Thinking about visiting Iceland? Then you probably have a ton of questions about the small island-nation that has fascinated the world for the past few years. With tourism on the rise, Iceland has become uniquely cosmopolitan, bustling with new hotels, restaurants, and exciting things to do.
To help you get a general idea of what to expect and how to prepare for your trip, we put together a guide of frequently asked questions that will help you navigate the country better.
How do I get to Iceland?
Iceland has one major airport that services almost all of its international flights: Keflavik International Airport, located about 31 miles southwest of Reykjavik.
Numerous companies offer bus transfers from Reykjavik to the airport so it shouldn’t be a problem to catch a ride even if you haven’t reserved a seat in advance. Additionally, they are several other smaller airports which are primarily used for domestic flights—Akureyri Airport near Akureyri in the north and Reykjavik Domestic Airport are the biggest ones.
Icelandair and WowAir offer the most direct flights from the United States. Note that WowAir’s luggage allowance only includes a small bag - if you’d like to bring a normal-size carry-on suitcase with you, there is an additional charge. Icelandair allows you to check-in up to one bag for free.
How widely accepted are credit cards? Do I need to use a PIN?
Credit cards are widely accepted in Iceland. Visa and MasterCard are your best bet, since all Icelandic banks service them.
While most businesses do not require that you use a card with a PIN number, there may be a few occasions where a PIN is required—specifically at some gas stations. Like many places in the U.S., using a debit card for a full tank of gas at the pump may automatically put a significant sum of money (around $200) on hold in your bank account, which is released within a few days. Some gas stations may also require you to go inside and purchase a pre-paid gas card, but you can typically use a credit card for that transaction.
It's also advisable to carry cash in case of absolute emergency; USD or Euros will work in most cases.
Do people tip in Iceland?
While service charges are usually included in your bill in Iceland, you could still tip waiter or guide—10% is usually enough. The truth is that Icelanders receive good wages, and tipping has never been a big part of their culture.
What type of electrical adapter should I bring?
Iceland uses Northern European standards (220 volts), and Europlug sockets with two round prongs. Your adapter should be type "F" or type "C"—both are usually labeled as Northern European. Before you pack your bags, be sure to check the voltage labels on your appliances to determine whether you'll need a converter as well.
Note that most hotels in Iceland have hairdryers in the rooms, so you can leave yours at home. And if you forget to pack your converter or adapter, they're available for purchase at Keflavik Airport and many hotels.
Is Iceland a safe place to travel?
According to the Global Peace Index, Iceland was the safest country in the world in 2017. Violent crimes are extremely rare. While there is an increase in petty crimes, those are directly related to the growth of the country’s tourism industry so exercise your usual level of caution when you are in public places.
Keeping track of the road conditions and the weather should be your number one concern when it comes to safety. Download the 112 Iceland app which helps you call for help in case of emergency and if you are going off the beaten track or hiking in remote areas, you can also use it to check in your locations so if you get lost, the authorities would be able to find you. Vedur is a weather app managed by the Icelandic Meteorological Office, and Iceland Road Guide will help you navigate the country’s roads.
How big is Iceland?
Iceland has an area of 40 thousand square miles and a population of 330,000 (in 2016) people, most of whom live in Reykjavik. The U.S. is about 95 times bigger than Iceland, which is roughly the size of Maine.
Iceland’s main road, the Ring Road, goes around the island and it’s approximately 828 miles. Typical ring road itineraries are between 8 and 12 days.
The most popular attractions in the south can be reached within a couple of hours from Reykjavik, with the farthest one being Vatnajökull Glacier and the Jökulsárlón Lagoon, located 231 miles away from the capital.
What currency is used?
The Icelandic króna (ISK). 100 ISK are worth approximately $1 USD as of this writing in early 2018 - you'll want to check current rates of exchange.
Do I need a visa for Iceland?
U.S. citizens may stay in the country as tourists for up to 90 days without a visa. For a full list of countries that are exempt from a visa, visit Iceland's immigration page. Just make sure your passport is valid for six months beyond your travel dates.
When is the best time of year to visit?
