Are you sure you’re ready to plan your trip to Iceland? There are a lot f things you should consider prior to choosing travel dates and buying flights. Read my step-by-step guide before you start planning and get the most out of your visit.
1. Set a budget
Did you know Iceland is one of the most expensive countries in the world? Usually when you begin planning a trip you start with the dates, but in the case of Iceland your budget will determine WHEN you should visit the country. Visiting during high season (mid-June through August) can dramatically increase airfare, hotels, and tour prices. If you’re on a tight budget you may want to consider going in spring, fall, or winter instead. We loved our trip to Iceland in March so I’d recommend going in spring if possible—you can still see the northern lights and visit ice caves during this time of year and you might even get lucky with some sunshine.
To save money I’d suggest stocking up on snacks at home before you leave. Keep in mind you might not be able to stop for lunch (there are no gas stations or fast-food restaurants on the side of the road) so packing a picnic is a convenient and budget-friendly option. When we arrived in Iceland we went to the local supermarket (Bónus is the most popular) for bread, meat, etc. to eat while on the road. Don’t forget you can drink water out of the tap (it’s the cleanest water in the world) so don’t waste money buying bottled water.
2. Choose your flights and travel dates
Flying midweek could save you hundreds of dollars so try not to choose your travel dates until you’ve checked flight options. I always use skyscanner.com for a monthly view of airfare rates and choose the cheapest days to fly. Once you’ve booked flights your travel dates are set! Learn more about how to save money on flights in this post.
3. Reserve your car
I would highly recommend renting a car to see Iceland. Being based in Reykjavik and doing day excursions won’t give you the same experience as driving through the country yourself. Don’t forget some people opt to rent a caravan or camper to combine transport and accommodation in one.
I’ve done my fair share of big bus tours across countries (like in Thailand and Vietnam) and I would NOT recommend doing this in Iceland. Some days we had the roads all to ourselves and traveling in a small group allowed us adapt our schedule as needed when visiting Iceland’s attractions. We had a great experience with A Car Rental and our Mitsubishi Outlander with 4-wheel drive was perfect for driving through snow and exploring off-the-grid gravel roads. Please note you should ALWAYS get damage insurance if renting a car and I’d suggest getting gravel protection too.
Keep in mind you definitely need to get a GPS with your rental car. There are some places where your phone’s GPS will not work. Try to get the exact location coordinates (latitude + longitude) for the places you’ll visit—I used coordinates for every single place we went including our hotels! Make sure to ask the car rental company to show you how to enter the coordinates in the GPS too (it wasn’t as straightforward as I thought).
4. Organize your road trip itinerary
Now that you’ve got your budget, a vehicle, and travel dates set it’s time to decide the attractions you’re going to see. During our most recent trip (organized through Guide to Iceland) we had eight days to see the country and decided to spend our time exploring the southern region from coast to coast. If you’ve got limited time I’d suggest focusing on one region and return another time to see the other.
You should organize each day based on the attractions you want to see. We visited a max of six attractions per day and grouped them by vicinity and driving distance. Don’t forget tours like glacier hiking and ice caves can take up to three hours to complete so you may need to adjust your itinerary accordingly.
Road tripping around Iceland is great because everything is within a few hours drive. Make sure to avoid visiting places that are 3+ hours distance in the same day—don’t waste all your time driving. Keep in mind gas stations are usually located in bigger cities (i.e. with a population over 200 people) so try to pass through a big town every 2 – 3 days so you’ll be able to fill up on gas.
5. Book your accommodation
When it comes to accommodation your itinerary and budget are the main factors to consider. Look at the last attraction of your itinerary for each day and find a nearby town where you can sleep for the night. There are a variety of hotels, hostels, guest houses, and apartments (click here for $25 in Airbnb credit) available throughout Iceland. Check out this post for a list of websites you can use to find affordable accommodation in Europe.
Whenever possible I would ALWAYS recommend including breakfast with your reservation; food is extremely expensive in Iceland so this can be a life-saver for those of us who need our coffee and a hot meal in the morning. If you are traveling during high-season it’s possible that many places will be fully booked—in this case you might want to consider booking accomodation before finalizing your travel itinerary.
6. Enjoy the experience
Words can’t explain how beautiful Iceland is and how much we enjoyed or trip. The locals are some of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered abroad…they’re also the only people I’ve met that actually laughed at ALL of my dad’s cheesy jokes (love you dad). 😉 One of the locals told us there is no bad weather in Iceland, only bad clothes and bad attitudes so make sure to pack lots of layers and go to Iceland with an open mind. I hope this post helps you plan your trip to Iceland and that you enjoy the experience as much as we did. Iceland is an amazing country and we will definitely be back.