Iceland: How much things cost & how to visit on a low budget

Iceland FarmhouseSince its currency crash in 2008, Iceland had gone from absurdly expensive to somewhat reasonable in cost, and that has prompted thousands of new tourists to stream in to see what all the fuss is about. It’s hard to find a visitor to Iceland who didn’t absolutely love the place, but you won’t find anyone who tells you it’s cheap, so planning ahead is essential. Prices have continued to creep up in 2015 and 2016, so it’s again among the most expensive European destinations.

Many visitors arrive on an Iceland stopover going between North America and Europe, but with very cheap flights to and from Europe it’s becoming popular for adventurous types from all over the continent. In 2013 I spent 9 days in the country, always checking for prices and the cheapest ways of doing things, so below I can lay out how to budget and what to do to keep costs down.

Note: This article was first written in late 2013, but all prices have been updated as of December 2016 to be current through 2017.

Reykjavik vs. the rest of Iceland: Where to go

Iceland GeysirMany people stop over in Iceland for as few as 6 or 8 hours between flights, and you can actually see a surprising amount in that short of time. The capital city is about an hour away by bus, but it’s not nearly as interesting as the natural sights in the area, so only plan on staying in Reykjavik if you have multiple days and you are curious about cities in general.

If you have one night or a few nights you are better off taking a bus or renting a car directly from the airport and heading east along the southern coast for some of the country’s best sights. If you have at least a week you’ll want to rent a car and do a lap around Iceland’s famous Ring Road, allowing you to see nearly everything the country has to offer in a neat and organized way.

Iceland accommodation: Hostels, guesthouses, and hotels

IcelandHousesOne of the truly unusual things about sleeping in Iceland is that real hotels (with lobby, front desk, parking lot, restaurant, 24-hour service and check-in) are quite rare and very expensive. In Reykjavik itself there are a couple dozen of these, but in smaller towns (and all the other Iceland towns are smaller) there might only one or two.

The most common form of accommodation in Iceland is a guesthouse and hostel combination which will have a mix of private rooms and dorm rooms, with shared bathrooms in down the hall. Most of them have fully equipped shared kitchens, so self-catering is at least as popular as eating out while exploring Iceland outside of Reykjavik.

High season (June through August) typical accommodation prices

All prices quoted in US dollars at a rate of about 110 Krona to US$1 in December, 2016.

  • Hostel dorm bed: US$34 to US$58
  • Single private with shared bathroom: US$85 to US$135
  • Double private with shared bathroom: US$118 to US$140
  • Double private with en-suite: US$130 to US$320 (and up)

Prices in Reykjavik are a bit higher than elsewhere in the country, but not by much. Prices in the off season are about 30% lower than in high season, but in the slowest months many places close so rates never go much lower than this.

Most Iceland guesthouses are NOT on the normal hotel-booking sites

IcelandGuesthouseAmong the tricky things about estimating costs for your Iceland trip is that outside of Reykjavik, there are very few proper hotels. In most of the rest of the country the bulk of the available rooms are in guesthouses, bed and breakfasts, and even informal room rentals. So if you research hotel prices in, say, Vik or Höfn (two of the larger tourist towns on the south coast), it might look like you only have a few hotel options, and they are insanely expensive.

The good news is that when you get to Iceland, the tourism office will give you a directory of almost every guesthouse on the island, and there are other ways of finding these guesthouses and other informal accommodations. Even as of late 2016 you should be able to book a double room (with shared bathroom) for about US$120 per night in most towns in Iceland. If you do a hotel search you might see prices that are double that, but those are in the few formal hotels with 24-hour lobbies and such.

Increasingly, Airbnb and other online rental sites are the best place to find guesthouse accommodation in Iceland. As of only a few years ago, most places would be booked by phone or in person on arrival day, but now more and more places can be pre-booked, at reasonable prices.

Sleeping bag accommodation in Iceland

Iceland Fjord townAmong the more unique things about guesthouses in Iceland is that most of them will give you a discount of about US$10 per day if you bring a sleeping bag instead of using their sheets and comforter. Since most guests stay only one night in most places, it adds a lot of labor to change and launder sheets for every bed every day, so this system encourages people to bring their own.

In a ‘sleeping bag accommodation’ (as it’s known in Iceland) you’ll get a bed with a mattress and often a pillow. So with even a cheap indoor sleeping bag, you’ll be comfortable and warm while saving quite a bit of money. For those renting cars, this is a highly recommended strategy.

You can rent sleeping bags in Reykjavik starting at around €12 per week.

Most Iceland attractions are free (the good news)

Iceland WaterfallThe best news about visiting Iceland is that most of the stuff you are coming to see and do is totally free. Exceptions are the Blue Lagoon and other spa pools as well as a few private museums and such, but otherwise it’s like the island is a national park with everything included.

So to see all the glaciers and waterfalls and volcanic beds and other scenic attractions, it’s all free of charge with no admission cost or even parking fees. The larger attractions also have visitor centers where you can get local advice for free as well.

Iceland transportation: Rental cars and buses

Even as a lifetime public transportation fan, I’m very glad I gave in and rented a car to tour Iceland, even as a solo traveler. For the most part the roads are in perfect condition and virtually empty even in high season, so driving couldn’t be easier. Also, the country has stunning vistas every time you turn a corner, so being able to stop in the middle of the road even if there is no room to pullover, is critical.

The buses are modern but also expensive and running on very limited schedules. If you only have enough time to cover the main sights along the southern coast you might buy one of the bus passports that allows you to hop on and hop off, though a rental car is still much better and easier.

Rental cars in Iceland: What you need to know

Iceland Rental PetrolRenting a 2-wheel compact car in Iceland is enough to see most of the main sights in the country, except a few areas in the interior that require a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get there. All rental cars come with a Collision Damage Waiver in the price, so even if you smash it up with no insurance, you’ll only have to pay a relatively small deductible.

For an extra fee you can pay to reduce that deductible to almost nothing, but the more popular add-on is the Gravel and Glass insurance. For around €10 per day with this coverage you have a zero deductible if the vehicle gets damaged by gravel or if any glass gets broken by flying rocks (or anything else). Unfortunately, many of Iceland’s side roads and even a few of the main roads are covered in gravel, and if you drive at anything above a crawl, there will be some gravel flying around.

Personally, I normally decline add-ons like this but in this case I bought the Gravel coverage after reading a few horror stories in online reviews. I didn’t get any damage that I’m aware of, but the peace of mind was worth a LOT when driving on isolated gravel roads so I wasn’t petrified that I was chewing up the paint job just trying to stay safe on the roads.

Rental cars in Iceland

  • 2-wheel drive compact (manual): US$230 per week and up plus add-ons
  • 2-wheel drive compact (automatic): US$270 per week and up plus add-ons
  • 2-wheel drive mid-size: US$450 per week and up plus add-ons
  • 4-wheel drive van or SUV (automatic): US$650 per week and up plus add-ons

Daily rates are about 20% as much as weekly rates, so 5, 6, or 7 days cost the same.

Add-ons

Gravel coverage: US$10/day
GPS (highly recommended): US$10/day
Additional collision waiver: US$10/day

Fuel prices in Iceland

Every gas station in the country has the same prices, which don’t seem to change much. As of December 2016, a liter of petrol is 194 Krona, which is about US$1.75 or €1.63, or about US$7.50 per gallon.

Bus pass prices in Iceland

For a quick day trip from the airport to some local sights you can spend as little as US$90 per person, but for the longer distance buses you’ll spend at least US$130 to US$250 depending on length of time in order to hop on and hop off.

A Ring Road passport will cost around US$400 per person, so for two people it’s no cheaper than renting a car, even after fuel is taken into account, and for 3 or 4 people it’s definitely cheaper renting a car.

Food prices in Iceland

Here’s the thing: sit-down restaurants in Iceland are very expensive by international standards, so there aren’t very many of them. Obviously Reykjavik has many restaurant choices but most smaller towns might have only a few at most. The good news for budget travelers is that fast-food options are more plentiful, and self-catering is even cheaper and easier.

Restaurant prices in Iceland

Iceland CafeIf you go to a proper restaurant anywhere in the country, the cheapest thing on the menu will be at least US$12 to US$15. Sandwiches, burgers, and individual pizzas will usually cost between US$15 to US$22 each, and traditional meals like lamb or chicken plus potato and salad will be US$25 to US$40 at even the cheaper places.

A soft drink, coffee, tea, or even bottled water will generally be between US$3 and US$5 in a restaurant. A pint of beer will typically start at around US$7 at even the cheapest places, while wine and spirits cost even more.

Fast food prices in Iceland

In Reykjavik and larger towns (which might only have 2,000 residents) you’ll have many fast food options including Subway, Quiznos, and usually a few local burger or hot dog places. Prices for a sandwich at Subway are about US$6 for a 6-inch and US$10 for a foot-long, so they aren’t too much higher than elsewhere in Europe, and are sure cheaper than proper restaurants.

More good news for drivers is that many gas stations around the country have fast food restaurants built in, so it’s fast and easy to pick up a sandwich or hot dog by the side of the road.

Hotel breakfast prices in Iceland

Many hotels and guesthouses in Iceland serve breakfast, but it’s almost always at an extra fee, and many don’t serve anything at all. If a breakfast is offered it will typically cost between US$12 and US$15 for a buffet of cereals, bread, cold cuts, cheeses, hard boiled eggs, juices, coffee and tea, and perhaps some pastries.

Making your own self-catering breakfast will be cheaper, but since you can stuff yourself for a flat fee at the breakfast buffets it might be worth it to save yourself the hassle of shopping the day before and making breakfast in the morning.

Self-catering in Iceland

The best budget tip for Iceland is to buy and prepare your own food, and you can literally do it for all three meals per day if you prefer. Since Iceland has almost no national “must-try” dishes, you can buy and prepare your own food without worry about missing anything meaningful.

Nearly every guesthouse in Iceland has a shared kitchen where at least half the guests will be storing and preparing breakfasts and even dinners. They have refrigerators, coffee makers, electric kettles, pots, pans, dishes, and silverware, as well as salt and other spices, so you can buy just the food and you’ll be able to prepare it all.

Supermarket prices in Iceland

Bonus InteriorIn spite of the fact that most things in Iceland’s supermarkets are imported from far away, common food prices are typical of what you’d find in most supermarkets in the US or Europe. However, certain things can be many times more expensive, so you have to be careful when shopping and doing currency conversions in order to save money.

For example, you can buy a 400 gram (1 pound) block of Havarti cheese for around US$5, but a similar looking cheese right next to it on the shelf might be US$15 for the same amount. The same is true for lunch meats. Sliced ham can be US$3 for enough to make 2 sandwiches, but sliced roast beef might be US$10 for the same amount.

Some sample prices in the cheaper Iceland supermarkets

  • Sliced white bread: US$1.70 per large loaf
  • Fresh baguette: US$1.50 to US$2 each
  • Hot dog buns: US$2.50 for 5
  • Pork hot dogs: US$3.50 for 5 large hot dogs
  • Cheap Havarti or other local cheese: US$5 for 400 grams (1 pound)
  • Imported cheese: US$10 to 15 for 400 grams (1 pound)
  • Sliced ham for sandwiches: US$5 for 400 grams (1 pound)
  • Sliced roast beef for sandwiches: US$12 for 400 grams (1 pound)
  • Pasta: US$1.50 for .5 kilogram (1.1 pounds)
  • Pasta sauce: US$3 for a .5 liter jar
  • Ground beef: US$5 for .25 kilos (half pound)
  • Bake-at-home pizza: US$5 to US$7 for one person
  • Bag of tortilla chips for 2 or 3 people: US$2
  • Jar of salsa for those chips: US$3
  • Breakfast cereal: US$3 to US$5 per box

The prices above are for many of the cheaper and more common things that budget tourists buy in Iceland. As mentioned above, if you want something exotic and imported, it might cost double or triple what you pay at home, if you can find it at all.

Alcohol prices in Iceland

Vin BudinIn restaurants and bars throughout the country you’ll pay at least US$8 for a pint of beer, and at least US$10 for a glass of wine or a simple cocktail. If it’s a fancy place you’ll pay even more, of course.

Retail alcohol is a far better deal, even though the government keeps a monopoly on sales through the country. Most towns of any size at all will have a Vin Budin (state-run alcohol shop) with the exact same prices all over the country. They are all closed on Sundays and most smaller outlets are only open a few hours on most days, so planning ahead is essential if alcohol is a priority for you.

Here are some typical prices for alcohol:

  • 330ml can of local beer: US$2 to US$3
  • 500ml can of local beer: US$2.50 to US$4
  • Cheapest bottle of wine: US$10 to US$12
  • .7L bottle of off-brand vodka: US$30
  • .7L bottle of mid-level brand vodka: US$50

Bottom line on doing Iceland as cheaply as possible

Iceland Road ViewIceland is an amazing place to visit, and it’s friendly and easy as well. If you try to book all of your accommodation in advance and you insist on en-suite bathrooms, you’ll pay a fortune. It’s best to get used to the idea of shared bathrooms and then try to book private rooms that will fit your exact group for the best value.

Whether you are going to get dorm beds or private rooms, as long as you will have your own wheels it’s worth renting a sleeping bag. You get the same bed and same services for about US$10 less per night, which will pay for a week’s rental of an indoor sleeping bag.

Unless you are a terrible driver or afraid to drive, it’s highly recommended to rent a car instead of trying to get around using buses. Once you get there you’ll see that having 100% flexibility with a car compared to almost no flexibility with a bus, is worth a LOT.

Instead of trying to be cheap with transportation, be cheap with self catering food and drinks for yourself. If you have at least a small group of people you’ll be able to have a party each evening in or near the shared kitchen of your guesthouse, and it will be more lively than any restaurant in town.



166 Responses to “Iceland: How much things cost & how to visit on a low budget”

Izabela says:

I am going to Iceland in three weeks and I find your tips very helpful. Thank you 🙂

 
    Stacey Burdak says:

    Hi Izabela!

    I hope you really enjoyed your travel around Iceland.
    In early April myself, and two other women will also be travelling there together for about a week.

    If you have any reccomendations or special highlights from your trip about accomodation, must see places, etc that you’d like to share with me, I’d love to hear about it!! 🙂

    Kind regards,

    Stacey

     
karen says:

Thank you so much for this informative article! We are travelling in September, so I was glad to see this is when prices might be a bit lower!

 
Tessa says:

How much money for a week would be minimum and realistic

 

    Tessa,

    That’s a very difficult question to answer without knowing more. For one thing, you’d never want to just stay in Reykjavik for a whole week, so you have to figure in transportation. Renting a car is expensive, but for 2 to 4 people, it’s probably worth it and also a better option than buses.

    I’d say that WITHOUT transportation costs, you could get by on as little as US$70 per day if you sleep in hostel dorms, make some of your own meals or eat from fast food joints, and don’t drink alcohol. All the hostels and many hotels have community kitchens, and cooking for yourself is very popular in Iceland because there are so few affordable restaurants (and the local food doesn’t have a great reputation).

    The best part is that pretty much all the sightseeing is totally free once you have transportation. All the waterfalls and hiking trails and hot springs and such are free to enter, not including the Blue Lagoon itself. If you have more specific questions I’ll try to answer them if I can. -Roger

     
Kura says:

Hi. First of all I must say this is the most useful website on Iceland I’ve come across! But I have a question. I’m booking my rental through Avis. And they’re offering CDW as an option. Are they just trying to make more money off of me? Cos a 10 day rental is already over 1k! Thanks!

 

    Kura,

    Thank you for the kind words and I’m glad this information is helpful.

    As for the Iceland car rental, my understanding is that a general Collision Damage Waiver is mandatory for all rentals in Iceland, but that one has a deductible of €1,500 (I believe). When I rented from Sixt Car Rental (and had a great experience with them) they offered me a zero deductible add-on for around €9 extra per day. Yours is probably the same.

    Personally, I did NOT get the extra zero-deductible coverage, and I’m glad I did. The chance of a major accident or theft are extremely low on such empty roads. But I did get the extra gravel-damage waiver for about the same amount, and even though I normally avoid those, I’m glad I got it that time even though I didn’t need it in the end. If you are going around the Ring Road in Iceland, many of the most interesting sights are only accessible by gravel road, and at one point I drove about 40 kilometers on one to avoid having to backtrack 200 kilometers to reach the paved road again. When you are driving on those gravel roads, the little rocks are flying around under the front of the car, and for me it was a nice feeling to know that I didn’t have to worry about potential damage. -Roger

     
Kura says:

Thanks again Roger. I emailed Avis and they responded that all the coverages (from them) are optional/extra. When I did my rental search, only Thrifty included CDW and Theft coverage.

 
Alex says:

Hi Rodger,

I am going to be going to Iceland in May. I was considering renting a car and doing one of those self-drive 8 day Ring Road prepackaged deals. I am a very good driver, but I have had second thoughts because I would be traveling alone. I have looked into a guided group trip that is 8 days in a tour bus that travels the Ring Road. A number of meals are included, breakfast and most dinners. It is slightly cheaper than if I purchased the self-drive package. Wondering your opinions on traveling to Iceland alone. I am a fairly seasoned traveler, but have never been to Iceland. Cost is an issue for sure but also the unknowns of traveling alone in a country you know nothing about.

Thanks,
Alex
USA

 

    Alex,

    I’m actually not aware of the pre-packaged self-drive Ring Road deals, but I did research the bus options before my own trip to Iceland. As I might have said in the article, I decided to rent a car and do it all on my own, and I’m VERY glad I did. Most aspects of it were quite easy, and the extra freedom of being able to go at my own pace was amazing.

    One important detail that I only learned once there is that the area around Reykjavik is a little bit crowded, and the roads between Reykjavik and Hofn in the southeast corner have quite a few vehicles going back and forth, but the rest of the island (and Ring Road) is almost empty. I was there toward the end of the season, but it was still in season, and I sometimes went 30 minutes without seeing another car in either direction as I’d drive. That was one of the most amazing parts of it, to go along with the jaw-dropping scenery. Literally dozens of times I would be driving and would round a corner and see some waterfalls or peaks or some other postcard view, and I’d just stop my car in the middle of the road to take a few photos. On a bus you’d obviously be traveling with a couple dozen people, and only stopping at the main landmarks and predetermined vista points.

