iceland travel tips
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Visiting Iceland in September ❥ Things to Know Before Going to Iceland

Whether you’re researching in advance or you’re planning a last-minute trip to Iceland in September, here are 10 things to know before going to Iceland that will help make your journey a smooth sailing adventure.

iceland in september

things to do in iceland in september

Last updated on January 8, 2024.

Things to Know Before Going to Iceland

From volcanoes and geysers to black sand beaches and natural hot springs, Iceland offers a wide array of extraordinary bucket list experiences. It’s no wonder it’s a top destination that is beloved by many and one that I personally cannot wait to revisit.

To make sure you have the most pleasurable experience and that you avoid making the same mistakes as me, I have compiled the ultimate list of what you need to know prior to arriving in Iceland.

1. Do I need a visa?

iceland travel guide

The great thing about being a Canadian citizen like myself is that you do NOT need a visa to visit Iceland. The same applies to U.S. passport holders. That is, of course, given that your stay is no longer than 90 days.

Nationals of EEA (European Economic Area) countries are not required to apply for a visa either. This includes all EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK) as well as Liechtenstein and Norway. Switzerland is neither a EU nor EEA member, but is also exempt from visas.

If you hold an Asian passport like my dad does from Taiwan, this is where it can get a little tricky.

As of January 11th, 2011, Taiwan passport holders no longer need a visa to enter countries of the Schengen Agreement (i.e. Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland). However, based on research and stories from family friends, we were told that we needed to provide proof of a return flight ticket. (Which isn’t a big deal at all.) We printed our e-mail confirmation, but once we arrived at customs, we were not asked to present any additional documents or proof. Regardless, I would prepare it in case.

Tip: Visit Schengen’s Visa Info website to find out more about who needs a visa and how to apply for one.

2. Is there a language barrier?

trip to iceland

You’ll be relieved to hear that there aren’t any language barrier issues.

When we were in the more touristy areas in Reykjavík and along Golden Circle, everyone spoke perfect English. We didn’t have any problems checking into hotels or ordering food in restaurants. In fact, a lot locals were eager to help us when we fuelled up our car at gas stations.

We did notice, however, that once we reached smaller towns, things were slightly different.

Hotel staffs and restaurant employees were still rather fluent, but it was a little more challenging communicating with locals when asking for directions.

3. Icelandic orthography and its relation to Google Maps.

While we’re on the topic of language, let’s talk about those special characters you see in names like Þingvellir National Park.

iceland tips

If you haven’t noticed already, Iceland utilizes Latin-script alphabets. The “Þ” in Þingvellir National Park, for example, is really a “th” and not a lower case p or capital D.

Luckily, you don’t need to add an Icelandic keyboard to your phone to type out destinations on Google Maps.

With Iceland being such a popular destination, Google has done a really good job of converting Icelandic orthography to regular English alphabets and vice versa. You can simply type out “Thingvellir National Park” and it will direct you to said location.

Tip: Download offline Google Maps to save money on SIM cards or data roaming charges.

4. Load up on prepaid gas cards.

iceland travel tips

This is probably one of the most crucial Iceland tips and I cannot stress this enough… Load up on prepaid gas cards!

things to know before going to icelandComprehensive map of Iceland’s gas stations across the country on Rent.is.

Since most pumps take credit cards, the majority of gas stations in Iceland operate 24/7. (The stores do not.)

When paying with a card, all machines require you to input a four digit pin.

For context, my dad holds a Taiwanese credit card whereas I own a Canadian RBC Visa card. Our pins are longer than four digits and a lot of machines did not recognize our pins. That said, our cards only worked about 50% of the time. (N1 always took our cards, but Olís and ÓB were iffy.) The other half of the time we were forced to pay inside the stores.

It wasn’t until towards the end of our trip did we finally learn about prepaid gas cards. This seriously saved us so much time and trouble. Plus, you won’t be reliant on each store’s operating hours to get gas.

5. What’s weather in Iceland in September like?

weather in iceland in september

The temperature in Iceland in September floats at around 6°C (43ºF) to 12°C (54ºF), which is relatively mild compared to its colder months.

Since it’s a transitional time between summer and winter, you can expect beautiful sunny days followed by long dark nights that are optimal for watching Northern Lights.

While it does rain a little from time to time, snow is rare. If you plan to rent a vehicle, you’ll have no problem navigating through local roads.

6. What to pack for Iceland in September?

Although September is one of the best months to visit Iceland in terms of weather, it can still get rather cold and windy this time of the year. Not to mention, Iceland weather is known to be unpredictable.

You can literally be enjoying the gorgeous sunshine only to drive five minutes down the road to experience pouring rain and freezing cold.

things to know about iceland

For warmer days, I suggest bringing

  • Long sleeve t-shirts or henley tops
  • Denim or plaid shirts that are great for layering
  • Thick wool cardigans
  • Leggings or jeans – whichever you feel comfortable in
  • Sunglasses (especially if you plan on driving)
  • Optional blanket scarf in case it gets windy

As for colder, wetter days, remember to pack a raincoat with thicker padding and insulation. (Yes, raincoat, not an umbrella because the wind will destroy it within seconds.)

It’s great to layer up with Uniqlo’s HEATTECH Thermal Base Layers and I recommend getting some HotHands Body & Hand Super Warmers as well.

7. Information centers are your new best friend.

Not just because they provide helpful Iceland travel tips, but because they have free washrooms.

going to iceland

It’s not uncommon for European countries to charge for restroom use. Public bathrooms in Iceland actually have turnstile doors for you to insert coins and make payment if you wish to enter.

With gas stations and restaurants only offering washroom usage for paid customers, you’ll want to take note of these tourist information centers in their respective areas:

8. Watch out for birds.

And I’m not talking about flashers. Thank goodness!

iceland in september travel

Not something you might expect on a things to know about Iceland list, but do pay attention to birds when driving.

Icelandic birds – seagulls in particular – aren’t exactly the brightest. They like to sit in the middle of the road or off to the side. Usually by the time you spot them, it’s either too late for them to get out of the way, or they’ll try to flee by crashing into your windshield.

Not only did we hit one ourselves, we saw countless carcasses along the road.

As gruesome as this sounds, it’s extremely dangerous to brake for a bird while driving at a high speed. Sometimes you just gotta do whatchu gotta do.

9. Can you see Northern Lights in Iceland in September?

The answer is yes and no.

northern lights in iceland in septemberActivity level of 2 on a clear day.

September to April is said to be the best months for when to see Northern Lights.

Nonetheless, whether you can see them or not largely depends on how cloudy the skies are and your lucky really. Despite activity being high, cloudy skies can still decrease your chances. On the contrary, if the activity level is low, you won’t see a thing even on a clear day.

Tip: check Icelandic Met Office’s Northern Lights forecast guide and plan accordingly.

10. Should I join a tour?

To answer this question, you must first determine what you want to see.

iceland trip

The “cool” tours versus the “boring” tours.

Cool tours are ones like whale watching, puffin spotting, ice cave explorations, and volcano visits. (Most of these outdoor excursions can only be done with a licensed tour guide and not on your own.)

The boring tours are those that take you to basic tourist attractions.

I personally don’t think the latter are worth the money nor time and would much prefer to explore on my own at my own pace.

first time in iceland

For our trip, we spent exactly one week in Iceland. We did a DIY tour of the Golden Circle then drove along the Ring Road. In hindsight, this was a little ambitious, but we did manage to see majority of the popular sights.

Driving in Iceland is also fairly straightforward and rental cars are readily available.

Bottom line is if you don’t feel like being a social butterfly and mingling with 100 other tourists whilst getting photobombed by them, don’t join a regular day tour. If you want to venture off into ice caves and lava fields, sign up for one with Extreme Iceland.

travel tips to iceland

Where do I rent a car?

If you’re like me and would much rather adventure on your own, you’ll have to rent a car.

iceland september

Discovercars.com is a vehicle rental platform with more than 10,000 locations in 145,000 countries, including Iceland. They work with major agencies such as Enterprise and Sixt to provide reliable services at competitive rates.

The booking process is quick and straightforward, and they provide helpful local tips on driver license requirements, most popular vehicle to rent, where to visit, and best driving routes around Iceland.

iceland trip planningBMW X1 from Geysir car rental. Total for seven days was $841.49 CAD + $124.18 for full-coverage insurance. We did not specify for a luxury car and were assigned this model.

Since our trip was a little last-minute, we went with the cheapest available vehicle with Geysir. (Once we arrived at Keflavík International Airport, we took a free shuttle bus to Geysir’s office. Shuttle buses came every 15 minutes and the ride was no more than 5 minutes.)

The whole process went smoothly and we got our car without delay.

Do I need car insurance?

Another key Iceland travel advice is picking the right insurance for your vehicle.

best months to visit iceland

Purchasing insurance directly from car rental companies is almost always the most expensive.

While it is cheaper going with a third-party insurer, the downside is that if anything were to happen, you would have to pay the car rental company up front. You’ll then of course file a claim with your insurer and get the money reimbursed, but it’s a longer process.

