Updated: Jun 6, 2019
Traveling to Iceland? In this two part series, we will look at some basic information regarding traveling to Iceland , 10 things you should know before your trip along with important travel tips and information!
Iceland was relatively an unknown tourist destination about 10 years ago, until back in 2010 when one of the volcanoes there called - Eyjafjallajökull (yeah try pronouncing that!) erupted and caused major havoc for flights traveling over Europe thus throwing the spotlight on this small country located in the North Atlantic ocean!
Despite being in the spotlight, it was for all the wrong reasons. A major volcanic eruption meant that now tourists were even more reluctant to come here owing to concerns about safety and what not! It was at this moment that the government of Iceland decided to start online campaigns and advertisements marketing Iceland as one of the safest and happiest countries in the world! And boom! the very next year Iceland had one of it's busiest tourist seasons.
Fast forward to 2018, the number of tourists visiting Iceland have skyrocketed since 2010. As per the latest news and reports , the number of tourists that visited Iceland in 2017 was a whopping 2 Million! which is almost six times their population. One of the main reasons for this influx of tourists is the dramatic landscapes that Iceland has to offer, couple this with beautiful waterfalls, glacier and northern lights and you got probably one of the best tourist hot spots on the planet!In this blog we will look at all the important things you need to know before your trip to Iceland. I hope that this blog will help you in planning better for your trip to Iceland :)
Iceland is part of Schengen and hence the same rules that apply for Schengen visa applies to Iceland. Basically if you are a US, EU, UK or Canadian citizen you can travel to Iceland without a visa but the duration of travel should not exceed 90 days. Citizens of all other countries must need to apply for a Schengen visa before traveling to Iceland.This website lists all the things you need to know for applying a visa like where to apply, documents required etc.
HOW TO GET TO ICELAND?
Despite being remotely located in the North Atlantic ocean, getting here is much easier than what most people think.There are basically two ways to get to Iceland - by air or by sea
Keflavik International airport in the capital city of Reykjavik is the gateway for most passengers flying into Iceland(Iceland also has a domestic airport - RKV) and is well connected to many states within continental U.S and also to many other countries in Europe. The two major airlines are IcelandAir and the budget friendly WOWAir and both these airlines offer excellent connectivity from almost all the major cities in Mainland US, Europe and UK.
Iceland can also be reached by ferry from Denmark or Faroe Islands! This service is operated by Faroese company, Smyril Line.
BEST TIME TO VISIT?
The question "When is the best time to visit Iceland?" is a hard one to answer , the reason being it entirely depends on what you want to see! Iceland has four seasons and sometimes you can have all four of those seasons in one day! (not kidding). So, no matter what season you plan to go remember that weather is always unpredictable in Iceland!
Summer season usually starts in late May or early June and lasts through August and is considered to be most popular season for tourism. June and July months offer extended daylight hours (midnight sun peaks on June 21) , thus offering tourists more time to spend outside and not worry about the day getting dark.
On the contrary, this also means that prices will be considerably higher during summer months, so plan your trip in advance if you want to avoid paying exorbitant rates. Spring is also considered a great time to visit Iceland and is kind of the shoulder season here so prices are comparatively lower than summer season. Spring months are mostly April and May and weather can be anything from snow and rain to bright sunny days and temperature averages between 0-10°C. This is also the season when migrating birds start visiting Iceland i.e. You get a good chance to see Puffins :)
Autumn in Iceland starts late August and usually stays on until October. It's still relatively warm in August but then keeps getting colder as the month progresses! Aurora season typically starts from September 15 but you are not always guaranteed a sighting as it all depends on how the weather looks! Weather can be really windy, wet and quite cold during this season!Winter in Iceland are the months from November to March and are some the coldest and darkest months of the year.
One of the main reasons for tourists visiting Iceland in winter is for seeing the glorious Northern Lights , which are very popular among tourists. Winter is considered to be a cheaper season for traveling although you must note that travel during Christmas and New Year's can be really expensive!
