Iceland: the epitome of volcanos, geysers, fjords, ice caves, geothermal lagoons, and basically anything you could ever ask for in one place. And after flying here, not once, but twice this summer, I can tell you: people are flocking back in.
Lines are long, entry procedures are evolving, but Iceland remains steadfast; tourism will remain as long as it can be done safely. But this does mean things are a bit different than before.
After seeing just how Iceland manages the huge influx of tourists, I felt it necessary to inform anyone planning to come here about how it really is on the front line. You definitely should arrive prepared.
As long as you do, you’re going to have the time of your life.
So here are the top 12 things you need to know before your next trip to Iceland. Click on the links to skip ahead.
- Iceland is open for business
- Vaccinated people ALSO need a Covid test to enter
- You can use your CDC-issued vaccine card to enter Iceland without issues
- There’s an awesome new geothermal lagoon to explore!
- Masks are required indoors
- Plan extra time at the airport
- Avoid booking a tour the morning of your first day
- Rental cars aren’t cheap
- Tours fill up very early
- It’s super easy to get a covid test for your return
- The new, awesome, active volcano isn’t always exploding
- Make sure to complete your preregistration before entering!
1. Iceland is open for business, and they mean it.
For those wondering which countries are open right now and which ones they really need to see, Iceland tops the list.
Iceland was one of the first European countries to create an innovative, safe system allowing tourists to enter without confusion. In fact, last winter I even wrote about how Iceland was one of the first countries open to Americans.
If there’s something that speaks to Iceland’s tenacity and desire to keep its tourism industry alive, it’s the fact they’ve been open since well before the EU added the US to its “green list”. As such, even if the US is some day removed from the EU’s allowed list, it’s highly unlikely that it would affect your ability to enter Iceland.
The geothermal lagoons are open, the volcanos and fjords are open, the ice caves are open, the museums are open, the restaurants are open. Iceland is as lively as ever, and it’s the perfect time to come back to this magical place or make your first discovery of it.
2. ***Change as of July 27*** Vaccinated and recovered people have to bring negative Covid-19 test results, but they can be from PCR or antigen taken within 72 hours of boarding to Iceland
For the last couple months, vaccinated passengers could enter Iceland without needing test results. Unfortunately due to increasing breakthrough cases, Iceland has decided to take the careful route and require tests even for those vaccinated.
The main difference is that vaccinated people can take a PCR or Antigen test, and either can be taken within 72 hours of boarding, making it super easy to obtain.
Vaccinated people also don’t have to quarantine in Iceland.
3. The CDC-issued vaccination card is valid for Iceland. You must bring the original, paper CDC-issued card. The EU Digital Certificate works as well for those that have it.
According to the Iceland.is official travel website, “a valid CDC vaccination card is generally accepted. So far, there have been very few issues validating vaccine cards.”
I’ve now entered Iceland twice using my CDC-issued paper vaccine card, alongside thousands of other Americans entering Iceland each day.
Non vaccinated people who don’t have proof of recovery from Covid-19 must get a PCR test before entering, then two in Iceland. Antigen doesn’t count. And you probably will have to quarantine 5-days before taking a second test
4. There’s a brand new geothermal lagoon to swim in!
Welcome to the Sky Lagoon, a name very attractive to a pilot like myself – or anyone else who likes a natural hot tub seeming to fade into the sky.
The biggest benefit to Sky Lagoon over the others is its proximity to Reykjavik, only 20 minutes away.
It also has a more authentic, natural feel, and much less crowding than the other hot lagoons.
Any extra reason to go to Iceland is good with me!
5. You still need to wear masks indoors.
Many countries around the world have lifted mask mandates – but many have reimposed them. Iceland is one of those.
You can expect to wear a face mask in any indoor environment; buses, shops, restaurants, etc.
Iceland recommends wearing a mask in crowded places outdoors as well, but I never say this in practice.
6. Plan an abundance of extra time to check in for your flight leaving Iceland.
I’ve been flying for 10 years, and many more before that as a passenger around the world. I’ve never seen lines like this in normal, daily conditions.
Each airline had lines about half a mile long for check-in, and they weren’t moving much at all.
I noticed that the lines seemed worse for earlier flights (departing before 9AM) than the ones in the late morning – but this may have been simply coincidental.
7. Avoid booking any morning tours on your first day in Iceland.
Assuming you’re arriving early in the morning, you shouldn’t book any tours leaving before noon.
Why? It could take 2 hours to get through customs, Covid document checks; the works.
Unfortunately, I know this from first hand experience, having missed a 930AM tour after landing minutes after 7AM. Non-refundable, by the way.
Iceland is very popular, and they have been open to Americans for awhile. But that doesn’t mean they’re lax with their travel restrictions. Iceland doesn’t play around.
Worst case, you can take a name when you arrive.
8. It costs a lot to rent a car in Iceland.
I’ve seen rentals charging over $1000USD… a day – for an economy car. Yeah.
Booking far ahead helps significantly, but don’t expect anything cheap – especially when you add rental insurance (damage waivers, etc).
In many cases, tours end up cheaper than renting a car, particularly if your group is small.
9. Book your tours way in advance.
And you thought tours would be the end-all, be-all?
Everything is expensive in Iceland. Though tours vary in price, many offer similar packages.
For example, everyone offers the Golden Circle Tour. You can find it much cheaper if you use a bus, or pay a little more for the comfort of sharing the experience with fewer people. That being said, you’re going to end up at the same 3-4 places with the same people from all the other tour groups.
Tours do fill up, particularly the more specialized ones, like hiking, snowmobiling, ice cave exploring, and going deeper into Iceland to more off the beaten path places.
On one of my trips to Iceland, I was unable to find any last minute tours. So if you don’t want to pay enormous fees for rental cars, but also want to explore more than just Reykjavik, book ahead.
10. There’s an easy way to get a Covid test for your return to the US – and an even easier way.
There are several companies offering these approved at-home tests, such as eMed. You can expect to take the test on a video conference with a medical expert, and have the results in 15 minutes.
Otherwise, covid tests in Iceland are inexpensive and efficient, but like everything else in Iceland, you need to plan ahead.
11. Don’t expect to always see the active volcano (Fagradalsfjall) at peak flare-up, but it’s worth it anyways.
When I embarked on my afternoon tour to visit Iceland’s famous new active volcano, I didn’t know what to expect.
The tour guide advised us not to expect too much, but either way the hike would be fun.
That’s when I jokingly said, “I bet that it’ll start going off as soon as we leave.”
After an hour of moderately intense hiking, we made it to the top, stopped about half an hour to enjoy the views of the huge lava fields, then pressed on to the top.
There was smoke billowing out of all the crevices in the lava field and even the volcano, indicating some activity. So we stayed an hour just in case.
So we turned around, hiked an hour back down the mountain, and when we got to the bus we heard the news. It was erupting again.
The live cam showed billowing streaks of red-hot lava emerging in blankets out of the volcano, streaking down the lava fields in fiery madness. It looked wonderful.
So yeah, the active volcano is spontaneous and has a mind of its own. You could shell out good money for a tour and miss it.
There is a live cam you can check ahead of time to give you better chances, but even this isn’t a guarantee. The hike takes about an hour (each way, unless you mountain bike it – which people do!)
I still thoroughly enjoyed the hike. No regrets.
But I will be back.
12. Make sure to complete your preregistration before entering!
One last thing: make sure to complete the required preregistration before boarding. You’ll receive an email with a barcode; it’s required to enter Iceland.
It’s very easy to complete. You’ll need your arrival info (flight number, etc), passport details, and test + vaccine information.