Getaway Compass

10 Things to Know Before Traveling to Iceland

Waterfall Road Trip in Iceland

Iceland is a beautiful country with volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, black sand beaches, and more. To make sure you make the best of your trip, read these 10 things to know before visiting Iceland. These Iceland travel tips will help make sure you have a smooth trip and are prepared with the right clothes, rental car, accommodation reservations, and more. There are areas in Iceland that are very remote and don’t have many food options so it is important to be prepared and have the right gear with you.

1. Icelandic weather is unpredictable

Stuðlagil Canyon Road Trip

An important thing to know when visiting Iceland is that the weather in changes unexpectedly, so make sure you are always prepared with layers of clothes. The wind can be strong and make it feel significantly colder. Carry a daypack with your extra layers, gloves, and a hat while out hiking. I recommend this Gregory Daypack which is the perfect size to fit all your extra layers.

2. You don't need cash! Use your card

Everywhere in Iceland accepts card payments and prefers card. I wish we knew this before getting cash out in Iceland. When traveling internationally we usually like to have cash on hand just in case, but that is not necessary in Iceland. We paid with cash for dinner on our last night in Iceland to get rid of our cash and the waiter said that we were the first people to pay with cash all day. The good thing is that you don’t have to worry about getting stuck with cash at the end of your trip if you don’t take any out in the first place!

Major credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard are accepted everywhere, and shops and restaurants prefer that customers pay with card. Note that some self-serve gas stations only accept cards with a pin so make sure you know your credit card pin number or bring your debit card with you.

3. Stay connected with an eSIM

It is important to know how to stay connected at your travel destination, especially if you need to navigate. The easiest way to stay connected while in Iceland is to purchase an eSIM on the Airalo eSIM Store. Make sure to download the data plan onto your phone ahead of time so you can access the internet as soon as you land and easily navigate to top destinations in Iceland. Use the code GETAWAY10 for a 10% discount. If you forgot to purchase an eSIM before your trip you can still do so in Iceland with wifi.

4. Use a google maps list for your Iceland road trip

Iceland Map

There are areas in Iceland where there is no network connection. Therefore, saving your road trip stops on a google maps list and downloading the map is a great way to be able to navigate even without service. Start your google maps list by following our list with over 60 destinations in Iceland. Subscribe below and check your email for the google maps link.

5. Book tours in advance

Iceland Kayak in Glacier Lagoon

There are a range of unique tours and experiences in Iceland that you can’t miss! To be able to do these activities on your preferred day, make sure to reserve the tours far in advance. Before traveling to Iceland you can search for and book tours with different tour operators on Viator and Get Your GuidePopular tours in Iceland that you should book in advance include Silfra Snorkeling, Glacier Lagoon Kayaking, Glacier Walk, and a Whale-Watching Boat Tour

Silfra Snorkeling Tour

At Thingvellir National Park you can snorkel between the North American and European tectonic plates in the Silfra Fissure. This Silfra snorkeling tour includes a guide, snorkeling gear, and a thermal wet suit so you can stay warm while swimming in the clear glacial water.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Kayaking

My favorite activity in Iceland was kayaking in the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon surrounded by large icebergs. We booked our 1.5 hour tour with Ice Guide which included gear and a guide that led us through the Glacier Lagoon and provided us information about the lagoon. Ice Guide provided a tandem kayak, paddles, waterproof suits, boots and life vests. These extra layers helped keep us warm while we enjoyed kayaking through the Glacier Lagoon and spotting seals in the lagoon. Make sure to bring gloves and wear warm clothes under the waterproof suit. 

Vatnajokull Glacier Walk

Glacier Walk Iceland

Another incredible tour is Vatnajökull Glacier Walk. We booked the Glacier Walk with Glacier Adventure. The tour includes a guide as well as gear needed for the glacier walk such as crampons, a harness, and a helmet. During the glacier walk you will get to explore Breiðarmerkurjökull which is an outlet glacier of Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe. You will also get to learn about the glacier and its history. If you are lucky and there is an ice cave forming nearby, you may be able to see an ice cave during your visit! Tours vary by season, so make sure to check Viator for the most updated available glacier tours.

Whale-Watching Tour in Husavik

Whale Watching Tour Husavik

Husavik is a town in north Iceland known to be the whale watching capital of Iceland. There are several whale-watching tour operators that you can choose from and book in advance on Viator. Keep in mind that it is not guaranteed that you will see any whales, although it is advertised that whales are spotted on 98% of whale-watching trips. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any whales, but we still enjoyed the boat ride experience. Usually tour companies will allow you to do another whale watching tour for free if you didn’t get to see whales on your first attempt, but we didn’t have time. Depending on the weather, the tour companies may give you waterproof gear to wear over your clothes.

