cheaper and you can save some money be staying in accommodations that have shared bathrooms, rather than private bathrooms. You can also save some money be staying in a place that includes breakfast, because food is also quite expensive in Iceland.

Camping is a great way to travel through Iceland and save a lot of money. In Iceland, you are only permitted to camp in designated campsites. Wild camping is not permitted. Since we did not camp in Iceland, we are not familiar with all of the rules and regulations. To learn more, this is a great article that explains what to expect camping in Iceland. 

Car Rental Prices

Car rental prices can vary a lot, depending on the season you visit and the type of car you rent.

To rent a 2WD car, expect to pay $50 – $100 USD per day.

For a 4×4 vehicle that can be driven on F-roads, prices range from $125 to $200 per day. You will pay more for larger 4×4’s such as Land Rovers and Toyota Land Cruisers, with prices ranging from $300 – $400 per day.

We rented a Kia Sorrento through Hertz and spent $125 per day. This vehicle is considered a 4×4 that can be driven on F-roads without river crossings. It costed more than a 2WD car, but it was necessary since we frequently drove on F-roads and rough, gravelly backroads.

Our Car Rental in Iceland

Our rental car and F-35, the road to Kerlingarfjöll.

Food and Meals

Throughout Iceland, the average price for a dish costs 3,500 kr ($28 USD). Alcohol is very expensive, costing $10 to $12 USD per drink.

For our family of four, we typically spent $100 to $150 for a meal. To limit our costs (but still sample the delicious fish and seafood), we dined out once per day, usually for dinner. For breakfast and lunch, we bought food at the grocery store or took advantage of the free breakfast at our hotel, if there was one.

Kronan and Bonus are the main grocery stores in Iceland. Groceries cost roughly 25% more in Iceland than in the United States, but it still saved us money by not dining out two to three times per day.

If you need to cut costs, how can you do it?

Stay in apartments and cook all of your meals. Camp rather than stay in hotels. Skip the alcohol. Avoid the pricier summer months. Rent a car rather than a 4×4 (but the destinations where the 4×4 was absolutely necessary were our best experiences: Kerlingarfjöll, Landmannalaugar, Haifoss, and Sigoldugljufur, just to name a few).

Tipping in Iceland

Tipping in Iceland is not expected. Your restaurant bill typically includes gratuity. Leaving a small tip is appreciated but not necessary.

Skogafoss

Skogafoss

Book Your Accommodations Months in Advance

There is not an abundance of accommodations in Iceland, particularly in south Iceland and around Mývatn, so these sell out months in advance, and can be overpriced for what you get, in our experience.

For our trip in July, we booked our hotels at the end of March and had a hard time finding a decent, budget-friendly places to stay (particularly around Vík).

Ideally, book your accommodations at least 6 months in advance, if not more. This will give you more options which can help cut your costs. The highly-rated, mid-range places usually get reserved first, leaving the ultra-expensive hotels and dingy, poorly rated accommodations left for those who book their accommodations later.

Driving in Iceland

Most roads in Iceland are two lane, paved roads. However, there will be times when a “main” road suddenly changes from a nice, smooth, paved road to a gravel road. These gravel roads are usually in good condition and safe for all vehicles, including 2WD cars.

Some access roads to popular waterfalls and canyons will be a gravel road. In several places, these were in rougher condition. They were still acceptable for cars, but expect to drive slower here. For example, the drive to the east side of Dettifoss is on a long, gravel road that is acceptable for 2WD cars (but easier to drive in a 4×4).

Gravel Road Iceland Travel Tips

The maximum speed limit on the island is 90 kilometers per hour, which is 56 miles per hour.

While on the roads, keep a lookout for sheep. Sheep are everywhere in Iceland and will not hesitate to mindlessly cross the road right in front of you.

We visited Iceland in July so we have no experience visiting or driving when snow and ice can be an issue. However, www.road.is is the best website to visit to check road conditions before you set out for the day.

F-Roads

An F-road is a mountain road in the highlands of Iceland. To drive on an F-road a 4×4 is necessary. These roads are rough, gravel roads with occasional potholes and washboarding. Along these roads there are very limited services and usually spotty or nonexistent cellular service. You will feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, but that is part of the allure of driving these roads.

