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Travel Tips

Authentic Travel Tips—Iceland

Iceland is a particular joy for nature lovers and travelers who want to breathe and feel fully alive. The waterfalls, hot springs, and rivers are dazzling. Northern Lights are beyond belief, the locals are exceptionally friendly, and many speak English. Enjoy an evening or two of city café life—these café’s often stay open until 6 am! Below are authentic travel tips that will make discovering Iceland a pure pleasure.

Money

The currency in Iceland is the Icelandic Krone, kr or ISK, and pronounced “krona.” Several weeks before you leave, it’s handy to stop into your bank and order some Krone to have on hand when you touch down. In 2022, the exchange rate is about 130 kr per 1 US dollar. If you don’t have time, there are places in the airport to change your US Dollars to Krone—the charge is simply a bit higher than what your bank will charge you. That being said, Iceland is practically a cashless society, so no worries.

Your four-digit PIN is required for both credit cards and debit cards.

ATM’s

You’ll only need a small amount of cash in Iceland, and just about every town has an ATM (hraobanki). You can withdraw cash using your MasterCard, Visa, Maestro, or Cirrus cards. Any card connected to the Cirrus network can access the ATMs. ATMs can also be found at hotels, banks, on the street, gas stations, and in shopping centers. Before you leave home, give your credit card or debit companies a call and let them know you’ll be traveling in Iceland. And remember your PIN numbers—a must.

Credit Cards

MasterCard and Visa credit cards are accepted just about everywhere. Local Icelanders use their credit cards even for small purchases. It’s a good idea to have cash on hand in very rural areas.

VAT Tax Refund

The current VAT (Value Added Tax) in Iceland is 26%, one of the highest in the world. The VAT tax is included in the price tag of an item that you purchase. As a non-Iceland citizen, you are entitled to a refund on the VAT you paid during your travels. Most stores display a “tax-free shopping” sign in their window. Ask for a voucher if your purchase is over 6000kr.

Electricity

There are two types of power sockets in Iceland, C and F. Plug C has two round pins and plug F has two round pins with two earth clips on the side. Their voltage is 230, twice that of the US. Simply purchase an Iceland adapter for your own plug before leaving. They are easy to find (look under Iceland electric adapter), inexpensive, small, and easy to purchase online or in stores. If you forget, you can purchase one in Iceland, but it’s much easier to get it in advance.

Chauffeured Driving

Many people like to have a chauffeured driver for their trip. It is reasonably priced, great for several people traveling together, there’s room for your luggage, and you get to relax and simply enjoy your vacation. And a local driver can share off-the-beaten-path possibilities with you. Ask your Authentic Destination Expert about this option.

Driving Iceland Yourself

Driving in Iceland is the ultimate way to see this extraordinary land of fire, ice, roaring rivers, geothermal activity, and magnificent mountains. Drive on the right—the same side you drive on in the States. When you approach a roundabout, yield to traffic coming from the left. (As in the States, pull over for emergency vehicles.)

Drivers must carry their driver’s license and insurance documents. Road signs are generally in Icelandic but are easy to understand. Triangular signs give a warming with an image, and circular signs mean something is prohibited. The word “Stans” on a sign means stop. Distances are shown in kilometers (km)—one kilometer measures 2/3 mile.

Seatbelts must be worn at all times. Children 12 and under must have the proper restraint for their age and size. Do not use your cell phone while driving unless you have a hands-free device.

The legal Blood Alcohol limit is .05%, but in reality there is zero tolerance and the fines are steep.

Speed Limits

Yellow circles, with red borders and black numerals, indicate the speed in kph/hour. In residential areas it is generally 30 kph (around 18 kph). In built-up areas, where traffic flows, it can be as high as 50kph (31mph). You’ll know which areas are considered to be built-up because the signs have a black silhouette of a cityscape on a yellow background.

Outside areas of population, the speed limit for gravel roads tends to be 80kph (49 mph), and paved roads, such as the Ring Road, can be 90kph (55mph). At some point, you might spot a speed limit that’s marked on a rectangular blue sign with white lettering. These signs are suggestions, not rules, but it’s best for travelers, unfamiliar with the road, to pay attention to them.

