Iceland | Travel Guide
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Update May 24: Iceland is on England's green list. Visitors from the UK who can prove they are fully-vaccinated (or have recovered from Covid) do not need to self-isolate on arrival; visitors who cannot are unlikely to be permitted to travel to Iceland, and would be required to self-isolate on arrival for 5-6 days.
If you can prove you've been vaccinated or recovered from a previous Covid infection you don't need to take a test before departure, however you will be required to take a free PCR test when you arrive. If you haven't been vaccinated you'll need a negative PCR test result at least 72 hours before you fly to Iceland, you'll need to self-isolate on arrival and another test 5-6 days later to be released from isolation.
When you're there:
Iceland still has some restrictions in place, such as a general gathering limit of 50 people. Stores have a limit based on their size, and gyms and spas are currently only operating at 75% capacity. Bars and restaurants have a limit of 50 people and must close by 11pm. Face masks are required in most public spaces and on public transport, and social distancing of two metres where possible.
Traffic light status:
Iceland is on England's green list.
Iceland Travel Guide
Iceland is a land of delightful oddity, from its otherworldly glacial landscapes to its surreal folklore and distinctly different cuisine. Whether you're travelling in winter for a spectacular view of the Northern Lights, or in summer for white nights, whale watching, and scenic cycling, Iceland is a truly unique place to spend a long weekend, a fortnight or more.
Getting to Iceland from the UK
The easiest way to get to Iceland is to fly. The national carrier, Icelandair, normally flies from London (Gatwick and Heathrow), Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. EasyJet also flies from London, Manchester and Edinburgh. Expect to be in the air for around three hours and to pay around £50-100 each way, depending on the season.
Getting to Reykjavik from the airport
KeflavÍk International Airport is about 30 miles from the centre of Reykjavik and well connected by public transport. Public buses run nine times a day; for a quicker and more direct option, book either a Flybus or Grayline Airport Express to Reykjavik city centre. These shuttles are timetabled according to flight arrivals so are very convenient, and you can book to the city centre or direct to your hotel or guesthouse. Expect to pay 2,000 - 3,000 ISK (£14-£20).
Why not book a fantastic value Iceland airport transfer with Holiday Extras? With prices starting from just £15.20, plus a great choice of shared and private vehicles, it's the top choice for a hassle-free start to your Icelandic adventure.
Local taxis from the airport are all metered. A private taxi from Keflavik to Reykjavik takes around 45 minutes and costs in the region of 15000 ISK (£100), meaning this option is only really good value if there are a few of you travelling together.
If you're picking up a hire car to do some road-tripping around the country, collecting the car at the airport before you head into town makes the most sense - all major car rental companies including Hertz, Alamo, Europcar and SixT have airport pick-up and drop-off options. Hiring a car (see below) is a great way to see more of Iceland; rental prices for a small city runaround start around £40 per day.
The Green Green Green list
Keep up to date with everywhere you can travel this summer.
Getting around Iceland
It's possible to get to the major towns and highlights in Iceland by public transport. A bus fare costs 350 ISK (£2) and if you ask for a skiptimidi (which means bus transfer) you can transfer your ticket to a second bus within 75 minutes to continue your journey. You can plan your journey online with the Straeto bus network, or download their free app – just search Straeto in your phone's app store. You can also use the app to buy your bus tickets – bear in mind if you buy them when boarding you'll need the exact amount as bus drivers don't carry change or take card.
If you really want to take in the beauty of Iceland and get off the beaten track, a hire car is by far the most convenient way to get around. Iceland's famous Ring Road (Route 1) encircles the island, passing many of Iceland's highlights, including the scenic attractions of Skógafoss and Jökulsárlón and most of the country's major towns.
The 800-mile Ring Road takes around 17 hours to drive, and can be completed in a week but a longer trip will allow you more time to explore. Summer is the best time for a driving holiday as the roads are open, conditions are good and there's plenty of daylight. Self-driving in winter is not recommended as weather conditions can be hazardous.
If you're driving on Route 1 or other paved roads only, you don't need any special vehicle or equipment. If you're heading inland, where gravel tracks significantly outnumber paved roads, you'll need a four-wheel drive (all roads marked "F" are for four-wheel drive vehicles only). Off-road driving is strictly forbidden, with a hefty fine for offenders. Stick to marked roads and tracks only.
Watch out for a few rules of the road, for a start Icelanders drive on the right. As in other Nordic countries, it's mandatory to have dipped headlights on at all times, even in summer during the daylight (you may find the headlights on your hire car come on automatically for this reason). The speed limit is 50km/h in built-up areas, 80km/h on gravel roads and 90km/h on paved roads. Petrol stations are often automated - pay at the pump using your credit card, and keep your tank topped up as stations can be few and far between.
Take a look at road.is for more information about driving safely in Iceland.
When to visit Iceland
High season in Iceland is from June to August, when the days are at their longest and the weather is at its warmest. Average temperatures range between 13°-20°C – similar to a pleasant spring day in the UK. Most of Iceland lies just outside the Arctic Circle so it doesn't experience true midnight sun – but in the height of summer the nights in Iceland are just a few hours of twilight as the sun dips below the horizon. In other words, it doesn't get dark, making it the best time to go whale-watching, cycling, horse riding and road-tripping.
The summer solstice, around June 21, is celebrated with parties, festivals and bonfires. And then there's Jónsmessa, a national holiday celebrating John the Baptist when it's said the island's elves come out of hiding.
Winter is the time to visit if you want to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). They can be seen from September to March. The midwinter months have the longest nights, but also a greater chance of cloud, so you'll have a better chance of clear skies if you visit in late autumn or early spring.
