A COMPLETE TRAVEL GUIDE TO PLAN YOUR ICELAND TRIP
A road trip in Iceland can be very different if you travel in Winter or Summer, if you do a self-drive tour or go on a organized trip and how many day you plan, so discover the basics to plan the best trip to Iceland
The Ring Road in Iceland will bring you throughout an unforgettable road trip across landscapes that you never dreamt of, either in a self-drive experience or going on a tour in Iceland.
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT ICELAND
The reason why you should visit Iceland is because it’s the most incredible nature ecosystem in the World. I sincerely don’t know any other place on Planet Earth with more diversity of top nature attractions than Iceland, as you will see a new stunning landscape every 5 minutes on the road and is impossible.
Iceland has waterfalls, glaciers, hot springs, volcanoes, lagoons, black sand beaches, mountains, ice caves and plenty of action to keep your travel itinerary busy for at least 7 days. At the end of this post and the other related ones the names of Ring Road, Golden Circle loop, Blue Lagoon and Snaefellsnes peninsula will be part of your travel vocabulary for a dream Iceland trip!
WHEN TO GO TO ICELAND
Weather is cold all year round, but rarely goes below 0 degrees celsius in Winter and will be reaching a maximum of 17-18 degrees celsius during Summer. It can rain pretty much every day of the year, but is usually drier in Summer. There are basically 2 seasons when deciding to go to Iceland, that can offer you very different experiences of this destination.
Some great reasons to go to Iceland in Autumn or Winter (October to March) is that it’s the best chance to see the Northern lights, Explore Ice caves and walk on glaciers. Disadvantage is that these are shortest days in terms of daylight (in December only 4 hours!), with higher rain/ snow chances , temperatures below zero. Also driving the Iceland Ring Road will be mostly in the dark and greyish weather make travel a little more unpleasant but still an intense journey.
If you are not just flying to Iceland to see the Northern Lights, then the best season to go is Spring or Summer (April to September). With 24 hours daylight in June/July this is the best period to drive around longer periods, hike will be much more interesting and photos will be much brighter and greener.
HOW TO GET TO ICELAND AND GET AROUND
The best way to get to Iceland is by air to Iceland’s International Airport Keflavik. An estimated 95% of visitors does that. The other 5% arrive via cruise ship that docks here for some days. The national airline Iceland Air connects directly to many destinations worldwide. Also some big flight companies like Lufthansa fly to Keflavik as well as low cost carriers such as Norwegian Air. Some American Airlines allow layovers here too.
In terms of getting from Keflavik airport to Reyjkavik , the best option would be by bus, as it costs 13€ and arrives Reykjavik central bus station in 30 minutes. If you prefer a taxi, you will pay 90€ for a 20-minutes ride from the airport to Reykjavik. That’s probably one of the most expensive taxi rides in Europe and usually better if you are going on a 4 or more people group.
So many travellers consider the best option is renting a car in Iceland Airport and then start your self-drive tour. You can pick up a small car, a SUV or a RV Camper, it all depends on your budget, type of driving experience and which accommodation you want to have on your Iceland trip. Driving long distances in Iceland is quite easy as there is very limited traffic outside Reykjavik, roads are in great condition and all the main attractions are accessible from parking lots. You don’t need a 4×4 to drive in Iceland, not even in Winter.
Taking a tour excursion around the Ring Road surely saves you time and hassle of driving, focusing on the most important attractions around Iceland, but does lacks the flexibility to stay longer in some places and go off the beaten path. And surely might be very expensive, if you don’t find the right offers.
WHERE TO STAY IN ICELAND
Accomodation costs can depend hugely on season and class, but usually you shouldn’t get nothing lower that 120 -150 USD/ EUR for a good double room with breakfast, the most premium class rooms can easily get to 250 -300 USD /EUR or more. It’s highly recommended that you book in advance your accomodation on the Ring Road in Iceland, as the options to find a property outside Reykjavik are quite scarce and limited. And last minute deals might be tough to find when driving in the middle of nowhere, as its where you will be most of the times on this road trip.
If you are with a RV camper or have a tent , it will be easier and cheaper but you need to find the indicated camping places as it’s forbidden to sleep near the road or in any non-authorized areas.
One of the many lovely wooden bungalows that can be found across most Iceland countryside (that’s like 90% of Iceland), a great alternative to classic hotels, even if they are all located quite deep into the amazing nature landscapes of this country. This one is in Kirkjubæjarklaustur (yes, almost impossible to pronounce…) and I reserved it via booking.com. Usually you should book in advance as it can be hard to find lodging in the high season.
