Every passionate traveler should visit Iceland at least once because it could be the adventure of a lifetime. But, let me be honest with you. Planning a trip to Iceland can be painfully overwhelming and the trip itself is far from a laid back vacation. You would need all of the preparation you could get. So, here are 20 untold tips for tourists visiting Iceland. Believe me, I wish I have known them sooner!
20 Untold Tips For Tourists Visiting Iceland:
1. Book your hotels and tours in advance
Tourism in Iceland has been gaining popularity exponentially. Iceland is unbelievably beautiful, not to mention there are now more convenient ways to get there. On the downside, due to its high demand among travelers, hotels and tours sell out fast. You have to book months in advance for tours and hotels. lea
For a list of accommodations you should consider, click here. These are the accommodations we have tried and tested – from budget hostels to luxury design hotels! 🙂
Blue Lagoon is no exception when it comes to advance booking. Even though our trip was during the off-peak season, it was still difficult to find an availability. If you can, book as early as a month in advance. Also, price depends on the time of day of the visit and how far in advance of the visit the ticket is booked. There is no time limit so you can stay as long as you want!
2. If you are planning to join a Northern Lights tour, book it on the earlier days of your trip
Most of the Northern Lights tours give their customers a second chance on seeing the Northern Lights (for free) if they failed to see it on the first night. Booking it early on your trip will allow you to have more options on the second night if needed.
*Don’t forget to bring a portable tripod for better Northern Lights photos!
Want to make it more exciting? You can hunt the Northern Lights by yourself!
It might not be as easy as having your own guide to track the Northern Lights for you but it could be very fulfilling. In our case, we joined a Northern Lights tour (which we didn’t see any due to the clouds) AND we also stayed late on our last 2 nights hunting the Northern Lights by ourselves. Guess what, we found it on our own on our last night in Iceland! It was faint but the experience of finding it by ourselves was amazing!
These are the tools that we used to track the Northern Lights:
Aurora Alerts Northern Lights App – shows your chance of seeing the Northern Lights in your current location and the potential strength of the Northern Lights
Aurora Forecast (Icelandic Meteorological Office) – shows the cloud coverage forecast per hour for all regions
*Although these are forecasts and may not be 100% accurate, you will know which direction you should be going. Go for the dark and clear skies! Seeing stars is a good sign.
3. Ice caves vary from time to time depending on the flowing water
How the ice cave looks like today may not be how it looked like the previous week. In our case, it was smaller than we expected but it was as bright and as blue as portrayed in the photos.
Read more about the Ice Cave Tour.
4. Things you need to know about the Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon is NOT overrated. I was skeptical at first but ended up considering it as one of the highlights of our trip.
A major drawback of this lavish experience is the Blue Lagoon’s damaging effect to the hair. Leave a large amount of conditioner on your hair and pull it into a bun. Try not to soak it in the lagoon to avoid an extremely dry, rough and brittle hair.
It doesn’t smell as good as it looks. As you approach the Blue Lagoon area, you will smell a strong scent of sulfur. It is similar to that of a rotten egg. Don’t be discouraged though. It doesn’t smell bad when you’re already swimming in the lagoon. Besides, the scenery and the whole spa experience will make you forget about that odor.
The bright blue hues of the lagoon can be GREEN at times as a result of algae. On our second visit to the Blue Lagoon, we were surprised by the change in color. We were expecting to find the same bright blue water we saw the previous year. Instead, the water was darker and greener. There was also an area in the lagoon where we stepped on some algae.This is the downside of a perfect, sunny weather.
Read more about our Blue Lagoon experience here.
5. Traveling in Iceland can be quite expensive that’s why it’s crucial to cut the avoidable costs
Here are some ways you can save on your Iceland trip:
- Bring your own towel, robe and slippers if you’re going to the Blue Lagoon. This will save you ISK 3500 or around 32 USD per person
- Bring a large water bottle. Most hotels have potable water which you can use to refill.
- Book in advance for hotels and tours.
- Go in groups. You can split the cost for car rental, gas and hotel. There are also many guesthouses that have dorms. You can book as a group, making it more fun and budget-friendly!
6. Off-peak seasons are off-peak for a reason
Our first visit to Iceland was on the 2nd week of October. There was a continuous heavy rainfall during the first 2 days of our trip. Most of the summer tours (e.g. glacier boat tours) have ended by this time while majority of the winter tours (e.g. ice cave tours) are not yet offered.