To maximise your chance of seeing the lights you need a dark night, so head away from the city lights. Specialist Northern Lights tours will take you to locations with less light pollution. If you visit for a long weekend you might be lucky, but the longer you can stay, the better chance you have of catching a dark, clear night and seeing some aurora action.
The lights require the right atmospheric conditions and are quite unpredictable, so however long you're going for - make sure you plan some other activities so your holiday is a good experience with or without the lights.
Things to do in Iceland
Summer or winter, there's plenty to do in Iceland whenever you visit. Must-do activities include sightseeing at the otherworldly Glacier Lagoon and at the Gullfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls; bathing in the hot springs at Reykjadalur and the famous geothermal Blue Lagoon, where you can also enjoy relaxing spa treatments.
Whale watching is popular all year too, but if you're travelling in summer, it's possible to spot humpback and minke whales on a magical late evening whale watching trip. Just bring something warm to wear and a camera!
Mountain biking and horse riding excursions are popular choices during summer. Hill walkers and hikers are also well catered for in Iceland; in the winter months, you can also try your feet (wrap them up warm) at glacier walking.
What to pack for Iceland
Whatever time of year you're travelling, take plenty of comfortable layers. Thermal underlayers are a good idea in winter, and a fleece will keep you warm on chilly days and out at sea if you go whale-watching. Top off with a waterproof jacket and trousers - you'll really value these if the heavens open!
Walking boots are a must if you're hiking in summer. Iceland's climate means that warm socks and woolly hats are a good idea year-round, as are sunglasses and sunscreen to protect you from the glare from the sky and the snow. Take swimwear if you plan to visit the thermal pools. Photographers should bring a tripod or monopod and pack plenty of memory cards - Iceland is incredibly scenic!
If you're travelling in summer you may find you need an eye mask to help you sleep, as the light at night can confuse your body clock. In winter, it can be a good idea to bring a torch for the opposite reason - the days are short and the nights get very dark. If you're driving into the interior, pack an old-fashioned paper map – smartphone maps will get you around the cities, but you won't be able to reliably get a signal in rural areas.
Iceland uses European-style two-pronged plugs, so bring a plug adaptor or two to charge your electronics. Finally, pack any over-the-counter medicines you use regularly, as not everything is reliably available in Icelandic pharmacies.
What to eat in Iceland
As you'd expect from a small island nation, fish is an important staple in Icelandic cuisine. Salmon, herring, haddock and cod are all commonly found on Icelandic menus. As well as being caught and eaten fresh, fish may be preserved by curing, pickling or salting – salt cod has a distinctive flavour quite different to fresh cod, and appears in hearty fish stews.
More unusual Icelandic recipes use fermented shark (hákarl), smoked puffin (lundi), and whole boiled sheep's head (svið). Wash your meal down with a glass or two of brennivin, a schnapps-like drink served chilled.
Money in Iceland
The currency of Iceland is the Icelandic kronur (ISK), but you won't need to bring pockets full of cash with you as almost all shops and businesses take cards. In rural areas, you may find unmanned, completely automated petrol stations at which you have no option but to use a credit or debit card, so make sure you have yours with you at all times when driving.
Iceland can be a pricey destination for travel, but you can avoid some of the bigger costs by doing your research and booking early. Hire cars are always cheaper off-season, so consider travelling outside of the June-July peak and book as far in advance as you can to get the best deal. Many destinations can be reached by public transport if you don't mind a slightly slower journey - it will be cheaper than a booked tour or a taxi. Meals out are moderately expensive but worth saving up for as a special treat - expect to pay ISK 2500-3500 (£20) for lunch in a cafe and around £70 for dinner for two.
Language in Iceland
Icelandic, a variant of Old Norse, is one of the world's oldest recorded languages. The pronunciation isn't easy for non-natives, but fortunately the majority of Icelanders speak English so you shouldn't have much difficulty. If you'd like to try a few local phrases, here are some for starters:
- Hello --- Halló/Góðan dag
- How are you? --- Hvað segir þú?
- I'm fine --- Allt gott
- What's your name? --- Hvað heitir þú?
- My name is... --- Ég heiti ...
- I'm from... --- Ég er frá ...
- Goodbye --- Vertu blessaður
- Cheers! (to toast) --- Skál!
- Yes --- Já
- No --- Nei
- I don't know --- Ég veit ekki
- Excuse me --- Afsakið!
- How much is this? --- Hvað kostar þetta?
- Sorry --- þvÍ miður
- Please --- Gjörðu svo vel
- Thank you --- Takk
- Help! --- Hjálp!
Staying connected in Iceland
Many hostels, hotels and even campsites throughout Iceland offer free wifi, as do cafes, bars, public buses and even petrol stations. So with a laptop, smartphone or tablet it's easy to stay connected wherever you are.
Useful apps for travel in Iceland include:
- Straeto: public bus journey planning app with route information, timetables and live departure information;
- Iceland Road Guide: your one-stop guide to driving in Iceland, whether you're heading around the Ring Road or deep into the interior;
- Vedur: up-to-date weather information from the Icelandic Meteorological Office. Essential to help you plan your daily trips and road travel;
- Triposo: travel guide with a handy currency converter, an Icelandic phrasebook, places to see and visit and local maps.
- Reykjavik Appy Hour: if you're planning to go bar-hopping in this fairly pricey city, this app will tell you where there are bargains to be found!
Now you're prepared for an enchanting trip to the land of ice and fire - Góða ferð!
Looking for more inspiration, information or a handy travel guide? You'll find more on our travel hub.
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