You are looking for the best Iceland travel tips for your first round trip? Then we can tell you in advance that you will experience a dream vacation … and if you have read through our Iceland travel tips you will also be spared one or two surprises.
Our own Iceland trip was actually planned for 2020, but then took place only in 2021. We have circumnavigated Iceland within 3 weeks once, have visited the peninsula Snaefellness, the Westfjords and also the highlands. Thus, we got a good first impression and learned many things during the trip, some of which we did not know before. So here are our best travel tips for your first Iceland trip.
Iceland Travel Tips – Driving
Most people, just like us, take a road trip through Iceland by rental car. Especially when it comes to driving, there are numerous things we didn’t know like this beforehand and wish we had known, at least in part, beforehand.
Fortunately, we were on the safe side with our car and the necessary insurance. If you are still not sure which car is the right one for you, read our guide on how to book a rental car in Iceland or book your car directly at northbound.is*. We were very satisfied with Northbound* and found the best price for a car suitable for the highlands.
Road conditions in Iceland
The road conditions in Iceland are divided into two categories. The nice and easy to drive paved roads in cities and the gravel roads. Even if you plan to drive only the ring road you should be prepared for gravel roads. When we traveled Iceland, the ring road was not paved all the way.
Also, the side roads to the sights are often not paved, so that you have to drive over the gravel road at the latest here. You should pay particular attention to this when insuring your rental car. A rockfall can also happen to you on the ring road. Also make sure to always check road.is for road conditions.
Most bridges in Iceland are single lane. This is announced with signs in advance and the speed limit is limited to 50 kmh. If there is oncoming traffic on the other side, simply stop briefly, let the oncoming traffic through and then continue driving.
The tunnels in Iceland were a very surprising experience for us. There are not so many and most of them were on the Westfjords. The big surprise was that even the tunnels are often single lane and travel in both directions.
For one direction of travel there are stopping bays every few meters, so that it is possible to swerve, and the other direction of travel has free travel and priority. So the whole thing is well regulated … Nevertheless, it was always a queasy feeling to drive through the narrow tunnel, if the headlights of the oncoming traffic were coming towards you.
Stopping possibilities at the road
It happened to us countless times that we saw beautiful waterfalls, rivers, gorges, etc. next to the road, which we would have liked to explore during a small detour. The problem is that there is nowhere to stop. Also, the areas next to the road are mostly sloping, so you can’t really stand on the side of the road.
If at all we have done this only in very little frequented areas. Even if you have found a place to stop, most areas are fenced. On the one hand, because animals are kept here and on the other hand, because it is private property. The best way to compare the whole thing is probably with the country roads in Germany. So you can see, it is not so easy to explore Iceland from the road.
But we have a small ray of hope for you. There are separate parking lots at many sights, on which there are usually camping tables, so that you can make your lunch break there perfectly.
If you are not only in the south on the road, the rule is: If you see a gas station fill up! It may well be that it is still 100 km to the next gas station. Especially in remote areas, such as the highlands or the Westfjords, you sometimes drive for hours without passing through a town.
Most gas stations are also self-service stations. You can pay directly with your credit card and then fill up. For this reason they are open 24/7.
The highlands in Iceland are a little adventure in themselves. You are off the beaten track, driving on gravel roads, through rivers and sometimes you don’t meet other people for hours. But the highlands are only open for a very short period of time.
The highland roads open between mid-June and mid-July and close again in September depending on weather conditions. You can see which roads are open on a daily basis on road.is. So if you want to visit the highlands, the best season is July-August.
Animals on the streets
There are lots of animals on Iceland’s roads. During our trip, we most likely encountered sheep, but also lots of birds and the occasional arctic fox. You should always drive carefully and if there are sheep on the side of the road or animals on the road, reduce your speed.
The sheep get their lambs in June. Here we were told: They are not the smartest and not the fastest. The lambs also like to run across the road right in front of you when their mama is on the other side of the road.
The birds on the streets also amazed us. They don’t necessarily fly away when you drive towards them … they hop leisurely towards the roadside. Some of them just don’t do anything. Here it helps to honk occasionally to scare the birds off the road.
Speed measurements and speed cameras
We have hardly seen speed cameras on Iceland. Here, the speed is rather measured at two points to determine the average. This is usually also announced in advance.
Iceland Travel Tips – Weather
What should you be prepared for in terms of weather in Iceland? The answer is quite simple: Everything!!! During our vacation in June we experienced warm sunny weather, storm, rain, hail and also snow. What you should consider regarding the weather we have summarized here.
It doesn’t really get dark in Iceland in the summer. This has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is, you can really use the whole day and be on the road for a long time. Especially the hotspots you can also visit late in the evening and thus escape the crowds.
The disadvantage is that if you want to take photos at sunrise or sunset, you either have to stay up late or not sleep at all 😀
Most accommodations have opaque blinds, so you can darken the room at night. Only one accommodation did not have this on our trip. But we had precautionary masks with us, so that was not too bad.
Many people think of spectacular auroras when they think of Iceland. However, these only occur in winter. The best time for this is between October and March. During this time, however, the weather is much worse and the highlands, for example, can not be visited at all.
The weather in Iceland can change very quickly. You should always have your rain gear with you and be prepared for wind. In Iceland, the onion principle applies in terms of clothing … because within a day it can happen that you are only at 20 degrees and it is windless. An hour later and 20 km further, the temperatures are suddenly only in the single digits, the wind is whistling and it’s raining like cats and dogs.
So always have enough clothes ready, which you can put on or take off in case of need. We also like to put on our two jackets on top of each other.
Iceland Travel Tips – Animals and Nature
When we think of Iceland, we think of sheep, horses and birds. While the Icelandic horses were just beautiful to look at, the sheep and birds sometimes caused “problems”.
Despite the fenced areas, there are always escaped sheep on the side of the road. In addition there is the fact that the sheep get lambs in June and these run also sometimes carelessly over the road. If you see sheep at the roadside, drive slowly past them and be prepared to brake if necessary.
Besides the birds on the roads, there are of course always many birds, especially on the coast. Many of them don’t like it at all when you enter their territory and are then actually eager to attack. When we drove along the Arctic Coastal Highway in the north of Iceland, we actually only wanted to go to a lighthouse. Shortly after we got out of the car, a bird attacked Andreas, so we retreated.
Iceland Travel Tips – Food, money, cell phone reception
What else is there to consider besides the things already mentioned? In the last section we have summarized all the other important tips for you.
In most places there are at least small supermarkets where you can get the most important food. Especially in remote places like the Westfjords or the Eastfjords it can be that you have 100 km to the next supermarket.
So you should make a bulk purchase if you go to one of these places. We have noticed during our shopping that there are some things that are only slightly more expensive than here, but others are much more expensive, such as bread and cheese.
What you don’t have to buy in Iceland is water. We bought two large bottles of water at the beginning of our vacation and then always filled them up with tap water.
Self catering or going out to eat
Eating out is very expensive in Iceland. We have treated ourselves in the 3 weeks only twice a few fries and otherwise always cooked. We also always have Tupperware with us when we travel, so we could always prepare something for lunch.
We had read everywhere before our trip that you don’t really need cash in Iceland. This made us a little unsure, which is why we had planned to withdraw at least a little cash at the airport. But since we arrived in the middle of the night, we forgot about it and didn’t do it afterwards. We really got along the complete vacation without cash.
Cell phone reception
Cell phone reception is very good along the ring road and generally in most areas. If you drive into the highlands it can happen that you have no reception.
We hope our Iceland travel tips will help you plan your first Iceland trip. Leave us a comment if you have any other tips for Iceland.