Going to in Iceland? Joining one of our Iceland tours? You’re in the right place.
In this article you will find Iceland travel tips, suggestions for things to do in Reykjavik in case you are extending your trip, movies and shows about Iceland you can watch to get to know the country better, books about Iceland that take you deeper into the culture and Icelandic music to get into the mood.
Be prepared for your trip with our Iceland travel tips and get ready for a fabulous trip!
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Iceland travel tips
Iceland is a unique and very special place with its own set of rules and quirks that are best explained in a post shared by a fellow group member – don’t miss reading it because it gives exclusive insight into Icelandic culture.
Below are some additional tips that we are sure you’ll find useful:
- Take the flybus. Airport taxis are expensive (in excess of 150 Euro) and because Reykjavik Airport is so small, there is a bus service that connects with every departure. That is, the bus schedule is timed with arriving flights so you don’t have to wait much to adhere to timetables. Buy your ticket and save considerably, then sit back and relax in the bus with your fellow flyers. Buy your FlyBus ticket here.
- Safety. Iceland is the world’s safest country, by far without a doubt, and it ranks at the top of our safety ranking. You can see other solo female travelers experiences with safety in Iceland here. Crime is practically non-existent, theft is almost unheard of, and Iceland is the world’s most gender equal country with more women in Government positions than men, and with practically no discrimination. Perhaps the only risky activity in Iceland is crossing the road. Even at a pedestrian crossing and with a green light, cars may also have green light to turn into the same junction and you don’t want to fight that one out.
- Manners. Icelanders are friendly and always willing to help but don’t expect British politeness, the language and the customs are direct, so take no offence, they aren’t being rude, they are just being themselves.
- Iceland is expensive. Everything is imported, few things are grown or made in the country so prices are always higher than wherever you live (even for me living in one of the top-5 most expensive cities in the world and also an island). If you are looking to save some money, consider bringing your food from home or getting meals from bakeries and supermarkets, they sell hot dogs and paninis that are not bad! When it comes to supermarkets, avoid the 10-11 chain which is known, for a fact, to be more expensive than any other grocery store, especially the ones in Reykjavik. If you are out on the Ring Road, stop by a farm and buy local food for a more decent price. Check this app that has the locations.
- The weather is unpredictable, in the summer, in the winter, in the spring and in autumn. No matter when you visit Iceland it is likely you’ll experience more than one season in a day, you need to be prepared for the worst; that is wind gusts and snow at any time. Layer up and always bring warmer clothes than you think you need, you won’t regret it.
- Drink the water. Iceland has some of the freshest, cleanest and most beautiful water, don’t buy overpriced bottled water and contribute to the plastic issue, instead, bring your own water bottle and replenish it directly from the tap. Restaurants will also serve tap water free of charge.
- Cash. Change your local money before leaving Iceland as it may be hard to do so outside the country. The exchange rate at the airport is very unfavorable so do so in town instead, or pay your hotel bill with whatever cash you’ve got left and the rest with your credit card. Better yet, don’t exchange any cash into the local currency, almost everything in Iceland can be paid by credit card.
- Chip and pin cards. Some petrol stations are unmanned outside of 9 to 5 hours though you can use self-service by using the automated machines. You will however need a chip and PIN credit card as signatures are not possible when there isn’t anyone around. This may be an issue if, like me, your bank does not offer them, so bear in mind when calculating your petrol needs and fill the tank during the day and in a manner station.
- Souvenirs. Be careful when buying souvenirs as a lot of what is on sale isn’t locally or hand made, but mass produced in China. Check the label and buy from known local shops such as Farmers market or outdoor brand 66 North. You can also check out local Icelandic designer shops here.
- Should you tip? Tipping is not common, instead, it will be added to the bill (eg. at restaurants) so don’t worry about carrying cash or tipping people. If you really want to tip a guide, then you will need cash or can simply tip in USD or EUR which will also be accepted.
- Be prepared. Because the weather is so unpredictable and anything can happen (remember the volcanic eruption that disrupted air travel all the way to the Pacific?), always keep an eye on road closures and weather alerts by downloading the apps from safety.is and road.is.
- Should you rent a car? The answer to this question is one of budget and time. You can easily base yourself in Reykjavik and book day tours which will take you to pretty much all the main sites in the west, north and southern parts of the country where most of the key sites are. Renting a car is usually cheaper (and we say usually because it may not be depending on the tour you book) but requires the ability to drive which may be complicated when the roads are icy so you may be better off simply booking day trips. If you have your own car you will also likely drive less, as you won’t have to return to Reykjavik every day but I don’t mind this too much as I like watching the country go by from my window, something that is harder to do from behind the wheel, especially in Iceland’s one-lane roads and with the unpredictability of stubborn sheep! If you do plan to rent a car, make sure it is automatic if you are not used to manual cars which are the default in Iceland. Check out this page with the best tours of Iceland and make your itinerary accordingly.
