Iceland has for many years, been overlooked because of its name and the assumption that it is all made of ice with no summers and subzero temperatures. But as the popular series ‘Game of Thrones’ has been filmed there over the years, it has brought to light, how truly beautiful and breathtaking this country is; as well as some scenes in the new Star Wars movies.
Iceland holds the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa that is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The spa is located in a lava field in southwestern Iceland. Bláa lónið is situated approximately 12 miles from the Keflavik International Airport and 24 miles from the capital city of Reykjvik, that’s a 21-minute drive from the airport and a 50-minute drive from Reykjavík. It is also home to Geyser’s, Volcanos, Waterfalls (both moving and frozen), Viking history, Diamond Beach, Northern Lights, and Puffins. So needless to say, no matter who you bring with you, there is something for everyone to see.
Iceland is also laid out in an extremely easy path to follow, a ring around the island, that will pretty much take you to every place you like to see (with a few overnight stays). For me this is a very attractive way to travel, because I have problems getting directionally situated when travelling. See the maps below to see just how simple this would be to follow.
So now that I have peaked your interest, how do you go about actually getting there? How much should you budget for? Where do you go to book things? Do you book beforehand, or just fly by the seat of your pants and go? Can anyone go? Do you need a Visa? Are most sites wheelchair accessible? Do you want to stay on the path, or find those hidden gems of Iceland?
Let us guide you through how we plan a trip, and in Particular to Iceland……
First barrier most people face is, “How much is this going to cost me? Is it a trip just for me, or can I take friends/family?”. This boils down to the cost of the flight itself, and what the exchange rate is. Don’t tell yourself you can’t afford to travel until you actually answer these questions, you might be surprised how affordable it actually is to travel. You also don’t have to travel into the most popular place within the country, like when I booked my flight to Morocco, the flight into Casablanca instead of Rabat was almost $400 cheaper! So look at the country and the airports that are available. So for Iceland we have about 34 airports listed. I will pick 3 and compare them, and pick one central to the areas I would like to visit, lets take for example The Blue Lagoon, so the Blue Lagoon is located between Keflavik International Airport and Reykjavik.
I will compare both of these airports and their flights, and watch them both on my websites I use for flights, as listed below.
For my flights I have some ‘go to’ websites that I use, apps, and one website that I paid $25 for the entire year to use, and it has been totally worth it for the updates and alerts it gives me on vacations. Here are a few:
- Hopper (this is an app on my iphone that sends me alerts when prices on my ‘go to’ cities go up and down) —will take a lot of headache, and lets the company do the work for you.
- Skyscanner (this is another app on my iphone that sends me alerts on prices for my cities, and when they go up and down) — this will take a lot of headache, and lets the company do the work for you.
- Delta.com (for those with skymiles, this is a great way to use them)
- Travelpirates – (app) this is great for both flights and vacations that you can plug in the cities you want to watch and they will send you notifications
- TravelZoo – (app) this can give you flights, and all inclusive deals that are promotions that certain new hotels and companies are having, including cruises.
- Nextvaca.com ($25 a year, but totally worth it to save hundreds on vacations), this site found a flight for me from Salt Lake City Utah to Iceland for $283; WHO CAN BEAT THAT?!?!
Now to pick the top attractions I would like to see, and when is the best time to see them. Here is a month by month list of attractions in Iceland and when the best time to see them is.
January: average Temp 31.8F, length of day is only 4 hours 24 minutes, and is considered one of the colder months here. But those with skin of steel still make the journey and hotels near Reykjavík still sell out most weekends. But the more remote areas you may have an easier time connecting with the locals and getting better deals on Hotels. Dark Music Day festival is celebrated this month, along with their version of Valentines day, but separate it into two different days, one for the man and one for the woman. They also have the Þorrablót Festival, which is all about food/drinking/and festivities. Christmas is also celebrated here until the 6th of January, where they will have fireworks and such to celebrate the incoming year. Best Tours for this month are probably the Northern lights tours and the Ice Caves tours. I wouldn’t suggest doing the Ice Cave tours on your own, they are prone to cave in, and you will want a guide that knows which caves are prone to the cave-in’s and which are not.