    One downside of driving a car on my own is that there are very few road signs in Iceland, and they are all in Icelandic, which feels quite unfamiliar to most of us. On the other hand, getting around the Ring Road is usually a matter of “Turn left and then go 80 kilometers to the next tiny town, or pull over after 49 kilometers to see a scenic waterfall just at the side of the road.” In other words, it’s hard to get lost, even without many signs. I got the GPS option in my rental car (for free because my car was late for pickup) and I’m very glad I did because it made everything very easy. I was going to use my iPhone as a GPS, and that would have done a decent job, especially if I had some sort of dash mount for it.

    And the Ring Road itself is in perfect condition around most of the island, although there are still a few spots where it becomes a gravel road, and a few main sites that are only accessible by gravel roads. I never felt any danger, and even if my car had broken down or blown a tire, there would be someone by to help within an hour or so, even on most side roads (as long as you travel during normal hours).

    As far as costs are concerned, I don’t know what the package deal includes, but I have a feeling you could spend less on food and drinks on your own. All over Iceland, a sit-down meal is going to cost US$12 to US$20 for even something basic, and twice that much for a traditional evening meal (as opposed to a sandwich or pasta etc). But, you can get sandwiches and pizza and other casual items at fast food places, which are often inside petrol stations (every 30km or so). I did that for lunch most of the time, and for most breakfasts and many dinners I’d buy groceries and prepare something at the common kitchen that almost every guest house or hotel has. The Icelandic food doesn’t win many prizes, so it’s not a country where you’ll drool as each next meal draws near.

    So I definitely recommend going on your own as opposed to a bus, and it should be quite easy and stress-free. Everyone you meet speaks fluent English, and pretty much all tourists to Iceland speak English, so it’s easy. If the package including a car and hotels and meals seems like a good deal, it might be a good choice. But if it seems pricey for what you get, you can probably do better on your own, especially in May since it’s early in the season. By the way, all the sights (except the Blue Lagoon) are totally free, and there is free parking everywhere as well.

    In case you can’t tell, I loved my Iceland trip and can’t wait to go back. Feel free to ask anything else and I’ll be happy to chime right back in. -Roger

     
Brian says:

Hi Rodger,

I am considering visiting Iceland in May of Next year and am hoping to spend 3-4 weeks there. I plan to spend as much time hiking and camping as possible, but I know there will be inevitable hostel stays (especially over a 3-4 week period). I am a solo traveler, so splitting costs with friends is not going to work for me.

My first question to you would be this: Do you think 3-4 weeks is too much time for a budget traveler like myself, or should I look to shorten my stay to 2 weeks? I have a post airfare budget of about $2,000 USD. I’m thinking if I only rent a car for a week to 10 days and spend the rest of my time staying in or near Reykjavík or taking buses to a hiking trail terminus or town, that could save me a bit of money.

My second question would be about the sleeping bag stays. Are those offered just about anywhere in Iceland or just in the major towns? I would like to spend as much time as I can enjoying the countryside which I assume would take me to more remote villages than towns. Also, is this a well advertised option, or will I need to know where to look for those sort of accommodations?

Thank you for all of your very helpful information on this page. It’s made me realize that visiting Iceland may not be as financially difficult as I thought it may be.

Thanks again,
Brian
USA

 

    Brian,

    Iceland is one of my favorite places anywhere, and I’m happy to try to help other people visit with more information on what things really cost there, partly because so much of it was a mystery until I got there myself.

    First off, 3 or 4 weeks actually does sound like a long visit, but if you are going to be hiking and camping most of the time, I really doubt you’d get bored. The scenery is amazing and so varied from one area to the next that there’s always something wonderful around the next corner.

    Based on what you have in mind for a stay of that length, I honestly think you might consider hitchhiking around the Ring Road. From what I read, it’s extremely safe and normal there. Having read that, I was actually ready to pick up any hitchhikers I saw in my own rental car, but I didn’t see one until I was close to Reykjavik again at the end, and not going where they wanted. I went in late August, which is the end of the travel season, and your plan to go in May is the beginning, so it would be similar. Except for the Reykjavik area, the whole rest of the island feels like a huge national park, and there are so few roads that pretty much everyone is going your way, or the opposite direction. Read up on it and if it’s something you are comfortable doing, there’s probably no better place in the world for it.

    Also, if/when I go back to Iceland for a longer trip like you have in mind, I’ll want to spend even more time going around the Ring Road. The city of Reykjavik itself is nothing special and you can see the main sights in one day or so. The famous attractions close to Reykjavik (except for the Blue Lagoon) are among the more disappointing compared to those around the rest of the island. You could spend 3 weeks going around the Ring Road (hitchhiking or on buses) and it would still feel like it was going by pretty fast. The best thing about renting a car is that you can obviously go at your own pace, and do the whole ring in a week or less. But there were a few days where I was driving for maybe 8 hours, and even skipping some waterfalls or other sights just to stay on schedule.

    The “sleeping bag accommodation” is popular all over Iceland, although not necessarily in every town. In other words, if you wanted to try to find a cheap room like that every night, you could probably do it, but you might have to choose one town over another to achieve it. Finding guesthouses in Iceland can be a challenge in general. When you get there you’ll get a free catalog that lists pretty much every hotel and guesthouse in the country, but you still have to call or email them to get the rates and details. I booked a few places online (through Kayak.com) and a few other places I just drove there late in the afternoon to see what was available. Again, it was after the peak season, so I was never too worried about having to sleep in my car.

    In the end, I think I found sleeping bag accommodation for 2 or 3 nights, and regular hotels for the other 4 or 5 nights on the Ring Road. They are often the same places, it’s just that some guesthouses will charge less if they don’t have to change the sheets and all that. If you are on more of a relaxed schedule, I’d think that you could call a few places in the town you are headed to, and find something fairly cheap, and it will often be a sleeping bag place.

    Lastly (for now), it’s quite easy to eat on a very low budget if you buy supplies at the little supermarkets all over the island, and prepare your meals in the community kitchen that pretty much every guesthouse and hotel has. And of course all the sights are free, so once you figure out sleeping and transport, Iceland can be a cheap place to visit.

    Feel free to ask any other questions. They make me want to visit Iceland again sooner. -Roger

     
Ky says:

Hi there – One thing that was not mentioned is that Tax and Tip are included when dining out. Once i calculated what i would have added for those things, I found many casual restaurants were quite the same as here in Canada at least. My family and I had fish and chips one night and it ended up being that same as what we would have spent at home.

 

    Ky,

    That’s an interesting point. Tax is included in the quoted price almost everywhere in the world except the US and Canada, and tipping is usually smaller as well. So the prices I list are basically the final price in a place like Iceland, which makes them a bit more affordable than they might seem to some of us. -Roger

     
LT says:

Hi Roger!

Thanks for posting such useful information about Iceland!!

I am visiting in May for 6 days, and would like to try to do the ring road, or at least part of it… I have been trying to decide if I want to rent a car or just hitch-hike. It sounds like you think it’s pretty safe?

Also, do you know if it’s common for hostels to allow you to do a bag check? I wouldn’t want to take much of value with me while hitching…

Thanks so much!!

-LT

 

    LT,

    As I mentioned just above this, I was planning a solo trip to Iceland and I was trying to decide between renting a car on my own, and taking the public buses. I’m extremely glad I chose to rent a car as it became obvious that it allowed so much more freedom to explore where and when I wanted.

    My sense is that hitchhiking in Iceland is about as safe as it is anywhere in the world. It’s a very safe and quite wealthy country with a small population. Even the tourists are fairly well off because it’s not cheap to get there from anywhere else, nor is it cheap to stay there. And as far as I could tell, everyone speaks English, from the locals to the other tourists.

    My one concern about hitchhiking in May would be that it’s before the main tourist season and you might have to wait for some rides. I visited in late August, which is also after the main season, and there were very few cars going anywhere except for along the southern coast. With 6 days you might only have time to explore the southern coast so it could work out okay. In other words, if you wanted a ride from the northwest corner to the northeast corner one day, it might take a few hours before someone who is going that whole way and has room for you would come by. Or if you stayed at a larger hostel or guesthouse, you might be able to ask enough people there to find another guest going that exact direction, so it could be easy. One nice thing about Iceland, and especially the Ring Road, is that there are very few options, so most of the traffic is going to the same place, or just coming from that place.

    So bottom line, I think it’s safe, and it should be easy, but not necessarily for every ride at the exact moment you are ready to go.

    And as for stowing your bag at a hostel, that shouldn’t be a problem at all. As long as you book yourself into a place that gets decent reviews and is oriented towards budget travelers (and these are common), then probably many guests do that every day. The hostels and guesthouses in Iceland tend to be pretty big, at least compared to hostels in cities like London or Paris, so they should all be able to have a secure room for left luggage for paying guests. Have fun. -Roger

     
Stimey4444 says:

Thank you for this information – very helpful!
We are going to Iceland soon – will be driving a rental car for a day in Keflavik & Reyjavik; then driving an RV (giving flexibility) for a week around the Ring Road. The food prices you listed are similar to where we live (Hawaii)….mahalo!

 
Mackenzie says:

Hi there, im just wondering approximately how much it would be for a round trip ticket to Iceland for seven days coach. By the way, this was really informative and Im so glad i found this information.

 

    Mackenzie,

    I’m happy to hear that the article was helpful, and I highly recommend an Iceland visit if you can do it. In order to help you figure out the airfare, I’d have to at least know where you are starting from, and the departure date could make a difference as well. -Roger

     
Donna says:

My husband and I are taking a 2-day stop in Iceland in June in route to Copenhagen. We were thinking of taking a bus tour of the Golden Circle. In your opinion would we be better off to rent a car for this, or was your case for a car being built around the Ring Road drive? We are weighing the advantages of being able to stop as much as we like against the value of what we would hear from the tour leader on the bus tour. Your article has been helpful to us. Thank You.

 

    Donna,

    My car-rental recommendation was really more for the whole Ring Road. But still, for a couple with 2 days, I would also recommend a rental car as long as it doesn’t feel too expensive. I actually did the 3 main things included on the “Golden Circle” on my final day with my rental car, and they honestly weren’t nearly as impressive as most of the things I’d seen elsewhere in Iceland. I believe the primary appeal of the Golden Circle is that it can be done in about 8 hours from the airport and back. So it’s an excellent introduction to Iceland on a half-day layover, but a bit disappointing compared to a proper visit of 2 days where you can drive to the things that sound the most interesting.

    In my opinion, the Þingvellir national park isn’t really much to see, and the Gullfoss waterfalls are maybe the 10th most impressive of the 20 or so falls that I saw on the Ring Road. Even the valley of Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur, isn’t nearly as scenic as many of the volcanic areas elsewhere along the southern coast.

    If you rented a car, you’d be able to drive all the way to the town of Vik (along the southern coast) in a few hours, and then you could spend your two days stopping at all the various falls and national parks and volcanic fields and such along the way back to the airport. It’s very easy and low stress because there is basically one well-maintained road, and very little traffic on it. By the way, with only 2 days, I’d skip Reykjavik altogether unless there is something specific you want to see. It’s pleasant enough, but not nearly as interesting as you might think for such a remote capital.

    Best of luck, and feel free to ask any other questions if you have them. I enjoyed Iceland so much that I love answering questions about it and also thinking about my own next visit there. -Roger

     
Farah says:

Roger, thanks for the helpful advice! I’m traveling to Iceland with a friend in late August for a week. What kind of weather should we expect? Which items of clothing are essential? It sounds like we should pack light.

 

    Farah,

    As I may have written, I also went in late August, and it was quite mild/chilly every day. The average high around then is about 52F/11C, with average lows of about 44F/7C, and that’s about how it felt for me. The climate seemed about the same all the way around the island, though that’s not always the case. The point is, you’ll want a jacket even during the day, and you might also bring a sweater for another layer. If you rent a car, packing light isn’t much of an issue, but if you are camping and hiking a lot it could be. Bon voyage. -Roger

     
Eli says:

Hi,
Thank you for all info!
I want to asked. I know that icelandish people have special internet page. They can write that one persone go to from Reikjavyk (exampe) and can take more people. Maybe you know this page name?

 
Jane says:

Am so thankful to come across this site! We are going at the end of March for a few days with a package tour. Added a day and are renting a car for 2-3 days. Since our hotel in Rek is already paid for, I am trying to figure out if a trip to Vik & back in one day is feasible.

If not, may leave hotel room empty for one night and stay somewhere near Vik so we can take more time driving back and forth. My son is a photographer and if this trip is like others, we will be stopping A LOT.

Based on your experience, would you advise to stay over near Vik and drive back to Rek the next day?

Thanks!

 

    Jane,

    I’m always happy to hear that this information is helpful to some. I’m assuming that by “Rek” you are referring to Reykjavik. Those cities are only 180 km (110 miles) apart and the road between them is in good shape, but it’s also the busiest section of the Ring Road, so if you get unlucky there could be a few slow-downs. But still, it should take less than 3 hours in each direction if you didn’t stop many times.

    So yes, you could go to Vik and back in one day, especially if you get an early start. But you’ll be tempted to pull off to the side of the road every 10 or 15 kilometers to take photos, so that could slow you down. It’s also worth noting that the scenery gets less dramatic the closer you get to Reykjavik, so you’d probably be stopping far more often in the area closer to Vik. Hopefully this helps you make a decision. I think you’d really enjoy that part of your trip, whether you stayed in Vik or just did a long day trip. -Roger

     
Jocelyn says:

Hi Roger,
I’m going to iceland on nov with my sister and cousin. How’s the weather in November? Would you recommend going on a tour to do the golden circle and northern lights? We are renting a car but I’m not sure what to do or what the golden circle comprises.

Thank you,
Jocelyn

 

    Jocelyn,

    Iceland in November is typically a bit over freezing during the day, and a bit under freezing at night, but people seem to agree that it doesn’t feel all that harsh and big storms are rare. The days are also quite short that time of year, as Iceland is just below the Arctic Circle.

    As mentioned in the article, I rented a car and drove around the Ring Road in 7 days. During my final day I visited the 3 main components of the “Golden Circle Tour”, which are the original Geyser, a large waterfall, and a national park where you can kind of see the Continental Divide. I was surprised at how underwhelmed I was at those things, although the geyser field is quite interesting. The waterfall wouldn’t be in the Top 10 waterfalls I saw while on the Ring Road, and the national park didn’t really feel special at all, at least compared to the unbelievable scenery everywhere else.

    So my impression of the Golden Circle tour is that those are the best sights that you can reach on a short trip from the airport and back again on the same day. In other words, it’s not that they are so great, it’s just that they are conveniently close enough to the airport. The Blue Lagoon (very close to the airport) is also very interesting, even if you don’t pay to go in and swim.

    With your own rental car, you can do better sightseeing than the Golden Circle, and those attractions are also by far the most crowded so it will be nice to get away from the masses. If the Geyser interests you, it’s worth a visit and it’s free. Otherwise, I think you could see more interesting things on your way to Vik and back on your own. There are lava fields and stunning waterfalls all over the place, and it’s all free to visit if you have your own vehicle. It depends on how long you’ll have the car for, but I’d recommend researching other sights along the southern coast going east from the airport area. Let me know if you have other questions. -Roger

     
Danny says:

Hi Roger,

heading to Reykjavic for Champions League qualifier and want to know how long the bars are open, if they have happy hours and what is the price of a pint.

Thanks

 

    Danny,

    I didn’t stay out late, but it appears that bars in Reykjavik typically stay open until 01:00 on Sundays through Wednesday nights, and until 03:00 on Friday through Saturday nights. It’s a very party-oriented city center so I’d imagine that they’ll stay open even later if an event is still going on.

    The pint prices were starting at around 900 krona (US$8) at just about every place I looked at, and the real trendy places might charge even more. One place I really liked was a sports bar on the main shopping street (you’ll find it if you look), which had pints at 1000 krona (US$9) but they were 2-for-1 on happy hour, which was 18:00 to 20:00 or maybe an hour later. There were other happy hours in that early evening, but they were just a discount of 100 or 200 krona instead of the 2-for-1 at the sports bar. Those prices are all pretty high for the Icelandic people as well, so it’s common to buy retail and get started at home (or in a hotel). You have to plan early for that because they only sell alcohol at the state-run stores, which have pretty short hours. Good luck with it. -Roger

     
Ritchie says:

We are thinking of coming to see the Northern Lights in Feb next year, is that a good time of year?

 

    Ritchie,

    I’m no expert on the Northern Lights, except that I know people go to Iceland during the colder months to see them. I think January and February are two of the better months so you should be good. -Roger

     
Linda says:

Hi Roger, some really helpful information. Thanks, am benefitting from it. We are going to be in Iceland from 4 – 11 August. The only thing I have booked is the flights. At present, thanks to your help, we are going to hire a car and take sleeping bags. Do we need to book accommodation in advance, bearing in mind we don’t know where we will get to each day? Should we also book a car in advance?

Thanks again for all your sound advice, Linda

 

    Linda,

    Always happy to hear this stuff helps. As you may have read (although I’m not sure how specific I was in the article), my trip was the last week in August, which is the tail end of the tourist season. Going early in August, there will be more tourists there, but still I think most of it will be quite easy.

    Accommodation in Iceland can feel quite mysterious until you get there, so I was a bit stressed out by it as well. You can find hotels and some guesthouses online, although they tend to be the most expensive options in each town. So you can kind of use those as a back-up plan if all else fails. Otherwise, you’ll want to get your free copy of the sort of catalog that lists most of the smaller guesthouses and inns in each town. I picked up a copy at the tourist information office in the heart of Reykjavik, but I think you can get it other places as well.

    Once you have that thing, you’ll have many choices for sleeping in each town, and you can narrow your decision as you figure out where you want to end up that night. That will include many of the sleeping bag accommodation places. There’s also Airbnb. If you buy a Iceland SIM card when you arrive, you’ll have phone and data service pretty much everywhere around the Ring Road. So once you pick a target for the night, you can make a few calls or send a few emails to lock in a place. When I was there, I don’t think I came across a place that was sold out for the night, but earlier in the month it probably happens.

    In other words, it’s actually pretty easy to find accommodation each day as you go, and you’ll also probably be amazed at just how empty Iceland is once you get away from the capital.

