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How to travel in Iceland- essential tips and tricks

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Are you planning to travel in Iceland? Iceland is a Nordic island country and is one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe. Plenty of people travel to Iceland every year for many reasons – such as the opportunity to see the northern lights and soak in the Blue Lagoon. If you’re travelling to Iceland soon or at least considering it – then read on for everything you need to know about travel in Iceland!

Travel in Iceland – tourism overview

Tourism in Iceland has become increasingly popular in recent years – and rightly so, as Iceland is one of the most unique countries in the world! In 2016, the tourism industry is estimated to contribute about 10 percent of Iceland’s GDP and in 2017 the number of inbound tourists exceeded 2,000,000 for the first time ever. In fact, in 2016 Keflavik Airport, the main airport of Iceland saw a 40% increase in arrivals who visited Iceland – and Iceland’s total population is 330,000 – so there are more tourists than locals! In 2014, the number of people working in tourism-related industries came to 21,600 which amounted to 10% of Iceland’s total workforce, so as you can see, tourism in Iceland is very popular!

It wasn’t always like this, however. It wasn’t until the very early 1980s that inbound tourists started increasing slowly. It never exceeded 80,000 tourists in a single year, until the 2000s! So why did numbers increase then? Iceland became much more accessible, such as developing more airline routes globally and social media helped play a major role in promoting the fantastic country!

Iceland is such a great country, that even the locals don’t want to leave it! In 2017, about 84% of Icelanders were domestic tourists according to the Icelandic Tourist Board. North and South Iceland were the most popular destinations for Icelanders and they mainly visited pools and museums during their travels the most!

For inbound tourists, the majority of tourists were from the UK, USA, France, Norway and Germany. In addition to this, around 42% of tourists arrived during summer, making summer the most popular season! Iceland is a great destination for many types of tourism. However, the most prevalent type of tourism that attracts people to visit Iceland is nature tourism due to Iceland being the most popular for its natural landscapes. 98.7% of tourists arrived at Keflavík International Airport in 2016, and 22 000 tourists arrived via the ferry in Seydisfjörðu, and finally, 7 000 tourists arrived via the local airports in Akureyri and Egilsstaðir, therefore, if you visit Iceland you will most likely arrive by air!

Sustainable tourism in Iceland

travel in Iceland

Sustainable tourism in Iceland is another vital part of Iceland’s overall appeal to tourists. As Iceland is very famous for its nature, then that also comes with wanting to preserve it, and as tourism increases, so does the need to prioritise sustainable tourism. It’s become a challenge for the government as they need to find a balance between stopping physical loss of the environment whilst still maintaining financial gain.

The government of Iceland has come up with some ways to make sure that sustainable tourism in Iceland is prioritised. For example, they have urged tourists to take care of nature by not littering and doing nothing that would damage the biodiversity. Many attractions in Iceland, such as the glaciers, volcanoes and hot springs have signage with special rules for visitors to follow when visiting. It is very important that all visitors observe these rules as otherwise they can be fined and even possibly face deportation.

Every Icelander is incredibly proud and proactive when it comes to keeping their country’s environment clean and spotless. Due to this, it’s really important that tourists follow the rules and are respectful, as otherwise, locals may start having an issue with sharing their country. Luckily, there are plenty of litter bins on every street, which helps ensure tourists do their part in helping keep the country spotless.

Svínafellsjökull, one of the most popular glaciers for guiding has recently been lost. However, this wasn’t due to overtourism, instead, climate change was to blame. This glacier was also known as ‘the Hollywood Glacier’, and appeared in TV shows such as Game of Thrones and movies like Batman and Interstellar. What’s left behind of this famous glacier, is now an exposed rock face that is prone to massive landslides, making it very deadly. Therefore, sustainable tourism is very important for helping preserve nature for the long term!

There is also a pledge that tourists can participate in if they wish – and it’s also a fun way to help educate children about the environment in Iceland if you are travelling with kids!

The best places to stay in Iceland

If you are planning to travel in Iceland there are plenty of great places to stay, here are my top picks-

Room With A View Hotel – Located in the centre of beautiful Reykjavík Room With a View Hotel really does have one of the best views in the whole of Iceland! It’s a short walk from Hallgrímskirkja Church, and there are plenty of shops nearby – even though you will hardly need to visit them as there is a delightful restaurant located in the hotel. Each family room is spacious and modern, complete with an airy balcony to take in the fresh Icelandic air on. There is also free WiFi for all guests as well as the hotel offers tours at an unmissable price.

ODDSSON Hotel – Situated in Reykjavík, ODDSSON Hotel is complete with luxurious modern rooms, that all have a HD flat-screen TV, as well as an ensuite bathroom, with a fantastic selection of amenities. All rooms are individually decorated and come with free WiFi, a wardrobe, desk and drink making facilities. What’s more is that there is a delicious buffet breakfast included in the price for guests to feast on before their big day of adventuring Iceland.