7. Rent a car and do a self-drive tour
I highly recommend renting a car and doing a self-drive tour in Iceland. Believe me, those drives were our best adventures! Unlike being in a group tour, we were able to go anywhere we want. Even though road conditions can be challenging outside the Ring Road, personally, a self-drive tour is still the best way to discover Iceland. Every part of this beautiful country is something you should see, not just the popular attractions like the Ring Road. You could rent a car from Reykjavik airport for convenience.
Doing a self-drive tour is easy if you stick to the Ring Road.
If you are going to be adventurous, plan your routes carefully and check the types of roads you will be encountering. You can check it in Google Maps.
- Avoid these roads if you will be driving in a non-4×4 vehicle: F-roads, 550 and 35
- Speed limit: gravel road – 80 km/h, paved road – 90 km/h
- Iceland’s public emergency number: 112
For road conditions and road types in Iceland, you can check this site.
8. Although Google Maps is helpful at most times, don’t fully rely on its first and faster route suggestion
Don’t get lost like the way we did or you might end up at an F-road. We were very dependent on Google Maps. Without looking at the full route it suggested, we started driving towards one of our destinations. Little did we know, our route included a couple of mountain roads passable only to 4×4 vehicles. Imagine a very narrow, uneven road with loose gravel! The bad weather didn’t help either.
9. Renting a 4×4 or a regular car
If you’re going to Iceland on summer (or at least not during winter) and you only plan to drive around the Ring Road, 4×4 is not needed. We drove a car on October and we were able to drive the Ring Road. However, your destinations will be limited to that area only. There are many gorgeous spots outside the Ring Road and most of them have to be driven using a 4×4. If you are the adventurous type and would like to explore random areas, I highly recommend using a 4×4. During winter, I also recommend driving a 4×4. It will put you at ease because it is safer and the roads in Iceland could get really challenging during winter season. It’s for your safety, convenience and freedom to drive at F-roads. You don’t have to worry about getting stuck or damaging your car because of the potholes and gravels.
Find a 4×4 or a car here.
Explore around Iceland but know the limitations of your car. It is very convenient if you rent an off-road vehicle with all-terrain capabilities. It is way more expensive but you wouldn’t need to worry every now and then.
Get the complete car insurance
Car insurance in Iceland are expensive but crucial. Car rental and insurance are costly for a reason – the roads and weather in Iceland can really damage the car.
10. Unlike US and Canada, tipping is not required in Iceland but appreciated
11. Don’t underestimate the wind caution
It’s very windy in Iceland. There were times when the wind was too strong, our car was being rocked. We had to hold the door every time we opened it. You will be charged by the car rental company if the door gets damaged by the wind.
12. Try not to get too disappointed when you miss your chance to take a photo while on the road
Our drive was filled with endless beautiful views. It was hard to keep up with the photo opportunities. Be ready to take pictures but if you miss a shot, don’t worry about it. There are still many chances!
Oh, and don’t miss out on the photos because of an empty battery. If you will be shooting relentlessly, which you probably will, the battery of your camera might not last one full day. It’s best to bring an extra battery for your camera.
13. Take extra precaution when visiting Reynisfjara and Kirkjufjara beach
There are warning signs in these areas because of their known dangers especially to tourists. However, it is easy to overlook these signs. Even I am guilty of this one. Once you see the black sand beach and basalt column caves, there is a strong urge to explore and take photos even at the most unsafe place. Gigantic waves taller than an average person become an excellent photo opportunity.
These warnings should not be taken lightly. There are reported cases of tourists drowning at the beach because of the killer waves. Don’t turn your back on the sea when taking a selfie and stay at a safe distance. Don’t even try to swim in the beach, no matter how challenging/amazing it seems.
For a detailed article on the dangers of Reynisfjara and Kirkjufjara, you can check this blog.
14. The famous Icelandic hotdog is made of lamb
Personally, I don’t prefer the strong taste of lamb but it is a must-try in Iceland.
15. Must-see places that are not in popular travel tour itineraries
Fjallsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Seljalandsfoss (at night)
On the hopes of seeing the Northern Lights, we decided to take a night drive to find it on our own. Well, we didn’t see the Northern Lights because of the cloudy skies BUT we discovered that Seljalandsfoss can be viewed at night! We even had it all to ourselves.
16. Look out at the side of the roads for a chance to befriend an Icelandic horse but please, be gentle and kind to them
If petting and taking a photo with an Icelandic horse are also in your list, you have many chances! We encountered a very friendly one on our way to Kirkjufjara beach. We were driving when we noticed this adorable white horse near the side of the road. It was the perfect opportunity so we parked our car and made our way to it. It loved the attention it was getting!
*Also keep an eye on the Icelandic wildlife like the arctic fox, reindeer and seal.
