Planning a Trip to Iceland

6 minute read

ITo Author Bio Adina Transparent

By Adina Lazar

29 April 2024

Woman standing at Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Known as the Land of Fire and Ice, Iceland is famed for its dramatic volcanic landscapes, striking black sand beaches, and impressive glaciers. For such a small country, you'll have an incredible amount to see and do, plus a ton to organize when planning a trip.

With that in mind, we’ve made a list of the most important things to consider to help you start planning a trip to Iceland.

1. Decide how long to stay

The length of your trip is a key detail to decide first. How long you’ll spend in Iceland depends on how much time you can spare and what your travel goals are.

Shorter trips

Generally speaking, the longer the trip, the more you’ll be able to see. But if you only have a few days, it’s entirely possible to take in plenty of stunning landscapes and one-of-a-kind experiences.

For trips shorter than 4 days, the best option is to stay in Reykjavík. Using the capital as your home base will give you the chance to take day tours to famous nearby sights.

For example, you could travel the popular Golden Circle route. You'll see the Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir geothermal area, and Þingvellir National Park – 3 of Iceland’s top attractions – in just one day.

Strokkur erupting on a sunny summer day

As well as traveling around Reykjavík, you shouldn’t skip exploring Iceland’s buzzing capital city. With exciting culture, restaurants, and nightlife, you’ll have plenty of fun things to see and do. 

Walk through colorful neighborhoods with street art displays, eat at trendy food halls, and immerse yourself in cultural attractions like the Harpa Concert Hall.

You can also climb to the top of Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík's iconic church, where you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the city.

Longer trips  

Got a week or longer? Venture out and explore even more of the country. 

Head to the south coast to marvel at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, one of the region’s most popular destinations. If you’re up for it, take a boat tour to see the floating icebergs up close. On your way to the lagoon, you can stop at Seljalandsfoss waterfall, where you’ll get the chance to walk behind the thundering waters.

And don’t forget about Reynisfjara black sand beach near the charming village of Vík. It’s a great spot to take in the view and admire the dramatic cliffs and basalt sea stacks rising from the ocean.

Reynisfjara black sand beach in wintertime

If whale watching is on your bucket list, travel north and you’ll find the coastal town of Húsavík, Iceland’s whale-watching capital.

While you’re here, don’t miss a visit to Akureyri, the unofficial capital of North Iceland. It’s an unmatched spot to sample local food, drink Icelandic craft beer, and try adrenaline-packed activities like snowmobiling.

Along the way you can stop and marvel at Goðafoss waterfall, known as the ‘Waterfall of the Gods’. Or explore Lake Mývatn, a volcanic lake surrounded by stunning natural landscapes such as geothermal areas, pseudo-craters, and lava formations.

A whale breaching near Húsavík in Iceland

But if you want to see it all and then some, following the Ring Road route is just the option. This road is Iceland's main highway that encircles the entire island. It’s roughly 1,332 km (828 mi) long and offers you the opportunity to explore some of Iceland's most spectacular landscapes, major towns, and natural wonders. 

We recommend taking at least a week to fully complete this epic journey and soak up all the main sights. 

2. Choose when to visit

With so many cool things to experience, there’s no bad time to visit Iceland. But maybe you’ll find that visiting in a particular season works best for you.

Visiting Iceland in summer

In summer, you’ll discover the phenomenon known as the midnight sun. This happens when the sun doesn't fully set, giving you long hours of daylight. It provides plenty of time for exploration and outdoor activities, even late into the evening.

A meadow with a church in the distance in summertime

You’ll be treated to lush landscapes, warmer weather, and access to the highlands – a region inaccessible in winter due to snow and ice. Plus, summer is festival season, with various cultural events, concerts, and outdoor celebrations happening across the country.

But this season is also the most popular time to visit. To make the most of your trip, we recommend planning ahead and booking everything in advance. This even includes making reservations at top restaurants in Reykjavík.

Visiting Iceland in winter

Winter is the time to witness a truly spectacular display of the Northern Lights, thanks to the long nights and dark skies.

two people hiking along lagoon at night with green northern lights in the sky

You could also be treated to magical winter scenery with snow-covered mountains, frozen waterfalls, and icy landscapes. Relaxing in Iceland's hot springs and geothermal pools with these backdrops is especially beautiful during the winter months. Plus, it may not be as cold as you think, with average temperatures hovering around -2°C (28°F).

