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10 useful things to know for a trip to Iceland

As I near the end of my series of posts from our trip to Iceland, I am sharing with you 10 things that are perhaps not all that well publicised but could be helpful when planning a trip to Iceland, particularly if you are visiting for the first time. Iceland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world – a land full of natural wonders – but knowing these useful tips will hopefully ensure that your trip benefits from some inside knowledge.

Plan ahead and book in advance

A trip to Iceland is one that you’re likely to remember for years to come. For this reason, you’ll be want to be sure that you plan ahead. And planning ahead is important for two reasons; firstly, you’ll get the pick of the best hotels and accommodation if you book ahead; secondly, you’ll often get the best prices by planning ahead. A rental car is one of the very first things you might want to consider – to put this in perspective, in 2019 there were just 24,000 rental cars in Iceland (5,000 of which were leased) and yet the country had two million visitors. 1.9 million visitors to Iceland are predicted for 2023 and 2.1 million for 2024.

Pay attention to weather forecasts

Iceland is the kind of place where you should not only be prepared for weather changes, you should expect them. Since the mild Atlantic air of the Gulf Stream mixes with colder Arctic air, you really can’t be sure what to expect and frequent and abrupt weather shifts are not uncommon. This is why they say that it’s possible to experience all four seasons in just one day in Iceland. Keep an eye on the Icelandic Met Office website called vedur.is (‘veður’ means ‘weather’ in Icelandic).

Dress accordingly

Since you can experience all four seasons in a day, you want to be dressed for all eventualities. Layering your clothes so that you can add or remove layers depending on the weather is generally good practice. And of course make sure you have sturdy shoes or boots, and good jackets and waterproofs. We were kitted out in Helly Hansen gear which is great, and I’ll be posting more about this shortly.

Make sure you know the emergency number

Make sure you know the emergency number for Iceland… it’s 112. If you’re from North America or the Philippines, you’re in luck since on mobile phones, 911 is said to re-direct to 112 when in Iceland (although I can’t say I’ve verified this). If you’re from the UK or anywhere where the emergency number is something different to 112 or 911, don’t expect your phone to redirect. Just remember the number… 112… it might even save someone’s life.

Note also that The Search and Rescue Association of Iceland (ICE-SAR) has released the 112 Iceland app which can also be used to trace your steps and locate you promptly in the event of an emergency.

Don’t buy bottled water!

Iceland has some of the purest natural resources in the world, available at every faucet around the country – for free. There’s absolutely no reason to buy bottled water in Iceland yet tourists of course do. But it’s not just an unnecessarily expensive habit – it’s not environmentally friendly either. Please drink more responsibly and travel with a water bottle and refill it from the tap.

Rent a car

I honestly believe that hiring a car is the best way to get around Iceland. It’ll give you more independence, allowing you to choose your route, adapt your plans and spend as long or as little at whatever places you choose to stop at.

Take tours – they’re fun!

Just because you might hire a car doesn’t mean to say you can’t take a tour. In fact, there are many things you just can’t do easily on your own, or that it’s safer to do with a guide, regardless of you having your own transport. We learned so much more from our volcano tour by hiking with a guide, we wouldn’t have been able to safely visit Katla ice cave without a guide and we certainly wouldn’t have gone snowmobiling or taken a 4×4 off-road buggy tour without the assistance of a tour company. We also found many of the guides had a great sense of humour so taking tours was a genuinely fun experience.

Visit the swimming baths

Of course, you’ll probably visit one of Iceland’s many lagoons or spas during your visit. But try a visit to the public baths also. It’s a very popular Icelandic ritual and pretty much every town in Iceland, regardless of how small it is, has its own swimming pool. Just make sure you are aware of Icelanders’ very strict code of conduct and swimming pool etiquette, such as showering naked rather than in your swimwear and, when you finish, making sure you are completely dry before heading for the changing rooms.

Don’t try to schedule too much into one day

When you have a limited amount of time and so much you want to see and do, it’s tempting to try to pack it all in. But bear in mind that the driving distances in Iceland can be significant and it might take longer than you think to get from one place to another. Also, note that there’s a big difference between visiting in the Summer months when the sun doesn’t really properly set and you have lots of daylight hours to play with, versus visiting in Winter when there might be just four hours of daylight, not to mention poorer weather and driving conditions. And don’t forget… if you don’t manage to see everything that you wanted to see during your trip, that gives you a good excuse to visit again.


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Be a responsible tourist

Respect Iceland’s nature and landscape so that others can enjoy it after you. Take note of The Icelandic Pledge. It’s a voluntary scheme, rather than national law, but one that I’d recommend you follow. The pledge reads as follows:

I pledge to be a responsible tourist. When I explore new places, I will leave them as I found them. I will take photos to die for, without dying for them. I will follow the road into the unknown but never venture off the road. And I will only park where I am supposed to. When I sleep out under the stars, I’ll stay within a campsite. And when nature calls, I won’t answer the call on nature. I will be prepared for all weathers, all possibilities and all adventures.

Planning a trip to Iceland yourself? You can watch a video from our trip to Iceland here:

YouTube video

Disclosure: Our trip to Iceland was sponsored by Helly Hansen.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. I remember having a chat with a mountain rescue guy who’d had a tough day. He was saying that as it’s got easier to get up to date weather info people are making even less effort to check the weather forecast.

    He went on to tell me about a couple of incidents where lives had been lost because people hadn’t bothered to check the weather conditions.

    I can see that it’s even more important in Iceland.

    1. Yes, this is very worrying. The weather forecasts are just that – forecasts – and you should really prepare yourself with all eventualities, even those that aren’t consistent with whatever weather is predicted. Situations can turn very ugly very quickly if you are not prepared.

  2. Don’t try to schedule too much into one day should be a mantra for life. It applies to so much more than travel to Iceland. I learned long ago to set myself realistic expectations.

    1. Yes, and I think with Iceland there is so much to see and do that it’s very easy to get carried away and try to pack too much in. We were probably even guilty of that a little bit, even though we tried to restrain ourselves!

    1. Of course, Will… you definitely can. There are multiple tour options, including day tours and longer tours, as well as public transport. I just personally think that renting a car is the best way but it won’t necessarily be for everyone and it certainly doesn’t preclude you from being able to enjoy the country. Hope you get to visit soon and see this wonderful place for yourself!

    2. How much money would you bring along minus the cost of airfare? Food, fun, etc? For a 5 or 6-day trip? Don’t count the cost of the tour either.

    3. Hi Will – that’s a tough one to answer as it really depends on what you want to do, what kinds of places you want to eat, etc. etc. Make no mistake, Iceland is an expensive country by the standards of most other European countries, but there are also many activities (eg. hiking, visiting waterfalls, etc.) that you can do that will cost you nothing other than maybe a parking fee (and even that might not always be applicable). Personally, we took very little actual cash with us, preferring instead to use credit cards for purchases.

  3. This is a very practical list of tips that every visitor should know. I can see this developing into a book – maybe 10 tips for every European country? Every African country? Possibly even every American state?

  4. A great list of tips. Over the last month I’ve continually be amazed as each new post appears. It’s remarkable how much you were able to pack in. I felt exhausted reading it, let alone doing all the activities. Planning all these activities must have been like planning a military exercise.

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