Top 11 travel tips in Iceland

I am often contacted by foreign friends who are planning to visit Iceland. Where should they go in Iceland? What should they do in Iceland? How should they prepare for a trip to Iceland?

There is no easy way to answer these questions; different people enjoy different things, and Iceland has much more to offer than can be seen and done during a single visit. But regardless of the person who seeks my advice, I always pass on at least one of the following recommendations. 

To make the most of your visit to Iceland, take note of our top 11 travel tips before setting out on your adventure.



1. Go Sightseeing at Nighttime

Thingvellir National Park, midnight in June.

You can expect some of Iceland’s most popular attractions to be a bit crowded during the long summer days of high-season. But if you are indeed visiting in mid-summer, you will be blessed by the unremitting midnight sun whose light lasts for 24 hours.

Taking advantage of the endless days by travelling at night will let you avoid the crowds and experience a personal, magical moment of timelessness in nature’s amber embrace.

The roads will be silent, the towns and villages asleep, and the stillness of the bright night air will be as enchanting as the wilderness it envelopes.

Top 11 travel tips in Iceland

Those who do not feel comfortable travelling by night alone can always seek the assistance of the handful of experienced guides who lead small groups on midnight sun tours, such as Golden Circle tours, horse riding tours, and midnight sun mountain hiking tours.

If you are not used to the bright summer nights of the Arctic, and actually want to sleep during the night, you should remember to pack a sleeping mask, just so that your body will know when it is time to go to sleep.

2. Buy Food Straight from the Farm

When driving around Iceland you will eventually come to realise that the entire ring road is beset by three chains of rest and service stations, that offer the exact same assortment of overpriced junk food regardless of their location.

An ideal alternative to shopping at these stations is to buy quality locally sourced products directly from the people who make them. A great number of Icelandic farmers have opened their doors to travellers and sell local farm products, including meat, fish, and organic fruit and vegetables for a modest price.

In certain areas, farmers have even set up little self-service huts where travellers are trusted to help themselves to fresh fruit and vegetables and pay for what they take without supervision.

Top 11 travel tips in Iceland

To find the farmers who sell their products directly to the consumer, you can either visit the Farm Food Direct homepage or download the Handpicked app, in which the locations of people around Iceland that have something unique to offer in food and drink have been mapped out.  

3. Don't Try to Buy Beer in Supermarkets

Due to the fact that alcohol consumption was prohibited in Iceland for the greater part of the 20th century, Icelandic drinking culture is still in its infancy. To this day, Icelanders maintain a strange and premature relationship with alcohol, and alcoholic beverages are exclusively sold in state-run stores called Vinbudin (The Wine Store).

Supermarket shelves, however, are stocked with various brands of relatively cheap near-beer, a product which aims to replicate the taste of beer while totally eliminating its intoxicating effects.

Since many travellers don't know this, it is relatively common to see foreign visitors victoriously pushing full shopping carts, stuffed with the watered out near-beer, through Icelandic supermarket aisles, oblivious to the true nature of their loot.

The near-beer might keep the party from taking off with a bang, but the upside is that it will never keep you from getting out of bed the following morning.

4. Go Camping

I know of no better way to spend a summer night in Iceland than in a tent. Camping is a fail-safe method of gaining and maintaining your necessary contact with nature, and nothing comes close to the experience of lying in your sleeping bag after a long day of travelling while being lulled to sleep by the wildlife's all-encompassing evening song.

And since most Icelandic towns and villages have their own campsite, wherever you may find yourself there will always be a place where you can set up your tent.

Top 11 travel tips in IcelandPhoto credit: Philip Gunkel.

Camping with three tents or less is permitted on uncultivated public land for a single night unless you see a notice to the contrary, but wild camping in Iceland’s three national parks is strictly forbidden.

You should never camp close to or on farms without seeking permission, but most farmers are more than willing to host campers for a minimal fee. Remember to respect the environment and always take the fragile nature of the Icelandic vegetation into consideration.

Please be aware that camping in the wilds of Iceland is not legal if you are in a campervan, tent trailer, or collapsible camper. If you are planning on using one of these, you must retire each night in a dedicated campsite. 

If you decide to stray off the beaten track and go far into the wilderness you should always notify someone of your travel plans beforehand and prepare yourself for any and all kinds of weather. Remember always: There is no bad weather in Iceland, only bad clothing.

Before going wild camping in Iceland you would be well advised to read our list of Things that can kill you in Iceland

5. Cook Your Own Food

Although Iceland now boasts numerous fine restaurants that are definitely worth a visit, eating out is one of the most uneconomical activities you can undertake in Iceland, and it is relatively easy to blow one’s entire travel budget solely on food and wine by frequenting the restaurants.

I do recommend eating out at least once during your stay, but if you're travelling on a strict budget, you'd be well advised to take advantage of lunch offers.  

If you don’t want to eat your way through your holiday savings you should buy your own groceries and cook your own food. By making use of the kitchens found in every hostel, guesthouse, and campsite in Iceland your grocery bill for two to three days will be the price of a single meal in an average restaurant. 

I recommend cooking from Icelandic ingredients and buying food items that are unique to Iceland, such as the lamb, the skyr and the fresh fish. 

You should also never buy bottled water. Because of the abundance of fresh water in Iceland, the quality of the water that runs from every faucet is quite exceptional and you can ask for a free glass of water anywhere you go.



