Planning a trip to Iceland? There’s so much you need to know! Read on for some helpful Iceland travel tips and advice before you go.
Iceland is incredible. There is so much to see, so much to absorb. The connection with nature is raw. It’s like no other place we’ve visited.
When we were planning our trip, it all felt a bit overwhelming. There is a lot of information on the internet, but it’s of variable quality and usefulness. Add to that all the unpronounceable names and…phew.
Now that we’ve come out the other side of this amazing adventure, here is some practical advice before you go.
Read on for my Iceland travel tips and Iceland video!
Iceland Travel Tips
You’ll Need to Plan Some Things in Advance
Things to Reserve in Advance: In peak season (June-August), plan to reserve pretty much everything in advance. Hotels, camper vans and tours all book up to near capacity all over the country. Other things to reserve in advance – a WiFi router, if you’re using one, Blue Lagoon Tickets, and Into the Glacier Tours.
Do You Need to Exchange Money in Iceland?
Skip Carrying Cash: We didn’t exchange any money in Iceland or take any money out from an ATM. You can use credit cards everywhere. The only time I wished we had cash was to tip our guide when we did the free walking tour of Reykjavik.
What to Wear in Iceland
Invest in Outerwear: Being cold or wet can really ruin your travel experience. This is especially true in Iceland where one day (or minute!) it can be calm and sunny and the next you’ll face 60 mile per hour winds and a downpour. Even if you magically get sunny weather every day, there’s spray from waterfalls, glacier tours and rivers to wade across when you’re searching for hidden hot springs.Pat and I both lived in Arc’teryx. We each had an Arc’teryx Beta SL hybrid wind shell and an Arc’teryx Atom LT hooded jacket underneath. With the rapid changes in weather, layering is essential. With this combination of jackets we were ready for anything and never too hot or too cold. Even when we ran to the famous plane crash site on the south coast of Iceland, we never got sweaty thanks to the zip vents and breathable fabric.
Top of a glacier with 60 mile per hour winds? No problem.
Because our Iceland adventures also involved things like Michelin-starred dinners and exploring the streets of Reykjavik, I also needed a casual coat that was great for layering. For this, my Filson Women’s Field Parka was perfect. It’s rugged enough for an adventure, but still stylish enough that I could wear it out to dinner. It has a hood, which is essential for any jacket I own and also a bunch of pockets without feeling bulky.
The other thing you’ll need is the right footwear. Even though we went in late spring, I really didn’t wear any of the regular shoes I brought. Instead, I rotated between tall waterproof boots with boot socks from Hunter and cozy calf length snow boots from Sorrel. My feet were always warm and dry but never too warm.
Thanks so much to Arc’teryx and Filson for generously providing us with gear for our adventure!
Get Tax Free Purchases
Save your receipts: If you spend more than 6,000 Icelandic Krona on souvenirs you are eligible for a hefty VAT (value-added tax) refund at the airport. The store you make your purchase in will give you a form. At the airport, before checking your bags, you’ll see a counter where you hand over the forms and you’ll get a refund back on your credit card.
Best Times to Visit Iceland
Avoid Peak Season in Iceland: There’s never really a bad time to visit Iceland, but if you can avoid peak season of July and August, I would do so. Tourism is booming in Iceland and the infrastructure is barely keeping up. Everywhere we went there was construction taking place – new hotels, new tourist centers, new everything.
In the meantime, during peak season Iceland is completely booked up. It’s hard to find rental cars, hotel rooms, restaurant reservations unless you book in advance. We went during “shoulder season” in early May and I think this was the best time to visit Iceland. It’s warm enough that we didn’t have to struggle with the elements or road closures and there is enough daylight to pack tons of stuff into one day. It’s still early enough that there were plenty of hotel options, rental cars and tours when we were booking 2-4 weeks in advance. Even though there were people everywhere, it never felt crowded.
That being said, we really want to go back and visit in the winter. I’ve heard from a couple of people who went that it’s an unreal experience. It comes with its own set of challenges – minimal daylight, brutal winter storms, road closures, etc. But winter is the best time to see the Northern Lights, which our trip was too late for and also to tour ice caves, which are melted and unstable by April. Because it’s off-season, you also have the advantage of prices being much lower and finding better availability if you’re booking a last-minute trip.
But if you can’t avoid a summer trip to Iceland…
Visit Attractions in Off Hours
Take advantage of the endless daylight: If you can’t avoid peak season, try visiting the big attractions during off hours. I have friends who just got back from a late June trip to Iceland and this was their main advice. Because they had almost 20 hours of daylight, they did most of their touring at night. They would sleep until lunchtime and visit waterfalls and hot springs after 10 pm. They still had great light but were often the only ones there. Genius!
Similarly, we visited Gullfoss Waterfall at 8pm in May, which was still broad daylight. We were one of a handful of people there and avoiding tour buses made the experience so much better.
Best Travel Photography Equipment
Capture the Moment: Iceland is one of the most photogenic places on earth. We rented a car for our trip so we had the advantage of having an easy way to haul our photography gear around. We were totally geared out – we had a drone, a variety of lenses for my Nikon D750 and a Leica Q rented from Borrow Lenses.
Even though we had my fancy DSLR camera along, I turned again and again to the Leica Q that I rented from Borrow Lenses. You just can’t beat this versatile little wonder as a travel camera. It’s compact, has great low light performance and produces images that rival the quality of my DSLR. I’m obsessed with it. I’ve even contemplated buying one for myself. What’s holding me back is the $4,500 price tag. Holy crap. With ‘technology rot’ (rapid depreciation of camera equipment) it just doesn’t make sense to sink almost $5 grand into a camera that will be replaced by a newer better model within a year or two. Renting rocks.
Watch for Traffic Cameras
Avoid Speeding Tickets: Even though you won’t see many police cars in Iceland, there are traffic cameras everywhere. Do yourself a favor and follow the speed limit! We heard tales of tourists coming home to thousands of dollars in speeding tickets that they had racked up unknowingly. Apparently some rental companies also tack on additional fees if you get a ticket in one of their cars.
Iceland Portable WiFi Router Rental
Rent a WiFi Router: For about $10/day, we rented a 4G portable wi-fi router from Trawire. This allowed us to have wi-fi everywhere we went on our trip. I’m talking middle-of-nowhere, on a glacier, everywhere. When I was reading reviews of other people’s’ experiences, one woman commented that she had wifi when she was out on a whaling boat! That allowed us to have reliable GPS and of course I could keep up with my Instagram account on the go too! 🙂 Making a reservation in advance is essential as you have to schedule a pickup.
Have you been to Iceland? Share your best travel tips in the comments below!
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