Iceland is an island country located in the North Atlantic Ocean along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a tectonic plate boundary. It is farther north than most people realize. It is between the 63N and 68N longitude lines, which is as far north as Alaska.
Iceland's location is what makes its landscape so unique. This is why you can find 130 volcanos (30 active ones), 15 active geysers, 30+ major waterfalls, and 13 glaciers.
The Atlantic Ocean keeps the temperatures milder than most countries this far north. Iceland's maritime location can mean a lot of wind at certain times of the year.
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Map of Iceland
Iceland is made up of eight regions. Most of the towns and cities are near the coast. They are connected mainly by Route 1, or the Ring Road.
You could drive the entire Ring Road in 17 hours. Most people take seven days to drive it.
The centre of Iceland does have some roads, mainly F-Roads which are only available in the summer months and require 4x4 vehicles.
Weather in Iceland
The weather in Iceland is relatively mild for being located so far north (as far north as Fairbanks, Alaska or Siberia, Russia) the Gulf Stream from the Atlantic Ocean keeps the temperatures mild in the winter months (perfect for viewing the Northern Lights!).
The weather is doesn't fluctuate as much as you would think from summer to winter, given Iceland's location. Of course, everyone wants to go camping in Iceland in August, but don't rule out late spring and early fall.
The summer months can get as high as 25ºC (77ºF). This is rare as it usually averages around 11ºC (52ºF).
Camping in Iceland in September is great too, only about 5 degrees less than August on average.
In the fall, it starts to get rainy and windy. Winter continues to be windy, with many of the F-roads getting shut down due to blowing snow.
Spring in Iceland
Average temperature: 6ºC (43ºF).
Sunlight: 12-18 hours a day.
Crisp cool weather.
Summer in Iceland
Average temperature: 11ºC (52ºF).
Sunlight: 16-21 hours a day.
Fall in Iceland
Average temperature: 5ºC (41ºF).
Sunlight: 9-16 hours a day.
Rainy, windy, & overcast.
Winter in Iceland
Average temperature: 0ºC (32ºF).
Sunlight: 4-5 hours a day.
Wind & snow.
The cities will be slightly warmer than the Icelandic countryside. Just makes sure to pack layers of clothes, good rain gear and footwear. The wind can make the weather feel much colder than it actually is.
Basic Icelandic Words to Learn
Most people in Iceland can speak English. It's always nice to learn a few words in the local language.
These words are more about being polite, and often people appreciate the gesture, even if they speak English with you.
- 1Thank You - Takk [Tahk]
- 2Please - Gjörð svo vel / takk [Gyur-thuh svo vel]
- 3You're Welcome - Ekkert að Þakka [Eh-kerht ath thah-ka]
- 4Excuse Me - Afsakið [Av-sakith]
- 5Hello - Halló [Ha-low]
- 6Goodbye - Bless [Bless]
- 7Yes - Já [Yaw]
- 8No - Nei [Nay]
- 9Do you speak English? - Talarðu ensku? [Tar-lar-thu ensku]
Booking Flights to Iceland
Finding cheap flights to Iceland is like any other place. It is more dependant on the time of the year than it is on a secret magic deal.
It goes without saying, summer is the most expensive time of the year to go. Winter will be the cheapest.
The shoulder seasons are late May to June and September to early October. The shoulder seasons will be cheaper than summer, with the compromise of weather.
The weather will be cool, wet and windy. As the saying goes, There isn't inappropriate weather, just inappropriate clothing.
All international flights into Iceland go through the Keflavik (KEF) Airport in Reykjavik. This is the airport you will want to book your flights to.
Airport Transfers for Reykjavik
Keflavik Airport (KEF) is about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik. Once you arrive in Iceland, you will need transport from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik.
Taking a taxi from the airport in Reykjavik can cost you between $125 to $160 USD to get to the city centre.
If you are looking for the cheapest airport transfers in Iceland, there is a wide selection of buses to choose from.
Food and Drink to Try in Iceland
Experiencing local foods and drinks is more about whether you like it or not. The traditional food and drinks come with a story about local culture and history.
How things are made using old traditions can really enhance a local experience. Not just for the taste of something new, but to add a memory (good or bad) and have a great story to share about your trip.
Here are some Icelandic food and drinks to try while on your trip to Iceland. Check the videos on how these things are made below. These stories are fascinating and will make you want to try some of them. Well worth the watch.
Foods to Try in Iceland
An Icelandic cinnamon bun topped with melted chocolate.
This is a fermented Greenland shark. Apparently, it's quite....terrible. If you get the chance to sample it, go for it. Just don't order it as your main meal.
Pylsur Icelandic Hotdog
The Pylsur hot dog is made of mainly lamb, with a bit of pork and beef. The sweet brown mustard pylsusinnep is part of what makes it unique.
Puffins are local to Iceland. It is often served in a mjólkursoðinn lundi, a sweet milk sauce. The best place to get it is at 3Frakkar.
Skyr has become popular in North American grocery stores now, but the real deal is in Iceland. It's a bit sour with a hint of sweetness. In Iceland, it is often served plain.
Rugbraud is a sweet dense rye bread traditional baked by burying it in the ground near a geyser. It's nicknamed Thunderbread because eating too much of it can lead to flatulence.
This is a traditional fish stew that is usually made from Haddock and includes potatoes, sautéed onions and a béchamel like cream sauce.
