Dangers & Annoyances
Reykjavík, and Iceland, have extremely low crime rates. However, the increase in tourism has also seen an increase in petty crime and, as elsewhere, it's as well to be vigilant.
- There are no 'no-go' areas of Reykjavík, although the streets around Laugavegur, Lækjartorg Sq and Austurstræti can get lively at night.
- Although pickpocketing rates are low, be aware of your possessions in crowded tourist areas, such as around Hallgrímskirkja.
- The biggest risks you’ll face relate to road safety, unpredictable weather and the unique geological conditions.
- If you travel out of Reykjavík there are unique hazards for drivers, such as livestock on the roads, single-lane bridges, blind rises and rough gravel roads.
- There are also numerous F roads (labelled as a route number preceded by F, eg Rte F88); these are suitable only for 4WDs, often involve fording rivers, and are usually only open for a few months each year, in summer.
- For road conditions, see www.road.is or call 1777.
- Never underestimate the weather. Proper clothing and equipment is essential, especially when you leave Reykjavík.
- Visitors need to be prepared for inclement conditions year-round. The weather can change without warning, and it’s essential for hikers to get a reliable forecast before setting off – call 902 0600 (press 1 after the introduction) or visit www.vedur.is/english for a forecast in English. Alternatively, download the excellent weather app of the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO), called Veður.
- Emergency huts are provided in places where travellers run the risk of getting caught in severe weather.
- If you’re driving in winter, carry food, water and blankets in your car.
- In winter, hire cars generally have snow tyres fitted.
Reykjavík is an easy-to-navigate urban centre. But if you leave the capital, be prepared, even if you are going with a tour.
- When hiking, river crossings can be dangerous, with glacial run-off transforming trickling streams into raging torrents on warm summer days.
- High winds can create vicious sandstorms in areas where there is loose volcanic sand.
- Hiking paths in coastal areas may only be accessible at low tide, so seek local advice and obtain the relevant tide tables.
- In geothermal areas, stick to boardwalks or obviously solid ground. Avoid thin crusts of lighter-coloured soil around steaming fissures and mudpots.
- Be careful of the water in hot springs and mudpots – it often emerges out of the ground at 100°C.
- In glacial areas beware of dangerous quicksand at the ends of glaciers, and never venture out onto the ice without the right equipment (including crampons and ice axes) and the experience necessary to avoid crevasses and other dangers.
- Snowfields may overlie fissures, sharp lava chunks or slippery slopes of scoria (volcanic slag).
- Always get local advice before hiking around live volcanoes.
- Only attempt isolated hiking and glacier ascents if you are a real expert. Talk to locals and/or employ a guide.
- It’s rare to find much by way of warning signs or fences in areas where accidents can occur (large waterfalls, glacier fronts, cliff edges). Use common sense, and supervise children well.
Safetravel (www.safetravel.is) is a good place to learn about minimising your risks while travelling in Iceland. The website is an initiative of the Icelandic Association for Search & Rescue (ICE-SAR); it is also a place to log hikes and register travel plans, making rescue easier.
You can also check in the with authorities and call for emergency help via ICE-SAR's highly recommended 112 Iceland smartphone app. The search and rescue organisation also has a desk at the main tourist office in the Ráðhús.
Reykjavík City Card offers admission to 10 of Reykjavík’s municipal swimming/thermal pools and to most of the main galleries and museums, plus discounts on some tours, shops and entertainment. It also gives free travel on the city’s Strætó buses and on the ferry to Viðey.
The 24-hour Children's City Card (1600kr) is less useful, since kids enter free at many museums anyway.
Both cards are available at the Main Tourist Office, some travel agencies, 10-11 supermarkets, HI hostels and some hotels.
Emergency & Important Numbers
To call from outside Iceland, dial your international access code, Iceland’s country code then the seven-digit number. There are no area codes in Iceland.
|Iceland country code (dialling in)||354|
|International access code (dialling out)||00|
|Weather||902 (press 1 after the introduction)|
|Road condition information||1777|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Iceland is part of the Schengen Agreement, which eliminates border passport control between Schengen countries in Europe.
There is passport control when entering Iceland from a country outside the Schengen area. Some nationalities need a visa to enter Iceland.
For entry into the Schengen area, you must have a passport valid for three months beyond your proposed departure date.
As long as you are in possession of the right documentation, immigration control should be a quick formality.
Iceland has quite strict import restrictions. For a full list of regulations, see www.customs.is.
Alcohol duty-free allowances for travellers over 20 years of age:
- 1L spirits and 750mL wine and 3L beer, OR
- 3L wine and 6L beer, OR
- 1L spirits and 6L beer, OR
- 1.5L wine and 12L beer, OR
- 18L beer
- Visitors over 18 years can bring in 200 cigarettes or 250g of other tobacco products.