But keep in mind that winter has shorter days, so you’ll need to plan carefully to make the most of each day. And to be prepared for the chillier conditions, you’ll definitely need to pack layers!

Winter weather can also be unpredictable with storms, strong winds, and snowfall, so flexibility is key during this season.

Visiting Iceland in spring or fall 

Spring and fall are the shoulder seasons in Iceland. During these periods, there are usually fewer visitors around, so you’ll have more of the attractions to yourself. Plus, the weather is generally milder.

Person eating a picnic near Hraun, Iceland.

If you visit Iceland in spring, you’ll get longer daylight hours than in winter, meaning more time for sightseeing. And with longer nights in October and November, late fall is one of the best times to see the Northern Lights in Iceland.

Both seasons are also prime times for wildlife viewing, with the chance to spot whales, Arctic foxes, and reindeer. But they can bring a mix of sun, rain showers, and occasional storms. Packing smart with wind and waterproof clothing will help keep you dry and comfortable.

3. Prepare your sightseeing bucket list

When you start planning your Iceland trip, you’ll find there are so many things to see and do! Interested in marveling at top attractions like the Golden Circle? Looking to get off the beaten path and explore the remote Westfjords?

An Icelandic woman leaning out of a car window

Make yourself a list and plan your Iceland itinerary in advance. For some attractions, such as the Blue Lagoon or Sky Lagoon, it’s best to book ahead. Spots can fill up fast, especially in summer.

We also suggest having a few backup plans in case the weather takes a turn. For example, Reykjavík’s museums, shops, and cozy cafés can be nice options to save for a rainy (or snowstorm-y) day.

While you’re planning, don’t forget to consider your budget. Iceland has a reputation for being an expensive place to visit. Check out this helpful budgeting guide to get an idea of how much you can expect to spend when you travel in Iceland, and some easy ways to save.

4. Make a packing list 

A group of hikers getting ready

What you pack depends on the time of year that you’re visiting and the type of activities you have planned. However, as a general rule, it’s a good idea to have these 5 things at the top of your packing list:

  • Waterproof jacket and pants
  • Thermal layers
  • Sturdy, comfortable hiking shoes
  • Hat, scarf and gloves (in winter)
  • Swimwear

Of course in summer you can swap those cold winter accessories for a cap, SPF and sunglasses. But don’t forget to keep an eye on the weather forecast. It can help you make any last-minute changes before you zip up your suitcase and head to the airport.

  • Get more tips on what to pack for winter in Iceland with this packing guide.

5. Pick your travel style 

Now that you know how to plan a trip to Iceland, it’s time to choose how you want to get around the island. The main question is, to drive or not to drive?

If you like having the freedom to explore the Land of Fire and Ice at your own pace and stop off wherever you like, a self-drive tour is for you.

A jeep driving on a road in Iceland with a rainbow above

Prefer to have someone else drive? Check out these guided group tours where you can travel around the country with like-minded travelers. Or, if you’re after a more intimate discovery of what Iceland has to offer, try a private guided tour.

With both options you’ll be led by a local guide with expert knowledge of the country.

Or maybe you want to base yourself in Reykjavík or Akureyri. In that case, multi-day bus tours let you stay in Iceland's main hubs and explore nearby attractions on day trips. You’ll be able to customize your tour by adding extra activities to pack even more into your vacation.

Still not sure what travel style suits you? Find answers to all your questions about how to get around Iceland in this detailed guide.

Plan your trip to the Land of Fire and Ice with Iceland Tours

Iceland is one of the most exciting destinations you can visit, and planning your trip should be too. 

Once you’re ready to book, our Reykjavík-based team at Iceland Tours can make Iceland trip planning a breeze. We’ll arrange your accommodation, local transport, and a detailed itinerary. So all you need to do is get excited about your adventure! 

All it takes to secure your booking is a 5% deposit. So get stuck into these Iceland vacation packages and find your next adventure.

ITo Author Bio Adina Transparent

About the author

Adina’s love for travel has led her to different corners of the world over the years. But Iceland’s unique beauty has a special place in her heart, so she’s decided to share it with the world! Next time she’s there, she plans to take a dip in the hot springs, spot some puffins, and collect a few Icelandic wool sweaters (lopapeysa) along the way. When she’s not writing, she loves being out in nature or cozying up with a good book.

View more posts by Adina

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