What to Know Before You Visit Iceland

Updated August 14, 2020.

It’s Travel Tip Tuesday! This week we’re giving you our best tips and good things to know for your own trip to the Land of Fire and Ice–Iceland! Spoiler alert: It is bigger than you think!

Driving in Iceland

You will need to rent a car in Iceland. There are some bus tours, and Reykjavik is very walkable, but overall, you will be glad to have your own car for flexibility and mobility. Check out my post on Rental Cars: a Traveler’s Guide before you book! Here are some Iceland-specific tips:

  • Do not forget your driver’s license. Steve had to do all the driving because I left mine at home. I basically felt horrible about it the whole trip.
  • You cannot drive Iceland in a day! The country may be an island, but it’s bigger than you think. I mapped it and found you can drive all the way around in about 16 hours, but you won’t be able to stop and take in the scenery–hiking waterfalls, black sand, volcanoes, glaciers–you want to take some time for all that!
  • The “Ring Road” goes all the way around, and it’s called Hringvgur. It’s also Route 1, so when making your way around, just follow the signs for 1!
  • Do you homework to find a deal. Sites like Orbitz will show you the lowest prices for a variety of car rental companies. And thankfully there is a lot of competition! We got a rental car for around $60 USD per day.
  • Consider getting wifi with your car. Our rental company offered it for 1500 ISK ($14.25 USD), but we opted not to get it. In our jet-lagged and sleep-deprived state, I almost wish we had. We can use our phones abroad for $10 per day, but we may not have had service around the more remote areas of the country. Just something to consider if you’re not too sure with a map.
  • Make sure your reservation specifically says “automatic” unless you are confident in your ability to drive a manual, or stick shift. You want to know for sure before you arrive!
  • Gas is around 200 ISK per liter, or around $7.50 USD per gallon. That’s expensive for most Americans to stomach! However, your car will likely be very efficient, so you won’t be spending quite as much on gas as you might expect at those prices. Our VW Polo was getting fabulous mileage!
  • Gas or diesel? You won’t have to guess! It’s an important detail to remember, so most rental car companies have made it easy and have put a sticker on your gas cap cover that tells you which one you need:
Gasoline for us!
More here: Tips for Road Tripping South Iceland

Road Tripping

You’ve got your rental car, now you’re on your way! Here are some tips for driving in Iceland:

  • Iceland is a big island. The best way to see as much of it as possible is to road trip! Plan to stay at a different hotel each night you’re there, and make your way around the Ring Road over the course of at least four or five days.
  • Do not stop in the middle of the road! There are many pull-off areas at scenic locations, so utilize those.
  • You will be driving in kilometers, not miles. One kilometer is approximately 0.6 miles, so just remember that for your own conversions if you need to think in miles!
  • There will be tons of roundabouts! Luckily for most of the driving world, Iceland drives on the right. Pay attention to the signage, and know where you’re going. If you’re taking the Ring Road, just take the exits for Route 1!
  • Be ready for some epic, mystical scenery!
A rare bit of blue sky!
More here: 10 Reasosn to Visit South Iceland

The Blue Lagoon

Pretty much everyone who goes to Iceland wants to visit the famous Blue Lagoon. I posted The Ultimate Guide to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon yesterday, so be sure to check it out for the particulars! But in the meantime, here are the top tips to get you started:

  • Book early! I suggest booking at least two months in advance to get the date and time you want.
  • It’s close to Keflavik airport, so most people choose to visit the day they arrive or the day they depart. This is one time when doing what everyone else does is a great idea!
  • The cheapest way to do the Blue Lagoon is to buy the basic package and bring your own towel.
  • You can stay as long as you like, even all day if you want! But you may not enter before the time you purchased.
Just chillin’ in the Blue Lagoon
All the details: Ultimate Guide to Visiting Iceland’s Blue Lagoon

Pack Accordingly

Iceland will be chilly any and every time of year! Check out my posts on Packing for Men and Packing for Women!

  • Pack a good base layer for top and bottom.
  • Bring a rain coat, and possibly water proof pants. Jeans will stay wet a long time!
  • Wear in your shoes or boots before you go, especially if you want to do some incredible hiking!
  • Bring something to cover your ears. I have some ear bags and head rings, and knitted hats are a good idea as well.
Geared up for a wet, wild, chilly hike behind the waterfall!
Essential info: The Best Tips for Packing

The Northern Lights

There is no guarantee you will see the Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) while in Iceland, but you might! As long as there is plenty of solar activity, you will likely see it on your overnight flight going from west to east, since you will be above the clouds. Here are my best tips for seeing the Aurora:

  • Get the Northern Lights Photo Taker App. It’s only 99 cents, and it is the only way I got decent shots of the Northern Lights we did see. I only have my iPhone 7+ to use for my camera, so if you have a better camera and know how to set the settings just right, you will be able to get better shots than I could have.
  • Bundle up! You can only see them at night, and it will be cold!
  • You might need someone to point them out to you the first time. Unless it’s a very active solar night, they will look gray to the naked eye. When I took pictures, though, they came out green!
  • Stay tuned for a post all about the Aurora Borealis coming soon to the blog!
First glimpse of the Aurora from the airplane!
Helpful info: Tips for Seeing Iceland’s Northern Lights


Iceland is a very photogenic place in the world. I didn’t get as many photos on this first trip as I wish I had. So learn from my mistakes and heed these tips!

  • Don’t let the cold, wind, or dampness deter you from taking more pictures! Just when you think you’re done, commit to taking 5 more minutes to take a few more shots so you don’t regret it later.
  • Cloudy days? Go for creepy, mythological, dramatic, or something similar. This is not a tropical island, you’re near the Arctic Circle!
  • Create a scale for comparison. The mountains in Iceland can look like hills and waterfalls can look dinky in pictures because there are very few trees to create scale for the landscape. It’s very haunting and mystical in person, but photos need a little help to do the landscape justice. Make sure there are sheep, horses, a person, or lots of people in your pictures so viewers’ eyes have something to focus on and see the actual size of the hills, mountain, glaciers, beaches, fields, and more in your photos!
IMG_0663 2
Put your thumb over me in the picture, then move your thumb. It looks bigger with me in it for scale!
Black Sand and Rock Formations, Vik
Crashed DC-3 Plane Wreckage
More here: The World’s Most Epic Landscapes

Do you feel a little more prepared for your own trip to Iceland? I hope so! Have more questions? Comment below and I’ll try to answer! Check out my Iceland Page for more!

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6 responses to “What to Know Before You Visit Iceland”

  1. […] can find many more tips in my Things to Know Before You Visit Iceland post, but for now, here are my top tips for your Icelandic road […]

  2. Thanks for this post. I’d love to go to Iceland and this is really helpful for planning!!

    1. I’m so glad! That’s why I do what I do. Hope you make it to Iceland one day soon!

  3. Thanks for sharing your amazing experience with photos. It’s really helpful for me to plan the tour.

    1. I’m so glad! Thanks for reading!

  4. […] More here: What to Know Before You Visit Iceland […]

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