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Things To Know Before Visiting Iceland- 22 Important Tips

Traveling around Iceland brings new soul-enriching, breath-taking, life-affirming natural sights every five goddamn minutes. Iceland might not have legendary historic sights, temples, statues or abbeys. Sometimes, Iceland doesn’t even have sunlight. But one of the things to know before visiting Iceland is that whatever it lacks, it makes up for it with an abundance of steep-sided fjords, breathtaking glaciers, moonlight lava fields, and of course, northern lights.

Even though the number of tourists and the amount of information about this country keeps increasing (even though it’s still one of the least visited countries in Europe and in the world), Iceland still finds a way to surprise me again and again and you’ll probably feel the same way if you visit. Here are some of the most important things to know before visiting Iceland.

things to know before visiting Iceland

Understanding Visa and Entry Requirements

We start this list of things to know before visiting Iceland with the basics- visa and entry requirements. Firstly, if you’re a citizen of the Schengen Area, congratulations! You’ve hit the traveler’s jackpot. You can enter Iceland as freely as a puffin swoops into the Atlantic – no visa needed. Just bring your valid passport or ID card, and you’re set.

Now, for the non-Schengen folks, it’s a bit more like a game of chess. If you’re from the U.S., Canada, or other visa-exempt countries, you get 90 days in a 180-day period to explore the land of Björk and breathtaking landscapes. Just ensure your passport is valid for at least three months beyond your planned departure date from the Schengen area.

If you hail from a country that does require a visa, you’ll need to get in touch with the nearest Icelandic embassy or consulate. This process usually involves an application form, passport-sized photos, travel itinerary, proof of accommodation, and sometimes a biometric appointment.

What About The Weather?

iceland road

If you’re visiting Iceland in the summer, make sure to bring your winter clothes. Summers here are colder than the winter in most countries and perhaps the best time to visit Iceland is in September. Keep in mind that the weather on mountain passes is significantly different than the weather at sea level. Hence, you shouldn’t be surprised if the sunny weather turns into a snowstorm. Iceland is full of surprises and winters in Iceland require special preparation.

If you rent a car (which I believe is the cheapest option for exploring Iceland), make sure you get spikes on the tires regardless of the season. Follow and to get all the necessary information about the weather and roads before taking a road trip along the Ring Road or some of the other scenic roads of Iceland.

Budgeting-Related Things To Know Before Visiting Iceland

iceland nature

If you’ve been reading my blog, you could notice I always say you can travel almost anywhere in Europe on a budget. When I say ‘almost’ I’m mostly referring to Iceland. If you thought Singapore was expensive, just wait till you visit Iceland. Iceland is one of the most expensive countries in the world and you should carry at least twice more money than what you initially planned. You can get some budget-saving tips from this article but let me just give you a glimpse of how pricy Iceland exactly is:

  • A sandwich from a supermarket: $10
  • A bottle of water: $3-$4
  • A gallon of gas: $8
  • A plate of vegetables and a salad in a restaurant: $45
  • A cup of soup and a couple of pieces a bread: $20

A hostel bed will cost you $30-50 a night, or go fancy with a hotel room, where you’ll easily drop $150-300. A sweet middle ground? Guesthouses or Airbnb, where you get more bang for your buck.

Food is where things get spicy. Eating out in Iceland is like a mini investment (not a surprise since Reykjavik is one of the best food destinations in Europe). A simple meal at an inexpensive restaurant can set you back $30-40, while a three-course meal at a mid-range place could hover around $70-90 per person. Pro tip: Supermarket staples and cooking your own meals will be your wallet’s best friends.

Transport is the vein of Icelandic exploration. Renting a car? That’s about $50-100 per day, depending on the model and the time of year. Remember, gas prices are high (think $7-8 per gallon), and so is car insurance.

Now, the fun part: activities. Tours aren’t cheap, but they’re worth it. A whale-watching excursion could cost about $80-100, while a dip in the Blue Lagoon starts at around $60. Want to walk on a glacier? That’s a cool $100-200. But hey, where else can you strut on ice like it’s a catwalk?

Renting a Car in Iceland: Tips and Tricks

things to know before visiting Iceland

Most one-day excursions in Iceland cost around $60-70 per person. You can rent a car for three days for $120 USD. And driving in Iceland isn’t as scary as it seems. Just make sure to check the weather conditions before going anywhere. Also, keep in mind that most cars in Iceland are manual. If you want to rent a car in Iceland, use this AutoEurope special offer and save 15% on all car rentals in Iceland.

