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 Reykjavík, 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 | Iceland Travel Tips
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 | Iceland Travel Tips
Here is a map that helps explain where these places are located.
On a quick visit to Iceland (4 days or less), most people base themselves in Reykjavík and day trip to the Golden Circle and south Iceland from here. For great day trip ideas, read our Guide to the Best Day Trips from Reykjavík.
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, a canyon that is only accessible by F-road | Iceland Travel Tips
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?
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 rental car and F-35, the road to Kerlingarfjöll | Iceland Travel Tips
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 | Iceland Travel Tips
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).
Street signs in Iceland | 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.
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.
Driving to Kerlingarfjöll on F35 | Iceland Travel Tips
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.
Godafoss | Iceland Travel Tips
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 | Iceland Travel Tips
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 $21 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.
If you have plans to visit Iceland and have any questions about these Iceland travel tips, comment below!
More Information for Your Trip to Iceland
ICELAND ITINERARIES: There are several ways to put together a trip to Iceland. If you have 10 days, here are four different ways to spend your time in Iceland. This two week Iceland itinerary includes the entire Ring Road and main highlights of Iceland.
BEST OF ICELAND: For a list of top experiences in Iceland, don’t miss our Iceland Bucket List. The South Coast of Iceland is jam-packed with wonderful sights to see. You can also photograph waterfalls, explore the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and take your pick from a long list of hiking trails.
LANDMANNALAUGAR: Landmannalaugar is one of the best places to visit in Iceland. Learn how to plan your visit in our Guide to Landmannalaugar. We also have detailed guides on how to hike Mt. Blahnúkúr, Mt. Brennisteinsalda, and how to combine these two hikes into one epic day hike.
RING ROAD ITINERARY: With 7 to 10 days, you can drive the entire Ring Road and experience the highlights of Iceland. Learn how to do it in our Ring Road Itinerary.
FIRST TIME IN EUROPE: If this is your first time in Europe, don’t miss our article 7 Things to Know when Planning Your First Trip to Europe.
Read all of our articles about Iceland in our Iceland Travel Guide.
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Hello Julie and family,
You do an amazing job providing information about places. I accidentally found your site when I was going to be in Luxemburg for a couple of days in 2019 and found the information you provided very helpful. I have been visiting your site before most our trips since. Like you I am a parent. My wife and I have 4 children and we greatly enjoy travelling. The photos you include are beautiful and help us visualize the place we will be visiting very well. Great work. Thank you
Hello Glen. Thanks for writing in with your very kind comment! I’m glad you found us too! 😊 Cheers, Julie
Hi Julie, thank you for such an amazing website! I found it a few years back when was planning our trip to Norway. Next Summer, we are planning to visit Iceland and your two week itinerary looks awesome and super informative. One thing keeps bothering me: what is the situation with washing/drying services there? I don’t see many options in Guest Houses / Hotels / Airbnb with washing services. What was your family experience during your trip? Any public services? Thank you!
Hello Kate. Thanks for writing in. A washer and dryer can be hard to find. On our 18 day trip through Iceland, I think we only had a washing machine at one place, and unfortunately, that one is no longer on Booking.com so I don’t have it listed. You’ll have to look into apartments, which are more likely to have a washing machine. Or, just do your laundry in the sink. Have a great time in Iceland! Cheers, Julie
Very extensive , informative . My daughter and I have wanted to visit Iceland for many years, but unfortunately now I use a walker. My daughter is a photographer, so we want to plan something that appeals to us both. Not apposed to staying in accommodation while she goes glacier climbing or scuba diving. We’ll be renting a car and probable do your suggested Trip #2. Any insight?
Hello Jane. Itinerary #2, the Ring Road trip, is a great loop around Iceland. With a walker, you will have some limitations on what you can visit. Many viewpoints of the waterfalls aren’t too far of a walk, but the ones that come to mind that might be more challenging for you to get to are Dettifoss (from both sides), Kvernufoss, Svartifoss, and Glymur (since it is a hike to get here). But you will still be able to see a lot. But there will be a few places where your daughter may do a short walk to a waterfall and you will have to wait for here. The nice thing about Iceland is that it is beautiful everywhere, so if you have to stay near the parking lot, you will still probably have a nice view. Cheers, Julie
Just discovered your site and love it already. My girlfriend and I are planning a trip to Iceland this November. Looks like there will be just under 7 hours of day light each day, but we want to spend the majority of our time exploring the national parks/glaciers/natural beauty of Iceland. Do you think we will have enough time to do these outdoors activities with the limited daylight? We would be comfortable hiking at night if it is permitted/safe to do so.
Yes, I think that’s possible. Use the “dark hours” to travel around Iceland to make sure you are at the waterfall/national park/hiking trail/glacier when it gets to be brighter. You will miss seeing some of landscapes and views while driving, so it would help prioritize what you want to do ahead of time. And be aware that some hiking trails could be closed/inaccessible in November because of snow. And keep an eye on the weather forecast because you could also encounter ice/snow that could make travel difficult. But you will get to see the Northern Lights and that will be awesome! Cheers, Julie
So much helpful information here! Putting finishing touches on our trip planning and I was wondering which might be the best option for maintaining internet access during our road trip: Icelandic SIM card or getting WiFi on our rental car. We are driving along the south as far east as Jokursarlon.
I don’t know anything about using WiFi via your rental car, but that’s an interesting idea. We had reliable service with Siminn and would do that again on a repeat visit to Iceland. Cheers, Julie
All great information! Do you have any advice or suggestions on rental car insurance out there? I hear add-ons may be a good idea while driving in Iceland. Thanks!
We get rental car insurance through our credit card, so we don’t add it on through the rental car company. But I think that Iceland is a great place to make sure you have rental car insurance (either through the rental car company or if you can get it through our Visa credit card). Cheers, Julie
A friend recommended your website and there is so much useful information here. I’m pondering a family trip to Iceland for 2022. Did you go with an Icelandic tour operator to book all your accommodations and plan the itinerary or did you piece it all together (DIY)?
I’m kinda lost about where to start. Would definitely want to do a 10 day trip and circumnavigate the ring road. Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.
Hello Georgina. We visited Iceland independently and came up with our own itinerary and booked everything on our own. We published several different itineraries that will make your travel planning a lot easier. You can start with this 10 day Iceland post, but if you want to drive the Ring Road, I recommend our Ring Road itinerary (we also have a printable eBook for purchase) or our Two Week Iceland itinerary. And write back in with any questions you may have. Cheers, Julie
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.
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!