With its dramatic volcanos, towering glaciers, and tumultuous seas, Iceland is a stunning destination that’s a popular spot for travellers all over the world. No matter what time of year you visit, you can enjoy spectacular natural experiences like warm, sunny weather or the beautiful Northern Lights. If you’re going to Iceland for the first time, here are some travel tips for travelling in Iceland and advice for your first-time visit.

Group of waterfalls and cliffs in Godafoss


Weather in Iceland and when to travel

Iceland’s weather can be extreme and unpredictable. Storms are common and the opposing forces of nature in the landscape can bring on extreme weather patterns. Summers have endless sunlight that’s great for sightseeing, but it can be exhausting when you don’t have the natural night and day cycles. Winter is dark and cold, but it’s the best time to see the amazing phenomenon of the Northern Lights. The average temperatures are 10 to 13 °C in summer and -17 to 0 °C in winter.

What to pack

Enjoying your time in Iceland, no matter the season, depends on the right clothing. Even if you’re planning a summer trip, it’s good to pack plenty of cold-weather clothing, such as heavy knit sweaters, gloves, hats, and scarves. You can even purchase an authentic lopapeysa, a warm Icelandic sweater that’s often used for outdoor sports and work. If you’re planning to hike near Iceland’s stunning waterfalls, be sure to bring plenty of waterproof outerwear like a raincoat, waterproof pants, and waterproof, non-slip hiking boots.

Book early

The secret about Iceland is out, and more and more travellers are choosing Iceland as their top travel destination. One thing you’ll wish you knew is how quickly attractions and accommodation can book, so it’s best to plan all aspects of your trip to ensure you see what and do what you want to. Before you go, check out accommodation options, tours, restaurants, and attractions, and book anything you can in advance. You can still leave some time for spontaneous adventures, but you wouldn’t want to go all that way and miss out on something you really wanted to experience.

Plan a daytime arrival

Fares to Iceland from North America are fairly inexpensive, so it’s easy to book a cheap flight and save on travel. If possible, book a flight that’s set to arrive during daylight hours, so you can take advantage of the stunning landscape views on your drive to your accommodation. Of course, you can arrive at night if you wish, but arriving during the day gives you an opportunity to take in more of the landscape and take as many pictures as you want.

Aerial view of Reykjavik cityscape


How to get around

The most popular form of transport in Iceland is driving. You can hire a car and travel the open roads to get everywhere you want to go, whether you’re staying in the city or the countryside. Driving in Iceland is similar to driving in North America, so it’s not a huge transition. One thing you’ll wish you knew, however, is that gas is generally more expensive than it is in Canada, so be sure to consider that in your budget.

You can speak English

In many cases, it’s important to learn basic phrases in your destination’s native language. What to know about Iceland is that English is widespread and it’s taught in the school system, so it’s really easy to get around with English. If you want to learn a few Icelandic phrases, it’s not a bad idea, but it’s very difficult and not necessary for most of the destinations you’ll be travelling to. You could also bring a small travel dictionary with you to be prepared.

You’ll need Icelandic krona

Iceland’s currency is krona, which you’ll need to go just about anywhere in Iceland. A good tip to know before you go is to determine the best currency exchange rate possible with your bank or credit card, so you can save the most on the exchange. Most places take credit cards, so that’s the easiest option to ensure you’re getting the best rate and to help you monitor your travel budget during your trip. If you want to carry cash, exchange some of your currency before you go.

Tipping isn’t necessary

Tipping isn’t customary in Iceland, which makes it even easier to travel around without cash. This ‘no tipping’ rule includes restaurants, bars, cafes, and other common places. Typical tipped positions, such as waitresses and bartenders, receive regular wages and tipping isn’t the whole of their income as it is in other places. If you take a tour and wish to tip your tour guide, that’s acceptable. It’s not expected or necessary, but many tour guides appreciate this extra show of gratitude.

Bring a refillable water bottle

With the streams coming off glaciers, Iceland has the best water in the world. Even the tap water in restaurants and hotels is fresh, clean, pure, and delicious. Whether you’re spending time in the city or out in nature, be sure to bring a refillable water bottle and take advantage of the natural water sources around you as much as you can and stay hydrated. If you anticipate taking a long hike, you could even bring a few bottles to ensure you have more than enough natural water for your whole excursion.

See a glacier

Iceland’s glaciers are gems and a must-see on your trip. There are many ways to experience the country’s glaciers, such as boat tours of lagoons and glacier hikes, that get you up close. Keep in mind that glaciers are fragile and can be hazardous, so it’s best to book a tour with an experienced guide if you don’t have a lot of hiking experience around glaciers. Guides can also provide you with travel tips to make the most of your visit.

Closeup of glaciers and beach in Jokulsarlon Lagoon

Jokulsarlon Lagoon

Plan your Iceland vacation

Now that you have all the essential information before visiting Iceland for the first time, you’re ready to plan your trip. Take a look at deals on Iceland vacations from Expedia to make the most of your experience!