If you’re planning your first trip to Iceland, then there’s probably lots on your mind when it comes to ensuring you make the most of your time in this must-see destination. We’ve put together this guide on all the essential information you need for planning your Iceland itinerary, including an example itinerary based on our trip to Iceland in November 2021.
How many days do you need to see Iceland?
For most travellers looking for a taste of Iceland, 3 to 4 days should be enough, but because there’s so much to see, you could easily spend upwards of two weeks exploring this amazing country.
The amount of time to book for your trip in Iceland should depend on the kinds of activities you want to do. For example, if you’re desperate to see the northern lights, you might want to allocate several evenings for this, to give you the best chance of seeing them. Similarly, if you want to explore the countryside and a day trip from Reykjavik just won’t cut it, then you might want to spend a week or more with a hire car so you can travel around at your own pace.
How many days should you spend in Reykjavik?
1 to 2 days is usually enough to see the sights of Reykjavik. However, Iceland’s capital and most populous city is an ideal base for your trip to Iceland, especially if you’re staying for between 3 to 5 days, since it’s the starting point for most tours and activities, as well as being close to the international airport.
Read on for our example itinerary for 4 days in Iceland, which uses Reykjavik as your base.
What is the best time of year to see Iceland?
Thanks to Iceland’s northerly location, you’ll get a very different experience in Iceland depending on the time of year you visit. Consider what you want to see in the country to help you decide the best time of year for you:
June to August: High Season
- In the summer months, daylight hours range between 15 and 20 hours and is Iceland’s most popular tourist period. If you’re looking to explore the country, this is the season when the mountain roads are open for 4X4 tours or hiking.
May and September: Avoid the crowds
- Expect windier weather, occasional snow, and smaller crowds. The mountain roads are open on a weather-dependent basis and accommodation prices tend to be cheaper than summer.
October to April: Low season
- Winter in Iceland. This means the mountain roads in the interior of the country are shut, and so winter activities shift from hiking to skiing. Daylight hours reduce significantly too, with around 5 hours 45 in December and just 3 hours 45 of daylight in January.
Example 4 day Iceland Itinerary
We travelled to Iceland for a 4 day trip at the start of November in 2021. If you have a similar amount of time, you can follow our recommendations below:
Day 1: Arrive in Reykjavik & Northern Lights tour
- Take the bus to downtown Reykjavik
- Check in at your hotel – we stayed at Center Hotels Plaza right in the city center, an ideal place to stay if you want to be near the bars, harbour and tour operators
- Go on the free walking tour – If you’ve read The Traveloid before, you’ll know we love walking tours. Because guides are paid 100% in tips, we find they try hard to offer a great experience. Pay what you think the tour was worth at the end!
- Grab a bite to eat in Reykjavik – We dined at the Saeta Svínid gastropub opposite our hotel and tried a range of traditional Icelandic dishes
- Northern Lights tour – If you want to see the Northern Lights and only have limited time, be sure to book your tour for the first night. Some tour operators will take you out again the following night if you don’t see the lights
Day 2: Tour the Golden Circle and visit the Lagoon
- We got up bright and early for a tour of the Golden Circle, which is a tour of three stunning locations in Southwest Iceland – Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall. If you have limited time in Iceland, this is a great way to get a taste of the countryside
- Our tour operator then took us to the Secret Lagoon giving us around two hours to relax in the 40 degree C water. We chose the Secret Lagoon over the more famous Blue Lagoon precisely because it is less well known and not as busy
- Dinner and drinks in Reykjavik – Time to relax after a long day. You’ll find Reykjavik’s nightlife centred around one street – Laugavegur.
Day 3: Exploring Reykjavik
- Visit the swimming pool – Swimming is a popular pastime in Iceland, and a legacy of the country’s heritage as a fishing nation. Most pools are outdoors and open year round, offering a unique spa-like experience. They are also a lot cheaper than the spas offered at Reykjavik’s hotels. We walked to our nearest pool and spend the morning there relaxing in the hot water, sauna and steam rooms.
- Have a drink at Happy Hour – Beer culture is thriving in Iceland, which is a surprise given beer was banned until as recent as 1989! It’s no secret that drinking in Reykjavik is expensive, so most bars offer a happy hour that typically lasts between 3-4pm to 7-8pm where you’ll often find drinks at half price. Learn more about Icelandic beer here.