    As for the rental cars, I doubt they could be sold out, but I think you can probably get a better rate if you book earlier. I used Sixt and was quite happy with everything. Have a great trip, and let me know if you have more questions. -Roger

     
      Linda Burnard says:

      That’s really interesting. If we set out from the airport in a south eastern direction is it possible to pick up a sleeping bag and catalog of guest houses at the first town we come to? It sounds a good idea to avoid the capital and am thinking of stopping there once we have gone the other way around the ring road. What are your thoughts about that? Thanks once again, Linda.

       

        Linda,

        When I researched renting a sleeping bag, the place I ended up using was in central Reykjavik, although I do believe there were others that are elsewhere in the area. If you can find one of those other places, then I think your plan sounds good. As I probably mentioned above, Reykjavik isn’t nearly as interesting as the scenery is beautiful, but it’s probably worth spending a day there if you are in Iceland for a week or more.

        I also think you might be able to get that guesthouse catalog at the airport or from your car rental company. My rental company (Sixt) gave me something similar to that, even though I already had the one from the tourism board. That thing might also be available online. I’m sure you could find a copy somewhere without much difficulty. Good luck. -Roger

         
Stewart says:

Excellent information. Which is the best direction to drive the ring road? I would prefer the sights to improve as as I go along.If I were to choose 3 stops along the way (Reykjavic, Hofn, Akureyri) spending 4 days at each destination, would this be too much driving on the moving dayd?

 

    Stewart,

    As always, I’m happy to hear that this information has been helpful. As for which direction to do the Ring Road in, I went counter-clockwise and was very happy with it, but it’s hard to say if the sights are better in one direction or the other.

    Here are a couple of notes that might help: The highway between Reykjavik and Vik (along the southern coast) is by far the most crowded stretch of highway in the country. And personally, I thought the 3 main attractions of the “Golden Circle” near Reykjavik were a bit disappointing in addition to being crowded, but the sights closer to Vik were some of the best in the country. So if you go the way I did, it would mean spending your last two days or so in the most crowded area, and your last day driving behind tour buses full of people on a 8-hour stopover just seeing a few nearby things. On the other hand, nothing in Iceland is really crowded in the normal sense of the word, it’s more that you’d see 10 cars per minute driving near the capital, and maybe 1 car per minute (or less) driving in the northern part of the island.

    And if you are considering driving from Reykjavik to Akureyri in one shot and then spending 4 days there, then driving to Hofn in one go and spending 4 days there before driving all the way back to Reykjavik, I don’t think it would be a wise use of time and distance on the Ring Road. For one thing, I’d guess those driving days would be at least 10 hours each, and that’s if you don’t stop along the way, which is kind of the whole point.

    My own plan was to divide the island up into 7 driving days for my one-week car rental, and I’m very glad I did it that way. There are waterfalls and hot springs and volcano fields and gorgeous bits of scenery in every part of the island, so I tried to cover 3 to 5 hours of actual driving each day, with plenty of time to stop at the sights along the way. In most of the island, there are so few other cars that I often literally stopped my car in the middle of the road for a minute or two while I took some photos out the window. In some places I could have stopped for 20 minutes and not seen another car, which was honestly one of the most wonderful experiences of the whole thing. And I’m talking about the main highway, not some side road. A few of the better sights (waterfalls, national parks) are maybe 30 minutes driving off the Ring Road, so you have to factor in a bit of extra time on those days.

    If you prefer to base yourself in one place for longer than just one night, those cities are your list are probably the best choices, but still I’d try to ration out the driving more so you don’t have to race on your longer days. There are little towns with a few guesthouses every hour or so as you drive around, so you don’t have to go too far on any given day. I hope this helps, and feel free to follow up if I might help more. As you can tell, Iceland has been one of my favorite destinations ever so I’m excited just chatting about it like this. -Roger

     
Stewart says:

Thanks, Roger. I very much appreciate your time and assistance in helping me and others have the “perfect” vacation.
My wife and I are nearing 60 years old and we prefer not to sleep in a different place every night, so that is why I was thinking of staying for a few days in each location. I will attempt to shorten each stay and add in a few more stops along the way which may be at the expense of missing a few of the sights.

 

    Stewart,

    I understand what you mean about not wanting to change hotels every day. In Iceland, it seems that most people only spend one night in most of these guesthouses, and it’s easier than it is in most other places. There is literally no traffic to worry about once you get outside the Reykjavik area, so you can check out of your room and be back on the highway only a few minutes later. I do think if you make at least one or two more stops that it will be easier to enjoy the scenery, though I’m sure you’ll have an incredible time no matter how you do it. Have a great trip. -Roger

     

I’m considering a holiday to Iceland and found your review really helpful, thank you for sharing this information.

 
Prateek says:

i am planning an holiday of 1 week in Iceland and your reviews are very help full. i just wanted to know that approxmately how much it cost to spend 1 week with shared kitchen and private room ??
if possible then please give me your answer in terms of US$

 

    Prateek,

    Always happy to hear that this information is helpful. This is a tough question to answer but I’ll try anyway. I went by myself and I was looking for affordable guesthouses, and I averaged about US$60 to US$80 per night for a room. These were all fairly basic, and a couple of them were “sleeping bag accommodation” so they didn’t come with fresh sheets, and I was fine with those because I rented a sleeping bag in Reykjavik.

    In most cases I was given a room with 2 small beds or one large bed, and I believe two people would only pay a bit more for the same room. In one place I rented a small cabin with its own kitchen, but all the rest had communal kitchens. Those shared kitchens are pretty much standard at guesthouses, and they were always somewhat busy because actual restaurants in Iceland are not common and they are very expensive. Most places also had a shared living area and a dining room, so it was all very friendly and social for anyone who cared to partake.

    In one case I decided to splurge on a proper chain hotel room, which cost me about US$120 per night including a breakfast buffet. As I mention in the article, pretty much all of the attractions and sights are actually free, so you really only need to sort out accommodation, food, and transport. Hopefully this helps, and let me know if you had something else in mind with this question. -Roger

     
stav says:

Hi,
Thanks for sharing very useful and practical information.
I have a few questions I hope you don’t mind answering.
During which month did you travel and what was the weather like (temperature and rain) ?
Is camping a reasonable option, or does it rain so much that it makes camping uncomfortable ?
Which car rental companies do you recommend ? Most of the car rental companies I found online have very very high prices, much higher than the prices you mentioned, so I would appreciate some recommendations on some reasonably priced car rental companies ones which are also reliable.
Which chain hotels was it that offers rooms for $120 ?
Regarding the sleeping bag accomodation, is it mentioned on the accomodation listing, or does one have to request it specially ?
Thanks

 

    Stav,

    I’m glad the main article helped, and I’ll try to answer your questions below.

    I went the last week of August in 2013 and the weather was cool but not really cold. The highs were about 62F/17C and the lows were around 46F/8C. I had very little rain during that week, which appears to be normal for that time of year. There was one rain storm while I was still in Reykjavik, which was also very windy, but it only lasted an hour or two.

    Camping was something I didn’t research much, but I do know that it’s very popular in the summer, and even fairly popular during the cold months for the Northern Lights. In spite of its northern latitude, Iceland doesn’t have particularly cold winters, and it only gets a bit below freezing at sea level.

    I rented from Sixt (a very large agency based in Germany) and was happy with them. They were only a bit more expensive than the smaller local agencies, so I thought it was worth going with a big company that has a worldwide reputation to consider. It’s true that most other agencies showed higher prices for that week, so I was a bit worried that I’d discover that “you get what you pay for.” But my experience was actually great. I upgraded to an automatic instead of a manual transmission, and when that car was an hour late getting back to the office, they gave me a free GPS system for the week for the trouble, which was invaluable. I paid for the gravel insurance, which I was also happy with because it gave me tremendous peace of mind on the trip, even though there turned out to be no damage needed to be covered. I took mostly main routes, but still there was one 20-kilometer stretch that was unpaved and covered in gravel. It felt like the front of the car was being pummeled by small rocks as I drove that section, and I probably would have turned around and drove WAY out of my way without the gravel coverage. When I returned the car to the airport location, I was a bit worried that they’d find some other small damage that I hadn’t noticed, but the guy barely looked at the car before driving me to the terminal in the thing. Overall it was great.

    The chain hotel I stayed in for about US$120 for a single room was a Hotel Edda in Vik. I’m pretty sure it was a last-minute deal because they must have had quite a few empty rooms. I booked it that same morning and it was quite nice.

    The sleeping bag accommodation is available at many guesthouses (not hotels though), and I don’t know if it’s always listed. When you get to Iceland you’ll be able to get a large booklet that lists nearly every guesthouse and hotel in the country. It’s very helpful for the great many people who only want to book a hotel on the same day, and I seem to remember that it showed sleeping bag options for many places. Those guesthouses tend to be small and best booked by phone or email, and when you call or write you can ask about sleeping bag options.

    I hope this helps and best of luck. -Roger

     
Stav says:

Wow, thanks so much for taking the time to write such detailed answers.
I very much appreciate it.

 
Dave Bateman says:

Great blog Roger, very informative and interesting to find out about the prices as I have been told, by people who have never been,that a beer is about £20. I am going with my son (as a 21st birthday present) for 3 days in November and am booked into a hotel with breakfast. Have booked a Northern lights trip and a half day trip to Gullfoss,Geysir & Thingvellir. As we dont drive this seemed like the best way to sample Iceland in a short time. Once again thanks for the read.

 

    Dave,

    Thanks for taking the time to write, as this is exactly why I thought it would be worthwhile to collect and share this information. Some places have a reputation as being insanely expensive, and they don’t always deserve it. In fact, I’m headed to Norway in a few weeks to do the same thing there. Cheers. -Roger

     
    Darren says:

    Dave,

    Was this Via Wowcher? I am going in November too. Very much looking forward to it.

     
Michelle says:

Hi Roger,
I will be going to Iceland in November for 5nights, I will be going with my niece, we don’t drive and are hoping to stay in Reykjavik, (Self-catering) apartment what would be the best way of seeing what Iceland has to offer on a medium budget. Will we miss out if we just stay in Reykjavik, how easy it to get around and see sights without a vehicle.

 

    Michelle,

    I travel all over the world and only in New Zealand and Iceland have I decided to rent a car. In the case of Iceland, I really do think it’s the best way to see a lot in a short amount of time, but if you can’t do it, there are buses and even hitchhiking.

    There are several companies that have bus deals where you can keep going in one direction in a little loop for a reasonable price. That is probably your best bet. They stop at the main scenic attractions (waterfalls, national parks etc.), but I don’t think you can stay for long without having to wait for the bus the next day. After reading a lot about the buses myself, I decided to splurge a bit on the rental car, and after doing it I’m extremely happy I did.

    Honestly, Reykjavik itself is only entertaining for a day or maybe two. The “historic” city center is basically one small street lined with shops and restaurants, and the only real sight is the cathedral tower, which takes 10 minutes to enjoy.

    At the very least you’ll want to take a tour of the Golden Circle attractions that are all near Reykjavik. You’ll be better off if you could take a bus along the southern coast to the town of Vik and back, seeing all the excellent sights along the way. Also, Reykjavik is the most expensive city (by at least a little) so if you traveled elsewhere it would be cheaper. Best of luck with whatever you decide, and feel free to follow up with other questions if you have them. -Roger

     
Laura says:

Thank you for providing this information. A friend and I are doing the 5 night thing in Iceland and are staying in Reykjavik. I know we are getting a car for one day, but it might be better to do a 2 day rental. We are looking forward to hot pools and Northern Lights.

One question that has come up in our planning is the price of coffee. My friend drinks a lot of coffee and is concerned about what she will be spending.

I’m very excited for this trip and to see what we can see in a short period of time.

 

    Laura,

    Yes, I think a 2-day car rental would be much better than one day. As I’ve mentioned before, the main sights near Reykjavik are quite mediocre compared to the sights a bit farther away, and the crowds near the capital are much larger as well. If you can take a day to drive to Vik, and another day driving back, seeing various sights along the way on both days, I think you’ll be glad you did.

    As for coffee prices I don’t remember exactly, which means that it was pretty typical and not outrageous. Coffee should be free with breakfast at your hotel. After that, your best bet will be to pop into fast-food restaurants in Reykjavik or into the snack bars connected to all the petrol stations while driving around. I think you’ll pay maybe US$2 to US$3 for a large take-away cup of coffee. Have a great trip. -Roger

     
Ben Anderson says:

Great information on Iceland here, I have read every comment and learnt loads. I was thinking of going to Iceland late November for 5 days or even a week. This is the first I have heard about the Ring Road. I was planning on getting a hotel somewhere and doing excursions ever day. No i think I will get a car and do the ring road.

I would like to know how long did it take you to get round the whole Road.

Is there a shorter route that you can do as I would like to go quad biking and horse back riding while i was there. So i was thinking of staying a few days in Reykjavik or similar then getting excursions from there then doing the Ring Road to see the sights.

Thanks
Ben

 

    Ben,

    I’m happy this has helped. I went clockwise on the Ring Road leaving from Reykjavik, and I spent an entire week doing it. Actually, I did about 85% of the distance in the first 5 days, and then took my time along the southern coast because there are many sights in that area. As I’m sure I mentioned above, my Ring Road experience is one of my fondest travel experiences of my life, and the whole thing is spectacular and varied the whole way around. You could probably do the whole Ring in about 5 days, but trying to go any faster and you wouldn’t really enjoy it because you’d be driving nearly every daylight hour (actually in November you might have to drive in the dark as well).

    Unfortunately, there’s no real short version of the Ring Road because it’s really the one proper paved road around the island, and the interior is mostly dirt roads that require a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to even go on them.

    The one shorter alternative that could work would be to drive from Reykjavik along the southern coast to the town of Vik, and then drive back, mostly on the same roads. In my opinion, the scenery closer to Vik is more interesting than that closer to Reykjavik, and the sights are much less crowded as well. You could easily do 3 or 4 nights back and forth, seeing pretty much everything in between. On the other hand, a 7-day car rental might only be a bit more expensive, so the whole ring could be tempting.

    And again, the city of Reykjavik itself is kind of a dud that can be appreciated in a day or so. You can take all sorts of trips to the nearby sights from the capital, but I’m among those who thinks going outside that bubble was extremely worthwhile.

    Have a great trip, and let me know if I can help further. -Roger

     
      Allen says:

      Roger, I have been reading your comments with great interest as you appear to have a good pulse on what not to see in Iceland and which scenery is worth a visit. Thanks for all you do. With that said, I am researching for a trip to Iceland late February 2015. I have multiple questions if you don’t mind taking the time to answer? Pardon the lengthy post, but you appear well-knowledgeable of Iceland.

      1) In late February, would I be able to comfortably drive a rental car (2WD) from Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon? I understand that some parts of Ring Road (Rt 1) is composed of gravel but a 2Wd should be okay. Wanted to confirm that with you.

      2) I am more concerned with looking for sleeping bag accommodations along the way that will enable us to cook our own food. What budget friendly websites would you use to book these accommodations in advance? From Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon, I would like to make 1 overnight stop (perhaps in Vik) since we will be doing a lot of photography at waterfalls on the way.

      3) Below is a rough draft of my itinerary from Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon (noticeably skipping the Golden Circle per your suggestion). Can you run through this and vouch for the accuracy – mainly to check to see if this plan is doable in 3 days time:

      a) Depart Reykjavik in rental car the morning of Feb 23rd – possibly using Sixt Rental agency, with CDW included plus gravel damage coverage. Are you aware of other reputable rental agencies that provide great service and reasonable rates?
      b) Our first stop on Rt. 1 may be Mount Hengill, a central volcano with magma chamber. Wondering if this is worth a stop.
      c) Hveragerdi – I read that this town has interesting hot springs. Do you know if they are free? I’m not much interested in paying for the Blue Lagoon, as it seems to be overrated based on local opinions.
      d) Continue on Rt. 1 to Seljalandsfoss waterfall, consistently rated high by travelers.
      e) Stop in town of Skogar to see the Skogafoss waterfall, another top-rated location.
      f) Make a stop at Myrdalur to see glaciers? (if scenery is not worth it, will skip this)
      g) Next stop would be the village of Vik for the black sand beach. I read that there are shops here for souvenirs/jewelry.

      At this point, I may decide to stay overnight in Vik, since it is about 3 hours drive from Reykjavik to Vik (no doubt it would take much longer with all of our stops!) Do you have any recommended sleeping bag accommodations or budget guesthouses near Vik? Next morning continue the journey:

      h) Continue down Rt. 1 to Vatnajokull National Park for their ice caves. Would we be able to enter the caves with no guides? I understand that if the water/streams are not frozen, it’s more difficult to enter the caves for photography.
      i) Skaftafell Nature reserve – worth a look? I’m hopeful that a 2WD car can reach these places.
      j) At last, Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. We may spend our 2nd day here exploring the area. Then stay overnight in hopes of catching the Northern Lights at the lagoon. Based on research, cloud cover in February is extensive, so it would be hit or miss on seeing the Aurora Borealis. We’re hoping to do as much as we can ourselves, without paying for tour guides.

      After the glacier lagoon, we’ll drive back to Reykjavik, making stops along the way. Perhaps head down to the town that charters a boat from Heimaey Island to see the loneliest house in the world (on Elliðaey island). Although that may be a bad idea in February (biting cold from wind).

      Thanks for any input that you can give!

       

        Allen,

        Always happy to hear that this is helpful, and I’ll try to answer as many of these as I can.

        1) Yes, the entire Ring Road and many of the smaller roads leading from it are rated okay for 2WD vehicles. The Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is actually right off one of the busier parts of the highway, and it’s all perfectly paved though the whole south part of the island, which is also the busiest area.

        2) Vik would be a good stop on your way toward Hofn. The one problem you might have is that February is obviously the off season in Iceland, and I believe many of the larger hotels are closed for the season. When I went I used kayak.com to check the public hotel listings, but there are also plenty of guesthouses that only seem to book by phone and email, which you’ll find out about in the directory you can get free once you arrive in Iceland. Many of these smaller places offer the sleeping bag accommodation, and my best guess is that you’d be able to find something in every town you went to, or at least in the next town over.

