Quick Q&A: Is Iceland overcrowded with tourists?

Today’s subject is one of those hot potato subjects I know better than write about but somehow feel a strong urge to address none the less. What sparked this post is both concerns people have expressed in e-mail communication with us and a discussion taking place within Iceland at the moment.

For a long long time Iceland was just a rock in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and nobody knew or cared we existed. OK, a bit of an exaggeration but still – we were not exactly the center of the universe. Then came Björk who was just interesting and quirky enough for people to want to see the place that produced her. Then it was Sigur Rós and the financial crash and the eruption in Eyjafjallajökul and Instagram and Of Monsters And Men and  Justing Bieber and Kim and Kanye and *BOOM* we were on the map.

In the eyes of Icelanders as a nation we are the map but that’s a whole different discussion (Ísland – Bezt í heimi).

But are there too many tourists in Iceland? This is not an easy question to answer. There are many sides to this question and everyone sees it through their own unique lenses. I see it as a someone who has worked in tourism for 10+ years, who has traveled quite a bit out of the country and who can see first hand how the tourist boom has affected this place that I call home. You, on the other hand, have the view of the outsider with the benefits and disadvantages of that. Neither one of us is right or wrong, we can only share things from our point of view and hope that our opponent (not that I’m picking a fight here) can empathize and understand even though they have a different opinion.

Question: Is Iceland overcrowded with tourists?

It’s projected that Iceland will welcome 2.3 million tourists this year. In 2010 it was less than 500.000. This is a big change in a short span of time no matter how you look at it and the 20-30% growth per year for the last 6-7 years has been staggering. Most people don’t disagree that tourism saved Iceland after the economic crash in 2008. We needed the foreign currency badly and tourists were happy to take advantage of the devastating mess we were in that was partly due to the devaluation of our currency after the crash. Partly! Things became horribly expensive for us while the tourists found Iceland cheap for the first time in history. Relatively, at least.

Before and just after the crash, downtown Reykjavík was known for legendary music venues and a vibrant art scene, charming old houses and friendly inhabitants. What people choose not to remember is that it was also kind of dirty in certain areas, there were a lot of buildings that were abandoned or needed serious renovation and half of the shops in Laugavegur were empty or going out of business. As the tourism grew more bars and restaurants were opened, more stores lasted more than a few months in Laugavegur and fewer and fewer shops were empty.

I can’t even compare how lively Reykjavík is now compared to 10 years ago but not everyone sees that as something positive. Many complain the downtown area has become too busy and too touristy and that you can’t find a local there to save your life. The locals you do find are friendly enough but not inviting you back to their house for a party like the tourists of yesteryear promised.

The most obvious and understandable thing people complain about is the fact that many of the legendary places we once loved have now been replaced with hotels and tourist shops. And speaking of hotels, they have popped up like mushrooms and the once cool and quirky community in Laugavegur has been pushed out at every opportunity. The money forces have been in control, not the people of Reykjavík. It all happened so fast that people didn’t  start thinking about serious resistance until it was basically too late. All of a sudden we have Donkin Donuts in Laugavegur, H&M opening up a big store by the harborfront and Hard Rock producing (allegedly) mediocre burgers (have no personal experience of this myself since I refuse to go there) at gourmet prices.

So the tourist boom has definitely changed Reykjavík. Some of the changes have been good, others terrible. I think part of the problem is that Icelanders look at this a uniquely Icelandic problem. I’m guessing those who have lived through gentrification in most of the key cities around the world would disagree. I also think the mistake we as a city made was to not have a plan for development ready when the first signs of this started to show. The city of Reykjavík could have made the decision to preserve the spirit of the downtown Reykjavík area better – all they needed was the will. And the agility maybe to make quick decisions at the time of need instead of forming a committee around every subject and hope it solves itself somehow.

I haven’t even touched on the devastated housing market where part of the problem is AirBnB and how it has affected the ability of young people in Reykjavík to buy or rent. AirBnB is not solely to blame but according to new reports it plays a significant role.

But I’m an optimist. I think Reykjavík is going through growing pains now and that we will find a balance. I can already see it happening. Areas that used to be quite boring are being brought to life and the downtown area is growing. We need to figure out how to address the housing crisis but when we do I think we’ll see some interesting developments. Creativity will always find a way

But what about Iceland as a whole, are there too many tourists in Iceland?

To be fair, most tourists that visit Iceland never see more than just Reykjavík and then the Golden Circle and the south coast. If they are feeling particularly adventurous they might also visit the Snæfellsnes or the Borgarfjörður area. It’s not strange to understand why: These areas have been marketed heavily to tourists, most of the tours out of Reykjavík focus on them and it’s convenient due to the relatively short distances.

If you just visit these areas there’s no wonder why you would feel that Iceland is overcrowded. When everyone goes to the exact same places – crowds will amass. What most people don’t realize is that there’s so much more to Iceland than just those areas. Anywhere you go it’s stunning and breathtaking. You may not tick as many places off the elusive must sees in Iceland list by going to the Westfjords for example but you will be rewarded with amazing natural beauty and authenticity that it’s harder to find in the south these days. Not impossible, just harder.