- You can import up to 3kg of food (except raw eggs, some meat and dairy products), provided it’s not worth more than 25,000kr. This may help self-caterers to reduce costs.
- To prevent contamination, recreational fishing and horse-riding clothes require a veterinarian’s certificate stating that they have been disinfected. Otherwise officials will charge you for disinfecting clothing when you arrive. It is prohibited to bring used horse-riding equipment (saddles, bridles etc). See www.mast.is.
- Many people bring their cars on the ferry from Europe. Special duty-waiver conditions apply for stays of up to one year.
Generally not required for stays of up to 90 days.
Iceland is one of 26 member countries of the Schengen Convention, under which the EU countries (all but Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Cyprus, Ireland and the UK) plus Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland have abolished checks at common borders.
The visa situation for Iceland is as follows.
- Citizens of EU and Schengen countries – no visa required for stays of up to three months.
- Citizens or residents of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the USA – no visa required for tourist visits of up to three months. Note that the total stay within the Schengen area must not exceed three months in any six-month period.
- Other countries – check online at www.utl.is.
- To work or study in Iceland a permit is usually required – check with an Icelandic embassy or consulate in person or online.
- For questions on visa extensions or visas and permits in general, contact the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration, Útlendingastofnun (www.utl.is).
- Hot-pots & Pools Strip and shower thoroughly before entering a hot-pot or pool.
- Smoking Banned in public places, bars or restaurants.
- Shoes Remove your shoes when entering someone’s home.
- Tipping It’s not customary to tip in restaurants.
- Prams & Babies Leave your pram and baby outside when visiting boutiques and cafes (yes, you read that correctly).
- Bird cliffs Stay away from the edges of bird cliffs – lie on your stomach so as to not spook the wildlife, or fall off.
- Driving Don't drive off-road.
- Drones Don't use drones in national parks.
- Signage Always follow signs that advise that roads or sites are closed – this is due to safety reasons, and you endanger yourself and others by ignoring them.
Reykjavík is very gay friendly. The annual Reykjavík Pride festival and parade is one of Iceland’s most attended events, with some 100,000 people (the equivalent of more than 25% of the country’s population) joining the celebrations. Visit Gayice (www.gayice.is) and Gay Iceland (www.gayiceland.is) for LGBT tips and news.
The LGBT organisation Samtökin '78 provides information during office hours and operates a community centre on Thursday nights.
Pink Iceland is Iceland's first gay-and-lesbian-owned-and-focused travel agency and welcomes all. It arranges all manner of travel, events and weddings and offers tours, including a two-hour happy-hour walking tour of Reykjavík (6000kr).
Although Iceland is a very safe place to travel, theft does occasionally happen, and illness and accidents are always a possibility. A travel insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is strongly recommended.
Always check the policy’s small print to see if it covers any potentially dangerous sporting activities you might be considering, such as hiking, diving, horse riding, skiing or snowmobiling.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
There's free wi-fi at the main tourist office, almost all accommodation and many cafes. You can also use terminals at libraries (per hour 350kr); the main library Aðalbókasafn is excellent.
Reykjavík is an almost cashless society where credit cards reign supreme, and the same is true even if you head into the countryside. PIN required for purchases. ATMs available in all towns.
As service and VAT taxes are always included in prices, tipping isn’t required in Iceland. Rounding up the bill at restaurants or leaving a small tip for good service is appreciated.
Opening hours vary throughout the year (even in Reykjavík some places are closed outside the high season). In general hours tend to be far longer from June to August, and shorter from September to May. Standard opening hours:
Banks 9am–4pm Monday–Friday. Arion banki at Kringlan opens later and on Saturday (10am–6pm) and Sunday (1–6pm).
Cafe-bars 11am–1am Sunday–Thursday, 10am–between 3am and 6am Friday–Saturday
Offices 9am–5pm Monday–Friday
Petrol stations 8am–10pm or 11pm; many have 24-hour pay-at-the-pump machines that require PIN numbers for credit/debit cards.
Post offices 9am–6pm Monday–Friday (to 4pm in the countryside)
Restaurants 11.30am–2.30pm and 6pm–9pm or 10pm, later if they're also bars
Shops 10am–6pm Monday–Friday, 10am–4pm Saturday; some open Sunday in Reykjavík malls and major shopping strips
Supermarkets 9am–10pm (closing earlier in the countryside); 10-11 supermarkets often open 24 hours, while Bónus has unusual hours
Vínbúðin (government-run alcohol stores) Variable; many outside Reykjavík only open for a couple of hours per day
National public holidays in Iceland:
New Year’s Day 1 January
Easter March or April; Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to Easter Monday (changes annually)
First Day of Summer First Thursday after 18 April
Labour Day 1 May
Ascension Day May or June (changes annually)
Whit Sunday and Whit Monday May or June (changes annually)
National Day 17 June
Commerce Day First Monday in August
Christmas 24 to 26 December
New Year’s Eve 31 December
The main school holiday runs from the first week of June to the third week of August; this is when most of the summer hotels open.