        You can get a voice and data SIM card once you get to Iceland, which will work everywhere you’ll be traveling. I’m pretty sure you’ll just need to call or email one or two places in the directory, and you’ll have a room sorted out. It all seems very mysterious until you get there (it sure did for me), but once you arrive I found it pretty easy and relatively stress free to book rooms.

        3) It’s hard for me to confidently comment on your itinerary because I think I only went to about half of the places on your list, and I don’t remember them all by name. So I think it’s wise to trust the other online reviews and general opinions that you’ve read. You might also check Lonely Planet’s online content for Iceland, which I used and found to be very reliable.

        Most of the main sights are very close to the Ring Road, so it’s easy enough to pull off for a quick look and decide whether it’s worth spending more time there. If a place requires a 4WD vehicle to get there, I’m pretty sure it would be mentioned in the description or the reviews, and most sights are suited to a 2WD vehicle for sure.

        As I mentioned, I was quite happy with the service from Sixt Rent a Car, and they were one of the cheapest for the dates I was there. My guess is that as long as you go with a larger agency and factor in the price of the gravel protection for peace of mind, you should do fine with any of them so look for the cheaper ones. Renting cars for Ring Road trips is a big industry in Iceland and if one company built a reputation for ripping people off, I think they would struggle to survive. I was a bit worried by this because it’s easy to find reviews from people who had a bad experience with any of the agencies. But the tens of thousands of happy customers rarely write reviews, so I think it looks much scarier than it really is.

        And actually, if you are only going as far as Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, you’ll be on well-maintained main roads the whole time. The only unpaved parts of the Ring Road are along the east coast, although some of the access roads leading to the waterfalls are also unpaved, so the gravel thing is probably worth getting.

        Oh, and the food situation in Iceland is quite unusual because there are very few restaurants outside of the bigger cities. BUT, there are snack bars and fast-food franchises connected to most petrol stations, and those are found in nearly every town along the way. And every guesthouse I stayed in had a shared kitchen for self-catering, which was used by most guests. In other words, the communal kitchen with nearby supermarkets thing seems to be the normal way of eating for most tourists, so you should have no trouble finding places like that.

        If you have other questions I can help with, please ask and I’ll give it a shot. -Roger

         
        Renata says:

        Dear Allen,

        I will be going to Iceland in February 2016 and my initial idea was to do pretty much the same tour as you were suggesting! Could you please forward me your contact (or send an e-mail to [email protected]), I am really curious if you were able to do everything you planned and if so, if you have any tips!

        Thanks!

        PS. Roger, thank you for the time you took to write down all your experiences and so many useful ideas, I found it one of the best recommendations out there!

         
Ben Anderson says:

I have been reading up on a few things and as there is only a few hours of day light in November I was thinking of staying in Reykjavik and doing a few nights there with Blue lagoon etc then travelling down to Vik staying there and then maybe a bit further on to another town and staying there. I dont want to be travelling in the night as i will miss all the sights. I could do a few things from Reykjavik Snow mobile, snorkling etc then travel the south coast and back again then stay last night in Reykjavik before flight home.

 
lizie hagenstein says:

Hi Roger – I am impressed with you diligence in replying to peoples’ questions! I am planning a trip with my daughter in May 2015. Unfortunately, we will be there for only 6 full traveling days. I like the idea of traveling the ring road, but am concerned that we will not have enough time and will spend the entire time in the car trying to stay on schedule. Any suggestions on planning an itinerary would be greatly appriciated! Best, Lizie

 

    Lizie,

    With 6 full traveling days I’m quite sure you can do the whole Ring Road comfortably, and also that it would be far more fulfilling than any smaller alternative. One unfortunate thing about the Ring Road is that it’s really all or nothing in that there isn’t a version where you can cut one-third of it off and drive through the center of the country in a straight line.

    Here’s what I did. I rented a car in Reykjavik, and didn’t actually leave the city until around 2pm. I drove north for a few hours and stopped for the night. Over the next 3 full days I made it all the way around to Höfn, which is in the southeast of Iceland, and I had 3 more full days to get the last 500 kilometers back to the airport. I could have driven that section in just 6 hours if I went straight through, but (especially in the southeast) there are many of the top sights through that section, so I gave myself more than enough time to go slow through them.

    Now, those first 3 full days on the road were pretty long each day in the car, but I had time to stop and see everything I wanted to and still make it to a hotel by around sunset. In May, you’ll have even longer days than I had, so it will be even easier.

    One wonderful thing is that most of the famous waterfalls and other sights are literally at the edge of the Ring Road, so you just drive into a parking lot and there is a huge waterfall. A few sights require a drive of maybe 10 to 30 minutes each way on a dirt/gravel road, but you’d even have time to do most of those.

    The next time I do it, I think I’ll take an extra day to get to Höfn, to balance out the driving days a bit better. In other words, I drove about 80% of the Ring Road in the first 3.5 days on the road, and I loved every second of it.

    The one slightly tricky part for you would be finding towns and hotels that are spaced out to fit your schedule. Except along the southern coast, the little towns with little guesthouses can be 100 kilometers (60 miles) apart, so you have to plan and pace yourself right. It should be easy to do as long as you plan in advance though.

    As always, please let me know if you have other questions that I might help with. I continue to daydream about my next Iceland trip, so it’s fun to try to help other people plan their own journey. -Roger

     
      lizie hagenstein says:

      Hi Roger – How wonderful of you to respond so promptly – You are a breath of fresh air.

      This was the answer I was hoping for!

      We arrive EARLY in the morning and so will be able to get our rental car as soon as they open and get right on the road. I will research cell phone/ sim card options so we can plan our days and make reservations while we are on the road.

      I’m sure I will have many questions between now and May and so will be back in touch 🙂

      Thank you for this site and your generous responses!

      Lizie

       
Joe says:

Hi Roger,
My 21 year old daughter wants to stop and travel in Iceland newt spring for a week (or so) on her way back from London (studying abroad). My wife and I are nervous about her traveling alone. She wants to stay in a hostel and take day tours. Any thoughts on the safety of a 21 year old girl traveling alone for the first time in Iceland (or elsewhere)? Recommendations?
Thanks, Joe

 

    Joe,

    Aside from perhaps Japan, I can’t think of a safer place for a young female independent traveler than Iceland. The island is so isolated that it’s literally a place where many locals don’t bother locking their doors. And while there are better, more predictable ways of getting around, the hitchhiking scene in Iceland seems to be quite strong and safe because it’s such a friendly place and everyone speaks English.

    In Europe, it’s common to see 18 to 20-year-olds traveling on their own, and it seems to be very safe as long as the traveler is aware of their surroundings. In Iceland, the whole island feels like a national park, so everyone is there to appreciate the nature.

    As for what she might do in Iceland, I think staying in at least two different places would be wise. There are plenty of things to see near Reykjavik, but the city itself is not very interesting, and there are more dramatic sights closer to Hofn or Vik, along the southern coast. So I think a couple days in or near Reykjavik (where the airport is), and a couple days in Hofn or Vik or both would be ideal. There is a bus package that lets you do a loop between those cities, and there will be plenty of other solo backpackers on those buses.

    I hope this helps, and let me know if you have other questions. -Roger

     
Jeremy says:

Hi Roger,
Really insightful article! I’m considering going there with my girlfriend in the week of christmas for probably 7 nights.

We’re somewhat on a budget but are unfamiliar with the transportation. We’d like to see as much places as possible in the cheapest possible way. Is it really cheaper to rent a car for 7 days in comparison to using the available transportation services to visit the other attractions? At the mean time, what’re the things we should take note of especially travelling in this period? Are there any difference in the attractions?

We won’t have much issues cooking so we know that’s where we’ll be able to save.

Thank you for this wonderful article again! Hoping to hear from you soon!

Cheers!
Jeremy

 

    Jeremy,

    I’m always happy to hear that this sort of thing helps. But first off, are you aware that Iceland is just south of the Arctic Circle, and therefore will have almost no sunlight in late December? Actually, from maybe 11am until 2pm it will be light enough to appreciate the scenery, but the rest of the day it will pretty much be dark. Iceland is all about the outdoors and the landscapes and such, so I’m not sure it would be worthwhile in December.

    It’s a popular time for those wanting to come see the Northern Lights. But you’d probably be the only ones on the Ring Road in the north. And I’m not sure that the tourist buses even operate during winter. I believe there are normal buses for residents to get from town to town, though I doubt they stop at the waterfalls and national parks along the way.

    If you do decide to try it, you could certainly do it cheaply. As mentioned in the article, the “attractions” are all the waterfalls and parks and other scenery, and they are all free.

    My recommendation would be to wait at least until March, when you’ll have at least 10 or 11 hours of sunlight, and you’ll still be among the very few tourists there that time of year. Whenever you decide to go, I hope you do go, because it’s an incredible place. -Roger

     
Sydney says:

A few college friends and I are trying to take a two week trip to Iceland in August. I’ve been trying to figure out the cheapest way to enjoy what Iceland has to offer, and how to properly budget.

I did find out about camping cards for $121 that are good for two adults, which really equates to about $60 each for enough camp sites for two weeks. Is that actually a viable option?

It seems that renting a car will be the biggest expense. Do you suggest getting a 4×4 or can you get by without? That does make a significant difference in price. I’ve also read to book your car in advance.

Also, how much would you expect us to spend in gas for 13 days, as well as food if we only shop at the local supermarkets for our food?

Do you have advance in terms of different key things to hit while on the road or possible excursions you simply can’t miss?

I’ve been told also purchase groceries from the supermarket in order to save money.

I’m trying to figure if I could spend $1000 for two weeks there. It seems plausible with everything I’ve found so far and dividing costs between 4 people. Thoughts? We will ideally be backpacking and camping out our whole time.

Thanks

 

    Sydney,

    I didn’t camp when I visited Iceland, but I know it’s very popular, especially in the warmest months. The camping card sounds like a great deal. Hopefully you can research that more fully elsewhere because I don’t know much about it.

    Here’s the thing about rental cars in Iceland. You can drive the entire Ring Road and most of the little offshoot roads from it with a 2WD vehicle. The only place you need a 4WD is to reach the smaller roads nearer the center of the island. For most visitors, the 2WD is just fine, but I believe many of the campsites are on those 4WD roads. In other words, I’m sure you could have a great 2-week trip with a 2WD vehicle, but you might discover that there are some roads that you aren’t allowed on with the thing. I guess it depends on how much more the 4WD costs, and how much you guys can afford. As I mention above, I got a 2WD with the gravel coverage, and I was glad I did. When you find yourself on a gravel road, which could happen a lot, your choices will be to drive at a snail’s pace and pray that you aren’t shredding the front of the car, or drive at a moderate pace knowing you aren’t liable for damage.

    I do think that booking a rental car in advance is wise, especially in the high season of August. There’s some chance that you could get a better deal in person, but most likely you’d probably find higher rates from all the legit companies, and maybe a “bargain” from a rent-a-wreck type of place.

    I used a Lonely Planet guide on my iPad while touring Iceland, and I was extremely happy with its information and recommendations. I did a full lap of the Ring Road and hit nearly all the famous waterfalls and parks, although I was hurrying through much of it. I think their info is about as good as you can get for a general guide, and certainly far better than I can recommend. One thing though, the famous Blue Lagoon (near the airport) is very expensive and maybe not worth it. I went there for a free look-around rather than a swim, which was interesting, but there are similar places elsewhere on the island that are cheaper.

    Your fuel costs probably won’t be too crazy. The gas certainly isn’t cheap there, but it’s a relatively small island and as long as you plan an efficient route, you probably won’t do much more than one lap around the Ring Road, which is 1300KM or 800 miles. You won’t be driving very fast at any point, so you should get decent fuel economy.

    Yes, you’ll save a ton of money on food if you focus on groceries rather than restaurants. Pretty much every guesthouse has a community kitchen, and I’m sure most campgrounds have them as well. As mentioned in the article above, the whole Iceland tourism scene seems based on self-catering. There are actually very few restaurants except in larger towns, and all of them are expensive. Most petrol stations have fast-food places built in, which aren’t too expensive. But groceries (as discussed above) are much cheaper and the main way people do it.

    If you are camping most of the time, I’d think that US$1,000 should be plenty, assuming there aren’t camping expenses that we don’t know about. Eating can be relatively affordable if you shop and cook, and yes, pretty much all of the “attractions” are waterfalls, vistas, and parks, which are all free for visitors. Best of luck, and let me know if you have more questions. -Roger

     
Ray says:

Roger, great informative article! I am planning to go to London, England for a friend’s wedding on July 25. I have been reading online that I should expect to spend about $300 US/day on average for mid-range hotels, etc. So with flights included, I am estimating around $3000 just to stay in London on a mid-range budget.

For Iceland, what did you roughly find that mid-range budget/day to be? My interests lies in covering the Ring Road in 5 – 6 days and less about nightclubbing, etc.

 

    Ray,

    Thanks. First off, US$300 per day in London should get you quite a decent hotel plus nice meals and a few drinks. It’s pretty easy to enjoy yourself in London on closer to US$200 per day, although the hotel wouldn’t be as nice or as central.

    So to use a US$300/day benchmark, you can expect to spend under US$200 per day in Iceland, although it’s a totally different thing. For one thing, you’ll need to rent a car or buy a bus pass to do the Ring Road, which I agree is the best thing about Iceland. You should be able to find hotels for US$150 per night or less, but you can also find very comfortable guesthouses for US$70 to US$100 per night. The guesthouses don’t have en suites, but they all have a community kitchen for cooking. Honestly, when I was there it felt like the majority of fellow visitors were staying in guesthouses and doing some of their own cooking. There aren’t many proper hotels in some of the smaller towns, though they all have these guesthouses.

    Really, it’s the way to go in Iceland because it feels like the whole island (except for the airport and Reykjavik) is one big national park. So people camp or stay in guesthouses and it really has a community feeling that way. Also, there aren’t many real restaurants in the smaller towns, but there is always a little grocery store and usually a fast food place or two at the nearest gas station. I highly recommend that travel style, rather than trying to book into chain-style hotels and looking for sit-down restaurants everywhere you go. It’ll also be much cheaper doing in the guesthouse way.

    So as an example, not including your rental car or fuel, you can find a nice room at a guesthouse for US$80 per night. If you buy groceries the night before you can make a breakfast for US$5 or so. If you are driving during the day you might be best off getting lunch at a snack bar or fast food place along the way, which would be around US$10. For dinner, you can buy something at a store for maybe US$10 or even less. Since so many visitors are doing this, the grocery stores have loads of easy-to-prepare items like frozen pizzas and dinners and pasta and sauces and even prepared dinners.

    Another part of the equation to be aware of is that Iceland is NOT a foodie destination so there aren’t any local dishes that you need to try. The restaurants are mostly sea-food and Italian or maybe northern European (roast chicken and veggies etc), and a typical dinner will be US$20 to US$30.

    Hopefully this helps, and feel free to follow up if you have other questions. You’ll love the place. -Roger

     
Ray says:

I also had a second part to my question above since I will be travelling with my Girlfriend, as well. When you drove along the Northern part of Iceland, what were your top 3 places to stop at? I hear a lot about driving the Golden Ring Road, but hear that the bulk of “tourist attractions” are on the Southern part of Iceland. I am really interested in quirky, off-the-beaten path attractions when I travel, so just wondering what your thoughts about Northern Iceland were?

 

    Ray,

    I just noticed this part. It’s very easy to confuse the “Golden Circle” which is 3 main attractions close to Reykjavik, with the “Ring Road” which encircles the island.

    The Golden Circle consists of a waterfall, the Geysir hot springs field, and a national park that includes the Continental Divide. In my opinion, the waterfall isn’t too special compared to many others you’ll see on the Ring Road. The Geysir field is interesting, although also crowded. And the national park didn’t seem very special to me at all.

    On the Ring Road, on the other hand, you come across volcano fields and random waterfalls and national parks and geothermal pools all the way around. Better still, the sights on the Ring Road will be almost empty, while on the Golden Circle they are packed with day-trippers on bus excursions.

    All of that said, probably the most interesting part of the Ring Road is the part along the southern coast between Hofn and the Reykjavik area, although once you get close to the capital it gets crowded and more suburban. In other words, do the Ring Road and save plenty of time for the southern coast, but don’t worry about saving a full day for the Golden Circle attractions because they would be a disappointment after all the rest. -Roger

     
Gillybilly says:

Hi Rodger
Thank you for answering all our questions with such detail. I am travelling to Iceland later this month with my husband and boys, we are just spending three days around Reykjavik heading to the blue lagoon / northern lights tour which I have booked. I was wondering if my husband and boys could get away with wearing wool jackets as opposed to buying ski jackets. I have all the other warm gear but didn’t want to be left with jackets that wouldn’t be worn again. What are your thoughts on that idea.?
They will have base layers and warm jumpers under these jackets.

 

    Gillybilly,

    I’ve only been to Iceland in late August so I can only confirm that it’s chilly even in late summer. However, I see that the temperatures in late February will typically be a bit above freezing, so I think you can get by with a wool layer as long as you also have another layer or two underneath. The wind might be a problem though. You can probably get better advice elsewhere about winter weather. Sorry. -Roger

     
dorrie says:

We are 2 women traveling to Iceland in May and will be going for 10 to 14 days. Will we have trouble finding economy sleeping arrangements? Do we need to book in advance our room. We are comfortable with shared bath and use of sleeping bags.

 

    dorrie,

    I know exactly what you mean. One weird thing about Iceland is that much, if not most, of the accommodation is not found or bookable online. I was in the same position before my trip and I was a bit nervous about it. The good news is that there are many guesthouses in each town that are only bookable by phone or sometimes email. As I think I mentioned in the article above, when you arrive in Iceland you’ll have a few chances (like at the tourist desk at the airport or in Reykjavik) to get a free copy of a catalog that lists all of the smaller places in each town. If you have phone service while you are there, or a way of sending email, you should be able to find and book places as you go pretty easily.

    Also, since so many people travel around the Ring Road or do other one-way trips like that, it appears that most visitors only stay in each guesthouse for one night. In other words, most places empty out each morning and prepare for a whole new set of visitors each afternoon. And since so little of it is booked way in advance, it seems to be quite easy to find a place in the afternoon as you go.