I know someone will say: but if you travel to Iceland in the summer the whole country is very busy. That is true but the summer is 2-3 months out of the year. Outside of the summer season, the East fjords are practically deserted. And I just went to Akureyri and the surrounding areas at the end of February and I was amazed at all thing things going on up there and how few people were there to enjoy it. Which was surprising to me because I’m more enlightened about these things than the average tourist so I felt that I should have known about it all.

Iceland has changed, though, there’s no denying it. It’s not the same place I started writing about 13+ years ago and some of the changes have not been for the better. I miss the times where nature was more untouched and where you weren’t met with 10 warning signs when approaching areas we as locals knew were dangerous. I miss the times where you didn’t have to pay to park in Þingvellir and you could drive around Iceland feeling safer than I do now, knowing how many inexperienced drivers are out there on our roads. Areas that have been closed off for crowd control or because they have been treated disrespectfully. The examples are plentiful.

But the short simplified answer is that Iceland is not overcrowded with tourists Especially not as a whole and in relative terms. Some areas are reaching their pain thresholds though and we definitely need to spend more money and effort on infrastructure and planning for the future. But it’s not an impossible task. All we need to do is to make a collective decision as a nation and follow it through.

As the owner and writer for one of the most popular travel website in Iceland, I feel very responsible for many of our problems. I mean, I’ve spent the biggest part of my adult years writing about my love for Iceland which has attracted many people to visit. In the last years, though, I’ve tried to be very mindful when it comes to the power of having such a big audience. I don’t think I would be so focused on this if it wasn’t for my tourisms-related upbringing working for Hostelling International Iceland for 7+ years. They are a socially responsible non-profit organization who are a leading force when it comes to sustainability in tourism in Iceland and I don’t think I would see things the same way if I had started out working in a more profit-driven environment. I didn’t always love working there (I now understand that I was probably always supposed to work for myself) but working for them showed me that you can run a successful operation without compromising your values and beliefs.

I’ve tried to educate people through the blog (which has sometimes resulted in alienation because people deem me too boring and not adventurous enough) and have a direct conversation about these matters with you, the travelers. I’ve made mistakes along the way but I try to always learn from them and am now hyper aware of the problems we’re facing. I don’t think Iceland would necessarily be better off if I closed down this blog and found a job elsewhere. Tourists would still come and someone else would occupy the space I once was in. And I want to contribute in the way I realistically can and serves us, our customers and the whole of Iceland the best way possible. I strongly believe that tourism can flourish even if it’s done in a sustainable and socially responsible way. Actually, I think that is the only way for it to flourish.

This is easier to say than implement but I will never stop trying. The day I do stop, I hope you have the good sense to turn elsewhere.

I want to end this (maybe way too) long post (that lost its focus somewhere along the way) by encouraging you to reflect on how you can be socially responsible travelers. You as travelers hold great power and you can vote with your wallet. If you would like Laugavegur and the surrounding streets to remain its former quirky self: Don’t go to Dunkin Donuts and the puffin stores. If you want Iceland to stay rugged and without walls or big fences: Stay on the marked paths and don’t ignore the small rope that has been enough to keep people at bay for decades. If you want to help young Icelandic people with their housing issues or the very least help Iceland battle tax evasion and such: Put pressure on your AirBnB host to obtain a license and pay their taxes. Or stay at hotels – whatever feels comfortable for you. And dare to be different by wandering off the beaten path.

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50 thoughts on “Quick Q&A: Is Iceland overcrowded with tourists?”

  1. David Leung says:

    I am an tourist expert, going there for the 3rd time in September. I hate it when I see a bus in the parking area. Those unwanted tourists pollute my photographs, JK, of course, but there is some truth in it. There is never an opportunity to photograph a landmark like the pictures I see in the internet anymore. The crowd less days are over, even in December when it is cold, snow, icy, windy, Yes, I’m selfish. 🙂

  2. Liz Dexter says:

    I think this is a well-considered and balanced post, and informed by your status as being a resident and being in the tourist industry yourself. I wish there were more tours that took people off the beaten track; for example, there is no tour looking at the sites of the sagas and that’s something that surely could be marketed – I can’t be unique in wanting that (I went on one a few years ago but it wasn’t great and it’s been cancelled now). Keep up the good work!

  3. Natasha says:

    Big fan of your blog and have been following it for a while to understand better the country that I love so much. I visited for the first time last year in February and back then the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and the north- Akureyri and Myvatn and surrounds were completely empty of tourists. Like you rightly said, many spots in these areas felt remote and magical.

    Then I came back in the summer and it was different. I missed having the streets around Hallgrimskirkja all to myself like on the winter nights. And I’m just another tourist! So I can only imagine how big a shift it is for locals. Sometimes you have to bear with idiot tourists driving recklessly on your roads, stopping in the middle of nowhere because they’re fascinated by the Aurora and littering your beautiful country. I don’t blame any Icelander for being annoyed with this. I would feel the same.