The winter school holiday is a two-week break over the Christmas period (around 20 December to 6 January). There is also a spring break of about a week, over the Easter period.
- Smoking Illegal in enclosed public spaces, including in cafes, bars, clubs, restaurants and on public transport. Most accommodation is nonsmoking.
Taxes & Refunds
The standard rate of value-added tax (VAT) in Iceland is 24%, with a reduced rate of 11% for certain products and services. The reduced rate applies to food and accommodation. VAT is included in quoted prices.
Tax-Free Shopping & Refunds
Anyone who has a permanent address outside Iceland can claim a tax refund on purchases when they spend over 6000kr (at a single point of sale). Look for stores with a ‘tax-free shopping’ sign in the window, and ask for a form at the register.
Before you check in for your departing flight at Keflavík, go to the refund office at Arion Banki and present your completed tax-free form, passport, receipts/invoices and purchases. Make sure the goods are unused. Opening hours of the office match flight schedules. Be prepared, sometimes staff ask to see the goods.
If you're departing Iceland from Reykjavík Domestic Airport or a harbour, before check-in go to the customs office.
Toll-free numbers in Iceland begin with 800; mobile (cell) phone numbers start with 6, 7 or 8.
There’s an online version of the phone book with good maps at http://en.ja.is (people are listed by their first names).
Public phones are rare. Try the Main Tourist Office, post office, by the southwestern corner of Austurvöllur, on Lækjargata, or at Kringlan shopping centre.
- Mobile (cell) coverage is widespread.
- Visitors with GSM phones can make roaming calls.
- In 2017, the EU ended roaming surcharges for residents of the EU and European Economic Area (EEA; which includes Iceland). They can use mobile devices when travelling in the EU and EEA, paying the same prices as at home.
- If you're non-EU, you can get cheaper calls by buying an Icelandic SIM card and putting it in your own (unlocked) phone.
Prepaid SIM Card & Phone Credit
You can buy a prepaid SIM card and top-up credit at bookstores, grocery stores, petrol stations and on Icelandair flights.
Iceland Telecom Síminn (www.siminn.is/prepaid) has the greatest network coverage and Vodafone (www.vodafone.is/en/prepaid) isn't far behind. Both companies have voice-and-data starter packs including local SIM cards; Síminn's costs 2900kr and includes either 10GB data, or 5GB and 50 minutes of international talk time.
The smallest denomination phonecard (for use in public telephones – which are very rare) costs 500kr, and can be bought from grocery stores and petrol stations. Low-cost international phonecards are also available in many shops and kiosks.
Iceland’s time zone is the same as GMT/UTC (London), but there is no daylight saving time.
From late October to late March, Iceland is on the same time as London, five hours ahead of New York and 11 hours behind Sydney.
In the northern hemisphere summer, Iceland is one hour behind London, four hours ahead of New York and 10 hours behind Sydney.
Iceland uses the 24-hour clock system and all transport timetables and business hours are posted accordingly.
Your best bet is to find toilets in hotels, cafes and restaurants.
Main Tourist Office Friendly staff and mountains of free brochures, plus maps, Reykjavík City Card and Strætó city bus tickets. Books accommodation, tours and activities.
Besides the Main Tourist Office, Reykjavík has loads of travel agencies. Inspired By Iceland (www.inspiredbyiceland.com) offers Iceland-wide information.
The official tourism site for the country is Inspired By Iceland (www.inspiredbyiceland.com), which has comprehensive information.
Each region also has its own useful site:
Southwest Iceland (www.visitreykjanes.is)
West Iceland (www.west.is)
The Westfjords (www.westfjords.is)
North Iceland (www.northiceland.is, www.visitakureyri.is)
East Iceland (www.east.is)
Southeast Iceland (www.south.is, www.visitvatnajokull.is)
There's an incredible range of smartphone apps. Useful, practical ones include the vital 112 Iceland app for safe travel and Veður for weather, and apps for bus companies such as Strætó and Reykjavík Excursions. Offline maps come in handy.
There are plenty more apps covering all sorts of interests, from history and language to aurora-spotting, or walking tours of the capital. The city features in Lonely Planet's Guides app, while Reykjavík Grapevine's apps (Appy Hour, Craving and Appening) also help get you to good bars, food and events.
Travel with Children
Reykjavík is the most child-friendly place in Iceland simply because it has a great variety of attractions and facilities. Most kids also find the whole country an adventure with its wide-open spaces, wildlife and science projects brought to life.
Iceland is a fairly easy place to travel with children, and the dramatic scenery, abundance of swimming pools and friendliness of the locals help to keep them happy. Parents will find a country that's free of most urban dangers, but do keep kids away from those cliffs and unfenced waterfalls!
