Iceland is on almost everyone’s bucket list, whether you like cold weather or not. To start your planning the first factor in decision making is what out of the many things to do interest you. Once you’ve got your list, then decide the time of year you will need to travel.
Low Season Oct to Apr, Shoulder Months May & Sept, High Season Jun to Aug
Aurora Borealis – Sep to Apr (longer nights)
Ice caves – Nov to Mar (except for Katla Volcano/Myrdalsjokull glacier ice cave)
Dog-sledding/Snowmobiling/Skiing/Snowboarding – Nov to Mar
Puffin Watching – May to Aug
Midnight Sun – May to Aug (shorter nights)
Hiking/Atving – May to Aug
Secret Soltice Festival – Jun (Music events in a lava tunnel or inside a glacier!)
Attractions that are year-round are the blue lagoon, horse-back riding, diving silfra (tectonic plates).
Attractions by region
Next is to figure out how many days you will need because Iceland is large. A crucial component is where will you stay? I would definitely recommend deciding which regions you don’t want to miss and mapping out your itinerary. If you just want to graze the surface you can stay centrally in Reykjavik, if you want to explore various parts of the country I would not recommend staying the entirety of your trip solely in Reykjavik.
Northwest– Isafjordur town, Dynjandi waterfall, Hvitserkur view, Stykkisholmur
town, Kirkjufell Mountain, Hellnar view, Budir Church, Hraunfossar falls, Hvitserkur view.
Northeast – Eyjafjordur fjord, Dettifoss waterfall, Myvatn lake, Akureyri city, Siglufjordur town
Southwest – Reykjavik, Blue lagoon, Golden circle (Pingvellir Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir geothermal, Haifoss waterfall, Gjain waterfall, Skogafoss waterfall, Seljanlandsfoss waterfall
South – Solheimassandur Beach abandoned airplane, Vik town, Dyrholaey view/Reynisfjara black sand beach/ Reynisdeangar rock view/ basalt rock columns (all in the same location)
Southeast – Svartifoss waterfall/Skaftafell cave, Diamond black sand beach/Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon (Both are across the road from eachother), Hofn village, Vestrahorn mountain/Stokksnes Beach (Entrance fee required)
Getting around in Iceland
Most people rent a car or an RV (most have cooking equipment), there are tons of campsites with showers, or you can use some of the cheaper thermal baths. Keep in mind during the winter many roads are closed. Driving from the south to the north or east to west can take 4-8 hours each way. When driving please take note of your speed, as speeding tickets can cost you several hundred dollars. Roads are narrow but well paved. Parking is free at most attractions, except for some. There is free parking in the cities on Sundays. Gas is extremely expensive and gas stations are rarely 24 hours. You may need to set up a pin with your credit card company in advance to use at the pumps. Or, you will have to buy a pre-paid card inside the gas station. (I used credit cards everywhere, didn’t need to exchange dollars to kronas)
I had to learn a lesson the hard way, I set my car rental pickup for exactly when I landed and after shopping at duty-free by the time I got to the counter all the automatic cars were gone. Go straight for your car or you may lose it, companies run out of automatic vehicles quickly. You can also fly inter-Iceland on Air Iceland Connect, which flies to 14 Icelandic airports.
As with anything nature involved, there’s no guarantee you’ll see auroras, it depends on the clarity of the sky and of course, you would have to drive away from city lights for less distortion. I’d recommend keeping track of the aurora forecasts (tons of forecasting sites if you google it) as you’d probably have to hunt for them if you are there several nights.
My suggestion for the Blue Lagoon is to research the time for sunset during your visit. Arrive 1-2 hours before the sunset so you get the sun at peak daytime and then the nighttime colorful hues. The sulfur is actually great for your skin but ruins your hair, pack extra conditioner or put your hair up. If you are a germaphobe, walk with water shoes and your own towel.
Finding deals is almost impossible, seriously they charge for coupon books and maps in Iceland. I found an app called Icelandic Coupons that offers some discounts. You can research the Iceland pass to see if you would use all of the benefits, I opted not to.
When it came to food I opted to buy groceries and cook, which was time-consuming after 10-hour drives each day. Definitely try Icelandic Salmon lock, fish jerky, and my favorite Astarpungar, which is similar to a doughnut. Restaurants are expensive, for example, fries is 10USD. I had an in-expensive soup at the noodle station, which has a few chains around Iceland. The Icewear store in Laugavegur 91 – Magasín 101 Reykjavík, has a free hot chocolate/coffee machine. I definitely recommend buying beverages at the airport as it is much more inexpensive than the city. At the airport when you arrive, any stores/restaurants upstairs prior to immigration won’t allow you to make a purchase until you pass immigration and go downstairs.
Below are some things I recommend to pack. Pack raincoats and phone protection due to the mist at the waterfalls and the frequent damp weather. Collapsible water bottles, since tap available everywhere and drinkable. Waterproof footwear with a great grip is needed, terrain to attractions are on gravel, rocks and slippery grass. For instance, the plane wreck is a 45-minute walk in each direction on slippery gravel. Other things to pack are sandwich bags for snacks on the long drives, lip balm, and hand lotion as the weather brings dry skin, extra bags to store wet clothes, electronic adaptors and battery backup, a USB car socket.
Link to tours – GetYourGuide