What Tourists Should Never Do in Iceland

The Westman Islands | © Erin Honeycutt
The Westman Islands | © Erin Honeycutt
Photo of Camille Buckley
28 June 2017

Iceland’s tourism industry has been booming in the past few years and with more inexpensive airlines offering flights combined with Iceland’s breathtaking landscape, it shows little sign of stopping. Here are some things to keep in mind in order to make visiting this amazing country a treat for everyone involved.

Never Do Your Business Just Anywhere

Many tourist-related problems in Iceland comes from the fact that the tourist industry boomed while the infrastructure was still catching up with the influx. This leads some locals to feel as if their privacy has been compromised. One example of the lack of infrastructure involves public toilets can be hard to find both in Reykjavik and around the country. Be that as it may, it’s still not a good idea to do your business on a kindergarten lawn.

Never Travel Without Reading the Weather Report

Tourists often do not realize how changeable and extreme both the weather and the landscape in Iceland is—although it may look like a fairy-tale landscape, it most certainly is not and a lot of precautions should be made. Check the weather on the Icelandic Meteorological Society website or risk unknowingly driving into a storm.

Vesturhorn-Viking wood statue | © sergejf/Flickr

Never Whole-Heartedly Believe in the Viking Myth

Icelandic companies catering to tourism have definitely taken part in the trend that is now known as Vikingafication. While most Icelanders have descended from farmers who descended from Vikings at some point down the line, the connotation in which ‘Viking’ is being used is most often in a condescending manner. The ‘Viking’ myth also contributes to an idea that visitors are allowed to ‘go wild’ and throw standard rules of behavior out the window. Perhaps treating all the commercial ‘Viking’ stuff with a grain of salt and sticking to historical evidence is best.

Never Cross a River at an Unmarked Crossing

Roads that cross over rivers have usually been there for some time and serve as tried-and-tested ways to safely cross. Rivers, especially in places such as the Highlands, can be extremely unassuming in their swiftness and depth. Don’t assume just anywhere is suitable, even in an SUV.

Never Climb Onto a Floating Iceberg

Although enticing, it is never a good idea to hop from iceberg to floating iceberg in Jökulsárlón. The lagoon is deep and cold, the icebergs are slippery and moving structures—the list goes on as to why this is just a bad idea. Don’t risk your life trying to take an impressive photo or trying to thrill seek.

<a href = "https://www.flickr.com/photos/30478819@N08/34565800804/in/photolist-UEsLjQ-VTq6a7-UP2ZGo-TZ9mSm-U5am4E-mPFB3k-qyzP3R-V6J6hB-U9ijxZ-daAXrH-8rFQbY-ofoWS1-TvY5XJ-owRU6S-nPYdV3-TWJfat-Stp3SY-RqDn73-StmcLs-SH98fK-S8i5xm-S8h7G3-VeTEVC-SDuWyh-wL1khK-Tqu9o6-SH8ZCF-55VQti-SvNPMP-SvNNKt-cm1R57-cm1Ns7-S8h3vN-cm1VV5-RqDnLQ-Sto1DS-ieqqdy-ft4KCD-RUapNo-d6whHN-d6w5Tw-ST4iBG-neJyXs-dKivGQ-cm1Mss-qCKJ9H-aLs2Qv-fiwz8m-UqGV1m-eaH4EB"> Iceland blue and black Iceberg | © Marco Verch/Flickr

Never Try to Sneak Your Pet into Iceland

While it is possible to bring pets into Iceland, they require permits and months spent in quarantine once they arrive. The reason is to protect Icelandic animals from diseases that don’t exist on the island. Don’t try to sneak any pets into Iceland or risk it being immediately killed.

Never Camp/Car-Camp on Private Property

In some remote places, it is difficult to tell what property is okay to camp on and what is not. In the East, there were too many RVs on private property which didn’t go over very well with locals. It is best to follow the guidelines and if unsure, just ask.

Never Assume Icelandic Women are Easy

Whether it started as a rumor or with that Icelandair campaign a few years ago suggested that tourists use their stopover in Iceland for a dirty weekend (complete with images of mud-faced tourists lounging in a hot tub), don’t assume that Icelandic women are easy.

Never Litter

While this should go without saying, it is still a problem everywhere and not just among tourists in Iceland. It is dangerous for wildlife such as grazing sheep and bird life. It is also a discourtesy to the tourists and visitors following afterwards, especially at natural-hot pools in the countryside. While not all litter can be pinned on tourists, no one wants to see this beautiful landscape littered.

Iceland Aurora | © Javier Rodriguez/Flickr

Never Disobey Pool Etiquette

A big poster from the National Center for Hygiene, Food Control and Environmental Health, guides people in five languages on how to wash before entering the pool. There is also a sign informing people that washing without swimsuits is required. This is in order to keep the water in the pool as clean as possible. See the details in this popular comedy sketch: The Pool Warden.

Never Disturb the Moss

The Icelandic moss is very delicate and takes decades to grow. Do not tear out clumps in order to spell out a message unless stranded and hoping a helicopter will spot you. Adding graffiti into the moss also sends the message to others that it is permissible to do the same, however, so it is definitely frowned upon except in times of emergency.

Kirkjufell, Iceland | © moonjazz/Flickr

Never Treat a Concert Hall Like a Bus Stop

Whether just getting off a red-eye flight or trying to cram every tourist activity into one day, don’t make camp inside a concert hall. Instead, find a suitable place such as a hotel or camping area.

Never Wade into the Ocean at Reynisfjara Beach

The black-sand beach at Reynisfjara, close to the village of Vík on the South Coast, has seen numerous tourist fatalities and near fatalities caused by getting too close to the waves. With an extremely-strong undertow, erratic waves, and breathtaking scenery which makes it is easy to get distracted, this is no place to go swimming or even to play a game of chase with the incoming waves.

Never Climb Over the Rope at Waterfalls/Cliffs

Ropes block people in at a certain point for a reason: to allow people to safety take pictures and not worry about stepping off a cliff. Traveling off the path onto roped-off areas also sends a message to others that it is allowed. It is definitely not in the best interest of anyone, least of all the volunteer Search and Rescue team that may be summoned to help because they must risk their lives for something that could have been so easily avoided.

<a href = "https://www.flickr.com/photos/aschaf/4826057953/in/photolist-8mvV1Y-akv9c9-8msNTK"> Goðafoss | © Andrea Schaffer/Flickr

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