This travel wiki page of Iceland will help guide travelers with quick and relevant information to consider when planning and visiting the country. It is difficult to find all the relevant information you need on culture, safety, travel restrictions, and things to do, so we summarize it all here. If anything is stale or outdated, please reach out and let us know! Let’s dive in and explore more high-level information on Iceland travel.
Table of contents
National Information & Culture
Iceland, also known as the Land of Fire and Ice due to its geological contrast, is a Nordic island country in the North Atlantic Ocean. It is a member state of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and belongs to the Schengen area. The country has arguably the oldest parliamentary form of government, dating back to 930 AD. Reykjavík is the capital city, and the official currency is the Icelandic Króna (plural krónur) –ISK.
Icelanders carry patronymic or matronymic surnames rather than using family names. More commonly practiced is patronymic, where last names are based on the father’s first name. On the other hand, matronymic names are based on the first name of the mother. Consequently, Icelanders refer to one another by their name, and the Icelandic telephone directory list is alphabetically ordered by the first name rather than by surname.
Having rich geothermal energy, it is the primary source of power in the country and one of the world’s most environmentally friendly forms of heat generation. Icelandic homes primarily use renewable energy as part of the Icelandic Climate Action Plan to cut 55% emissions by 2030. The country also urges visitors to become responsible tourists and take the Icelandic pledge.
To know more about Iceland, check out their official tourism web page when planning your trip.
Special Travel Considerations
Iceland has lifted all Covid-19 related restrictions starting February 25, 2022. As a result, there will be no disease prevention measures at the borders for passengers traveling to Iceland, regardless of whether individuals are vaccinated or not. In addition, travelers will no longer have to provide proof of vaccination or prior infection. Also, there are no restrictions on social gatherings or quarantine requirements for those infected by COVID-19. But this policy may vary over time, and it is best to check the latest Covid-19 updates before your trip.
Although not required, travel insurance covering all overseas medical expenses (including Covid-19) and emergency repatriation is strongly recommended.
Iceland is associated with the Schengen Agreement, which exempts travelers from personal border controls between 26 European countries. Hence, residents of a Schengen country traveling to Iceland can stay in the country for 90 days without a visa.
For residents outside the Schengen area, at least three months of a valid passport from the entry date is a requirement. For complete information on passport, visa exemptions, and visa requirements, as well as the Schengen area regulations, visit the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration web page.
Iceland is best known as the “Land of Fire and Ice” because of its impressive array of active volcanoes and glaciers. Geysers, hot spring lava fields, waterfalls, and the beautiful Northern Lights add to the country’s natural attractions.
The Aurora Borealis, more commonly referred to as the Northern Lights, is a natural phenomenon occurring between September to April during the winter solstice when nights are long, and the sun does not rise. There are no guarantees that you will see the Northern Lights during your stay. Still, sightings have a significant probability outside populated areas, especially away from the light pollution of the capital. So get your camera ready at all times.
The Blue Lagoon in Iceland is near Keflavik International Airport, the best-known spa in the country. The warm geothermal waters have healing properties, and studies have shown that the lagoon’s white silica-rich mud helps skin conditions, including psoriasis.
Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park was a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019. It is one of Europe’s largest national parks (and glacier) at approximately 14,141 km² and encompasses around 14% of Iceland’s total area. The unique qualities of the park are primarily its great variety of landscape features created by the combined forces of rivers, glacial ice, and volcanic and geothermal activity. Black sand beaches, outlet glaciers, and iceberg-filled glacier lagoons are some of what you can see here. One should not miss exploring Vatnajokull Ice Caves, Jokulsarlon Lagoon, and Dettifoss when visiting Vatnajökull National Park.
Snæfellsjökull National Park
Snæfellsjökull National Park is at the edge of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in the West part of Iceland. It is famous for being the setting in the “Journey to the Center of the Earth” in Jules Verne’s story. It is the only park that reaches the shoreline, and around the park are lava tubes and protected fields, home to native Icelandic fauna, prime coastal bird, and whale-watching spots.
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in South Iceland. It is the country’s first national park and the birthplace of the nation, as it is the home of the first Icelandic parliament (Althing) in 930. Þingvellir is the continental rift zone between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, manifests in large lava gorges and a 10 km wide rift valley holding Iceland’s largest natural lake, Þingvallavatn.
Strokkur is a fountain-type geyser about 50 meters south of the Great Geysir located in a geothermal area beside the Hvítá River in southwest Iceland. It is one of the greatest active geysers in the Golden Circle that erupts every 6-10 minutes at a height of approximately 15-20 meters and as high as 40 meters sometimes. Like all hot geysers, Strokkur is caused by water meeting magma-heated rock, then boiling and erupting under pressure.
Also known as the Golden Falls, Gullfoss is located in the canyon of the Hvítá river in southwest Iceland. It is the most famous waterfall in the country, with a spectacular double cascade dropping a dramatic 32 meters. The mist creates shimmering rainbows on sunny days, while the falls glitter with ice in winter. Although it’s a famous sight, the remote location still makes you feel the forces of nature.
Skogafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland, with a width of 25 meters and a height of 60 meters. The land underneath the waterfall is flat, allowing visitors to walk on both sides around the falls. A 430-step staircase leads you up to the top of waterfalls and is the start of the 23 km Fimmvrðuháls trek to Þórsmörk, the land of the gods. Legend says the first Viking settler, Þrasi Þórólfsson, buried a treasure in a cave behind the waterfall. Skogafoss is close to the Ring Road and can be easily accessible.
Seljalandsfoss is located in the South Region of Iceland, close and easily accessible from the Ring Road. The waterfall drops 60 meters high, with a small cave behind where visitors can walk for a picturesque photo session.
