Travel Sustainably in Iceland
You’ll soon be travelling to Iceland and we’re here to help you get prepared in the best way possible.
During your trip, you’ll be experiencing the local culture and heritage and exploring the pristine great outdoors. Through all this, it’s good to keep in mind the importance of preserving it all for future generations to enjoy.
At Nordic Visitor, we believe in doing our part for the planet and our local environment. For that reason, we want to encourage you to do the same when visiting our beloved nation, Iceland.
That said, sustainable travel is not just about conserving the environment. It’s also about supporting local economies and having a positive impact on the local communities.
On this page, you’ll find some friendly suggestions on how you can do your part.
Packing for your visit to Iceland
You can arrive in Iceland prepared to be as green as possible by bringing a couple of items from home:
1. Carry a reusable water bottle
The drinking water in Iceland is very clean and pure. Almost all tap water in Iceland comes from groundwater that is filtered naturally through layers of volcanic rock.
That means it’s safe, and delicious, to drink the tap water and you can refill as you go. This way, you can save money and be environmentally friendly all at once.
2. Bring a reusable shopping bag
Stores in Iceland are required by law to charge for every shopping bag. So an easy way for you to reduce the amount of waste from your holiday and save money is to bring a reusable shopping bag with you. Win-win situation!
Making the most of the local culture
Come to Iceland and you’ll see more than volcanoes, glaciers and lava fields. You’ll also discover a culture rooted in Nordic and Viking heritage. The country and its people have their own festivals, traditions and tasty food.
By supporting the local culture, you’ll embrace your Icelandic experience while making a positive impact on the economy and people.
1. Shop local for souvenirs
If you plan on buying souvenirs while in Iceland, why not purchase items made locally? Here are some suggestions of true Iceland souvenirs:
- Knitted wool clothing – check out The Handknitting Association of Iceland to buy wool jumpers, gloves, hats and more. These are usually handknitted by locals.
- Cosmetics made from Icelandic herbs and minerals – you could purchase products from Blue Lagoon skincare, Sóley Organic and Villimey, among others.
- Ceramic products – look for shops and galleries like Koalin, Skúmaskot or the Kogga Ceramic Gallery & Studio.
- Icelandic sweets and chocolate – Icelanders love black licorice, or chocolate-covered licorice, so why not try it while you’re here? Or take some home if you have Nordic tastes.
- Books by Icelandic authors from Icelandic bookstores – Icelanders are very proud of their literary heritage. This most notably includes the Icelandic sagas dating back to the 12th and 14th centuries. You could also look up author Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s only Nobel Prize for Literature laureate. His most famous work is Independent People.
When buying souvenirs, try to look at the origins of the product to see if they are local or not. You can also ask the vendor. For example, some lava rock jewellery isn’t made in Iceland or with Icelandic lava rock.
2. Don’t remove natural items from the landscape
Please keep in mind that it is illegal in Iceland to take stones, plants, lava rocks or other natural items from protected areas.
3. Eat local
An easy way to support the local economy while travelling is to eat out at Icelandic restaurants. You need to eat, after all!
We recommend especially looking for menus that feature local produce like fresh fish, meat, dairy products and vegetables. Yes, Iceland grows a variety of fresh vegetables in greenhouses heated by geothermal energy year-round.
When travelling with Nordic Visitor, you get access to our exclusive Iceland Restaurant Guide with recommendations from our local staff. So you’ll know exactly where to eat during your trip.
4. Attend Icelandic events
Going to festivals and special events hosted in Reykjavík or around the country is a great way to immerse yourself in and support Icelandic culture.
For events in Reykjavík, check out the website What’s On. Here you can insert the dates of your stay in the city to see events happening at that time. You’ll also find a variety of concerts and events hosted at the Harpa Concert Hall.
5. Be respectful of local traditions and customs
When visiting cultural and historical sites, remember to be mindful of the importance these sites have for locals. Sometimes they represent their culture and hundreds of years of tradition and are great sources of pride.
Using sustainable transportation
1. Walk around if you can
Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, is very easy to get around on foot. Walk along Laugavegur, the main shopping street. You could also wander around the Tjörnin pond or along the sea promenade.
Your accommodation is likely to be central so you can access restaurants and shops.
2. Do like the locals and hop on an electric scooter
If you would like to give your feet a rest, an easy, cheap, and sustainable way to travel around Reykjavík is by electric scooter.
