Although Iceland’s popularity has been on the up for decades, the country received a huge boost in visitor numbers when the ‘Inspired by Iceland’ tourism campaign launched in June 2010. This campaign set out to boost the country’s image and help encourage people to visit Iceland again after the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted earlier in the year, causing worldwide flight disruptions.
I think it’s safe to say that the campaign worked!
Just check out this crazy graph on Wikipedia showing tourism numbers in Iceland:
But like most countries, with this increase in popularity also brings 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 to ensure you have as authentic an experience as possible. I hope it proves useful!
Avoid: The Blue Lagoon
Do: Go to the Secret Lagoon
With an average 4000 visitors per day, the Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most popular hot spring by a mile. When seeing photos online, it’s easy to see why — it’s big, bright blue and even offers a mud mask package.
But with average prices for a day ticket being £65, it’s also massively overpriced for what it is.
Therefore, it’s highly recommended that you make use of other lesser known hot springs in Iceland.
The Secret Lagoon, for example, is a great alternative.
Although the water isn’t bright blue and mud masks aren’t included, the water is the perfect hot spring temperature, the location is stunning, there are far fewer people (even at peak times), it’s more than half the price of the Blue Lagoon and it’s also a natural hot spring.
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 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 I didn’t experience this the whole time I was there (and we were staying in a tiny cabin out in the countryside!).
So my 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, I 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.
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 I’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.
If, however, you get the chance to go on a whale watching or puffin tour, or if what you want to see is along F-Roads and therefore requires a 4×4, then by all means, find a good tour.
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 route, 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, I’ve created a handy checklist that shows you 15 food items you can bring with you to Iceland. Get it here!
Avoid: 10/11 grocery stores
Do: Go to Bonus grocery stores
For the times when you do need to buy food and drink in Iceland, avoid 10/11 grocery stores like the plague. There are currently three of them in Reykjavik, and they are stupidly expensive compared to other grocery stores around the country.
The grocery store Bonus has well over 20 stores throughout Iceland and is far cheaper. It’s 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”
Do: Buy authentic souvenirs
“Puffin shops” are shops that are exclusively tailored to tourists visiting Iceland.
From snowglobes, to 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 Cafe or Port Verkefnarými
- Anything from the gift shop in the National Museum
- 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.
I 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 me know…
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