6. Don't buy bottled water

Tap water in Iceland is safe to drink and delicious so there is no need to buy bottled water. Make sure to bring a reusable water bottle with you that you can refill each day with the tap like this Stanley 24 oz water bottle.

7. Be prepared for rain

Black Sand Beach Reynisfjara Cave

Don’t let the rain or waterfall mist stop you from having an incredible road trip in Iceland. Make sure to bring a rain coat with you and if you want to stay extra dry you could also get waterproof rain pants. Two stores to find the perfect gear for your Iceland road trip are Backcountry and REI. Across these stores you can find great outdoor gear, backpacks, hiking boots, and more. 

Bring a pair of waterproof hiking shoes to keep your feet dry. I used these Danner Boots for longer hikes and these Salomon Hiking Shoes for shorter hikes. Both hiking shoes shoes are great for Iceland since they are waterproof and very comfortable.

8. Know What Rental Car You Need and Reserve Early

The best way to get around Iceland is to rent a car or camper van. Although a camper van can save you money on accommodation, it is significantly more expensive than renting a car and it will lead to more money spent on gas which is expensive in Iceland.

I recommend reserving a rental car on Discover Cars far in advance to make sure you get the best rate. You do not need a 4×4 vehicle to drive around the ring road, so you can save money by renting a standard sedan. Note that it is cheaper to rent a manual car, so if you can drive a manual car make sure to look for this option.

Are there roads in Iceland where you need a 4×4?
F-roads are unpaved mountain roads typically found in the interior of Iceland. If you plan on exploring the highlands and driving on any F-roads you will need a 4×4 vehicle.

9. Plan Early! (Book Accommodation)

There are limited accommodation options in Iceland, especially as you get further from Reykjavik. Therefore, it is very important to plan early and book your accommodations far in advance. A great site to search for and book accommodation is Booking.com. Below are guesthouses and hotels that we stayed at in Iceland that I highly recommend.

Where to stay near Reykjavik

Reykjavik is a good location to base yourself while exploring the Reykjanes Peninsula and the golden circle. We stayed at Nordurey Hotel City Garden which I recommend as it is close to the center of Reykjavik yet still has free parking.

Where to stay in South Iceland

Black Sand Beach Reynisfjara

You can find guesthouses, hotels, and Airbnbs in and around the town of Vik. We stayed at Farmhouse Lodge which is a nice guesthouse with great views located 15 minutes from Reynisfjara Beach.

Where to stay in Southeast Iceland (Near Glacier Lagoon)

There are very few accommodation options in this part of Iceland. You can find guesthouses along the road and in the town of Hofn. In Hofn you can also find food options and a grocery store. We stayed at Lækjarhus Farm Holidays which is a comfortable guesthouse about 20 minutes from the glacier lagoon. The guesthouse is located on a farm with different accommodation options such as an apartment with a private bathroom and mountain views or cheaper rooms with shared bathrooms.

Where to stay in East Iceland

Seydisfjordur Town Channel

I recommend staying at Stora Sandfell Rooms and Cottages to explore the East Fjords. We stayed in a cute cottage here which was surrounded by trees and had a kitchenette for cooking light meals.

Where to stay in North Iceland

Lake Myvatn

The two main towns in this area of North Iceland are Husavik and Myvatn. There are guesthouses and hotels in both towns. We stayed at Skogar Sunset Guesthouse in Husavik, located about a 10-minute drive from the restaurants and shops in Husavik. Each studio has a kitchenette and a comfortable private bathroom. You can see amazing views from the guesthouse and if you are lucky you may even get to see the Northern Lights from the terrace. 

Where to stay near Snaefellsnes Peninsula

where to stay Iceland

If you plan on visiting the Saefellsnes Peninsula, I recommend spending one night right outside of the peninsula so you can do the peninsula loop in one day. We stayed at Dalahyttur which is a family-owned guesthouse with a restaurant on-site. There are different room options, some feature a terrace and mountain views. The owner will contact you in advance regarding if you want to eat dinner there and will let you choose from a menu. As there are not many food options nearby, take advantage of this romantic dinner opportunity.

10. Don't forget travel medical insurance

It is always good to be prepared with travel medical insurance when traveling internationally, especially to an adventure-packed country like Iceland.

Don’t forget to get a travel insurance policy for your trip! SafetyWing offers affordable, flexible, and reliable travel medical insurance that can be purchased ahead of your travels or while you are already traveling.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links for products and services I recommend. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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