February: This is a time to visit if you want to see just how bad the snowstorms can get, average temperatures are around 32F. But it is also the best time of year to see the Northern lights, there are also a lot of activities in town that will keep you occupied. Festivals this month are the Winter Lights Festival (very pretty I hear), and the Reyjavik Bar Summit, where bartenders come from all over the world to see who is the best. Tours to go on are the same as for January.
March: Roads and storms are still going to be an issue for travelers. Length of day is 10 hours, 2nd wettest month of the year. This is the last good month to see the Northern Lights, tours run til April 15th, but starting beginning of April they will be hit or miss. Don’t go during Easter, as everything shuts down to celebrate this (70% Lutheran population). Festivals: Food and fun: world renown chefs compete to who can come up with the best dish using only Icelandic food, Reykjavik Folk Festival – which will feature Icelandic folk music, Design March – Icelandic design showcase festival, and the Blues Festival (Icelandic blues that is). Tours: Golden circle snowmobiling and snorkeling tours, or Ice Cave tours (careful on picking Natural vs Man made)
April: 37F average temp, with 13 hours of daylight. Sunsets are longer. Flowers start to bloom. April is typically a slower month for tour companies so you can probably find a pretty good deal outside of Reykjavik still. Festivals: Icelandic writers retreat, Childrens festival (with free entry to many events). Tours: this is a good month to check into Tripadvisor.com and Viator.com to see what outdoor activities you would like to do: Lava fields, hot springs, rivers and valleys. But be prepared, this month is the month that the weather is most polar opposites, and you won’t know what your going to get, so be prepared with Plan B always.
May: Average of 43F, and 16 hours of daylight. More sun, least rain, least tourists but will get busier by the end of this month. The flowers don’t bloom completely and the grass isn’t quite green until the end of May to Middle of June. This is the month that do it yourself Roadtrips start. Mid may to the end of the month the prices start to go up in anticipation of tourist season. Festivals: Raflost- electronic artist festival, Reykavik art festival- international art festival. Tours: this is the month to start seeing Puffins, and touring inside the volcano, and all outdoor activities (other than northern lights/snowmobiling) are likely to be doable again.
June: Temps are around 55. Daylight hours 21. Best chance for the most dry days of the year this month. Flights costs of $600-700 round trip, from the US are very rare for this time of year. You’re more likely to see prices as high as $800-$1000. High season rates will be in effect at hotels and car rental desks as well. The full range outdoor adventures are available nearly 24 hours a day because of how long the days are including: Hiking til 10pm, horseback riding, driving around the island in daylight, hard to get to areas like Hornstrandir in the Westfjords, puffins and whales begin to migrate and are seen all around the island. You can explore waterfalls and caves, walk on glaciers, and camp in the great outdoors in relatively pleasant weather. Festivals: June 3-4 2017 is the Festival of the Sea and day for Icelandic Fisherman, all the ships remain in harbor and there are games and festivities, the Color Run for 2017 in Iceland is on June 10th, Secret Solstice Music festival happens at midnight June 16-18th, June 17th is the Icelandic National Holiday, WOW cyclothon where teams ride around Iceland in less than 72 hours, Eistnaflug Music festival – Three days of non stop rock and heavy metal in an isolated fjord, Neskaupsstaður.
July: Average Temp 58F, weather is a bit unpredictable still. Daylight hours 20 hours . This is the month when all roads are open, tourist season is at its peak, all hostels/hotels/guesthouses and summer activities are open. (See June description on available activities). Festivals: July 5-8 Folk Music Festival of Siglufjordur, 7/8 Golden Circle Cycling challenge professional to beginner, The Iceland Race (road running), 15th Laugavegur Ultra Marathon, 29th Braeoslan Music Festival. Tours: All tours (except Northern lights) are great to go on, see June recommendations and TripAdvisor.com or Viator.com.
