Intrepid’s Complete Guide to Iceland

written by Liz Carr November 18, 2023

Smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic sits a tiny, sparsely populated, snow-covered island that has soared to the top of the collective world travellers’ bucket list.

With so many surreal landscapes and natural wonders deeply shrouded in Viking mythology, it’s hard to know where to begin planning. And since we’ve been around the Ring Road a time or two, we’ve amassed an arsenal of assets, from travel anecdotes to packing lists to must-sees and can’t-misses that will help you decide if this Nordic nation deserves a top spot on your wishlist, too. Here’s everything you need to know before you travel to Iceland.

Table of Contents

A group of travellers viewing giant, bright blue icebergs from a yellow boat.

Experiences in Iceland

Whether you plan on fording the fjords, tackling a glacier climb or simply bouncing between bistros in Reykjavik, Iceland has plenty of experiences to satisfy those in search of a cold-blooded adventure.

More on experiences in Iceland:

Top 12 Things to Do in Iceland

A group of 6 travellers traverse one of Iceland's glaciers.

Land of Fire & Ice: Iceland Geography & Geology

Forged by intense geological activity, Iceland is a land of dramatic extremes where steaming active volcanoes, icy-blue glaciers, boiling geysers and frigid waterfalls exist side by side. Although this challenging terrain is a dream for outdoor adventurers, it might just be the country’s dozens of geothermal springs, or hot pots as the locals call ’em, that attract visitors from near and far in search of much-needed winter warm-up.

Geological marvels await:

Iceland Waterfalls Guide
Photo Essay from Iceland Express Tour
6 Hot Springs in Iceland

A solo traveller gazes at the swirling blues and greens of the Aurora Borealis.

Wonders of the World: Northern Lights in Iceland

The world’s most spectacular natural light show, the Aurora Borealis is a phenomenon that can enchant even the most seasonal affective disordered soul. The chances of spotting the ethereal lights increase in the colder months, with vibrant, dancing patterns that offer a brief respite from the long, dark nights of winter. Before your epic pursuit begins, check out our resources on the Northern Lights.

Aurora hunters assemble:

What to Expect on an Iceland Tour
Northern Lights Tours

4 smiling travellers dressed in helmets and climbing gear pose in front of a glacier.

Iceland Activities

From the classic Golden Circle route to the black sand beaches of the South Coast and the otherwordly mud-scape of the steamy Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s activities are as diverse as its landscapes.

Itinerary worthy activities:

Top 6 Hikes in Iceland

On of Iceland's spectacular waterfalls stands out against a vibrant green background.

Seasons in Iceland

Although you’d think Iceland’s seasons were something like ice, icier and iciest, this Arctic country does, in fact, have four distinct seasons as well as a high season and off-season for tourism. Crowds tend to be thinner in the shoulder months of May and October, and Autumn can be a particularly magical time to visit. Although days are getting drastically shorter, the windblown landscapes are speckled with red and yellow, and early sunsets will leave the scenery bathed in warm, golden light. With opportunities to go hunting for the Aurora Borealis in winter and party all night under the summer’s Midnight Sun, there really is no wrong time to visit Iceland.

Read more about Iceland’s seasons:

Iceland Winter Travel Guide

Two Intrepid travellers smiling on their wedding day in Iceland.

Intrepid Customer Experiences in Iceland

We like to think the landscapes speak for themselves, but occasionally, our customers have words that paint a destination perfectly. Check out what Intrepid travellers have to say about their trip to Iceland.

Hear what Intrepid customers have to say:

Iceland Travel Reviews
An Intrepid Traveller Gets Married on an Iceland Trip
What Happened When I Travelled to Iceland with Mum

Experience it for yourself

The snow covered roofs of Reykjavic in the winter.

About Iceland

Culture & Customs

Despite living in the shadows of a long, dark winter for much of the year, Icelanders continue to find themselves at the top of the UN’s ‘World Happiness Report.’ Because when the days are short and the wind is whipping, there’s nothing like a good party to instill some cheer. Icelandic people have strong pride in their nation, and several festivals throughout the year celebrate the country’s Scandinavian heritage with an emphasis on Viking mythology. A trip to Iceland during Thorrablot or the Viking Festival will give you an insider look at this Nordic nation’s culture.

