Iceland: planning your trip like a local

Iceland: planning your trip like a local

Okay, so you’ve booked your flight and drooled over instagram photos of all the beautiful places you’re going to visit in Iceland.  Now what?

In two weeks I will be going on a weekend trip and want to share with you a few tips on how to plan your own trip.   I will be staying in a cabin located just outside of Laugarvatn and haven’t decided whether I’m going alone or not.  My plans will be taking into account that I want to take photos, enjoy a bit of nature and relax.



There are a few places I want to visit, such as Reynisfjara and Vík, Geysir, Hjálparfoss, and Brúarfoss.  I may add some more places when I get there, but this is it so far.  Depending on the weather, I might also travel a bit further east after Reynisfjara and stop at Fjaðrárgljúfur.


I put all of the destinations into Google maps and this is how my trip looks right now (bear in mind that I keep going back to the cottage after sightseeing, so even though it looks like a lot of driving, in reality it’s just a few hours a day).


Here are my tips on how to travel the country stress free.

  1. Have your own car.

I know it can be expensive to rent a car, but the freedom is so worth it.  You are on your own schedule, not a tour guide’s, and can stay however long you want in each place.  And you can stop when you want to cuddle horses or photograph the sheep in the road.

  1. Know what part of the country you’d like to see.

You can drive the ring road in a weekend, stop briefly at the popular tourist attractions and see “everything”, I promise that it will be stressful and exhausting (I’ve done it a few times and felt like I needed a vacation to recover from my vacation.)

I would recommend making a list of what you’d like to see and what you have to see.  If it’s all relatively close, great! You now know where to look for accommodation.  If it’s not, figure out if you plan on staying in more than one place.  Accommodation can get expensive fast, so keep that in mind when planning your trip.

Some good sources for information are Inspiredbyiceland and Handpickedicelan (they also have an app).

  1. Book your accommodation.

I don’t think I know any Icelanders who stay at hotels or guesthouses when traveling the country.  Let’s just be honest, hotels and guesthouses are really expensive.  Really, really expensive.  Every time we travel (unless we’re in our camper van), we book a cottage to use as a base and go on day trips from there.

I highly recommend booking a cottage with a hot tub for relaxing in the evenings.  It’s likely that you will see northern lights if you’re visiting between September and April, and since the cottages are in the country, away from the light pollution of the city they will be so much brighter and easier to see.  I promise you, there’s no better way to enjoy the northern lights than from a warm hot tub with a glass of wine.

(Be aware that unless you add a cleaning fee to your booking, you will probably be expected to clean the cottage before you leave.  Make sure you have all practical information from your host to prevent any misunderstanding.)

My best sources for booking a cottage are Bungalo and Airbnb

4.     Go grocery shopping.

Dining out in Iceland is expensive; it’s a topic that comes up almost every time I meet tourists.  To stretch your budget, cook your own meals in your cottage and pack a lunch for your day trips.   Shop at a discount grocery store (Bónus, Krónan, Costco, Nettó) in the city on your way out of town.

(Note that if you plan on drinking alcohol, buy what you can in the duty free store at the airport.  Alcohol is not sold in grocery stores, so if you are going to buy more later during your trip you will need to go to to see opening hours and locations.)

I recommend bringing a water bottle that you can fill with water from the tap or from streams that you come across.  The water is clean and no need to spend money on bottled water.

  1. Be flexible.

The locals know that plans may change due to the weather.  Be prepared to change your plans and be aware that the weather can change drastically very quickly.  Stay safe and don’t tempt the weather gods.

I recommend installing the 112Iceland app on your phone and check periodically for information about weather warnings and safe travel in Iceland.


I hope these tips help you to plan a trip and enjoy Iceland like a local.  I’m starting to get excited about getting out of the stress for a few days and take in the tranquility of the countryside.  Happy travel planning!


Cover photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

Sandra Karlsdóttir, icelandic photgrapher and contributor for , she loves travels, photography, her dog and she is fab at knitting and journaling. Based in Iceland but with half of her family accross the ocean in US, Sandra teaches pupils how to see the world through a lense.