Getting to Iceland
Attractions in Iceland
• Practical info
Choose a topic or select a region on the map to explore
- CLIMATE & WEATHER CONDITIONS
- TIME & DAYLIGHT
- WHAT TO PACK
- HEALTH & SAFETY
- SHOPPING IN ICELAND
- CURRENCY & BANKS
- PAYING BY CARDS & TRAVELLERS’ CHEQUES
- PHONES & MOBILE SERVICE
- INTERNET ACCESS
- POST OFFICES & STAMPS
- PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION
- WEIGHTS & MEASURES
- ICELANDIC LANGUAGE
CLIMATE & WEATHER CONDITIONS
Iceland enjoys a cool temperate maritime climate thanks to the Gulf Stream, but the weather is known to change quickly and often. Icelanders have a saying: “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” No matter the season, visitors should always have wind and water resistant outerwear as well as extra thermal layers on hand before heading out on excursions.
As for winter, Iceland is not all covered by ice and snow as its name would suggest. In fact, outside of the higher altitudes or parts of North Iceland, snowfall rarely stays on the ground longer than a few days. Rain is more common, with October being the wettest month. Also, the cool northerly winds can be strong at times so we recommend an insulated or down jacket for winter visits.
- See more information about Iceland's travel seasons and when to visit
- Get ideas about types of holidays and popular itineraries by season
For those on a self-drive tour in winter, we always recommend checking on road conditions before heading out since conditions can change quickly. Please drive cautiously at all times. Roads may be slippery due to rain or frost even if they appear to be in good condition. See http://www.vegagerdin.is/english/ for current road conditions.
For up-to-date weather information, visit http://www.vedur.is or call 902-0600 extension 44 to hear a recording of the latest weather report (approx. 25 ISK per minute). For those with smart phones, a mobile app is available at http://m.en.vedur.is/m/.
Average Temperatures in Celsius (Fahrenheit): Conversion chart:
|January||-0.6 (30.9)||-1.5 (29.3)|
|February||0.7 (33.3)||-2.1 (28.2)|
|March||2.2 (36.0)||2.0 (35.6)|
|April||5.2 (41.4)||4.9 (40.8)|
|May||6.0 (42.8)||4.5 (40.1)|
|June||10.7 (51.3)||10.7 (51.3)|
|July||12.8 (55)||10.7 (51.3)|
|August||11.0 (51.8)||10.0 (50.0)|
|September||7.9 (46.2)||7.2 (45.0)|
|October||5.8 (42.4)||5.1 (41.2)|
|November||3.1 (37.6)||1.2 (34.2)|
TIME & DAYLIGHT
Iceland is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), and does not adjust to daylight savings time.
Example of sunrise and sunset times (as recorded in 2009):
Owing to Iceland’s proximity to the Arctic Circle, the country experiences “white nights” in the summer months due to the midnight sun, a natural phenomenon in which the setting sun doesn’t fully dip below the horizon. Iceland experiences its peak daylight hours during the Summer Solstice in late June. Some travellers find it beneficial to bring sleeping masks during summer visits.
At the other extreme, the days are much shorter during winter, with only a few hours of daylight around the solstice in December. Fortunately, this means more opportunities to witness the northern lights! Also called aurora borealis, these colourful, dancing lights are caused by charged particles from solar flares colliding with the earth's atmosphere. They are mainly visible in the high northern latitudes, including most of the Nordic region, and can only be viewed in the darkness of night with no cloud cover.
Note: The best months for viewing the northern lights are October through April, with peak visibility from December through February. However, as it is a natural phenomenon, sightings cannot be guaranteed.
WHAT TO PACK
Gloves, scarves and hats are also ideal to have year-round, particularly for activities such as whale watching tours or boat tours at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. And don’t forget your swimsuit! Iceland’s outdoor thermal swimming pools and hot tubs are popular in all seasons. It is also ideal to bring a fast-drying towel for visits to pools and hot tubs although many facilities rent towels for a small fee.
SUMMER: Eye shades may be helpful for sleeping due to the presence of the midnight sun. It is also recommended to bring sunglasses and sunscreen. Although there are few insects in Iceland, midges do thrive in the summertime, especially by lakes, streams and horse trails. Those spending time in the Lake Mývatn area of North Iceland from June to August may wish to bring insect repellent.
IF YOU FORGET SOMETHING: Several outdoor apparel stores and second-hand clothing shops can be found in downtown Reykjavík along with Tiger, a budget variety store with cheap accessories like sunglasses, gloves, ear plugs, batteries, luggage accessories, phone chargers and more.
Another good option for toiletries, clothing and other general items is Hagkaup, a large grocery and department store located at Kringlan shopping mall (open 10:00 – 20:00 weekdays, 12:00 – 20:00 Sundays) and in the Skeifan area of Reykjavík (open 24 hours, every day).