    Lastly, it’s worth noting that the high season for Iceland is basically June through August, and those are the only months where guesthouses often seem to fill up at all. So going in May you should have no problem finding an affordable place in almost any town you approach. And as mentioned, many of these guesthouses offer “sleeping bag accommodation” where you can save US$10 or US$15 per night by bringing your own bedding. From what I can tell, shared bathrooms are the norm all over Iceland, with the only exceptions being larger chain hotels and really high-end places. Pretty much all of these guesthouses also offer community kitchens too, partly because there are so few actual restaurants.

    Have a great trip and I think you’ll find that accommodation is quite easy to find once you arrive. -Roger

     
Kayla says:

Roger, thanks for this awesome site! I have a few questions of my own.. My fiancé and I were looking into Iceland for our honeymoon for a week. We would love to stay in one centralized location to sleep (instead of somewhere new every night), and was wondering if this is possible? We will be going in mid-November, so I know the amount of sunlight will decrease during the day, but we are willing to drive anywhere to see the beautiful scenery!
Also, I have Celiac Disease (no gluten), and was wondering if this will be a huge problem traveling to Iceland.
Lastly, I know this might be a pretty broad answer in response, but if you had to guesstimate a cost for hotel stay, food and rental car for 5 days what would you come up with? Thanks!

 

    Kayla,

    It’s obviously possible to just base yourself in one hotel in Iceland and try to do day trips, but think of Iceland this way: The island takes maybe 30 hours to drive around (on the Ring Road), and the amazing scenery is spread almost evenly all the way around. So those who do the highly recommended Ring Road will see mind-blowing things every hour they spend on the trip. If you were to limit yourself to one area and things that are within, say, a 3-hour drive of that place, you’d be seeing only a fraction of what there is to see, and you’ll be doing lots of backtracking and seeing the same things over and over again.

    The tricky part is that there is really just that one main road so there is no central location that is close to more than just a little bit of the island.

    So again, I highly recommend doing the Ring Road and am confident that you’ll be blown away by the experience just like everyone else is. All of that said, you could do what you have in mind. You’d do much better if you could at least use two bases over the week rather than just one. The area around Reykjavik has plenty to see but really the magic of Iceland is elsewhere. If you wanted to focus on just one area, I’d recommend the southern coast, specifically the area around Vik. Going east from Vik, you could go all the way to a town called Höfn and there are great sights all the way. Vik is only about 2.5 hours from Reykjavik, and Höfn is about 3 more hours, so you could actually see a lot if you base yourself in Vik.

    As far as the food is concerned, I believe that the gluten-free craze has hit Europe so I’m sure there are many people looking for it in Iceland, although obviously only a small number have Celiac Disease so you might have to be more careful than most. If you are like most visitors to Iceland, you’ll do some of your own cooking because there aren’t many restaurants. There are decent supermarkets in every town you’d stop in, so it should be pretty easy to buy gluten-free food.

    In November you should be able to rent a car for US$30 to US$50 per day. Renting for 7 days is only a bit more expensive than renting for 5 days. Also, pretty much all of the cheapest car rental deals are for manual transmissions. A hotel will cost around US$100 per night when you are outside of Reykjavik, although all cheaper places will have a shared bathroom down the hall.

    As mentioned in the article above, restaurants in Iceland are generally quite expensive, with simple dishes starting at close to US$20 each. Some hotels offer a breakfast buffet, but if not then it’s most common to buy and make your own breakfast, which can be done cheaply. The other main alternative would be fast-food places, which are often attached to gas stations. Fast food meals start at around US$10, so not too much more expensive than elsewhere.

    Congrats and have a great trip. Feel free to ask other questions if you have them. -Roger

     
Yeeleen says:

Hi thanks for taking time to provide useful information. My friends and I will be staying in Sandgerdi, west of Keflavik airport, and have booked accommodation for 5 nights in early March. How much of the ring road can we realistically expect to travel to and back to base the same day. Could we travel to Vik and back to base, or even as far as Hofn and back the same day, allowing time to explore, take photos etc along the route? Is it worth spending extra money and looking for accommodation along the route to allow time to explore more areas? Thanks.

 

    Yeeleen,

    I’m happy to try to help. You are in kind of a tricky situation, as it would take you about 6 hours to drive from Sandgerdi to Höfn without stopping. It would only take about 3 hours to drive straight to Vik, so that is within day-trip distance. Most of it is a really nice drive, but the first hour or so is sort of a weird moonscape and then you’ll get into the Reykjavik suburbs for the next hour or so. After that, it gets far more interesting all the way to Vik and then to Höfn.

    In other words, the areas within two hours or so of where you are staying are light on big sights, while the areas farther away are loaded with them. So if it were me I think it would be worth spending at least one or two nights in the Vik area, or even one night in Höfn. Specifically, the amazing iceberg lagoon called Jökulsárlón is about two hours past Vik on the road, and the Skaftafell National Park is more or less next to it. Those two things are easily among the biggest highlights of the whole Ring Road, so skipping them would be a shame.

    Have a great trip and let me know if you have other questions. -Roger

     
Joyce says:

Hi. Loads of great info..thanks. My daughter and I are going for 14 days in late April. We are travelling the Ring road in its entirety. Is it safe enough for us to go hiking ourselves or should we do some of the tours that are offered. Also, I’ve read about the whale watching tours etc. Is it worth the money and if so, where in Iceland would be the best tours for this. From what I’ve read on your site it seems the best way to go is northward from Reykjavik for the first part and then spend the majority of our time along the south and southwest. I’m not sure how many days we should stay in Reykjavik, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to see. Any feedback would be appreciated. Thank you! Joyce

 

    Joyce,

    If you are talking about safety in terms of people who might want to steal from you or harm you, I think Iceland might be among the safest countries on earth. The population is tiny and it’s a long way from everywhere, so there just aren’t many “bad apples” out there. I don’t think the police even have guns. But if you are talking about safety in terms of dangerous hiking conditions, I can’t really say. The tourist infrastructure in Iceland is very good, and I’d assume that most hiking trails are well signed and maintained, but if you went into the remote parts of the interior of the island, there might be some dangerous places.

    I’ve heard that whale watching is offered out of Reykjavik, but it didn’t interest me much because I grew up in a place (Los Angeles area) where whale watching trips were part of everyone’s upbringing. If whales interest you, I’d guess that the trips are pretty good there.

    Yes, I went north from Reykjavik and clockwise around the Ring Road, and I think it’s the best strategy because there is so much packed along the southern coast. In my case I pretty much went as quickly as I could most of the way around, but still stopping and seeing all the main highlights. Then I had the last 3 full days to explore the southern coast heading back to the airport, and that worked out really well.

    I think if you have the time that spending one or two days in Reykjavik is worthwhile, but I still contend that 99% of the magic of Iceland is outside of the capital. The main city center is pretty modest and not very distinctive, and the outer areas are even more generic.

    Have a great trip and feel free to ask other questions if you have them. -Roger

     
Rosemary says:

Thank you for your many tips,,, My son and i are planning a 4day 3 night stop over in iceland in June. I have been trying to book most things ahead so it can all be paid for by the time we go. You are so right about the cost of the higher end hotels. I have a time share which i book through RCI and was able to utillize some of my points from it to save on the hotel cost, but even so it was still over 500. US for the three nights . I realize this may be a little expensive, but it does include buffet breakfast daily. We figure it may be the only time we get to see Iceland. My son and I have decided to center in Rekjavik, so any tips on the must see /and eatery places in the city center would be appreciated. Again Thanks for all your tips.

 

    Rosemary,

    You’ll have a wonderful time in Iceland, although again I’ll recommend to try to schedule as much time outside of Reykjavik as possible. It’s a fine small town, but Iceland is all about the nature and views.

    The top attraction in Reykjavik is to go to the tall church just off the main downtown street, and ride the elevator up to the top for the city views. I took the City Sightseeing bus around the area and didn’t find it too interesting, to be honest. You can walk around the “historic” downtown area in only a few hours, and after that I’d focus on getting out and seeing the natural sights. As for restaurants and such, I think you’d find good information on Yelp or the internet in general. I was mostly experimenting with the budget food options, which are the smaller and fast-food oriented places. Iceland isn’t really known for its cuisine, so most of your choices will be the typical Italian places and that sort of thing. Food in proper sit-down restaurants is quite expensive.

    Have a great trip and let me know if there is anything else I might help with. -Roger

     
      Rosemary says:

      Thanks Roger, We will make sure we take in some of the other sites, I love taking pictures so many different aspects of the island ‘s nature appeal to me, and i am looking forward to my trip.

       
Cuong says:

Hi Roger,

Thanks for all your helpful tips. I will be traveling to Iceland this mid to late August, so around the same time frame that you traveled. How far in advance did you book your car rental? I’ve been looking at several websites, but the prices are still astronomical. I know you’ve said you were happy you go the 2WD, but was there any part of you that regretted not getting a 4WD for places like Landmannalaugar or the “Green Mountain”?

 

    Cuong,

    I believe I booked my rental car only about a week before I arrived. When I was shopping around it appeared that there was no shortage of companies with cars available for my dates, since I was arriving for the last week of August, which is the last week of the high season. That was a year and a half ago, and Iceland seems to have much more buzz at the moment (along with lower prices due to the exchange rate), so things might be more expensive and booked sooner this summer. Still, the car rental industry is big in Iceland, and prices might come down as the date approaches when some agencies they realize they still have many cars.

    As for the 2WD vs 4WD question, my goal was to do the Ring Road and also see the famous waterfalls and other attractions just off of the Ring Road. There was never a case where I wanted to go see something that required a 4WD, but that was partly because you don’t have time to see everything in a week on the Ring Road. So there was more than enough to see with a 2WD. I think if I’d planned 10 days or more then I would have had time to explore more of the interior of the island, and some of that is only accessible by 4WD. Good luck with whatever you decide. -Roger

     
Natalia says:

Iceland has been my ultimate travel destination for ages but I’m still working on filling the budget bucket for now. Your article is so well written that it gives me the thrill just by reading it. I’m definitely going to be back for more info once the said bucket is filled, hopefully soon enough.
thanks for sharing

 
Dean says:

Hi, we are going to Iceland late July, beginning of August with our 2 teenage children. We are going to hire a car and do the ring road over a couple of weeks. One of the questions asked, is there any where to get clothes washed as we are staying in hotels for the 2 weeks?

 

    Dean,

    Most of the accommodation in Iceland consists of guesthouses with common kitchens and often common entertainment rooms. I didn’t have to do laundry while I was there for 9 days, but based on the sorts of places I stayed in and noticed all along the way, I’m sure that many of them have a laundry room and perhaps even laundry service. There are also camp grounds and those will definitely have public laundry facilities.

    So it’s probably wise to specifically ask about laundry when you are booking a place to stay on the day you’d like to get it done, but I’m quite sure that many if not most places will have machines you can use, probably for a small fee. There are some chain hotels in the larger towns as well, and those will also have guest laundry facilities of some kind, but those tend to charge MUCH more for it. I envy your long stay, and I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful trip. Feel free to ask any other questions if you have them. -Roger

     
Vineet says:

Hi Roger,
Thanks for so much information. You are doing a great job.
I am traveling to Iceland with my wife. Arrival 19:00 2-Jun and Departure 01:15 7-Jun ( 4 full days). Will you please suggest me an itinerary so that we can utilize maximum time of our stay. We are fond of natural beauty like mountains, waterfall.

 

    Vineet,

    I’m happy to hear that people find this useful, and I enjoy helping people plan trips when I can. In your case you definitely won’t have enough time to do a lap around the Ring Road, but you’ll still have plenty of time to see all of the highlights along the southern coast, which is really the most impressive stretch anyway.

    Hopefully you are prepared to rent a car because without one you’ll have to take the public buses, which go a limited number of places and also mean that you’ll always be in crowds. I almost never rent cars when I travel because I prefer public transport, but in Iceland I highly recommend doing it. You can get by well with a 2-wheel-drive vehicle. It will be most efficient to rent from the airport, even if you drive straight to Reykjavik for your first night. It’s about an hour away by road, with almost nothing interesting in between.

    Reykjavik is honestly kind of a dud of a city for Europe, but still I think it’s worth going straight there for your first night once you arrive. In early June the sun doesn’t set until almost midnight, so even if you don’t get to Reykjavik until 9pm or 10pm, you’ll still be able to look around the city center and get dinner. You might want to spend part of the following morning there as well, and after that you’ll get on Highway 1 heading east.

    What I’d recommend is driving on that day all the way to the town of Höfn, which would be about 5.5 hours away if you drove nonstop. Between Reykjavik and Höfn you’ll find literally dozens of excellent sights, including waterfalls, national parks, lagoons, volcanic fields, and things you just won’t believe until you see them. If you leave around 10am you’ll have time to stop at a few vista points and for lunch along the way, and then stay that night in Höfn. Since it’s light so late, you don’t need to rush.

    After you wake up in Höfn, get back in the car and start slowly making your way west again, this time stopping everywhere that seems interesting. The best place to stop the next night is in the town of Vik, which is only about 3 hours from Höfn if you drove straight through. In other words, you’ll have 10 or 12 good hours to linger wherever you want, and only about 3 additional hours of driving that day. That will be a day that you’ll never forget. There’s no point in getting to these sleeping towns early because there is almost nothing to see or do in them. If you have a guesthouse or hotel reserved, you can just get there before dinner and then make it an early night.

    After Vik, you’ll keep heading back toward Reykjavik, unless you want to see something else in the Vik area. It’s only about 3 hours of driving back to the airport, and you’ll have all of that day and the following day to do it. There are plenty of interesting things to see along the way, and when you get back in the greater Reykjavik area you’ll want to visit the 3 main things included in the “Golden Circle” tour, which includes the original Giyser, a huge set of waterfalls, and a lovely park that includes the Continental Divide. You could even stay in Vik that 4th night and still have plenty of time to see the Golden Circle attractions before returning your rental car to the airport around 9pm or so. Or you could stay in the outskirts of Reykjavik at a cheaper hotel with larger rooms and easier parking.

    On your way to the airport, about 30 minutes before you get there, you’ll pass by a small road that leads to the world famous Blue Lagoon spa complex. It’s relatively expensive (about US$40 per person) to take a soak, but you can actually just take a look at it for free, and there are restaurants there as well. It’s by far the most popular thing in Iceland and it’s worth at least seeing it on your way to the airport.

    So I highly recommend that first night in Reykjavik for a little look around. After that you could even stop the next night in Vik and in Höfn the following night and back in Vik the next night. That time of the year I’d highly recommend making hotel reservations, although even a few days in advance should be enough. Hopefully this helps, and let me know if you have more questions. You’ll see when you get there that pretty much every interesting sight is right off Highway 1, so it’s very easy. -Roger

     
J Yan says:

Hello Roger,

My partner and I are planning a trip to Iceland for 2 weeks starting September 21, 2015. We would like to see the Western Fjords and do the Ring Road. We were thinking of 12 days of sightseeing on the road followed by 2 days in Reykjavik. As part of our cost efficiency planning, we are thinking of a camper van rental for the 12 days. I have several questions:

1) Will a camper van be okay travelling through the Western Fjords? I know it isn’t a 4X4.

2) Will 12 days be enough to do Western Fjords and Ring Road?

3) How are the petrol stations like around the Ring Road? Are they unmanned? And if so, will all credit/debit cards work (we are from Canada and use PIN cards).

4) At that time of year, would there be issues finding public washrooms or shower facilities?

 

    J Yan,

    I didn’t make it all the way to the western fjords, so I can’t offer much help with that part of Iceland. But I did the whole Ring Road so I’ll help where I can.

    1) Before I rented my 2WD vehicle I had read the most of the roads that require 4WD are in the foothills of the volcano on the interior of the Ring Road. So my best guess is that most or all of it will be available to you. But I’d also guess that you’d need to travel on many unpaved roads in that corner of the island. Hopefully you can get a definitely answer somewhere else on that.

    2) I think 12 days for the western fjords and Ring Road will be plenty. As I think I wrote in the article above, I did about 80% of the Ring Road in 4 days. It was a lot of driving time each day, but it was spectacular and I still had plenty of chances to pull over to see waterfalls and other sights, most of which are right off the Ring Road. So 7 or maybe 8 days on the Ring Road will allow you to move slowly, and I’d think that the remaining 4 or 5 days in the fjords would also be plenty.

    3) All of the petrol stations I saw on the Ring Road were not only manned, but most had mini-markets and/or fast-food restaurants inside (which is very convenient because there are almost no other options in most areas). I paid with a debit card, and was able to use my normal password to do it myself, but in some cases I went inside to pay because I was buying something else. My rental car company gave me a little fob that gave a very small discount on petrol at two of the chain stations in Iceland, and I think I had to go inside to use it to get the discount. But it was a small discount (like US$0.02 per liter) and sometimes I went to other stations. As far as I could tell, all stations in Iceland have the same price for fuel, which is nice because nearly all of them are very remote.

    4) The main tourism season is from June through August, but I believe that almost everything stays open through October or so, and they also get plenty of Northern Lights visitors in the winter months, so some facilities are open year round. In other words, I don’t think you’ll have trouble at all finding washrooms and showers in September. Many people are camping so I am confident that they have really good services available for that group, all year round.

    Have a great trip. -Roger

     
Jacques Golden says:

Hello Mr. Wade;

I’m planning a trip to Iceland in July. I do plan to staying in the sleeping bag accommodations. I do plan to rent a car as well. I was just wondering what a rough estimate of a week in Iceland would run me, not including food.

 

    Jacques,

    I’m happy to try to help, although I put most of the useful numbers in the article above, and I know prices have barely changed since then. July is a busy month and you might have to book those sleeping-bag accommodations at least a few days in advance, or run the risk of having to pay a higher price for a normal guest-house room. And rental cars are in high demand during July, so you might have to pay a higher price than people who rent in May or September.