There really is no right answer here—Iceland offers just as many and exciting activities in the winter as it does in the summer.
While winter is usually referred to as the off-season because of the rainy and snowy weather as well as the long nights, it is actually the best of time of the year to see the Northern Lights, go dogsledding, or visit the naturally formed ice caves at Vatnajökull Glacier. Airfare and hotel prices are also lower in the colder months.
For more information, take a look at this article about visiting Iceland in every season.
How many days should I spend in Iceland?
Most people spend between 5 and 10 days in Iceland, though a trip is doable if you have less time. If you are planning on spending only three to four days here, focus on taking day trips from the Reykjavik area—here are some good examples. You'll want to check out the Reykjanes Peninsula, South Coast, and the Golden Circle.
If you have a full week, you can also visit Snaefellsnes Peninsula and some parts of the Westfjords. Ten full days to two weeks will give you plenty of time to drive the entirety of the Ring Road (here's an example itinerary) and explore the entire country on your own. Check out this article to determine how many days is perfect for your visit.
I don’t speak Icelandic. Can I travel independently?
Most adults in Iceland are fluent in English. In fact, finding someone who doesn’t speak English, especially in the service industry is extremely rare.
Is Iceland expensive?
Yes - as of this writing, Iceland is about 74 percent more expensive than the U.S.
A meal in an inexpensive restaurant in Reykjavik will cost you about $20, which is seven percent more than what you would pay in New York City. Liquor is also extremely expensive and all liquor stores, Vínbúdin, are government-owned. You can find the opening hours and locations here. Grocery stores only sell drinks that contain not more than 2.25% alcohol.
If you are traveling on a tight budget and your accommodation type allows it, consider cooking most of your meals. Grocery store chains such as Kronan, Bonus, or Netto are all good options.
How do I get around Iceland?
While it is possible to travel around the country and see its beautiful natural sights as part of multi-day pre-arranged tours, renting a car is your best bet. Iceland has one main road that encircles the entire country so getting lost is not really an option if you only drive along it. Check out this guide to the best road trip options in Iceland.
Of course, if you decide to explore less visited regions such as the West or the Eastfjords, you will need to be aware of the road conditions as well as seasonal road closures. There are also a lot of dirt roads around the country that are only accessible via a 4x4 vehicle. Be extremely careful with driving off road—always look out for road signs that tell you if you are allowed to.
What should I pack?
Despite what its name suggests, Iceland is not actually freezing cold. The climate is milder due to warm currents in the Atlantic Ocean. But if there’s one word that perfectly describes the weather in the land of fire and ice, it’s “unpredictable.”
You really need to be ready for everything—especially if you’re visiting in the winter. Good hiking boots and a wind- and rain-proof jacket are always a must, along with a warm hat, gloves, and scarf. Regardless of the season, bring a bathing suit with you as well since natural geothermal pools abound.
What is the food like?
Seafood is of course very popular in Iceland, as well as lamb and dairy. But don’t worry, if you are vegan or vegetarian, you will not starve here. In recent years, the food scene, especially in Reykjavik, has emerged with exciting new restaurants that serve any type of food.
That being said, you can’t leave without trying some traditional dishes such as fermented shark and skyr (yogurt).
What is the best time to see the Northern Lights?
While Iceland is famous for being a perfect spot to witness the Northern Lights, it is not guaranteed that you’ll be able to see them in the winter. Aurora Borealis displays depend on cloud coverage and the sun’s activity. Your best chance of seeing them is after 11 pm in the winter when it’s darkest outside.
You may need to go on an “aurora hunt” and search for a spot with minimum light pollution, but locals say that if sun’s activity is strong, you can even see this stunning phenomenon from downtown Reykjavik. Here are a few more tips for upping your chances.
Download the Aurora app, which gives you real-time updates on the best locations to see the Northern Lights.
How much daylight is there in the winter?
The shortest days in Reykjavik are at the end of December when the city gets a little over four hours of daylight. In the winter, the sun usually doesn’t rise until after 10:30 am and sets around 4 pm. You'll want to maximize the daylight you have, so check out this article if you're planning a wintery Iceland adventure.