August: Average Temp 58F, but the weather is more stable. Daylight lasts 17 hours (sunset at 11pm). Days are still long but there are already less tourists. The puffins and other fowl start migrating this month. You may be able to start to see the Northern lights again at the end of August if you are lucky. Festivals: Iceberg firework show in Jokulsarlon in the Vatnajokull Region, Reykajavik Marathon, Reykajavik Culture night. Tours: most summer tours already mentioned above are still running, but Puffins may have already migrated along with most fowl, as a trade off you may start to see the Northern lights.
September: Average Temp 45F, winds start to become quite strong and there are some mentions of ‘horizontal rain’. Daylight lasts 13 hours. The fall hits a little earlier in Iceland.
October: Average Temperature 45F, winds are quite strong, and weather begins to be more unpredictable as winter approaches. Daylight lasts 10 hours.
November: Average Temperature 42F. Daylight lasts 7 hours.
December: Average Temperature 37F. Daylight lasts 4 hours.
For the most up to date driving conditions and road closures, call theses numbers (or go to weather stations within cities) You can call 1777 (if problems use +354 522 1100). Open 8am-4pm in summer and 6:30am-10pm in winter. An English answering machine with road information is available at phone number 1778. (Please check these numbers prior to traveling to Iceland to ensure you have the most up to date phone numbers available).
Check the Aurora forecast and the weather, drive to a dark place and look up. A bit of food and a hot drink in the car means you can stay as long as you want and you are guaranteed to get a good show.
If you like going to festivals, here is a website to browse with Visit Iceland that I recommend, it has everything from Swam Soccer, Writers festival, Gay pride festival, and Fish Festival…..lots and lots to choose from: http://www.visiticeland.com/things-to-do/culture/festivals
So now that we have some resources on how to watch for great flight deals, here are some different ways you can book accommodation. At first I started by searching for ‘best places to stay’ in the respective areas/attractions that I want to visit; this I found was not the best way to go about doing this, as the companies who will be listed on the top of the search screen usually are the ones that pay the top dollar to be there. So how do you find the best deal, and with the least amount of frustration and headache? I have used several websites, we will separate them into what are the best sites for solo travelers and those who are bringing families:
Solo Travelers: try and pick somewhere that offers free breakfast (saves a lot of money), and has free Wifi, and they allow you to store your luggage there before check-in, as well as a 24 hr front desk, I also check to see if the front desk staff can speak my language(not essential but definitely a plus), and what time check-in and checkout are, if they have free airport transport, and if the city has a good bus/railway system I try to choose a place on the map that is close to those areas.
- Booking.com – this you can filter what kind of place you want to stay at ie/B&B, Hostel, Hotel etc…. and it will compare them and they have a bidding war against each other to stay on the top of the roster. I have used this for a few trips now and have not had any issues, as long as I write down and take the pin # and booking # they give me. I also email the company directly about 30 days before I go, just to make sure that they have my reservation in the computer, and while I have them on the phone, also ask if there are any discounts available or if they have any specials I could take advantage of & sometimes mention other hotels that are having specials that I have seen offered.
- Hostelworld.com – this website provides pictures, ratings from travelers, tells you the accommodations that they have available etc.. Make sure to pay attention to the reviews about if the water is hot, if the bathrooms are separated, if their is breakfast included, if there is an electric plug for each guest, how clean they have been rated, and if there is a locker available or not for your valuables and passport. The locker doesn’t need to be large, just enough to put the valuables that are hard to replace like your ID’s, cards, medications, or any souvenir’s you may buy.
- Trip Advisor is one that I use as well, but I find that they are becoming a bit overpriced and bought out, I mostly look at the reviews that people post about a certain area, and then go to the company website itself for the deals because it is often cheaper. (I rarely use Expedia or other websites of this nature because of the cost inflation that they seem to have– but that is just my experience).
