How To Plan A Trip to Iceland

Ties Lagraauw

written by
Ties Lagraauw

updated 10.06.2024

Some travellers claim that planning a trip can be more fun than the trip itself. While I wouldn't go that far, I believe that planning is necessary, and it can also be enjoyable. My recent trip to Iceland was a prime example of that. I enjoy planning trips. Where do I want to go? What do I want to see? And what especially not? How many days do I need? In short, all facets that come with planning a trip to Iceland. However, it can also be a bit overwhelming. Iceland is one of Europe's most beautiful countries, and has quite a lot to offer. So how do you plan that perfect trip?

Step 1: Outline the main goals of your trip

This step is crucial when planning a trip to Iceland. Having a clear vision of your travel goals is essential to ensure you don't miss out on what matters most to you.

You most likely want to dive into Iceland's unique urban culture and marvel at its breathtaking natural landscapes. The cities, with their vibrant art scene and charming architecture, offer a cultural experience that beautifully contrasts with the country's natural beauty.

Reykjavík and the northern city of Akureyri are at the top of my list. From there, I’m eager to venture into nature to witness the awe-inspiring Gullfoss and Dettifoss waterfalls, trek through the scenic trails of Þingvellir National Park, and unwind in the tranquil waters of the Blue Lagoon.

This approach to planning helps shape my entire itinerary, ensuring it’s balanced and aligned with my interests.

So, before anything else, take the time to think about what excites you most about your trip. Create a list of must-see places and activities, both in urban settings and the great outdoors. Knowing your goals will make the planning process smoother and far more enjoyable.

Step 2: Figure out when is the best time to go

The weather can make or break your trip. You might have a list of places to visit, but if the weather doesn't cooperate, it can dampen your experience. Always check the best time to visit Iceland.

For Iceland, I found that the summer months from June to August are ideal for enjoying nature. During this time, you get longer daylight hours, milder temperatures, and great conditions to explore the stunning landscapes.

However, summer is also the peak tourist season, so I needed to book accommodation and activities well in advance to secure the best deals. If you're looking to save money and don't mind cooler weather, consider visiting during the “shoulder” seasons - late spring (May) or early fall (September).

But if your goal is to witness the magical Northern Lights, winter, from November through February, is your best bet. Just be prepared for shorter days and more challenging weather conditions.

Northern Lights, Jokulsarlon, Iceland

Northern Lights, Jokulsarlon, Iceland

Step 3: Determine the length of your trip

Iceland is one of those places where you could easily spend months exploring its wonders, but time is often limited. No matter how carefully you plan, there never seems to be enough time.

Ideally, it would be worth allocating at least three to four weeks to fully immerse yourself in Iceland's diverse landscapes and experiences. If you have less time, you'll need to prioritize and might miss out on some incredible sights. Fortunately, travelling around Iceland is relatively straightforward, albeit a bit expensive, thanks to efficient transportation options.

The best way to get around Iceland is by renting a car. It allows you to explore remote areas and embark on spontaneous adventures.

For my trip, I was able to dedicate 4 weeks to Iceland, which allowed me to accomplish most of the points on my bucket list. Having enough time meant I could enjoy every moment without feeling rushed.

My advice: Give yourself the gift of time while exploring Iceland. A leisurely pace allows for a deeper and more meaningful connection to this incredible place.

Boat parking at the jetty of the town in Siglufjorour. Northern Iceland © Jordan Lye/Shutterstock

Boat parking at the jetty of the town in Siglufjorour. Northern Iceland © Jordan Lye/Shutterstock

Step 4: Book accommodation and attractions

While spontaneity in travel has its charm, booking popular attractions and accommodations in advance can significantly enhance your experience. This approach not only reduces hassle but often results in better prices.

Take Iceland, for example. Golden Circle tours and accommodations in Reykjavik are in high demand, especially during the summer months and holidays.

You don't want to miss important events or waste time waiting in long queues or looking for a place to stay. By booking tours and accommodations in advance, you can plan the rest of my adventure with peace of mind.

My advice: Book your accommodation in advance. This is especially important during the high season (June-August). The earlier you start booking, the more likely you will be able to find something at a better price.

Step 5: Take advantage of the perks of the Internet

By that, I don't mean taking selfies at the Blue Lagoon to share on social media. I'm talking about buying a local SIM card or using an eSIM if your device has that feature. While travelling away from technology has its charms, this approach is not always practical.

Using a local SIM card makes it much easier to plan on the go. I used it to map out itineraries and book various unplanned activities. It can also be helpful for finding the best bars and restaurants in Reykjavik.

My tip: If you do want to limit yourself from using the internet while travelling for the full immersion, still download a map of your destination ahead of time. It will make your life a lot easier, especially in Iceland with its many diverse routes.

Blue-Lagoon-iceland-shutterstock_776076223

Blue Lagoon, Iceland @ Shutterstock

Step 6: Make sure to take only the essentials

Iceland's challenging climate, even in summer, can make packing a bit tricky. It's tempting to prepare for every possible scenario and bring as much as you can. However, my past travels have taught me that over-packing usually just means extra weight to carry.

