Why should you travel to Iceland? When is the best time of year to experience the country, and what should you bring along for the trip? Read on for our quick and easy overview of travelling in Iceland below.
If there is one country in the world that instils in its guests the need to take to the open road and explore, it’s Iceland. Travelling around this ancient and mystic place has, over the last decades, become something of a pilgrimage for holiday-makers looking for destinations that blow all expectations out of the water.
Nicknamed the Land of ice and fire, this unique subarctic isle offers visitors a wealth of natural diversity, from glacial plains that carve the mountains beside them to bubbling volcanoes that, once in a while, remind the world as to the true extent of Iceland’s power. In between such extreme contrasts are countless other wonders; black sand beaches, deserts, farmlands and lava fields, culminating in a setting that can be described as nothing else but fantastical.
How do visitors choose to travel around Iceland?
Iceland is a relatively small country by international standards, but the vast majority of it is untouched and undeveloped, leaving large swathes of wilderness between its many towns and coastal villages.
The Ring Road, or Route 01, is the major tarmac road that circles the island. Not only does it pass through many major settlements, but it also provides access to countless points of interest, be they roaring waterfalls, moss-laden canyons or glittering ice caves. Should you be planning to try and discover all of Iceland’s regions during your trip, it is the Ring Road that will guide you.
Most visitors to Iceland will arrive by way of Keflavik International Airport, which is located a short distance from the Blue Lagoon Spa on the Reykjanes Peninsula. Forty-five minutes’ drive from the airport is Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik, which tends to serve most people as the departure and end-stage of their trip.
Visitors have several choices when it comes to how they wish to travel around Iceland. They could opt for a guided tour, for instance, following an itinerary under the leadership of a professional and experienced local guide. Alternatively, others choose to purchase a Self Drive tour option, leaving more room for independence, diversions and freedom on the road. Both options have their pros and cons, so make sure to do a little reading beforehand to ensure your trip meets expectations.
What are the most popular attractions in Iceland?
As we’ve mentioned, there are waterfalls, canyons, glaciers and beaches dotted across Iceland. However, some have taken on a more iconic status than others due to the sheer number of visitors they see each year, as well as their starring roles in tourism marketing campaigns.
While some guests will be looking to uncover more of the island’s hidden corners, new visitors should not miss out on appreciating the superstar attractions too. Thankfully, the majority of these can be accessed directly from the Ring Road.
West Iceland’s Golden Circle sightseeing route is, arguably, the country’s top tourist trail, beating out the main competition with its three superstar attractions; Thingvellir National Park, Geysir hot spring and the powerful Gullfoss waterfall. If you only have a limited amount of time in the country, it is recommended that you experience the Golden Circle route first as it provides a fascinating glimpse into Iceland’s history, culture and natural formation.
In South Iceland, most guests will make sure to stop by the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss, Reynisfjara black sand beach and the sublime glacier lagoon, Jokulsarlon. On top of that, there is Vatnajökull National Park, Sólheimasandur desert and Skaftafell Nature Reserve, all available for public access. To the east is the iconic mountain, Vestrahorn, which towers proudly over the black dunes of Stokksnes Peninsula, as well as the country’s largest national forest, Hallormsstaðaskógur, and Lake Lagarfljót.
Visitors to North Iceland are spoiled for choice when it comes to points of interest. Sites like Dettifoss and Goðafoss waterfalls, Ásbyrgi canyon and Lake Myvatn make any trip a worthy effort, but it is the activities here that will make your holiday experience transcend. There are many fun-filled excursions on offer, though we recommend making the most of the dramatic northern landscapes with a spot of skiing, backcountry skiing and snowboarding. The truly adventurous among you can even go heli-skiing, which is just about as daring and adrenaline-pumping a thing one can do in Iceland.
When is the best time of year to visit Iceland?
Whenever you feel like it! In truth, people choose to discover Iceland in both the winter and summer as each season offers something entirely different. Repeat visitors here will often remark how the island takes on an entirely new mask as one season overlaps into the other, and one really cannot compare their beauty or allure. The fact of the matter is, Iceland is just as remarkable in the depths of winter as it is in the heights of summer.
In the winter, for instance, guests can observe the Northern Lights, as well as take part in fun seasonal activities. In the summer, the omnipresent glow of the Midnight Sun provides light 24/7, leaving plenty of hours in the day to explore the country at one’s leisure, or just soak up the sun in a geothermal hot pot. Whatever your preference is with the weather, remember that you can always come back to experience Icelandic conditions at their polar opposite.
How should I prepare to travel to Iceland?
Before even setting foot in Iceland, you will want to make sure that you have packed every item you’re going to need. Iceland’s weather is unpredictable so you must bring a change of clothing, as well as an array of winter accessories such as beanie hats, gloves and scarves. Trust us; should the weather turn for the worse, you’ll be pleased with having decided to bring them along.
Another essential item is your photography camera. When travelling around a destination as beautiful and dramatic as this, the urge to document your surroundings will arrive often, and you’ll quickly find yourself adept at perfecting your shots with such fantastic subject matter around every bend of the road. If you have a DSLR, we recommend using it over your phone to best capture your memories surrounded by Icelandic scenery. Other travel necessities that will need a place in your bag include the obvious items: passport, mobile phone etc.
Finally, you will want to do some basic research as to what attractions and regions you will be visiting on your trip. Often, what is available to vacationers comes down to how much time they have, so those with little more than a weekend might want to focus on Reykjavik and the Golden Circle, while those with a week to spare can venture farther out to the distant reaches of this island.
Your timeframe will also determine where you will stay during your time in Iceland. The capital has many fantastic options ranging from luxury hotels to backpacker hostels, while those heading out into the countryside can decide between a range of farm stays and quaint lodges. If you’re planning on heading through the Troll Peninsula in North Iceland, might we recommend Soti Lodge, where you will be provided with comfortable living quarters, great tour opportunities and fabulous chef-made meals.
Finally, it is important to always behave oneself when abroad, treating the people and the environment with respect. During your time in Iceland, make sure to follow the laws of the country. In practice, this means no speeding or off-roading with your rental vehicle and no littering… unless you’re comfortable getting stuck with a hefty fine.
Do I need to learn basic Icelandic to travel in Iceland?
Don’t worry if languages aren’t your forte. Icelanders speak fluent English and are happy to aid you should you stumble across words or directions unfamiliar to you. Of course, as with anywhere, the local people certainly appreciate those that make the extra effort but do not feel as though it is necessary to enjoy your trip.
While you might get a little tongue-tied attempting to speak Icelandic, there is no reason not to immerse yourself in local culture. Make sure to try controversial delicacies like fermented shark and sheep’s head, if only for the experience, and stop by museums and art galleries to get a better insight into what makes the Icelanders tick.
If you happen to find yourself in trouble in Iceland, you can contact the Icelandic emergency services on 112 and the Search and Rescue teams on +354 570 5900.