We chanced upon seeing all three! On our first trip, we found an arctic fox while we were driving from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. We didn’t have a dashcam back then so we weren’t able to record it. On our recent trip, we saw a herd of reindeer while we were driving to in the East region of Iceland, twice! For the seal, we saw it while we were taking photos of Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.
17. While planning for our Iceland trip, I read somewhere that you shouldn’t worry if it rains because the weather changes quickly. This is not always the case.
We had a difficult time on our first 2 days because of the non-stop heavy rainfall. On the bright side, if it rains, you will see endless waterfalls coming from the mountains.
18. Packing essentials
Always pack a pair of boots, change of pants, socks, waterproof and windproof jacket and extra shoes
There were several instances where we were drenched in rain or splashed by waterfalls. Water repellent clothes and extra shoes would come in handy. There are also lots of opportunities for hiking and exploring so bring a pair of comfortable boots or hiking shoes!
Bring a pair of sunglasses
It can get too bright in Iceland. You might need these when you’re in the Blue Lagoon or driving at daylight.
If you’re visiting Iceland during winter, bring a pair of traction cleats or crampons
The sights and activities you will be doing during winter will most likely include an icy, slippery trek. We visited Iceland at early March and we regretted not having traction cleats. We hiked Kerid (volcanic crater lake), a waterfall and several glaciers and every time we were wishing that we had them. There were also several tourists that were using these.
These traction cleats are portable, detachable and might actually save your life when hiking those icy trails. Our ice cave tour provided us something similar to the items below and we really felt the difference between having traction cleats and without. It had a tight grip on the ice and we weren’t sliding. Without the traction cleats, our hikes in Kerid, the waterfall and glaciers were difficult. Even though we were already using snow boots similar to hiking boots, we were always sliding.
19. Bring a universal plug adapter and a car charger
Most sockets in Europe have two rounded holes. The accommodations we stayed did not have a universal plug adapter so we had to charge our phones while driving.
If you forgot to buy one and you’re already reading this from Iceland, you can try the electronic store in Reykjavik called ELKO. It is where we bought ours!
20. Bring a dashcam if you are going to do a self-drive tour
Iceland is incredibly stunning that you would want to record all of your drives. A dashcam will come in handy because it will record everything on the road while you take all the pictures you want!
Looking for a place to stay in Iceland?
Bonus: Itinerary tips for tourists visiting Iceland, click here.
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46 Replies to “20 Untold Tips for Tourists Visiting Iceland”
Iceland has always been on my bucket list. It is such a beautiful country.
It really is. I hope you get to visit Iceland soon!
Seems like Iceland is on everyone’s list these days! This will help a lot!
It’s popularity is understandable! 🙂 I haven’t seen anything like it yet.
Your photos are beautiful! I hadn’t heard of the Blue Lagoon before, but I’m definitely interested in seeing it now!
Thank you, Brandi! You will absolutely love the Blue Lagoon!
All excellent tips and recommendations; we agree with most everything said here, as we did almost all of these on our own trip to Iceland in November! I will say you can get by with renting a smaller car (we went with a cute compact car as it was the most budget-friendly one we could find), but then you have to be aware of your limitations… And I’d definitely recommend a larger one in dark and snowy months. I’m sure January is a huge difference from November in Iceland! 🙂 We loved seeing all the pictures, too. Iceland is so beautiful! We can’t wait to go back. Thanks for sharing!
Yes, knowing your car’s limitations is important. 🙂 The bad weather during our trip didn’t go well with our small car. We really thought we were going to be swept by the wind as we were driving. Haha We rented a larger vehicle for this week’s trip! I hope you get to back soon too!
Oof, yeah, that doesn’t sound like much fun. I think we were lucky in November not to have too much wind or ice, so the car worked out. Hope this next week is fun for you guys! 🙂
My uncle went to Iceland a long time ago when he was in the air force. He still talks about how pretty it was there. I would love to go travel there one day myself.
Oh these are amazing tips. I’ve always wanted to visit Iceland. Maybe one of these days I’ll get to do that. I just want to do it in nice weather.
These photos are gorgeous. I hope to make it there someday. I’ll keep your tips in mind.
Oh my gosh…I want to go to Iceland now. Your pictures are amazing and your hints are very practical.
Thanks for this great advice! I’d really like to visit Iceland soon so your post is super helpful. I’ll definitely keep your money saving tips in mind!
It looks amazing out there in Iceland. I definitely have to go there spend day to get to see the Northern Lights.
Really, really interesting post! I’ve pinned for later. The pictures are also soooo beautiful!
I’ve never been Iceland but after reading this I think I should go. Great pictures as well!
