The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your First Trip to Iceland
Iceland is truly a magical destination that makes for the adventure of a lifetime! From rugged mountains and raging seas, to iceberg lakes and quaint small towns, Iceland is incredible. This remote destination requires some planning and a bit of preparation so you can tackle the adventures ready for whatever awaits.
Important things to know before you go to Iceland
Currency and cost
The currency in Iceland is the Icelandic Krona (ISK). You can check the current currency conversion rates here. The most important thing to note is that Iceland is expensive! The taxes are really high (~24% at the time of this blog post) which greatly drives up prices.
How to pay in Iceland
We spent two weeks in Iceland driving all around the country and used cards to pay every single time except we tip tour guides. Credit cards and Apple Pay are available just about everywhere, but it's always good to have cash on hand just in case!
Note: It's always cheaper to convert money with your home bank a week or two before you leave for a trip vs. converting when you arrive at your destination.
The outlets in Iceland are the same as what you find in Europe (Type C and F). You will need an adapter to charge your devices. We travel with this all-in-one universal electrical adapter because it's compact and has two USB ports on it as well.
The water is safe to drink in Iceland and is some of the cleanest (if not the cleanest) in the world. Iceland is incredibly eco friendly and you'll see lots of signage encouraging you to fill up your bottles in the sinks rather than buying disposable ones constantly.
The official language of Iceland is Icelandic, a North Germanic language descended from Old Norse. English is also widely spoken, so you shouldn't have any trouble communicating with locals.
Iceland is in the GMT time zone which is four hours ahead of east coast time (EST) in the USA and seven hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time on the west coast.
Iceland is ranked as the safest country in the world, making it the perfect place for solo travelers and groups alike. The people are incredibly kind, helpful, and crime is so low I never once thought something was unsafe. The locals say it's so safe that the city (Reykjavik) is so safe you could walk anywhere alone at dark and be totally fine (but please always use caution!).
NOTE: We always travel with our Garmin InReach Mini 2 just in case. We highly recommend traveling with one no matter if you’re solo or in a group. You can never be too careful!
Wifi and cell coverage
Wifi is widely available in Iceland and most places will have good cell phone coverage as well. I (Sara) have Google Fi as my cell phone provider and it works great outside of the USA. If you travel internationally, consider switching to Google Fi, it's a game changer! Most other cell phone carriers will offer a daily international phone plan for while you're overseas (usually around $10 a day). Sim cards can be purchased in Iceland, but data is pretty pricey there.
The best time to visit Iceland really depends on what you want to see and do while you're there. If you want to see the Northern Lights, late fall through early spring is your best bet. However, if you want to experience all that Iceland has to offer in terms of nature, summer is ideal.
Peak months are June-September because the weather is more consistent then, and the winter is cold, snowy, and the days are very short with little sunlight.
How to get to Iceland
The only way to get to Iceland is by plane. The international airport is Keflavik International Airport (KEF), which is located about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik, the capital city.
Lots of airlines fly into Iceland including Delta, United, and (of course) Icelandair. We took the flight from New York City (JFK) to Reykjavik (KEF) and eastbound the entire flight was about 3 hours and 45 minutes. It’s quick, you won’t get much sleep, so plan on resting on your first day!
How to get around Iceland
If you plan to venture out of Reykjavik, we'd highly recommend renting some sort of car. Whether you're road tripping and staying in hotels, or are hoping to rent a camper van to tour the island, driving in Iceland is very easy. The drivers are respectful, the main roads are in good condition (at least when it's not snowing!), and they drive on the same side of the road as the USA.
If you stick to the city (Reykjavik), you can get by with walking, buses, and taxis.
Note: Lyft and Uber are not available in Iceland so you'll be limited to just taxis.
There are a lot of transportation options around Iceland which we've assembled in an entire blogpost here.
What to pack for Iceland
No matter what season you visit Iceland, you need to travel prepared for some harsh conditions. Wind, cold, rain, and even swimsuits for hot springs should all go on the list!
You’re going to encounter a lot of rain and crazy winds in Iceland. Go prepared! This was the number one item on our packing list. So much so, we packed two rain jackets each just to be safe (which was overkill, I don’t know why I thought we might need two each lol).
It rains a lot in Iceland. Go prepared with a pair of rain pants. This is something I cheaped on and thought I’d be fine without in Iceland, but I 100% regret not buying any before I left. Do yourself a favor and buy rainpants!
A lot of people like hiking boots, but personally I love just wearing my trail running shoes by Brooks. If you need ankle stability, get boots. Also note that you’ll want shoes that are pretty well protected from water because of the amount of rain you’ll encounter hiking in Iceland.
Comfortable shoes for walking around town
My go to shoes for traveling are Allbirds. These are comfortable enough for long flights and long days walking about town. They can also be thrown in the washer if they get dirty, perfect for traveling!