Day 4: Whale tour
- Our plan was to go on a whale watching tour, but unfortunately the high winds meant our tour was cancelled. This is one of the things to be aware of in the autumn and winter months in Iceland, so if this is a priority for you, consider visiting in the summer or booking a longer trip so you have more chances to get out in the bay.
- Because our tour was off, we picked up a Reykjavik Card each for discounted entry to the Maritime Museum and the Whales of Iceland exhibition, which are both in the harbour.
- We spent the afternoon with a visit to the Hallgrímskirkja – the iconic church in Reykjavik and tallest building at 74.5 metres.
Day 5: Flight home
- All that was left for us was our transfer bus back to the airport and a flight home!
Is Iceland safe for solo Female travellers?
Iceland is very safe, in fact, it was named the most peaceful country in the world by The Global Peace Index. Reykjavik is said to be one of the safest capital cities in the world. Solo female travellers should feel safe and have no issues travelling in Iceland.
Do they speak English in Iceland?
The majority of Icelandic citizens speak English, which is taught as a second language in Icelandic schools from a young age. Tourism is a major industry in Iceland, as well as the proliferation of English language TV, movies and books, meaning visitors to Iceland will have no trouble speaking to the locals. In fact, on our recent visit to the country, we even noticed local Icelanders speaking English to one another.
An interesting fact is that Icelandic and English are both from the same family of languages, sharing the same roots. While English has evolved over the years, Icelandic has stayed much the same since the island was settled in the 9th Century. In fact, it’s changed so little that most Icelanders can actually read ancient texts about their ancestors!
Is Iceland Expensive?
Iceland has a reputation of being an expensive destination, particularly accommodation, dining out and drinking. However, there are things you can do to keep the cost down:
- Swap the Blue Lagoon for a cheaper alternative: We found the Secret Lagoon to be much cheaper and less crowded
- Visit a local swimming pool instead of the hotel spa: Many luxury hotels have spas which are often paid for. However, swimming is part of the local culture, and pools have thermally heated baths, steam rooms and saunas, and are a fraction of the price
- Swap expensive tours with a hire car: Most attractions outside of the city are free to visit, including those in the Golden Circle. If you’re travelling as a group, consider getting a hire car, especially in the summer when driving conditions are better
- Find the happy hours: You’ll save a lot of money on beer this way. Alternatively if you want to experience Reykjavik’s nightlife, do what the locals do and pre-drink before you go out!
- Go self-catering: Eating out in Reykjavik is expensive, so consider buying food from the supermarket for at least some of your meals and making a packed lunch. Supermarkets tend to be cheapest in Reykjavik, so stock up before leaving the city
- Ditch the taxis: Take the Flybus airport transfer instead, and if you’re staying in Reykjavik city centre, you’ll find everything is walking distance
How much is a pint of beer in Reykjavik?
You’ll find 500ml beer for around 1000-1200 ISK, which is about £6-7.50 or $7.75-9.30. Most bars offer a happy hour between 3-4pm to 7-8pm, where you can find discounts of up to half price. So if you’re interested in the local craft beer scene and on a budget or aren’t a night owl, the late afternoon is the best time to go for a drink!
Should you tip in Iceland?
There is no need to tip in Iceland. Tipping is not mandatory or customary in Iceland, but appreciated. That’s because workers in restaurants and in service industries are paid at least a minimum living wage, meaning their income is included in the price of your bill.
How to get from the airport to Reykjavik
Taxis are expensive in Iceland, and there are no railways in Iceland, so the best way to get to downtown Reykjavik is by bus. There are three main options available – the public no. 55 bus, the Flybus, or Airport Direct.
The 55 bus is infrequent, which is why tourist tend to choose the Flybus, which takes 45 minutes to get to the BSI Bus Terminal in Reykjavik, which is within walking distance of the downtown area. The Flybus schedule is based on flights coming in and out of the airport, meaning there is always a bus soon after each flight, and has no luggage restrictions.
Airport Direct meanwhile offers a Economy service which is similar to the Flybus, or a premium mini bus service taking you directly to your accommodation.