    Yet, I enjoyed reading your perspective – as usual I feel it is well rounded and not impulsive. Even if some Icelanders are annoyed by the tourists, the ones I have met in Iceland are exceptionally friendly, helpful and open. I hope that stays the same.

  4. Danielle says:

    A justified and much needed post.

    I am of course guilty of being a tourist myself, but having first visited in 2006 (or technically the early 90s if you count a stop over in Keflavik for some hours when it didn’t get dark and there was only one shop and Hard Rock cafe shop in the airport), I guess i feel ‘entitled’ to comment too. What has upset me the most in my most recent visits is the inconsiderate behaviour of visitors, not only in regards to putting themselves in dangers and therefore the SAR people in danger, as well as littering (cigarette butts!!! grrrr!) and disobeying signs to protect the environment which has had ramifications on others enjoyment of particular areas. What is REALLY getting my goat at the moment is the photos shared on social media “tag someone you’d stand here with” or similar, where a person is standing post in a landscape shot where you know they have clearly ignored barriers and signs telling you to not stand in a particular place to a) be safe and b) protect the environment – this then causes others to want to recreate the shot just to get their precious ‘likes’ on social media and its like a vicious circle. I also saw a couple’s photo from the ice cave where they were basically calling anyone who had paid for a tour a sucker as they had “ignored the people who said shouldnt drive up there, or enter the ice cave without crampons and a helmet” and were now bragging about it. Previously i used to always say “go to iceland, its amazing!”, now i’d rather people didn’t keep going as the infrastructure struggles to keep up. I’ve been 6 times now and although i’ve no idea when i’ll go again, due to slightly change in life, I’m def thinking West Fjords is a good plan! I have only stayed on one air bnb, although it was just a guest house that if i stayed again i would just book direct to save us both on fees and did check it was all above board, i read they were not giving out any more licences in Vik (i also saw a big hotel is being built)

    yes don’t go to dunkin donuts, kleinur are much better!!!! mmmmmm

    i am however torn about the puffin shops…. i like puffins!!

    Your post was well reasoned and well thought out – unlike mine, which is a rant lol.

  5. Danielle says:

    also – you’ve said on Facebook – “There was also a travel agency that tried to sell trips to Iceland direct to Egilsstaðir but the tours did not sell and the route was canceled” – was that Discover the World? I was happy there was direct flights to the East side, but I didn’t want to travel with a package holiday! If there was direct to the east i def would have done that last time!

    1. mm Auður says:

      Yeah, it was Discover the world. I don’t know whether they allowed people just to buy the flight ticket or whether you had to buy the whole package but they bring bucket loads of people to Iceland every year so it was a commendable effort on their part, even though it didn’t work out in the end. At least they tried, right?

      1. Danielle Ward says:

        Yeah you had to have the package, I got in contact with them right away when I saw it to check, lol – they do do good trips – we stayed in Egilsstaðir on our ring road trip in 2007 and that was with Discover the World – Altho I wouldn’t do the same now, I had a really good experience with them and do recommend them where nessc.

        It was great they tried, shame it didn’t work out 🙁 I travelled solo but if my friend had come with me again, it def would have suited her too as we were keen to get over that side and on a short trip it would be so much easier.

      2. Danielle says:

        crap, i really wish i hadnt put my full name *privacy paranoia* stupid phone.

  6. Susan Singer says:

    Thanks for your post. I am currently in Iceland for two months. I came during the winter to see what it’s like and to avoid the crowds. While here, I’ve had several conversations with Icelanders about tourism and about how people (Icelanders involved in the tourist industry) are greedy and wanting to make as much money as they can and how that is driving up the costs for tourists. I myself have experienced that the costs are about 30% higher than they were two short years ago between increased prices and the worse exchange rate. I love this country more than I can say and have done many paintings of the raw, rugged landscape, and now I’m having to consider if I can come back or not because of the costs. That makes me so sad. I don’t have any answers.

    I’m aware that in the history of Iceland there have been several times when there were opportunities to make a lot of money all of a sudden, like WWI when the world needed Iceland’so cod and lamb, and all of a sudden there was cash in the economy. That bubble burst. I am curious to see if this bubble bursts and leaves many empty decaying hotels dotting the pristine landscapes. I hope Iceland doesn’t price itself out on the market and cause that bust.

    I’m glad you’ve brought up this subject. It is very relevant, I’m noticing, as it comes up in almost every conversation I have with Icelanders here. I look forward to reading the comments and learning what others think.

    1. mm Auður says:

      The cost is a completely different post and one that I’m not quite ready to write due to its sensitive nature.I could write a lengthy answer to try to explain why I think “everyone in tourism in Iceland is greedy” is not a fair statement but I’ve been burned before so I’ll just leave it at that.

      I don’t disagree that Iceland is expensive, just with the fact that everyone in Iceland is greedy.

