For a long time, Iceland was a relative nobody in the travel world. It didn’t have the popularity of Western Europe or the reputation of other Nordic countries. But thanks to Instagram and budget airline option (i.e. the now defunct WOW air), Iceland has exploded in popularity among travelers over the years.
In my opinion, Iceland is the perfect jumping off point for a solo female traveler. Its sweeping landscapes and friendly people will make you want to return again and again. My trips have been fantastic experiences, and even though people say Iceland is overtouristed, I’ve had plenty of amazing experiences without crazy crowds.
So what exactly can you expect from a solo trip to Iceland? Read on and find out.
Solo Travel Safety
One of the biggest concerns for aspiring solo female travelers is safety, which is why Iceland makes a great starting point. The Global Peace Index ranked Iceland as the world’s most peaceful country for over ten years! In fact, Iceland is the only Nordic country that has actually gotten more peaceful over the past decade.
Iceland can be a great place to “disconnect” from the world and embrace nature. But if you need WiFi to message friends and family, Iceland has you covered. I was surprised by the 3G coverage I had even on hikes that seemed completely removed from society.
Even with statistics and WiFi access on your side, use normal precautions when exploring a new place. Be aware of your surroundings, and keep copies of your passport. If you want to go out late at night, especially if you’ll be drinking, it’s a smart idea to have a buddy with you. It’s a good thing there are plenty of opportunities to make friends there in hostels!
Solo Traveler Friendliness
Iceland’s reputation as an incredibly safe destination makes it a hotspot for fellow solo travelers. Check out the hostel scene for companions, especially in the capital city of Reykjavík. It can be a great place to find people to join you on more independent adventures like the Golden Circle or Ring Road.
Even though Icelandic is the official language of the country, most Icelanders understand English perfectly well. Many of the people I met here could’ve passed as North American with their flawless accents. It was great to have this comfort, especially since Iceland’s attractions can take you to some remote places.
Things to Do
You can access Iceland’s lush landscapes alone, even if you have as little as 48 hours on the island. But I suggest spending more time here, especially if you want to visit attractions on the other side of the country.
I highly recommend a car (specifically a camper van) as your form of transportation when visiting the island. Its flexibility is perfect for solo travel. You can be wherever you want, whenever you want—ideal for those moments you want to go off the beaten path. Iceland has roughly the same area as Kentucky, so driving around the island is a more than manageable task.
Once you have your car, consider taking Iceland’s ring road to fully explore its dramatic scenery. The epic road trip is around 800 miles of highway, and the views feel like you’re on another planet. You’ll have to force yourself to put your camera down with the number of Instagram-worthy moments. Plus, there are plenty of furry friends to meet along the way like horses and sheep.
You should take at least a week for the road so you don’t feel the need to rush through everything. Being able to admire the magnificence of the country at your pace is one of the best parts of traveling alone! But keep an eye out for road conditions that might impact your ability to travel from one destination to the next. When I toured through the road, the wind and rain were so strong that sometimes the roads were closed due to flooding, so keep track before you go. You can read my full list of tips for the ring road here.
The Golden Circle is another option if you’re shorter on time that hits some of the most popular natural attractions in Iceland. It’s a short drive from Reykjavík and can be done in a day. The 190-mile circular route focuses on three sites: the Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Þingvellir National Park. The route is comprehensive of Iceland’s geographic diversity, and by the time you finish your drive, you’ll understand why people call Iceland the “land of fire and ice”.
One thing I wish I did when I completed the Golden Circle was snorkel at the Silfra fissure within Þingvellir. The fissure’s clear spring waters make it one of Iceland’s coolest wonders, and swimming between two tectonic plates is definitely something on my bucket list for next time. It’s also a great way to meet other travelers.
Sometimes I preferred to explore Iceland’s scenery on foot, which was easily doable with the variety of hikes available during the short summer. Fimmvörðuháls hike is Iceland’s most popular hike that offers some amazing glacial and waterfall views (and how often can you find glaciers on an island?!) The Laugavegur Trail is another visually breathtaking look into the Icelandic wilderness. National Geographic even ranked this trail in their top 20 in the world. Both hikes take multiple days, so I recommend sleeping in reservable huts as your tent will likely get wet on the trail.
From Reykjavík’s ports, whale watching is another popular activity year round. Species like the minke whale and pilot whale flock to Iceland’s waters as a feeding ground. You might even encounter the infamous humpback whale on your excursion! Summer makes for the most comfortable viewing experience, but check the local weather before booking a trip, as bad weather can cancel your tour.
Many tourists also come to Iceland to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Due to the country’s high latitude, you can catch the natural phenomenon from September to April. There are a number of packaged tours that will take you from Reykjavík to areas with low light pollution. However, the lights are hard to predict so an aurora appearance isn’t guaranteed on a given trip. I found that taking a car gave me the ability to wait for the light displays without the pressure. Check out the Aurora Forecast for updated projections of the lights.
But if you envision your visit to Iceland as place to relax rather than explore, Blue Lagoon makes for a tranquil solo getaway. The famous geothermal spa gets its water 2000 meters below the surface and ranges in temperature between 98°F – 104°F. It’s touristy for sure, but it leaves a great last impression before heading home. There are even dedicated buses that go between the lagoon and the Reykjavík’s Keflavík airport.
When to Go and What to Bring
It goes without saying that the season you decide to visit Iceland will impact what you’ll be seeing and doing. In the summertime, the sun can shine past midnight while winters may leave you with fewer than four hours of sunlight. The good news is that Iceland is a year-round adventure that experiences much milder temperatures than the rest of the arctic, so there is always something to do.
If you’re eager to catch some of the midnight sun, summertime is a fitting time to travel. You will easily find friends among the masses of the tourists during the country’s high season. Exploring Iceland’s landscapes also be comfortable to experience both in car and on foot. However, prices will usually skyrocket and it may be hard to reserve accommodations with the influx of visitors.
The winter season is a great time to go if you’re more eager for a quiet and intimate experience. The colder months are a prime time to catch the Northern Lights, as they’re impossible to see in the summer. Temperatures drop from 50 degrees Fahrenheit in September to 20 to 30 degrees to the coldest part of winter, so it’s not a tundra by any means. However, road conditions will be harder to navigate so cross-country travel won’t be as easy as it is in the summer.
I recommend visiting during the spring or fall, where you can still enjoy warmer temperatures despite occasional snowfall. You will have the unique ability to take advantage of winter and summer-oriented trips without the crowds of the summer.
The spring and fall will also be much cheaper and easier to plan, as accommodation and tours will not have the high season prices. I paid half the cost for a camper van by renting in the fall rather than the summer. But be sure to research the opening and closing dates of the attractions, as some will change hours throughout the in-between seasons.
No matter when you decide to go, make sure you pack accordingly. In the warmer months, I recommend preparing for gear like rain boots and a waterproof jacket. Though the winter season is surprisingly mild, bring warm clothes to keep you dry when Iceland’s weather takes a frigid turn. Sturdy footwear is essential for exploring the country’s rugged terrain. And of course, don’t forget a camera for the countless photographic opportunities you’ll have! I’ve written a blog post dedicated to the ideal Iceland packing list which you can check out here.
If you’re suffering from a serious case of wanderlust, Iceland’s wonders are the perfect cure. It’s easy to love the country as a solo female traveler with plenty of opportunities for thrills without being dangerous.
After visiting Iceland, I wondered if other countries would ever reach the bar it set. Obviously, every country is special. But there’s a reason why I find Iceland an excellent place to start as a solo female traveler. You’ll leave with an appreciation for a country’s unique beauty, and before you know it you’ll find yourself planning your next solo adventure.
For more information, you can check out my comprehensive guide to fearless solo female travel here.
Are you thinking of planning a solo trip to Iceland? Do you have useful tips for a first-time solo traveler? Let me know!