When you rent a car, the car agent will try to sell you every insurance policy they have. And I suggest you take them. As I said, the weather in Iceland is unpredictable and it’s almost impossible not to damage your car. So it’s better to take some of the insurance policies. It might add up to the price a bit but if you damage the car and don’t have insurance, you will end up paying much more. Alternatively, if you don’t want to overpay for the rental company’s insurance policies, SafetyWing is a great choice if you want to rent a car in Iceland. Their comprehensive packages can keep you covered in all possible scenarios.

With that out of the way, let’s cover some more specifics about driving in Iceland.

Small Car vs. 4×4: If you’re sticking to the Golden Circle and main roads, a small car does the trick. But, if you’re eyeing those rugged F-roads or plan to visit in winter, a 4×4 is your new best friend.

Manual or Automatic: Automatics are more expensive but friendlier for those not used to manual gears, especially on Iceland’s rollercoaster terrain.

Frequent Fill-ups: Gas stations are like rare Pokémon in the remote areas – find them, cherish them. Don’t pass one without topping up.

Card Over Cash: Most stations are automated and card-friendly. Ensure your card has a PIN, or get a prepaid gas card.

Speed Limits Are Gospel: They’re not suggestions. Speed cameras are more common than you think.

Weather Watch: Iceland’s weather has a personality disorder – be prepared for sudden changes.

Off-Road = Off-Limits: Stick to the path. Off-road driving is illegal (and not cool for Mother Nature).

You Can Sleep On The Road (sometimes)

Iceland road

Unlike most countries, in Iceland, you can park on the road if when the weather conditions aren’t good and stay there overnight. This is mostly because of the unpredictable weather conditions but you can use that to your advantage and save a lot of money by sleeping in the car or traveling in a campervan instead of paying an overpriced hotel.

There are many camper rentals services on the island that will allow you to rent a fully equipped and comfortable van for a reasonable price. Services like Cozy Campers, for instance, have a wide variety of vans that come with all the bells and whistles and can be rented for as little as 90 euros per day depending on the season.

Public Transportation: What You Need to Know

things to know before visiting Iceland

We already mentioned that renting a car is the most convenient option but this list of things to know before visiting Iceland wouldn’t be complete if we wouldn’t mention a few things about public transport.

The Backbone: Buses are the main form of public transportation in Iceland, especially connecting Reykjavik with other major towns.

Frequency: In Reykjavik, they’re fairly regular, but as you venture further afield, they become as sparse as trees in Iceland.

Strætó App: This is your digital compass for navigating bus routes. It’s like having a local guide in your pocket.

Punctuality: Icelandic buses wait for no one, so channel your inner punctual elf.

Flexibility vs. Cost: Renting a car can be costlier, but it’s like having a backstage pass to Iceland’s off-the-beaten-path gems.

Weather Dependent: Buses are reliable, but in harsh weather, even they bow down to Mother Nature’s whims.

Booking Accommodations: When and Where

Iceland hotel

Whether you’re dreaming of cozy Reykjavik apartments or quaint countryside cabins, here are a few tips to snagging the perfect Icelandic abode.

Book Early: Think of Iceland’s accommodations as hot springs – the best spots get taken quickly. Booking 3-6 months in advance is wise, especially for peak summer months or if you’re eyeing popular areas along the Golden Circle or near major attractions.

Winter Wonders: Traveling in winter? You’ve got a bit more breathing room, but the early-booking rule still applies, especially for those coveted Northern Lights-viewing spots.

Reykjavik: The Urban Heartbeat: Staying in the capital offers nightlife, museums, and easy bus links. Perfect if you fancy a side of culture with your nature.

Rural Retreats: Fancy waking up to a view of fjords or volcanoes? Outside the city, options range from farm stays to luxury lodges. Ideal for serenity seekers and nature lovers.

The Ring Road Circuit: Planning to circle the island on the famed Ring Road? Mix it up with a variety of guesthouses, B&Bs, and hotels. Variety is the spice of Icelandic travel!

Go Off the Beaten Path: Consider staying in lesser-known towns or regions. Not only are they often more affordable, but they also offer unique local experiences.

Camping in Iceland: Rules and Recommendations

iceland sunset

One of the most important things to know before visiting Iceland is that it’s home to some of the best camping destinations in the world. But before you pitch your tent under the watchful eye of a nearby volcano, let’s quickly cover a few of the dos and don’ts of Iceland’s camping scene.

