8 Things to Avoid as a Tourist in Iceland

Updated on February 16, 2018
Saarith LM profile image

Saarith lives in Iceland with his wife and children and has seen the tourist industry explode in the last few years.

Being a Tourist in Iceland

While traveling to Iceland is sure to be an enjoyable experience, there are a few things you should try to avoid doing in order to save you money, save you from embarrassment, or keep you safe from harm. Here is a list of a few things which are good to avoid while visiting Iceland, as recommended by a local.

1. Don't Leave Your Coat at Home

The weather in Iceland can change rather dramatically over a single day. While most days during the summer are predictable, you can still experience sunshine in the morning, rain in the afternoon, and snowfall in the evening, with changing winds added on top of that. During the winter, this weather pattern is even more common and extreme, with the occasional snowstorm for fun.

So even if the weather looks fabulous from your hotel window, you should still bring your warm coat for the trip to Gullfoss and Geysir (or any trip for that matter). You will hopefully not need it, but there's always a chance you might—and if that's the case you'll be happy to have it!

The beautiful Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland.
The beautiful Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland. | Source

2. Consider Not Buying Bottled Water in Stores

The tap water in Iceland is among the purest in the world. It's neither chlorinated nor fluorinated, simply because there's no need to do so. In fact, the main complaint of tourists concerning the Icelandic water is its lack of taste, because there is almost nothing in it except water.

So when you visit Iceland be sure to get a reusable flask and drink the water that comes straight from the tap instead of wasting money on bottled water. Not only will this save you money, but there is the additional benefit of helping the environment by not purchasing products packaged in plastic—we all know how long that takes to degrade. That said, if you want to get sparkling water, there is a decent variety available at most supermarkets.

If you want sparkling water with a bit of flavor then you could get yourself a bottle of Kristal with a mild lime flavor.
If you want sparkling water with a bit of flavor then you could get yourself a bottle of Kristal with a mild lime flavor. | Source

3. Try to Avoid Shopping at 10-11

If you have a late flight, a 10-11 may be your only choice, but you should try to avoid shopping at this supermarket chain, simply because it's the most expensive supermarket in Iceland. The prices at these stores are sometimes three times higher than at the cheapest alternative.

To save money, try to do your shopping at the Bonus, Kronan, or Netto stores instead. These alternative chains can be found all around the capital area and in most large towns in the countryside.

4. Don't Be Fooled by the Light "Beer" in the Supermarkets

The "alcoholic" drink that is sold in Icelandic supermarkets is called Pilsner and contains less than 2.25% alcoholic volume. With such a low alcohol content, this beverage is not beer, even if it looks remarkably so. To buy alcohol outside of bars and restaurants you need to go to a special, government run, alcohol store called Vinbudin. But don't worry, there are plenty of them around the capital area. These stores have a wide range of products and they are usually open from Monday to Saturday.

As a side note, if you want to buy a light beer then I can recommend the brand in the picture below—it's quite tasty and refreshing.

This might look like beer, but it's not. To get beer you need to find the state run alcohol shops called Vinbudin.
This might look like beer, but it's not. To get beer you need to find the state run alcohol shops called Vinbudin. | Source

5. Do Not Drive Off-Road

You might have seen some travel commercial where people are driving around in a jeep at high speeds over sand or grassy hills while having a blast, hinting at the possibility that it's fine to drive anywhere while in Iceland. This is far from the reality of things.

Off-road driving is taken very seriously in Iceland, and if you're caught you could be fined up to 2000$ in addition to being required to fix the damage you caused. So no matter what you think is allowed or how seemingly harmless it looks, don't go off the road or trail in your vehicle.

6. Please Don't Go Hiking Alone and Don't Ignore Warning Signs

While the nature in Iceland is breathtaking, it is also dangerous. Every year tourists get lost or have accidents while hiking in isolated areas, and while most are found by the local rescue teams, some unfortunately die due to exposure or are never found again. So if you want to go hiking in remote areas of Iceland, please go with a group (preferably a guided tour), and be sure that someone at your hotel knows your plans and can watch for your return.

Also please remember that warning signs are there for a reason—they are not merely erected as a precaution in case someone might sue (as many travelers might think). Warning signs in Iceland are usually only placed in locations were there is real danger. And if you think you know what you are doing, you should know that the warning sign was likely placed there because someone before you also thought he knew what he was doing.

7. Do Not Enter the Swimming Pools Without Showering First

Iceland has a large number of thermally heated outdoor pools that are a joy to experience. However, there is a strict policy requiring all bathers to shower in their birthday suit before entering the pools and the shower attendants watch out that people clean themselves. If you try to skip the shower, you will be met with a mildly hostile shower attendant who will direct you straight back into the showers.

If you are somewhat shy about bathing in front of other people, you should go to the Laugardalslaug, Reykjavik's largest heated pool. This pool has extensive facilities, including a couple of special showers that look a bit like changing rooms. I would love to show a photo of it, but (for obvious reasons) I don't have one.

The Environment Agency of Iceland has made these helpful signs to emphasize the areas that need special care.
The Environment Agency of Iceland has made these helpful signs to emphasize the areas that need special care. | Source

8. Don't Forget to Exchange Your Leftover Kronas Before You Leave Iceland

The Icelandic Krona is a tiny currency which is almost never accepted by banks outside of Iceland. So if you have some amount of Icelandic Kronas, you should exchange them for a different currency before you leave the country—unless you want to keep them as souveniers.

There is a bank at the airport that will happily accept your remaining Kronas in exchange for the more common currencies of the world.

An Icelandic bill and some coins.
An Icelandic bill and some coins. | Source

Questions & Answers

  • I'm going to Iceland from Texas on a plane for the first time, leaving the state, country, and my mom. I'm 32. Where would be the most out of the way place to go to visit and stay away from tourists?

    I would recommend the Westfjord area. It is located in the northwest of Iceland and is off the main road that goes around the country. There are still some tourists there but nowhere near the amount you get in other areas. It also has some stunning nature views if you know where to find them. The Dynjandi waterfall is located in that area for example.

    Then there is Melrakkasletta, which is the most barren wasteland you can find in Iceland. It is a small peninsula to the north-east about as far away from Reykjavik as you can get. You might come across the few people that live there, but the chances of finding tourists there is slim. The offset is that, in my opinion, there is really nothing interesting in that area.

© 2017 Levictus Marcus Saarith

Comments? Questions?

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    • KsenijaZ profile image

      Ksenija 

      19 months ago from Novo mesto, Slovenia

      Nice! I love Iceland! I've followed most of these things. I just had not so warm sleeping bag with me, but hey, I've survived! ;) In Hornstrandir we drank water from streams, so refreshing! Oh and yes, please people respect the nature and signs from nature - don't go hiking in a fog!

    • Saarith LM profile imageAUTHOR

      Levictus Marcus Saarith 

      20 months ago

      You're welcome. And I hope you have a great time.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      20 months ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks for sharing. W plan to get to Iceland in the next few years and these tips will be very helpful.

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