Home to some of the world’s most active volcanoes and Europe’s largest glaciers, Iceland is deserving of attention and praise from any traveler with an eye for natural wonders. Experience its otherworldly landscapes, breathtaking architecture and diverse culture with this easy-to-follow guide to Iceland.
WHEN TO GO
If you’re wondering when the best time to visit Iceland is, you may be happy to find that it’s a year-round destination. Every season offers something completely different, yet equally amazing. We’ve narrowed down a short list of common and interesting Iceland attractions, and the best season to experience each:
Cruising: The most popular time of year to cruise Iceland is late May through late September, with the peak months being July and August.
The Northern Lights: Also known as the Aurora Borealis, this luminous display of green lights dancing across the sky is Iceland’s most beautiful and awe-inspiring natural phenomenon. The lights are best seen outside of populated areas. Witness it for yourself between September and mid-April.
Eternal Days, Short Nights and Vice Versa: A truly unparalleled experience, 24/7 daylight occurs from early May through late August, and is referred to as the Midnight Sun. Once the winter solstice arrives in late December, locals and visitors say goodbye to the sun and hello to long nights. If this kind of lifestyle piques your curiosity, consider visiting Iceland during one of these times to find out what it’s like to have your days and nights turned upside down.
Whale Watching: Iceland’s cold waters set the perfect stage for whale watching. From April through September, hop on a tour for a chance to see over 20 species of marine animals such as Orca, Minke, Humpback and Blue Whales.
Don’t be surprised if you experience four seasons in one day during your visit to Iceland. This is a result of The Gulf Stream’s mild Atlantic air combining with the cold Arctic air, so keep this in mind when deciding what clothes to pack. Winter temperatures range between 14 to 32°F. In summer, they are usually in the range of 50 to 75°F.
WHAT TO BRING
Layers, Layers, Layers: From sunshine to a light drizzle, the unpredictable weather of Iceland can be exciting for those who come prepared. A lot of layers and a waterproof jacket, and you’re good to go.
Temperature Controlled Socks: Take a tip from the pros and tuck a pair of temperature controlled socks in with your regular socks. They will adapt to the changing climate, making your hiking boots oh-so cozy.
Bathing Suit: Yes, even if you’re traveling in the winter season. Some of the best swimming spots are Blue Lagoon, Laugardalslaug or the Myvatn Natural Baths. Blue Lagoon can be visited during the winter months for some jealousy-inducing photo opportunities.
Sleep Mask: When traveling to a country with endless summer sun, these masks will help you keep your circadian rhythm in its natural state.
LANGUAGE and CURRENCY
Iceland is easy to travel to because English is widely spoken, but ready your ear for a little Icelandic and Danish as well. As for currency, in Iceland the Icelandic króna (ISK) is used. However, Icelanders are not big on carrying money so the preferred method of payment is debit or credit cards. You will be able to use your cards almost everywhere.
WHAT TO DO
Blue Lagoon: One of the most-loved attractions in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon is a man-made geothermal spa surrounded by lava rock. Named for its mineral rich waters, the lagoon is known for its dermatological benefits. Venture to this location for one of the most relaxing and therapeutic experiences imaginable. Bring a bathing suit and some extra conditioner to protect your hair from the intense minerals.
The Golden Circle (Thingvellir, Haukadalur, Gullfoss): One of Iceland’s most popular tourist routes, The Golden Circle offers a whopping 190 mile loop that expands into the southern uplands. It contains some of the most picturesque landscape views. Three of the stops that are a must:
Thingvellir National Park is located on the southwestern part of Iceland, and is also known for being a site of historical and geological importance. It’s home to the Almannagjá canyon, whose unique features serve as a visual display of continental drift. And the waters that surround the park is a favorite spot for fishing and scuba diving. If you consider yourself a nature-enthusiast, you’ll want to pay this national park a visit.
Haukadalur is known for having over 40 geysers. Two of the most famous and majestic ones are Stokkur, which erupts every 5 to 10 minutes, and Geysir, which is the origin of the name “Geyser.” If you’ve got the time, visit all 40 and have your camera ready.
Gullfoss is a stunning waterfall located on the Hvita river. It’s a three-step drop measuring over 150 feet in depth and around 66 feet wide. At first glance, the river appears to be dropping off the edge of the earth. With such beauty and mystique, it’s no wonder it has been featured in music videos and as the cover photo for several albums (i.e. Echo and the Bunnyman’s “Porcupine”).
Hallgrímskirkja: If you enjoy breathtaking architecture, visit this Lutheran church situated in the middle of Reykjavik. Notable because it rises 244ft into the sky, it’s one of the tallest and most recognizable buildings in the area. Designed by Guðjón Samúelsson in 1937, it is said to resemble a basalt lava flow.
Landmannalaugar: Located in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, the multicolored rhyolite mountains, lava field, and the Hekla volcano make it an otherworldly tourist destination. Hiking and horseback riding are the most popular activities here. This area is best experienced during summertime.
Make sure to check out these exceptional cruise lines that travel to Iceland. Pack your bags, and you are off!
Azamara Club Cruises will take you north on an Azamazing journey through the Ages of Europe. Azamara would like to take you back to a time when Vikings ruled the seas and kings and queens ruled the land. When a god could control the skies with a hammer, monsters were free to roam the lochs, and fairies cast their magical spells. Because although the gods and monarchs may have changed over the centuries—and Nessie is now proving to be a little camera shy—Northern Europe is still very much a place of enchantment, with a world of wonders waiting for you. When it comes to exploring the countries of Northern Europe, Azamara can take you back in time anytime you’d like. Voyages to Iceland include select spirits, beer, wine and soft drinks, gratuities, AzAmazing Evenings event, longer stays and more overnights in the most fabled Northern Europe ports, and more!
