Iceland’s popularity has skyrocketed over the decades – and especially recently. But with increased popularity comes tourist traps.
This list of ten things to avoid in Iceland and what you should do instead aims to equip you with the knowledge and information you need to make informed choices whilst visiting Iceland.
We want you to have as authentic an experience as possible so we hope this blog proves useful!
Avoid: Busy and expensive hot springs
Do: Go and find quieter or cheaper hot springs
Hot springs are an important part of the Icelandic culture – and make for an unforgettable experience as a tourist.
However, you might find some of the more well known hot springs are busy, relatively more expensive than others and considerably less natural as well.
Instead, why not look for some of the lesser known hot springs in Iceland during your trip? You might even find free ones out in the countryside somewhere, which are definitely natural!
We really enjoyed our time at the Secret Lagoon. You have to pay – but not as much as you might think! It’s also within the Golden Circle route so it’s easy to get to despite the name, yet it’s certainly far quieter than some other hot springs.
Just remember to read up on hot spring etiquette before your trip.
Avoid: Buying bottled water
Do: Drink from the tap
Icelanders are very proud of their water and so they should be. Forget buying bottled water, you won’t need it.
As all tap water is fresh from the nearest spring, you’re essentially getting bottled water straight from the tap. You can even fill up at a small waterfall if you want to — it’s ridiculously fresh!
Some travellers complain about a smell of sulphur coming from the tap water in Iceland, but we didn’t experience this the whole time we were there (and we were staying in a tiny cabin out in the countryside!)
So our advice is: avoid buying bottled water and just drink straight from the tap… it’s delicious!
Avoid: Spending all your time in Reykjavik
Do: Get out and explore the rest of the country
Although Reykjavik is a very pretty city and well worth a visit, we always strongly advise against tourists spending all of their time there.
There is so much beauty in Iceland but a lot of it is out in the countryside.
From off the beaten track places along the Ring Road to the highlights of the Golden Circle, it’s well worth getting out of the city as often as you can. Check out our 5 day Iceland road trip itinerary for inspiration.
But this also leads us nicely onto the next point on this list of things to avoid in Iceland…
Avoid: Expensive day tours
Do: Hire a car and drive yourself
Driving in Iceland is really quite peaceful. There are hardly any other cars on the road (except in and around Reykjavik), and once you get out into the countryside, the roads are all really straight.
Therefore, if you’re keen to see incredible waterfalls, or visit Strokkur Geysir and hot springs, then we’d definitely recommend you hire a car and drive yourself around. Not only will you get a chance to stop for photographs whenever you want to, but you can spend as long as you like at attractions and even find some places you never knew existed.
But if it’s just a visit to a top attraction you’re looking for, then just drive yourself if you can.
Avoid: Off-road driving
Do: Go hiking
Off-road driving is illegal in Iceland as they don’t want their beautiful scenery and landscapes ruined. So don’t even think about doing it!
Most of the main attractions in Iceland are accessible via the Ring Road or Golden Circle routes, which means you should never need to veer off-course.
But if you do spot something amazing in the distance and it’s off-road, then just find somewhere safe to park up and consider setting off on foot. Hiking in Iceland is so worthwhile!
Avoid: Buying unnecessary supermarket food
Do: Pack your own food
Iceland is notoriously expensive, especially when it comes to food and drink prices, due to their high import and tax costs.
Therefore, you should avoid buying unnecessary supermarket food when visiting.
Things like pasta, rice, noodles, teabags, cereal and snacks are all things that you can buy at home and pack in your suitcase to take with you. You’ll be surprised just how much money you’ll save in Iceland by doing this!
To keep things easy, we’ve created a handy checklist that shows you 15 food items you can bring with you to Iceland. Get it here!
Avoid: Expensive grocery stores in the city
Do: Go to Bonus grocery stores
For the times when you do need to buy food and drink in Iceland, you might want to try one of the many Bonus grocery stores throughout the country.
They’re considerably less expensive than some others you might find within cities like Reykjavik, for example. Bonus is like the equivalent of an Aldi or Lidl elsewhere in Europe with decent budget prices.
For a complete guide about shopping in grocery stores in Iceland, check out this detailed blog post from Follow Me Away… it’s really useful!
Avoid: Buying fake Icelandic sweaters
Do: Buy lopapeysa (the real Icelandic sweaters)
Icelandic wool sweaters called lopapeysa are one of the most sought after souvenirs when travelling to Iceland. They’re stylish, warm and an integral part of the Icelandic culture with pretty much every local owning at least one of them.
However, be careful where you buy your sweater from!
Some companies outsource production of them to China, which means that beautiful sweater you’ve fallen in love with isn’t authentically Icelandic and is probably overpriced.
When looking for sweaters, check the label to see where it was made to ensure you’re getting the real deal. Also, you’ll increase your chances of getting the best quality for the best price by heading to the Kolaportið Flea Market, Thorvaldsen’s Bazaar, or buy direct from the Handknitting Association of Iceland.
Avoid: “Puffin shops”
“Puffin shops” are shops that are exclusively tailored to tourists visiting Iceland.
From snowglobes and keyrings to Viking helmets and puffin branded accessories, these souvenir boutiques claim to sell authentic Icelandic products. But much like the Icelandic sweaters point above, they’re actually selling mass-produced products from China.
And they’re highly popular with tourists everywhere.
If it’s authentic Icelandic souvenirs you’re after, then go for some of these instead:
- A real lopapeysa sweater
- Omnom chocolate
- Icelandic music from 12 Tonar
- Original artwork from Mokka Kaffi or Gallery Port
- Anything from the Kolaportið Flea Market
Avoid: Fake supermarket beer
Do: Go to Vinbudin
Beer has only been legal in Iceland since 1989, which means the production of it hasn’t really caught up with the rest of the world yet.
It also means the regular beer you come across in Icelandic supermarkets called Pilsner isn’t actually beer. At a measly 2.25% alcohol percentage, this drink may look like beer but it sure doesn’t taste like it!
If you’re keen to buy “real” alcohol to take back to your hotel, apartment or countryside cabin, then you’ll need go to a special, government-run off-license called Vinbudin.
There are well over 50 of these stores dotted around Iceland, so you should be able to find one by car fairly easily.
We hope this list of ten things to avoid in Iceland and what to do instead will help you to have a more authentic experience in Iceland. Have you got anything else to add to this list? Let us know…
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