Iceland June 2020 update: Re-opening to tourists!

We’ve said this before, and we’ll say this again: Iceland has done an incredible job of handling the coronavirus. Here’s a graph of the number of new Covid-19 infections by day in Iceland:

There are almost no new cases in Iceland: They are finding about 1 new case every other day. That’s data from Iceland’s Covid19 web site. With coronavirus basically eliminated from Iceland, they are getting ready to re-open to tourists. But that presents a new risk. There are over 100,000 new cases of Covid-19 diagnosed across the world every day. An influx of infected tourists could lead to a second outbreak in Iceland. Let’s look more closely at what’s happening in Iceland right now.

Iceland is slowly re-opening, without tourists

Because there is no longer community spread if Covid-19 in Iceland, life in Iceland is starting to return to normal, except for the lack of tourists. I love this headline:

And Icelanders took advantage of relaxed travel restrictions this past weekend to travel: Bumper to Bumper Traffic on First Major Travel Weekend of the Year

Iceland’s Plan for Welcoming Back Tourists

If you arrive in Iceland today, you’d need to quarantine for 2 weeks. No later than June 15th (which everyone seems to think means starting June 15th) you will have 3 options instead of just the one quarantine option:

  1. You can still quarantine for 2 weeks. But who’s going to choose that?!
  2. You can be tested for Covid-19 when you arrive at the airport, and also download a contact tracing app on your phone. More on this option in a minute.
  3. You can bring proof of a negative Covid-19 test with you. There are very few details about what type of proof will be required, and how recent the test has to be.

Update June 2, 2020: We have a few more details on option #3 today:

Þórólfur’s proposal indicates that travellers who can show proof that they have tested negative for COVID-19 up to four days before travelling will be exempt from quarantine. However, Þórólfur warns that antibody tests are not as reliable as other forms of testing, so may not be allowed as evidence that a traveller has recovered from the virus.

Update June 3, 2020: You can also bring proof that you’ve already had COVID-19!

Option #2 is the primary option. From June 15th until June 30th, the testing will be free. As The Reykjavik Grapevine puts it:

In other words, if you think you might have COVID-19, but you can’t get tested, come to Iceland and we’ll test you for free. But hurry! This offer only lasts two weeks.

After June 30th, you will have to pay for the coronavirus test. It costs 50000 ISK per test, which is $345 US (€320.) That’s per person! The price will hopefully come down as they do more tests. At the beginning, they will only be able to handle 1,000 tests per day (at most.)

Update June 2, 2020: They will only be performing 500 tests per day initially, and hopefully ramping up to 4000 per day.

What if you test positive for Covid-19?

Update June 3, 2020: It sounds likely that if you test positive, you’ll be forced to quarantine in Iceland for 14 days! See this comment on Reddit were I try to translate the document that outlines the process. Here’s the relevant section of the order, translated by Google:

“It is also important to note that, in most cases, the travelers identified here with the virus need to stay here for at least an isolation period of at least 14 days and travelers who may have been exposed / infected need to stay here in quarantine for up to 14 days.”

I worry that if anyone on your airplane into Iceland tests positive, you might be forced to quarantine for a least a few days, and up to 14 days!!!

Icelandair worries, and Play’s Persistent Plans

If you plan to head to Iceland soon, Icelandair is the most likely airline to get you there. Icelandair hasn’t been making much money recently; no airline has. And now there are concerns that they could go out of business:

Icelandair comprises the lion’s share of flights to and from Iceland. Since last March, however, they have had to drastically cut back the destinations they fly from. They’ve laid off about 95% of their crew, and the remaining flight attendants are fighting for higher wages. The company is, in fact, on the brink of bankruptcy.

Discount Icelandic carrier Wow Air went out of business last year. A new airline, Play is trying to emerge from Wow’s ashes. But they’ve been trying for a while, and still haven’t flown any flights. Play’s web site still says they will start selling tickets “soon” but they’ve been using the word soon for more than 6 months. Here’s an old screenshot from last fall:

There is talk that Play could swoop in and take over as the main national carrier from Icelandair. But Play hopes to have just a single plane flying, and not until this fall. So that doesn’t seem like a likely transition right now, unless they take over operations from Icelandair.