Focus on the essentials. Lightweight, quick-drying clothes, a good raincoat, and sturdy walking shoes are my go-to items. Even in summer, the weather can be cool and wet, so it's crucial to be ready for those conditions.

Also pack layered clothing like sweaters and thermal t-shirts for those unexpected temperature drops, which are quite common in Iceland.

My advice: pack smart and travel light. Equip yourself according to Iceland's unique climate for a comfortable and enjoyable trip.

Step 7: Budget your trip

Planning travel expenses might be the least favourite part for many, myself included, but there's no avoiding it. Post-COVID, the prices of flights, accommodation, and even food have risen significantly, making proper budgeting more crucial than ever.

In Iceland, brace yourself for higher costs. Expect to spend at least $200 per day, covering accommodation, food, and transportation. Renting a car will add to your expenses, especially when you factor in fuel and insurance.

Naturally, costs vary based on your travel style, your companions (like family or kids), and the number and types of activities you have planned.

My advice: If you've chosen Iceland, don't be afraid to stretch your budget a bit. The incredible experiences this country offers are well worth it.

iceland-ring-road-shutterstock_1143255011

Iceland Ring Road @ Shutterstock

Step 8: Book transport from the airport to the hotel

After a tiring flight, the last thing you want to do is search for a cab stand and haggle over the fare, ending up overpaying. 

To make your arrival in Iceland go more smoothly, pre-book transportation from the airport to your accommodation. There are many options, such as Flybus, which offers reliable transfers from Keflavik Airport to various destinations in Reykjavik and beyond. You can book online and the bus will be ready for your arrival.

You can also go for Welcome Pickups.

My advice: Avoid catching a cab on arrival and organize your airport transfer in advance, and you can start enjoying Iceland from the moment you land.

Step 9: Make sure to take a credit card

Dealing with payments can be tricky in a foreign country, but in Iceland, it's relatively simple. Iceland is one of the most cashless societies in the world, so you don't have to worry about carrying around large amounts of cash.

It's best to use a credit or debit card for most transactions. Cards are accepted almost everywhere, from large hotels and restaurants to small cafés and even cabs. 

Make sure your card is equipped with a chip and PIN, as these are the most commonly used.

Also make sure to have a small amount of Icelandic króna (ISK) on hand. Some remote gas stations and small village stores preferred cash.

My tip: Inform your bank before travelling to avoid problems with international transactions. Also, check to see if your bank charges foreign transaction fees, and consider getting a card with no fee to save on additional costs.

hallgrimskirkja-cathedral-city-reykjavik-iceland-shutterstock_613997816

Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral City, Reykjavik, Iceland @ Shutterstock

Mistakes I  made while travelling (and how to avoid them)

It's hard to admit, but even as an experienced traveller, I still made a few planning mistakes that taught me valuable lessons. From packing my itinerary too tightly to misjudging weather conditions, these mistakes affected my trip in one way or another. 

Here's what I'll keep in mind for next time.

Planning travel times

Iceland may seem small on a map, but travel time can be deceiving. Weather, road conditions, and the route you choose can make a big difference in the time it takes to get from one place to another.

For example, on my trip, I planned to drive from Reykjavik to Akureyri. I had originally intended it to be a relatively quick 4-hour trip. However, I didn't consider that the frequent photo stops and tantalizingly unexpected sights would turn the trip into an 8-hour journey. 

Take this into consideration and always leave extra time for the trip as well as check road conditions regularly on the Icelandic Road and Coast Authority website.

Strokkur, Iceland

Strokkur, Iceland

Overloading your itinerary

Like many I was tempted by the desire to cram as many sights and activities as possible into my Iceland itinerary. However, as a result, in some cases this only resulted in rushing and unnecessary stress. 

Fortunately I quickly realized that it is much more enjoyable to fully enjoy fewer places and activities than to exhaust myself by overloading my itinerary to the detriment of my enjoyment. A trip to Iceland like no other showed me that the beauty of traveling lies in the freedom to explore at your own pace.

Ignoring the weather

You may notice that I've written before about the need to prepare for Iceland's unpredictable weather. I'm ashamed to admit, but even keeping the climatic nuances in mind, I still managed to experience the sometimes brutal fickleness of the local weather on my own skin.

While trekking to Glymur waterfall one sunny day, I naively didn't bring rain gear and got caught in a sudden downpour halfway through. As a consequence I got soaked and cold because I was not prepared accordingly. No matter how sunny the weather seems to be, don't make the same mistake as I did, always take waterproof clothing with you, even if the weather seems fine when you set off.

Ties Lagraauw

written by
Ties Lagraauw

updated 10.06.2024

Ties is a true world explorer - whether it be for work or leisure! As Content Manager at RoughGuides, and the owner of Dutch travel platform Reis-Expert.nl, Ties is constantly on the move, always looking for new destinations to discover.

Planning your own trip? Prepare for your trip

Use Rough Guides' trusted partners for great rates

Ready to travel and discover
Iceland?

Get support from our local experts for
stress-free planning & worry-free travels

Plan my trip ⤍