F Road to Kerlingarfjoll

Driving to Kerlingarfjöll on F35.

Typically, these F-roads are only open during the summer months when they are clear of snow. Larger 4×4 vehicles, such as Super Jeeps, can drive these roads in the winter, depending on weather conditions.

To get to places such as Landmannalaugar, Kerlingarfjöll, Sigöldugljufur, and various waterfalls, hiking trails, and glaciers, you must have a 4×4 vehicle.

If you do not have plans to drive to Landmannalaugar, drive on an F-Road, or drive to the hand full of waterfalls or canyons where a 4×4 is necessary, you can save some money and rent a 2WD car. However, if you want the flexibility to drive to these off-the-beaten-path spots, spending the extra money for a 4×4 is the way to go, in our opinion. In our articles about these scenic spots and waterfalls, we let you know what type of vehicle you will need to get here.

Weather in Iceland

Weather conditions change rapidly in Iceland. It can be 18°C and sunny, and then twenty minutes later conditions deteriorate and it’s 8°C, raining, and windy.

Be prepared for rain in the summer months, every day, no matter what the weather forecast tells you.

A good rain jacket is a must. Rainproof pants are a nice to have, particularly if you have long hikes or outdoor activities planned. Umbrellas sometimes work well, just as long as it’s not windy.

To keep my camera dry, I either stowed it in my camera bag or in a dry bag while hiking.

The best website for checking the weather, in our experience and at the advice of the locals, is en.verdur.is. The forecast is generally accurate within 48 hours but any forecast beyond 48 hours can change dramatically. 

At Godafoss

Godafoss

Icelandic Words

Icelandic, the official language of Iceland, is filled with crazy long words and a slightly different alphabet than English. The Icelandic alphabet has 32 letters and 14 of these are vowels.

Those long Icelandic words are a combination of shorter words. For example, Eyjafjallajökull (the name of the volcano that erupted in 2010 and my favorite word to attempt to pronounce), is a combination of “eyja” (island), “fjalla” (mountain), and “jökull” (glacier), so if you put it all together in English it would be islandmountainglacier.

You’ll see these long words everywhere you go. Here are some of the most common word roots, which will help you decipher signs as you travel through Iceland.

Jökull – glacier
Foss – waterfall
Fjalla, Fjöll – mountain
Gljúfur – canyon
Eyja or Ey – island
Vik – bay
Dalur – valley
Fjordur – Fjord
Ár – river
Laug – pool
Gata – street
Vegur – road
Bær – town
Lón – lagoon
Nes – peninsula

Putting some of these together:

Jökullsárlon = glacier lagoon
Svartifoss = black waterfall
Hringvegur = ring road
Fjadrárgljúfur = feather river canyon
Kirkjufoss = church waterfall

These long Icelandic words seem bewildering at first, but after a few days (or now that you read this), seeing those big names on road signs won’t seem so mystifying.

Vestrahorn

Vestrahorn

SIM Cards

There are three carriers in Iceland: Vodafone, Nova, and Síminn.

From our research and our experience, Siminn is the way to go. Síminn is the oldest and largest cellular service provider in Iceland. Their coverage map is quite extensive and beats that of Vodafone and Nova. For most of the ring road we had at least 3G, sometimes even 4G service. Even in the interior of the island we were delightfully surprised at how good the coverage was. 

It’s not perfect and there will be places where you have no service, but for a country as “wild and remote” as Iceland, the cellular service is quite good. 

We purchased a 10 GB prepaid SIM card for 2,900 kr (roughly $24 USD). Iceland is expensive and this is probably the best deal on the island. We bought our SIM cards at the Síminn store in Reykjavik but you can purchase the card at stores throughout the island.

Click here for locations where you can purchase the SIM card and get more information about Síminn.

Comments 2

  1. Thank you very much for posting–so interesting–we have visited Iceland briefly, but did not get to travel around much..You make it sound so exciting ! Good luck and many more happy years of travel for you and your family.

  2. Hi Team ! Very useful post on Iceland , though it does sound like an expensive place to visit but surely deserves a visit ! The waterfalls look really scenic. Thanks for listing some of the Icelandic words, will surely come in handy for travellers!

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