Excellent ideas will start coming to your mind from the very first moment you start planning your trip to Iceland. As a land full of nature and history, there are plenty of things you should not miss. That is why a guideline would be of great help. You may wonder what the basics are? You have come to the right place. Here you will find out about some extensive details that will make a difference when planning your trip. This is our guide of Iceland for newcomers!

Group of Iceland newcomers visiting the country for the first time

Iceland for newcomers: Country Profile

Iceland is a land of contrasts: ice and fire, volcanoes and glaciers, light, and darkness. Remember to keep this in mind as you start planning your trip: summer landscapes have nothing to do with the wintry scene. You will witness different things depending on the dates of your travel.

Are you eager to chase the Northern Lights? Then, start packing and planning for a winter-spring journey. You should travel between September and March! If you are not particularly sure about your dates or the main stops of your trip, get yourself a guidebook (printed or even an online version is fine). And start checking for the points that catch your eye the most! Not to mention that if you are not an enthusiast of big crowds, summer is not the best season to visit the country. September to June is the best time of the year for you to plan your trip if this is your case.

Here you will learn some interesting and helpful facts about Iceland that will help you understand what you are about to discover in your first visit. As a relevant piece of information, Iceland is not part of the European Union (E.U.), but it does belong to the Schengen Area. That means that you will not need your passport as long as your home country is included in this agreement; your national I.D. will suffice.

You will be glad to know Iceland is a very open and “tourist-Friendly” nation. Almost the entire population speaks fluent English, and the country has flight routes scheduled from nearly every European region.

The Icelandic population

It will probably not catch you by surprise if I tell you that Iceland is one of the less populated countries in Europe, especially considering the extension of the island. However, and thanks to the high number of immigrants coming from different parts of the world (mainly Europeans), the number of workers has risen significantly in the last years. Taking into consideration 2019 numbers, the total population of Iceland was 360.390, with a density of population of 2,9 inhabitants/km2. As an example, the density of the population in a country like Spain is 93 inhabitants per km2. It is essential to point out as well that out of these 360.390 inhabitants, 119.848 live within the Reykjavik city area. This is approximately a third of the entire population!

Another interesting point is that the phone book is listed by first names instead of last names, given that Icelandic last names are patronymics. That means surnames derived from the name of the father plus a suffix meaning “daughter or son of.” They also have an extensive genetic data bank of a large portion of the population.

girl walking through a deserted area

The capital: Reykjavik

Reykjavik, the most populated city and capital of Iceland, it is located in the southern part of the island. It is said that people established there around the year 870 A.D. Reykjavik means “the steaming bay.” This is because back In the old days, plenty of steaming vents were found all around the city area, given the intense geothermal activity that surrounds this part of the country. Reykjavik is well known for being one of the cleanest, ecological, and safest cities in the world. It is also the northernmost capital city in the globe.

Reykjavik is home to a third of the total population of Iceland. Having the international airport only 40 minutes away and being the nerve center of the country makes it the perfect spot to live and to run a business. Aside from the international airport (KEF), there is also a domestic airport.

When it comes to tourism and touring the island, Reykjavik is also a preferred starting point. We always recommend a 7-day itinerary if you will be commencing your tour across Iceland from Reykjavik. This way, you will have plenty of time and will not miss a single important spot. Remember that even if you are traveling in summer, you can come across sand or snowstorms, which would get you into trouble and delay your whole schedule.

Please remember that your safety comes first, and therefore, rushing will not bring anything but anxiousness and uncertainty into your decisions. Should you need to modify your itinerary as q consequence of these delays, don’t you give it a second thought and postpone your reservations. There is a saying in Iceland: “If you do not like the weather, just wait five minutes.” The weather in Iceland is so changeable that within only five minutes, a snowstorm can turn into a clear sky day.

Also from Reykjavik, there is a bunch of touring companies and several day tours for the Golden Circle or any of the majestic places such as glacier lagoons, quite common across Iceland.

Icelandic currency

In 1922 Iceland got its currency, the Icelandic Crown, which replaced the previous Danish Crowns, even though the country was still under the Danish rule. Icelandic crowns are, due to a series of events in recent history, one of the most unstable currencies in the world. In 2008, during the world economic crisis, the Icelandic economy went bankrupt, which led the country to devalue its currency. Getting Icelandic Crowns is easy; there are plenty of places where you can get cash; furthermore, card payments are accepted almost everywhere.