If your children like science and the natural world, they will love the bird colonies, waterfalls, volcanic areas and glaciers. A number of activities can keep them busy, such as short hikes, super-Jeep tours, horse riding, whale watching, boat rides and easy glacier walks (for the latter, the minimum age is around eight to 10 years).
Families should check out the highly informative Íslandskort barnanna (Children's Map of Iceland; 980kr), aimed at young kids and published by Forlagið with text in Icelandic and English. Buy online or at the Mál og Menning bookshop.
- For kids, admission to museums and swimming pools varies from 50% off to free. The age at which children must pay adult fees varies from place to place (anywhere from 12 to 18 years). The Reykjavík City Card has a children's version.
- On internal flights and tours with Air Iceland Connect (www.airicelandconnect.is), children aged two to 11 years pay half-fare and infants under two fly free.
- Most bus and tour companies offer a 50% reduction for children aged four to 11 years; Reykjavík Excursion tours are free for under 11s, and half-price for those aged 12 to 15.
- International car-hire companies offer child seats for an extra cost (book in advance).
- The changeable weather and frequent cold and rain may put you off camping as a family, but children aged two to 12 are usually charged half-price for camping, hostel, farmhouse and other accommodation. Under two-year-olds can usually stay for free.
- Many places offer rooms accommodating families, including hostels, guesthouses and farmstays. Larger hotels often have cots (cribs), but you may not find these elsewhere.
- Many restaurants in Reykjavík and larger towns offer discounted children’s meals, and most have high chairs.
- Toilets at museums and other public institutions may have dedicated baby-changing facilities; elsewhere, you’ll have to improvise.
- Attitudes to breastfeeding in public are generally relaxed.
- Formula, nappies (diapers) and other essentials are available everywhere.
Travellers with Disabilities
Iceland, especially when you leave Reykjavík, can be trickier than many places in northern Europe when it comes to access for travellers with disabilities. For details on accessible facilities, get in touch with the National Association of People with Disabilities, Þekkingarmiðstöð Sjálfsbjargar, which has the Sjálfsbjörg office in Reykjavík.
A good resource is the website God Adgang (www.godadgang.dk), a Danish initiative adopted in Iceland. Follow the instructions to find Icelandic service providers that have been assessed for the accessibility label.
Iceland Unlimited (www.icelandunlimited.is) is particularly good for tailor-made accessible trips around the country. Grayline Iceland and Reykjavík Excursions run sightseeing and day tours from Reykjavík and will assist travellers with special needs, but they recommend you contact them in advance to discuss your requirements.
Reykjavík’s city buses have a ‘kneeling’ function so that wheelchairs can be lifted onto the bus; elsewhere, however, public buses don’t have ramps or lifts.
A volunteering holiday is a worthwhile (and relatively inexpensive) way to get intimately involved with Iceland’s people and landscapes. As well as the following options, consider a stint at the Arctic Fox Center in the wilds of the Westfjords.
To prevent any exploitation of volunteers, the union-led website www.volunteering.is outlines the rights of workers.
Iceland Conservation Volunteers (www.ust.is/the-environment-agency-of-iceland/volunteers) Iceland’s environment agency, known as Umhverfisstofnun (UST), recruits around 200 volunteers each summer for work on practical conservation projects around the country, mainly creating or maintaining trails in Vatnajökull National Park. Places on its short-term programs (under four weeks) are usually arranged through its partner volunteer organisations, such as Working Abroad (www.workingabroad.com), or Iceland-based SEEDS. Longer term placements are also possible on Trail Teams that work together for 11 weeks over the summer; see the UST website for details.
SEEDS (www.seeds.is) Iceland-based SEEDS organises workcamps and volunteering holidays (generally two to three weeks in length), primarily focused on nature and the environment (building trails, ecological research), but also construction or renovation of community buildings, or assistance at festivals and events.
Volunteer Abroad (www.volunteerabroad.com) Offers an overview of possible projects in Iceland. Note that many of the projects listed are under the remit of Iceland’s Environment Agency (Umhverfisstofnun), but arranged through various international volunteering organisations.
Workaway (www.workaway.info) This site is set up to promote exchange between travellers/volunteers and families or organisations looking for help with a range of activities (from au pair work to farm assistance). It's worldwide, and has dozens of Icelandic hosts looking for unpaid help in return for accommodation.
Worldwide Friends (www.wf.is) Iceland-based Worldwide Friends runs short-term workcamps that largely support nature and the environment, but there are also options for involvement in community projects, and art and cultural events.
WWOOF (www.wwoofindependents.org) World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms (also known as Willing Workers On Organic Farms) has a handful of farm properties in Iceland that accept wwoofers, although there is no national WWOOF organisation. In return for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles.