My top five all time favorite Iceland GPS blunders

Car navigation system

For a lot of people renting a car in a foreign country means getting a GPS because how else are you going to know where you are supposed to go, right? Although that may be a good idea in big countries that have good GPS maps this is not always the best idea in Iceland. On top of the actual maps being bad there are for example a lot of places that are called exactly the same and then we have all those special Icelandic letters that seem to be an endless source of confusion.

So as a cautionary tale as to why you should not trust your GPS in Iceland blindly I bring to your attention my five favorite Iceland GPS blunders. In no particular order.

Read also about my own messy encounter with a GPS that tried to bamboozle me (and about the marriage troubles of Charles and Margaret).

1. The guy who drove to Laugarvegur instead of Laugavegur

On (I want to say beautiful) day in February (it probably wasn’t though) this year a young man called Noel landed in Keflavík Airport. He picked up his rental car, typed in the address of his hotel into the GPS and then he started driving. He drove, and drove, and even though it says in every guidebook that the distance from Keflavík airport from Reykjavík is only 45 minutes he somehow managed to drive for 5 or 6 hours before reaching his final destination. He knocked on the door of what he thought was his hotel and a somewhat perplexed homeowner answered the door. Is this [instert hotel name]? Uh, no!

As it happens he was in Siglufjörður, on the other side of the country from his hotel in Laugavegur. The culprit: a single R on the confirmation e-mail from his hotel where it was said to be in LaugaRvegur and not Laugavegur. Poor Noel became an instant celebrity in Iceland and was featured on news around the world.

Apparently he did become suspicious at some point and re-entered the address into the GPS but because the address had this pesky extra R that was not supposed to be there the GPS kept telling him to drive further north. I don’t know, I probably would have called someone.

2. The guy who who drove to Laugarvegur instead of Laugavegur and then got lost again

Remember Noel? Well, Noel decided that being on the world news for getting lost in Iceland wasn’t quite enough and decided to get lost again. OK, he probably didn’t do any of this on purpose but still. After his adventure in Siglufjörður and the the media storm that followed he decided to enjoy a relaxing afternoon at the Blue Lagoon. Naturally, because his GPS had served him so well so far, he put in the Blue Lagoon into his GPS and hit the road. The GPS took him to an office building and even though he probably should have realized that he was not at a otherworldly spa type of place when he walked into the building, young Noel had no reservations about his whereabouts.

He ended up walking into a meeting which happened to be some staff members of the Blue Lagoon and the building he was in was actually their offices. The bewildered staff members looked at this guy disturbing their meeting until someone asked: Hey, aren’t you that guy who got lost?

Oh, Noel!

More info:

3. All the people that end up in Þingvellir Snæfellsnes instead of Þingvellir National Park

After the whole Noel adventure the news outlets in Iceland were full of news of tourists getting into trouble because of their GPS. One of the people that the media talked to is a man called Sumarliði Ásgeirsson who lives in a farm in the Snæfellsnes peninsula which is about 2 hours away from Reykjavík. He said he gets puzzled tourists knocking on his door all the time looking for a certain national park that you visit on the Golden Circle. The name of his farm? Þingvellir.

In case you were wondering Þingvellir national park is 40 minutes away from Reykjavík. And you need to put in Þingvellir, not Pingvellir. There’s no such thing as Pingvellir.

More info:

4. The folks that ended up on top of a garbage can

Again in February (this was not a good month for people and their GPS thingy majiggies) the police department in Suðurnes (where Keflavík Airport is located) posted on the Facebook page about tourists that who got into trouble because of the GPS in their car. They were driving a relatively short distance from Garður to Keflavík airport, which should be pretty straight forward, but for some reason their GPS prompted them to get off the road and into a gravel road and onwards into a side walk.

Although the details are hazy they somehow slipped on ice, on the side walk I presume, and into a garbage can and then somehow they ended up on top of it. I bet at that point they were thinking to themselves that they should have stuck to a paper map.

More info:

5. The couple that were going to Þórsmörk and ended up on a field before being invited to BBQ.

The most recent GPS blunder happened this week when this young couple was headed to Þórsmörk Nature Reserve in South Iceland but ended up on a farm in West Iceland instead. When they knocked on the door of the farm the people living there were having a dinner party and when they realized what had happened they just invited their new friends in for a meal.

Apparently one of the farmer’s fields was called Þórsmörk as a part of some insider joke and then a bunch of industrial senior citizens that were recording all the places names around Borgarfjörður diligently added it into the GPS database. Or that’s how I understood the story at least. There was also a story about the word play behind the name of the field but it was kind of long and far fetched. And it doesn’t make this story any better.