EATING COSTS IN ICELAND
The exchange rates are usually favorable to top currencies like the Euro, US Dollars and British pounds but it will still be a very expensive country as pretty much all is imported and labor is very expensive – lodging, eating, drinking, gas and car rental are all at the top of the most expensive ones (not by this order, but you get the point!).
Some examples: A simple burger with fries and a beverage will be around 15-20€ and if you go for a “normal” restaurant meal then expect 40€ per person without beverages, Yes, because alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages do have a high cost – so count with 10€ for soft drinks and 15-20€ for a glass of beer or wine, as alcohol has huge taxation to avoid people getting drunk. It doesn’t work as they still drink a lot, but probably you should your spirits low on alcohol.
One of the finest restaurants I was in Iceland, is actually one of the best places to taste the local food – Sidur i Vik. It’s located in Vik, very close to the black sand beach and on your way to the glaciers. Usually its quite crowded, so if possible book in advance. Do try the local beer too besides any of the local specialties such as lamb or reindeer. Expect to pay around 40-50€ per person if you include wine/beer (alcohol taxes here are sky high!) . Might sound expensive for most visitors, but its a great food experience in the heart of some of Iceland’s most beautiful sights
WHAT TO VISIT IN ICELAND
Defining what to visit in Iceland is essential to have the best travel experience. The regions are so diverse, that I will make a summary breakdown of the most interesting sights in each one, but first have a look to the map of Iceland:
- The South , perhaps not so wild like the North, but it does encompass most diverse sights with the dramatic landscape changes every 5 minutes
- The Golden Circle, perhaps the most touristic but still wonderful as it can be done in one day loop, very close to Reykjavik, having a little of everything in very well maintained roads and road signage
- The West with the lovely Snaefellsnes Peninsula. home to the most photographed mountain in Iceland called Kirkjufell and the lovely glacier park plus the highest waterfall in the whole island called Glymur
- The North, very spectacular but with less sights than the South (and less tourists too), so for some the true Iceland spirit if you want some more peacefulness
- The East has a great coastline but is likely the most quickest area to drive through
- The Westfjords is the most isolated area of Iceland and roughest access
- Reykjavik, despite being usually taken as last in almost any ring road trip, it’s worth spending here at least 1/ 2 day
- The Southwest with the world famous Blue Lagoon, very close to the international airport of Keflavik
So I will focus in recommending to explore Iceland in 7 to 10 days travel itinerary, that can be reduced to 5 or stretched to 14 days, with the biggest difference being the time you spend by attraction, how much hiking you want to do and extra activities like Whale watching for example.
BUDGET TO VISIT ICELAND
Your budget to visit Iceland depends on your transportation mean, where you stay, where you eat and which activities you do. An average budget to visit Iceland will be 3000 Euros or 3500 US dollars for 10 days. This means that your daily budget when visiting Iceland should be roughly 300€ or 350 USD per person.
Of course the value per day will go up or down depending on what you choose to do in terms of travel options, but even a budget traveller can expect to spend 200 Euros or 250 US dollars per day. It’s expensive but extremely worth visiting Iceland.
HOW MANY DAYS TO VISIT ICELAND
Even if its possible to drive the whole island in 24 hours almost non-stop, you need to plan which attractions to visit by region, in order to estimate how many days you need to visit Iceland.
Rule of thumb is that a trip to visit whole Iceland should be done in a 7 to 10 days travel itinerary.
The usual sequence is that you start with the ring road counter-clockwise, so first visiting South Iceland, then East coast followed by Northern Iceland, then Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Whale Fjord, finalizing in Reykjavyk. And then you still have the interior like the Golden circle loop and Stöng area and finally the Blue Lagoon not far from the airport.
If you have more than 10 days to visit Iceland , then do more activities and slow down your pace in between Iceland Ring road trip. If you only have 5 days to travel in Iceland skip the East and North Coast of Iceland
I will cover the best 7 to 10 days Iceland road trip itinerary in another post.
If you have any questions or want to leave your opinion or send me a message!
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My name is Renato Azambujo. I live currently in Hamburg, but was born and raised in sunny capital of Portugal, Lisbon. I also lived in Switzerland for some years, before settling in Germany for the last years.
I am huge passionate about travel, photographer and a global explorer, always looking to the next destination.
I have so far visited over 70 countries across the 5 continents, because I really love knowing about new places, interact with different cultures and get to know myself better after each journey.
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