Recently, I gave my followers on Instagram a chance to share their ideas for topics I could cover here on the blog and one of the suggestions I got was a post dedicated to travelers with disabilities. I had thought of this topic myself many times but to be really honest didn’t quite know how to approach it.
First of all, I wasn’t sure I was the right person to write about this, since I’ve never had to deal with any disabilities in my life, and I thought maybe it would be better to have someone with firsthand experience write a guest post instead. Secondly, I didn’t want to offend anyone by using the wrong language or accidentally writing something presumptuous or patronizing. The discussion of language in regards to disabilities and such is not quite as far along here in Iceland as in many places around us plus that English, of course, is my second language so sometimes I just don’t know the right words or terms to use.
To make things worse, when I googled this I realized that the English speaking world doesn’t agree on these things either and what’s considered OK in the UK might be offensive in the US and vice versa. I did find some comfort in the following paragraph that I found on an official government website for the Office for Disability Issues in the UK though and decided to take it to heart.
Don’t be too precious or too politically correct – being super-sensitive to the right and wrong language and depictions will stop you doing anything
So, with that in mind – please forgive me if I write something in this post that doesn’t agree with you. I’m open to learning and willing to improve.
Accessibility in Reykjavík
I should start with saying that I know that the information here is not exhaustive but maybe it’s a good start for someone looking for information.
In general, I feel that Reykjavík could do accessibility better. There are far too many places that are not accessible for wheelchair users and during the winter months, ice and snow make it particularly cumbersome to get from A to B. Not only for wheelchair users and the elderly but just any pedestrian.
The National Association of People with Disabilities in Iceland (Sjálfsbjörg) has an extensive database of topics concerning living in Iceland with a disability but unfortunately, most of the information is only available in Icelandic. However, they do have a small section about accessible tourism in Iceland which has some helpful information.
I did a lot of research for this post and used the Sjálfsbjörg website a lot and below are some of the things I found out.
Wheelchair accessible accommodation
Loft Hostel is a great option for wheelchair users. They have 19 rooms, all of which are wheelchair accessible. The whole hostel was designed with accessibility in mind so wheelchair users should feel comfortable staying there. If you’re looking for affordable accommodation in the heart of the city I like Loft hostel a lot.
Grand Hotel Reykjavík
Grand Hotel Reykjavík is a 4-star hotel with good access for wheelchair users on all floors. 15 rooms were specially designed with accessibility in mind.
Hilton Reykjavík Nordica
The Nordica has 5 wheelchair accessible rooms and disabled parking. Braille is used in some rooms and aid equipment for deaf guests is available as well. This service may only be available in some of the rooms and fees may apply
Icelandair Hotel Marina
Icelandair Hotel Marina has good accessibility and 10-12 rooms available that are specially equipped for wheelchair users. The Marina is one of my favorite hotels – both because of the location of it and the social aspect but they have a popular bar and restaurant in house that is frequented by locals.
Icelandair Hotel Reykjavík Natura
The Natura has 3 rooms equipped for wheelchair users but I couldn’t find any additional information about this. Natura is a little bit out of the city center so you would probably need to use the public buses or taxis to get around – especially in winter when we have snow and ice on the ground.
The Radisson Blu Hotels
Public transportation in Reykjavík
The Reykjavík City Bus system
All Strætó buses that drive within the city limits have accessibility for wheelchairs. However, the user has to be able to get in and out of the bus on their own accord and has to ask either their fellow bus users or the driver to help with the ramp. There’s a designated area for wheelchairs in all buses where there are seatbelts that wheelchair users are expected to use. The buses are only equipped for one wheelchair user at a time though, which can be a problem if you are traveling with another wheelchair user.
There are a few taxis driving in Reykjavík that have accessibility for wheelchair users. It depends on the vehicle how much space they have but some can accommodate more than one wheelchair user at a time. They will have ramps and at least some of them are tall enough that they can accommodate big electric chairs without any problems.
Accessible day tours
Unfortunately, most of the big day tours companies can only accommodate wheelchair users if their chair is foldable and the person using it can make their way in and out of the bus on their own. Obviously, a lot of people can’t do that and honestly, they shouldn’t have to so let’s just say that these tours are not accessible. They cater a little better to deaf people, for example, but one of the big day tours companies offers a text description on a tablet for all of their day tours all the time which is ideal for those with hearing impairments.Please be in touch with us if you want more information about those tours as we don’t have them on our website.
If you are one of the few that can use a service like described above (if you can call that service) then the Golden Circle and the South Coast are fairly accessible. The only place on the south coast that a wheelchair user could not enjoy would be Reynisfjara beach but I would imagine it would be very hard to get a wheelchair through the sand to get close enough to the beach to enjoy it.
Iceland Unlimited specializes in accessible travel and they have a bus with ramps that you can book for day tours. They can accept up to 4 wheelchairs at a time and are experts in the field. We also have at least one other partner that can comfortably accommodate wheelchair users on their reasonably priced private tours.
Accessible Car Rental
Two car rental agencies can accommodate wheelchair users but in different ways.
Enterprise car rental has specially equipped vehicles that allow wheelchair users to drive themselves. To my knowledge, they are the only ones that offer this driving equipment but at some point, a company called Öryggismiðstöðin used to rent out similar equipment which a couple of agencies could fit in their cars. I made numerous attempts to contact Öryggismiðstöðin for more information but I never heard back. The women working their switchboard had never heard of this service so I must assume they no longer offer this service.
Hertz also has specially equipped cars that can accommodate wheelchair users as passengers with space for other passengers as well. I would imagine that this vehicle would be useful for families or groups of friends where one person uses a wheelchair and that person doesn’t need or want to drive.
All city- and state-run museums should offer accessibility and I believe most of them do. There’s good accessibility at the National Museum, the Settlement Exhibition, Hafnarhús Art Museum and Kjarvalsstaðir to name a few. The only exceptions would be Árbær museum but most of the old buildings are not accessible and Ásmyndur Sveinsson Art Museum. Private museums, on the other hand, as far as I gather can decide themselves whether or not they make accommodations for disabled travelers. Some of them do this very well while others not so much.
Wheelchair and walker rental
You can rent wheelchairs and walkers through a company called Stod in Hafnarfjörður. They have about 15 chairs in three different sizes and a number of walkers. You need to pay a minimum fee which covers a week with the chair but if you need it for any additional days you need to pay an extra fee per day. They usually have enough chairs to meet the demand but during big public holidays and events here in Iceland they sometimes run out of chairs.
You can only book the chair a week in advance through e-mail or phone and you could rent one on the same day if they have something available. They don’t offer delivery to your hotel but you can pick them up or arrange a delivery by taxi which is paid by the renter.
The National Association of People with Disabilities in Iceland (Sjálfsbjörg) also have wheelchair and walker rentals and information in English (which makes my job here much easier, I must say).
Accessibility in Iceland seen with the eyes of a local traveler, guide and wheelchair user
When I started researching this post I quickly realized that it would be really good to get input from someone with firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to travel around Iceland in a wheelchair and the first person I thought of was Jón Gunnar Benjamínsson from Iceland Unlimited (that I mentioned above).
Jón Gunnar and I have known each other for quite a few years now and apart from owning his own travel agency, he’s also a vocal advocate for accessibility in Reykjavík so he seemed like a natural fit. I sat down with him in Harpa, one (most likely gloomy) January morning, and asked him a few questions about his company and what it’s like to travel around Iceland in a wheelchair.