Iceland's tourist season is concentrated from mid-June through August, and tourism is growing by about 10% each year; so booking ahead is often essential. Prices fall as much as 40% in the off season, but many accommodations close in winter, especially guesthouses.
Iceland is not the poor and provincial country it once was, and virtually all accommodations meet good basic standards of comfort and cleanliness. Mattress standards are particularly high.
Anti-smoking legislation that took effect in 2007 forbids smoking anywhere inside Icelandic accommodations.
Hotels -- The word "hotel" generally signifies the most luxurious choice in town, but not all hotels are superior to or more expensive than guesthouses , and not all "hotel" rooms even have private bathrooms. Expect to pay at least 12,000kr ($198/#96) for the most basic hotel double with a private bathroom, 7,000kr ($112/#56) for one without a private bathroom, or 17,000kr ($272/#136) for an average business-style room.
Icelandic Hotel Chains -- International chains have few footholds in Iceland. Icelandic chains are more common. Icelandair Hotels (tel. 444-4000; www.icehotel.is) has eight three- and four-star hotels around the country. Edda Hotels tel. 444-4000; www.hoteledda.is), in partnership with Icelandair, has 13 summer-only hotels, most of which utilize student housing; Fosshotel (tel. 562-4000; www.fosshotel.is) has 11 hotels and two guesthouses ranging from one to three stars; and Kea Hotels (tel. 460-2000; www.hotelkea.is) has six two- to four-star hotels.
Guesthouses -- Gistiheimili? (guesthouses) are a time-honored Scandinavian institution that is closely related to the "bed-and-breakfast." Rooms, which are usually in private houses, are most often cheaper than hotels and range in quality from the equivalent of a two-star hotel to a hostel. While private bathrooms are rare, most guesthouses are likely to have cooking facilities, sleeping-bag accommodation , or a family-size apartment fitting four to six people. Because Icelanders have a highly developed sense of personal privacy, the proprietors often live in a separate house. Standards of cleanliness are usually very high.
Guesthouse prices vary greatly, but a double with a shared bathroom ranges from 5,000kr to 12,000kr ($80-$192/#40-#96). About half of Icelandic guesthouses include breakfast in the room price, and the rest usually offer breakfast for an extra 900kr ($14/#7.20) or so per person.
Cabins -- Small timber cabins for travelers are sprouting up all over Iceland, usually in conjunction with an existing hotel or guesthouse. Some travelers seek them out for their comparative privacy, quiet, and convenience. The cabins are often designed for family groups of around four, with private bathrooms and cooking facilities. Prices are comparable to regular doubles.
Farm Holidays -- Staying at farmhouses is the classic Icelandic way to travel, and helps visitors feel more in tune with Iceland's cultural traditions. Every farm in Iceland has its own road sign, and farm names are often unchanged from the Age of Settlement. Towns and villages did not exist for most of Icelandic history, so farmsteads have traditionally been the organizational basis of Icelandic society.
A farm stay is simply a guesthouse in farm surroundings; expect comforts to be on par with those of a European bed-and-breakfast. Icelandic Farm Holidays (IFH) (tel. 570-2700; www.farmholidays.is) classifies its 150 accommodations as "farmhouses" (where you stay in the family's home); "farmer's guesthouses" (where you stay in a separate building); "country hotels" (with hotel-like facilities, though not always private bathrooms); and "cottages." All accommodations are rated from the most basic, Category I, through Category IV, which guarantees well-equipped rooms with private bathrooms. Many farms offer sleeping-bag accommodation or camping. Most provide meals on request and allow use of a guest kitchen. Many have hot tubs.
Many farms offer horseback riding or other activities. Most do not offer visitors a chance to participate in the rituals of farm life, but you can always ask -- they might be pleasantly surprised.
Sleeping-Bag Accommodation -- For hardy visitors on a budget, the Icelandic custom of svefnpoka gisting, or "sleeping-bag accommodation," can feel like a gift from the travel gods. In many guesthouses, farm stays, and even some hotels, travelers with their own sleeping bags can get around 35% to 50% off on room rates. (You can bring other linens, but sleeping bags are preferred for their warmth and portability.) For the most part the beds, rooms, and amenities are the same; you're simply sparing the management the trouble of washing sheets. You won't find sleeping-bag rooms with private bathrooms, however, except in rare instances. We list sleeping-bag accommodation availability and pricing in our accommodation listings, but you should always ask, nonetheless. Some accommodations offer sleeping-bag accommodation only in the off season. In Reykjavik sleeping-bag accommodation has been almost entirely phased out.
The Case for Hostels -- Iceland's 25 youth hostels are hardly the exclusive domain of young backpackers. All hostels have good basic standards of service and cleanliness. Some are almost indistinguishable from guesthouses or farm stays. Most offer doubles, though the majority of rooms sleep three to six; and private bathrooms are an extreme rarity. All hostels give you the option of sleeping-bag accommodation or sheet rental. All have guest kitchens, and some offer meals and self-service laundry. In some remote destinations in Iceland, hostels may be your only option for lodging and dining, as well as an excellent source of tourist information.
All youth hostels in Iceland can be booked through one convenient central office (tel. 553-8110; www.hostel.is). The website includes good deals on adventure tours and a popular car rental package with hostel vouchers. Hostels tend to fill up even faster than hotels and guesthouses in high season, so plan ahead. Many hostels close in winter. Children 5 to 12 usually stay half price.
A Youth Hostelling International membership (www.hihostels.com), which gives you a 20% discount on rates, can be purchased before you leave home.
Camping -- Iceland's many campsites make the country far more accessible to travelers of limited means. Camping typically costs only 500kr to 800kr ($8-$13/#4-#6.40) per person per night, and a few municipal campsites are free.
Icelandic campsites are safe, conveniently located, and plentiful: virtually every village has one. (Even in Reykjavik the campground is right next to the city's biggest geothermal pool, and near buses to the airport and city center.) Many campsites are adjoined to farm accommodations, even to guesthouses or hotels, not to mention all the hiking trails. Because Icelanders themselves love to camp, campsites can also be great places to meet natives.
Camping and car rental are a perfect duo in Iceland. The money you save on accommodations can go toward the car, and the car grants you the flexibility, mobility, and secure luggage storage camping doesn't normally afford. Many visitors on a budget try to do without a rental car, only to wish they had brought a tent and sleeping bag instead.
The Camping Card (www.campingcard.is) instituted in 2006 is an unbeatable deal. It grants you (plus your spouse and up to four children under the age of 16) unlimited access to 27 campsites across the country for the entire summer at a cost of only 9,900kr ($158/#79). See their website for a list and map of participating sites; many desirable campgrounds, such as those in T?ingvellir National Park, are not included. The card can be purchased online or in Iceland at N1 gas stations.
Facilities at campsites vary greatly. Some have washing machines, electricity, hot showers, and kitchens; others have only a cold-water tap and toilets. In parks and nature reserves, camping is permitted only in designated areas.
Most campsites are open June through mid-September. Camping is usually not feasible in winter, though some campsites remain open, and you can always shower at the local pool.
Iceland's heavy winds and rains present a serious challenge for campers. You'll need a very strong, waterproof tent, with the maximum number of pegs, a good sleeping mat, and a waterproof sheet for under the tent. Wood can rarely be found for campfires even when they're allowed, so bring a good stove, too. Canisters for common stove fuels are easily found in gas stations.
Campsites are not listed in this guide, but as you can see, we hardly mean to discourage their use. A comprehensive list of campsites can be found at www.camping.is. Nordic Adventure Travel (www.nat.is) also has a helpful map of the sites. The free camping directory Utilega Tjaldsv??i Islands is available at any tourist information center.
Mountain Huts -- Hiking organizations maintain about 70 "mountain huts" in remote interior and coastal locations, many accessible only to hikers. Mountain huts can be anything from multi-story structures with kitchens and wardens to bare-bones shacks. Be prepared for a lack of privacy in these accommodations: As many as 30 people can be sleeping in sardine formation on narrow foam mattresses on the floor. Sleeping space can be reserved in most huts, and many are fully booked weeks or months in advance in high season. Costs in the most popular huts are typically around 2,500kr ($40/#20) per person per night.
Rentals -- Renting a house or apartment can be a wonderful and economical option. RENT (tel. 555-7017; www.rent.is) is Iceland's best resource for rentals, from individual rooms to fully furnished apartments to a cabin near T?orsmork, short-term or long-term.
Viatour (tel. 425-0300; www.viatour.is) is another good agency for summer house rentals, with a minimum stay of 3 or 4 nights.
House- & Couch-Swapping -- House-swapping (along with its humble cousin, couch-swapping) is becoming a more popular and viable means of travel; you stay in their place, they stay in yours, and you both get a more authentic and personal view of a destination. HomeLink International (homelink.org; $75 yearly membership) is the largest and oldest home-swapping organization, founded in 1952, with more than 11,000 listings worldwide. InterVac.com ($68.88 yearly membership) with over 10,000 listings is also reliable. Both sites have plenty of Icelandic offerings. www.couchsurfing.com is a free online forum for finding (and offering) a free bed, and hundreds of Reykjavikians are signed up.
The Star-Rating System
Icelandic hotels are rated on a voluntary basis by the government on a one- to five-star scale. One star means breakfast is available and your room has a sink, among other minimum standards. Two stars means more options for meals and refreshments. Three stars means all rooms have private bathrooms, phones, TVs, radios, and desks. Four stars means easy chairs, satellite channels, room service, and laundry service. Five stars means room safes, secretarial services, exercise facilities, and shops -- but not a single Icelandic hotel has earned this designation.
Many fine hotels and guesthouses opt out of the rating system, however, because the standardized criteria do not serve them well. A hotel in an old house, for instance, could be demoted a star if just one of its rooms lacks the requisite square footage. Accommodations with individualized room designs are particularly ill-served by the system.
Searching for Accommodations in Iceland
We list and describes the best accommodations Iceland has to offer. The options listed here could all be full, however, or you may need to find accommodations better suited to your itinerary.
The free 240-page booklet Around Iceland lists every accommodation option in the entire country, along with all restaurants; museums; gas stations; notable sites, hikes, and events; as well as services. It's available wherever tourists roam in Iceland, or you can download each chapter free at www.heimur.is/world. Aning, another useful publication from the same source, focuses exclusively on accommodations -- and features photographs and more service details -- but is less complete.
Icelanders' embrace of the Internet has made finding accommodations radically easier. The websites of regional tourist offices, listed in the respective chapters of this book, have good accommodations listings. Most Icelandic villages also have their own websites detailing lodging and other services; the website is usually the name of the village (disregard the accents, and substitute "d" for "?" and "th" for "t?") with "www." before and ."is" after. Note, however, that many Icelandic villages have the same name.
The site www.accommodation.is has a user-friendly search engine that lists accommodations (and contact info) by location. Hotels in Iceland (www.hotels.is) and Reykjavik Center (www.reykjavikcenter.is) take it up a notch by indicating availability of rooms or sleeping spaces within a specified time frame. The latter site, despite its name, covers the whole country.
More Money-Saving Tips
- Book rooms with access to a kitchen. Restaurants are particularly expensive in Iceland, and you can save money by cooking for yourself.
- Ask about apartments and "family rooms" if you are traveling in a group of three or more. These types of rooms are very common in Iceland, but are not always well-advertised.
- Act noncommittal. Many Icelandic guesthouses quote different prices to different people. Always ask for a price before committing, even if the guesthouse has a published rate. They could quote something lower to snag your business.
- Be wary of packages and group tour rates. Icelandic guesthouses often quote a higher rate to a travel agent than to an individual calling directly, especially outside of Reykjavik.
- Ask about special rates or other discounts. You may qualify for corporate, student, military, senior, frequent flier, trade union, or other discounts. Children's discounts are very common in Iceland.
- Book online. Internet-only discounts are very common in Iceland; many accommodations have a standard discount every time you book online. Some supply rooms to Priceline, Hotwire, or Expedia at rates lower than the ones you can get through the hotel itself.
- Remember the law of supply and demand. You can save big on hotel rooms by traveling in Iceland's off season or shoulder seasons, when rates typically drop, even at luxury properties.
Landing the Best Room
Travelers often assume they want a room with lots of natural light. In the nonstop daylight of Iceland's early summer, however, you might want to request a room with less sun exposure and/or good blackout curtains.
If you're a light sleeper, ask for a quieter room away from vending or ice machines, elevators, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Icelanders have a well-earned reputation for late-night partying on Friday and Saturday nights.
Note: Top sheets are generally not even an option in Icelandic accommodations. Also, filtered coffeemakers are rare: When we list "coffee/tea" in this guide among the hotel amenities, it usually refers to an electric hot water kettle, instant coffee, and teabags.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.