Celebrity Cruises travels to the top of the world (nearly) to Iceland for an unforgettable adventure in one of the best-kept vacation destination secrets in the world. Be on the lookout for a natural light show unlike anything you’ve ever seen—the Northern Lights. Celebrity Cruises is Europe’s premium cruise line, and we invite you aboard four of their most stunning ships–Celebrity Reflection®, Celebrity Silhouette®, Celebrity Eclipse®, andCelebrity Equinox℠. Plus, amazing special extras make Iceland even more enchanting on Celebrity.
Norwegian Cruise Line: There’s a good reason that Iceland is considered a photographer’s dream destination. Its terrain is visually stunning, offering views of lava flows, hot springs, unspoiled nature – and colorful, fascinating cities like Reykjavik. Visit the museums, hike along the extraordinary vistas or explore the charming boutiques. The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, can often be seen in Akureyri on clear nights from September through April. After you’ve worked up an appetite, feast on some Nordic specialties like smoked lamb and fresh fish and then indulge in an Icelandic fried pastry. With four itineraries to choose from and special extras, you’re sure to be dazzled!
Oceania Cruises allows you to explore more intimate ports in Iceland due to the size of its ships, accommodating just 684 or 1,250 guests. Discover Akureyri, Husavik, Isafjordur and Reykjavik on Oceania. Explore a fascinating land where the forces of nature hold sway as you visit the modern capital with its thermally heated outdoor swimming pool, remarkable botanic gardens and folk museum. Explore the starkly beautiful countryside of lava formations, glaciers, fjords and incredible waterfalls. Experience the OLifeTM Difference with the finest cuisine at sea, a variety of distinctive open-seating restaurants, all at no additional charge, Epicurean enrichment programs, including immersive Culinary Discovery ToursTM, four spectacular port-intensive voyages featuring overnight visits and extended evening port stays and much more!
Princess Cruises has Iceland and the British Isles covered! With its signature storybook castles, sweeping landscapes and welcoming shores, this is a place steeped in lore. Visit the region’s palaces, pubs and historical treasures on a cruise to the British Isles, Iceland & Northern Europe. Travel from iconic Edinburgh to delightful Dublin to the wonders of Paris, and marvel at the natural splendors of Iceland and the remote lands of the North Cape at the top of the world. See even more with a Northern Land & Sea Cruise Vacation that combines an incredible British Isles cruise with a multiple-night land tour exploring some of the most fascinating places in the world, sampling the culture, seeing the sights and of course, savoring local cuisine! Or, you can add extra days at the beginning or end of your cruise and get to know a magnificent city like Rome or Copenhagen better with a Cruise Plus Hotel® Package.
Regent Seven Seas affords an inclusive Iceland experience on 26 different sailings. Imagine yourself in a land where fairy tales spring to life amongst castles and heathered fields that are illuminated by a golden sun. Rejuvenate the imagination with the geothermal wonders of Iceland, and when you arrive back onboard, relax in the comfort of your Suite. This is cruising as it was meant to be — a sumptuous and very personal experience where your every wish, your every whim and your every want are met with gratifying luxuries, satisfying comfort and complete fulfillment of your wanderlust. Enjoy FREE Roundtrip Air on Domestic Flights, NEW! FREE Business Class Air on All Intercontinental Flights beginning Spring 2017, FREE Unlimited Shore Excursions, FREE Specialty Restaurants, FREE Unlimited Beverages, Including Fine Wines and Spirits, Throughout the Ship, FREE Pre-paid Gratuities and much, much more!
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line allows you to discover Iceland onboard some of the world’s most innovative cruise ships. Explore Iceland’s amazing landscapes forged by glaciers, geysers and volcanoes, on horseback, hiking or riding in a 4×4. You can also relax in a hot-spring pool or soak up Icelandic urban culture in the museums and cafes of Reykjavik. Considering Iceland’s location, the locales take great pride in their fresh fish and local organic produce. Shark and puffin are available on the menu in some of the city’s top notch restaurants, while the more traditional hot dog – Icelanders are obsessed with them – are exceptionally served up at cafes and fast food joints located throughout the city center. Choose from two itineraries visiting Reykjavik and Akureyri, and don’t forget to bring your sense of exploration and adventure back onboard when you return from your days soaking up the splendor of Iceland, as the ships are a destination unto themselves.
Seabourn, one of the world’s finest ultra-luxury cruise lines, allows guests to sail on Unique itineraries to must-see cities and hidden gems where larger ships cannot go. Visit the quaint fishing to town of Isafjordur and the vibrant capital of Reykjavik on an extended 40-night sailing. A Seabourn ship, with no more than 300 suites, is like a private club, where members share expansive open decks, inviting social spaces, and the personalized attention of an exceptional crew. Seabourn’s award-winning staff is driven only by their sincere desire to please, and with a smile that comes from the heart, so tipping is neither required nor expected. All dining venues are complimentary — dine where, when and with whom you wish. Enjoy open bars throughout the ship, and fine wines poured at lunch and dinner.
Viking Ocean Cruises is the world’s newest cruise line transporting guests to the Land of Fire and Ice. Journey to the Vinland, and call on ports rich in Viking history, from the Shetland Islands and Iceland to Greenland and Newfoundland, with historic Bergen and cosmopolitan Montreal bookending your journey In the Wake of the Vikings. One excursion is included in every port of call, plus you’ll enjoy shipwide Wi-Fi, beer, wine and soft drinks with onboard dinner and lunch, specialty coffees, teas and bottled water, alternative restaurant dining, 24-hour room service and much more. For your Reykjavik excursion, choose from a city (or country) tour, whale watching experience or glacier super truck adventure, see Iceland through the lens on a photography tour, or bathe in the Blue Lagoon. The choice is yours on Viking!