In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know for planning your trip to Iceland, including when is the best time to visit, how long to stay for, and the best places to visit. We’ve also included tips on what you can expect to be the average cost of a trip to Iceland, and how to get around – plus a few tips on driving around Iceland in summer or winter conditions.
I visited Iceland in the winter a few years ago with my husband and we have been raving about it ever since. So much so, that we have already started planning a second Iceland trip to see the country during the summertime. We hope to see and do all the things we missed last time and we’d also like to experience Iceland during a different time of year.
Regardless of which time of year you choose to visit, there are many things to consider when planning a trip to Iceland for the first time. A lot of these things I didn’t actually learn until we arrived, and I wish I had been more prepared.
I decided to share this guide on how to plan a trip to Iceland, so you can get the most out of your trip and don’t make the same mistakes that I did!
How Long To Spend In Iceland
2-3 Days In Iceland
When we first arrived in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik, we came across many tourists who were only staying in Iceland for only two days! We thought this was a little strange but later learned that Icelandair offers a free two-day stopover in Reykjavik when traveling between North America and Europe.
Visiting for 2-3 days will basically only allow enough time to see Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon, the Golden Circle, or the South Coast. These are the most popular attractions in Iceland, as they are all within short driving distance from Reykjavik. Check out our Iceland three-day itinerary that covers all three destinations.
There are many day tours to Vik (South Coast), the Blue Lagoon, or the Golden Circle, that depart from Reykjavik on a daily basis, making them fairly accessible during a 2-3 day visit. However, if you wish to see more of the country, you will need to allow more time when planning a trip to Iceland.
5-7 Days In Iceland
If you have at least one week to spend in Iceland, this will allow you to see more of the countryside. Although don’t expect to see ‘everything’.
When we were planning our Iceland trip, we wanted to see the entire country, however, we only had 7 days and soon figured out that it would be a fairly packed itinerary if we attempted to do the full Ring Road (the road that encircles the entire Island).
5-7 days will allow you to comfortably cover Reykjavik, the majority of Iceland’s South Coast (including the Glacier Lagoon), and the Golden Circle. If you have an extra few days, then I would recommend heading out to Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
I have a few friends who did the entire Ring Road trip in 7 days and have said that they wished they had more time to spend in some places. But, if you don’t mind being on the move all the time and are very organized with your itinerary, then it is possible to do the entire Ring Road in 7 days.
10-14 Days In Iceland
If you are looking to organize the ‘ultimate’ Iceland adventure trip, then I would recommend allowing at least 10-14 days.
10-12 days is the perfect time to cover the Golden Circle, the Blue Lagoon, the South Coast, Northern Iceland, and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. By extending your Iceland itinerary to two weeks, you’ll also be able to visit the most remote part of Iceland, which is least frequented by tourists – the West Fjords.
Best Time For Planning A Trip To Iceland
When planning a trip to Iceland for the first time, you really need to consider what you want to see and do. Honestly, there really isn’t a ‘best time’ to visit Iceland. It’s one of those destinations that is great to visit all year round.
Iceland really only has two seasons – Winter and Summer. Something to be aware of when planning an Iceland trip is that it’s a cold-weather destination. So, don’t be mistaken by the word “Summer”, as the weather can be just as unpredictable in Summer as it can be in winter.
Below I’ve listed some of the best months to visit Iceland, based on the season. You can also check out our full guide on the best time to visit Iceland for more information.
If you’re planning an Iceland trip in the summertime, there are also many activities that you cannot do in the winter.
All the campgrounds open up in summer, as well as many hiking trails that are covered in thick snow during the winter. There are beautiful fields of flowers in bloom everywhere and great conditions for horseback riding. Summer is also the best time to visit Iceland for puffin viewing.
The average temperature in July and August is around 10-13°C (50-55°F) but can get as high as 20°C (68°F) during the summer. These two months are the most popular months for tourism and most accommodation books out at least 4-6 months in advance.
In the summertime, it’s also possible to take advantage of the midnight sun from late May until early August, when one can expect around 16-21 hours of sunlight each day. This gives plenty of great opportunities for outdoor activities during (nearly) all hours of the day.
Iceland’s winter generally lasts from around mid-October to March or April.
The temperature in Iceland in winter can be cold, with harsh snowstorms and highly unpredictable weather. This is part of the appeal of visiting a country which, by the very definition of its name – is a winter destination for most of the year.