Icelandic currency

You will notice that Iceland is a costly country, even more than Switzerland, Norway, or Denmark. Prices in 2018 were 56% higher compared to other European countries. In 2017, Iceland ranked fourth among the most expensive countries. This makes sense considering that almost everything is imported, plus the ultra-high taxes that apply for goods such as alcohol.

This is not as striking for locals, as the wages are paid according to the standard of living. This may not be the case for tourists, who might find Iceland very expensive.

What to do in Iceland

As mentioned at the beginning of this text, itineraries, and activities, in general, will be available or not according to the season. Most of the visitors come in summer, as they consider the higher temperatures and the Midnight sun to be an advantage.

Iceland in summer

Have you ever heard about the midnight sun? Iceland is one of the countries where this shortage of night hours takes place in summer. Can you believe that you will have up to 21 hours of light versus barely three hours of “night”? We will not even call it darkness, as the sun is not visible, yet there is still some light in the horizon.

This is why summer is the best season to go out and enjoy tours, music festivals, and camping. Some other attractions available during the season are whale and puffin watching. If you only have a few days to explore Iceland’s main spots, then the Golden Circle is a must! You can even do this tour in one day, but if you happen to have more time, you can complete your holidays by exploring other surrounding spots such as Reykholt, Glymur waterfall.

For those who prefer to walk into the wild side, there are also some unique routes you can only enjoy during the summer months. Yes! We are talking about the Highlands! Enjoy the rawest part of the island to the fullest and take the Laugavegur trail J if you do not feel like trekking for so many days, hiring a 4×4 car to explore the area will be the best option for sure!

Iceland in summer

Iceland in winter

But what happens in winter? Is Iceland a desolate country without tourists? Of course not! There are still plenty of tourists visiting the island. Not many people indeed decide to travel between November and April. But it is perfect for those who don’t like crowded places and may feel a bit overwhelmed in cramped areas.

Off-season prices are also a huge advantage you should consider. Also, the lack of sunlight (the exact opposite of what happens in summer takes place in winter) will make it easier for you to enjoy the Northern Lights. Remember that they are not visible in summer, so this is another reason to visit Iceland in winter! There are also plenty of tours you can take: Game of Thrones tours, snowmobile, and dog sled tours. There is a wide range of alternatives and never enough time to enjoy all of them!

A great way to finish an intense day of sightseeing would be by taking a relaxing a soak in one of the hundreds of hot springs that can be found throughout the country. Do not forget that there is not one but two Blue Lagoons in Iceland! Okay, let’s explain this: actually, the original one is The Blue Lagoon, located close to the international airport, but there is also a blue lagoon located close to Mývatn. The real name of this one is Mývatn Nature Baths.

Some interesting facts about Iceland

One of the first things everyone should do when getting ready for a trip is a little investigation. This will, for sure, be of help when it comes to their habits and practices. Several cultures consider this a sign of respect as well. As a unique country, Iceland has plenty to offer culturally and touristically speaking.

Icelanders have a deep bond with nature. As a nation, their history is closely related to water, fire, and ice. It is crucial as well to point out that Iceland is home to more than 200 volcanoes, which makes them one of the top countries when it comes to this natural feature.

The Icelandic water is one of the purest, cleanest and tastiest waters in the world, as it comes mainly from glaciers and thermal springs, and it’s free! Another interesting fact is that in Iceland, you will find more sheep than people. There are around 600.000 sheep and only 300.000 inhabitants!

According to one of the last surveys, Icelanders are among the happiest countries in the world. Maybe this is related to the fact Iceland ranks higher in life quality and a longer life expectancy.

happy girl enjoying Iceland for the first time

Iceland for Newcomers

We hope that with the help of this article, you have finally found the strength and courage to start planning your Icelandic adventure. Make sure that you do not miss a single thing: from puffins to glaciers, volcanoes, or lakes, everything in here is unique. It will surely be an experience of a lifetime. Check out other articles to plan your route and catch up with the latest news!