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Iceland Mag

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7 things you can do to avoid tourist crowds in Iceland

By Staff

  • Hornstrandir Nature Preserve If you want to avoid other humans you will find plenty of places to visit in Iceland. Photo/Guðmundur Þ. Egilsson

With growing numbers of foreign visitors some people have started to worry that there are too many tourists in Iceland. We at Iceland Magazine have heard this complaint time and time over, although we have never run into the problem ourselves. Why? We simply avoid the rush hour at the most crowded spots!

Read more: Everyone crowding to visit same sites causes some to feel there are too many tourists in Iceland

To help visitors who want to get the most out of their experience we put together this handy lists of 7 things you can do to avoid the tourist crowds in Iceland.

1) Be realistic: The first thing to keep in mind is that you cannot expect to be the only person at any popular tourist destination anywhere in the world. The top sites anywhere will draw crowds. Visitors must adjust their expectations to take this into effect: Just like you should expect lines at Notre Dame you can expect crowds at Gullfoss and Geysir. 

Gullfoss winter

Gullfoss in winter Winter or summer, early morning until late in the evening, there are crowds at Gullfoss. Photo/GVA

If you don't let your frustration with other travelers get in your way you will also find it easier to enjoy the view. We have spoken to a number of foreign visitors who agree that they were pleasantly surprised by the Golden Circle. Expecting it to be "touristy" and crowded they approached the sites for what they are: Popular tourist destinations. This, they have told us, allowed them to appreciate the site without having unrealistic expectations get in the way. 

Read more: Photographer photographs tourists who are busy photographing the landscape

2) Be on time: Take to the road early to avoid the crowds. This is especially relevant in the summer when the midnight sun provides us with 24 hour daylight. Gullfoss or Skógafoss are just as spectacular at 7:00 in the morning when most other travelers are still drinking their morning coffee.

Aim at beating the morning traffic and be out of the city before others get out of bed, and you should be able to avoid crowds at even the most popular spots. Just keep in mind that you might have to pack a lunch and plan your bathroom stops strategically as gas stations and visitor centers might not have opened!

3) Take advantage of the long daylight hours: If you want a taste of what spots like Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss or the Black Sand Beaches of South Iceland felt like before the onset of tourism you might want to schedule a midnight visit in summer.  

Eyjafjörður, Norðurland, miðnætursól, midnight sun

Eyjafjörður at midnignt in summer The midnight sun is something you really don't want to miss out on! Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

If you have a rental car, or if you are exploring Iceland in an RV or a camper van you should consider scheduling some evening stops: After the buses have returned the tour groups back to Reykjavík and their hotels you can expect to have some of these spots all to yourself (and everyone else who is trying to avoid the crowds!).

Read more: How long are the summer days in Iceland?

4) Go off the beaten path: Most visitors tend to gravitate to the Golden Circle and the South Coast. This is understandable, but there are other options. The Reykjanes peninsula, West Iceland, Snæfellsnes peninsula are all within easy reach of Reykjavík, and perfect alternatives for day trips out of the capital.

Read more: Reykjanes Geopark: A volcanic wonderland less than an hour’s drive from Reykjavík

You should also consider visiting the Eastfjords or Westfjords, regions which are ignored by the vast majority of foreign visitors. Drive to the Strandir region on the "world's end", take the ferry to Vestmannaeyjar islands or visit the puffins in Borgarfjörður eystri.

Read more: A charming restaurant at “world’s end”

5) Do some research: One of the greatest challenges locals are faced with when foreign visitors ask them to name their "favorite spot" in Iceland is that there are just too many such spots to name one or two. Do a little research to come up with destinations which are not included on a hundred "must see" lists.

Read more: Fewer foreign travellers visiting Eastfjords, as visitors taking shorter trips during Iceland stay

Eastfjords

Road less traveled The remoteness of the Westfjords and the Eastfjords means you are far less likely to run into crowds of other travelers. Photo/GVA

6) Enjoy the little things: Too many people try to cram too many "must see" spots into their schedule, frantically rushing from one spot to the next, snapping a few photos and ticking the destination off their bucket list. A far better approach is to limit yourself with a fewer spots and budgeting more time for actually taking in the experience. Listening to the wind, smelling the flowers and immersing yourself in the view.

Find a beautiful spot you like and take a short hike. Even at the most popular spots, like Skaftafell visitor center in Vatnajökull National Park, or Þingvellir National Park, you will only meet a handful of people on most of the hiking trails. An early morning or late evening hike at these sites will almost certainly guarantee you will have the whole experience to yourself. 

Read more: 5 things to know about the Skaftafell region in Southeast Iceland

7) Be part of the solution not the problem: Too many people leave leave a trail of destruction, either due to thoughtlessness and ignorance, or sheer selfishness. Off-road driving, ignoring signs and instructions, littering or vandalism are all problems we can work together to eradicate.

It is our duty to leave these sites in a better condition than we found them: don't litter and pick up trash others have left behind. By treating nature with respect and staying on marked paths we can ensure others can enjoy everything Iceland has to offer. 

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