      1. Jan zemba says:

        For what it’s worth- I found most people not greedy at all. They were honest about costs which are what they are. The place I noticed possible greed was selling handmade sweaters (of Icelandic wool) that were made in China- but I don’t know who is doing the importing and my issue is that it keeps money out of the hands of local crafters- perhaps there aren’t otherwise enough sweaters to go around?

        I found the special tours group to be awesome! It was clear they wanted you to see what you came to see and if you didn’t, get back on another boat! Clear indication of lack of greed!!

        What I imagine makes the tourism numbers challenging is the fact that the visitors number of 2.3 million so greatly exceeds the population. It is hard to carve out space to keep one’s home intact with that ratio of visitors to locals.

        1. mm Auður says:

          I completely agree with the woolen sweaters – it’s one thing producing them in China (nothing wrong with that per se) but trying to sell it off as locally produced is shady. With that said, I do think there are not enough knitters in Iceland who knit for money to meet the demand and I guess the tourists are not willing to pay the real price for a sweater like that so production costs need to be lower. But at least if you do produce them in China, let people know they are.

          If you want to avoid these China sweaters the Handknitting Association of Iceland is always a safe bet.

          The visitors to locals ratio is definitely one of the reasons many people do find like they are suffocating a little. At the same time, the smaller places out in the countryside where this ratio is the worst would probably be dealing with unemployment and such if they didn’t have the tourists. But balance is best.

          If the Króna keeps getting stronger the way it has been we probably reach the point soon where a big chunk of the visitors decide that the cost is higher than the value of the trip and then they will stop coming. Then maybe we’ll get some balance.

    2. Danielle Ward says:

      I’m not sure I would agree with the ‘greedy’ thing either – I’m sure there *are* some unscrupulous people, but you’d get that anywhere. I too have noticed an increase in costs but I think that’s largely due to economic strength from Iceland and Crappy currenct elsewhere (I’m from UK, not sure about yourself) – I’ve never felt ripped off by anything I’ve done /experienced I have to say, but obviously I may have had difference experiences. I think Iceland has its own set of challenges and certain things such influence prices that may not be present elsewhere.

      I do however feel quite priced out of certain things as a solo traveller, given the exchange rate effects – but I honestly don’t feel it’s because someone is trying to rip me off. I guess it all depends what you want from your travel (for example, a couple at my work asked for tips for their visit and when I spoke to them on return, they said they loved it, but prob wouldn’t rush back because the alcohol was so expensive! Wheras I really couldn’t give a monkeys about that)

      P. S very jealous of your long stay!! 🙂

  7. Karen says:

    Thoughtful and insightful post. In my opinion, this post is a reflection of the globalization movement occurring around the world. And tourism is one piece of the puzzle. Your post highlights the conflicting nature of such globalization… And yet, I am one of those people who LOVE to travel (I will be traveling to Iceland for the first time this year!) and delighted to live in an era where international travel is feasible. But, each new adventure has led to a deeper understanding about my responsibilities as a tourist. I could not agreement more that sustainable tourism should be a priority.

  8. Andrea says:

    Really interesting post and the main thing I agree with is the comment about Air B & B. We visited in January and we were chatting to a lovely young man who was working in one of the bars, he was saying how difficult it was for him to find somewhere to live that he could rely on. He said that a lot of landlords in Reykjavik only do 9 month lets and so in April/May he has to find somewhere else to live because the landlord wants to rent the place through Air B&B during the summer for more money. Given that there is also doubt over how much money, taxes etc those landlords then pay into the economy I think this is something that should be looked at.

    1. Danielle says:

      Wow that’s shitty!! I knew it was causing real issues with people finding somewhere to live but I didn’t realise in top of this people were getting short leases – such lack of security and feeling of a place is home.

      The last hotel I stayed at, the guy on reception/sorting breakfast, who was english, asked me who I booked with and when I said Expedia (who I used for cash back and cos flight /hotel offered a discount) he said that it’s better for the hotel if you get a price from Expedia and then call them and book direct as they will often price match as even tho it’d a lower price, they will get more money than the Expedia booking as Expedia won’t get the cut of the profit. I have been using Expedia for years and never even thought about that!! (this was hotel leaf Eriksson in case you wondered, which I thoight was a pretty decent place, Altho I was only there one eve in and left early morning for my flight, the room was functional but very small, comically so in the bathroom lol but wasn’t too bothered)

      Hopefully there are many other like minded visitors who want to do the best by Iceland but just need to know how to do that and I guess word of mouth by enployees/locals and honest commentary on blogsile this is a good place to start.

  9. Lisa says:

    Excellent post and something that I had been thinking about during my visit. I have wanted to go to Iceland for more than 40 years, and I finally visited for the first time this year, and fell totally and utterly in love. I can’t wait to go back, but the expense is a factor. I really hope that Icelanders will work together to create sustainable tourism and protect the beautiful landscapes that you have. No more fast food places! The lack of those was very refreshing. If you have to limit visitors to the main sites, then so be it, they must be protected. It could be an opportunity to educate people about responsible tourism and protection of the environment. So many tourists seem to arrive, take some selfies and move on. Such a wasted opportunity to actually engage with the place you are visiting. Please don’t follow the world into mass, bland, uniform shopping malls and sameness. Keep your beauty and uniqueness.