No matter which you pick, do not make the mistake of purchasing from a third-party insurer and buying insurance again from the rental company at the pick-up counter.

I’ve done this before when I was unfamiliar with car rental processes and it was a complete waste of money. If you’ve purchased coverage from Rentalcars.com, for instance, tell the rental car sales rep no when they ask if you need insurance. One insurance is enough!

iceland travel advice

When it comes to which type of insurance to get, I always go with the full-coverage one. It’s better to be safe than sorry and it’s good knowing you can just walk away from everything if anything unfortunate were to happen.

This is especially important for Iceland because there are tons of gravel roads. It’s very likely that you rental will get rock chips and paint scratches.

A lot of Geysir reviews I read online were bad ones, but only because renters didn’t purchase the right insurance and had to pay for the resulting damage.

iceland visitors guide



Booking.com

visiting iceland for the first time iceland travel september

There you have it! Top 10 things you should know when visiting Iceland in September.

Don’t forget to pin this for later and check out my YouTube travel vlog!

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124 Comments

  1. Jas, thanks SO much for getting this post out so quickly and pushing back your schedule. I leave in 1.5 wks for Iceland and I can’t WAIT! Our trip is mixed. Tours and days on our own. I have the same concerns as you do for tours so we hopefully did a good mix of them plus on our own. We’ll see. The most helpful tip you have on there is packing for winter and more winter! This has been the hardest thing for me to figure out so thank you!! I will now order hand warmers (wasn’t going to before). Now I just hope those Northern Lights cooperate!

    1. Aww you’re most welcome, Heather! You’re totally gonna have a blast and I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for you to see them Northern Lights. Stay warm! 😉

  2. I hope to visit Iceland, too, someday. Seeing beautiful photos of landscapes, seascapes and the Northern lights always bring spark to my wanderlust. This will be a great resource for those traveling to Iceland for the first time.

  3. I don’t think I have ever read such a detailed, informative, practical TIPS article for any country! Bravo. Keep them coming. I’m an older traveler but I still prefer to go it on my own rather than an organized tour. However, I wouldn’t mind a few short tours as a supplement to my trip. Thanks again!

    1. You’re most welcome Tess! So glad you enjoyed the guide and hope this will inspire you to visit Iceland sometime soon 🙂

  4. Wow wow and wow, incredible photos! Excellent guide for visiting in September, I did not know that there is a chance of seeing the northern lights. How frustrating that toilets cost! I have heard that Iceland is quite expensive but did not know that they charge you to use the bathroom!

    1. Hahaa it’s quite common in Europe actually!!! And yes, Iceland is expensive. It’s such a beautiful country though and the $$ shouldn’t stop you from visiting 😉

  5. This is the most useful post before visiting Iceland I’ve found so far. Not sure when we will go, but I am so pin this. Thank you very much!

  6. First of all, your photos look amazing! It is good to know that as a Dutch I don’t need a visa and that most of the people speak English well. The gas prepaid card sounds like a relief and good thing to know about. Your tips about seeing the Northern Lights and clothing are useful to! Can’t wait to visit Iceland one day!

    1. Aww thanks so much Daphne! Great thing about travelling within Europe for you is that you really don’t need a visa for anywhere. Hope you’ll get to make it out to Iceland soon 😀

  7. Iceland has been on my list for a while but I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle the cold! But of course I want to see the northern lights so summer is out. Great tip about the prepaid gas card!

    1. The views are definitely worth the freezing in the cold. I’ll keep my fingers for you to cross this off your bucket list, Annick!

  8. Wow, great tips on Iceland and thanks for sharing it. It is great that there is no language barrier and also Google has converted all those Icelandic alphabets into English on their maps. I would also love to have prepaid Gas Card and would try my chance for Northern Lights in September.

    1. You’re most welcome, Yukti! You can see aurora borealis during other times of the month as well, not just September 😉

  9. I love Iceland, and think that September is actually a good time to go. It’s not yet cold (I went in November), and the days are still longer. They speak excellent English, and I never knew about the prepaid gas card when I was there! A tour was good for us, as we didn’t take a car, but may not suit everyone!

    1. I thought it was pretty cold already during September and I couldn’t begin to imagine what November/December would be like!

  10. Wow! What stunning photos, Jasmine! Loved them all. Iceland has been on the top of my list for some time now and hopefully, we will get there soon. Thanks for sharing your tips.

  11. Hi Jaschen, the pictures are epic in your blog. The prepaid gas card advice is really great. I am heading to Iceland this December and the first thing I would do is get that card. It would save a lot of chaos as we are going to rent a car. From which company, have you rented your car? We have to get an SUV and we are thinking to get it from SixT. Let me know your thoughts on about it. Thanks.