Except for the speed limit signs which are numeric, every sign posted has an image that makes the meaning quite clear. Don’t worry. Take your time and enjoy the stunning scenery.

If you want to go up into the Highlands or mountains, ask your Authentic Travel Expert to rent you a 4 X 4—those are an absolute necessity for the rough roads, designated as “F” roads. Some of these go through rivers… make sure you know how to handle rough terrain. Always stay on the road. Do not pull off and drive off-road, regardless of how tempting the view may be, and how clear a field may look.

Road Safety

Iceland has unique road conditions. Watch for livestock on roads—they have the right-of-way, no honking! Remember that the numerous F roads are tempting but can only be traversed with a 4-wheel drive. F roads are only open during the summer. For road conditions, call 1777.

Driving Distances

Below are listed examples of common driving distances. We suggest that you keep your driving distance down. And, if you’re driving in winter, allow yourself plenty of room and time. Iceland’s roads travel through stunning territory. You’re on vacation. Relax. 

  • Reykjavik to Borgarnes: 76 kph (42 miles) 1 hour
  • Borgarnes to Stykkisholmur: 99 kph (62 miles) 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Stykkisholmur to Hvammstangi: 163 kph (101 miles) 2.5 hours
  • Hvammstangi to Akureyri: 205 kph (128 miles) 2.5 hours
  • Akureyri to Seydisfjordur: 277 kph (172 miles) 3.5 hours
  • Seydisfjordur to Hofn: 213 kph (133 miles) 2.5 hours
  • Hofn to Selfoss: 401 kph (250 miles) 4.5 hours
  • Selfoss to Reykjavik: 60 kph (37 miles) 45 minutes

GPS

We strongly suggest use of a GPS. Tell your Authentic Travel Expert you want one when setting up your car rental. If you forget to do that, ask for one at the rental agency desk at the airport. But, far better to plan in advance.

Marketplaces

If you’re in Reykjavik during the winter, Christmas markets line the streets. Dive in for local food, drinks, and handcrafted gifts. In the summer, head to Iceland’s eastern capital, Egilstaoir, and discover Fjoshornio, the cow-shed corner. This is a farm market with products that come straight from the dairy, along with some of Iceland’s unique yogurt called Skyr. Stop into the restaurant for cuisine that comes straight from this farm—it’s a foodie’s delight.

At any time of year, Kolaportio, in downtown Reykjavik with a harbor view, is the place to go for a taste of authentic Iceland. Locals sell their goods here when they’re moving, or just need more space, and you’re likely to find anything from African jewelry to kimonos to jade statues. It’s also a great place to browse for books. Perhaps the best thing going here is the local pizzazz. A trip to Blaskogabyggd is on the bucket list for anyone who loves woolens. It’s about 1 ½ hours into the interior of Iceland from Reykjavik, but it’s a gorgeous drive. You’ll find handmade lopapeysa, gloves, hats, and sweaters that are all one-of-a-kind. The good are knitted by the women who live near the farm, they are original, and they are 100% handmade.

Roll out the Fun!

Iceland is an adventurer’s paradise, and also the perfect place to spread your wings and try something new. Imagine kiteboarding in a fjord and then dipping into a natural hot spring. Kitesurfing on pristine waters is heaven. How about a midnight trek to see the Northern Lights? Ziplining in Iceland is a grand adventure. Soar through stunning river canyons—the scenery below is breathtaking.

If you’re driving the Ring, stop at Vik and experience the Icelandic Lava Show. This is the only place in the world, literally, that you can safely be close to molten lava. It is an absolute thrill. There are amusement parks, including Tivoli, and water parks throughout Iceland—this is a country that welcomes families and groups of friends!

Navigating Nature

Be prepared for cold weather, regardless of when you travel. It can change on a dime. If you’re hiking, please get an actual weather forecast before you head off. Simply call 9020600 for the forecast, pressing 1 after the intro. Also, when hiking, know that a stream can turn into a river when snows melt. In areas with geothermal activity, stick to the boardwalks or solid ground just as you would in Yellowstone. Whether at home or in Iceland, it’s a poor idea to attempt a glacier ascent or isolated hiking when you’re alone.