  10. Andrea says:

    I had an unplanned stopover in Iceland over 20years ago. It was expensive, romote, dreary but full of people with warm sunny personalities. Next week, I return as prepared tourist for a well planned opportunity to experience fire and ice. I have little tolerance for travelers who land in foreign places without taking the time to educate themselves about their destination. This blog paints an image of recklessness invading easily accessible locations in Iceland. I envision a scene similar to the fairy penguins flocking to shore at dusk on Philip Is. outside of Melbourne Australia. I promise not to pack black and white attire next week 🙂 Iceland is a hot destination. This is what happens when a location is advertised. Many years ago, it was a big deal to go to the Great Wall, no longer so. Safaris were exotic. Air Travel was a novelty and you dressed accordingly. Today the majority is mile high savvy in their lounge attire and seat belts unfastened. The world is becoming a much smaller place and Iceland is no exception. I live on an Island too. We rely on tourism like you. However, it was nice when there were distinct tourism seasons so we could have some authentic “local time”. I hope our visit will contribute to your country. We’ll be mindful of our our footprints and our expectation is to bring back memories that are the kind you relive. Thank-you for your blog. It has been an incredible resource. I can’t wait for your words to come to life!

    1. Danielle says:

      One vivid memory from my few hours spent in stop over at Keflavík in the early 90s is the coke from the cafe tastes like floor cleaner lol (smoking was still allowed in planes!!). I was also a very fussy eater so the inflight food with iceland air was not to my taste! With that and the smoking i had the impression for years that Icelandair sucked, when indeed now it’s a great choice 🙂

      It was a very cheap flight to America, because of the stop over and ‘weirdness’ of the route – now stop overs a complete selling point!

  11. Angela says:

    I was so excited to see a post on this topic, so thank you! My husband and I were in Iceland in January of 2015 and loved it. We will be coming back in May of this year for a broader experience of the country and I’ve been very curious how crowded Iceland will feel, both two years later and in May vs. January. I did a lot of research on tourism statistics and decided May would be a good time for weather and less tourists than the summer months.

    We are planning a road trip around the island over 13 days, but are intentionally spending a few of those days in the Westfjords based upon the low tourism statistics. We want genuine Iceland with tiny villages and kind-hearted locals, and I’m hoping that’s what we will find in the Westfjords.

    We have every intention of driving responsibly, not littering, respecting nature, and obeying laws. We love travel and want to be respectful of such a gorgeous country. Thanks for your candor in covering this sensitive topic, I appreciate it!

    1. Sofi says:

      How was it? Did you fint it too touristy or okay? We and my husband are in a simmular situation to yours, but im starting to wonder if it would be nicer to drive around Ireland or the coast of Portugal instead :/ im so worried that going back will be disappointing since we hade such a nice trip in the early summer of 2013.

  12. I’ve coming to Iceland about every three years or so (since 2000). I enjoy the culture of the city, especially the theatre and live music. I noticed a big difference in October 2015 compared to October 2012. In 2012 there were many musical events I could attend, at least one almost ever night, sometimes more than a couple a night. In 2015 I found two during my whole stay. That is a big difference. I know that many venues have closed, but there are still quite a few in the city center, most tour packages don’t schedule for this, there could be more done in this area. There is no shortage of talent.
    The live theatre scene in Reykjavík is fabulous, I know that many tourists are afraid of seeing a play performed in a foreign language, but isn’t that part of why you go to a foreign country? And the theatre gives you an opportunity to hear it spoken at a very high level. If you ever want a guest post about the National and City theatres, let me know!

    1. mm Auður says:

      I actually think the music scene is better now again. When Sarah stayed with us for a month she went out every single night to open mic nights, comedy nights, jazz nights etc and I really experienced through her (because I don’t have time for this so much myself anymore) how much is actually going on. Then when I look at my sisters who are more into the art and literary scene they are always going to openings and happenings all over. So things are definitely happening. But it depends greatly on the time of year – the weeks after Airwaves, for example, are kind of dead in the music department, everyone is just exhausted. And the independent theaters have been really upping their game lately too.