The good news is that Icelandair is still flying, and flights aren’t overly expensive, though prices are creeping up. Still, prices are at the lower end of the typical range, and you can find nonstop flights for under $600 from the United States. Here’s a flight from Chicago (ORD) in August:

Tourism Costs Within Iceland are Falling

If you can get to Iceland, costs should be lower this summer compared to the last few  years. First, the Icelandic currency is worth about 10% less than it was a year ago, though the gap is closing. That means your money buys more Icelandic Krona. Here’s how many Icelandic Krona 1 US dollar buys you:

Also, many hotels are offering discounts; 25% off for the summer seems typical. (Here’s an example at Íslandshótels which has 17 hotels in Iceland.)

And tour companies are starting to offer discounts as well. For example, Láki Tours is offering free whale watching trips for anyone 15 and under:

Should you Visit Iceland this Summer?

Should you visit? That’s a tough question. I don’t think it’s as simple as deciding to go on vacation for a week. There’s a real chance that could get stuck in Iceland for a little while. Not a huge chance, but a bigger chance than you would think with most vacations. You could test positive for coronavirus, and be forced to quarantine for 2 weeks. In Iceland! Or you could come into contact with someone who tests positive, either in Iceland or on the airplane. We don’t yet know what needs to happen after that.

And, Icelandair could stop flying. I don’t think this is likely, but I also didn’t think Wow Air would go out of business! When Wow shut down last year, there was no warning, and travelers scrambled to find flights home.

Also, if you don’t get to Iceland in June, the Covid-19 testing will cost hundreds of dollars, or thousands of dollars for a family. That negates any of the cost savings I cited above.

And if you’re in a country that has community spread of Covid-19, traveling to Iceland introduces a whole new set of risks. You’re in close quarters with a lot of other people in line for security, and at the gate, and in the airplane.

On the other hand, it’s likely that Iceland is safer than your home country. Iceland runs more tests than just about any other country, and the way they’ve handled the outbreak has won praise around the world. You’d get to experience a less-crowded and still-amazing country with little risk of contracting Covid-19 while you were in Iceland.

But the risk of travel is still high, and the US State Department still recommends against international travel. (Maybe that’s more than a recommendation? It says “Do Not Travel.”)

I think we’re staying home this summer.

What about you? Are you planning to visit Iceland?

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Iceland and Coronavirus: Should you visit this summer?

When we published our last Coronavirus (Covid-19) in Iceland post in mid-March, the situation was so bad that things were pretty clear. Travel bans were piling up, and you shouldn’t visit Iceland, even if you were allowed to. Within a few weeks, no one was allowed to visit anyway.

It seems the world is slowly reopening. Now, in mid-May 2020, we’ll ask the question again. Should you visit Iceland once you’re allowed to? And when will you be allowed to?

Edit: Soon after I published this post, Iceland announced a plan to allow visitors after June 15th. This would involve testing nearly all travelers at the airport upon arrival, a possibility I quickly dismissed below. I’ll add updates as they happen.

Update May 18, 2020: Here are more details about how visiting Iceland will work this summer:

– Starting June 15th, you can visit Iceland (if you can get there!) You will be tested for Covid-19 at the airport, and you should receive results the same day.

– The test will be free for the first 2 weeks. But starting in July, you must pay for the test. It costs 50000 ISK per test, which is $345 US (€320.) That’s per person!

The only way to avoid the test and the fee is to bring your own test with you, proving you tested negative for Covid-19. don’t know how recent the test needs to be.

As The Reykjavík Grapevine says:

“In other words, if you think you might have COVID-19, but you can’t get tested, come to Iceland and we’ll test you for free. But hurry! This offer only lasts two weeks.”

Iceland has done a world-class job handling coronavirus

I don’t think that there is any argument here: Iceland has done an incredible job handling the pandemic. Perhaps the best out of any country in the world. Here’s some evidence. First, Iceland has almost completely stopped the spread of Coronavirus. Take a look at this chart from Iceland’s Coronavirus web site (click that link for the updated data):

The blue bars are active Coronavirus cases. There are 18 active cases, and only 2 new cases in the last week. Iceland ran 3,789 tests between May 3 and May 9, and found 2 new cases. That’s a clear sign that there is almost no spread of the Coronavirus in Iceland.

Check out Iceland’s Coronavirus web site. Even it is world class!

The world has noticed that Iceland is doing a world-class job handling COVID-19.

Take a look at some news articles:

What Iceland Can Teach the World About Minimizing COVID-19

Iceland has been a world leader in mitigating the threat from COVID-19, the unique and potentially lethal disease caused by the novel coronavirus that’s causing a global pandemic. It’s nearly quashed the virus within its shores thanks to a robust regimen of testing, contact-tracing and isolation, as well as genetic sequencing of the virus.
On a per-capita basis, no country has done more testing.

What Do Countries With The Best Coronavirus Responses Have In Common? Women Leaders

Iceland, under the leadership of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, is offering free coronavirus testing to all its citizens, and will become a key case study in the true spread and fatality rates of COVID-19. Most countries have limited testing to people with active symptoms. Iceland is going whole hog. In proportion to its population the country has already screened five times as many people as South Korea has, and instituted a thorough tracking system that means they haven’t had to lock down or shut schools.

Iceland Begins to Reopen After Rigorous Testing Helps Contain Coronavirus Outbreak

Over the past six weeks, Iceland has tested more than 13 percent of its population, which is the highest percentage of any country in the world.

Iceland’s Aggressive COVID-19 Testing Helped Curb Outbreak

Stefánsson told Meg Tirrell during an interview on CNBC that what is different about Iceland’s response to COVID-19 is both that they started screening very early and that they are testing the general population in addition to people at high risk. It is the combination, he asserts, of broad-based screening, vigorous tracking of contacts of the infected, followed by isolation of the infected and quarantining of their contacts that seems to have “brought this epidemic under some sort of control.”

Iceland wants to re-open to tourists

Right now, Iceland is more or less closed to tourists; through May 15th, anyone entering Iceland must self-quarantine for 14 days. Unless you plan to stay for the summer (go for it!) a 14-day quarantine puts a damper on most vacations.

Iceland’s economy relies on tourism; this is new in the last 15 years or so. In 2019, around 40% of revenue came from tourism. Right now that number is about 0%. So of course Iceland wants to re-open and welcome tourists again. And the government is working on ways to do that:

[V]arious ways of reopening Iceland to tourism are being discussed by members of the Icelandic government and officials and specialists in the health care sector. One of the options under discussion is whether traveling should be allowed on certain conditions. There is great emphasis on ensuring that there won’t be a setback in the fight against COVID-19.

Is it possible that Iceland will re-open to tourists after May 15th? Probably not. In the article above, the Foreign Minister is asked whether an August re-opening is possible, and he says he doesn’t know. So May 15th seems unlikely.

Iceland probably won’t re-open yet, but some people may be able to visit in the fall

Late summer seems like a plausible guess to me. I don’t think Iceland will re-open unless there is an extremely low probability that a visitor has coronavirus. Otherwise, they would need to have rigorous testing in place, which could mean testing every single person entering through Keflavik Airport. Iceland has the means to do this, but this may not work logistically. If one person on a flight tests positive, does the entire plane load of people get sent back home? Or quarantined for 14 days? Who’s going to visit Iceland with that risk?

My best guess is that Iceland will re-open to tourists in late August, but maybe only to tourists from low-risk countries:

“Our attention focuses mainly on tourists who have booked trips to Iceland in late August and this fall and haven’t canceled yet.”

Sadly, I’m not sure if the United States will be one of those low-risk countries. I took a look at new COVID-10 cases for the countries that send the most tourists to Iceland. I took the country list from the Icelandic Tourism Board. Here is a chart of the number of new cases of COVID-19 per million people for May 11th:

Source: Worldometers and Iceland With Kids

The UK and the USA have the third and fourth highest rates of new infections. And the article above talks about the possibility that “travel to Nordic countries might be allowed in August.” Sweden is higher than the other Nordic countries, but Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway, and Finland are all much much lower than the US and the UK.

Summary: When will Iceland re-open?

This is pure speculation right now. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Iceland re-opens in late August or early September … but not to visitors from the United States or the UK.

If coronavirus cases start to increase again in the fall and winter, visitors from the US and UK might not be welcome in Iceland until spring or summer 2021.

What do you think?

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Coronavirus and Iceland: Should you still visit Iceland?

UPDATE April 23, 2020: Iceland has announced a 14-day quarantine for ALL travelers, including tourists. The quarantine is in effect from April 24 – May 15th. The details below no longer apply during this period.

If you have a vacation planned to Iceland in the next month or two, should you still go? Will Iceland let you in? Will they let you out? Will you be able to return home?

(This post is mostly focused on travelers from the United States, though the advice would be similar for people from other countries!)

Iceland has coronavirus cases, like almost every other country

First, let’s look at where Iceland is with the outbreak. As of today (March 15, 2020) Iceland has 161 cases of Coronavirus. That’s a big number for a country of about 365,000 people. The rate of coronavirus in Iceland infection is 44 per 100,000 people. If the United States had that rate of infection, there would be nearly 145,000 cases.

The United States “only” has about 3,000 cases identified right now. At first glance it sounds like Iceland is in much worse shape. But I don’t really think that’s true. The US might actually have 145,000 cases. Or more: An official in Ohio estimates that there could be 100,000 cases there.

It is likely that Iceland has more confirmed cases for one simple reason: Iceland is testing a lot more people. Iceland has tested over 1,200 people, or 0.3% of the entire country. If the US had tested 0.3% of the population, they would have run close to a million tests. But the actual number is under 20,000.

Update: Iceland has tested nearly 1,900 samples. Here’s great data directly from the Icelandic government:

Iceland is still welcoming tourists (but see the edit below)

EDIT April 19: For the first time, I saw a quarantine mentioned for tourists visiting Iceland:

In related news, chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason announced yesterday that the possibility is being explored of having tourists visiting Iceland go into an immediate 2-week quarantine. This measure is already required of Icelanders returning home from abroad.

Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, the managing director of the Icelandic Tourist Board, expressed misgivings at the idea telling reporters that this would effectively make the country as good as closed, as no one visits Iceland just to go straight into quarantine.

Here is what I wrote in March, which is still technically true for visitors from the EU region.

On the one hand, Iceland has been very clear that they are welcoming tourists. I would argue that they are bending over backwards to welcome tourists; hopefully infected tourists aren’t increasing coronavirus cases in the country.

Promote Iceland, the Icelandic Tourism organization, says it plainly: “It is important to note that Iceland remains open and there are no travel restrictions in place for travel to the country or within it.

And the official Icelandic government web site for Covid-19 says the same thing: “Tourists traveling to Iceland do not need to go into quarantine.” Icelandic citizens returning from high-risk countries have to self-quarantine when entering Iceland, but tourists do not need to.

It’s harder to get to Iceland now

Airlines are cancelling flights at a rapid pace. The new United States travel ban includes Iceland, which means that only US Citizens are allowed to fly from Iceland to the United States. So Icelandair and other airlines can still fly from Iceland to the US, but those planes are going to have many fewer people on them. Icelandair has cut its US service down to only 4 cities: New York, Seattle, Chicago, and Washington DC.

American Airlines, Delta and others are also slashing flights to Europe.

The United States recommends you don’t travel anywhere

The US State Department has a system that tells you how safe they consider an international destination. It has 4 levels:

Iceland is more or less always at Level 1. It’s the safest country in the world, so that makes sense!

