Iceland is a dream destination for many travel lovers, but it often seems mysterious and challenging to plan a trip to Iceland. Thankfully, there are some Iceland travel tips that will make you feel prepared and confident for your trip.
I’ve been to Iceland a few times, and I learned some very difficult lessons along the way.
Like almost being stranded in the middle of rural Iceland because I ran out of gas type of mistakes.
I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did. I want you to be prepared and know what to expect before you arrive in Iceland.
Which, as a side note, I’m in love with the bathrooms in the Iceland airport. They’re so big and everybody has their own sink! Definitely the most comfortable airport bathrooms I’ve ever experienced.
Anyways, back to what you’re here for.
There are a few very important tips for travelling Iceland you need to be aware of, and I’ve got your back!
As long as you know the tips and tricks in this post, you’ll be all set and ready to have the trip of a lifetime in Iceland.
Be sure to bring an extra camera battery. You’ll be using your camera a lot and don’t want to run out of battery along the way one day!
1. Book Your Accommodation Well in Advance
If there is only one Iceland travel tip you listen to in this whole post, let it be this one!
You do not want to leave booking your accommodation to the last minute.
You’ll be stuck sleeping in your car.
There aren’t many places to stay in Iceland once you get outside Reykjavík. There are long stretches of road without a single town all throughout rural Iceland.
And that town you do stumble across might not have a hotel, and if it does, it is likely sold out if you’re trying to get a room for that night.
I’m definitely one of those travellers who likes to wait until the last minute to book my accommodation because I often don’t know where I’ll be next week.
Iceland isn’t the place to do that.
As soon as you decide to visit Iceland, start making a plan.
Decide what part of the country you want to visit, how many days you’ll be there, and an area where you want to find a hotel in.
Then start looking for a place to stay and book one as soon as you find something you like.
Yes. You can rent an RV and just sleep on the side of the road. That elevates the need to book accommodation in advance. However, most people don’t rent an RV and need to book a hotel to sleep in at night.
2. Leave Extra Time to Visit Roadside Attractions
One of the things that surprised me the most on my first trip to Iceland was how many times I would randomly pull over on the side of the road to see an attraction I had no idea was there.
There are little signs on the side of the road all over Iceland indicating that roadside attractions are coming up.
They range from small things like a sign explaining a piece of history to large things like a lava field.
I had planned the major attractions to see each day on my road trip, but I had no idea there were so many smaller things I’d never heard of before to do as well!
I highly recommend you leave some extra time in your daily schedule to explore some of the roadside attractions you stumble across.
Allotting an hour or two per day should be more than sufficient.
Sometimes you have to drive a few minutes off the main road to get to them, so it is better to have a little extra time built into your schedule.
You don’t want to have to not stop at a roadside attraction you’re interested in simply because you don’t have enough time and are rushing to get to the next big attraction.
Slow and steady wins the race!
You want to be able to enjoy your vacation and not miss out on spontaneous experiences, so build in some extra time every day.
3. Have a Bigger Budget than You Think You Need
We all know that Iceland is expensive, but most people don’t realize just how expensive it is.
It honestly gets me every time I visit as well. I’m never not surprised by how much things cost in Iceland.
One of the best Iceland travel tips I can give you is to bring more money than you think you need.
If you think you need $1,000 for your trip, budget to spend $1,200.
This gives you a little bit of a cushion on your trip. You don’t want to run out of money and be stuck not eating for part of your trip.
Luckily, most of the tourist attractions in Iceland are free to visit!
You just have to cover the cost of your rental car, gas, hotels, food, and souvenirs.
You’ll know the price of accommodation and your rental car ahead of time, which helps a lot.
So, really, all you have to try to budget for is gas, food, and souvenirs.
All of which are very expensive.
Just do yourself a favour and have a little extra money budgeted for your trip. It’ll make your trip less stressful.
And what’s the worst that can happen? You don’t use it, and you already have a little money saved for your next vacation.
There is no downside to budgeting a little extra money for your trip to Iceland, so there is no excuse not to!
4. Rent Pocket Wifi
You can probably guess that the wifi coverage in Iceland isn’t that good. Outside of your hotel, you’re not likely to find free public wifi when you’re out and about.
Maybe at a restaurant here or there, but that isn’t guaranteed.
You’ll need some sort of GPS access when you’re driving around Iceland. You can either rent a GPS system from the car rental company or rent a pocket wifi device.
They are similar in price, but I always recommend you rent the pocket wifi device.
You connect your phone to it, and it gives you access to the internet wherever you are.
You use Google Maps on your phone to figure out how to get from place to place and have access to your social media, internet (to Google nearby attractions), and can easily let someone know where you are if you need help.
In my eyes, it is a no brainer, and renting pocket wifi in Iceland is essential.
If you’re an avid traveller, you can consider purchasing your own pocket wifi through Solis before you leave.
I purchased mine in 2019 and can’t live without it. It is one of the best travel investments I’ve made, but it isn’t for everybody. Read my full review here to figure out if it is right for you or not.
5. Renting a Car is Worth the Money
Renting a car in Iceland isn’t cheap, but it is worth the money.
If you want to see more than just Reykjavík, you have two options. You either rent a car and drive yourself or you pay to go on guided group tours.
Both options have their pros and cons, but they will both cost a fair amount of money.
Oftentimes, it is more expensive to pay for guided tours than it is to rent a car and drive yourself.
I know that the cost of renting a car in Iceland may make you shy away from it, but it is worth every single penny.
