21 Tips for an Iceland Trip

Hi friends! Congrats to everyone who ran the Marine Corps Marathon yesterday – we had friends visiting so we didn’t get a chance to spectate, but we commented while walking around that the weather was great for race day (aside from a pretty strong wind). Hope the race went well for all who ran.

I’ve been off the grid for a bit – we got back from Iceland one week ago, and then last week was pretty busy.  We had an absolutely fantastic time, and with Iceland continuing to grow as a popular vacation destination, I thought I’d post a list of some of the best tips we got and came up with after our trip!

21 Tips for Your Iceland Vacation

1. Rent a car! 
If you’re in Iceland for more than a couple of days, I highly recommend renting a car and getting out of Reykjavik. Reykjavik is a cool city, but you really don’t need more than a day or two to explore because it’s pretty small. There are incredible sights to see all along the coast and interior of Iceland, and the roads are very easy to navigate (there aren’t that many!).

2. If you rent a car, consider adding on a GPS
While you can definitely navigate the major roads using a map, several of the hotels we stayed at in the countryside didn’t have precise street addresses, so it was helpful to be able navigate via GPS coordinates. I wasn’t sure we needed the GPS before the trip, but I’m glad we had it for peace of mind.
3. Buy gas cards before you get too far outside of Reykjavik
Gas stations outside of big cities may not all take credit cards, so we followed the advice we saw online to buy pre-paid gas cards as soon as we could. Worked out great!
4.Consider renting 4 X 4 in the wintertime
While we didn’t have any trouble with the roads in October, we noticed that part of the main road (Ring Road) in the eastern part of the country was not paved, and could have been treacherous to drive in snowy/ very icy conditions.
5. Bring an audiobook/ music for long car rides
We did the Ring Road in about 4 driving days, which meant we were on the road for about 4 hours a day. The scenery was beautiful, but having an interesting audiobook really helped the drive go by faster!

6. Pack any medication you think you’ll need
We always travel with a small bag of medication (ibuprofen, motion sickness pills, etc), but when I caught a head cold in Iceland, I found myself wishing that I had brought daytime/ nighttime cold medicine as well. Medication is sold only in pharmacies and is very expensive – I spent about $35 on a nasal spray and sore throat lozenges, and would have surely spent more had we not packed ibuprofen and a nighttime sleep aid. They also didn’t have “combination” medication to treat multiple symptoms at once (like a catch-all cold medicine).

7. Pack all toiletries you think you’ll need
We made the mistake of forgetting face wash, and found that everything costs at least twice as much here, as in the Neutrogena face wash we picked up for $20. We also found that most of the guesthouses we stayed in outside of Reykjavik did not provide shampoo/ conditioner/ soap (luckily we took the bottles we didn’t use from our first hotel in Reyk).

8. Bring earplugs.
Some of the guesthouses we stayed in had fairly thin walls, and with guests sometimes arriving late in the evening, we made good use of these!

9. Pack warm hiking socks – several pairs
I bought a bunch of warm Smartwool and Icebreaker hiking socks from REI outlet for our trip, and with all the hiking we did, we were glad to have dry and comfortable socks each day.

10. Bring your running shoes!
This one’s an obvious one, right ;) Sadly, I only got to run one day because I caught a cold pretty early on in the trip – my biggest regret is that I couldn’t run more while I was there!

11. Pack minimal clothing
We didn’t pack that much, but I found that I still brought stuff that I didn’t end up wearing because I wore pretty much the same thing every day.  I lived in a pair of leggings layered with warm, waterproof hiking pants, and rotated between two warm running tops (Nike Hyperwarm is the best!) layered with a fleece jacket and a waterproof storm jacket on top. No need for nice clothes when you’re hiking every day.

What I wore everyday – minus the ice pick.

12. Don’t bother with getting cash
Credit cards are happily accepted everywhere – we used them to pay for everything! The only time we needed cash was to pay for lodging one night (the card reader at the guesthouse was broken), but it was really easy to find an ATM in town.

13. Do drink the tap water!
No need to buy bottled water here – tap water in Iceland is as pure and tasty as it gets, often coming from a nearby glacial stream or river.

Drinking straight from Dettifoss – the largest waterfall in Europe

14. Don’t learn Icelandic (unless you want to)
Everyone we encountered spoke English well, so language was definitely no barrier.

15. Be flexible in your schedule/ itinerary
While it’s great to plan what you’re doing each day, add in flex time to account for all the sightseeing stops on the road, as well as potential impact of bad weather. Because you’re going to need stop when you see this:
DSC03325 And this:
3_616. (For fellow lactose intolerant friends)Pack lactaid!
Iceland is known for their tasty dairy products – milk and butter tasted so much better here. Not to mention you might get the chance to drink milk straight from a cow!DSC03586
17. Eat breakfast
While I’m a strong proponent of eating breakfast in general, food is pretty expensive in Iceland and breakfast is often included with the rate in guesthouses/ hotels, so it’s a good idea to fuel up for free before hitting the road.
18. To save $$ on food, consider buying groceries and cooking
Several of the guesthouses we stayed in were equipped with full kitchens, so we agreed that if we had stayed anywhere longer than a night or two, it would have been great to cook dinner together!
19. Eat an Icelandic hot dog!
I’ll write more on what we ate later (more comprehensive trip recap to come), but the Icelandic hot dog is as ubiquitous as it is delicious, and Icelanders eat them all the time.
20. Pack food and snacks
Mike had a coworker that visited Iceland shortly before we did, and she advised that we pack snacks and instant food to save money while on the road. So glad we listened to her! We brought instant ramen cups, hot chocolate, granola bars, and beef jerky to stay fueled on the road. We saved a lot of money by eating breakfast in the hotel, eating instant food for lunch while hiking, and eating out only for dinner.
21. Go to Iceland in the off-season
We made the choice to take our trip in the low season (not summertime), and I’m so glad we did – accommodations/ flights were much cheaper, tourists were fewer, and locals were relaxed and happy to chat with fewer people around (although maybe they’re just always so nice).

And there you have it! More posts to come in the following weeks recapping our trip – where we stayed, what we ate, and what we saw. Iceland has been at the top of my wish list for a long time, and I’m looking forward to sharing our experiences to inspire your travels!

Do you like vacationing in warm locations or cold locations?  Definitely cold! I have tons more energy in the cold weather, whereas hot weather completely saps me =\


8 thoughts on “21 Tips for an Iceland Trip

  1. Pingback: Iceland (Day 1 of 8): Reykjavik | sneaker∙therapy

  2. Was researching on Iceland trip when I chanced upon ur blog. Thanks for sharing on tips for iceland trip! P.S not sure if Thor is a common name in Iceland but I happened to book an Ice Caving tour (for Feb 15) with a guide also named Thor. It could be the same guy =)

    1. Dawn H.

      He does lots of different trips, could definitely be the same guy! Thanks for stopping by, and hope you have an awesome time in Iceland!

  3. Dominic


    Just came across your blog has I’m preparing my trip/roadtrip to Iceland. I have enjoyed reading your vacation in Iceland. Thank you for sharing your stories. When exactly in October was your trip ? Mine is from September 25 to October 4 and I was looking for information about weather and road condition during that period. I’m particularly concern about the road around Myvatn, Detifoss and all the way to Hofn. I’m travelling alone so I won’t be able to rent a 4×4.

    Thank you for your time and answer.

    1. Dawn H.

      Dominic, I think you should be fine. We went in mid to late oct and had no problems without 4 wheel drive. Enjoy your trip!

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