- Hotel Tonight or Airbnb: I personally have not tried either of these, because I am a bit nervous about being a single female and staying in a strangers home alone; but I know if you have family, it is a good deal and some even allow pets. Hotel tonight is a new one I have found that I will try out the next time I am looking for hotels, seems like they have good deals on hotels especially on short notice (they only do about 1 week in advance) this will likely get you the best deals as hotels are trying to fill their rooms.
- Facebook is a great resource as well — I will usually type in the search bar something like this “Iceland travel”, “Touring Iceland” etc…… in as many different ways as I can. Typically Facebook with different websites will automatically translate the deals and such for you. This way you can connect with the local people and find the best deals this way. Just be careful who you book with as there are many people who say they are a tour guide but may not be a professional tour guide. To circumvent this issue, I usually ask a few questions: Do you have a website I could look at? Do you have other customers that I could chat with about their experience? If I decide to book with you, how do you accept payment?
- Never give payment information directly to them, get an email requesting payment with their company name, address, telephone, and website on the receipt and all the things that will be included with the tour. I did this with Carolyn Barrett Adventures in Jamaica and it was one of the best decisions I have made in a LONG time. She had so much history about the island, and was actually an immigrant to Jamaica from New York. I searched her on Trip Advisor and found that about 6 other people had the same reservations I did about booking this way, but had the courage to go ahead and book it with her and it was an AMAZING experience. Can’t wait to go back and visit with her again.
If you want to backpack through Iceland here are your campsites listed on this website with all sorts of camping accommodations and hostels that accept campers/backpackers, this site comes complete with GPS coordinates and everything (THAT makes is SUPER simple to utilize!):
Note: you will want to know the transportation system of the buses, as well as where the nearest bathrooms are, or if there are fines for leaving your ‘business’ and not packing it with you. Where your snack/dinners will be, and realistically how tired you will be after a long day of hiking, and if the sites you visit allow you to store your backpacks or not.
There are some that just rent campers when the arrive in Iceland and then stay at these camping locations so as to avoid the unpacking/repacking that comes with hotels/hostels/backpacking. This may be the best option for those who have the budget to afford it.
After you find your flight and decide what hotel you would like to stay at in Reykjavik, it is important to know how you will get around. If you would like to Rent a Car vs the established system. Here is what I found for transfers from the Airport in Reykjavik:
After every flight you’ll find a Flybus right outside of the arrival halls at Keflavík Airport and they leave every 20 minutes or so.There are two types of tickets available: The normal Flybus ticket that will take you to the BSÍ bus terminal or a Flybus + ticket that takes you to your hotel or guesthouse. Please keep in mind though that you will read everywhere that this transfer only takes 45 minutes, it actually takes about 2 hours. The Flybus’s offer free Wifi when you are onboard.
Most rental care companies offer pick up in Keflavík for a small fee. If you are renting a car anyway, this may be worth it to you. Finding the way from Keflavík airport to Reykjavík is quite straight forward but I hear the biggest trouble is finding the way out to the main road.
**Unless you have experience driving in EXTREMEMLY icy and windy conditions, I do not suggest driving in Iceland in the Winter months November to February are going to be the worse times. Many cars end up in ditches, and unless you have car rental insurance, this could mean a huge chunk out of your wallet. Of all the research I have done, people think they have experience on snowy roads, but its the high winds in combination with icy roads that will get you; 4×4’s don’t help in this area of the world, they can actually be like a sail for the winds to push you off the road easier. **
The best time to do driving by yourself or with a family in tow is usually in June/July/August as these are the typical summer months. If you plan to do a trip around the island, I would suggest at the very minimum 6 days, if you can a 8 day trip would make your trip much easier and more relaxing so as you can stop at different places along the way and really explore. I have heard people only spending 1-4 days in Iceland, but I would highly recommend you get on Trip Advisor and pick out a guide that can make the most of your time if that is the case.
