As Iceland has grown in popularity as a tourist destination, more companies have been created to cater to its visitors. Hotels, hostels, BnBs, and excursion providers have popped up all over the country in the last few decades. This provides more choice and diversity for the people who want to experience the country’s beauty. Now, more than ever, it is possible to have an enriching, but affordable, Iceland vacation.
Where to Vacation in Iceland
The majority of visitors here base themselves in the country’s capital, Reykjavík. The city provides easy access to some of Iceland’s most popular destinations, e.g. the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle. It’s also close to the country’s only international airport, Keflavík. This airport is only a 45-minute drive from the capital, which you can get to either by coach or taxi. Or, you can collect your rental car at the airport and begin your road adventure immediately.
One option is to jump in your rental car, join the ring road (Route 1) and drive around the country. You can visit places at your leisure, relying on research and local knowledge to guide you. There are an abundance of volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs, and lava fields all across Iceland, waiting to be explored. You could have an independent holiday, going where the wind takes you. Iceland is not a huge country and can be driven around in a few days, if you rush. But it’s best to take it slow and experience all the country has to offer.
You’ll want to spend at least a week on the ring road; many visitors spend two weeks on this route. The westfjords, the north-west area of the country, is worth spending at least a few days in. Besides the ring road, there are also the highlands. This is the interior of Iceland, and it’s almost completely uninhabited for most of the year. In the highlands, you’ll find incredible hiking trails, some that take several days, as well as many volcanoes and glaciers. In your rental car, you can find all of this out for yourself, at whatever pace you choose. Or, you could join guided tours and let the local experts take the reins, as you relax and enjoy.
Iceland Tour Packages
You could make your own way around the country in your rental car. Or, you could take advantage of some Iceland trip packages, whereby you can leave the driving to expert guides.
If you’re in the south, head to Landmannalaugar Tours. Their tours cover much of south-west Iceland, including the famous Golden Circle. If you’re keen to head into Iceland’s uninhabited interior, the highlands, Landmannalaugar Tours can take you there. They also offer a northern lights bus tour, taking you to places where the lights are most likely to appear. This tour, of course, only runs at night time in and over the winter period, from September to April.
For the north of Iceland, head to Visit Askja. Their tours can take you to volcanic craters, into ice caves, and alongside glacial lakes and waterfalls. Askja Tours and Excursions are a wonderful way to experience the wonders of Iceland nature. Trips to Iceland are not complete without having experienced these phenomena. It can be quite daunting for drivers without experience in rough terrain to drive on Iceland roads.
Driving into the highlands means heading up gravel mountain roads (F roads) and fording rivers. If you aren’t comfortable with this, hand the reins to the above companies. Their Super Jeeps and experienced drivers are well equipped for the task. Having knowledgeable guides decreases the risk of getting into trouble from bad weather or other unpredictable factors. It also allows you to see places you might never have discovered on your own.
Iceland Vacation Package
If you’re looking for an all-inclusive Iceland trip, where everything is taken care of, book an Iceland all-inclusive package. For my American readers, Icelandair offers Iceland vacation packages that include flights, airport transfers, accommodation, and two excursions. Similarly, for my British readers, TUI offers Iceland packages that will cover every aspect of the trip. With these packages, you can have your itinerary organized before you get here, so you can relax with no stress.
Of course, it depends on your temperament whether these structured trips are for you. What you gain is not having to make as many big decisions whilst you’re in Iceland. The downside is you’ll be less able to make spontaneous changes because it’s all already laid out and paid for. Depending on how long you’re here for, I would recommend leaving space free. Then you can use this space to either relax or embark on a spur of the moment road trip.
Iceland Travel Deals
The cost of an Iceland holiday will depend on when you come here. You can take advantage of the Iceland travel packages mentioned above at any time, but they will vary in price.
The summer months, from June to August, are the peak time to holiday here. The weather is more likely to be good and there won’t be any snow blocking the roads. Additionally, the birds that migrate here for the summer, such as puffins, will be in abundance. December is also a popular time to visit, for the festive atmosphere created by snow and ice. Of course, there is also a good chance of seeing the northern lights at this time. So, you’ll get the best Iceland travel deals from September to November and from January to May.
Hotels and airlines may introduce discounts and excursion providers may have special offers or reduced rates. You’ll also have the added advantage of having more space to move around. Around two million tourists come to Iceland every year and a large portion of those visits in the summer months. The roads, hiking trails, and hot springs may get a little crowded at times. You can avoid this by visiting in the off-peak months when the vibe is less busy. The landmarks you want to see, such as the Golden Circle and Reynisfjara beach, look just as incredible in winter.
The downside of visiting in the winter months is that your access to some areas will be limited. Heavy snowfall makes some roads impassable for days at a time, and the highland roads close from September to May. Think about what it is you want to experience in Iceland and plan your holiday date around those ideas.
How to Spend Wisely in Iceland
First of all, take great care when packing for your trip. It’s better to bring what clothes you’ll need than to realize you packed wrong and have to buy them here. For an outsider, Iceland will seem expensive. We have a high cost of living, but also a high level of wages, so most locals’ finances balance out.
For the tourists, however, there are ways to be smart with your holiday money. Assume that you are going to be cold on your trip, no matter when you come. Even in the summer months, the temperature rarely rises above 15°C in the south and night time is even cooler. Pack warm, waterproof clothing, as well as a swimming costume and towel. There are many thermal pools and springs across the country; you’ll want to be prepared for them wherever you go. Bring a decent pair of hiking boots; most of Iceland is covered with lava rock, or snow in the winter.
If you’re exploring the capital city and don’t want to walk back to your hotel, you could take a taxi. Or, you could download the Strætó app and take a public bus. The app will guide you to the nearest bus stop and tell you which bus to take. You can purchase tickets directly on the app and once activated, a ticket lasts for 75 minutes.
When it comes to food shopping, know that there are several supermarket chains here and they vary massively on price. The most expensive are the 24-hour shops, which includes the chain 10-11. Hagkaup is next, and finally, Krónan and Bónus are the cheapest. You will find at least one of these supermarkets in every Iceland town; villages may have independent stores. Many hotels offer online discounts if you book in advance, so making a loose route plan can save you money.
Final Remarks on Vacations in Iceland
So, you’ve booked your flights, your accommodation, your car rental, your excursions; you’re all set for an Iceland vacation. Get yourself excited by reading up on some of Iceland’s history and culture; I recommend these articles:
Remember to treat Iceland’s nature with respect while you’re here: take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints. Avoid stepping on the green moss or damaging anything if you can help it. Keep in mind that the Huldufólk (‘Hidden People’) also known as Elves, live here too. Perhaps you could watch the new Netflix movie ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’ before you arrive. It’s a good showcase of Iceland’s beauty, as well as a fun satire of some of the locals’ mannerisms.
Samuel Hogarth, Cars Iceland.