  13. Dave says:

    Thank you for an informative post. I’ve visited Iceland twice now…in February 2015 and November 2016…and it truly is an exotic destination for an Australian. I took your walking tour both times and I enjoyed your partners dry sense of humour, by the way.
    I noted in November,the “Out of bounds” areas at Dettifoss and other places, roped off to allow the delicate flowers to regrow, and I accept that such barriers are necessary, unfortunately, to protect the land. Most of Australia’s easily accessible natural sights will have some sort of wooden fence, guides, paths or steps, I’ve found. They’re usually simple and unobtrusive plain timber, and I’ve never known them not to be there so I accept them. But thinking about them, they clearly guide and channel visitors by making it easier for them…and preserving the soil in the process.
    It was certainly exciting and raw to walk right to the edges of huge falls like Haifoss and Dettifoss, or up narrow ravines, through the icy water, at Thorsmork…I’m scared of heights and it was exhilarating! “Raw” is how I describe the landscape of Iceland to friends…with the ability to get right in amongst nature. The “Safety Police” don’t seem to have touched much of it yet. But even I could see that that freedom for tourists to wonder is not sustainable for the land…millions of people a year are going to erode that land. I hope that the people with the money and the interests are working on ways to preserve it.
    It’s not cheap to travel to Iceland…it really is on the far side of the world from Perth…but that’s all just part of the adventure, I feel. Special experiences are worth saving for, and prices of everything were just the same as Australia really. And an item like a genuine Australian wool sweater…we call it a “Jumper”, by the way…will cost up to $300AUD here. Better to mail order one from the UK for $50AUD or less.. 🙂 Before the first time I visited Iceland, people here said to me, “If you want to see snow, why don’t you just go to New Zealand..?” I would answer, “Because it’s full of Australians and New Zealanders.” 😉 But it’s about more than just seeing snow.

    1. Danielle says:

      That’s funny you mention NZ Dave, I wanted to go to Nz for years, largely based on a love of Lord of the rings – it wasn’t happening and when I randonly chose to go to Iceland, it was almost like a ‘mini new Zealand’ and satisfied my lotr fix and I felt it was more authentic as it was the landscape Tolkien had based the middle earth descriptions on anyway. I finally went in 2010 for a big birthday as I had saved up and know that geologically they are similar but obviously very different in other ways. They are my two joint favourite countries – if NZ wasnt so bloody far away I’d have been back as many times as Iceland I reckon!!

  14. Patc says:

    I’m making my first trip in June. Very hopeful that a crowded Iceland is nowhere near to what a crowded Yellowstone, Glacier, or Grand Canyon looks like here in the States.

  15. Morella says:

    We visited Iceland at the beginning of June in 2015.

    And we were surprised how little tourists there were!
    We had watched films about Iceland – masses at hotspots like Gulfoss or Reynisfjara!
    In most places, we were the only bus and even the Golden Circle was deserted in the late evening.

    I think that tourism affects every country.
    I can understand that you feel that the original purity vanishes. Silly security signs, litter and crowds at every famous natural phenomena.

    But I don’t know how we can stop that.
    Nowadays it’s hip to travel abroad.

    And at least in Germany, young people don’t settle down before they are 30-40.
    Many young people have good jobs which means they can afford to travel in remote countries. (Iceland is not remote for Germans but it costs us more than flying to the Carribbean!) And that also means they have 10 years or more to do so! Before they spend their money on building a house or their children.

    I love your blog and I have been reading it since 2014. Keep writing! 🙂

  16. Jim Davis says:

    I’ve heard horror stories about tourist behavior (not just in Iceland). I’ve witnessed the occasional rude tourist as well. I’m not nearly as “well-traveled” as some people, but I feel like being in another country is like being a guest in someone’s home. No one likes a loud, rude, discourteous guest. Be nice, patient and courteous – I think that goes a long way. And always heed warning signs wherever they may be!

    BTW, Auður; I’ve been following your website for about 2 years now (thanks for all the good advice!) and visited Iceland in September 2015. I am taking a bit of your advice and I will be doing an epic road trip around West Iceland and the Westfjords in 6 months. I cannot wait for September!

    1. mm Auður says:

      September should be a great time for it too – I love the light at that time of year and the autumn colors!

  17. sheri kalvin says:

    i agree with all your thoughts in this post. we travelled to iceland on a 2-day stopover to copenhagen last year. i found it exactly as you said. we spent very little time in reykjavik…about 3 hours…thanks mostly to what you have written. we visited a few shops and cafes that we were told about by friends who had been stationed at keflavik and then we got out. out in to the reykjanes peninsula. all around it. exploring it. being mindful of our footprints and staying on paths. we had our own rental car and relied mostly on information from guidebooks and advice from locals. someone called it raw. i would definitely agree. we saw very few other tourists at the places we drove to except the blue lagoon. even there, we only drove over to have some wonderful food in the restaurant. yes, in april it was very crowded there. we drove to lake kleifervatn (sorry if i have misspelled it.) wow…so beautiful. but…no infrastructure supporting visiting it ie no restrooms, no trash receptacles, etc. we saw other people’s trash and it made me so sad. for us, we kept it in the car and disposed of it when we returned to the hotel. i am not so sure others follow suit in treating a place with respect. will we return? yes, hopefully one day. and we will continue to use your blog as advice on where to go and where NOT to go. we like to see the unadulterated parts of a country and love talking to the local residents. we refuse to use AirBnB (in fact, they are not allowed to rent out in our community in sw fla for many of the same reasons you quote.) i know that some tourists are like us but that many are not. it is a shame. a trip is what you make of it, though, and with proper planning, you can avoid tourist traps and funding them.

