Ireland or Iceland: 13 Points to Deciding Which Trip is for You

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Last Updated on: 19th September 2021, 05:52 pm

A lot of travelers, especially those of us from North America, think of taking a trip to Iceland or Ireland as one of our first European vacations.

The flights are shorter, and there are usually great deals on round-trip airfare. Plus, we’re practically flooded with images of both of these beautiful countries every day. But which country is right for your next trip, Ireland or Iceland?

Here are thirteen points to consider.

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Choose Ireland if…

In the battle of Ireland versus Iceland, choose Ireland if these next four points are important to you.

…You Love to Have a Drink While You Travel

Ireland - Dingle - Dick Mack's Pub

Ireland is famous for its beer culture, while Iceland is…not. There’s almost nothing as delicious as a Guinness in Ireland, whereas I literally gave away my Icelandic beer because it was hard to drink.

Plus it was crazy expensive for bad beer. Prefer cocktails? Well, liquor in Iceland is super pricey, and the local aquavit, Brennevin, is like Jagermeister mixed with Rakia or Grappa.

I’m not saying I don’t like drinking in Iceland, I’m just saying if I wanted to relax with some drinks Iceland is the last place on Earth I’d choose for vacation.

See also
23 Spectacular Things to Do in Dingle & Bonus Travel Guide

…You Want to Tour (or Sleep in) a Castle

Ireland - Dubin Castle - Pixabay

Ireland is crawling with castles! You can visit them all over the Emerald Isle, from Dublin Castle in the city to gorgeous country castles to ones that have been converted into modern-day hotels.

So whether you want to go on a historic castle tour or sleep next to a cozy fireplace in a turret, Ireland is tops when it comes to castle travel.

…You Want a Traditional City Break

Ireland - Dublin - Blooms Hotel Mural Street Art

I love Reykjavik, but Dublin is much more of a traditional city (with all the amenities that comes with).

Dubin’s population is just over half a million, while Reykjavik has a little over one hundred thousand people. That means that Dublin is similar in population to Las Vegas, while Reykjavik has about the same amount of people as Olathe, Kansas.

Yes, Iceland’s capital has an urban core, but Dublin is a truly world-class city.

…You’re a Budget Traveler

Ireland - Kenmare - Bay of Kenmare Seals

Ireland isn’t the cheapest place in the world to travel, but it is much easier to stick to a tight budget here as opposed to Iceland.

While lodging is traditionally pricier, there are good deals to be found if you look hard enough. If you also cook for yourself and stick to free sights, you can achieve an Ireland trip on a budget.

Though you’d be happier here if you can travel on $100 a day, which will stretch MUCH farther here than in Iceland. Bottom line: neither are cheap places to travel, but Iceland is way more expensive. (Even after factoring in budget flights).

Choose Iceland if…

Still can’t decide if Iceland or Ireland is right for you? Here are four reasons you should pick Iceland.

…You’re Obsessed with Horses

Iceland - Reykjavik - Icelandic Horses

Icelandic horses are the absolute best, and they are so cool to see in person, with their hipster haircuts and shaggy fur coasts. Spending a few minutes admiring them (and taking Iceland horse selfies) is totally worth flying all the way to Iceland for. Trust me.

See also
23 Fantastic Things to Do in Iceland in October & Bonus Travel Guide

…You Want to Chase Waterfalls

Iceland - Skogar - Skogafoss Stephanie

Iceland has waterfalls. I don’t think that’s a secret, but what’s less well known is that they are super easy to see!

Gullfoss is part of the main Golden Triangle tour that many people take from Reykjavik, while many other amazing Icelandic waterfalls are located right off the ring road. If you go on an Icelandic road trip, it’s easy to see quite a few waterfalls in a relatively short amount of time!

…You Want to See the Nothern Lights

Iceland - Northern Lights - Pixabay

Sadly, I didn’t get to see the northern lights while I was in Iceland, but it’s on my bucket list.

Yes, you can sometimes see them in Ireland, but it is much rarer. If your goal is to see the Northern Lights while on your trip, then Iceland is the only right answer to the game of Iceland versus Ireland.

…You Aren’t Super Budget Conscious

Iceland - Reykjavik - Sun Voyager Scuplture

Iceland is just not a cheap place to travel. Even if you can keep your overall costs down, its stressful watching twenty dollars go to a hot dog and a soda.

Forget about how pricey it is to rent a car or eat a meal out at a nice restaurant. If pinching pennies, or even monitoring them closely, is going to stress you out, the pick Ireland.

However, if you have some leeway or if you have a larger amount of cash to spend on your trip, then Iceland is the trip of a lifetime you’ve been waiting to take.

Choose Both for…

Still can’t decide if you should pick Ireland or Iceland? Here are five things that both countries have in common, so you’ll be happy to experience them no matter which country you pick.

…Mysterious Beaches

Iceland - Vik - Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

The black sand beaches near Vik in southern Iceland aren’t the only gorgeous North Atlantic beaches to consider.

