Iceland travel advice
One of Earth’s youngest landmasses and home to active volcanoes, ancient glaciers, spectacular waterfalls and moss-covered lava fields, Iceland is a destination quite unlike any other.
Planning your trip
Whether you want to be hiking through untouched landscapes, searching for the northern lights, relaxing in geothermal hot springs or viewing puffin colonies on Iceland’s rugged shoreline, our Iceland specialists can plan the most rewarding routes through the country, based on your interests and preferences.
The official language in Iceland is Icelandic, although virtually all Icelanders speak some English. The island is small, encouraging Icelanders to travel, study and work overseas. The younger generations are taught English from a young age and generally prove willing and fluent, while older Icelanders — who were taught Danish as a foreign language at school — usually have a command of basic English.
Food & drink
Iceland has emerged in the past few years as one of Europe's most dynamic gastronomic scenes, with Icelandic chefs winning top prizes abroad. However, while there are several epicurean restaurants in Iceland, the main focal point of the culinary scene is hearty comfort food.
Fishing has been an essential part of Icelandic history and culture, and freshly caught fish is a staple of Icelandic cuisine. In particular, langoustine is a culinary highlight — best sampled in the small town of Höfn during the Humarhátíð festival between late June and early July.
Iceland’s cool climate and rugged topography, which is unsuitable for many types of livestock, means that lamb is another popular ingredient. You’re likely to see hardy Icelandic sheep range through the open countryside and across mountain slopes during the summer months.
Festivals & Public Holidays
Icelanders have long placed great importance on tradition and celebrations, and enjoy no fewer than 15 public holidays, in addition to a number of other art, sport, food and cultural events throughout the year.
Many events take place throughout the summer, when the long daylight hours keep festivities going late into the evening.
Particular importance is placed on Christmas and New Year, when festivities coincide with the winter solstice and the days start to grow longer. As a result, Icelanders put emphasis on bringing light into their Yuletide festivities, illuminating towns with bright Christmas decorations and injecting a warm, festive sensation into the wintry chill and darkness.[LR1] New Year’s Eve is particularly spectacular, with firework displays lighting up the skies in main towns and cities.
- 1st January — New Year’s Day
- March/April — Easter holiday (dates vary)
- April — First day of summer (first Thursday after 18th April)
- 1st May — May Day
- April/May — Ascension Day (40 days after Easter)
- May/June — Whit Monday (seventh Monday after Easter)
- 17th June — Independence Day
- August — Commerce Day (first Monday in August)
- 24th — 26th December – Christmas holiday
- 31st December — New Year’s Eve
Iceland’s tipping culture is extremely modest, and usually you'd only give tips to restaurant staff, drivers and guides. In restaurants, if you wish to tip, 10% of your meal cost is appropriate, but tips are at your discretion and if you’d like to tip more for exceptional service, it will be appreciated. If paying by card, it’s possible to ask the waiter to add the tip, but this is not always guaranteed. Small transactions may incur a surcharge to the total bill before paying. Tipping in pubs and bars is not expected.
You might also want to tip your tour guides or driver-guides, but again, this is always at your discretion.
The code for calling Iceland is +354, generally followed by only seven digits. It’s worth checking with your provider to find out whether you’ll be able to access data or make and receive calls abroad, and if there are any extra costs involved. Most populated areas receive at least GPRS signals, if not 3G or 4G, although you might not find any signal in unpopulated or mountainous areas.
While it’s possible to phone home directly from your hotels, these calls can be expensive. Many hotels, restaurants and cafes will have complimentary Wi-Fi available, allowing for free Skype or internet calls.
Money & expenses
The official currency is the Icelandic Krona, which is widely available from currency exchange offices around the world or at the airport. Credit and debit cards are readily accepted by nearly all Icelandic businesses, even for small purchases, and is considered to be the most convenient means of payment. Iceland uses a ‘chip and pin’ system for debit and credit card transactions.
ATMs are plentiful in Iceland, as are banks, where it’s easy to exchange common currencies. As a result, many places serving visitors, including some grocery stores, don't mind taking US dollars, British pounds or euros, though you might receive only approximate change in Icelandic krona. Travellers' cheques are less commonly received, but are accepted at banks and major hotels.
Our certified country specialists can advise on any safety concerns you may have. For current information, please refer to the State Department website.
When to go to Iceland
You'll find temperature and rainfall information, together with a month-by-month guide on visiting, on our guide for when to go to Iceland.
6 hours (Washington DC to Reykjavik)