Reykjavik City is the capital and largest city in Iceland. It is not a metropolis but has its charm. Hallgrímskirkja Church, Harpa Concert Hall, National Museum of Iceland, and Sun Voyager are a must-see when exploring the city.
Primary Spoken Language(s)
Icelandic is the national language. It is a North Germanic language descended from Old Norse. English and Danish follow, which are both compulsory subjects in the school. English is widely understood and spoken, while essential to moderate knowledge of Danish is shared among the older generations. Polish is the most significant minority of Iceland and is spoken mainly by the local Polish community.
Iceland is a country with one of the world’s lowest crime rates, ranking 1st place consecutively on the Global Peace Index, and home to no animal predators dangerous to man. However, the country also received a Level 1 travel advisory from the US.
It does not seem very dangerous, but the challenges lie elsewhere. Weather and nature dictate Iceland’s everyday life, so unpredictable weather outbursts, and rapid temperature changes can happen anytime.
The country is volcanically and seismically active. Therefore, visitors need to take some precautions before exploring Iceland. It can be possible by signing up for weather conditions advisory through the one-stop shop for Safety in Iceland or getting the SafeTravel Iceland App. Doing it helps you make the most of your time in the country, and you surely do not want to miss out on updates on snowstorms, avalanches, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions!
Another safety precaution implemented by the country is to leave a travel plan for your daily itinerary if you opt for a more extended outdoor trip outside your tour. It will make it easier for the authorities to locate you in case the unavoidable happens.
Above anything, follow advisories and check out warning signs in every attraction you visit can keep you out of danger. Then, in case of an emergency, call 112.
Traveling to Iceland is expensive. The costs for accommodation, car rentals, food, and sightseeing tours are higher than in many other countries.
A solo budget traveler must set aside at least $50/night for accommodation in a hostel or guesthouse. A mid-range hotel, on the other hand, will cost you at least $105 per night.
Food is another thing that will take a more significant part of your budget. The cheapest breakfast in a sit-in restaurant is around $10-15; lunch and dinner range from $25-$40 per meal. But you can save approximately 50% on your food budget if you prepare and cook it yourself. Most guesthouses have shared kitchen amenities, so this won’t be a problem.
Public transportation costs are not bad at all. Depending on your destination, the minimum bus fare within the capital is around $4 (490 ISK). On the other hand, a car rental will cost you $25-40 per day, excluding gas expenses. The Ring Road is 1322 km long, so start doing the math if you want to drive around.
There are no entry fees to waterfalls, geysers, and spectacular mountains, as Iceland’s natural wonders and the view come for free! So, this is where you can save some money.
Considering the above figures, a solo budget traveler must allocate at least $1400 for a 2-week adventure in Iceland, excluding airfare. But, of course, it is only the minimum expense, as your daily expenditure may vary according to your activities, location, and food appetite.
Customs And Import Restrictions
Travelers may import up to 10 kg of food duty-free, including candy, not exceeding ISK 25,000 or its equivalent. However, travelers cannot import meat and dairy products outside the European Economic Area to Iceland. Check the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority’s website for further information. Among the prohibited articles are uncooked meat and various meat products like dried meat, smoked ham, bacon, saddle of pork, smoked sausages (e.g., salami), poultry, etc.; various weapons, e.g., daggers with blades exceeding 12 cm, switchblade knives, and flick stilettos, knuckles and truncheons, crossbows and handcuffs; finely powdered snuff; and moist snuff to be used orally.
Restricted articles, on the other hand, include various telephone and communications equipment (remote control devices for toys); and used angling gears and riding clothing.
For the complete custom laws and import restrictions list, visit the Iceland Revenue and Customs official web page.
Contrary to its name, Iceland is not as cold as most people think. The mainly solar weather, rather than polar, is thanks to the warming effects of the Gulf Stream, which provides a temperate climate year-round. However, Icelandic weather is unusually volatile, so it is advisable to pack for four seasons and be flexible.
The climate varies between different parts of the island. Generally, the south coast is warmer, wetter, and windier than the north. The Central Highlands are the coldest part of the country. Low-lying inland areas in the north are the aridest. Snowfall in winter is more common in the north than in the south.
Like other countries in the northern and southern hemispheres, Iceland has four seasons. It is Winter from December to February. Spring starts from March until May. Summer is from June to August, and Autumn is from September to November.
Another interesting phenomenon of Iceland is being so far north, and the daylight can dramatically increase or decrease depending on the season you go. During the summer months, the days can last an entire 24-hour period. Likewise, in winter, you will have wholly nighttime days. Good to factor in and consider before your trip!
Primary Transportation Options
Exploring the country by bus, ferry, and plane is possible. Planning and flexibility are advisable, especially when traveling in winter. For more details about public transport schedules, check this link.
Keflavík International Airport is the largest airport and the main gateway for international flights to Iceland. Reykjavik Airport is the second-largest airport serving general aviation traffic. It has regular domestic flights to 12 local townships in Iceland and some international flights.
Bus services operate between Keflavík and Reykjavík airports the whole year round. Other bus companies also run around the country, but always pay attention to the schedule when planning your trip. Public buses have a distinct yellow color and are easily recognizable on the streets.
Aside from the bus, taxi services are available to and from the airport. For hassle-free travel, visitors can join scheduled tours, packages, day trips, and excursions offered by private bus companies from Reykjavík to many destinations all around the country.
Car rental and driving on your own in Iceland are possible. It is, for me, the best way to explore this stunning country, allowing you more flexibility for your trip. Only one main road that circles the country is called the Ring Road. Hence, making it easy to plan a road trip. But exercise extreme road caution when driving, especially during winter.
There is a weekly car ferry between Denmark and Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland. These give visitors the option of bringing their vehicle. Several ferry lines also serve various islands and fjords, with regular sightseeing tours offered by ferries during the summer.