FOR LIGHTER LOADS: For those on self-drive tours or guided group tours around the country, we recommended bringing along a rucksack or small backpack for your daily essentials (e.g., camera, wallet, medications, extra clothing layers or other personal items) since you may not have easy access to your suitcase during the day as you travel between accommodations. It can also come in handy for hiking excursions or picnics.
HEALTH & SAFETYIceland is a safe country with low levels of crime and pollution, a modern infrastructure, first-rate emergency services and an excellent health care system. Overall, Icelanders enjoy a high standard of living and visitors can expect a safe, enjoyable holiday if common sense and usual safety precautions are followed while travelling.
SAFE TRAVELLING TIPS: www.safetravel.is
Emergency Services (Police/Ambulance/Fire): dial 112
PHARMACIES/CHEMISTS: These are called apótek or lyfjaverslun in Icelandic and can be found in most towns around Iceland. Hours of operation are normally 10:00–18:00 Monday to Friday and 10:00–16:00 on Saturdays.
MEDICAL CLINICS/HOSPITALS: There is a medical centre or a hospital in all major cities and towns in Iceland. The emergency phone number in Iceland is 112.
HEALTH INSURANCE: We urge all travellers to have comprehensive travel insurance. (Insurance is not available through Nordic Visitor.) In the event of a medical emergency, Scandinavian citizens must present their passport while citizens of EEA countries must present a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC card) or be charged in full. The free EHIC card replaces the E-111 form and ensures the same rights for citizens of participating countries. Citizens of non-EU/EEA countries will be charged in full at hospitals or clinics. For more information, contact the Icelandic Social Insurance Administration (Tryggingastofnun) in at +354-560-4400 during the hours of 8:00-15:30 GMT.
SHOPPING IN ICELAND
BUSINESS HOURS: Most shops in Iceland are open between 09:00 and 18:00 from Monday to Friday, and between 10:00 and 16:00 on Saturdays. Many shops are closed on Sundays with exception of shopping malls in Reykjavik and some shops on Reykjavik’s busy downtown streets.
TAX FREE REFUNDS: A refund of local Value-added Tax (VAT) is available to all visitors in Iceland. The refund results in a reduction of up to 15% off the retail price, provided that departure from Iceland is within three months after the date of purchase. The purchase amount must be no less than 4.000 ISK (VAT included) per store, purchased in the same day. If the refund value of the tax-free forms exceeds 5.000 ISK, the goods (except woollens) may need to be shown at customs before check-in. All other forms can be refunded directly in cash at Landsbanki Íslands in the departure hall of Keflavík Airport. See http://www.eurorefund.com/iceland for more information.
CURRENCY & BANKS
The Icelandic monetary unit is the Króna (ISK). The coins in circulation are 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 Krónas. The notes are 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 Krónas. Currency exchange is available at all banks around the country. Banks in Iceland are generally open 09:00 – 16:00 Monday through Friday, except on public holidays.
Exchange services outside regular banking hours are available at Landsbankinn at Keflavík International Airport during the hours of 05:30-18:00 (downstairs) or 05:30-08:30 and 13:00-17:00 (upstairs).
Please note that in Iceland, periods are used as thousands separators and commas are used as decimal marks. (e.g., 5.000 ISK, 25,5% VAT, etc.)
PAYING BY CARDS & TRAVELLERS CHEQUES
CREDIT CARDS: VISA and MasterCard are the major credit cards in Iceland; both are serviced by all banks in Iceland. MasterCard is the agent for Diners Club and JCB. Please note that there might be a difference between the official currency exchange rate in Iceland and the exchange rate that the credit card companies use for transactions.
Cash advance services for cardholders is available as follows:
- VISA, MasterCard and Diners Club – at all banks and ATMs
- JCB – at MasterCard Iceland, Ármúli 28-30, 108 Reykjavík (tel: 550-1500)
DEBIT CARDS: Electron and Maestro cards are commonly accepted.
ATM: ATMs are widely available in Iceland and require a PIN number. Cash can be obtained for Electron and Maestro cards at all ATMs and banks, as well as for Cirrus and Euro cheque ATM-only cards. Diners Club and JCB cardholders with Cirrus acceptance have access to all ATMs.
PHONES & MOBILE SERVICE
Iceland has one of the highest rates of mobile phone usage in the world, and mobile phones work in all towns and virtually all main travel routes. Vodafone offers 98% national coverage of GMS services.
PRE-PAID SIM CARDS: If you wish to use your mobile phone for local calls during your stay, you can purchase a pre-paid SIM card from Síminn or Vodafone. You can also purchase credit refill cards at most gas stations or convenience stores in Iceland (usually in denominations of 500, 1000, or 2000 ISK). Please note: Nordic Visitor provides all self-drive customers with a temporary mobile phone for use during the stay in Iceland.