- Get a local SIM card so that you have internet throughout your stay. This is not only so that you can post to Instagram and Facebook but so you can follow Google maps, stay alerted to road closures, or call for help if you need to and share your location with loved ones. You can buy a SIM card at the airport and if you come from the EU, you will be able to roam without extra charges.
- When to visit Iceland. We have picked October and May for our group tours because the conditions are optimal and we can avoid the crazy busy summer months while still enjoying relatively mild weather and reasonable hours of daylight. It is worth remembering that Iceland is very far north and as a result the hours of daylight vary significantly even on a daily basis. In winter, you may enjoy as little as 3h of daylight and I wouldn’t call it sunlight because the sun stays on the horizon in a permanent state of sunset so it’s never bright. In the summertime, the sun never sets and so it may be hard to deal with jetlag.
- Temperatures never get warm in Iceland and even during the summer months the thermometer never reaches what you would consider summer temperatures. The main consideration when choosing the season is the fact that in winter many roads will be closed (that is, from October onwards) and so your options are restricted (staying in Reykjavik and taking day tours makes more sense in the winter) but you have the option of seeing the Northern Lights, while in summer you can be out exploring well into the morning but there is no chance of seeing the auroras.
Things to do in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is a cozy, walkable and very manageable city on foot. Most of the main tourist attractions are either in the city center or by the seaport. The city is also perfectly positioned to join day tours to some of the sights in the eastern part of the island.
During our tour, we will be visiting most of the sights in the southern part of Iceland, but there is plenty more to see which you can easily explore on your own or by joining a day tour.
Below is a list of some of the best things to see and do in Reykjavik and nearby.
Tip: please check opening times of all the museums and places of interest before going as these change often through the year.
Go whale watching
Several species of whales inhabit the waters around Iceland. Some live there year-round but most spend time there as part of their migratory routes. A whale-watching tour is one of the most popular activities to do in Reykjavik and finding the right tour is easy because there are many options. Here are some we recommend:
- 2-hour express whale watching boat tour departing from the harbour
- 2.5 to 3-hour Luxury whale watching tour onboard a yacht with hotel pick up and Wi-Fi
- Small boat whale watching tour onboard a rigid inflatable 12-meter boat. You’ll get warm flotation suits, life vests, gloves and goggles to stay warm
See Iceland from a helicopter
Treat yourself to a 1 hour helicopter ride over Reykjavik and Iceland’s volcanoes, colorful mountains and hot springs for this once in a lifetime experience.
How to: Book your helicopter ride here.
Sample Icelandic food
Icelandic food is a unique cuisine rarely found outside the country. With Nordic food experiencing a revival one of the most interesting tours you can take in Reykjavik is a food tour.
Restaurant hop as you sample the most famous dishes that combine what the country is famous for: seafood and lamb. The tour runs in the morning for lunch and in the evening for dinner and it makes for a great way to enjoy an evening out with a fun, friendly atmosphere.
How to: Book a 3 hour food tour and taste 8 dishes from 8 restaurants including lobster and lamb soups, a hot dog from a street stand, ice cream and so much more.
Tip: Turn up hungry for this, there is a lot of food to sample.
Go chasing Northern Lights
During our October trip, we will have a chance of seeing the Northern Lights while staying at ION Adventure hotel, but one can never have too much of the beautiful Aurora so one of the best ways to make the most of the dark winter Icelandic nights is by going on a Northern Lights tour.
How to: To go chase Northern Lights you will have to book a tour. Here are a few options, all happening at night from September to March:
- 3 hour tour hunting Northern Lights. If you don’t see them, you can join the next day free of charge.
- 2 hour Northern Lights boat tour departing from the harbour, if you are lucky you can see them against the backdrop of the city lights. This tour is perfect because you can stay inside the boat warmly, and still get out when they are spotted. You also get photos of the tour and, if you don’t spot the lights, you can return the next day free of charge.
Game of Thrones tour
Are you a fan of Game of Thrones? The show arguably made Iceland more famous than ever and with reason.
There are tours that will take you to the most popular and famous spots near Reykjavik so you can feel like one of the characters. Local “actors” will recreate some scenes and show you images from the show against the real background.