December and January are generally the coldest months in Iceland with an average temperature around -1°C / 29°F, and the least sunlight hours per day. This would mean that daytime activities are often limited. However, there are also fewer tourists during these months. I visited Iceland in March and found the weather to be quite mild, but when the wind picks up, the temperature drops very quickly.
Winter is the best time to visit Iceland for Northern Lights viewing, as they cannot be seen in the summer, due to the midnight sun. Another good reason to visit in the winter is to go ice-caving or glacier hiking. Unfortunately, these activities are off-limits during the summer as the ice melts making it too dangerous for many glacier activities.
How To Get Around Iceland
One of the first things you need to decide when planning a trip is working out how to get around Iceland. Unfortunately, Iceland’s public transport system is not well served, with no rail network available.
There is a local bus network called Straeto that offers services around the majority of the island and Reykjavik city. Some night buses are also available. It’s advised to book well in advance, so you’ll need to consider your route and options when working out how to plan your trip to Iceland.
Another option, Reykjavik Excursions is a private company that offers airport bus transfers (via FlyBus), as well as bus services to/from a number of tourist destinations within Iceland, including the Blue Lagoon, the Highlands, Reykjavik City Hop-on Hop-off bus, the Golden Circle and more.
This is a good option if you wish to visit these areas on your own and not part of a group tour, but don’t want to drive. Reykjavik Excursions also offers multi-day group tours.
There are a number of bus companies operating between Keflavik International Airport and Reykjavik city, including the FlyBus. The journey takes approximately 45 minutes and departs from the airport and Reykjavik regularly throughout the day. There is no need to pre-book this service.
Doing a self-guided road trip is the most popular way to get around Iceland. Driving around Iceland is actually a lot easier than many people think.
Even in winter, the main roads that service the major tourist sites are very well maintained and are graded each morning. There is also no need to rent a 4WD when driving around Iceland unless of course, you’re planning to venture onto Iceland’s many off-road tracks (called F-Roads).
Many of the best places to visit in Iceland are located outside the capital city of Reykjavik, but a lot of them are within easy driving distance.
If you’re planning to visit Iceland for at least 5 days or more, then a self-guided road trip is the best way to go, so long as you’re comfortable with renting a car and driving yourself. If you have at least 7 days, you can follow our 7-day Golden Circle and Southern Iceland itinerary.
If you’re visiting in summer, you could also consider hiring a camper or bringing a tent to save on accommodation costs. There are loads of great campgrounds around Iceland. Though I wouldn’t recommend camping in the wintertime.
Additional Tips For Driving Around Iceland:
- Rental vehicles and campers are readily available to collect from Keflavik International airport or Reykjavik city. If you plan to spend a few days exploring Reykjavik before embarking on a road trip, I would recommend picking up your vehicle from Reykjavik. Most places within the city are within walking distance, so there’s no need for a car to get around.
- If you plan to go off-the-beaten-track and drive of the F-roads, you will need to hire a 4WD. But this is not needed as it’s possible to stick to the main (sealed) roads and still see a lot of things in Iceland.
- Google Maps is very easy to use to navigate your way around Iceland.
- Download the Icelandic Meteorological Office App (called Vedur) before driving around Iceland and keep up to date with the weather and road conditions.
As I mentioned earlier, the best places to visit in Iceland are outside the main cities.
If the thought of driving around Iceland doesn’t appeal to you, but you want to see more of the country, then consider joining a group tour. There are hundreds of operators offering group tours but be aware that they are not cheap.
There are day tours available that will get you to most places in Iceland within one day, just be aware that some destinations, such as the Glacier Lagoon, may take up to 15 hours round trip to reach. It’s not possible to reach the North/Eastern parts of the island or the West Fjords in one day.
Packing For A Trip To Iceland
Iceland is one of those countries where you really need to be organized with what you pack. The weather can be very unpredictable at any time of year, so It pays to do some research before you go.
In addition, many of the best things to do in Iceland involve outdoor activities, so it’s important to have the right clothing for the conditions, especially in the winter.
Tip: Take a swimsuit with you no matter what time of year you visit, as there are hot springs literally everywhere in Iceland.