PRO TIP: So, to summarize, I would recommend that the best months to visit Iceland would be from May - September. But if you absolutely want to see the Northern lights , then I would suggest going in winter months like November or March.
GETTING AROUND - RENT A CAR OR BOOK A TOUR?
One of the dilemmas that tourists often face when visiting Iceland is whether to rent a car or book tours with companies? My answer is that there are pros and cons to both these approaches.
I personally went with tour companies on both my trips to Iceland and did not regret it for one moment!
However, if you are planning on an extended road trip around the Ring Road of Iceland then your best option would be to rent a car as booking tours for multi day tours could get expensive. For more information on how to plan an extended road trip with tips about renting a car and a suggested itinerary please visit my other blog here.
On the other hand, if your stay in Iceland is for a shorter duration(~ 4-5 days) , then booking with tour agencies can be a better option. One of the reasons for that is because of the extensive network of tour companies that are available and the fact that almost all of them offer exceptional service and customer satisfaction! I never really had a bad experience with any tour company in Iceland!If you are still confused, you can check out my blog on all the recommended places to visit in Iceland, see which ones interest you and then decide whether you actually need a car or not!
ACCOMMODATIONS - WHERE TO STAY?
Iceland offers a wide range of accommodations for every budget - from basic Airbnb's and Hostels to cozy guesthouses and luxury hotels. Depending on where you want to stay you will definitely have a few options to choose from.Most of the tourists visiting Iceland tend to usually stay in Reykjavik and use it as their base for covering the rest of the places in Iceland. Below you will find the list of hotels and hostels for various budget ranges.
NOTE: Iceland is an expensive country, period! So don't expect really low cost hotels when you begin planning for your trip. Even as a Solo traveler I had to pay around $300 for a 5 night stay in a 4 bed dormitory. So you can imagine the rates for private rooms with a queen bed for couples!I would suggest booking through Booking.com.
You can use my referral link and if you book through this link we both get a $20 credit :) . All you have to do is open the referral link, either sign in/register and then search for your choice from the options below!
SOLO TRAVELERS: If you are a solo traveler (like me!) and looking for budget accommodations in Reykjavik then below are some good options.
1. Bus Hostel Reykjavik : This hostel is located nearby downtown Reykjavik and is one of the best options for solo travelers and it's relatively cheap and the rooms are well maintained and clean.
2. Reykjavik Downtown HI Hostel : Similar to Bus Hostel, this one is also a very good option for solo travelers and offers many budget friendly dorm options. One more plus point is the location - its centrally located in the downtown area.
3. Reykjavik City HI Hostel : Yet another HI group hostel which is located in the downtown region. Lots of cheap dorms are available making it a great option for Solo Travelers
4. Loft HI Hostel : Loft Hostel is a new hostel in downtown Reykjavik! It is located on Reykjavik main street and is really close to all the bars and restaurants
FOR COUPLES & OTHERS:I f you are traveling with your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend or with a group then below options might be more suitable for you. Remember that some of these hotels are on the expensive side but you get a lot of good amenities and ample space.
1. Fosshotel Group of Hotels : Fosshotel are a group of hotels scattered across downtown Reykjavik. They offer plenty of ranges when it comes to room pricing and options. You can click on the link to select the hotel you like best!
2. Downtown Reykjavik Apartments : As the name suggests, Downtown Reykjavik Apartments offers both luxurious and economical apartments right in the heart of Reykjavik , next to the main shopping street.
3. Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina : This is a 4-star hotel so needless to say is a bit on the expensive side, but if you don't splurging then this is definitely a good option for you :)
AIRBNB: Last but not least, there are plenty of Airbnb options available in and around Reykjavik area. You can explore your options using this link.
If you don't have a Airbnb account, you can sign up using my referral link here (You'll get $40 in travel credit when you sign up using this link!)