  18. Julia says:

    I am planning a trip for January 2018 – first time visitor. I live near Santa Cruz, California and remember this town as a sleepy little burb with cheap, funky little homes and now this area is known as “Silicon Beach”. Our young people will probably never be able to afford homes here and renting here is a nightmare as well – the university student take over housing from September – June and the tourists June – September.

    While it may feel too late to protect your beautiful land, it’s just not but I’m sure it feels close. I hope that there can be a consensus to protect the heart of Iceland while still remaining as warm and welcoming as I have heard.

    As tourists, we must pledge to protect the landscape as if it were our own and not be “that person”….

  19. Connie says:

    Bravo Audur,

    We are planning a trip in October and are doing the ring road. We share your concerns as we have seen many wonderful rustic areas of North America overrun by the Dunkins etc.

    Please keep up the effort!

  20. Adam says:

    How funny, I just got back from my second time on your walking tour and asked Asta and Olofa(?) just this question on March 16, not having read your very thoughtful Blog entry. I found that Reykjavik had changed a great deal in just a year since I last visited. The relentless selfie takers seeking instagram fame were much more apparent than a year ago. The crass hen party complaining about the weak aurora, demanding “is this shit gonnna happen or not?” Something had definitely changed. I spoke with a nice woman in the (not so) secret lagoon about it and she said that she no longer told tourists her favorite spots to visit in Iceland. This is a normal thing that happens when the tourist to local ratio reaches a certain point. The surging Kronor may limit the future growth and the facebookery may run its course soon enough.

    I still heart Reykjavik and it’s weirdness. (e.g. sitting next to a former Prime Minister at the bar in Snaps and confirming with him that I really should go to a bank… to pay a parking ticket?). That said, I will likely skip it on a planned September stopover, except for the jet lag shaking walking tour and hopefully Asta’s icelandic language course.

    1. mm Auður says:


      Let me know when you are coming in September and we’ll make sure we’ll have an Icelandic lesson available for you 🙂

  21. Elinor says:

    I appreciate your examination of the issue. Having been to Iceland three times and planning my fourth visit, of course I long for the times when there were less tourists and more travellers. The isolation was one of the draws. And the lack of warning signs. Thanks for the tips on what tourists can do, like staying at accommodation that pays for it’s licences and taxes. Living in Vancouver, I know what it is like for local residents to have a difficulty finding affordable housing. I’m open to more suggestions on how to make travel more sustainable. On this visit, I’ll be visiting Isafjordur, Akureyri and Reykjavik.

  22. Jon says:

    I just got back from Iceland a few days ago and am about to write a blog post on this same subject. I’m a travel photographer by profession…that doesn’t mean I have any more right to be visiting Iceland than anyone else, but the steep influx in visitors since my first visit to Iceland in 2015 has made my job more difficult. I was at Jokulsarlon last week and it seemed that there were 10 people per iceberg on the beach. Getting a tourist-free shot was nearly impossible. Even way out at Stokksnes at first light the black sand had already been trampled hard and there was garbage strewn about. My guide stopped frequently on our walk through snowy Thingvellir to pick up trash that tourists had left. She said there had been a 70% increase in tourism in the last two months! I can understand the problem. I live near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which sees more visitors per year than Iceland gets in 3 (even with the current rise in visitors) in a smaller area. I wouldn’t say Reykjavik has lost its charm, but it has grown to be a bit more touristy downtown than I remember from my first of three visits two years ago. Great Blog by the way!

  23. Tr8vlin Jenn says:

    I too have been following your blog for the past 2 years. An injury sidelined me but this Sept I plan to be in Iceland for 16 days to do The Ring Road as a solo traveller. I hope to see some puffins, but will be happy to spend most of my time to the North and end my last 4 days in Reykjavik to take your walking tour. The Galapagos Islands are experiencing these same growing pains. Ecuador at least had begun steps to protect their resources. I look forward to meeting you soon and imersing myself in all things Iceland. ?

    1. Wouter says:

      I totally agree, … i would suggest to ask for an entrance fee to see all these wonderfull waterfalls and natural attractions. I have been on iceland with only 2 years in between 2014 – 2016 and i already could see a big difference in tourists … the south of iceland becomes more like Disneyland attraction … busses packed with cruise tourists.

  24. Izzy says:

    I first visited Iceland 5 years ago and fell in love with it. I felt like I had found my spiritual home. I have now visited 8 times, and each time, particularly in the summer months it just got busier and busier. We have visited the Golden Circle and the South Coast (crowded), but also Akureyri and Myvatn (nary a tourist for miles). Within a day’s travel of Reykjavik, the Super Jeep tours are a much better bet than the big coach tours. Yes, they can be expensive, but you get to go off the beaten track, see some incredible places (Háifoss, Barnafossar, Gjáin) and there are hardly any tourists. Also, I much prefer visiting in winter when the louts who just go for a Reykjavik piss-up and a selfie in the Blue Lagoon stay away and it isn’t as crowded. As soon as I returned from my last trip (January 2017), I was planning my next visit. Sadly, I found myself completely priced out for any point in this year. Even the Airbnb places are astronomical, a combination of the boom in visitor numbers and our devalued currency (GBP). I am so disappointed that I can no longer visit Iceland for the foreseeable future. That’s life I guess!