You have the freedom to do what you want when you want. You can get an early start to the day or have a lie in.
You can stop at as many roadside attractions as you want and stay for as long as you want.
And, for the introverts like me, you don’t have to deal with all the small talk that comes with going on a group tour.
If you’re going to Iceland and want the full experience, it is in your best interest to rent a car and drive it around the country.
6. Pack Lunch and Snacks for the Drive
As you may have gathered, Iceland is remote, and it can be difficult to stop in a grab a snack somewhere whenever you feel hungry.
One of my best Iceland travel tips is to stop in Reykjavík at the beginning of your trip and grab snacks and drinks for the drive.
They’ll come in handy along the way.
It will also help you with your budgeting. You won’t be forced to eat at the only restaurant you come across and pay whatever the cost for what might not even be a good meal.
You can always grab lunch at a gas station when you stop, but a pre-packaged sandwich will still cost you more than you’d like. The options will be limited as well.
Your best bet for lunches and snacks when driving is to grab some food at a grocery store in Reykjavík and take it with you.
It may seem expensive, but it will be less expensive than winging it and grabbing food as your go.
7. Fill Up on Gas Whenever You See a Gas Station
This is another one of the most important Iceland travel tips you need to pay attention to.
Iceland isn’t like many other countries where you can find a gas station anywhere and everywhere.
Most of Iceland is very rural, and gas stations can be few and far between.
If you see a gas station and have anything less than nearly a full tank, you should stop to fill up on gas.
You don’t know when you’re going to run into a gas station next, and you don’t want to be caught running on fumes.
I know it can be a bit annoying to stop for gas when you have more than three quarters of a tank of gas, but it is just the smart and safe thing to do.
Especially if you get caught driving into the Icelandic wind and burn more gas than you otherwise would.
Take the opportunity to stretch your legs, grab a drink, and feel safe and confident as you continue on in your trip around Iceland.
8. Focus on One Part of the Country
Many people look at Iceland on a map and think they can see it all in one trip.
That’s not the right mindset, and one of the best travel tips for Iceland I can give you is to pick one part of the country to visit and stick to it.
You won’t be rushed, and you’ll be able to explore more during your vacation.
If you have a week, choose either the north or south.
If you only have a few days, you need to narrow it down even more. Choose the north eastern part of the country, for example.
One of the worst things you can do when travelling in Iceland is try to do too much.
There are so many surprise pit stops and attractions along the way. You don’t want to be rushing and not be able to stop.
You also don’t want to spend five, six, seven hours per day driving when you’re on vacation!
There are plenty of free Iceland itineraries online.
Find one that has you driving for a maximum of 4 hours per day. That’s what I do when I go to Iceland, and it works out really well.
9. Pack Warm Clothes (Even in the Summer)
Iceland is cold. Colder than you think!
You need to pack a warm jacket, gloves, and something to cover your ears from the cold wind no matter what time of year you visit Iceland.
You may not have to use them, but if you do (which you likely will have to), you’ll be happy to have them!
The first time I visited Iceland it was April. I had been in mainland Europe for the past two and a half months where it was warm.
I thought it was going to be the same in Iceland, but I was very wrong.
It was freezing. I ended up having to spend a ton of money to buy warm clothing in Iceland.
It was worth buying the warm clothing, but it is even better to be more prepared and come with warm clothing.
That way you can spend your money on souvenirs you may want more than a toque or gloves.
Most tourist attractions in Iceland are outside, so you can’t get away with not having warm clothes and staying inside all day.
Pack warm and thank me later!
This is definitely one of the most underrated Iceland travel tips, but it is also one of the most important!
10. Don’t Use Unmanned Gas Stations
You can add this to the list of things I wish I knew before visiting Iceland. It is also one of the most important Iceland travel tips I can give you!
There are a few unmanned gas stations around Iceland. The most popular one is near the airport, and people stop there to fill up before dropping their rental car off.
The problem is a lot of people aren’t able to use the unmanned gas stations.
This is because the pumps don’t accept foreign credit cards, so you can’t prepay for the gas you need to fill your car.
It isn’t a huge issue if you’re trying to use the unmanned gas station near the airport. You just have to turn around and drive back to the manned gas station that is about 5 minutes away.
Even there it is a little bit of a hassle.
You have to go into the gas station and either have a nice attendant who opens the pump for you or buy a pre-paid gift card and use that to pay at the pump.
All in all, it is a minor inconvenience that is easy to get around.
The issue comes in when you’re trying to use an unmanned pump in rural Iceland.
There won’t be a nearby manned gas station you can drive to, and if you’re low on gas, you’re in a precarious situation.
That’s why it is so important to fill up on gas whenever you see a manned gas station. You don’t know when you’ll come across one again, and you have to get while the getting is good.
If there is only an unmanned gas station around, and you’re in desperate need of gas, you can wait around and hope someone else comes around shortly.
You can explain your situation and very kindly ask if they would be willing to put their credit card in your pump in exchange for cash.
It isn’t guaranteed to work, but it may be the best way out of a not-so-great situation.
Iceland is an amazing country, and if you have the means, I highly recommend visiting it at least once in your life.
But it can also be a difficult country to plan for in advance. It is unlike most other countries, and you need to know what to expect before you arrive.
Hopefully, these Iceland travel tips help you plan your perfect vacation to Iceland and help you know what to except before you arrive at the airport.
As long as you keep these Iceland travel tips in mind, I know you’ll have an amazing trip and make life-long memories.