With a pre-paid Icelandic SIM card, incoming calls are not charged, so your friends and family can call you on your mobile phone without using up your credit. Only they will pay the international call charges. Please note that your phone must be GSM compatible.
Most European mobile phones work on Iceland’s GSM network. However, many North American phones use a different standard. It may also be necessary to contact your telecomm provider to “unlock” your phone for international use (this also applies if you plan to use your phone on your regular service without a pre-paid SIM card). Otherwise, it is possible to rent mobile phones from Iceland Telecom at Ármúli 27 in 108 Reykjavík.
INTERNATIONAL CALLS: The code into Iceland from overseas is 354 plus the seven-digit number. Long-distance calls can be made to Europe and the USA by dialling 00 plus the country code and the telephone number you wish to reach.
In Reykjavik: There are several ways to go online in Reykjavík. Many cafés, coffee houses, hotels, bookstores and even bars with Wi-Fi access can be found throughout the city centre, often with free connection. This list shows you some of places that offer free Wi-Fi hotspots from Vodafone, one of Iceland’s major telecomm providers: http://www.vodafone.is/internet/heitirreitir
In the smaller towns and countryside: Many hotels and guesthouses outside of the Capital Area offer internet connection, either free of charge or for an additional fee. Some also have computers for guest use in the reception or lounge areas. Major petrol stations, such as N1, also offer Wi-Fi connection in locations across the country.
POST OFFICES & STAMPS
Businesses, banks and most stores are closed or have limited business hours on these days:
OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION
The Iceland Review is another good option (online only) for Icelandic news in English and German.
TIPPING: The cost of service and VAT is included in all prices at restaurants, hotels, taxis, hairdressers, etc. Tipping is therefore not customary in Iceland, but is nonetheless appreciated when offered.
LITTERING: Please help us keep Iceland clean! We urge everyone to please leave all areas in the same or better condition than they found them.
SNACKS: If you’d like to stock up on cheap snacks for the road before heading out on your tour, we recommend visiting one of Iceland’s budget grocery chains: Bónus or Krónan. These stores are typically open from 10:00 to 18:00 although weekend and holiday hours vary. Bónus has two locations in downtown Reykjavík at Laugarvegur 59 and at the corner of Hallveigarstígur and Ingólfsstræti. Krónan is located just past the old harbour in the shopping centre at Fiskislóð 15-21.
In small towns and villages in rural areas, the most common grocery chain is Samkaup. Most major gas stations around the country such as N1 also include convenience stores with basic food items and small cafeterias serving hamburgers, fries, hot dogs, etc.
LAUNDRY: Self-service laundromats are not common in Iceland, but most hotels (typically 3-star or higher) throughout the country offer some laundry or dry-cleaning services for a moderate fee. In downtown Reykjavík, self-service laundry facilities can be found at the Laundromat Cafe on Austurstræti 9 (for dining guests) or at KEX Hostel on Skúlugata 28 (open to the public).
WINE & SPIRITS: Aside from bars, restaurants and some hotels, alcohol is only sold at state liquor stores called Vínbúð throughout towns and villages in Iceland. Most locations are open between the hours of 11:00 and 18:00 Monday - Saturday with no service on Sundays or holidays. Please note that rural locations often have more limited service hours.
ICELANDIC LITERATURE & MUSIC: We recommend visiting bookstores like Mál og Menning (Laugavegur 18) or Eymundsson (Austurstræti 18 or Skólavörðustígur 11) for Icelandic literature in English.
For Icelandic music, many bookstores carry a small selection of CDs and larger selections can be found at record stores at the Kringlan or Smáralind shopping malls in the suburbs or in downtown Reykavík at independent music stores like 12 Tónar (Skólavörðustígur 15) or Smekkleysa (Laugavegur 35).
DRESSING FOR A NIGHT OUT IN REYKJAVIK: Establishments in Reykjavik generally don’t enforce a dress code. However, it may be a good idea to bring a nicer outfit and a smart pair of shoes for restaurants or bars in the city as they tend to have a cosmopolitan atmosphere much like bigger European cities.
WEIGHTS & MEASURES
Like other countries in Europe, Iceland uses the metric system.
Fortunately, most Icelanders know English and some Danish since these languages are mandatory subjects in primary schools. Many Icelanders are also proficient in one of the other Nordic languages or in German, French, Spanish or Italian. You generally don’t need a phrasebook to get around, but it doesn’t hurt to know a few simple Iceland words and phrases:
Já = Yes
Nei = No
Góðan daginn / Góðan dag = good day
Gott kvöld = Good evening
Hæ / Halló = Hi / Hello
Bless = Goodbye
Takk = Thank you