More info:

Honorary mention: The lady that joined her own search party.

Although there was no GPS involved, a couple of years ago (or maybe it was last year) this lady was on a bus tour here in Iceland and went to the bathroom to freshen up and change clothes. When she came back her bus mates didn’t recognize her, because of the new attire, and they were worried she was lost. Not recognizing her own description she joined the search party (50 people were looking for her) and it wasn’t until hours later that they realized she was actually searching for herself.

If you need to rent a car for your Iceland adventure, with or without GPS, you should check out this deal from Budget.

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15 thoughts on “My top five all time favorite Iceland GPS blunders”

  1. Belgje says:

    Funny! In every country you’ll find the same names of towns or villages.
    (we have 2 x Nazareth… in Belgium 😉 ) I have a friend with the same story as poor Noel. 😉

    I don’t understand well people who don’t have a look at a map and blindly trust gps.
    Maybe it’s ‘the new luxury problem of” the younger generation? (or elderly people who don’t now well how to use a gps?)
    When we learn the pupils how to read and understand maps, they are not that interested. They answer: we have a gps! Yeah right. 😉
    Why don’t these ‘lost drivers” stop for a minute and ask the Icelanders? Almost everyone in Iceland speaks English and they always try to help you. :-))
    It’s nice you warn for this mistake on your blog! Especially for Iceland, because 100 kms is ‘nothing” there!

  2. Amy says:

    Last year we visited Iceland and did a lot of tours, so were in good hands. This July we are coming and renting a car for the week. I am now scared I’m going to end up somewhere I don’t belong. What’s your advice!

    1. mm Auður says:

      It’s fine to use a GPS – just use your common sense too. Don’t drive off a cliff just because the GPS tells you to (exaggerated example)

      1. Caitlin says:

        But also, via researching your trip- the sites you want to see, where you plan to stay, etc. you should have an idea of the approximate direction you should be going/need to end up.

  3. David says:

    We have just returned from a week in Iceland (A grand time was had by all) GPS’d around, mostly by Google maps and always arrived exactly where intended at precisely the the predicted time with no hilarious adventures whatsoever.
    I’m a little disappointed to be honest. Maybe the GPS should send you somewhere random once in a while just for fun.

  4. Greg says:

    Ha! I just ordered a map today thinking about having it as a backup…sounds like that was a good idea!

    1. mm Auður says:

      Probably won’t hurt 🙂

  5. Doug says:

    Great article as we will be arriving in Iceland in a few days. I am wondering if anyone can suggest a map written specifically for people from New Jersey like me!

    1. mm Auður says:

      You can find maps in any bookstore in Reykjavík.

  6. Nikki says:

    Those additional letters in your alphabet can be a little pesky for those of us who don’t know them…

    Just returned from Iceland, and our GPS would tell us that places didn’t exist, (we thought because of our misspelling) but then I’d find them in the history menu, spelled the same way. When we were returning our camper our GPS did try to send us ‘off-road’ but we were already so close that we found our own way there.

    Thanks for creating an awesome resource about your amazing country, Auður

    1. mm Auður says:

      The place names like Seljalandsfoss do not exist as addresses but they exist as places of interest and many GPSs make a distinction.

      1. Nikki says:

        Seljalandfoss was one of the places that we couldn’t navigate to, since the GPS didn’t recognizse the name. But we found it in the ‘history’ menu of the GPS from a previous user. Thanks for your reply as it has made me realise that it was probably in the ‘Points of Interest’ menu all along.

  7. jan says:

    Hi travellers,
    In preparation of my 1st trip to Iceland, I have looked on my Tomtom navigationsystem.
    It seems possible to get a map of Iceland, but how on earth can I type the Icelandic characters?
    Can you/I buy a Tomtom in Iceland? And if so, are the characters available on the keyboard?
    What navigational equipment do you use?
    looking forward to hear from yoy.

    1. Danielle says:

      I used an app on my smartphone and I had downloaded an Icelandic keyboard using ‘swift key’ so I could type the characters

  8. Danielle says:

    I can’t remember it was our 2006 or 2007 trip but the car hire’s sat nav had an informative narrative as you drove around – I remember it telling us about the aluminium smelter on our way to RVK ha ha. Have used a free app on a smart phone for last few trips and thankfully no screw ups (I am terrible with direction!) Although things are pretty easy to find, the sat nav is useful for travel times and dinging when you go over the speed limit (which was really easy on longer drives, altho my last trip I had cruise control for the first time in my life which was fun! I got a free upgrade on my car)

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