Outside Reykjavík: The problem with traveling spontaneously around Iceland in the summer time

Since I know many of you who are going to visit Reykjavík in the next months probably have plans to go out of the city, I’ve decided to expand the blog a little and talk a little about the things you will find outside of Reykjavík..

When I was working in the booking department of Hostelling International Iceland, one of the questions I got asked most frequently was whether it was possible to travel around the country in the summer time without booking your accommodation in advance. Since I was in the business of selling hostel accommodation, and my customers were in general not willing to pay too much for that part of their travels, my short answer was usually no.The reason was simply that our hostels were fully booked pretty much the whole summer and even though the network has expanded from 24 hostels to 36 hostels the 6+ years I’ve been working for them – this is pretty much still the case.

Of course you can always get lucky and arrive at a hostel where a big group just cancelled at the last minute but since the hostels are far apart, and sometimes located in remote areas, you don’t really want to risk it. I’m pretty sure that there are some more expensive options that have availability during the heights of summer but it’s my feeling that the people who want to explore the country in a spontaneous non-planned kind of way are not necessarily the same people who want to stay in 4 star hotels. I might be wrong though. I’ve also heard that in July, people sometimes drive as far as from Reykjavík all the way to Höfn without finding a single place with availability for the night. That too might be a urban myth but that’s what I hear anyway.

I think there are mainly three reasons for why it can be hard to find affordable accommodation on route

#1 Everyone has read the same travel guides as you have

I think this is a general problem all over the world and not at all restricted to Iceland. We all know that the Lonely Planet is the king of travel guides and certain types of tourists treat those guides as the bible. Also, people tend to use the internet to do research and even though they are not all reading the same websites, the information might all originate from the same source.

I see this often with journalists that write about Iceland. One of them is misinformed during their research process and all of a sudden ten different publications have printed the same mistake. Like the fact that Rúntur is a word for the Reykjavík pub crawl and crazy nightlife when in fact it’s a noun that is used for the act of cruising down the main street of any given town in your car to see and be seen by others.

As a result, most people do what I call a “highlights” tour of Iceland, driving from one place they’ve read about to the next and the problem is that all the maps have the same highlights and often even in the same order. Finding reasonably priced accommodation in these highlighted areas can prove particularly troublesome.


This place is probably not on anyone’s highlights list


#2 More than half of all the tourists that visit Iceland every year come during June, July and August

This is a fact so if you choose to visit Iceland during these three months you probably should plan ahead.


#3 The number of tourists visiting Iceland grows more rapidly than the supply of budget accommodation

I know budget is a relative word and with the króna being as useless as it is, the more luxurious places have actually become more affordable. However, most people are in business to make money and seeing that reason #2 is a fact, most people probably try to maximize their profits during those summer months which results in higher prices. It makes sense from the business owner’s perspective that has invested a lot in the business and has limited capacity and a high demand but I can see how it’s frustrating for the visitor as well.

Also, every year the number of tourists is growing and even though there are some idealists out there that care more about your wallet than their own profits – they can never really catch up. Our hostels, for example,  are always growing a little bit bigger each year but they are always as full.

So what am I saying then? Should you not visit Iceland during the summer months or maybe not at all?


The amazing colors in Borgarfjörður Eystri

Well, of course you should visit Iceland. If the summer is the only time you have to do it, why not try camping instead of staying at hostels or hotels? Or visit places that are still somewhat off the beaten track like the Westfjords, or the little towns in the North East like Kópasker or Þórshöfn in Langanes?

The most amazingly spectacular thing about Iceland is the fact that its beauty is everywhere, not just jotted around the Golden Circle.  Find your inner explorer and just enjoy the moment – whether the moment happens to take you to the great but often over-looked puffin colony in Borgarfjörður Eystri or to the turf house in Fljótsdalur hostel where you’ll have to shower in the garden but you also have access to one of the biggest English language libraries in Iceland on the geology, flora and fauna of Iceland.

And if you can travel outside of the high-season – the fall colors in September and late sunsets in the spring are also well worth seeing. Not to mention the Northern Lights.

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7 thoughts on “Outside Reykjavík: The problem with traveling spontaneously around Iceland in the summer time”

  1. Daniel says:

    Great post. We just returned from a magical trip in Iceland of the “spontaneous” sort. Two practical matters helped make it very enjoyable:

    We stayed at campsites which where both very accommodating and eliminated the need to plan or get reservation etc. Second, there is not a single place in Iceland which is not beautiful. Any place in Iceland is a good place to visit, if the whether is permitting. We stopped wherever we could that did not have bad weather, stayed at campsites and had an amazing time.

  2. eli says:

    A good post, though quite depressing for someone who does want to visit Iceland in a very tight budjet. Once you can’t afford renting a car (and think about relying on hitchhiking) it’s a problem of getting to more remote place, although I do think it’s possible. Camping is the way to do it, that’s for sure, but as a woman traveling on her own and for someone who is not used to cold weather, camping outside the summertime is too much (your summer is considered as unpleasant winter for us…), and there’s the problem of meeting people in campsites (in hostels is much more easy).
    Frankly, though I’m now traveling in a short flight distance and have the time, I do think of giving up the idea to travel to Iceland.

    It’s a shame the tourism bussiness doesn’t support establishing more hostels around. If I was European I would definitely think about investing in that.

    1. mm Auður says:

      Why not just book well in advance and make sure you get a spot at the hostels?

  3. Tim says:

    Thanks for this excellent blog site.. We booked everything back in March 2014 for August 2014 – we noticed every place we booked was rapidly filling back then. So glad we did it, or we too would have resorted to camping (which I enjoy & was my preference but my wife finds a bit cramped, so wanted hotel accom) or campervan (not my thing).
    Very impressed with the ease of booking all of our 2 week tour. Bottom line, book early or bring a tent (in summer).

  4. Chloe says:

    This has been the hardest part of planning our trip! I am glad you wrote about this.

    Me and my husband love to travel on the fly. We dont necessarily know how long we will want to stay in a certain place. I feel that if we have a room booked we may feel the need to rush our day to get to our hotel/hostel in the next town for example.

    Do you feel that it is easier to find an open hostel or hotel with vacancy in early may? This is the last thing we have to plan!! Our route we have determined but have NO idea how to book the places because of not knowing time frames of traveling.

    Thank you!

  5. Wandering Me says:

    How easy is it to wild camp in Iceland? I believe if is legal, but how easy is it to find somewhere you can just leave a car? We are looking to travel around Iceland in June without booking anything in advance so we can be flexible. Camping seems like the easiest option.

    1. mm Auður says:

      It’s getting more difficult to camp in the wild in Iceland, especially in summer.

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