The Golden Rule: In Iceland, wild camping is a no-go. You’ll need to cuddle up in designated campsites, which, frankly, are more like luxury suites with nature as the décor.

Facilities: These campsites often come equipped with showers, toilets, and sometimes even a kitchen. It’s like having a hotel, minus the walls.

Summer Loving: Most campsites open from May to September. It’s when Iceland wears its greenest attire and the midnight sun keeps you company.

Winter Warnings: Some brave souls camp in winter, but it’s for the hardy and well-prepared – think ‘Game of Thrones’ without the dragons.

No Reservations Needed: Unlike a fancy restaurant, campsites in Iceland usually don’t require bookings. Just rock up, find a spot, and set up your temporary home.

Weather-Ready Gear: Waterproof everything – tent, clothing, spirit. Icelandic weather can turn faster than a Viking longship in a storm.

Food: Stock up on supplies. The next grocery store might be a few fjords away.

Unique Stays: From City Hotels to Countryside Lodges

things to know before visiting iceland

Embarking on a journey to Iceland, where the landscapes are as diverse as the sagas, means choosing accommodations that are more than just a place to crash. This list of things to know before visiting Iceland couldn’t be complete without exploring the smorgasbord of unique stays this land of contrasts offers.

City Hotels: Reykjavik’s Chic Retreats In Reykjavik, hotels are like a collection of modern art pieces, each with its own character. Imagine staying in a place where sleek Nordic design meets quirky Icelandic charm. You’ll find hotels with rooms that feel like an avant-garde gallery, where the view out your window is a bustling street scene straight out of a travel vlog. These urban nests are often just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the city’s vibrant cafes, pulsating nightlife, and cultural treasures. And let’s not forget the breakfast buffets – a spread that could fuel a Viking for a week.

Countryside Lodges: Embrace the Rural Charm Venturing out into the countryside, the lodges and guesthouses are where Iceland’s soul truly unfurls. Picture waking up in a wooden lodge, nestled at the foot of a towering mountain or perched by the edge of a serene fjord. These lodges are often family-run, offering a glimpse into Icelandic life that you just can’t get in a city hotel. The hosts, with their stories and smiles, become part of your journey. Many of these lodges are gateways to adventure – think hiking trails that start right at your doorstep, or local guides ready to take you on a glacier trek.

Quirky Options: Bubble Hotels and Eco Pods For those looking to blend adventure with a touch of whimsy, Iceland offers accommodations that can only be described as ‘unique’. Bubble hotels, where your room is a transparent sphere tucked away in a secluded forest, offer a night under the stars, unlike any other. Imagine lying cozy in bed while the aurora borealis performs its celestial ballet above you. Or, if you’re an eco-conscious traveler, consider an eco pod – sustainable, chic, and often situated in some of the most breathtaking landscapes. These pods prove that luxury and environmental stewardship can go hand in hand.

Farmstays: Rustic and Real If your soul yearns for the bucolic, a farmstay is where you should hang your hat. These stays are about as authentic as it gets. You’re not just a guest; you’re part of the farm. Participate in daily life – collect eggs for breakfast, learn about sheep herding, or just enjoy the tranquility of rural life. Farmstays are scattered across Iceland, each offering a unique window into the country’s agricultural heritage. Plus, the home-cooked meals – often made with ingredients sourced right from the farm – are a gastronomic delight.

Exploring Icelandic Nature and Landscape

Speaking of things to know before visiting Iceland, we have to mention Iceland’s magnificent nature and the beautiful experiences it offers to visitors.

Hiking and Outdoor Adventures

Iceland mountain

From the lush greenery of Skógafoss to the martian landscapes of Landmannalaugar, the trails in Iceland are as varied as the sagas. Whether you’re a casual walker or a seasoned trekker, there’s a path with your name on it. But trails are just the beginning; Iceland is also home to many different glaciers like Vatnajokull, Langjokull, Myrdalsjokull, Solheimajokull, and many others. Strapping crampons to your boots and walking on ancient ice at Vatnajökull or Sólheimajökull is like stepping into a frozen kingdom.

You can also explore beneath the surface in lava tubes like Raufarhólshellir, where the earth narrates its fiery history or through fjords or paddle raft down glacial rivers. The water’s perspective of Iceland is as dramatic as it is from the land. Just be mindful of…

Respecting the Environment: Don’t Walk On The Moss

Iceland moss

In Iceland, respecting the environment is not just a courtesy; it’s akin to following an ancient, unspoken Norse law. Among the most sacred of these environmental commandments is: “Thou shalt not trample the moss.”