    1. mm Auður says:

      Hopefully, for you guys, the GBP will get better soon and I’m sure the ISK will get weaker at some point 🙂

    2. Danielle says:

      Sounds like you’ve had some great trips Izzy! And seen some great stuff. I’ve been 6 times since 2006, the last two trips have been solo and with the value of the GBP, after my last trip I’m Def priced out of going again for the foreseeable future as even a couple of days now with a car is crazy expensive – the exchange seems to be what it was in 2007. I’m hoping for a glorious return one day and even though I’ll miss it (feels like my spiritual home too!) it’ll be even better when I finally get back there

      (hoping to get to Albania this year!!)

  25. Jane Bates says:

    I happen to find your blog as I am doing a lot of searches and getting ready for out first trip to Iceland which is taking place May 19th. We are actually spending 2 weeks travelling the country and even hitting Western Iceland.

    I love your website/blog and especially this particular post. We are avid travelers and I am very much aware of what tourist does to a culture,traditions, etc. I hope Iceland does find a happy medium, but I also hope that people read this and do their part in being respectful travelers. Respect the culture, we are the ones visiting this beautiful country.

    I will do some more reading and will certainly check in after our trip.

    Thanks for what you do.


    1. mm Auður says:

      Glad to hear you’ve found it helpful and I hope you have a wonderful stay in Iceland 🙂

  26. Roberta says:

    Great blog. First time to Iceland in June 2017. It’s beautiful country but it has been difficult, even with a car, to find the authentic experience in nature I’d heard about. Maybe we need to venture further than a few hours from Reykjavik. I am from near Santa Fe New Mexico, so I have experienced first hand how tourism can affect a small place in good and bad ways. A tourism-based economy always seems to be a double edged sword. Santa Fe has tried with mixed success to preserve its authentic core, but it’s somewhat a victim of its own success with inflated real estate prices, suburban sprawl, congestion and disgruntled locals. Sound familiar? Definitely not the same quaint place it was 25 years ago. We always had art galleries, just not 200 art galleries. So there ya go. Hope Iceland can do better but it will require effort and planning to effectively manage the impact of 2.3 million visitors on your land and people. Yikes. I reckon the $14 USD cups of coffee will discourage most Americans from overrunning your country any time soon. However, as many astute commentators noted, exchange rates are a moving target so you cannot rely on that to regulate tourist traffic. Meanwhile, anyone seeking solitude in beautiful nature should consider a visit to northern New Mexico. You can still drive one hour into the Pecos any direction and take a hike with a very good chance of encountering no – one – else. Then come into town and have a great meal. You’ll see a mix of locals and tourists, the locals still have their favorite haunts (try el Farol). You can ignore the galleries or look around, but I don’t advise buying. It’s mostly overpriced😝

    1. mm Auður - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      Yes, in the middle of summer you definitely need to go a little further out to lose the crowds.

  27. Surly Mermaid says:

    We have found your blog and are very much looking forward to visiting Iceland in August. We were always taught stay as long as you can, take nothing and leave nothing but footprints behind whilst traveling the world. We do not like commercialism of authentic places around the world and will not patronise them. We pledge to do this during our stay 🙂

    1. mm Auður - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      Thankfully most of the people that visit Iceland are nice respectful people you seem to be and we can help those who aren’t by being good role models.

  28. Oscar says:

    Hi. I’m going to Iceland in the beginning of November and don’t know what to expect. I will have a few days off and I would rather be away from crowds. I wonder what place of the island would be ideal. Thank you. Love your blog!!

    1. mm Ásta - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      Hi Oscar.

      November is a fairly quiet month, and I think you have to search to see crowds, but Snæfellsnes and Borgarfjörður area in the west of the country are beautiful. You could also go to the north, to Akureyri and explore the north – you can also fly there if you don’t have much time or prefer not to spend your time driving. There are more remote areas and quieter, like the East and West fjords, but a bit further away and harder to get to – this depends on if you have a car, and the driving there can be challenging during the winter, ans also just takes a lot of time.

  29. Ivan says:

    Just found this blog, and really appreciate all the info posted….
    I’ve just booked a trip to Iceland for my wife and I. I’m a landscape photographer, and this has been on the top of my list for quite a while, so I’m glad we are able to make it there, even if a bit crowded at times. We will be flying mid March for about 8 days.
    I looked into a lot of the self-driven tours, but found their prices a bit “ludicrous” for 2 people, so I decided to book the flight with our CC points (saved a lot of money), and then booking everything else on my own.
    I’m extremely excited about this… looking forward to admiring its beauty “in person”.

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