I love your tips! We wouldn’t have known that we would need waterproof clothes and probably wouldn’t have sprung for the car insurance on our future trip to Iceland. Those horses are so sweet, and the Seljalandsfoss looks incredible at night. We can’t wait to go one day, and we have saved this pin for later. 🙂
I’ve never been to Iceland nor have I thought of visiting it, but your tips make me want to go so bad. I just forwarded this to my partner to tell him that I want to visit for a vacation!
We visited Iceland over Xmas and it was so amazing (and filled with snow!) we vowed to return during the summer season when the land will be more visible (snow is amazing, but creates a different look of the landscape). We intend to do a self-drive so your tips really are fantastic and super helpful. Thank you for taking the time to put this together, I have pinned for future reference! #feetdotravel
Great post! I would love to visit Iceland and I think these tips would help a lot! Lovely pictures too, makes me want to start planning a trip now.
Very useful tips! While I always book in advance my accommodation and tours, other tips are great. I am planning a trip to Iceland toward the end of this year 😉
Se manifique! such an awesome photo journal and descriptions. great tips, makes me wanna hop on plane right now lol
I think it’s an awesome opportunity to travel to Iceland and see what it has to offer! There are plenty of things to experience there! Thanks for all the tips!
I have always wanted to go to Iceland for the northern lights. There’s nothing like it! I’m pretty sure it’s going to be an awesome experience!
Wonderful tips for visiting Iceland. Stunning photos and I will pin this for my later use. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂
Such a beautiful place – it seems that everyone I know has been to Iceland and I am yet to pay it a visit! Love your photos of beautiful glaciers, waterfalls and horses! Your tips are great and I will definitely use them when I eventually make it over there!
I really hope we get to visit Iceland. I really want to go there for the Northern Lights!
#20 is a great tip! Would love to see that type of footage. For #10 I would suggest using a credit card that includes a car rental insurance of sorts, like the Chase Sapphire. That’s what we did when we rented a campervan for 3 weeks in New Zealand. We declined the companies insurance. charged the whole thing on the credit card and that qualifies for the auto insurance. Iceland is one of my top countries to visit. Pinning for future reference!
I love your travel tips! Never heard about #10, that’s really interesting! Iceland is never running out of breathtaking views to offer. It’s like a world out of fairy tales.
Everyone is getting to Iceland lately! This must be a sign. We must all go to Iceland! hehee, thanks for the awesome tips. #flyawayfriday
These are great tips. Iceland is very high on my bucket list so I’m pinning this for future reference. #FlyAwayFriday
With Iceland become such a popular destination this guide is awesome, I’m definitely bookmarking for futures trips!
Thanks for sharing these tips, will definitely remember these. I would love to visit Iceland one day; the views and photographs and stunningly beautiful. Happy #FlyAwayFriday
Fabulous list! Saving this for later. Hoping to get to Iceland later in the year – these are really helpful tips! I guess that’s the problem with it being such a popular place these days, that accommodation and activities book out really quickly. Love your photography too.
These are great tips! It is good to know about the lagoon as I have hair issues and would seriously to the bun and conditioner. As well, I love the Icelandic horses! So adorable!!! #flyawayfriday
Iceland is one of the top destinations on my bucket list! Great tips!! Saving this for when i eventually get there! #flyawayfriday
I love these tips! What a great way to plan a trip to Iceland! I’ll definitely be bookmarking this! Are you a part of the Fly Away Friday Pinterest Board? If so, definitely post it on there! If you’re not a collaborator, message me on Twitter or Pinterest and I’ll add you! Thanks for joining Fly Away Friday – hope to see you again this weekend! xo
These are amazing tips!! We were supposed to go in February and couldn’t believe how far in advnace things needed to be booked!! Also, I heard it was expensive but I can’t believe nearly $32 for slippers and a robe for the Blue Lagoon!! Wow, that’s so good to know!!!
Love the tips! Iceland can be surprising but oh so beautiful and fun. You’re definitely right about the expense!!
I’ve never thought about Iceland, but gosh it looks amazing! I think it would be fun to visit!
Great tips and article. Keep going!
wow, when i grow up, i’ll make it here too! haha! enjoyed the lovely pix. 🙂
Love this post! I can’t wait to go. Iceland is on my list!
Whoa! You have explained all the tips regarding Tourists Visiting Iceland in a very detailed manner. I didn’t know that Iceland is such a beautiful place I’m glad that I read your blog as you have given a detailed description of your journey. Your article is very informative and I will share this blog with my friends.
Thank you so much Kanika! I hope you get to visit Iceland soon. 🙂