Learn to party Iceland-style:

What Festivals are Celebrated in Iceland

Carbon neutral whale watching in Iceland

Folklore & History

A giant island-shaped whale that feasts on fishermen, easily offended elves with revenge fantasies, child-hungry trolls and a horse with backwards hooves luring riders to their deaths… these terrifying tales are more than just a dark and twisted parallel universe of Mother Goose; they’re instruments of survival. With such a harsh and challenging landscape, these tales that date back to the 12th century were storybook tools to teach children how to survive extreme conditions and respect Iceland’s myriad of naturally deadly environments.

The cheerful locals are more than happy to discuss the mystique surrounding elves and Yule Lads, although equally protective and willing to reroute construction projects so as not to disturb their mythical homes. Museums around the country offer further looks into the culture, history and folklore of Iceland, and no trip is complete without visiting a few must-visit mythology spots.

Take a deep dive into Iceland’s history:

Overview of Iceland’s Unique Folklore

Fresh crayfish on a table

Eating & Drinking

With more adventure activities than you can count on two hands and icy temps that threaten to freeze even the hardiest of Viking spirits, food in Iceland serves two very important purposes: to keep you fueled and warm. Boasting more sheep than people and over 5,000 km of coastline, Icelandic fare heavily features native lamb, fresh seafood and skyr, a type of yogurt that has been part of the local diet for almost a thousand years.

The capital city of Reykjavik has become a quirky culinary destination where hot dogs are essentially a food group, coffee culture is triumphant (they like it hot, strong and all day long) and seasonality is the name of the game.

Warning: don’t read on an empty stomach:

6 Things to Eat in Iceland
What to Drink in Iceland

Farm towns & Cities in Iceland

Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik, is the central hub of our dreams: quaint, quirky, entirely walkable and a great jumping-off point for exploring the island. But away from the buzz, Iceland’s rural farm towns put a positive spin on “the middle of nowhere.” Many of these “towns” are modest villages, populated with more flaxen-haired horses and flocks of puffins than actual humans and set before screensaver-worthy landscapes. If you fancy a slower pace, can never see too many waterfalls and would rather socialize with locals in a local hot spring than in a bar, Iceland is the place for you.

More on cities and towns in Iceland:

Our 5 Favorite Small Towns in Iceland
Why You Should Visit the Westfjords

A solo traveler sits on a bright green hillside wearing a hat that says Iceland.

Planning Your Trip to Iceland

A trip to Iceland has never been easier thanks to airline stopover programs. Without any additional airfare, you can fly between major cities, making a pitstop in Reykjavik and spending up to seven days exploring the country. And because we want you to see as much of the world as possible, many Intrepid trips in Iceland have itineraries that are under 7 days, making a stopover pretty much a no-brainer. What are you waiting for?

Craft your Iceland itinerary:

5 Day Iceland Itinerary
Why Iceland is perfect for Solo Travel
Iceland on a Budget

Discover more on our Iceland trips

Money: What to Expect

Country CurrencyTipping ExpectationCredit Cards
Icelandic KrónaAppreciated, not customaryAccepted and encouraged
Read more on tipping in Iceland

Things You Need to Know

Every traveller has probably had the same nightmare once or twice, only instead of going to school and forgetting your pants, you’re making some kind of embarrassing tourist blunder, accidentally insulting the locals or leaving something important out of your meticulously packed luggage. We’ve rounded up all the necessary “know before you go” information to help you get organized, get planning… and get better sleep.

Read up on the essentials:

Weather in Iceland
Best time to Visit Iceland
Will My Phone Work in Iceland
Do You Need a Visa for Iceland
What to Wear in Iceland
Is Iceland LGBTQIA+ friendly
Iceland Water Safe to Drink
What to Pack for Iceland

How Does Iceland Compare

Whether you’re deadset on a trip to Iceland and looking to add on to your itinerary or you’ve already conquered the Land of Fire & Ice and you’re looking to travel someplace similar, we’ve got you covered. We’ll help you eliminate guesswork so you can spend less time comparing and more time trying to score the best flight deals.

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