    The food can be a big variable depending on how willing you are to cook a bit for yourself and eat fast food the rest of the time, but it sounds like you’ve got that figured out. So really, the main costs will be accommodation (probably US$60 to US$80 per night for cheaper private rooms) and the rental car. Aside from that, most everything you’ll do (not counting food and drinks) will be free. In other words, all of the waterfalls and view points and national parks and hiking spots are free, except for the Blue Lagoon. Hopefully this helps, and feel free to ask a more specific question if you like. -Roger

     
Sue says:

Roger your website is brilliant! Am going for a three night trip early June. How easy is it to use Visa Debit and MasterCard Credit cards? I don’t want to take too much Icelandic cash.
Thanks in anticipation.
Sue

 

    Sue,

    Thanks. And you’ll be in luck with this because Iceland (like all other northern European countries) is nearly cashless. In other words, the locals use cards for pretty much everything, and so can you (assuming your cards work internationally like they should). Have a great trip. -Roger

     
Sue says:

Thanks for that Roger. Enjoy your next trip too!

 
Mirela says:

Hello,

can someone help me with the gas price, now, july, 2015?

Tks!

 

    Mirela,

    According to a website that tracks petrol prices in Europe on a weekly basis, in July 2015 it’s now 2.28 Krona per liter, which is €1.54 or US$1.72, or about US$7.30 per gallon. -Roger

     
Adrienne says:

Hi there! I’m planning a first time solo visit to Iceland in September (20-27). It’s a photo trip and solo venture. I’m comfortable doing these but have a question about accommodations. At that time of year, can I expect to find accommodations without reservations? I would prefer to just explore rather than booking ahead unless I need to do that. I’m expecting to drive along the southern coast toward and maybe past Vik. For accommodations, I prefer a room with bath to a hostel. I’m not planning on highlands this trip. TIA!

 

    Adrienne,

    You should have no problem finding accommodation without advance reservations that time of year, although I’d recommend booking a room early in the day or the day before when you can. The “hotel” scene in Iceland is quite different from most places. Once you get outside of Reykjavik, most towns have maybe a couple of proper hotels for business travelers and such, and also a long list of smaller guesthouse-type places.

    The hotels are usually quite expensive (maybe US$120 per night and up) while the guesthouse places can be half that for private rooms. The guesthouses are usually run by families or small staffs to keep prices down, and they nearly all have shared bathrooms as well as shared public kitchens. I mean, they are private bathrooms, but they are down the hall from your room. My budget-priced hotel in Reykjavik was this way as well.

    So it’s best if you can get phone and/or internet service when in Iceland, and then call or email to book a room once you know where you want to stay. I did this in late August, which is much busier, and it was never a problem. I think in July and early August some places might get booked up in advance, but otherwise the guesthouses seem to be booked on the same day because most people are moving around a lot, just as you’ll be doing. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

     
Patricia Siqueira says:

Hi Roger! Thanks for your comments, there have been ver helpful.
We are planning a trip for early February and we have few concerns as
1) will be dangerous to drive during winter time? As we are brazilians, not used to drive with snow and ice, is it OK to rent a car?
2) Are there hotels along the Ring Road, with private bathrooms? We are midle aged couples. Are there restaurants also?
Will iit very expensive to stay in the hotels and eat in restaurants? As we do not eat in fast foods…
3) Seven nights will be OK to see the most interesting places along the Ring?
Thanks again
Patricia

 

    Patricia,

    I’ve only been to Iceland in late August so I don’t have experience in February, but I can try to answer.

    1) The main roads in Iceland, including the entire Ring Road, are more or less at sea level and I don’t think they get much snow or even standing ice. The main roads are pretty well traveled and well maintained, so if you stick to those you should be fine. The roads in the interior are often unpaved though, and some of them are at elevation, so you may not want to go there in winter. If you stay on the main roads you should be okay with a 2-wheel drive car, but they also rent 4-wheel drive vehicles for anyone wanting to go on the unpaved roads.

    2) There are hotels every 30 to 60 minutes of driving on the Ring Road, but in February some of them may be closed. As long as you aim for the larger towns you should be fine. And there are many guesthouses all over, although those mostly have shared bathrooms. The “shared bathrooms” are generally private bathrooms that multiple rooms have use of, so you do get to go in and lock the door for as long as you are in there. I wouldn’t write them off because you can save a lot of money and also mingle with other guests in those guesthouses.

    3) I think 7 nights is ideal on the Ring Road. I did the first two-thirds of it in 4 days, so I had plenty of time to see the last third in 3 full days.

    Have a great trip and let me know if you have more questions. -Roger

     
Danielle Andrews says:

Hiya –

I’m travelling to Iceland in December with my partner, we are going to rent a car because we will need to be on a tight budget. We already have a ‘northern lights’ trip planned, but we will just drive around for the rest of it. How much money would you suggest we take for 3 days food etc? It’s hard to tell with exchange rates – I also heard that they don’t like you paying in cash?

Dee

 

    Dee,

    The main challenge to visiting Iceland in December is that it’s just below the Arctic Circle so you’ll only get a few hours of daylight each day, and it will always feel like morning or evening because the sun only comes up in the corner of the sky. Still, the Northern Lights are best viewed in winter like that, so it should be a fun few days. The easiest to reach sights are all along the southern coast between Reykjavik and Hofn, and particularly around the town of Vik in between the other two. So I’d focus your stay in that area, plus wherever you are going to see the Northern Lights.

    As I mention in the article above, pretty much all of the sights in Iceland are free (except for the Blue Lagoon), so you really only need to worry about the car, accommodation, and food. I assume you’ll have a car reserved before you get there. As for accommodation and food, there are some pretty affordable options in Iceland. You should be able to find rooms in guesthouses for two people for around US$80 per night. Many guesthouses close for the winter, but I’ve been told that enough stay open to accommodate those who travel off season, and rates tend to be affordable. There aren’t actually many traditional hotels in Iceland outside of Reykjavik, but there are a few in Hofn and a few in Vik, and for those you’d probably pay maybe US$120 per night or a bit higher.

    The food thing is kind of interesting compared to most other destinations, as I mention in the article above. Iceland is NOT a food destination and they don’t actually have very many restaurants, so there is no pressure for you to try the local cuisine. Traditional restaurants also tend to be very expensive (US$20 for a simple main course), so most people cook quite a bit for themselves and/or rely on fast food. Every guesthouse will have a shared kitchen (and shared bathrooms, by the way), so most people buy food and prepare it themselves for breakfast and also dinner. There are also little supermarkets in every town, and they stock all sorts of simple meals like pasta and frozen pizzas and sandwiches, in addition to cereals and all sorts of breakfast foods. So breakfast and dinner will cost whatever the groceries you buy cost, and the prices mentioned in the article above should still be a good guideline. In other words, you can eat cereal for breakfast and pasta with sauce for dinner and spend way less than US$10 per person on those two meals.

    For lunch you’ll probably be out and about, so you can make sandwiches and bring them with you in the car, spending around US$5 each. Or you can stop at one of the many fast-food places (often attached to petrol stations) and spend maybe US$10 per person on lunch, or a bit more.

    I had no problem using cash in Iceland on the times I tried. However, I did notice that 100% of the locals just used their bank cards for everything, so many businesses aren’t actually used to dealing with cash. Still, I’m sure that most guesthouses will happily take cash, even if a few of them might struggle to make exact change. And as far as I know, restaurants and supermarkets will all take cash, and should be able to make change.

    Hopefully this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

     
Sheila Wane says:

Dear Roger,
Thank you so much for your thoroughly detailed and interesting responses. It has certainly added some options to the visit next month with my friends.

 
Rebecca says:

My friends and I (3 people in total) are planning to visit Reykjavik for a week in June after graduating. Since we can’t drive, can anyone tell us about the accessibility of sights in and around Reykjavik by foot or bus? We aren’t planning to go all out with our expenses, so we are very grateful for all the information on here helping us plan our trip.

 

    Rebecca,

    You’ll find Reykjavik to be interesting for a day or two, but the non-generic part is pretty small and there isn’t really much to see. So if you and your friends are planning a week in Iceland then I’d recommend staying in the capital for no more than two days. You can see the town center on foot, but after that you’ll need to go by car or bus.

    There are tourist buses that do routes around the island, and do more extensive routes along the southern coast because that’s where many of the main sights are located. From memory, those buses seem kind of expensive for the routes that they do, but at least they do go to most of the most interesting sights. You mentioned that you can’t drive and that’s a real shame because for 3 people the cost of a rental car and fuel would probably be similar to 3 bus passes, AND you’d have much more freedom, obviously.

    As mentioned in the article above, Iceland is all about the scenery, and you won’t be disappointed as long as you get out of the (relatively) busy area around the capital and airport. If you only have 7 days then I don’t think you have enough time to spend a couple days in Reykjavik AND do the full Ring Road by bus. You could do that if you had maybe 9 days. But if you only have 7 days then I’d spend one or two nights in Reykjavik and then the rest of the time along the southern coast. Close to half of the best waterfalls, views, glaciers, and national parks are along the southern coast between Reykjavik and Hofn.

    My recommendation (if you can’t drive) would be to book one of the bus passes for the tourist buses to go from Reykjavik to Hofn and back. I believe there are also public buses, which would be cheaper, but they wouldn’t stop at the natural sights that the tourist buses do. There is a small town in the middle called Vik, and that could be a good base for some of your visit. Guesthouses in Hofn and Vik (and all other smaller towns) are cheaper than those in Reykjavik, and they are close to the best natural sights as well.

    By the way, you’ll see people talking about the “Golden Circle”, which is a one-day tour of 3 sights that are relatively close to the airport. Those sights are okay, if a bit crowded, but the real magic is once you get farther east of that area. So it’s worth seeing the Golden Circle sights during one of your days. Just don’t focus your trip on those because they are maybe 5% of what is interesting along the southern coast.

    As always, please feel free to ask other questions if you have them. Iceland is one of my favorite places on earth and I love trying to help people explore it as I plan my own next trip. -Roger

     
Laurie says:

My fiance and I plan to go to Iceland next September for our honeymoon. Unfortunately, a private hotel room is essential throughout our whole trip.

First, I’d love our recommendation on romantic and adventurous places to go?

Second, what hotels do you recommend?

 

    Laurie,

    I don’t hear about many honeymoons in Iceland, but assuming you love nature and scenery, I think it will be amazing. Just to be clear, most of the accommodation on Iceland consists of “guesthouses” where you always get a private room and you almost always share a bathroom with other guests. And to be clear, they are small bathrooms that you lock once you are inside, so it’s not like a shared bathroom in a public gym or something. These guesthouses mostly also feature shared kitchens where guests socialize with one another, partly because there are very few traditional sit-down restaurants in Iceland.

    That said, there are proper hotels with en-suites in all of the larger towns in Iceland, and the rates aren’t outrageous. There are also sit-down restaurants in all of these towns, though far fewer than you might expect considering the number of guests.

    My top recommendation for anyone going to Iceland is to spend a day or two in Reykjavik and then rent a car for a trip around the Ring Road in 6 to 8 more days. Most people only see the sights near Reykjavik or along the southern coast, but there are amazing things to see all the way around the island, and the ones in the more remote areas feel more special because there are almost no other people around. You’ll be able to find proper hotels and restaurants all the way around the Ring Road, but you’ll have to plan at least one day in advance because there are some pretty long sections where you can drive maybe 3 hours between towns large enough to even have one hotel. That may sound a bit scary, but the road is in great condition and it’s an awesome experience as long as you plan a bit in advance.

    If you have enough time to do the Ring Road then you’ll discover gorgeous waterfalls and hot springs and scenery that is so beautiful that you can barely believe it. There are a few activities along the way, but it’s mostly about the scenery and stopping to have a look and do some hiking. And there are other hot springs around the Ring Road, and all of them are only a tiny fraction as busy as the Blue Lagoon near the airport. Speaking of that, definitely check out the Blue Lagoon because it’s very cool, but save it for on your way to or from the airport. I’ll be happy to offer more advice if you like, as long as I’m sure what sort of trip you are hoping to plan. -Roger

     
Laurie says:

Wow! Thank you for such a helpful response. First off, we are interested in seeing a soccer match. Do you have any idea about how much these tickets cost there? Are there any brewery tours in Iceland? Any cool castle tours or other historic tours? We are hoping to have a trip that starts out semi-relaxed for the first couple of days in Reykjavik – checking out the city, Blue Lagoon, etc. Then we hope to become more adventurous, checking out all the national parks, waterfalls, hot springs, etc. We are hoping to do a 8 night-ish stay. Any other recommendations on things to do would be greatly appreciated. 🙂

 

    Laurie,

    There are some talented soccer players from Iceland, but it’s not really known as a soccer mecca. There are only 300,000 people in the whole country, so I can’t imagine the games drawing large enthusiastic crowds. In other words, I’d probably save the soccer match for a visit to mainland Europe. And Iceland also isn’t really known for castles, and I don’t believe there are any notable ones there. According to Google, there is at least one brewery tour in Iceland, but I can’t imagine that it’s a great one.

    In other words, Iceland is a very different destination than the populated and historic areas of mainland Europe. Reykjavik has about 250,000 people (including the town near the airport) and the whole rest of the island has about 50,000 people. So Reykjavik is a small city and most of the island is unpopulated except for some very small towns. The reason to go to Iceland is to see the amazing scenery, which is very different from just about anything you’ve ever seen due to the volcanic activity.

    That said, Reykjavik is known for nightlife in some circles. The main city center is quite small, consisting of only a few streets that take maybe 15 minutes to walk from one end to the other, but there are some good nightclubs and bars that some Europeans fly in for a weekend to visit. Drinks are very expensive though, so the locals tend to pre-game at home before going out. You can have a couple of fun days in Reykjavik doing a city tour and going to some nice restaurants and bars, but after that you’ll want to get out to see the wonders of the rest of the island.

    Also, the Blue Lagoon is definitely worth a visit, but it’s close to the airport and far from the city. As a result, most people find it most efficient to visit on their way to or from the airport. There are private rooms to change clothes and lockers for your stuff there.

    As I’ve mentioned in the article above and elsewhere in the comments, I highly recommend a drive around the Ring Road, but you need about a week for that. It’s honestly in the top few travel experiences of my life, and I’ve been almost everywhere.

    But if you prefer not to do the Ring Road then I’d recommend renting a car and driving along the southern coast to the town of Hofn and back, basing yourselves for at least a night or two in the town of Vik along the way. Many of the islands most dramatic sights are along the southern coast, so it’s still pretty incredible. Let me know if you have any other questions as the trip approaches. -Roger

     
Jennifer Edwards says:

Hi Roger
In an earlier post you mentioned that Iceland closes down for a few weeks in the year. I’m visiting Iceland for 5 days from 7th January 2016 and have a horrible feeling this might be the time of year you may have been referring to.
Could you tell me what I might expect in January in terms of museums, art galleries, tours etc. that may be closed. Thank you

 

    Jennifer,

    I don’t think Reykjavik really closes down for a few weeks, though I’m not really sure. I was probably referring to the fact that Iceland’s tourist scene is very seasonal, with a huge majority of visitors coming from June to August. As a result, there are many guesthouses and restaurants that close down during the slow months in winter. However, my understanding is that they only close down because there is overcapacity during those times of year. In other words, if there are 10 guesthouses in a town, they might only need 3 during the winter months, so the other 7 close down. That still means that there are available guesthouses all year round, and restaurants as well.

    I seem to mention this in many comments, but I think it’s worth mentioning again that Reykjavik is a pleasant small city, but 99% of what people go to Iceland to see is outside of the city. There are a few galleries on the main street, and I’m sure there are a few small museums as well. And there are city tours with various themes, but if you have 5 days in Iceland then I wouldn’t spend more than two of them in Reykjavik.

    Many of the visitors that time of year are in search of the Northern Lights, so you might consider that as well. Otherwise, the challenge is that Iceland is just below the Arctic Circle, so the sun doesn’t really come up in early January. It will feel like dawn for a few hours and then it will be dark again. I’ve only been there in August and September, so I’m no expert on this. If I were you I’d probably Google something like ‘things to do in Iceland in winter’. Best of luck. -Roger

     
Layne says:

Hi Roger I have wanted to visit Iceland for a few years now. what was the cost for the SIM card there and do I need to do anything else regarding my phone for usage there. It seems like phone flexibility is essential. Also For the sleeping bag rooms that is just a term… correct? if I packed sheets and a blanket instead of renting that would be fine wouldn’t it. Hoping to go with my family (4 of us) would we be able to book double rooms anywhere? Also my oldest son is vegan so would gas station restaurants have food that he could eat? thanks for you help!

 

    Layne,

    I don’t remember how much the SIM card cost for my phone, but it was something around US$20 or maybe a bit more. I took a bus to a shopping mall just a bit outside of the city center to go to a phone store, though I assume there are places I could have gone closer to the main street in Reykjavik. I think I just had to show my passport and pay for the card, and the person at the store did everything needed to establish service before I even left. And yes, I’d definitely get a SIM card again if I was doing the Ring Road or spending much time outside of Reykjavik. The data worked pretty much everywhere I tried it all around the island (I stuck fairly close to the Ring Road – I doubt there is much service in the center of the island), and the phone service worked every time I tried it as well. Having a phone is a key if you want to book guesthouses as you go.

    Weird as it may sound, those places are officially called “Sleeping Bag Accommodation,” when they offer rooms with no linen or blankets. Most places seem to give you a discount of about US$10/night per person with no linen, but actually in 3 or 4 places that I stayed they didn’t offer that as an option. So I think I used my sleeping bag 3 or maybe 4 of the 7 nights I was on the road. I was happy to have a sleeping bag because nights are always cold in Iceland and I wasn’t sure how much heat those guesthouses would have. But it turned out that all of them were pretty well heated, so I probably would have been fine with a sheet and a thin comforter. I assume that you’d be okay bringing your own sheets and blankets instead of an actual sleeping bag. The whole idea there is that the guesthouses can save quite a bit on labor and washing if they just provide a mattress instead of the whole set-up. So as long as you have a bottom sheet and a medium blanket, you should be fine.

    I don’t remember the menus vividly at those gas station restaurants, but my guess is that your oldest son would have at least one or two decent choices at most places. Still, it’s probably worth Googling for vegan options in Iceland just to be sure. I’m pretty sure that every place had veggie sandwiches or something very similar. And as I mention, each town of any size will also have a small supermarket, and you can find loads of vegan self-catering options in those. As discussed, Iceland is very much set up for the self-catering style of travel, especially for breakfast and dinner. You could also buy items from a store in the evening and then store them in the guesthouse fridge overnight, so you can make vegan salads or sandwiches or whatever to take with you for lunch.