Car rentals can cost anywhere from $464 to $561 for a mini car rental (2-3 passenger) in June and July for 7 days. I found the $464 price on Rentalcars.com — make sure the car has unlimited mileage, and ask for package deals, and see if they have a car that has GPS included, this will be essential in the more remote areas of Iceland. But if you have your own Satellite GPS that doesn’t require cell signal, then more power to you. (copy and paste into your web browser- this gets you to the waterfalls, volcano, lava fields, puffins, and glaciers)
Here is a tentative plan for driving in the googlemap website below, this will give you options of where to stop and how long you can handle driving. Make sure to leave 1 buffer day (as is recommended by every native there) for inclement weather plans (because its so unpredictable:
Using the Bus system:
There is a summer bus system in place to reach tourist sites, but it requires careful planning for overnight accommodation. Here are some links:
Accommodation in many areas with hiking trails is limited and sells out for the summer quickly, so it would be good to plan as soon as possible.
Specifics on what to Pack for Iceland:
Down jackets are basically destroyed when wet. My advice for clothing would be layers covered by a waterproof shell. This way you are covered for all eventualities. Layers layers layers is pretty much what you need. Umbrella, warm hat, wind breaker, and check to make sure you have the right outlet plug for this country.
Don’t forget your swim trunks or swimming suit as there are geothermal pools and the like, scattered all over the island, so taking a spontaneous dip is more likely than not.
Cell phone Service in Iceland:
AT&T passport service ($30) will be activated automatically once you get there. There are 2 companies in Iceland that cover their roaming services, so if you plan to use GPS this should cover you, but if not, get a car that has it built in, and as a last resort bring a map with you (in English).
- Northern Lights Jeep tour
- Better option so that you wont be surrounded by 10 buses of tourists while you enjoy the lights, or if you have already rented a car and its June/July with decent weather – then forego the cost of a tour and just pull go out when its fairly dark (which isn’t long since summers in Iceland are nearly 24 hours of daylight) and see if you can find the Northern lights when you are driving along the Golden Circle.
- Golden Circle and glacier on snowmobile
- Langjokull glacier
- Thingvellir National Park a UNESCO world heritage site packed with history and natural phenomena
- Geysir hot spring area- put on a show about every 5-8 minutes
- Gulfoss waterfall, one of Iceland’s greatest falls
- Langjokull glacier – snowmobile this
- South coast
- Go down route 1 to Eyjafjallajokull the volcano that created such a mess in 2010.
- See the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss
- Vik (a costal village) here is the Reynisfjara, the black sand beach. Here you will see the basalt column formations and the famous Reynisdranger peaks.
- Here you will see miles of Lava fields covered in fluffy moss and beautiful mountain range
- Ice Cave, Skaftafell & Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon- Eyjafjallajokull volcano/glacier, Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, Skofafoss, Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Vik Village
- Ice Cave, Skaftafell & Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon-Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Vatnajokull National Park, Skaftafell National Park
- Snorkeling/scuba diving in Silfra Caving tour – must do a tour for this, check Tripadvisor.com and reviews for the one that fits your needs.
- Blue Lagoon (which if you plan it correctly, you can take a soothing dip before jumping on the plane, make sure you get the ticket that includes a towel, so you don’t have to lug around a wet towel in the airport.
For a 10 day trip around Iceland: check this out: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/tag/around-iceland-in-10-days/
*Don’t forget to Kayak in the Fjords (suggest a tour for this as well) , you may even get to
Janiel Green is a Travel Guru with 21 years of National travel experience in the USA, and 17 years of International Travel experience. She is a highly educated, courageous, driven and dedicated individual to both her professional and personal life. She is the Founder of Culture Trekking LLC, and is dedicated to bringing a celebratory passion for humanity into her writing to make meaningful, useful, and heartfelt recommendations for a culturally enriched travel experience. For inquires please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org