How to: Book a day tour here.
Go inside a volcano
Iceland is the land of fire and ice and there are so many volcanoes that it’s hard to keep track. One of the most interesting experiences is that of descending 120 meters inside the volcano and you can do just that at Thrihnukagigur Volcano.
The tour starts from Reykjavik and involves a 45min hike to get to the entrance of the volcano where you will step on a platform and descend into the crater for about 10min before you get to enjoy the incredible volcano cave.
How to: Book a half day tour to the volcano here. This includes the transfers and a meat or vegetable soup. The tour lasts 6h including about 2h hiking to and from the volcano’s entrance.
Snorkel between two tectonic plates
One of the most incredible experiences one can have in Iceland is snorkelling between the American and European tectonic plates, something you can do at the Silfra fissure. Don a wet suit and enjoy visibility of up to 100 meters while the staff takes photos of you in this very unique environment.
How to: Book a half day tour here. The tour includes all snorkeling equipment, transfers from Reykjavik and photos of the experience.
Snowmobile, ice cave and hot spring
This full day tour from Reykjavik starts with a snowmobile experience then follows with a hike around the glacier and ice caves and ends with a hot spring thermal bath in a natural environment.
How to: Book this tour here. This is not including meals and drinks which you can purchase there. The tour requires two people booking so you might want to find a buddy among the rest of the guests, who is interested in joining you!
Take a day trip to Snæfellsjökull Peninsula
The Snæfellsjökull Peninsula is like a mini Iceland in that it has hot springs, mountains, waterfalls, a dramatic coastline and volcanoes.
You can go on a tour to see the black sand beach at Djúpalónssandur, the famous Game of Thrones conical Kirkjufell Mountain, seals basking in the sun on the beach (in season), Snæfellsjökull glacier and more.
How to: Book the tour here. Hotel pick up is available, lunch is not included.
See various types of whales
Iceland is undoubtedly linked to whales and nowhere can you learn as much about these majestic and enormous creatures than at the Whales of Iceland Museum where you can see models of 23 different kinds of whales including a massive sperm whale.
How to: Entry tickets cost $23 and you can get them at the entrance or in advance here.
Pro tip: Check the timings of the Sonic Sea screening happening at 11am and 3pm daily and the timings of the complimentary daily guided tours in English.
Learn more about the Northern Lights
Visit the Aurora Reykjavík – The Northern Lights Center, and learn everything you need to know about this incredible natural phenomenon. There are exhibits and panels explaining the science behind the beautiful lights and a room where you can sit on the floor and be mesmerised by the dancing lights.
Then complement the experience with Áróra – The Northern Lights Planetarium Show at one of the water tanks inside Perlan, the stunning glass-domed building on top of the hill that can be seen from anywhere in Reykjavik and .
How to: Tickets for the Aurora Center cost about $16 and you can buy them at the museum or in advance here. Tickets to the Planetarium Show can be bought in advance here. We recommend you make sure to buy them before going all the way.
Visit the Icelandic Phallological Museum
The Icelandic Phallological Museum, aka Penis Museum, is a fascinating place to explore. You won’t find the equivalent for our species but will instead learn more about the reproductive organ of many other animals. This makes for a fun short visit, especially after the sun sets, since it is open till quite late.
How to: Tickets cost $20 and can be bought directly at the museum which is located within walking distance of our hotel.
Climb to the top of expressionist Hallgrímskirkja Church
Hallgrímskirkja Church is an emblem for the city and offers great views from above.
How to: Just head to the church and queue to get up to the bell tower. Admission to the church is free but you need to pay $8 to go the top.
Go on a walking tour of Reykjavik
The best way to get your bearings in the city is to join a morning walking tour that ends with lunch. Hear the local stories, get to know more about Icelandic culture and enjoy a traditional lunch.
How to: This small private tour includes lunch.
Visit the city’s flea market, Kolaportið
This lively market, which happens only in the weekends, is a good place to do some shopping for souvenirs and enjoy the Icelandic spirit. The products sold here are actually locally made, as opposed to mass-production from China. Visit the market located by the Reykjavik harbour on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am to 5 pm.
Music and bands about Iceland
Iceland has its own range of singers and bands that have become famous and well known in the international stage, one of them I even saw perform live in Singapore.
If you want to get acquainted with the local music scene, below are a few bands and musicians you can check out to immerse yourself in the culture.