    I explored Iceland solo so I didn’t ask about quad rooms and that sort of thing. But I did meet many families in the guesthouses where I stayed, so I’d imagine that quad rooms are pretty common there. It’s a whole social scene using the community kitchens in the mornings and evenings, so I was able to see who else was staying in those places. Have a great trip and feel free to ask more questions if you have them. -Roger

     
RamP! says:

Hi Roger,

Merry Christmas and wishes for a great 2016 from India!

Fantastic post and really appreciate your taking time to answer queries. I plan to do Iceland in early April in 2016, for 10days solo and after reading your post, it’d be on a rental car. Have a few questions:
1. Recommended itinerary for 10days. I’m not a big fan of museums or architectures. More natural sceneries, merrier it’d be.
2. Would love 2-3 easy-intermediate level hikes. Any suggestions on trails that’d be open in early April would be awesome.
3.I’m a strict vegetarian. Would there be atleast one veggie option in the fast-food places?
4. How about the prices of fruits and vegetables?
5. What mileage can we expect for small cars on ringroad?

Thank you so much.

RamPrasad

2.

 

    RamP,

    I’ll try to help with this…

    1. I’d recommend 2 nights in Reykjavik and then 7 nights to do the Ring Road, just exactly as I did. The capital is worth a look and it will be helpful to get oriented and fresh for the drive. There aren’t many notable museums there, so you can just look around and then take in the view from the top of the cathedral.

    2. On the Ring Road you’ll come to many waterfalls and other natural sights that will require an easy hike of 5 minutes to an hour or more. Many sights are right off the Ring Road, but not all of them. So you’ll have many opportunities to hike when the weather looks good and you are in the mood. One famous hike is in the large national park along the southern coast. I forget the name, but it takes you to one of the most scenic and memorable waterfalls. You won’t miss it.

    3. I’m not a vegetarian so I didn’t have a close look, however there are so many vegetarian travelers out there that I’m quite confident that there are veggie options pretty much everywhere you’ll go. There are many sandwich shops among the choices at the petrol stations, and they always have a veggie sandwich or two on the menu.

    4. My memory is that prices of fruits and veg at the supermarkets were pretty reasonable. Throughout Europe they tend to be quite cheap, which I think in part is due to government subsidies. The governments don’t want healthy food to be a luxury, so I think you’ll find plenty of good options at affordable prices.

    5. My car was a midsize and I think I got about 15KM to the liter. There are smaller cars that get even better fuel economy. The Ring Road is mostly flat and you’ll drive at around 60 KPH most of the time, so the fuel goes a long way. Have a great trip. -Roger

     
      RamP! says:

      Thanks a ton Roger.One last question:

      Do you recommend getting a car in Reykjavik too or can I manage that part with public transport? It appears most stay options in Reykjavik do charge a parking fee and I find it cumbersome to drive in cities, even with GPS, hence checking.

      RamP!

       
Lauren Jean says:

Thank you so much for posting this, it was extremely helpful!!

 
Sam says:

Hi Roger,
Planning a 5 day holiday in mid March with my wife, I am a ok driver but never driven on the other side of the road (I am from the UK) so worried about this? Planning on staying in Reykjavik in a hotel or apartment (prices seem similar so will go with whats best value).
In March whats the weather like?
If we dont rent a car is it easy to book excursions/trips when there and any advice on where is best to book please?
Is whale watching worth the cost & time?
We want to do snow snowmobiling (1 snow mobile is fine) but seems very expensive, approx £150?

 

    Sam,

    I’m from the US and I was quite anxious before driving in Australia and New Zealand, so I know what you mean. However, I think you’ll find that driving in Iceland will be incredibly easy, at least once you get outside of Reykjavik. It will be a bit confusing getting onto the highway leading out of town, but after that it’s a breeze. And if you rent a car at the airport it will be even easier because there is almost nothing near the airport.

    The wonderful thing about Iceland, especially for a driver, is that the roads are all well marked and generally in quite good condition, and yet there is almost no one driving on them. I did the Ring Road in late August, which is the end of high season, and I would sometimes go half an hour before seeing another car. In March the roads should be even emptier. All of the road signs will be on the right side of the road, so they will be a constant reminder which side of the line to be on. When I drove in Australia I left from the center of Melbourne and it was quite stressful, but after about 30 minutes on the main highway going up to Sydney it was becoming natural. Driving on the other side in Iceland might be the easiest place on earth to practice, and once you do it for an hour or two you’ll be surprised how natural it becomes.

    Iceland is also one of the few places on earth where I think a rental car is a huge benefit compared to public transport. Because there are so few visitors (especially in low season like March), there are maybe 1 or 2 buses per day going between the attractions, and they are surprisingly expensive as well. As a result it would be like being on an organized tour where you are with the same 30 or 40 people all day. With a rental car you can obviously come and go as you please, and the solitude of Iceland is perhaps its most wonderful feature. So you can visit a waterfall on your own schedule and in March you might literally be the only people there.

    If you do decide to book excursions then you’ll find that all of them are bookable online and there are only a few companies with similar prices. That time of year there might be limited departures as well.

    I didn’t do the whale watching in Iceland partly because I grew up in an area (Los Angeles) where we went whale watching all the time. I’m sure it’s expensive in Iceland, and you can probably get a good idea of value by reading the TripAdvisor reviews.

    An Apartment in Reykjavik might be a good idea because most of the more affordable hotels there (and in all of Iceland) are with a shared bathroom. However, the interesting part of the Reykjavik city center is quite small so location is important. I’d highly recommend only booking a place that is within walking distance of the small tourist area and spending only one or two nights there. There isn’t much to see in town, while the rest of the island is packed with amazing things you can’t see elsewhere.

    I’ve also never gone snowmobiling so I can’t comment on that, but I would check the TripAdvisor reviews to see what other people thought.

    In 5 days you won’t have time to do the Ring Road, so I will advise once again to plan on driving from Reykjavik to Hofn along the southern coast, with perhaps a stop in Vik on the way or way back. The southern coast is loaded with excellent sights that are much more interesting than the ones that are within an hour or two of the capital. Have a great trip and let me know if you have other questions. -Roger

     
Brix says:

Hi Roger,

Great blog entry! Very informative and on-point. I’m not sure if you have replied to this question before but there are a lot of comments so I can’t read it all through.

I am going to Iceland on Feb 7-12. I am thinking of taking a bus tour but you mentioned it’s not worth it. I don’t have an international driver’s license so self-drive is out of the equation. What can you suggest so I can go to the scenic places like the Glaciers, hot springs, volcanoes, etc?

Thank you very much!

 

    Brix,

    Thank you. I don’t believe I’ve ever said that the bus tours are not worth it, mainly just that a rental car is a better and worthwhile option if you can do it. If someone asked me if they should go to Iceland even though they couldn’t rent a car I would say absolutely yes. The place is amazing and I am sure there will be some social benefits to being on a bus tour as well.

    Since I didn’t do one of those I didn’t research them fully, but before I decided to rent a car I did look into them and I saw many buses pass by while I was there. I think in 5 days you are best off spending a day or maybe two in and near Reykjavik and the rest of the time going along the southern coast to Hofn and back. I believe they offer a passport sort of thing that is a fixed price for one full loop of their south shore service. My understanding is that those buses stop at all of the main highlights, including the big national park and a few of the waterfalls and such.

    As long as it’s the tourist-oriented bus instead of the long-distance commuter bus, I think it will take you to all of the best places. Have a great trip. -Roger

     
Marie McNamara says:

Hi Roger,
Not sure if you have any more up to date info on iceland, but I’m planning to go this year in September.
I’m very lucky to have won a travel prize which will cover my flights and hotel accommodation in Reykjavic; this means I actually have to stay in a hotel covered by the travel company, which are expensive, but as I’m not paying..happy days..! This does mean though that I’m tied to Reykjavic accommodation-wise for my entire stay.
I’ll only have a week to 10 days due to work commitments.
I’m a keen horse rider and dying to ride the unique Icelandic horses. I’ve researched some establishments and it seems they’ll come and collect you from your hotel and bring you out to the riding venues for day rides around the beautiful countryside, or on the yearly round up that takes place in September.. I’l be taking at least two or three days for that, which will be my biggest expense, but I also want to get out to the Golden Circle and hang out in Reykjavic a bit.I’ve read that the Blue Lgoon isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; expensive, not really a natural lagoon ..heated by the nearby power station..Ugh..!!So an alternative thermal pool? getting there?
I’m a bit averse to bus tours, prefering to do my own thing, but I’m also concerned about the cost of car hire for one person – me – for what maybe only one or two days hire. Your info re car hire is great, but I’m gonna be on a budget after all that riding expense (approx €100 ++ per day)
I’d also like to do some trail walking/half day hikes if that’s possible at a doable distance from Reykjavic..??
I’ve been thinking about iceland for years, so want to make the best of my time there.
Thanks a million..
Marie

 

    Marie,

    Congratulations and that sounds like it’s going to be an incredible trip. Those Icelandic horses look really amazing and it’s great to hear that you can actually experience that yourself.

    The Blue Lagoon is actually quite amazing and worth a look for sure, but it costs something like €40 to actually swim in it so you may want to skip that part and save the money for elsewhere. There are actually a few other similar (smaller) thermal pools in Iceland that are also heated by power plants. It’s nothing to worry about and the Iceland people seem to love them as much as the tourists do.

    Since so many visitors to Iceland only ever stay in Reykjavik, they have a large industry for tours and activities that leave the city in the morning and come back in the evening. You can do a lot of sightseeing based there, but I’d still hope you can afford maybe 2 nights on the road. The city of Reykjavik is nice but the tourist area can be seen in one or two days, and the nightlife there is very expensive.

    My recommendation for those not able to do the full Ring Road is to try to make it to Hofn and then back to Vik along the southern coast. The buses go to those places and stop at the various sights along the way. If you can afford even 2 or 3 days of a rental car I think you’ll find it’s one of the favorite travel experiences you’ve ever had (I rented a car on my own as well), but if you don’t do that then I’d try one of the bus things. I didn’t research it fully after I decided to rent a car, but I know there are a couple companies that cater to visitors wanting to see the famous sights along the southern coast. Do one or the other, but I wouldn’t recommend ONLY stay in or near the capital the whole time. Have a great trip and let me know if you have other questions I might help with. -Roger

     
Ekta says:

Dear Roger,
I am alone female traveller to Iceland. Planning to travel end of March 2016 i.e from 21st March to 31st Marc. As I am a lone traveler, what is the best way for me to travel around the country. I want to see black beach, Jokarsalun, ice caves, Myvatn, golden circle and blue lagoon.
What can be the most budgeted and safe way to travel?
Regards

 

    Ekta,

    As I probably mentioned above, I did Iceland solo for 9 days myself on my trip. I looked into the bus tours and spoke to some people who had been there, and ultimately decided that it was worth a splurge of a 7-day car rental for my trip around the Ring Road. I’m extremely happy that I did it, but I understand that not everyone can afford it. If that is the case then I think I’d recommend the bus pass that allows you to do your own lap around the Ring Road, stopping at all of the most popular sights along the way.

    Since you have 10 days there you’ll have plenty of time to do the whole Ring Road AND stay a couple days in Reykjavik. My understanding is that those buses go only once or twice per day, so you have to go on their exact schedule. On the other hand, those tourist buses will be filled with other independent travelers doing exactly what you are doing, so they should be enjoyable for social people. The scenery along the Ring Road is so amazing that I think it would be a shame to skip it.

    By the way, the Blue Lagoon is really lovely but it’s somewhat expensive and there are other thermal spas elsewhere in the country that are sort of similar and WAY cheaper. It’s also very close to the airport, so I’d save it for your way home if you still want to see it. I went there and looked around for free, which was nice. If you want to swim and get a locker and all that it’s like US$50 or more. Almost all of the other sights in the country are free.

    Hopefully this helps and let me know if I can assist you more. I loved Iceland and am happy to help other people plan visits when I can. -Roger

     
Shona says:

Fantastic information. We’re going to Iceland in June and now decided to hire a car after reading your info. . We arrive in Keflavik at night so thinking of an overnight stay there. Next day picking up hire car and driving to Hohn, staying overnight then heading to Reykjavik. Next day back to Keflavik via Blue Lagoon. Does that sound feasible and what would we see?

 

    Shona,

    I’m always happy to hear that this information is helpful. I didn’t spend much time in Keflavik itself, and there doesn’t seem to be much to see. As far as I can tell, it’s a town built around the airport, which used to be a military base. There is almost nothing between Keflavik and Reykjavik, by the way, except for lava fields.

    So if you can save on a day of car rental then your plan might be ideal, but if it’s the same number of rental days then it’s a tough call. The city of Reykjavik is interesting for a couple days, although the central hotels are quite expensive, so staying near the airport might save money.

    I’m not aware of a town in Iceland called Hohn, so I think you mean Höfn? If so, it’s an amazing drive through the best scenery on the island. You’ll have no shortage of places you’ll want to stop and see on the way and the way back. By the way, I rented a car (from Sixt) in Reykjavik and returned it to the airport for basically the same price as if I’d returned it to the same place. So you can probably do the same if that makes it easier.

    If you have any specific questions that I missed, let me know, and have a great trip. -Roger

     
Paul says:

Thanks for the great info! I’m planning on travelling to Iceland for our summer hols 6 weeks in July thru August. Accommodation and flights all booked. Our big conundrum is transportation. There’s my wife and I and 2 kids 7 and 5. We were thinking of public transport as we’re staying for a long time and didn’t like the idea of costly car rental. AS the kids are so young, I understand public transport is free and we may even rent a car for occasional day/overnight trips. The bus pass seems like a good option for us. Anyone have other recommendations for transportation for a long trip?
Thanks in advance.

 

    Paul,

    On any trip of 10 days or fewer I’d highly recommend a rental car because it’s SO worth it even though it can be expensive. However on your trip I get that you don’t want to rent a vehicle for the entire time.

    I researched the various bus passes and they seemed expensive, yet at least they go to all of the interesting places, so it seems like a good option if you’ll be moving slowly. The only challenge I think you might face is that the buses only go once or twice a day on some routes, so you might have to really bend your schedule to work around their schedule. And also, Reykjavik is really the only walkable place in Iceland, and even then it’s only the main center. In every other town you’ll find that things are really spread apart like in the rural US or Canada. Best of luck. -Roger

     
Helen says:

This is so useful, thank you! And thank you for generously answering all of our questions, years later! 🙂

Just wondering if it is suggested to book a dorm bed in a hostel in advance, or if it is okay to just do it as we arrive, or as we travel since we are driving and don’t know yet where we will be? We will be going end of May to early June.

Thanks!

 

    Helen,

    I love doing this sort of thing so I’m happy to help.

    One of the many interesting things about Iceland is that it is somewhat filled with guesthouses where nearly everyone seems to stay exactly one night. Especially on places around the Ring Road (except for the southern coast between Reykjavik and Hofn), they seem set up for new guests each night. In other words, most people will be doing what you are doing, so you should be fine making arrangements as you go.

    That said, I got a local SIM card there and found it extremely helpful to have a phone and the ability for text messages as I drove, and coverage is great all around the Ring Road. If you can do the same then you can call ahead to book a bed or room once you are sure how far you’ll get each day. When you get there you’ll be offered a sort of catalog that lists virtually every guest house and hotel in the country. Many of them are also listed online, but not all of them. So once you know, at, say, 2pm, that you are going as far as the next town 100km away, you can call ahead and book a place before you get there. I think in July and August many of them fill up, but when you are going you should be able to book at the first or second place you try each day. Have a great trip (I’m sure you will). -Roger

     
Lerato says:

Hi Roger, this site is so helpful. I am from south Africa and my friend and I want to travel to Iceland for a week, in September.

my first question is, do we have to pay in Euro’s or can we pay with the Icelandic krona for everything?

And my second question, since we will be there for only a week, would it be a good idea to get accommodation in Reykjavik for the entire stay and drive in and out?

Thanks

 

    Lerato,

    Always happy to hear that this stuff helps. Once you get to Iceland your choices of paying for things will be in Icelandic Krona or with plastic. I’m sure at least some places take Euros (probably not at a great exchange rate), but you’ll be best off for cash in krona. Actually, if you use cash you’ll be one of the very few people doing that in Iceland. I’ve never seen such a credit or debit card society as there. All the locals pay for literally everything with a card, and you should try to do the same if possible.

    When you get there you should pull out some krona from a machine to cover small purchases at gas stations and such, but it’ll be best if you pay with plastic.

    If you are only staying for 7 nights then it might be a rush to do the whole Ring Road, although you could do it and you’d absolutely love it. I actually got almost back to Reykjavik in about 5.5 days on the Ring Road and it was honestly my favorite travel experience ever. I spent the last 1.5 days in the Reykjavik area doing the Golden Circle and a few other things, and it was a bit of a let down.

    Honestly, Reykjavik is interesting for maybe one day and one night, although it’s not like you’d be bored if you stayed longer. It’s just that Iceland is about the spectacular waterfalls and volcanic sights, and the best ones are all away from Reykjavik. Also, Reykjavik is fairly expensive and parking won’t be easy in the center, so I wouldn’t base myself there once I had a car, at least not for more than a day or two.

    So your options are to spend maybe 24 hours in Reykjavik and then hop right on the Ring Road for the other 6 days. That’s what I’d do if it were me. You have to wake up fairly early and put in some pretty long driving days, but especially in September (I went in late August) the roads will be totally empty and it’ll be easy to find guesthouses.

    If you’ve ruled out the Ring Road then the other great option is to drive along the southern coast to at least the town of Hofn. Going beyond Hofn it’s some craggly beach roads that may not be worth the trouble, but between Reykjavik and Hofn the scenery is excellent and the roads are in great shape. Spend a night or two in Hofn and also a night or two in Vik on the way back. They are both small towns with quite a few accommodation options, and lots of great sights nearby.

    You could even go a bit north of the capital to see some different scenery on your way back. Either way, I wouldn’t recommend more than 2 nights in Reykjavik unless you are really keen to see its unusual nightlife scene, where all the locals get drunk at home and go out at midnight because drinks are so expensive in the clubs.

