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.
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 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.
…You Want to Tour (or Sleep in) a Castle
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
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 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
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.
…You Want to Chase Waterfalls
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
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 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.
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!
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
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
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
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
Did you pick Ireland? Congrats, get ready to have a fabulous time!
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.
If you like listening to podcasts to plan your trip, I have multiple episodes about Ireland:
- The Literary Pubs of Dublin
- The Storied History of the Guinness Storehouse
- Rick Steves Over Brunch (Dublin episode coming soon!)
- Belfast and the Troubles
- Rick Steves Over Brunch: Belfast and the Best of Northern Ireland
Iceland Travel Resources
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.
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.