In the last decade, the Iceland tourism board has worked hard to cultivate interest in Iceland as a year-round travel destination. Unfortunately, the result of its rapid advancement on the perennial travel lists of “must-see” destinations has been overcrowding and over-tourism. Luckily, for those travelers who value unique experiences with locals, we’ve developed a list of tips on how to avoid the crowds when visiting Iceland.
Dedicate a Whole Week, Not as Just a Stopover
A focused strategy by Icelandic and WOW Airlines offering less expensive fares from various European and North American cities has resulted in travelers visiting Iceland for a couple of days. Simply put, both on the plane ride and upon arrival at the Reykjavik airport, visitors are inundated with multiple day-tour options, such as visiting Thingvellir National Park. However, very few of these options spotlight Icelandic culture, food, or people.
Our recommendation is to spend at least one week visiting Iceland and to travel along the Ring Road beyond the Capital Region. There are three ways to explore the many vistas, hiking trails, farmhouses, hot and springs along the Ring Road:
- Rent a car – the entire route takes 12-16 hours to drive and the road infrastructure is well maintained,
- Take a bus – there are a few main companies that operate hop on, hop off bus tours that traverse the Ring Road, west fjords and highlands (during the summer months), and
- Experience a tour – while more structured, for those who do not have the time to look through the hundreds of possible attractions throughout the Ring Road, booking a tour is an option.
Make Reykjavik Even Smaller with a Food Tour
Reykjavik is an easy capital city to explore by foot. To make it even more meaningful, we signed up for a half-day food tour that featured six courses of Icelandic specialties. We sampled stews, beers, fish, cheeses, hot dogs, ice cream and proper desserts. Our friendly guide was Agnes, who is a lead singer for the popular Icelandic band,
Avoid Visiting the Blue Lagoon – Trust Me!
Visiting the Blue Lagoon was a tremendous disappointment. Although we visited at dawn during the low season of November, it turned out to be an expensive amusement park experience. The busloads of people from the airport both in the changing rooms and sidling up to the bar in the Blue Lagoon took away any semblance of serenity. Imagine lines upon lines of people trying to get their plastic cups filled with (alcoholic) drinks walking around the Blue Lagoon. Imagine lines of people angling for a smear of mud mask for a facial. Instead, we recommend visiting other hot springs such as:
- The Secret Lagoon,
- Laugarvatn Fontana,
- Mývatn Nature Baths, or
- Laugardalur Swimming Pool.
Go Beyond the Beaten Path of the Golden Circle
Another advantage of visiting Iceland for a longer period of time is to experience the variety of natural treasures of Iceland. Once you get beyond the Golden Circle, the crowds dissipate significantly. This allows for unfettered access to hiking sites such as Diamond Beach on the south coast as well as crater lakes, hot springs, and waterfalls. Also, don’t forget the ubiquitous Icelandic horse!
Book a Home Rather than a Hotel
One easy way to get away from the crowds is to rent a home. There is a high standard of quality and are many to choose from on HomeAway.com. Homes come equipped with a full kitchen, comfortable bedrooms and bathrooms, and even hot tubs. Try to have a base for a couple of nights before continuing along the Ring Road.
Go Out for Lunch, Stay in for Dinner
Visitors seem to be most concerned about the food expenses when visiting Iceland. While it is true that food is expensive as compared to the United States, it’s actually much tastier. For the last decade, Iceland has focused on infusing sustainability into their growing practices. By using geothermal energy, they are growing tomatoes and strawberries. They are also growing rhubarb, leeks, cauliflower, kale, and barley among other crops.
So, there are lots of great food choices whether you are a meat, fish, or veggie eater. Since fixed priced lunches are very common, we recommend eating a hearty lunch and then having a lighter dinner, perhaps at your rental home. This plan works very well for families too!