Icebergs in southern Iceland
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Icebergs in southern Iceland

© 123rf.com / Mary Lane

Iceland Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

103,000km² (39,769mi²).

Population

341,243 (2020).

Population density

3 per sq km.

Capital

Reykjavík.

Government

Republic.

Head of state

President Gudni Jóhannesson since 2016.

Head of government

Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson since 2024.

Electricity

240 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are used.

A country of extreme geological contrasts, Iceland has built up an impressive tourism sector with over 2 million visitors a year flocking to see its moss-covered lava fields, glacier-fed ice caves, rock-ribbed coast and ash-spouting volcanos.

Widely known as "the land of fire and ice", Iceland is crammed with magnificent scenery that delights and awes at every turn. The word fire in the phrase refers to Iceland's abundant volcanoes, which burst into life periodically. Elemental forces bubble just below the surface across the country, and clever Icelanders have long been accessing geothermal energy to generate electricity, heat tap water and warm up tomato greenhouses.

Volcanic tourism is also lucrative, with tourists taking trips to see bubbling fumaroles and soak in thermal springs. The two famous examples of the latter are the Blue Lagoon and Sky Lagoon near Reykjavík; both are geothermal spas that aim to soothe your aches and pains.

Ice is Iceland's other big draw (the clue is in the name) – more specifically, the dramatic glaciers that slice down towards the coast, calving icebergs into serene lagoons. About 11% of the country is covered in glaciers, with Vatnajökull being the largest and extending some 8,400km² (3,243mi²) in the southeast with thick layers of snow blanketing many high, majestic mountain ridges. Iceland's highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur (2,119m or 6,592ft) can also be found here. Guided tours to glaciers, ice caves and frozen waterfalls are widely available.

Reykjavík, Iceland's capital city, is where most travellers start their journey. This fun and vibrant city, with its many museums, marine excursions, and colourful nightlife, is certainly a worthy diversion.

So come to experience walking in a lava cave, climb a glacier, spot a whale, or catch the colourful northern lights in their full glory, undimmed by light pollution in the least densely populated nation in Europe. No matter what you do, a holiday in Iceland is an experience you'll remember for a lifetime.

Travel Advice

Volcanic eruptions

Recently there has been a series of volcanic eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula in south-west Iceland.

For more details see Extreme weather and natural disasters.

Before you travel

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and any specific travel advice that applies to you:

Travel insurance

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

About FCDO travel advice

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated.

This information is for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK. It is based on the UK government’s understanding of the current rules for the most common types of travel.

The authorities in Iceland set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Icelandic Embassy in the UK.

COVID-19 rules

There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Iceland.

Passport validity requirements

Iceland follows Schengen area rules. Your passport must: 

  • have a ‘date of issue’ less than 10 years before the date you arrive – if you renewed your passport before 1 October 2018, it may have a date of issue that is more than 10 years ago
  • have an ‘expiry date’ at least 3 months after the day you plan to leave the Schengen area

Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.

You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.

Visa requirements

You can travel to the Schengen area, which includes Iceland, for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. This applies if you travel:

  • as a tourist
  • to visit family or friends
  • to attend business meetings, cultural or sports events
  • for short-term studies or training

The requirements for working in Iceland are different.

If you’re travelling to other Schengen countries as well, make sure your whole visit is within the 90-day visa-free limit. Visits to Schengen countries in the 180 days before you travel count towards your 90 days.

Make sure you get your passport stamped on entry and exit. 

If you’re a visitor, border guards will look at your entry and exit stamps to check you have not overstayed the 90-day visa-free limit for the Schengen area.  

If your passport is missing a stamp, show evidence of when and where you entered or left the Schengen area (for example, boarding passes or tickets) and ask the border guards to add the date and location in your passport.

At Icelandic border control, you may also need to:

  • show a return or onward ticket
  • show you have enough money for your stay

Staying longer than 90 days in a 180-day period 

To stay longer, to work or study, or for other reasons, you must meet the Icelandic entry requirements. Check what type of visa or work permit you need with the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration.

If you‘re in Iceland with a residence permit or long-stay visa, this does not count towards your 90-day visa-free limit.

Read about passport stamping if you live in Iceland.

Vaccine requirements

For full details about medical entry requirements and recommended vaccinations, see TravelHealthPro’s Iceland guide.

Customs rules

There are strict rules about goods that can be brought into and taken out of Iceland. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.

Whale products

It is illegal to import whale products from Iceland into the UK. You could get a fine of up to £5,000 or a prison sentence.

Taking money into or out of Iceland

You must declare if you’re carrying any currency worth 10,000 euros or more.

Taking food and drink into Iceland    

You cannot take meat, milk or products containing them into Iceland. There are some exceptions such as powdered baby milk, baby food and special foods or pet feed required for medical reasons. 

 Terrorism

There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times.

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.    

Terrorism in Iceland

Terrorist attacks in Iceland cannot be ruled out.

Crime

Crime levels are low but petty theft and antisocial behaviour can occur, particularly around bars in downtown Reykjavík. Take sensible precautions and keep your belongings safe.      

