Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag


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

By Staff

  • Glymur waterfall One of the countless "hidden gems" located within a short drive from Reykjavík. Iceland has a near endless supply of destinations which few people visit, there is no reason for everyone to crowd into the same exact spots. Photo/Tryggvi

New research shows that growing numbers of foreign visitors feel that there are too many other foreign visitors in Iceland. A study prepared by the Ministry of Tourism shows that 30-55% of foreign visitors feel that popular sites are too crowded. The problem is greatest at the handful of most popular sites, especially the Golden Circle, while visitors at sites do not share the experience.

Read more: From the editor: Is there an angry backlash against tourism in Iceland?

Popular sites under stress
Skógaheiði, damaged walking paths

Skógaheiði Walking paths at some popular sites are under severe stress. Photo/Environment Agency

The report which was introduced in Parliament by the Minister of Industry and Tourism (pdf) argues that some of the most popular tourist destinations are under serious strain from growing tourism. The infrastructure, including parking lots, public lavatories and walking paths at sites in South Iceland, predate the onset of tourism, and cannot handle the numbers of visitors.

Read more: Reykjadalur geothermal valley closed to hikers to avoid further damage to vegetation

Read more: Fjaðrárglúfur canyon walking paths to remain closed until end of May to protect vegetation

Several sites in South Iceland are identified as being under greatest threat from visitor numbers which have overwhelmed the local infrastructure, Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall on the Golden Circle, as well as three popular sites on the South Coast, Skógafoss waterfall, Dyrhólaey peninsula and Dverghamrar cliffs. 

Locals in the area fear that the region will not be able to handle more visitors.The study found that 40% of locals in South Iceland feel that the region has reached the upper limit of visitors.

Negative impact on visitor experience     


Justin Bieber at Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon Sites like Fjaðrárgljúfur were only known to a relatively small number of locals until a few years ago.

The stress on the sites has also begun to impact the experience of some visitors who express growing frustration that there are too many tourists at sites along the Golden Circle and sites on the South Coast. The study found that more than 50% of visitors at Gullfoss and Geysir feel that there are "too many tourists" at the sites. Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon in South East Iceland is not far behind, with 40% of foreign visitors feeling there are too many other visitors at the site.

Read more: More park rangers posted at Jökulsárlón lagoon to stop visitors from reckless behaviour

It should be stressed, however, that the report also finds that an overwhelming majority of visitors feel that the overall experience in Iceland is overwhelmingly positive. Foreign visitors Iceland Magazine has talked to agree, arguing that crowding is only a problem at the handful of "must visit" spots in South Iceland.

Solutions: Avoid the crowded "must visit" spots

Súðavík, Ísafjarðardjúp, Súðavíkurhlíð, Westfjords

Súðavík village The Westfjords offer an endless supply of peace and quiet. Photo/Ernir

The report presents two main solutions to the problem. On the one hand the state needs to step in with investment in infrastructure, more nature rangers, better walking paths and instructions at the sites to protect nature. On the other hand the authorities and tourism industry must work together to divert some of the traffic away from the most visited spots.

Read more: 7 things you can do to avoid the tourist crowds in Iceland

Local guides and people in the tourism industry have similarly argued that perhaps the most important solution to this problem is to encourage people to visit a broader range of sites. The report sparked a debate on Icelandic social media, where some guides and others in the tourism industry pointed out that it was somewhat ironic that tourists who are visiting the most advertised spots included on all "Top 10 paces you must visit in Iceland" lists complain that others are doing the exact same thing. 

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