R13 Town House Hotel – Just 1.8 miles from Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach, this is the perfect hotel for those wishing to feel more at home. It’s located in Reykjavík and has lots of fantastic features for guests such as fast, free WiFi and express check-in – ensuring your stay is seamless! Each cosy room comes with a seating area to lounge on, a flat-screen TV with plenty of channels to watch, as well as a fully stocked private bathroom with every item you may need. Every morning, guests are served a big continental breakfast to suit all tastes!

Thorbrandsstadir Hotel – This relaxing hotel is sure to make your stay in Iceland amazing! If you’re renting a car to travel around Iceland with, then there is free private parking is available on site, however, there is also the opportunity to rent a car at the hotel. There is also unlimited free WiFi for all guests and rooms have a shared bathroom that is cleaned daily. Guests are also able to enjoy various activities nearby such as fishing and hiking.

Husavik Cape Hotel – Recently renovated, this 1950s hotel overlooks Skjálfandi Bay. Each room has its own comfortable bed, powerful shower and free WiFi for all guests to use. Every room also has stunning views of either the quaint town or stunning bay, and each comes with drink making facilities and cookies! It is only a 3-minute walk away from the town centre, meaning it’s very accessible! Hiking trails are right outside of the property, as well as whale watching and bird watching are other popular activities here!

Essential items to pack for travel in Iceland

Travel in Iceland can be very expensive – so make sure you keep the prices down and don’t forget these essential items to pack for travel in Iceland before you go:

  • TrailBuddy Walking Pole – If you’re planning on hiking in Iceland, then you’ll need these amazing, sturdy but lightweight walking poles. These walking poles are built to last and are strong enough to withstand all weather conditions. It’s a must-have for any avid hiker in Iceland!
  • How Iceland Changed the World: Big History of a Small Island This lovely little book offers a fascinating and unique insight into Icelandic culture. It’s a must-read before or whilst travelling in Iceland and it might make you wish were Icelandic, too.
  • StyleSlice Thick Wollen Tartan Scarf – Choose from a wide variety of colours, all accompanied by a beautiful tartan plaid, these warm winter scarfs are sure to keep you warm in the cool Icelandic weather. They are so soft and warm that they feel like cotton on the skin.
  • Accsa Fleece Women’s Cable Hat – Look stylish in this chunky knitted wool hat in a vast range of colours to choose from! The hat even has a windproof effect – which will definitely come in handy in Iceland. It’s warm, stylish and will keep you cosy in the cold!
  • Lonely Planet Iceland – Every traveller’s best friend – this is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip on your visit to wonderful Iceland!

The best things to do in Iceland

What are some of the best things to do in Iceland? There are so many to choose from! However, here are the most unmissable things to do in Iceland:

1. Hallgrimskirkja

travel in Iceland

Hallgrimskirkja is the largest church in the country – and one of the most iconic churches in the world! Towering over the centre of the beautiful Reykjavik, it is 73-metres high in total and provides wonderful 360° views at the top of the tower. From there, you can see all of Reykjavik, the mountains surrounding and the ocean stretching to Greenland and the Americas. It’s one of the top-visited destinations in Reykjavik – and rightly so! Make sure you pay special attention and try to spot the organ pipes, as they are especially impressive. A stop here is certainly worth it as you can get breathtaking views all over the city!

2. Black Sand Beach

travel in Iceland

Black Sand Beach is a very unique attraction to visit in Iceland. As you can probably tell by the name, the sand is black here due to the Volcanoes in the area. The cliffs here are also simply stunning, and add lots to the overall atmosphere of the place. If you love birds, then you’re in luck as there are so many species to spot here – it’s an especially great place to spot puffins! Remember to take some binoculars if you want to spot the birds nesting – this pair of binoculars are fantastic! Remember to watch out for the rip tides and don’t go near the water as waves are unpredictable and there are warning signs at the beach – it’s not a beach to swim on. 

Tip: Visit after 4 pm, as it gets very busy in peak hours of the day!

3. Drangey Island

travel in Iceland

Immerse yourself in nature and spectacular scenery whilst exploring the complex Drangey Island – there is so much to see here. Be escorted around the island, being told folk stories and facts about puffins for an entire day as you explore what this magical island has to offer. Lie on the edge of the cliffs for a bit whilst you observe the hundreds of puffins which fly by every minute – they get so close you can hear their wings flapping, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. There are also plenty of other birds on this island, such as razorbills and gulls, as well as lots of fantastic scenery to emerge yourself in!

4. Perlan

Perlan is the number one attraction in Rejkajvik! There are so many things to do here, it’s guaranteed you won’t be bored! For instance, there is Iceland’s only Planetarium here and it is a promise you’ll get a spectacular Northern Lights show here – any day you visit! There’s even a real ice cave, made from 350 tonnes of mountain ice and volcanic ash, as well as rooms that are designed to safely simulate what an earthquake feels like. The learning doesn’t stop there as there are plenty of exciting exhibits to discover. The dome at the top is also a fantastic place to sit and have a drink whilst looking over Iceland. You can also soar through the air on the 230-meter zipline, reaching speeds of up to 50kmph! After all that learning and adventuring, you can relax and eat refreshing food in one of the many places to eat in Perlan – there’s even an ice cream parlour if you’re not too cold from the ice cave still!

