My Top 10 Tips for Travel to Iceland
Here are some tips for Iceland travel so you can be prepared once you go for the first time. Iceland is one of the most quirky although amazing countries I’ve visited. Iceland’s origin is from Vikings. Pair that with the country’s dramatic landscape filled with waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes, hot springs & geysers make it a unique place. Their language is so different and for me it was really hard to pronounce. (I’m sure there were many times I was wayyyyy wrong when trying to say Icelandic words. But an A for effort, right?)
There were many things I didn’t expect when I visited Iceland, these tips would have really helped my travel experience. So you don’t have to learn the hard way (like I did!), I’ve included a list of them for you.
Iceland Travel Tip 1:
Everything is expensive. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t be thrifty! By choosing what you’d like to splurge on vs. what’s not as important to you. Their currency is the Icelandic Krona and the current exchange rate to the USD is almost 136 Krona to $1. (Be sure to check the exchange rate & download a currency converter app for your trip.)
The most expensive thing there definitely is eating out. At a restaurant in Reykjavik, we had fermented shark as an appetizer and it cost 1750 Krona (about $12-13). Considering it was 6 really tiny pieces of meat, it felt expensive. But, it was definitely a part of the experience in cuisine that we were going for when we ordered it.
For most of our time there we chose to go to several supermarkets & get food we’d eat while on the go for breakfast & lunches. We only ate out for one meal a day. If you haven’t been to Iceland before, my tip for travel is always to ensure you try enough of the local cuisine to have it be a part of the experience. But, if that isn’t as important to you, you can be a lot more thrifty and save.
Iceland Travel Tip 2:
Renting a Car
I definitely recommend renting a car when traveling to Iceland. It’s the best way to get around and see everything. My tip though, is when you travel to Iceland do not expect your car rental process to be fast! At least not at the Reykjavik airport. I don’t know what it was? Maybe it was the time of day or the influx of flights arriving, but we waited forever in the car rental line! I was so excited and literally ready to hit the ground running. It was such a buzz kill when we waited nearly two hours in line for our rental. Also, somewhat disheartening when the “priority line” was closed. (As this was supposed to be an exclusive benefit for using the rental company we went with.)
Iceland Travel Tip 3:
Driving in Iceland
I will say, to travel to Iceland my tip is to not be scared to drive. It’s definitely a large part of the overall experience. The closer to Reykjavik you are, it seems the more bad drivers are on the road! At least this was what we had experienced. There are so many other travelers that don’t drive as much in their home cities/countries. Pair that with congestion of many people trying to quickly get in and out of popular stop off locations. Definitely be wary of that and aware as you’re navigating.
Iceland Travel Tip 4:
My tip in regard to bridges is to go with the flow while you travel to Iceland. Bridges are only one lane. I thought this was scary! But it went quite smoothly. In retrospect, we really didn’t encounter that many vehicles in the grand scheme of our travels. This is how it works. When you encounter another vehicle coming from the opposite way than you, whichever car is closest crosses the bridge first. On either side of the bridge, there is a small pull off area to the right that you would wait at, to let the other car pass. This really freaked me out at first, but over time I got used to it.
Iceland Travel Tip 5:
When you travel to Iceland, one tip, do not plan for one type of weather in the same day! (And pack accordingly.) Packing for and dressing in layers is definitely something I’m very used to growing up in Minnesota. They experience extreme weather & wind rather frequently. Especially when a storm is off the coast! We were there when Hurricane Lorenzo was making the wind whip. Seriously 50+ MPH winds! We had an experience where we felt our car get lifted up as we were driving down a winding road. Talk about eye opening!
Iceland Travel Tip 6:
Purchasing Liquor & Beer
One of the things we like to enjoy while traveling, are the local food & libations. While you travel to Iceland, keep this tip in mind so you know what to expect if you want to purchase liquor or beer to enjoy other than at a restaurant or geothermal spa/pool.
Depending on where you’re from, liquor and beer purchasing at a retail store looks very different. In the US, many stores are open 7 days a week for semi-normal retail hours. Well in Iceland, their liquor stores are owned by the government and only open extremely limited hours. We were somewhat frustrated by this then asked a local while in a geothermal pool for more details. Only after we consulted him, did we figure out the details. (Be sure to map these out ahead of time if you’d like to snag some brews or liquor to enjoy at the end of your days.)
They are called Vinbudin. And from there, we just searched on Google Maps to find one and that locations hours. I will neither confirm or deny that when we encountered horrible weather one day and our plans were off that we hung out in our car napping and reading until it opened.
Iceland Travel Tip 7:
Navigation & Getting around
You don’t need to rent a GPS from the car rental—(as long as you have a smart phone) just use your phone! Google maps treated us just fine. But, I will say (refer back to Iceland Travel Tip # 2, make sure you rent a car!) The only possible way this may work not to is if you’re doing prearranged tours with transportation included. But, if you’re like me, you like to make your own agenda, allow for the flexibility to change your plans and go at your own pace. I also think this results in better lessons learned & a more well rounded experience, but as always to each their own!
Iceland Travel Tip 8:
Once we were past Vik (to the east) the amount of others we encountered on the road was very slim! Many people come to Iceland as a stopover destination and stay closer to Reykjavik. (We drove from Reykjavik southeast around the whole island and then back west to Reykjavik.)
Iceland Travel Tip 9:
It’s not common practice for all credit cards to have a PIN (unless it’s a bank/debit card.) You will need to have a chip card that has a pin—some of the remote gas stations require this. Luckily, a friend of mine had been to Iceland a few months prior so I was prepared but it would have been a rude awakening had I not planned ahead!
Iceland Travel Tip 10:
While Iceland is a gorgeous country, some of the roads are terrifying! I felt this way right before we arrived in Seydisfjordur. They can be very narrow, no guard rails, and if you accidentally slid off the road….deadly. Don’t let that sway your decision to travel there or to drive! I only felt this way once during our week there. It was so worth it for a little bit of discomfort the beauty and landscape I experienced.
We were in Iceland for a week. I planned the whole itinerary myself. Truly, that’s a memorable part of the journey and fun for me.
Click here to view my post detailing our 7 day Iceland itinerary.