Laws and cultural differences

Personal ID

You do not have to carry your passport with you, but it is sensible to have some form of ID, such as a photocard driving licence. You could also carry a copy of your passport’s photo page as ID. Keep your passport somewhere safe.

Smoking and e-cigarette bans

It is illegal to smoke or use e-cigarettes in restaurants, bars, public transport and public buildings, and you could get a fine.

Illegal drugs and prison sentences

It is illegal to possess even small amounts of drugs, including marijuana and khat. Anyone caught could get a heavy fine and a prison sentence.

LGBT+ travellers

Same-sex sexual activity is legal in Iceland and same-sex relationships are recognised in law.   

Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.

Outdoor activities and adventure tourism

Hiking, mountaineering and other adventure sports have specific risks.

You should:

Hiking and mountaineering

When hiking, choose a trail suited for your level of experience. Conditions in Iceland could be different to what you’re used to.

Going too close to the ocean, cliff edges and hot springs are common causes of accidents in Iceland.

Take enough food, equipment, clothing and emergency rations for the worst-case scenario. Use a map, compass, GPS and phone.

Transport risks

Road travel

If you are planning to drive in Iceland, see information on driving abroad and check the rules of the road in the RAC’s Iceland guide. The guide lists driving regulations and other legal requirements you need to be aware of.

You must:

  • obey speed limits – fines for speeding are high
  • keep dipped headlights on all the time – you could get a fine if you do not
  • follow drink-drive laws – alcohol limits are much stricter than in the UK
  • use winter tyres from 1 November to 15 April – exact dates can vary

You could get a fine of 20,000 krona per tyre for using studded tyres after the winter dates end in April.

You can use a UK photocard driving licence to drive in Iceland for up to 30 days. If you still have a paper driving licence, you may need to update it to a photocard licence or get the 1968 version of the international driving permit (IDP) as well.  

Hire car companies often have stricter requirements for their customers, such as a year of driving experience, a higher minimum age and holding an IDP

If you bring your own car, check if you need a UK sticker to drive it outside the UK

Driving conditions

Distances between towns can be large, roads are narrow and winding, and speed limits are low. On gravel and loose surfaces reduce your speed.

Check road and weather advice from the Icelandic Road Administration. They also have information on off-road driving, which is strictly controlled.

Many highland tracks are only open for a short part of the summer. In the highlands you should use a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Drive slowly (5 to 10 kilometres per hour) when you cross rivers. River levels can change quickly, even within the same day.

The weather can change quickly. Infrequent strong winds can cause sand and ash storms. British tourists have had to pay large amounts of money to repair damage to hire cars caused by sand and ash.

Breakdown recovery costs, especially in remote areas, can be high.

Extreme weather and natural disasters

Find out what you can do to prepare for and respond to extreme weather and natural hazards

Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes

Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are common in Iceland.

Recently there has been a series of volcanic eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula in south-west Iceland, the latest on 29 May. These have affected the town of Grindavik and the area to the north of it. Icelandic authorities advise that you stay away from this area. All roads to Grindavik and the surrounding area are closed.

The likelihood of further eruptions in this location remains high. Check local media for updates and follow the Iceland authorities’ advice on travel to the area.

Check for alerts and advice from:

Risks from any volcanic activity include:

  • travel delays and cancellations
  • poisonous volcanic gases
  • rock falls and landslides
  • flooding

These organisations have further information on volcanic eruptions and earthquakes in Iceland:

Arctic travel

Iceland is in the Arctic Circle: emergency medical assistance and search and rescue may be limited in some areas. See Arctic travel safety advice.

Before you travel check that:

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.

Emergency medical number

Dial 112 and ask for an ambulance.

Contact your insurance or medical assistance company quickly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Vaccine recommendations and health risks

At least 8 weeks before your trip:

See what health risks you’ll face in Iceland, including biting insects and ticks.

Medication

The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro.

Healthcare in Iceland

FCDO has a list of medical providers in Iceland where some staff will speak English.

Health insurance cards 

To get medically necessary state healthcare in Iceland, you can now use the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) or European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

The NHS’s getting healthcare abroad webpage has details about:

  • how to apply for a GHIC
  • how to get temporary cover if you lose your card or it does not arrive in time
  • who qualifies for a new EHIC instead of a GHIC
  • what treatment counts as medically necessary

A GHIC or EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. You may have costs your GHIC or EHIC does not cover, including:

  • changes to travel and accommodation bookings
  • additional standard costs for treatment
  • medical repatriation to the UK
  • treatment that is ruled non-urgent
  • private healthcare
  • private clinics

There is also guidance on healthcare if you’re living in Iceland.

Travel and mental health

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.

Emergency services in Iceland

Telephone: 112 (ambulance, fire, police)

Safe Travel Iceland

If you’re travelling around Iceland, leave details of your travel plans with Safe Travel Iceland in case you need help from the Icelandic emergency services.

Contact your travel provider and insurer

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.

Refunds and changes to travel

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim

Support from FCDO

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:

Contacting FCDO

Follow and contact FCDO travel on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated.

You can also contact FCDO online.

Help abroad in an emergency

If you are in Iceland and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Reykjavik.

FCDO in London

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)

Find out about call charges.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.