Since both countries are northern islands, both countries have wild, windy (cold) beaches to appreciate. I love walking and photographing them, but some people do get the gear and have the skills needed to surf them!

See also
27 Hilarious Iceland Puns & Instagram Caption Inspiration

…Viking Tourism

Iceland - Reykjavik - Thingvellir

Yes, Iceland is more commonly associated with Viking history, but both Iceland and Ireland have a ton of it.

Dublin was actually founded by Vikings. In fact. both Reykjavik and Dublin were founded by Vikings at close to the same time. So whichever country you choose, you can visit a Viking museum and learn the history while you vacay.

…Epic Road Trips

The size of the car lets your brain determine the vastness of the fields and hills. Taken on my road trip through western Ireland in May (Nikon D810)

I’ve rented cars and driven in both countries…and… it is spectacular in both! There’s no huge difference driving the main roads in Iceland and Ireland.

In Iceland, you need to pay more attention to the weather, time of year, and staying on safe roads. However, if your goal is to stick to the main Ringroad haunts, it is pretty safe all summer.

In Ireland, the main troubles I ran into was driving behind herds of cows and sheep and getting stuck in muddy patches of road.

Both countries, though, will reward you with amazing sights along the way!

…UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Ireland - Skellig Michael - Pixabay

Both Iceland and Ireland have two UNESCO sites.

One of Iceland’s is difficult (if not impossible to see), while one of Ireland’s is basically impossible to see much of the year.

So in practicality, you can easily show up to either country and see one without too much planning.

Iceland’s site is Thingvellir outside of Reykjavik, while in Ireland it’s Newgrange outside of Dublin. Both are easy day trips from their respective capital cities.

…Stunning Green Landscapes

Ireland - Waterfall - Free Canva

Both countries are simply green. Stunning, vibrant greens. In Ireland, its traditional plants, trees, and, yes, clover, that gives the country its luscious hues.

In Iceland, the green is actually a deeply green-colored moss.

Whichever you choose, Iceland or Ireland, it is impossible to go to either country and not appreciate the vibrant richness of the landscapes before you.

Ireland Travel Resources

Ireland - Dublin - Failte Ireland
Pic courtesy of Failte Ireland

Did you pick Ireland? Congrats, get ready to have a fabulous time!

See also
30 Quotes about Iceland Celebrating Its Mysterious Beauty

Here are my Ireland travel resources to help you plan your trip. Start with my Ireland & Northern Ireland Packing List so you know what to bring with you year-round.

Next, here are my favorite Instagram spots in Ireland and Northern Ireland from my own trips. You will also want to check out the best scenic drives in Ireland to help plan where to go.

If you like listening to podcasts to plan your trip, I have multiple episodes about Ireland:

Iceland Travel Resources

Iceland - Reykjavik - Stephanie Selfie

Are you leaning towards Iceland? Congratulations! It’s a stunning country, and you’ll have a fabulous time.

Here are my resources to help you plan your trip. Start with my Iceland packing list so you know what to bring with you year-round.

Next, check out my guide to Icelandic souvenirs, which also includes some awesome Reykjavik shopping tips. I also have a Reykjavik photo essay with pictures of some of my favorite places to see in Reykjavik.

Do you like to listen to information to help you plan your trip? If so, check out my interview about Iceland’s Thingvellir plus the list of my favorite travel podcasts.

Finally, Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!

Whichever country you choose, make sure you have a valid Travel Insurance Policy because accidents happen on the road. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’ll be hanging out in cities where tourists can be the victims of pickpockets and in places where you’ll be doing a lot of outdoor activity.

I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for two years, and I happily recommend them.  If you get sick, injured, or have your stuff stolen, you’ll be happy to have the ability to pay for your medical bills or replace what’s stolen or broken.

Note: I have traveled Ireland both independently and at the invitation of Failte Ireland, the tourism authority for Ireland and Northern Ireland. This post includes activities I did while traveling with Visit Belfast and Visit Dublin. I have only traveled to Iceland independently. All opinions are my own.

Pin this Guide to Choosing Between Ireland or Iceland for Your Trip

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See also
13 Steps to Flawlessly Planning a Trip to Iceland

6 thoughts on “Ireland or Iceland: 13 Points to Deciding Which Trip is for You”

  1. I’m curious- since you’ve been to both if you could only go back to one with all expenses paid (so essentially no money issues) which would you choose and why?

    • Right now I’d say Iceland, especially since it costs more and in this scenario, I don’t have to think about that. Plus I’ve spent more time in Ireland. And FWIW, I went to Iceland before Ireland, so I’m probably slightly drawn to it more. But I think there’s more overall to see in Ireland. I would love to go to either, and they’re both places I dream about returning to.

  2. I would choose Ireland. It is an important part of the Anglosphere being one of the first countries to adopt English. A good portion of Americans and Brits are of Irish origin, and sometimes the US seems like the center of the world. Hollywood has many references to Irish culture so it would be interesting seeing it first-hand!


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