The moss plays a critical role in preventing soil erosion and maintaining the delicate ecological balance. It’s like nature’s guardian, keeping the land intact and healthy. Moreover, the moss grows painstakingly slowly – about 1 cm per year. So, when it’s damaged, it’s a bit like spilling coffee on a centuries-old tapestry.

Hot Springs, Public Pools, And What To Avoid

things to know before visiting Iceland

Hot springs and public pools in Iceland are a must but the natural ones while Blue Lagoon is the place you’d want to avoid. I know it looks amazing on the photos but after visiting the Blue Lagoon, I really didn’t understand why this place is so hyped up. First of all, it’s expensive: it costs close to $100 USD per person. Secondly, you have to book way, way in advance. And third, it’s not even a natural. That’s right; the blue lagoon is a man-made geothermal spa. I was surprised by the number of people that actually didn’t know this.

So, the only difference between this geothermal spa and the other ones in the rest of the world is that this one is blue in color. There are many more amazing places to visit in Iceland, like the Gullfoss Waterfall, the Seljavallalaug Pool, and Kopavogslaug in Kopavogur. However, that doesn’t change the fact that more people visit Blue Lagoon every year than there are people living in Iceland.

Unique Icelandic Experiences

Speaking of things to know before visiting Iceland, we just have to mention some of the country’s most unique experiences, starting with (of course)…

Chasing the Northern Lights: Timing and Expectations

Iceland northern lights

Best Months: The Northern Lights are the divas of the night sky, making their grand appearances typically from late September to early April. Why? Because they need dark, clear nights, and these months offer the longest nights.

Darkness is Key: Plan your hunt around the new moon, and avoid light pollution from cities. Yes, that means venturing into the Icelandic wilderness where the only nightlife is celestial.

No Guarantees: The Northern Lights are as unpredictable as Icelandic weather. Some nights they’ll put on a dazzling display; other nights, they’re a no-show.

Patience Pays Off: Think of it like fishing – sometimes you wait hours, and all you get is a nibble. Other times, the sky erupts in color.

Location Scouting: National parks like Þingvellir offer dark skies away from city lights. Beaches with reflective black sand also make for dramatic viewing spots.

Guided Tours: Opt for a guided tour if you’re unsure about venturing alone into the night. They know the best spots and have the patience of Icelandic fishermen.

Enjoying the Midnight Sun: Making the Most of Long Days

things to know before visiting Iceland

Eternal Daylight: From late May to early August, the sun coyly flirts with the horizon but never really says goodbye. This means you can forget the clock. Fancy a hike at 10 PM? The sun’s got your back.

Nighttime Hiking: Trails that are usually packed during the day are blissfully quiet. Imagine hiking to a waterfall under a sun that refuses to set. It’s surreal, it’s peaceful, and it’s uniquely Icelandic.

Photography Dream: For photographers, the ‘golden hour’ is more like ‘golden hours’. The soft, diffused light is perfect for capturing Iceland’s landscapes in all their glory.

Reykjavik’s Vibrance: The capital becomes a playground of non-stop activities. Streets are bustling, outdoor cafes are lively, and there’s an energy that only endless daylight can bring.

Embrace Insomnia (Temporarily): With so much to see and do, sleeping feels like a waste of sunlight. Just remember, a good eye mask will be your best friend when you do decide to catch some zzz’s.

Icelandic Wildlife: Puffins, Whales, and Horses

things to know before visiting iceland

Embarking on a wildlife safari in Iceland is akin to stepping into a vivid chapter of a nature documentary. The stars of this show include the puffins, with their comical beaks and charming waddles, who make their summer homes along the cliffs of Látrabjarg in the Westfjords, Dyrhólaey near Vik, and the Tjörnes Peninsula in the north.

In the deep blue waters, Husavik, the whale watching capital, offers prime viewing opportunities for these gentle giants of the ocean. Akureyri and Reykjavik also serve as splendid venues to observe the majestic whales, including the acrobatic humpbacks and the elusive minkes. On land, the Icelandic horses, a breed apart with their small, sturdy frames and a unique gait known as ‘tölt’, roam the landscapes.

Enjoying this post? Then you may also want to check out this list of underrated European cities.

