Iceland Travel Guide
Iceland has quickly become one of the top travel destinations in the world, but it still feels like a well-kept secret. Perhaps that's because of its stunning natural beauty, or the swaths of open land with nothing but Icelandic horses and occasional waterfalls to remind you that you aren't completely alone. It is a country of not only natural wonder, but also thriving local culture, known for hospitality and a strong national pride in its history and mythology.
From the Blue Lagoon to the iconic Skogafoss waterfall, Iceland's scenery is the stuff of legend — sometimes quite literally, as many of its most well-known destinations have been referenced in Viking mythology and classic literature. When you visit, prepare to be awash in natural beauty; around every bend in the road is another vista so gorgeous it doesn't seem quite real.
Greenwich Mean Time
Best Time to Go
Iceland is a country of extremes in many ways, and the best time to visit depends entirely on how you'd like to spend your trip. Peak viewing season for the northern lights is September through March, but the country also gets quite cold during this time and daylight lasts only about five hours. The period between early June and late August sees temperate weather for visiting natural wonders and experiencing the entire Ring Road, but bring a sleeping mask — at the height of summer, the sun sets for only three hours.
Things to Know
Iceland is one of the most stunning places in the world, with incredible vistas and natural wonders seemingly around every bend. As a result, ecologists and environmentalists recommend not eating puffin or whale — sometimes offered to tourists — and following the leave no trace rule: When visiting these natural attractions, take all of your trash with you and stick to marked paths to avoid harming the land. You may also spot horses during your visit to the country, but don't feed or pet them.
Iceland has been working hard to revitalize its tourism since its financial crisis spanning 2008 to 2011. Local airline Icelandair offers deals for stopovers in the country, and you can usually fly to Reykjavik and then on to another major European city for about the same cost as traveling directly to the European destination. Locals are quite friendly and helpful, and Iceland's crime rate is extremely low. It's a safe and exciting place to travel alone, should solo travel be your plan.
Towns and Cities to Know
Reykjavik: Vibrant, welcoming, and gorgeous, Reykjavik is the capital and most popular tourist destination in Iceland. It's close to the airport and in the middle of some of Iceland's most famous landmarks. It's easy to visit them, too; shuttle tours depart regularly from the city, and deals are offered for more comprehensive packages.
Akureyri: Sometimes referred to as the capital of North Iceland, Akureyri is a port town that's home to some of the most gratifying whale watching in the world, with several tours guaranteeing sightings in the summer. The Akureyri Botanical Garden, founded in 1912, is famous for its vibrant flora and walking paths. An ideal destination for nature lovers, Akureyri also offers tours to nearby natural wonders, including options on horseback.
Húsavík: Húsavík is home to Húsavíkurkirkja, a must-see wooden church built in 1904 and a major reason people travel to Iceland. Visitors will also enjoy the town's many biology and cultural museums, as well as the Húsavík Whale Museum. Whale watching from Húsavík is lovely, with several species frequenting the bay.
Höfn: A fishing town in the southeast, Höfn is primarily known for its scenic views of the Vatnajökull glacier, the largest ice cap in Europe. Surrounded by shoals and beaches, Höfn has also served as a filming location for a few James Bond and Tomb Raider movies, among others.
Vík í Mýrdal: A village of just 300 people, Vík í Mýrdal (or just Vík) is nevertheless one of the most popular stops on the Ring Road for those taking the south coast sightseeing route. Two of Iceland's most famous waterfalls — Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss — are between Reykjavik and Vík, making the two-and-a-half hour drive more than worth it. On clear days, the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers can both be seen, but Vík's biggest draw is Reynisfjara, a black-sand beach and one of Iceland's most famous natural landmarks.
Vestmannaeyjar: The islands of Vestmannaeyjar (or the Westman Islands) are reachable by ferry — or a bus and a ferry, if you choose to visit from Reykjavik. A volcanic archipelago featuring some of Iceland's most diverse wildlife, the Westman Islands are a must-visit for anyone wanting to be at one with nature.
Ísafjörður: Home to Iceland's popular musical festivals — the Ísafjörður Rock Festival and Við Djúpið Music Festival — Ísafjörður is a music lover's dream. Surrounded by sweeping vistas, these events offer a truly unique experience.
How to Get Around
There is one main highway in Iceland, called the Ring Road or Route 1. And as you might expect based on the name, it goes all the way around the country. Many of Iceland's most famous and beautiful natural wonders can be found near the Ring Road. There are several smaller roads off the route, but the Ring Road is by far the most traveled and central.
Most travelers start in Reykjavik, the city closest to Keflavik Airport. There are shuttles from the airport to Reykjavik, some with stops at the Blue Lagoon for those wanting to take a refreshing, post-flight dip in its famous warm waters. Reykjavik also has a public bus service, the Strætó.
It's easy to visit the most well-known natural sightseeing locations around Reykjavik, as there are several tour companies offering regular trips in all manner of combinations, whether you want to visit just one or everything within a three-mile radius of Reykjavik. There are also several car rental options, if you prefer to extend your trip beyond Reykjavik and explore along the Ring Road.
Things to Do
Wherever you go in Iceland, it's easy to find boutique shops, locally owned cafes, craft stores, and the like, but here's what's best in Reykjavik.
From September through March, daylight in Iceland lasts only about five hours; at the height of summer, the sun only sets for three hours. Spring has a ratio of day to night that many tourists will be accustomed to. (Pack warm clothing or sleep masks accordingly.) Iceland's summer weather rarely breaks 65°F, with average temperatures around 55°F. The winter months are kept comparatively temperate by mild air off the Gulf Stream, with average temperatures around 33°F.
The following are average Fahrenheit lows and highs by month:
January: 36°F to 28°F
February: 37°F to 28°F
March: 39°F to 30°F
April: 43°F to 34°F
May: 50°F to 39°F
June: 54°F to 45°F
July: 57°F to 48°F
August: 57°F to 46°F
September: 51°F to 43°F
October: 45°F to 37°F
November: 39°F to 32°F
December: 44°F to 32°F
Apps to Download
I Traveled to Iceland During the COVID-19 Pandemic — and It Was Made for Social DistancingRemote luxury workcations, exquisite food, and at-the-border testing could put Iceland on an elite list of super-safe destinations once it fully reopens.