Iceland’s natural wonders are some of the finest in the world. Use common sense, and you’ll be fine.

Public Holidays

The following are the dates of public holidays are for 2022:

  • New Year’s Day: January 1, Saturday
  • Maundy Thursday: April 14, Thursday
  • Good Friday: April 15, Friday
  • Easter Monday: April 18, Monday
  • First Day of Summer: April 21, Thursday
  • Labor Day: May 1, Sunday
  • Ascension Day: May 26, Thursday
  • Whit Sunday: June 5, Sunday
  • Whit Monday: June 6, Monday
  • Independence Day: June 17, Friday
  • Commerce Day: August 1, Monday
  • Christmas Eve: December 24, Saturday
  • Christmas Day: December 25, Sunday
  • Boxing Day: December 26, Monday
  • New Year’s Eve: December 31, Saturday

Hours For Shops & Banks

Because of Iceland’s climate, hours vary throughout the year. Some places are only open during the high season, and from June – August there are often extended hours. The standard hours are Banks—9 am – 4pm, Monday – Friday. Cafes/bars—10 am – 1 am Sunday to Thursday. On Friday and Saturday 10 am open, with closing at 3 am and 6 am. Enjoy! Cafes are open 10 am – 6 pm. Business Offices, 9am – 5 am. Post Offices 9 am to 4 pm.

Restaurants are open 11:30 am – 2:30 pm, then they close. Open again for dinner from 6pm – 9 pm. Shops are open from 10 am – 6 pm M-F, and 10am – 4 pm, Saturday. In Reykjavik, some stores in malls are open on Sunday. Supermarkets are open from 9am – 9 pm. The government-run liquor store (Vinbudin) has variable hours, and those outside Reykjavik may only open for a few hours each day.

Smoking, Drugs, & Alcohol

Smoking is banned in pubs, restaurants, shopping malls, and all public places. The possession of illegal drugs is prohibited and could result in a prison sentence. The legal limit for Blood Alcohol Content is .05% and is strictly enforced.

Time Zone

Iceland is on Greenwich Mean Time throughout the year.

Visiting Sacred Sites and Natural Wonders

When visiting a church, cathedral, ancient sites, or natural wonders remember you are on sacred ground and show respect. Iceland expects visitors to keep a clean trail.

What to Pack

Pack to wear clothes in layers, including some wool or silk long underwear. Bring good walking shoes and plenty of socks. Have a thick, waterproof jacket handy, and a thin jacket to wear underneath. A few non-bulky sweaters are perfect. Iceland is a casual country—even in high-end restaurants, you will not be expected to wear a tie and jacket. The dress is smart-casual.

Pack your electrical adapter, a copy of your passport and credit or debit cards. (Best to only bring two or three of these.) Make copies of your health insurance. Keep your meds, important copies of docs, and some cash in one small, convenient bag.

Cell Phones & Wi-Fi

Free hotspots are available in main towns and cities. Libraries also offer free Wi-Fi. Your lodgings have Wi-Fi, although, as with anywhere, small towns often have spotty coverage. Before leaving, contact your cell phone carrier. Most will charge you a relatively small fee, usually $10/day, for making calls back to the US and within Iceland on your cell phone. This is very handy!

Emergency Phone Number

Dial 112 for emergencies. Directory assistance is 118. For weather, 902-0600, and press 1 after the introduction. For road conditions, dial 1777.

Health

Please DO drink the water! It is some of the purest in the world. Iceland’s standard of healthcare is very high, and English is commonly spoken by doctors and clinic staff. As in the States, services outside large areas are limited. Pharmacists can give you advice and OTC medicine. You can recognize them by the sign Apotek. Primary healthcare centers are located in Reykjavik, and you are welcome to walk in. In smaller areas, ask a tourist office or the owner of your lodging if you need medical care.

ID

You will need your US driver’s license and your passport at the car rental desk.

Hair Dryers

Hairdryers are generally supplied in our accommodations.

Wash Cloths

Wash cloths are an American invention, and you will rarely see them in Iceland. If this is something you absolutely must have, pack your own.

Ready to discover the dazzling northern destination of Iceland?