5. Gunnuhver Hot Springs

travel in Iceland

If you are making your way around the peninsula, or have to pass some time after your arrival at Keflavik, a great place to visit is Gunnuhver Hot Springs! The hot spring has a steam vent that is furiously steaming constantly and the surrounding landscape is pocked with sulfur staining and springs. Below the surface, the temperature of the ground (and water in it) often reaches 300° C – which is very hot! Most of the water found underground, comes from the sea nearby, meaning it is full of minerals. There is also plenty of bubbling, boiling mud pools, which are formed by acidic groundwater sources, which turn lava into clay – so they are very powerful! The largest mud pool in Iceland also is located here, it is 20 m long and boils constantly, so if you see it, be sure to stay well away!

6. Volcano Eyjafjallajokull

travel in Iceland

A visit to Eyjafjallajokull is a great lesson in the power of the 2010 volcano and the surrounding farmland, as the destruction is still visible. Eyjafjallajokull is one of the few stratovolcanoes still found in Iceland to this day. This means that there is an ice cap that covers a caldera of a volcano, this means that a glacier has the ability to erupt – and it has before… In 2010, Eyjafjallajökull famously erupted causing which wreaked havoc on air travel all the way to Europe as massive ash clouds formed! If you love nature tourism, adventure tourism, or even just volcanoes in general – then you will definitely enjoy a visit to this spectacular volcano!

Unique things to do in Iceland

If you prefer doing some more unique things when you travel in Iceland, then here are some once in a lifetime experiences that I highly recommend:

  • Reykjavik Food Walk – If you’re a foodie, then you will love this food walk all around Reykjavik to discover all the best, tastiest Icelandic cuisine! You will stop by plenty of different places to eat, such as restaurants to food trucks, in order to taste only the best Icelandic food! Some food that you will definitely be sure to try is Icelandic cheeses, lamb, homemade ice cream, and the famous Icelandic hot dogs. As you venture to get your hands on these delicious items, you will also pass by all of the famous landmarks, where your tour guide will be sure to explain them all to you – food and a tour of Reykjavik at the same time, what’s not to love?
  • Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon & Kerid Volcanic Crater – Utilise your time in Iceland by embarking on a jam-packed day of the country’s key attractions with a small group, to make it all feel more personal. First of all, you will drive around the stunning Golden Circle and stop at Thingvellir, Geysir Hot Spring, Gullfoss, and the Kerid volcanic crater along the way. Your guide will explain everything to you and answer any questions you may have! Afterwards, you will get to let off steam and soak in the geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon.
  • Whale Watching Cruise on Superyacht – View Iceland from a completely different perspective and spot the native wildlife during this whale-watching cruise from the Old Harbor. The modern yacht has all the best features to make your cruise memorable, such as panoramic viewing windows if you want to stay warm inside! While you sail in the sea, keep your eyes peeled for lots of different types of whales in the water, as Iceland has lots but mainly minke, humpback, and sometimes even killer whales. Additionally, if you don’t see any wildlife on the tour, you receive a ticket for another day – so it’s a win.
  • Snowmobile Adventure on Langjokull Glacier – Zoom through snow and ice on a snowmobile in Langjokull, which is one of Iceland’s largest glaciers – how many people will have done that?! Ride in a 4×4 monster ice truck, whilst also enjoying a guided tour of all the best Icelandic scenery as you journey to the glacier. This is definitely not for the fainthearted – your adrenaline will be pumping!

Tips and tricks for travel in Iceland

Of course, when you travel in Iceland, you’re going to want to know some of the best tips and tricks to make your travel in Iceland smooth and stressfree – here are my best:

  • Take a reusable water bottle and try the tap water. Iceland’s tap water is clean and fresh – probably one of the freshest anywhere in the world, so save yourself some money whilst helping the environment by taking a reusable water bottle with you – these are my favourite.
  • If you drink, then buy alcohol at duty-free! This is strangely, one of the cheapest ways to have cheap tax-free alcohol in Iceland, so if you’re on a budget then this is the best tip to remember.
  • Only camp at designated campsites, as Iceland has rules against camping where it’s not allowed and if you break these rules, you will be fined heavily.
  • Pack for all types of weather because Iceland experiences all types of weather and it can be hard what to predict! A good general rule of thumb to follow is to bring a raincoat and warm hat, as well as some lighter layers.
  • Bring your swimming suit, when you think of Iceland, you probably don’t think it will be somewhere warm like California – and you’re right to think that way, however, if you want to bathe in the thermal baths or hot tubs dotted everywhere, then you’ll need to bring your swimming suit.
  • Renting a car is a good cheap way to travel around Iceland at your own pace, so if you’re legal to drive then I really recommend that you consider it as an alternative!

Travel in Iceland – conclusion

I hope that this article about travel in Iceland has helped you learn something about travel in Iceland! Have you ever been to Iceland? What tips would you recommend for travel in Iceland? If you’d like some further reading, I’d suggest these: