Iceland, quite literary land of ice and fire, is located next to the arctic circle and is famous for its unreal landscapes. Massive glaciers are preserved in national parks and there are several very lively volcanoes with lava fields. Geysers and hot springs are so common that capital, Reykjavik, is run on geothermal power and is a world known for massive use of renewable energy.
National parks such as Vatnajökull and Snæfellsjökull, whose names is difficult to spell, let alone pronounce, are homes to many natural wonders and breathtaking scenery. Glacier lakes and cascading waterfalls are very common and spectacular, together with northern lights, that is amazing natural phenomena from this part of the world.
Most of the attractions can be reached by following Golden Circle, round route which can take you to most popular places, while Route 1 (or ‘Ring Road’) goes around entire island.
History of the country since first Viking settlers is preserved and showcased in National and Saga museums in the capital, where night life is also very vivid and diverse.
1. Quick facts
- Official name: Republic of Iceland
- Capital: Reykjavik
- Population: 328,000
- Area: 103,000 sq km (39,769 sq miles)
- Major language: Icelandic
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 80 years (men), 84 years (women)
- Currency: Krona
2. Where is it?
Iceland is located in Europe. It’s an island northwest from the UK in the North Atlantic and on the border with the Arctic Circle. It’s a relatively small country, it is ranked by size as 108th country in the world and 17th in Europe. It is also scarcely populated, on average, there are 3.35 persons n a square kilometer. Iceland doesn’t share any land border with another country.
3. Visa requirements
As with many countries, your passport must be valid for at least three months after you complete visit to Iceland, so please plan ahead. Iceland is part of Schengen agreement and visa for any of the countries from the Schengen group is also valid for Iceland. List of countries requiring visa can be found here.
For general details about visa requirements please click here.
For additional information about visa requirement for citizens of US and Canada, please read important information from this page on Upgraded Points.
4. Getting there
Getting to Iceland is fastest via its main airports: Keflavik International Airport (KEF), Akureyri Airport (AYE) and Egilsstaðaflugvöllur (EGS).
Here are some ticket offer from the US:
5. Where to stay in Iceland?
Depending on where you want to go visit in Iceland, and what is your budget and preferences, your options for accommodation can go from standard hotels or Airbnb rentals, hostels, guesthouses, farmstays and camping.
Click here for more info about lodging in Iceland.
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6. Moving around
Iceland has network of bus lines, ferry routes and domestic airports for traveling between cities/sites. This is in the case you are organizing your own trip. In that case, traveling around Iceland can be done easily by car rental so you can be independent in your travel.
In case you travel via organized tour, the operator will organize your transport around the country.
Within Reykjavik, you can easily reach attractions by walking or by renting a bicycle or call a taxi (no Uber in Iceland yet).
More info about transport in Iceland can be found here.
To move between cities you can also rent a car, which you can do online from our website or from many car rentals.
7. Food in Iceland
Being an island nation, Iceland’s cuisine is heavily fish and sea food oriented, although there is also lamb meat in the equation. There is also whale and puffin meat on the menu, but this one is a bit controversial. We prefer whale and puffin watching (while they are alive) instead.
Here are some recommendations from Icelandic cuisine:
Harðfiskur (stockfish, dried fish), more of a snack and eaten straight from a bag or rolled in butter. Plokkfiskur (fish stew), this one is more traditional and exists in many variations elsewhere. Humar (Icelandic lobster), grilled baked or fried.
Variation of breads exist, such as traditional flatkaka and rúgbrauð bread and more modern variations such as: Snúður (cinnamon filled bread covered in chocolate or caramel, is this even bread?!), Pönnukökur (Icelandic pancakes) similar to crépe, covered with jam or a cream and rolled, or Rúgbrauðsís (rye bread ice cream, you have to figure out this one yourself 😊).
Lamb meat comes in many variations – smoked, grilled, broiled, slow-cooked or shapes: Hangikjöt (a sandwich), thin sliced meat, Kjötsúpa (meat soup with vegetables, perfect for winter time), Pylsa (hot dog) made of variation of meat, lamb, beef, pork.
There is also Skyr, fermented diary product that is more a cheese (brought by first settlers).
Some unusual dishes are: Hákarl (fermented shark) – must be fermented or it is poisonous (fun time!), Svið (boiled sheep head) – they say it tastes great if you are not freaked out of the sight and Hrútspungar (pickled ram testicles) – boiled and cured in whey – yummy! 😊
From sweet side of Icelandic menu there is the ice cream – a lot of it and licorice – even more of it!
On alcohol side, there is also plenty: Opal flavored vodka shots (licorice based, of course), Flóki Whiskey (genuine Icelandic whiskey), made of purely Icelandic ingredients (very patriotic), Brennivín (Black Death liquor, try it!) and variations of regular or craft beer.
How safe is Iceland for tourists and to move around? It is very safe country overall. Tourist areas are generally safe, both for single tourists and groups or families. Most hazard comes from natural factor, such as glaciers, mountains, weather conditions or high waves at sea.
More details about safety in Iceland you can find here.
Iceland is not that costly for tourists, but some hotels and restaurants can be a bit pricey for most of the visitors.
You can always find great deals on accommodation, meals and attraction tickets, but please plan ahead.
Prices throughout Iceland vary from place to place and Reykjavik is the most expensive city for general tourism.
Due to a position in the North Atlantic Ocean, and just next to the Arctic Circle, weather in Iceland is quite unpredictable and can be cold, but winter are not that harsh as you would expect at this geographic position. Spring and summer have temperature averages of up to 15 C (50 F) and autumn and winter are averaging around 3 C (28 F).
As there is frequent rain, appropriate clothes is advised to bring throughout the year.
11. Best time to visit Iceland
Visiting high season for Iceland is mid-June through August, when most of tourist arrive, but it is good to experience Iceland during winter, when northern lights are more vivid and there are plenty of celebrations, especially during Christmas. Prices are also lower during spring, fall and winter time. Visiting during winter, you might experience harsh weather, but if you are used to it, you will certainly enjoy it.
12. Money matters
Official currency is Krona (ISK) and exchange to US Dollar is about $1=ISK122, which will make prices very exciting and confusing. That’s why you should always pay attention when paying bills and mind the exchange rate. Major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, but please do check card charges from your bank in foreign countries before the trip. There are ATMs and banks on every corner and cash withdrawals are in local currency with a fee. Major banks don’t charge ATM fees to foreigners, but privately-operated ATMs may sometimes charge high fees. However, machine should warn you about the charge so you have a choice to cancel the transaction before committing to it.
13. What to see in Iceland?
We are listing here around top fifty interesting attractions to see in Iceland and this is just a small sample of what you can see and do there.
Blue Lagoon. Geothermal spa with an outdoor lagoon, located southwest from Rykjavik. Popular with locals and tourists for its healing, warm, mineral-rich waters in a lava field.
Gullfoss. Famous waterfall with several cascaded sections. Located on the Hvitá River in southwest Iceland.
Golden Circle. Popular tourist route in southern Iceland, going in circle of about 300 kilometres looping and starting from Reykjavík. Area along route is famous for watching northern lights, geysers, glaciers and waterfalls.
Þingvellir. (Thingvellir) Located northeast from Reykjavik, this volcanic national park with stunning beauty of rocks, lakes and ridges has also national historical shrine.
Jökulsárlón. Large glacial lake on the southeast coast f Iceland. Featuring floating icebergs and wildlife sightings, such as seals and puffins.
Geysir. Active hot geysers with hot water eruptions, located in southwest of Iceland, within the Golden Circle.
Skógafoss. Dramatic waterfall on a rocky cliff in southern Iceland on Skógá River. Over 60 m high, this waterfall is formed over cliffs of former coastline of Iceland. Offering viewing platform for visitors.
Seljalandsfoss. Most famous and most visited waterfall in Iceland. Located in the South Region and next to Route 1, it is also easily accessible. Featuring 60 m waterfall and can be observed in a full circle.
Mývatn. Volcanic lake in northern Iceland with a naturally heated manmade lagoon. Popular destination for wild birds watching, baths and views of the Northern Lights.
Hallgrímskirkja. Uniquely designed, modern cathedral with a 73 meter high tower. Located in Reykjavik and named after Iceland’s famous poet and clergyman, Hallgrímur Pétursson.
Skaftafell. National park with volcanoes, glaciers, viewpoints and campsites. Popular for adventure hiking and wildlife viewing. Located in the south Iceland.
Snæfellsnes. A peninsula north from Reykjavik in the western Iceland. Host to Snæfellsjökull National Park with spectacular landscapes and Snæfellsjökull Volcano with a glacier on top.
Dettifoss. Located in Vatnajökull National Park in the northern Iceland, this most powerful waterfall in Europe is on the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum. It’s a 45 high and 100 m wide waterfall.
Landmannalaugar. A colorful landscape in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve in the south, featuring a mountain hut for camping. Popular with hikers.
Goðafoss. Dramatic waterfall, in the north Iceland, in a semi-circular shape. It’s 12 m high and 30 m wide, located on the Skjálfandafljót River.
Vatnajökull National Park. Massive wilderness national park around glacier area of about 14,000 sq km. Featuring wild hiking trails, 4 visitor centres and camping grounds.
Dyrhólaey. A unique small peninsula famous for scenic views, a lighthouse and naturally formed volcanic arch in the sea. Located on the south coast of Iceland.
Reynisdrangar. Interesting rock formations in the sea, under the mountain Reynisfjall near the village Vík í Mýrdal, in southern Iceland.
Snæfellsjökull. Volcanic peak in a Snæfellsjökull National Park on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Popular with climbers for scenic view of the surroundings and the sea.
Svartifoss. Narrow falls on a wall of geometric rock formation cliff. Located in Vatnajökull National Park in the south.
Kerið. A scenic volcanic crater lake east from Reykjavik. Reachable by foot by hiking trail.
Perlan. Futuristic looking complex featuring planetarium, observation deck and a restaurant with cocktail bar. Located in Reykjavik.
Harpa. Modern architectural marvel, hosting national opera and symphony orchestra. One of the main Reykjavik landmarks.
Eyjafjallajökull. Once of the smaller ice caps of Iceland, north of Skógar and west of Mýrdalsjökull in the southwest Iceland. Became world famous in 2010 during eruption that blocked air traffic in the area due to smoke and particles.
Thórsmörk. ‘The valley of Thor’. Spectacular mountain range in the southwest of the country, featuring hiking trails, glaciers and wildlife watching.
Laugavegur. World famous long-distance trail in southern Iceland. It runs from the Landmannalaugar geothermal springs to the Thórsmörk nature reserve. It is 55 km in length and it takes several days to hike it.
Hraunfossar. Series of waterfalls, flowing into the Hvítá river over lava rock base. Located northeast from Reykjavik and offering hiking trails and viewing platform.
Krafla. A caldera of about 10 km in diameter with a 90 km long fissure zone, located in the north of Iceland in the Mývatn region. Has history of many recorder eruptions, last being in 1984.
The Sun Voyager. A large, stainless-steel built sculpture of a boat by famous Jón Gunnar Árnason, located on the Sæbraut road in Reykjavík, next to the sea.
Hekla. A stratovolcano in the south of Iceland, with the peak at almost 1,500 m. Once of the most active volcanoes in Iceland, called ‘Gateway to Hell’.
Ásbyrgi. A unique, horseshoe shaped depression and glacial canyon in the north of Iceland. Part of the Vatnajökull National Park, it is 3.5 km long and 1 km wide.
Askja. Huge volcanic crater in central highlands of Iceland. Famous not only for many eruptions in the past, but as a training ground for Apollo astronauts due to moon like landscapes.
Fjaðrárgljúfur. Ancient, 2 million years old and massive river canyon. River Fjaðrá runs through canyon that is 100 m deep and 2 km long. Located in the south Iceland.
Fjallsárlón. A glacial lagoon and a lake, located on the southern end of Vatnajökull glacier. Offering boat rides and wildlife spotting activities.
Dynjandi. Name meaning ‘Thunderous’, this is a series of waterfalls in the Westfjords in northwest Iceland. Popular with tourists and mature photographers for stunning scenery.
Hverfjall. A tephra cone or tuff ring volcano in northern Iceland, approximately one kilometre in diameter. Walking paths available to the top of the crater.
Barnafossar. Cascaded waterfalls falling over lava rock in a colorful environment. Located north from Reykjavik and suitable for day tour.
Laugavegur. Main street in downtown Reykjavík, and one of the oldest shopping areas. The name means “wash road”, since it used to lead to the hot springs in Laugardalur where women were washing clothes.
Icelandic Phallological Museum. This is the only museum in the word of this kind – displaying of mammalian phallic specimens. There are more than 200 mammalian penises from animals from Iceland. Located in Reykjavik.
Grímsey. A small island, 40 kilometres off the north coast of Iceland, few kilometres in length, and less than 100 inhabitants. Reachable by local flights and ferry lines and famous for puffin watching opportunity.
Tjörnin. Small urban lake next to the City Hall in Reykjavik. Surrounded by walking paths and hosts ducks, geese and swans.
Katla. One of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, located underneath Iceland’s fourth largest ice cap, Mýrdalsjökull in the south. Very difficult terrain to reach it, so most tours are via helicopter.
Öxarárfoss. A waterfall located within Þingvellir National Park in southwest Iceland, east from Reykjavik. It is 13 m high and 6 m wide in a scenic setting of basalt rock cliff.
Laugarvatn. Small, shallow lake and small place with the same name. There is a geothermal spring beneath the surface that makes it year around swimming spot. Located east from Reykjavik.
Selfoss. A scenic waterfall on the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum in the north of Iceland. The river drops flows over a number of waterfalls through 30 km path, before flowing into Öxarfjörður bay.
Hverir. Geothermal area in the northern Iceland, with many smoking fumaroles and boiling mud pots, surrounded by sulphur crystals in different colours.
National Museum of Iceland. Museum tracing Iceland’s history and culture since settlement times until present day. Located in Reykjavik.
14. Interesting facts about Iceland
- There are no mosquitoes in Iceland. Due to a climate, mosquitoes never made it or survived in Iceland.
- Also, there is no McDonald’s in Iceland.
- The country was once covered by trees, which were cut down by Vikings.
We hope you enjoyed reading about Iceland!
Iceland, quite literary land of ice and fire, is located next to the arctic circle and is famous for its unreal landscapes. Massive glaciers are preserved in national parks and there are several very lively volcanoes with lava fields.