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Iceland tips – all you need to know to plan a trip to Iceland

The country that’s on so many of our readers and followers lips right now is Iceland so I’ve taken the time to compile this short guide of Iceland tips covering where and when to go and what not to miss.

It’s a must-visit for so many, and whenever anyone in our community is visiting, every photo and reel is pored over in huge detail. For a country so small, it certainly packs a punch – so what's the big appeal?

December 1, 2022

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Iceland tips - Where is Iceland?

Just under 800 miles north-west from the tip of Scotland, Iceland is a European country that’s part of Scandinavia. Lying just beneath the Arctic Circle, it’s known as the land of fire and ice, thanks to it largely being a mix of glaciers and volcanoes, which make up a significant chunk of its dramatic landscape.

To add to the drama, much of its nearly 5,000km of coastline is marked with fjords, deep inlets of water carved into the glaciers, that are best explored under your own steam in a hire car (more on that later).

Among all this incredible natural beauty is the capital, Reykjavik, which positively thrums with life and is where you’ll find approximately half of the entire island’s population of 350,000.

For an island that only measures about 300km north to south and 500km east to west, Iceland has a lot to reveal within its coast, yet is a manageable enough size to visit on a short break. Longer is always better, of course – and the ultimate is to spend two weeks circumnavigating the island along its Ring Road – but if you’re pushed for time don’t be disheartened, you’ll still be able to see plenty of Iceland’s highlights on your visit.

Iceland tips - Iceland's highlights

For a country that’s very sparsely populated, it’s understandable that nature is the main attraction here, and the season you visit in will play a part in how you spend your time.

Good iceland tips include visiting in the summer - then you’ll be rewarded with long days perfect for outdoor activities and the promise of the midnight sun.

The the winter offers a higher chance of seeing the Northern Lights shimmering across the night sky. So, if ticking off the Aurora Bolis is high on your bucket list, my Iceland tips include choose the winter months for your trip.

Most international visitors arrive at Keflavik airport to the south-west of Reykjavik and head straight for the capital. Reykjavik is a must, and is loved as much for its lively nightlife as it is friendly people. Thanks to its small size, its bars and breweries are all close together so are ideal bar crawl territory, but make sure you see the city in the daylight too, as the Old Town in particular is bursting with colour. Brightly painted wooden houses line up from the waterfront, and it’s easy to spend a day pottering among the boutiques, design shops and cafes.

The Golden Circle is probably the most popular route on Iceland. A 300km loop from Reykjavik, it includes the three big hitters of the Thingvellir National Park, the Strokkur geyser and Gullfoss waterfall, as well as stunning ocean views along the south coast and quaint fishing villages in the Eastfjords. Allow five nights for the tour and you’ll see some of the best of Iceland – including cascading waterfalls, erupting geysers, majestic glaciers and icy lagoons.

We mentioned them above but the Northern Lights deserve more space. A mesmerising natural phenomena of lights swirling through the night sky, they can glow green on the horizon before rippling through the whole spectrum of colours overhead. Also known as the aurora borealis, they're best seen during the long dark winter months, when the sun won’t overpower the illumination.

Don’t miss taking a dip in one of the many geothermal pools scattered across the island. Thanks to Iceland being on a hotbed of tectonic activity bubbling away under its surface, you’ll find lots f naturally warm springs and spouts of steam rising from the ground. The most famous of these is the Blue Lagoon, 45 minutes south west of Reykjavik, and set in the middle of a black lava field, but others worth visiting for a soak include the Secret Lagoon – known locally as Gamla Laugin, it’s the oldest swimming pool in Iceland and isn’t really a secret anymore and the Sky Lagoon set among the rocks just 15 minutes north of Reykjavik. If you’re road-tripping, you’ll find the most geothermal pools and natural hot springs in the west and southwest of Iceland.

The last of our highlights is whale watching, either done from a responsible boat trip out of Reykjavik, or on land along Iceland’s northern coast. The best time to visit to maximise your chances is between April and September, and keep those eyes peeled for humpback, orca, minke and even, if you’re really lucky, blue whales. When you’ve had your fill of whales, head to the Eastern fjord region to spot plenty of adorably cute puffins.

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Iceland Tips - Where to stay in Iceland

It’s likely on your holiday to Iceland that you’ll be travelling around, so it makes sense to book with a local specialist who can arrange interesting accommodation as well as advice on day-to-day itineraries.

In Reykjavik you want to stay downtown to be among all the action. There’s a smart EDITION hotel if you want something fancy, or House of the Snowbird has several one-bedroom apartments.

If you want to stay in a good spot to see the Northern Lights, Hella and the Borgarfjordur Valley are where you need to be. If you’ve got children with you, Hotel Laekur is an Icelandic horse farm in Hella with family rooms and a large terrace from which to gaze up at the night sky.

For something utterly remote and dramatic, book a stay in one of Fjallsarlon’s Overnight Adventure Aurora Huts, otherwise known as igloo boats. Two floating pods with glass walls and ceilings that each cosily sleep two people, they’re on the Fjallsarlon Glacier Lagoon, with views of Vatnajökull Glacier, the largest in Europe.

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Iceland tips - getting there and getting around

The easiest way to get to Iceland is to fly direct to Keflavik international airport. Flights operate year round, from London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow, and take about three hours.

If you fancy some seriously slow travel and wanted to bring your own camper van or car it’s also possible to arrive by ferry from Denmark, travelling via the Faroe Islands. Over the summer it takes two days, and from September to May it’s a little longer than three days. The ferry departs from Hirtshals at the northern tip of Denmark; to drive there from Calais takes approximately 13 hours. Told you it was slow!

In the summer, most visitors hire a car and drive themselves around (most major car hire operators are available) but in the winter, when weather conditions make the roads more unpredictable, it’s worth sourcing a guide with a 4x4, or joining a small-group tour.

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Other useful Iceland tips

English is taught as a second language in Iceland and nearly every islander can speak it well, so it’s easy to have conversations and understand everyone. But it’s always nice to have a couple of words, so halló is hello, and takk is thank you.

The currency is kronur (and comes in large denomination notes, starting at 500) and Iceland is on the same time zone as the UK.

THE DETAILS

Visit Iceland website

Handy links list

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December 1, 2022