It’s The Safest Place On Earth


Lastly, this might seem a bit random popping up like this but it’s one of the most important things to know before visiting Iceland. Iceland has 317,000 inhabitants, out of which around 200,000 live in the capital Reykjavik and its surrounding. That means the rest of the country is vastly uninhabited. This makes it a bit difficult to ask for directions if you get lost on the road. That’s why traveling around Iceland requires a lot more planning than any other country, especially if you’re traveling with kids.

As you can already conclude, the capital Reykjavik and its 200,000 people look more like a small town than a capital. However, if there’s a perfect city to live on, this might be it. I didn’t see a single police officer because they literally have no work. The parliament house and the president’s house are essentially open without any security. I didn’t even hear of anything bad happening to anyone. The whole country of Iceland has 150 prisoners. 150! I’m gonna let that sink in for a while…

A Few More Things To Know Before Visiting Iceland

things to know before visiting iceland

Lastly, we conclude this guide of things to know before visiting Iceland with a few helpful tips you should know before your trip.

Do not mock their belief in mythical creatures, they’re not joking More than 50% of Iceland’s population believes in the existence of magical creatures like trolls, elves, etc. So topics involving creatures of the netherworld can be sensitive to a lot of people. This is definitely not something they are comfortable discussing with foreigners. The theories about why they are prone to these superstitions revolve around the early settlers and how they were able to survive in such an isolated environment.

The water smells really bad but it’s drinkable. Most of the water you’ll see flowing at Iceland it’s drinkable. And that includes tap water. The water is heated by geothermal energy. So, that terrible smell comes from the Sulphur from the core of the Earth. I know that sounds horrible but the water is absolutely safe to drink. This water is in fact, arguably the cleanest water in the world.

Alcohol cannot be found in supermarkets. Alcohol is, unfortunately, something you can’t buy in supermarkets. Except for bars restaurants and cafes. It seems like drinking alcohol isn’t really a part of their culture. In fact, Iceland had a total prohibition of alcohol until 1989. The only place I saw alcohol at was ATVR (a wine shop which is a state-owned company).

You Can Get Your VAT Back. If you spent more than 6,000 ISK ($57) and you surely will because everything is so damn expensive here, you’re eligible for a tax refund. You can do this at the airport before you check your luggage. Just look for the signs of the VAT refund office or Arion Bank.

Flying to Iceland? Check out Qatar Airways’s Discover the World at a low price program and save up to 20% on your flight to Iceland.

For cheap accommodation options in Iceland, use my Booking discount link.

Renting a car in Iceland? Use this AutoEurope special offer and save 15% on all car rentals in Iceland.

If you’re looking for travel insurance deals, I always use Safety Wing and I recommend you try them too.

Do you think there are some more things to know before visiting Iceland that are worth mentioning? Let us know in the comments below.

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Saturday 24th of February 2024

Are there toilet facilities in the gas stations or elsewhere along the Ring Road? Do the more famous scenic attractions have visitor centres with facilities?

Passport Symphony

Monday 15th of April 2024

Yes, there are toilet facilities on most gas stations but you have to pay to use them. The more famous one do but I've discovered that off the beaten path you'll often find even more beautiful places.


Monday 27th of December 2021

Just went to Iceland last month. Great hotel rate ( Hotel Klettur). Best tap water I’ve ever tasted. Nice dinner no more expensive than home ( Chicago). Best salmon ever! Lamb chop dinner under $30. Day trips in minibus a bargain $85-105. Used city bus in Reykjavik. I agree you can skip Blue Lagoon. ( which now is $120 including bus from Reykjavik). FREE Covid testing at Fly Bus terminal ( make an appointment, do it on way to airport) for reentry to US. Mindblowing landscape. Wonderful friendly people. So worth going.

Passport Symphony

Friday 25th of February 2022

glad to hear you had a nice time there, Gwen, Iceland is truly amazing :)

Allison Hughes

Tuesday 20th of April 2021

This was extremely informative! Thank you so much for sharing. I really enjoy your writing style. Happy Travels! Ali

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 21st of April 2021

Thank you, Allison, I'm glad to hear that :)

Denis Mountain

Tuesday 14th of August 2018

Even though there are a few problems, still Iceland is the best touring place. I like it because of its natural surroundings and the drinking culture. Here, you will get the world's best beer.

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 15th of August 2018

Indeed, Iceland is awesome and certainly worth visiting.


Saturday 20th of January 2018

It is so beautiful, though, I feel you can overlook the price tag. Plus, that kind of beauty in such a desolate place...I'm inclined to believe in trolls, too.

Passport Symphony

Monday 22nd of January 2018

Yeah it's definitely worth it :D I didn't regret it even for a single second