Drinks to Try in Iceland
This is an orange-flavoured fizzy soft drink made locally since 1955 by the Egils Skallagrímsson Brewery.
This is 37.5% schnapps is made from potato mash and flavoured with caraway seeds. Often consumed after eating Hákarl to help mask the strong flavour of the fermented shark.
This is a locally made Vodka made from Iceland. Literally. The water used comes from a glacier spring that gets filtered through lava rocks. Reyka Vodka site.
Any Icelandic Beer
On March 1st, the country celebrates Beer Day (Bjórdagurinn). Why? That was the end of prohibition in Iceland which was in effect from 1915 until 1989!
To my North American friends, be careful. Some beers like the award-winning Lava Beer are 9.5%. Drinking one of those beers is like drinking two North American beers.
Get Bjórdagurinn swag here!
Tours and self discovery
Most Popular Things to do in Iceland
Here are some of the best things to do in Iceland. One of the best ways to see Iceland is to camp it. You can even rent all the camping gear there and make it a stop-over on the way to or from Europe. Learn all about Camping in Iceland here.
While you camp your way around the Ring Road or Golden Circle, here are somethings you can do. You can do them on your own or book a guided tour.
- The Golden Circle - 230 km (140 mi) route
- The Ring Road - 1322 km (821 mi) national road around Iceland
- The Blue Lagoon - in Grindavik
- Strokkur Geyser - in Haukadalsvegur
- Hallgrimskirkja Church - in Reykjavik
- Arbaer Open Air Museum - in Reykjavik
- Krafla Lava Fields - near Lake Mývatn
- Whale Watching (Apr-Sep)
- Atlantic Puffin Watching (Apr-Sep)
- Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights (Sep - Apr)
- Snorkel at Silfra Lava Fissure in Thingvellir National Park
- Visit any of Iceland's volcanos, geysers and waterfall
- Visit one of the three national parks - Thingvellir, Saefellssjokull, & Vatnajokull
Getting Around Iceland
ROADS IN ICELAND
Iceland is very different from other countries when it comes to driving. 50% of the roads in Iceland are not paved.
There are also mountain roads called F-roads, which can be difficult even for the most experienced drivers. 4x4 vehicles are a must on the F-roads and special insurance may be required.
Weather can be a large factor when driving in Iceland. The wind in particular can make the visibility almost nil with blowing snow, sand and ash.
There are many other factors like intense rain, snow and sheep. Learn more about road signs and driving in Iceland here.
CAR AND CAMPER VAN RENTALS
Renting a car or campervan is one of the best ways to see Iceland. It's important to understand the insurance before renting a car or campervan in Iceland.
Car Insurance in Iceland
The insurance in Iceland for vehicles is very different. There you will find things like Gravel Protection, Sand and Ash Protection, even River Crossing Insurance for the F-roads.
To learn all about insurance when renting a car or campervan, read this in-depth section in the Camping in Iceland post.
12 Weird Icelandic Facts
Learn a bit about the country of Iceland, the culture, and the people. Some of these will help you find other things to do on your trip you never thought of. (Fourth one down, would you visit this place?)
Read the question. Click to open and see the answer. How many do you know?
Why is Iceland's flag is blue, red and white?
Red for the volcanic fires.
Blue for the mountains.
White for the snow & ice.
Iceland is known for having one of the oldest what?
It is one of the world’s oldest democracies. They've be doing it since 930.
What is a popular gift at Christmas in Iceland?
Books. Many books get published just before Christmas. There is a term in Icelandic, called jólabókaflóð which translates into Christmas book flood.
Iceland has a unique museum with over 215 of what on display?
Penises. The Icelandic Phallological Museum is (probably) the largest collection in the world of penises from mostly mammals, and four (legally-certified) human penises (they were donated).
How many people are in the Iceland's Military?
Zero. Iceland doesn't have an army, navy or airforce. They do have 250 people in the Coast Guard though.
Iceland's NATO allies provide airforce patrols over Iceland.
This is another reason they are #1 for safety on the Global Peace Index.
How much of Iceland's energy comes from renewable energy sources?
A surprisingly high 85% of Iceland's energy is renewable. 65% from geothermal and 20% from hydropower.
What was banned in Iceland until 1989?
Beer! Prohibition was in effect from 1915 until 1989.
Now on March 1st, the country celebrates Beer Day (Bjórdagurinn) to celebrate the end of prohibition.
What is Iceland one of the last in the world of?
Iceland is one of the last places on earth to be inhabited. This happened in 874 AD and they started their democracy just 56 years later!
What does 1 in 10 Icelanders do?
Publish a book. Did I mention books are popular in Iceland?
Iceland has the highest book and magazine publications per capita.
10% of Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime. Just in time for Christmas!
Where do babies in Iceland often take their naps?
Babies are often put outside for naps at least once a day year-round. Even in freezing temperatures.
What don't Icelandic police take to work with them?
Guns. Icelandic police officers don't carry guns. Crime is really low in Iceland.
Violent crime almost doesn't exist. For the last several decades, Iceland has had a homicide rate of less than one per year.
What does Iceland grow 1,100-4,410 lbs of annually using geothermal energy?
Bananas. They are technically European region's largest producer of bananas growing them at Icelandic Agricultural University.
Spain grows more, but that's in the Canary Islands (which are off the coast of Africa).
So the win goes to Iceland!