    As always, feel free to ask any other questions if you have them. -Roger

     
Lek says:

Hi Roger ..
Thanks for ur tips .. I’ll be there in 2 weeks only 7days (let’s say full 6days) and plan to drive around ring road .. Is that possible to do it? On early May do I need the winter tyre? Please advise .. Thanks

 

    Lek,

    I did the Ring Road clockwise and I covered the first 90% of the distance in 4.5 days, leaving the final 2.5 days for the sight-heavy final leg between Vik and Reykjavik. In other words, you can definitely do it in 6 days if that is your goal. Some days will require a lot of driving, of course, but honestly that’s a big part of the draw and you’ll have plenty of daylight to do it in. Especially in May, you’ll be almost alone on the roads until you get to the southern coast again, and that is awesome. Many of my favorite memories (and I did this alone, by the way), were rounding a corner in my rental car and seeing a wall of waterfalls or something like that, and just stopping in the middle of the road to look at it and take photos. Often, I could have sat there for 10 or 20 minutes without a car coming behind me or in the other direction.

    In a way that might sound so remote that it’s dangerous, but it didn’t feel that way. I had a SIM card and I had phone service almost the whole Ring Road, and there are tiny towns every 50 kilometers or so with petrol stations.

    As for winter tyres, I’m not sure. My understanding is that you can choose a normal car or a 4WD vehicle. If you mainly want to do the Ring Road, then a normal car is fine (and much cheaper), but if you want to travel a lot on the interior unpaved roads, you’ll want a 4WD vehicle. Whichever you choose, it should have the appropriate tyres already on it. Have an excellent trip and let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

     
      Lek says:

      Hi Roger
      Thank you for your helpful information. I definitely do it around the ring road 🙂 to surway
      for my next time trip .. I will let you know when I’m back .. (^_^)v

       
Allan says:

Hi…we are 60+ couple planning to be in Iceland for 6 days starting end of August …I’ll be renting a car ( thanks to all the good advice on this site) . Originally I was planning to rent an apartment in Reykjavik for the 6 days and doing day trips out of there, but now I’m thinking that may not be the best plan. Which towns would you rent in and for how long doing perhaps the ring road tour..
( or any other suggestions would be great) Thanks for this great site!

 

    Allan,

    On my own trip to Iceland I spent 2 nights in Reykjavik and then 7 nights doing the Ring Road with my rented car. As mentioned in previous comments, I could have done the Ring Road in 6 days pretty comfortably if I wanted or needed to. It’s a lot of time on the road doing that, but honestly that’s 75% of the appeal of the Ring Road. It’s just glorious and gorgeous all the way around, and stopping every couple hours for a waterfall or hot spring is just a bonus.

    So if you could do 7 or 8 days, I’d recommend doing something very similar to what I did. But if you only have 6 days I’d say your choices are to pretty much skip Reykjavik and just hit the Ring Road right away, or base yourself primarily along the southern coast. Honestly, I’ve been to pretty much every capital city and large city in Europe, and Reykjavik is kind of a dud compared to nearly all of them. Not to say that there is really anything wrong with the city, it’s just that the rest of the country is so amazing that it’s a shame to spend a lot of time in its only somewhat crowded and charmless place.

    The Ring Road really is wonderful, however I’d say at least 50% of the major sights are along the southern coast, stretching from the Reykjavik area all the way to Hofn. So if you are locked into the 6 days then I’d spend 2 in or near Reykjavik (as there are some interesting things nearby, namely the sights that are part of the so-called Golden Circle. And I’d spend at least 2 nights based in the town of Vik, which is a small town that has good tourist infrastructure in the middle of the south, and then 1 or 2 nights based in Hofn. Some combination like that will give you an excellent look at some of the natural sights on Iceland, without spending those long (but very enjoyable) days on the road.

    As always, let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

     
Camilla says:

Hey Roger – I just want to thank you for your super insightful website.
You are clearly extremely passionate about your travels and, especially, about sharing and supporting others! with their travels which is so nice to read 🙂
We a will be heading to Iceland next week and are really looking forward to it. Your website has been a great source of inspiration and information and for this we thank you 🙂

(I appreciate you taking the time to say this. I’m sure you’ll love Iceland. -Roger)

 
paige says:

Loved this!! thanks for all the info, really helped when trying to figure out how to budget for this trip

 
Eduardo says:

Hello Roger,

Thanks for all your insights! I’m planning a trip to Iceland with my girlfriend during this December. We are looking at some self-drive tours like this one: https://guidetoiceland.is/book-holiday-trips/aurora-holiday-in-iceland-7-days. Would you recommend taking these kind of tours or should we do it by ourselves? If we should do it by ourselves, where can we get the information of all the places to visit, maps, places to stay, etc.?

Thanks in advanced!!

Eduardo

 

    Eduardo,

    I never looked into one of these self-drive holidays, but now that I’ve seen this it actually looks fantastic. If you were going during the summer and you didn’t care about the Northern Lights, I’d say that you could easily do it all yourself and save quite a bit of money. During the summer months there is such an infrastructure in place that paying a lot for the help is a waste of money for most people. However, most guesthouses are closed outside of the summer months, and some of the restaurants as well. As such, I think it could be quite tricky to figure out your route and find a room on your own, at least without dozens of hours of serious research.

    And also, the main summer tourist route along the Ring Road includes many places that might not be ideal for Northern Light sightings, while this trip seems specifically geared for that. It’s not cheap, of course, but nothing in Iceland is cheap. If you can afford a package like this, I think it’s a great idea. Now, if you were to be asking about a bus trip where 44 people ride around together trying to see the lights, I’d suggest something else. But this self-drive thing looks like the best of both worlds. One of the most magical things about Iceland is the isolation and solitude that you can get when you explore on your own. It’s a nearly completely empty country, except for the gorgeous landscapes. So being able to see it on your own time, and not have to worry about where to sleep and where to go, sounds ideal. Have a great trip. -Roger

     
Denise says:

Hi Roger
I am going to Reykjavik 28th October 2016 and the main reason is to see the Northern Lights but would like to know your advise on the best place to see the lights. I will be there for 4 days, flying home on the 5th day. So wanting to make the most of this short trip, I am thinking hot springs, geysirs, waterfalls and potentially whalewatching plus the Norther Lights of course. We are looking to hire a small car. Can you make any suggestions of an itinerary that would fit my needs?

 

    Denise,

    It seems that Iceland has two main tourism seasons, the main one in the summer where people come to see the natural beauty, and the smaller one in and near winter when people come to see the Northern Lights. Unfortunately, I have no first-hand experience of the Northern Lights scene. I’ve read about it and seen a few travel shows on them, but not nearly enough to confidently help out on this. Hopefully I can learn more about this on my next Iceland trip next year. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help. -Roger

     
Eva says:

Hi Roger,
Thank you for the informative blog, it will help a lot for my visit to Iceland in Ovtober. I am struggling to find the location for a night stay over for Golden Circle Tour. I will leave on Monday and get back to town on Tuesday. Which area would be more logical to stay on Monday night?

 

    Eva,

    I think most of the Golden Circle tours leave from either the airport or from Reykjavik. And I think most of them are around 8 hours, so they pick you up in the morning and drop you off in the late afternoon.

    There are a few reasonably priced hotels by the airport. Reykjavik is fairly expensive for hotels, but at least it’s interesting to see for one day or even an evening. Outside of those places, there aren’t many hotels in that area. There are a few towns with a few hotels each, and those would be cheaper than staying in Reykjavik. I guess I’m not sure what your question is. Give me more information and I’ll be glad to help you find something. -Roger

     
Sheri says:

We are planning a trip in the beginning of March 2017 main purpose to see the northern lights. Icelandair is offering around trip airfare, 7 nights at the cabin includes breakfast, around trip transfers from airport to hotel and northern lights with glacier hike for about $1100 per person. To me this does not seem to expensive. We usually backpack and stay in inexpensive places. Drive ourselves. But in March we were not sure what our best options are. Any opinions?

 

    Sheri,

    Unfortunately I don’t know much about those Northern Lights packages. But I agree that US$1,100 per person seems pretty reasonable for airfare and a hotel, although I guess that depends on your starting airport. As long as the operator looks reputable, I’d jump on that. Iceland is fairly expensive so doing it on your own would almost certainly cost more.

    And more importantly, figuring out exactly where to go on your own to see the Northern Lights, and then getting there in a rented car or bus, would be challenging and also expensive. Tourism to Iceland is booming lately, but still the island is mostly empty with a tiny population, so there just aren’t many resources to shepherd tourists around once you get outside Reykjavik. So as long as you think the company offering the deal is legit, I think it’s a great deal. -Roger

     
Jane says:

Hi Roger,

Very useful information in this page and thank you for that!
My boyfriend and me are visiting iceland at the end of October to early November, for a week. We are planning to rent a car, with budget of course. He’s suggesting a 4-wheel drive car due to the potential of us ending up in snow. I’m not sure about the snow though.. is there snow in Iceland during this period? I’m thinking that a 2-wheel drive is enough for us.

Also, our main purpose is northern lights! Is it a better idea to drive to the sites or to get a tour for it? I heard that if you fail to catch northern light for the tour, they either refund you or re-tour you at no cost.

The neighbourhood we chose to stay will be at Hallgrimskirkja area. Is it a good area for tourist?

Thank you in advance!

 

    Jane,

    The Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral is only about 4 short blocks from the main downtown street in Reykjavik, and that is the best area for tourists as that is where most of the restaurants and bars and shops are located. However, parking in that area will be limited, and you’ll be able to see the few sights in that area in a day or maybe two at the most. It’s also the most expensive area for hotels. If I were you I’d think about staying maybe one night in Reykjavik, and spending the other 3 nights in a smaller town, hopefully nearer the potential Northern Lights sights.

    I don’t know much about the best way to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, but a few people have mentioned those tours that include hotels and transportation to the best viewing spots. They sound like a good deal to me, especially since there seems to be an art to finding the best places to view the lights. But if you do choose to do it on your own, you can save money by finding a hotel in a smaller town. Honestly, Reykjavik is kind of a dud of a capital city. It’s pleasant enough, but also expensive and kind of plain. As I’ve said so many times before, the real magic in Iceland is the nature sights.

    There is at least some snow in Iceland all the time, but I don’t know when it begins to fall closer to sea level. I’d guess that it would be later than October. Still, a 4WD vehicle might be necessary. The thing is, Iceland has a normal network of highways, and you can go on all of those with just a 2WD vehicle. But if you want to visit the interior of the island, as in going up into the foothills of the volcano, you’ll need a 4WD. The rental companies forbid you from driving on those roads with a 2WD vehicle, so it all depends on your route. All of that said, I rented a 2WD for a week and did the whole Ring Road and many other little roads going off of it, and I was fine. The 4WDs cost quite a bit more, and they let you drive on pretty much any road on the island. I just don’t know if you’ll NEED to drive on those kinds of roads to see the Northern Lights. I wouldn’t think so, but I’m just not sure.

    Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

     
      Jane says:

      Very useful for me Roger!
      We are aiming to stay at in airbnb though, it’s relatively cheap compared to hotels. just didn’t know which area would be the best.
      i’m guessing it’s good to shift around since we are renting a car. Some days in city, some at the smaller town.
      I’ll search on the tours on northern light, hopefully it brings me something good.
      Thanks alot Roger!

       
Mike says:

Roger,

I am a frequent contributor to TripAdvisor forums and often give specific advice to other trip planners after I post photo trip reports for others to use in their own planning. So I know well the time commitment it can take to answer all of the questions from people who post questions. You are to be commended for your extremely patient and lengthy answers to all of the questions that have followed your original post. You have a big heart.

I will be traveling solo this upcoming July for about three weeks, with two days in Reykjavik and then 18-19 days to drive clockwise around the island. I will be spending about four days in the West Fjords and then slowly making my way around the Ring Road with quite a few spur roads side trips. I hope to do quite a lot of 2-3 hour day hikes. I am en enthusiastic amateur photographer, so the Iceland landscapes certainly beckon!

I was originally going to spend fewer days on the island because of how so much on the island is expensive, but reading your post and answers to queries has given me confidence that I can come within my proposed budget even though I will be there for quite a while. So … thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for your extremely detailed budget advice on how to work your way around the island using guest houses and small groceries (and shared kitchens) – that all fits my travel style quite well. Before I read your post, I was not finding any such advice in the three guidebooks I am using.

I do have one question for you …
1. Since I will be staying in quite a few very small towns along the way, I am not sure that my guidebooks will list all the shared guesthouses you mention. Are you aware of any online listing that includes most of them with the email addresses to contact the hosts? I understand why they can’t have a website like a hotel would have, but I am not willing to wing it once I get there since I will be traveling in the height of the busiest time of the year. I would like to book all of my guesthouse reservations before the winter is done so I am not scrambling later. In the absence of a convenient online listing, is there a catalogue that I could have sent to me by some type of Iceland tourism board that would have all or most of these smaller guesthouses listed? It all seems like a fantastic way to not just save significant money, but also a way to easily meet other travelers as you share kitchen or dining room space – which sounds appealing given that I’ll be on the road for three weeks solo.

Thanks once again for your efforts to so patiently answer so many travelers’ questions!

 

    Mike,

    I appreciate that you took the time to write those nice things. It’s that sort of thing that helps running this site and answering questions like this very worthwhile.

    I totally understand your preference to pre-book guesthouses and such, and I am usually the same way. But in Iceland, as you’ve already discovered, it’s really only the most expensive places that are bookable online in advance. One day that will change, though for now during high season the country runs kind of an Airbnb-style system where many residents offer a few bedrooms or open up a nearby house to guests, and almost all of it is on short notice.

    The typical way it works is that when you rent a car or visit one of the official tourism offices they will give you a current catalogue/magazine sort of thing that lists nearly every guesthouse on the island. As far as I’m aware and what I was told, most of these places empty out each morning because most people only stay one night unless they are in a larger town, and then a new batch of people call or email them throughout the day for that night. It sounds like it would be easy to get shut out, but evidently that happens very rarely. So as long as you know which city you are heading to that night, you can almost always call in the morning and book a room, usually just on word of mouth.

    There must be a way of getting one of those catalogues in advance, and I’d think they would produce a PDF version of it at this point, partly for environmental reasons. So that will be the key. You might also check Airbnb if you haven’t already, as I’d think they’d have a lot of listings. It’s an amazing place and you’ll have the time of your life. I am also sure that finding rooms on short notice will be far easier than you might expect, but some people just feel better when things are all booked, so hopefully you can get at least some of that done. Have a great trip and let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

     
Mike Neenan says:

Thank you once again, Roger for your detailed answer … much appreciated. I don’t think I can quite wing it each day with accommodations – I need the certainty, I’m afraid, especially in the busiest part of the season. I am starting to search for websites that list guesthouses and have found a few here and there. If I find a few particularly useful ones, I will come back to this page and share them so that others may benefit.

 

Greetings,
I am a nature photographer. While planning my trip to Iceland will be worth the scenery alone, I have seen little to no discussion regarding wildlife, probably because there isn’t a lot, but I am curious if you know if there are places (or recommendations) for those seeking to include wildlife photography into there picturesque landscape photos. Whales, seals seabirds, fox, caribou or any other such creatures? As an aside, does this famous Ring Road circumvent the island close to the shores or is it further in? Thank you.

 

    Mark,

    Iceland has its famous (non-wild) horses, and it’s also famous for Puffins, but aside from that I don’t know much about its wildlife. There are obviously many birds and sea creatures, though I’d assume that there are almost no native mammals or other land creatures. I’m sure there are many good sources for that information elsewhere.

    The nature scenery is the best I’ve seen anywhere, and I’ve been almost everywhere. I’m sure you’ll love it if you go.

    The Ring Road is a nice mix of coastal, near coastal (where the coast in in sight), and some inland portions. Most of it is inland where you can’t see the ocean, but almost every kilometer of it is gorgeous and interesting. You should be able to see it on any online map, including Google. There is exactly one main highway that goes around near the edges of the island, and that is the Ring Road. In the south and in the northwest there are also many roads that cross and go way off the Ring Road, and in the southwest around Reykjavik there are a few other highways and main roads. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

     
Luka Hendra says:

Hi Roger, a group of us are heading to Iceland in February for a week for the first leg of our travels around Canada and America. We have sorted our accommodation, blue lagoon other small activities we want to do over the week, and an international driving permit. Now we’re having trouble with car hire at the moment, as we’re not too sure what the price includes except what is written in black and white. We have gone through Avis, and a standard 5 door has come to £187. Do you know if Insurance is included in the price of car hire companies, or is that something we have to sort out ourselves? We can’t find anything in the small print that covers this. We’ve also read there will be a safely deposit taken, and other bits they need to cover themselves on. We’ve also heard about paying excess as well? Haven’t read it in the t’s&c’s though, so I don’t know how much that is true.
We just don’t want to get out there on the first day of our 3 month adventure and be landed with lots of extra charges, and a possible decline of car hire because we didn’t sort the right information out. Your article, even a few years old has helped a group of young travellers immensely.
Thankyou in advance.

 

    Luka,

    I’m happy this article has been helpful. My understanding of the car hire laws in Iceland is that basic liability coverage is included in the price by law. That isn’t true in the United States, by the way. So the price you were quoted should include the most important insurance.

    However, when you get there they will try to sell you at least two additional policies. One will cover any damage to the vehicle itself, with a zero deductible. If you have your own car insurance it might cover this part, although there might be a deductible of US$500 or more, so this policy is more about peace of mind.

    The other policy they will pitch is one that covers damage to the vehicle by driving on gravel. I ended up getting this coverage, also for peace of mind, and I think it cost me around US$8 per day. If you are driving around the capital and southern coast, you could probably skip this coverage and be fine. But if, like me, you are driving around the Ring Road all the way, you will encounter several sections of gravel roads that might last 50 or even 100 kilometers. There are also some attractions such as water falls that are 10 KM down a gravel road. What happens is you start driving down those roads and the faster you drive, the more gravel is flying around under the car. If I didn’t have the coverage I would have been terrified to drive more than 10 KPH. But since I had it I could drive 30 KPH on the gravel roads without worry. In the end I didn’t see any noticeable gravel damage on my car, but still I felt it was worthwhile and I’d do it again.

    Once again, the above is what I experienced and I believe is still correct, but I can’t be 100% sure.

    Good luck. I’m sure you’ll love it, and let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

     

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