Again I say, get smartwool! They dry quick and they don’t stink when they get dirty. They’ll keep you cool or dry, depending on what weather Iceland throws at you. I packed these socks in a few different colors and styles.
With the crazy winds in Iceland, you’ll want a hat to keep your ears out of the wind and your hair out of your face. I snagged this hat before we left and loved it. Neutral color and style but warm and comfy (not itchy at all!).
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m kind of picky about gloves. I don’t like them to be too bulky or clunky which is why I love these light profile Smartwool gloves. If you’re going to Iceland in the winter you might want something more heavy duty, but for spring, summer, and fall, these should be plenty.
Iceland has the best hot springs, so while it may seem counterintuitive to pack a swimsuit for Iceland, DO IT! My favorite suit is by Left on Friday because they come in fun colors and are super comfortable, but obviously anything you feel comfortable is best.
Iceland has some of the cleanest water in the world, and they’re super environmentally friendly, so be sure to pack a water bottle before you head over. Personally, we still love a good Nalgene bottle because they’re lightweight for hiking and durable.
If you want to take your phone into the many hot springs and lagoons in Iceland, don’t forget to snag a waterproof phone case before you leave home! Many hot springs rent these out, but it’s more expensive to rent them once you’re there than it is to just buy one before you leave home.
Our GoPro isn’t our main camera, but we always travel with one because they’re so small and durable that they’re perfect for all the crazy weather conditions Iceland will throw at you. We still use our GoPro Hero 8, but I believe the newest model is the GoPro Hero 11.
I’m sort of ashamed to admit this is a piece of gear we didn’t invest in until recently. Yes, it comes with a price tag, but it can literally save your life. This satellite GPS communication device with an SOS button can send help to you no matter where on earth you care. The cheapest monthly subscription plan is $15/month, but it can be paused when it’s not in use.
Where to go in Iceland
Oh man, Iceland is full of amazing places to visit! We could spend months (even years) exploring this little country that’s full of adventure around every turn. Here are a few of our favorite places though!
We stayed in a combination of guest houses, American hotels, and Icelandic hotels while in Iceland, and all were cleaner than anywhere else we’ve ever stayed. Even the cheapest hotels in the most remote locations were spotless. The biggest differences you’ll see in hotels across Iceland are basic things like quality of linens, amenities, and updated rooms. If you’re like us and spend more time exploring than in your hotel room, Iceland is one of the few places in the world I’d recommend sticking with less expensive hotels. Always read reviews to see what other guests have to say (we usually check Google reviews), but you should be pleasantly surprised by even dated, budget hotel options in Iceland.
Airbnb’s can be a really fun way to stay in unique accommodations while traveling. However, the best Airbnbs book up early so this is really only an option if you plan far in advance (unlike us). We noted several different Airbnb’s in Iceland that looked amazing, but unfortunately, all were booked up when we were there.
We’ve done our fair share of camping in the USA seeing as we lived in a van for the majority of the last 4 years. Therefore, I feel like I know my way around campgrounds and what qualifies as a “good” campgrounds. Iceland knocks campgrounds out of the park. It’s not that they’re fancy or full of amenities, but they’re inexpensive, clean, and most provide hot showers. Camping is definitely the way to go if you can tolerate the cold nights. If you’re someone who needs a heater to stay warmer, consider renting a campervan in Iceland! The cost of a rental car + hotels would be more than a campervan.
Our favorite thing about campgrounds in Iceland though is the proximity to popular locations. Oftentimes the best waterfalls and national parks are far removed from towns with hotels, but campgrounds can almost always be found! There’s nothing like waking up and looking out your tent and seeing a glacier right in front of you.
Most campgrounds in Iceland go for $10-25 USD per night. Some will charge a couple of dollars for showers, others are free. Most have an outdoor kitchen sink and some even have laundry for an additional charge. If you’re traveling in an RV or campervan that needs electric hookups, most campgrounds offer that for a small additional charge (usually about an extra $5 USD).
NOTE: Most campgrounds in Iceland do not take reservations. We’ve been told this is because they almost always have availability left, and from what we witnessed, this was true. The ones we stayed at were never more than 20% full.
Iceland is incredible. Give yourself plenty of time to explore the island because you could spend months seeing all the country has to offer.
Looking for more Iceland travel tips? Be sure to check out our other Iceland travel guides below.
Throughout our website you’ll find affiliate links for various products and services. Affiliate links are a way for us to earn a small commission when you purchase through our links at no additional cost to you. For more information about what affiliate links are or want to know why we use affiliate links, you can read more over at our affiliate page HERE.
We're Chris and Sara
A creative husband and wife duo from a small-town in Tennessee with passion for all things travel. Checkout the links below to join us on our past, present, and future adventures!