    1. Thanks so much Shreya! That’s so awesome that you’ll be there in a few months and I’m excited for you! I actually updated the post with more information about rental cars after seeing your commment.)

      We rented with Geysir car rental and despite some mixed reviews online, we had absolutely zero trouble with our car. Everything was smooth sailing and I would actually rent with them again in the future too. I’d say the insurance is more important than which company you rent from. Just make sure you purchase full coverage insurance so that you can walk away completely if anywhere were to happen. Our insurance was from a third-party as booked through rentalcars.com. That’s generally cheaper than purchasing directly from your car rental. Hope this helps!

  12. Wow! These are really great tips and tricks. Iceland is on my bucket list for so long and your amazing pictures have motivated me to plan my visit soon. Those Northern Lights are truly hypnotic and I’m dying to see them for real. Thanks for sharing this helpful information – you’ve covered it all from visa requirement to language barrier to the tour breakup.

  13. First let me say your dress was dope! and so was that pic!

    I loved the picures all the way thru. iceland is such a beautiful place. I hope I can go one day. This article defiinitely increased my desire to go there. And I’ll be stocking up on the prepaid gas cards for sure! Thanks again for sharing.

    1. Hahaa thanks Kenan! I definitely got a few stares from tourists who thought I was crazy. Happy to hear I could inspire you to visit and let me know if you ever have any questions planning for your future trip 🙂

  14. I just got back from Norway and agree that, in the northern latitudes, there is only winter, especially for those of us that come from warmer climes. Even though the temperature ranged between 8 and 16 degrees C, it felt like much lower on our Northern Lights chase and we had to wear the thermo suits to stay warm. That said, Iceland looks amazing! I’m always envious of those who manage to go there, but it seems too rugged and hard a trip for the likes of me.

    1. Norway, how fun! I’ve been wanting to visit myself! Also, I definitely think the winds make it colder than weather forecast says otherwise. Iceland roads, like I mentioned in the post, are actually fairly easy to navigate through. Plus, we didn’t really have time to go on any hikes, but everywhere was pretty much flat ground and easy to walk on. Don’t let the rawness of nature discourage you from paying a visit!

  15. I am really fascinated by visiting Iceland but I’d love to go there with my young kids. Watching the Northern Lights would be a huge plus so I am looking forward to reading your post about it.

  16. My sister had been to Iceland twice and said she would go a third 🙂 These are great answers for people who want to visit in September. People often ask her if September is a good time, so now we’ll just direct them to read your post.

  17. Great practical advice! You hear so much about what to see in Iceland, but this info is so helpful to reducing stress on the trip. Hoping to get there someday…

  18. Super helpful information about traveling to Iceland. Very true! We spent a week camping around the country and can’t wait to get back to see more!

  19. So much helpful information here. I haven’t been to Iceland but whenever I do, I’m going to remember every single point you mentioned here. Thanks for sharing all these details, September is definitely a great time to visit

  20. This is so useful. The prepaid gas cards are entirely new for me, I have a lot of friends from the UK who have been to Iceland and said it was amazing. I worry about the cost so I may head there when I feel flush with cash!

  21. You have shared such a helpful article about Iceland . I have always wanted to visit Iceland but couldn’t travel because of my son who is too young to travel abroad specially to a place like Iceland.But I do have plans in future so am saving this post for my future use.

  22. Iceland is definitely happening for me in 2019 (I have to make sure that it does) and since the main purpose is to see the Northern Lights, I will try to make it in October since, like you said, you’re to be really lucky to be able to see them in September! Good to know that there aren’t any language issues except maybe a little in the smaller towns (which is quite normal anywhere else in the world as well), and that google maps have adapted well to their letters! I’d love to rent a car and drive around for a week or even more!

    1. It actually really is more about luck than which month you decide to visit. I heard from others who saw Northern Lights in as early as August so it all comes down to the weather and how cloudy the skies are. I’m excited for you to visit next year though! This was a bucket list item for me for 2018 and it’s for sure worth the trip and $$!

  23. Great tips! The aurora borealis is on my to-do list so I will be sure to look out for that article. It’s clever that Google has accounted for the difference in spelling between English and Icelandic languages, that seems like it would take a lot of frustrations out of finding the right location.

  24. You covered a lot of good tips in this post. We visited for a week 2 years back in the summer and did the same roadtrip as you in 7 days. Luckily we were able to survive without a gas card but will keep that in mind for the next time.