But the State Department has issued a Global Level 3 alert, recommending everyone reconsider travel. Level 3 is usually reserved for countries with war zones or gangs that kidnap tourists; a global Level 3 alert is unprecedented.

It’s not fun coming back to the United States

So Iceland will welcome you. The State Department doesn’t want you to go, but you’re allowed to go. Now there’s a new issue: People returning from Europe are spending hours in line.

Airports around the country were thrown into chaos Saturday night as workers scrambled to roll out the Trump administration’s hastily arranged health screenings for travelers returning from Europe.

It sounds awful, at least right now:

Things are getting worse, and changing quickly

Iceland is about to implement a ban on gatherings of more than 100 people. The reason is because of community spread of coronavirus in Iceland:

The decision was made to impose this ban now, since some cases of the virus can no longer be traced, and the number of cases keeps rising. The main purpose of the ban is to protect groups that are at risk, due to underlying conditions or old age, and to reduce the load on our healthcare system to make sure it has the capacity to attend to those who need care.

I don’t think you should visit Iceland right now

I feel bad saying this, since Iceland relies on tourism dollars to support its economy. (And, selfishly, I’d love for you to buy my book!)

But you shouldn’t travel to Iceland right now. (You probably shouldn’t travel anywhere right now!) If you already have a trip planned, you should be able to change your flight date: Icelandair is temporarily waiving change fees. Of course, they may have already cancelled your flight!

Let me know (comment below or e-mail) if you’ve canceled your trip, or if you’re still planning to visit Iceland!

Iceland Update, March 2020: Coronavirus, frequent winter storms, new caves, restaurants and more!

Hi everyone! Spring is getting here slowly, but you wouldn’t know it from the recent weather! Let’s dive in to what’s new in Iceland.

NOTE as of April 2021: This is a post from March of 2020, the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Look how quaint the map is, with 88 total Covid cases in the United States and 3 total in Iceland! Feel free to read to get a historical overview as of this point in time. Or, check out our more recent coverage of rules for visiting Iceland in 2021, and even Iceland’s newest volcano! Also a quick plug: We’ll help you plan your vacation to Iceland! Back to our March 2020 article. Enjoy!

Coronavirus in Iceland

Coronavirus has been found in 67 different countries as of March 1, and that number is sure to go up. Iceland joined that list on February 28, 2020 with its first case of coronavirus, and then case number 2 came the next day, on March 1. And apparently a third case on March 2, according to this map from the New York Times?

(Edit: Here’s the latest information from March 3rd: 9 cases in Iceland now. Er, make that 11. Now 16. 34) So what does that mean? Well, I have no idea. On the one hand, Iceland is a small country, and as an island they can easily control people coming in and out. This time of year I think the only ways in and out of the country are the big international airport, and a weekly ferry from the Faroe Islands. (Late spring brings flights from Greenland into the Reykjavik City airport, and lots of cruise ships docking at Akureyri, Seyðisfjörður and other ports.) And Iceland is pretty good at tracking where people are. (Did you know that Iceland has a new location-based text messaging system in place for emergency situations?)

On the other hand, this may be a virus that we can’t really stop without extreme measures. We take it as a given that we can’t prevent the flu every season– we can only slow it down or make the symptoms less severe.

Here’s a scary Iceland headline: “Closing the Country Still and Option.” But that’s from a study group, not the Icelandic government. It’s possible Iceland will limit visitors from countries with high levels of coronavirus, as the United States and other countries have done. If that happens, I imagine it will happen in the next few weeks. I don’t think your summer 2020 trip is at risk (and might be less expensive!), but I don’t know much more than you do!

Keep an eye on Icelandic news sites like Iceland Monitor for the latest information.

A winter of many storms

Coronavirus has taken over the headlines in Iceland, but for months it was nothing but winter weather. A series of severe winter storms pounded Iceland, creating many stuck travelers and many cancelled flights. Here’s my non-comprehensive summary, starting from late December. Nearly all of the articles cited below are from the Reykjavik Grapevine newspaper.