6. Get to Know the Locals

Top 11 travel tips in Iceland

Despite living in a cold climate and an unforgiving environment, Icelanders are in general a warm and friendly people who take kindly to strangers. According to the World Economic Forum, in fact, Iceland is both the most peaceful country in the world and the friendliest to visit.

Giving directions is the unofficial national sport and most Icelanders wholeheartedly welcome the opportunity to help out those in need of assistance.

So whether you are in dire need of help or just want to have a friendly chat, don’t shy away from striking up a conversation with a total stranger; that is the best way to get a sense of Icelandic culture and society, and since all Icelandic students must learn English before they are allowed to graduate from elementary school, a language barrier will rarely, if ever, be an issue.

If you feel awkward about accosting a total stranger in a foreign country, you can always start by contacting a local online through our page.

7. Spend a Night in a Farmhouse

Spending a night in one of the many farmstays around Iceland is another excellent way to get a true and first-hand feel for Icelandic culture.

A great number of farmers offer bed and breakfast lodging to travellers and various options are available with categories ranging from simple shared rooms to private huts and cottages, and locally sourced food is almost always available.

Many farmers offer horse riding tours and guided walks, and some are even willing to let you take part in the farm activities. Remember that it is always better to book a farm holiday well in advance, especially if you want to secure the most affordable accommodation.

8. Rent a Car, Take Your Time.

Icelandic weather is extremely dynamic and unpredictable. When heading out on a domestic holiday, therefore, many Icelanders have the habit of "following the weather", which means that they simply drive towards the part of the country which has the best weather at the moment of departure.

No journey to Iceland could be considered complete without some time spent out on the open country road, and if you rent a car you acquire both the freedom to control the pace of your journey and the power to take meteorological matters into your own hands.

Top 11 travel tips in Iceland

The total length of the Icelandic ring road is 1332 kilometres, which means that technically you could traverse the entire island in a couple of days, but that wouldn’t leave you any time to stop, explore and take in the sights.

In my opinion, you should spend at least ten days on a full circle journey, so if you are planning to spend a week or less in Iceland, I recommend limiting your travels to one region.

The Snæfellsness Peninsula, which is sometimes called “Iceland in miniature” because of its diverse landscapes, could for example easily be covered in two days, and such a journey would allow for you to intimately experience many extraordinary sites.  



9. Bathe in a Natural Hot Spring

Outdoor public bathing in warm pools is a deep rooted Icelandic tradition, dating back to the Viking days of original settlement. In Iceland, public bathing is much more than a mere pastime activity; Icelandic pools and public baths are community centres where people of all ages and professions gather to catch up with friends, relax after a hard day of work, or to recover from a long night of excessive indulgence.

Top 11 travel tips in Iceland

I definitely recommend visiting a public bath or a swimming pool at least once when you visit Iceland, but nothing comes close to finding a natural hot spring in the wilderness and taking in the energy straight from nature's core. 

There are several natural hot springs close to the greater Reykjavik area, the warm river of Reykjadalur being my all time favourite. There are many guided hot spring tours on offer, including the Reykjadalur hot spring tour and the Landmannalaugar hiking and hot spring tour.



10. Attend a Small Town Festival

Due to general poverty and a lack of a fully developed road and transport system, Icelandic towns and villages were virtually isolated from one another up until the second half of the twentieth century.

The population was extremely sparse, the common man rarely strayed far from his place of birth, and consequently, each small town developed its own unique individual characteristics in accordance with its natural environment.

Top 11 travel tips in Iceland

Although Iceland has been thoroughly modernised and the general population has become increasingly homogenous, the townspeople of rural Iceland remain devoted to their cultural roots.

Throughout the year festivals are held in almost every small Icelandic town and village, that thematically reflect the historical and environmental soil from which they sprang; from Siglufjörður’s Danish Days in the West to Dalvik’s Great Fish Day in the North, each town occupies its own calendar space, attracting large numbers of visitors who join the townspeople in celebrations of local music, food, dance, and drink.

If you are open minded and enjoy a gathering of good people, you should pick a random festival that fits your schedule, and simply immerse yourself in the festivities.



11. Get off the Beaten Track 

Iceland is dotted with unique places where you can find total tranquillity and solitude; and should you venture from the main tourist spots, you are bound to experience a sublime encounter with the true spirit of the land.

Explore the East- and Westfjords,  Iceland's oldest landmasses, where ancient fishing outposts, spectacular mountain views and countless hiking trails await those travellers who are looking for an authentic travel experience, away from the crowds.

Top 11 travel tips in Iceland

It is imperative that you understand that the Icelandic wilderness is as beautiful as it is fragile. Because of its high volume of volcanic ash, the soil is exceptionally vulnerable and susceptible to erosion, and with the ever growing number of visitors coming to Iceland to seek out the untouched wilderness, many areas have become subjected to unprecedented strain.

Please help us protect the delicate environment by always taking the fragile flora of our island into consideration, wherever you may find yourself. Iceland’s wilderness is unique precisely because it is mostly intact and undisturbed, and it is our collective responsibility that we do our very best to keep it that way.

Don't stray from the paths you are walking on, and remember always that off-road driving is strictly forbidden in Iceland, penalised with fine or imprisonment, because it is likely to cause soil degradation and with it irreversible damage to the very fragile environment.

Tread carefully, be well, and have a wonderful stay in Iceland!