Don’t Be “That” Tourist: Responsible Travel in Iceland

The nature in Iceland is like nothing else – but this small island nation is in danger of being overrun with tourists. Here’s how to reduce your impact.


Photo © iStock/Gannet77

As its popularity grows and more admirers flock to Iceland’s shores, it’s vitally important to travel responsibly and help protect and preserve what we’re all here to enjoy. Here are some things you can do to help lower your impact.

Don’t Venture Off-Road in Iceland

It might be tempting to blast off into the unknown, but always stick to the roads and tracks.

If you do wander off, fragile ecosystems that take centuries to recover could be destroyed in your wake. Others might follow in your footsteps as well, causing even more damage.

Use Public Bathrooms Whenever Possible

It might sound obvious to some, but it is a serious problem in Iceland. Don’t answer the call of nature, in nature.

Even though a lot of the country seems untamed, Iceland has indeed tamed the art of public bathrooms.

Respect The Icelandic Nature

Accept that nature is in charge here.

A lot of it isn’t cordoned off behind fences or rails, so you have to be aware of what you’re doing at all times to avoid being seriously injured.

Stick to designated paths and remember that a photo isn’t worth dying for.

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Avoid the Crowds

Iceland is still a relatively new kid on the tourist block, so there are still a lot of locations to discover that aren’t on the tourist radar.

Instead of touring the Golden Circle, opt instead to spend your time taking in the sights of the Diamond Circle in the north, landscapes shaped over millennia by violent eruptions.

Worthwhile stops here include the mysterious Hljóðaklettar rock formations, beautiful Lake Mývatn, and mighty Dettifoss.

Escape the crowds at the Blue Lagoon and head to Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Spa, located within the Golden Circle area.

The very brave can run down to the nearby lake and jump in the freezing water before rushing back to the warmth of the pools.

Avid hikers might be eyeing off the popular Laugavegur Trail, but for those who don’t want to share the majestic Icelandic nature with others, head to Hornstrandir in the Westfjords.

Hikers are rewarded with an isolated region full of spectacular mountains, deep fjords, waterfalls spilling down into the ocean, and the best chance to spot the elusive arctic fox.

Lastly, to avoid the crowds at Jökulsárlón, there’s a smaller glacier lagoon just before it called Fjallsarlon. It doesn’t see nearly as much traffic, and it allows you to really ponder life as you listen to the soft but deep cracking of the glaciers.

Godafoss, in the Diamond Circle. Photo credit: iStock

Take the Icelandic Pledge

No one sets out to do harm when they travel: often they just aren’t conscious of their impact or know what it takes to travel responsibly.

As a response to this, the Iceland Tourism Board has created The Icelandic Pledge. This online agreement lists eight simple guidelines for travelers that help them take care of the environment they are exploring.

On signing this, you get a certificate you can share on social media and encourage your fellow travelers to check it out.

Want to know more about Iceland? Check out our podcast. We chat about where to capture the best photos in Iceland, how to speak like a Viking (almost), and how a social policy got the country to the World Cup.

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