How to be a delightful tourist in Iceland?

Icelanders want to welcome people from all over the world. They are keen to share the beauty of their home country, and they admit that over-tourism is a problem also. This article provides an awesome overview and describes important things to desist from doing in Iceland in just a few lines. Everything you read is inspired by everything and everyone I saw and noticed on my road trip through Iceland. On my way, I spoke to different Icelanders about what I experienced. They all agreed they need tourists to come and visit Iceland, as tourism is great for the economy.

According to the Icelandic Tourist Board, because of the pandemic, the total number of foreign overnight visitors to Iceland was at only just under half a million in 2020. In 2019, before Covid-19, foreign visitors numbered around two million. The population of Iceland is about 350,000 people strong. Millions of visitors come and visit Iceland over the years. Existing facilities such as for example the road system or the health system aren't made for this large number of vehicles and people.

How to be a responsible and delightful tourist in Iceland?

Wherever you go in Iceland, one place is prettier than the next. Stunning places that look as if they are in the middle of nowhere are right next to main roads. The easier places are to reach, the more people go and visit them.

It took billions of years for our planet to become what it is today. Within our rather short time on earth, we humans have managed to imbalance our environment. We have so much power to change the world - in a negative and hurray, also in a positive sense. We can all start at every moment.

It is easy to be considerate, responsible and delightful. Just don’t be an asshole.

Head of a light brown horse where one blue eye can be seen.. Travel Iceland. How to be a delightful tourist in Iceland.

 

Take your rubbish home

One would think this is a no brainer. Most places in Iceland are wild and lonely. That is why people love these places so much. There is most likely no rubbish bin where you go. Bring a bag, collect the rubbish, and dispose of it at the end of the day at home. If you don't buy plastic-wrapped and/or readymade products, or water bottles/cans you will create less rubbish. If you carry soap and shampoo bars you can avoid using provided plastic containers at hotels. Read Travel – Everyday life - Repeat: Living Green at Home and Elsewhere for more inspiration.

Keep in mind that there are hardly any public bathrooms in the wilderness. Be a responsible grown-up, plan accordingly and do not leave your excrements behind. Would you want to step into other people’s human waste?

Stop at designated places for a break, to admire the scenery or to take photos

Do not stop on the side of the road. You might endanger fellow road users when you stop your vehicle in the middle of the road. They might drive into your car, or they might have to overtake your car and crash into oncoming traffic as a result. Who would want to risk other people’s lives with their behaviour? Imagine every driver would stop whenever it suits them? See, this is not a good idea, and it is never going to work.

Stick to the recommended road safety rules

In general, there is no proper public transport network in Iceland. If you would like to visit places, it is a good idea to rent a car. Rent the smallest available car (and use less fuel that way).

Roads in Iceland are not always in pristine conditions. Due to harsh weather and studded tires, there can be potholes, roads can end up becoming a bit bumpy. Some roads aren't tarred, and that means that at times you have to drive on gravel roads. The two-lane roads are often narrow. Roads are probably in a different condition to the ones you know from elsewhere. Then there can accidentally be sheep, reindeers or even horses on the roads (things happen). Add gale-force winds, heavy rain and/or some ice to this, and you understand why it is best to stick to the recommended road safety rules.

Stick to the speed limit. Remember that you are not alone in this world. Driving slowly is perfect for sightseeing but it can be a nuisance to others. You might soon create a follower train unhappily tailgating you. Other drivers might have to overtake your vehicle. Driving too fast can be dangerous too. Overtaking cars can be unsafe on these narrow winding Iceland roads. Be considerate of others.

Make sure you use winter tires/studded tires/snow chains in snowy winter conditions (not in summer though). Rent a 4 WD to be on the safe side (rent the smallest available 4WD).

Take messages on warning signs to heart

Warning signs are in places for a reason. Somebody made a big effort creating these signs and putting them up to keep you safe from danger and trouble. Remember that no one puts up a warning sign to keep you away from an awesome and beautiful experience.

When a sign warns you to stay away from cliffs, simply stay away from the cliff’s edge. Why would you step behind a rope and put yourself in danger only to get a photo? Even if there is no sign, just stay away from the cliff’s edge. It is not funny to fall off a cliff, and it is not funny to make other visitors watch how you fall off a cliff only because you are stupid. Also, think of the people who have to go and search for your body and probably have to risk their lives doing so.

When a sign warns you to stay away from the seashore on beaches that are known for sneaker waves (sleeper waves, king waves) and strong undercurrents, keep your distance. It is not funny to drown, and it is not funny to make other visitors watch how you drown only because you are stupid. Also, think of the people who have to go and search for your body and probably have to risk their lives rescuing you.

Stay away from walking paths that are closed due to for example unsafe icy conditions. Think of Iceland’s health and medical system. Why do you want to put pressure on staff and resources with your behaviour, when you can easily avoid a broken limb by avoiding the area as recommended?

When a sign asks you to not step off the designated path, stay on the path. Why do you want to trample on grass or moss or wildflowers and destroy delicate flora? You destroy natural habitat so that you can take a lovely photo in front of a waterfall or rock formation? Who would want to do that and why?

When a sign alerts you to be in a quiet zone, simply be silent. So easy. Why would you run screeching loudly (even if it is out of joy) onto the beach and disturb seals and sea birds? If you want to ask friends to take a photo of you, not everyone on the beach needs to know this. Not every seal is that desperately interested on which social media platform you are going to post the photo.

In geothermal areas, do not stick your finger into the water of a stream or mud pool to test the temperature. It is about 100 degrees Celsius hot. Stay on the path.

Admire icebergs. Do not climb on icebergs. You posing energetically on an iceberg certainly looks stunning in a photo. Right. Do you want to slip from the iceberg into the icy water of a glacier lagoon lake or be dragged into the Atlantic Ocean and drown? Also, think of the people who have to go and search for your body and probably have to risk their lives rescuing you.

+++

Have fun in Iceland. Remember, don’t be an asshole and everything is going to be alright.

+++

To see how magnificent Iceland is. Please read: Travel Iceland – First-time Visitors Guide. I highly recommend a visit.

From Berlin with love