Tips For Packing For Iceland In Winter
- Wool thermals – Essential to wear underneath. Merino wool thermals are the best as they are antimicrobial, which means can be worn more than once before they need a wash.
- Waterproof and windproof outer layer – You will wear this every day.
- Layers – Pack a fleece, down puffer jacket or wool sweater to wear under your outer layer.
- Fleece-lined leggings and waterproof pants – Don’t bother with jeans, they will just get soaking wet and you’ll be cold.
- Hardy waterproof boots – not sneakers.
- Don’t forget a pair of gloves, a beanie, and a scarf.
Tips For Packing For Iceland In Summer
- Raincoat or waterproof jacket – Rain can appear in Iceland at any time with only a moment’s notice.
- Packable warm jacket or sweater – Just in case the weather turns cold and for evenings.
- Stretchy rugged travel pants or hiking pants – Leave the shorts and dresses at home.
- Layers – Short and long sleeve shirts, flannel shirts, and vests that can be layered over one another.
- Don’t forget a sleep mask to block out the midnight sun!
Booking Accommodation In Iceland
Booking accommodation in Iceland can be fickle. Hotels can be very pricey, and due to the influx of tourism over the past few years, they must be secured well in advance.
In the main city of Reykjavik, there are plenty of hotels, apartments, guesthouses, Airbnbs, and Hostels. But as you venture out into the countryside, options become a little more limited. If you plan to stay in hotels during your Iceland trip, be aware that there are very few 5-star hotels in the country. There are also not many international chains, as most are locally owned, boutique-style hotels.
It pays to do a good deal of research on accommodation while planning a trip to Iceland. Below are a few tips to keep in mind when booking accommodation in Iceland.
Additional Tips For Booking Accommodation In Iceland:
- Book your accommodation at least 4-6 months in advance. 6 months in advance is recommended during high season (May through September), and at least 4 months in advance during the low season (October through April).
- I recommend booking through Booking.com as they offer a ‘best price guarantee’ and many hotels have free cancellation.
- If you have your heart set on staying in the one of best hotels Iceland has to offer, check out the Silica Hotel.
- There are plenty of great unique cabins and guesthouses on Airbnb, which are usually a fraction of the cost of a hotel.
- Don’t hesitate to ask hotel staff for a Northern Lights wake-up call. Many hotels offer this as part of the service.
- Many hotels and guesthouses have saunas, hot tubs or hot springs, so don’t forget your swimsuit.
- Renting a camper or RV is also a great option and allows you to have the freedom of traveling at your own pace.
- There are also loads of camping grounds around Iceland if you want to save money and get out into nature.
How Much Is A Trip To Iceland Going To Cost?
When I was planning my trip, I was absolutely flabbergasted at the average cost of a trip to Iceland. Iceland is definitely not a budget-friendly destination. The average cost of a trip to Iceland can be anywhere between $150 and $500 per person per day, not including flights.
To give you an idea of the average cost of a trip to Iceland, here are a few general daily expenses and what you might expect to pay:
- Espresso coffee: $5-6
- Draught beer: $10-12
- Bottle of water: $3-4
- Steak in a mid-range restaurant: $50-80
- One-night stay at a 4-star hotel in Reykjavik: $170-400
- Car hire for one day (Intermediate vehicle with 4WD): $150-200
*Prices shown in USD are approximate at the time of writing and may vary.
Best Things To Do In Iceland
There are so many amazing places to visit in Iceland. When I was planning a trip to Iceland, I spent hours researching and creating my own Ultimate Iceland Bucket List. Here are my top 10 recommendations of the best things to do in Iceland:
1) Chasing Waterfalls
The number of amazing waterfalls in Iceland seems to be endless. You could literally spend your entire trip chasing waterfalls and nothing else.
In southern Iceland, check out Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss, and Svartifoss. Gullfoss is one of Iceland’s largest, located on the Golden Circle. Kirkjufellsfoss is located west of Reykjavik on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Dettifoss and Goðafoss are both in the north part of Iceland.
Tip: In case you hadn’t already guessed, the word ‘foss’ is Icelandic for ‘waterfall’.
2) Hallgrimskirkja Church
One of the most popular places to visit in Iceland is the Hallgrimskirkja Church.
The Church sits on the top of a hill in the middle of Reykjavik and can be seen from all over the city. The climb up to the viewing deck at the top is well worth it for the views over the city and out to sea.
3) Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon & Diamond Beach
Located around 5-6 hours’ drive from Reykjavik, the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon was one of my favorite places to visit in Iceland. Watch on as chunks of ice break off one of the largest glaciers in Europe and float out to sea, only to be picked up by waves and deposited on a black beach, where they look like diamonds glistening in the sun.
4) See The Northern Lights
An activity reserved only for those planning an Iceland trip in the winter, the Northern Lights are only visible between October to March. They are often touted as one of the best things to do in Iceland, however, they can be a little allusive in the southern parts. Northern Iceland offers the best viewing areas.
Most hotels will offer a wake-up service if the Northern Lights happen to appear. Check out these tips on how to see the Northern Lights in Iceland.
5) Hike To The Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
Solheimasandur Plane Wreck was one of the most unique places to visit in Iceland.
Picture this – an abandoned US Navy plane that crashed on a deserted beach in Southern Iceland in 1973 but was never removed. Very few people knew it was there, but decades later it’s got discovered by tourists (and Justin Beiber), and then became one of the most popular places to visit in Iceland.
It’s also a haven for landscape photographers. The hike to the crash site begins near Skógafoss waterfall, on the other side of the Ring Road, and is approximately 3km one way (6km return).
6) Descend Into An Ice-Cave
Another activity that can only be experienced during the winter, but well worth planning an Iceland trip around is descending into an Ice-cave. Seeing ice formations that are thousands of years old and standing underneath one of the largest glaciers in Europe really makes you appreciate how precious our natural resources can be.
7) Reynisfjara Black Beach
Reynisfjara is the most famous black beach in Iceland, even though all the beaches in Iceland actually have black sand.
Located near the small fishing village of Vik on Iceland’s south coast, Reynisfjara Black Beach features towering black basalt stacks, which you can climb, and a striking offshore jagged rock formation called Reynisdrangar. This is one of the most popular places to visit in Iceland, so you can expect it to be a little crowded.
Traveler Tip: If you’re visiting in the summertime, take advantage of the midnight sun and head there late or early to miss the crowds.
8) Snorkeling Or Diving In Silfra Fissure
One of the most unique things to do in Iceland is to go snorkeling or diving between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. There are several tour operators that offer this activity in the Silfra Fissure, located in Thingvellir National Park.
Despite what a lot of people think, this is an activity that can actually be experienced at any time of year, even in winter. The temperature in the water only varies by around 2°C all year round.
9) See The Puffins
If you’re planning a trip to Iceland between May and August, then you’ll be there just in time for the puffin nesting season.
The best spots for watching puffins are Dyrhólaey near Vik, Heimaey island in Vestmannaeyjar, Borgarfjörður eystri in East Iceland, and Grímsey island in the north.
10) The Blue Lagoon
It’s completely over-touristed, but the Blue Lagoon still one of the best places to visit in Iceland! Regardless of the number of people wading in the milky blue waters of the Blue Lagoon, it is still one of the most beautiful hot springs in Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon Visitors Centre is always busy, be sure to pre-purchase tickets. But there are ways to avoid the hordes of tourists.
Once you get into the water, head out to the back of the lagoon, where there are not too many crowds, or consider spending a night at the Silica Hotel and getting a private lagoon to yourself! Check out more tips for visiting the Blue Lagoon.
Planning An Iceland Trip Wrap Up
We hope this guide has given you all the information you need on how to plan a trip to Iceland. There are so many things to do in Iceland and I cannot recommend this beautiful country highly enough.
The one thing to keep in mind is that Iceland is a completely different destination during the winter versus the summertime. The seasons need to be carefully considered when is the best time to visit Iceland and all the things you want to do in Iceland.
The average cost of a trip to Iceland will also be a huge factor when determining your vacation budget. Working out how long to stay for, and how to get around Iceland will have a big impact on your Iceland trip cost. We hope that this article has helped to answer all these questions and more.
We hope that this article has helped you to plan your trip to Iceland. If you have any questions or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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Read More About Iceland
- How To See The Northern Lights In Iceland
- 10 Things You Can’t Miss In Reykjavik Iceland
- Iceland: A 3 Day Itinerary In The Land Of Fire And Ice
- Iceland Road Trip: 5 Epic Hidden Gems To Seek Out
- Why You Should Rent A Car In Iceland
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