- Bjork is Iceland’s most famous singer, song writer and even DJ. Her range of music is absolutely as unique as Iceland and combines so many influences it is hard to place her, but she is indeed a great ambassador for the country projecting so much of what makes Iceland incomparable to anything else. She has been included in several rankings of the most influential singers and received several coveted awards. You can listen to her songs here.
- Sigur Ros is perhaps the most well known contemporary Icelandic band today and has its very own music genre, making them a truly unique band. When I visited Iceland our driver knew the lead singer, I guess this isn’t as rare as in other counties with millions of people since Iceland only has 300, 000 inhabitants, but he told us how he let the band play in his garage when they were starting out. Their music is melodic, and very beautiful, combining the singer’s personal and singular voice with a large chorus that will make you feel something very special. It is hard to describe them with words. While the band’s name may seem unique, it is actually a very common Icelandic name, Victory Rose, and is the name of the singer’s sister. You can listen to Sigur Ros on Spotify here. Our favorite song, and arguably their most famous, is Hoppipola but all of their albums go so well with an Iceland road trip.
- Of monsters and men are a younger Icelandic indie band that is less eclectic and unique than the previous ones and also far more well known, in fact, you may not have even realised that they are Icelandic since they sing in English.
We have also put together a playlist for the trip which you can listen to on Spotify.
Books about Iceland
Because Iceland is such a unique place, there is a lot to learn through the eyes of locals and through reading stories, especially the many books about Icelandic sagas that gave the English language the word.
Below are some recommendations for fun, riveting and interesting reads.
- The little book of the Icelanders is a compilation of stories that look more into the funky habits and quirks of Icelanders through the eyes of a local who’s lived abroad.
- The little book of tourists in Iceland: Tips, tricks and what the Icelanders really think of you is by the same author as the previous book, Alda Sigmundsdottir. It is a very insightful and useful book for visitors, a must read before a trip.
- How Iceland changed the world is a fun way to learn more about the history of the country and how it have influenced other events and nations.
- Independent people is a classic old book that helps explain much of why Icelanders have become so self reliant and sufficient.
- Names for the sea: Strangers in Iceland is the memoir of author Sara Moss who had always dreamed of moving to Iceland and finally does so by taking up a teaching position and moving in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis. Seen through the eyes of a foreigner the reader can learn more about what makes Iceland so special.
- Njal’s Saga is a 13th century book about the beginning of Iceland. No matter where you go in the country you will read and learn more about the vikings and the medieval practises and wars between families and feuds. If you visit the Saga Museum in Reykjavik, you’ll also be able to learn all about the sagas.
- The Darkness is a mystery series with protagonist Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir. Not written by a local Icelander but by an American author, it is an easy, intriguing and completely addictive way to learn more about everyday life of Icelanders and pick up on many cultural elements without reading about them directly.
- 101 Reykjavik, unlike 101 Iceland, is not a book with tips on what to see or do in Iceland’s capital but rather a raw novel that tells the tale of Hlynur, a young man who lives with his mother, relies on social welfare and hits the bars at night. He is lazy and uninspired, until his girlfriend gets pregnant. The book was also been made into a movie which you can get the DVD for.
Movies about or shot in Iceland
Although you may have never watched a movie about Iceland, you’ve surely seen several epic movies or shows shot in Iceland, like Game of Thrones, Oblivion, Interstellar, Tomb Raider, James Bond, Star Wars, Fast & Furious, Thor or Captain America.
Below is a list of documentaries, movies and shows you can watch to learn more about Iceland or simply marvel at its beautiful landscapes.
- 101 Reykjavik as mentioned above was also made into a movie featuring Spanish actress Victoria Abril as the lesbian girlfriend of the main character.
- Jar City by Icelandic director Indridason’s Erlendur is the third movie in a murder series and one of the first Nordic Noir genre movies.
- Children of nature is Iceland’s only Oscar nominee as a foreign language movie.
- Trapped is a Netflix show that tells the story of a murderer on the loose in a small Icelandic village cut out from the rest of the country because of bad weather, all happening in the middle of winter. The show is a thrilling story that will have you hooked.
- Under the Arctic sky is a Redbull documentary available on Netflix that follows a group of crazy surfers with a death wish who take on the waves of Northern Iceland curing the country’s worst storm in 25 years.
- Out of thin air is a documentary available on Netflix that follows the story of the country’s most mysterious murder.
- Into the inferno is one of the most riveting and fascinating documentaries on Iceland’s volcano and a great way to learn more about this incredible phenomenon that has so markedly made Iceland what it is today.
- Norsemen is the 9th century Icelandic viking version of Friends, or any other sitcom. A lighter although exaggerated version of a comedy series available on Netflix.