Picture from the Facebook page of Kyndill rescue team, via Iceland Monitor.

January 20, 2020: The mood of the season is perhaps best captured by this Grapevine headline: Great, Another Stinkin’ Yellow Warning

The trouble started around 5pm on Thursday, when police in South Iceland were notified that a car had gotten stuck in the snow on the bridge over Jökulsá á Sólheimasandi glacial river, blocking all other traffic. By the time police arrived, many other vehicles had queued on either side of the bridge while heavy snow continued to fall. In the end, ICE-SAR had to transport passengers from 45 vehicles to temporary overnight accommodations, either at a hotel in Skógar or a shelter that the Red Cross opened in Heimaland.

That’s a lot of storms! Does that mean you should never plan a winter trip to Iceland? Not at all. While that is a long list of storms, 14 storms in 70 days still leaves a large number of days where you can travel just fine. (Still always make sure to check,, and every day!)

My biggest takeaway is this:

When in Iceland, you have to be willing to change your plans!

You probably have lodging booked, and you may have a tour booked as well. If there’s a yellow alert in the area where you plan to be, I would cancel. Even if it means losing some money. (Hopefully the company would be willing to work with you.)

There’s currently a debate in Iceland about whether companies should cancel tours when a yellow alert is issued. “A yellow weather alert does not automatically mean that organized trips in Iceland must be canceled, according to Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, CEO of SAF, the Icelandic Travel Industry Association.”

That’s fine … but I’m not showing up!

If you’re in Iceland during the winter, be careful, go slow, and be ready to change your plans.

New (but very old) caves to explore

It isn’t all coronavirus and winter storms in Iceland. You can now take a guided tour of some ancient, man-made caves. Complete with wall carvings and carved seats! And it looks amazing:

These caves could have been constructed 1,000 years ago … or even longer ago! The Grapevine says: “The caves feature drawings and carvings on the walls as well as carved seats. Many have wondered if they are the handiwork of the Celts, or whether the caves were a place of worship. Currently a restoration project is underway, supervised by the Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland. The goal of the restoration is to eventually open more of the caves to the public, and all income generated from those that are currently open will go to this end.”

See more information or book a tour at

A new restaurant in Reykjavik and a reclaimed Michelin Star

There are two new restaurants in Reykjavik. First is Flame, which opened at the very end of January. It looks like an upscale Japanese steakhouse, with chefs cooking on expansive grills right in front of you:

It’s a pricey place, but there’s is at least a nice kid’s menu that could help to lower the cost a bit.

For exactly a year, Iceland had no restaurant with a Michelin star. Dill Restaurant earned a star in 2017, and then lost it in 2019. Now in 2020, Dill reclaimed that star! It’s fun for me to follow the gain and loss of a star, but for the chef involved there’s a whole lot of fretting and stress:

When Dill lost its Michelin star last year, Gunnar Karl was living in New York. He decided to return home to Iceland and work to regain the star, whatever the cost.

Congratulations to Gunnar Karl and his team! Here’s a review of the restaurant from just before it reclaimed that star.

New snakes at the Reykjavik Zoo

The Reykjavik Zoo plans to acquire up to 5 new python snakes. Well, at least they now have the authorization to go buy some snakes. This news led to the best Icelandic new headline in recent months, courtesy of the Grapevine: Proposed Permanent Python Perturbs Politician.

Both of the above articles have stock photos of snakes, just in case you’re not a big fan of snakes. With or without snakes, we like the Reykjavik Zoo and Family Park. It’s not very expensive, and there are lots of other things to see nearby (if you can get out to this part of town.)

We published a new edition of Iceland With Kids!

One last piece of “news”: We published the second edition of our travel guide book in February. You can buy the book on Amazon. Or follow us on Facebook or Instagram to see some of the new places we cover in the new edition!

Looking for more help with your trip? Itinerary planning, or maybe even a personal tour guide? We’re considering offering new services for Iceland travelers. E-mail us if you’re interested; since we’re just getting started, it will be cheaper than you think!

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