3. Use public transport
You also have the option of taking the public bus while exploring Reykjavík. This is especially convenient if you plan to travel outside of the city centre. On the Strætó website (public transport system) you can easily find which bus to take by inserting your details in the route planner.
4. Drive gently to be more eco-efficient
If you are going on a self-drive tour, there is still a way for you to be more sustainable if you want. The easiest way to limit the fuel consumption of your vehicle is to drive gently, evenly, and smoothly. Acceleration and braking require more energy, so avoid sharp acceleration and abrupt braking. Try maintaining a constant speed to be more economical and eco-friendly.
Conserving the natural environment
One of the main attractions in Iceland is its incredible natural scenery, and there is lots you can do or keep in mind to help during your trip.
1. Don’t go off-road driving
Please remember off-road driving is illegal in Iceland. Driving and parking sensibly will help preserve Iceland’s fragile nature. Keep to marked roads and parking spots and do not create an obstruction.
You can read more advice on driving safely in Iceland on our travel guide.
2. Hike along marked trails
Hiking is a great way to explore the natural beauty in Iceland. You’ll find many beautiful hiking trails of all levels and through a variety of landscapes.
Make sure to stay on marked hiking trails to help us conserve the native flora. For example, moss is fragile and can easily be damaged if stepped on.
3. Leave no trace behind
Iceland is known for its unspoiled and clean nature. Help keep it this way by putting your litter in bins and recycling if possible. If there are no bins where you are visiting, take your rubbish back with you to your accommodation so you can dispose of it there.
4. Do not disrupt stone cairns or carve your name in rocks
This is all part of keeping our natural scenery pristine.
There is an old tradition in Iceland of creating stone cairns to guide travellers. These stone cairns are part of Iceland’s living cultural heritage, so please do not disrupt them and do not create your own. This can disrupt the landscape and create scars in the moss.
During your travels, you might also come upon tuff mountains. Tuff is a rock type created from volcanic ash, so it’s very soft, which means it is easy to scar. In the past, some people have carved their names or images on these rocks. Please do not do this.
5. Be mindful when visiting national parks and protected areas
You need to show extra consideration to the natural environment when visiting national parks and protected areas.
Some sites in national parks may have restricted access during wildlife nesting and breeding seasons. Make sure to honour these restrictions so as not to disturb the wildlife.
6. Observe wildlife without disturbing it
When visiting Iceland and going wildlife spotting, your goal should be quiet observation. Make sure to observe wildlife from a distance. To not disturb the different species, we recommend you do not make quick movements or loud noises. And do not try to touch them.
The only native land mammal in Iceland is the Arctic Fox. They are a bit shy so can be hard to spot. If you are going to the Westfjords, we recommend visiting the Arctic Fox Center to learn more about these furry animals.
Iceland is a paradise for bird watchers, as you can find a wide variety of species.
The most famous bird species is probably the adorable puffin. The best time to see puffins is during their breeding season, between late April and mid-August. They can be spotted in many places around Iceland, but the best locations are Dyrhólaey on the south coast (restricted access until 25 June due to the breeding season) and Hafnarhólmi in Borgarfjörður eystri in East Iceland.
Please note that the Icelandic gyrfalcon is a protected species in Iceland. Their eggs and other products made from the bird are illegal.
You can find more information about bird-watching on our best time to visit Iceland blog.
Iceland is a top destination to see whales! And you’ll want to visit Húsavík, considered to be the whale-watching capital of the country.
The high season for whale watching is from April–October, but you can see whales all year round. Many boat tours are offered from Reykjavík, the capital.
You can read more on our guide to whale watching in Iceland.
On the east coast of Iceland, you might see reindeer. During the winter, they seek lower ground and can often be spotted along the roads. On some of our tours, you can even book a Wild Reindeer Experience.
Sheep & Icelandic horses
You can also see many domestic animals on your trip in Iceland, mainly the Icelandic sheep and the Icelandic horse.
After the lambing season in May, the sheep can roam freely in the mountains and fjords. You might even spot them by the road, so please be mindful of that when driving.
A good thing to keep in mind is that if you see the ewe (female sheep) on one side of the road and her lambs on the other side of the road, you should slow down. That’s because you might scare the lambs and they might try to run into the road to join their mother.
You might often see horses just outside of farms. If you want to stop to see the horses, please make sure to park your vehicle in a safe place, both for your safety and the safety of other drivers.
If you want to ride an Icelandic horse, book an excursion to add to your itinerary. Or ask your travel consultant.
7. Visit sites outside peak times
If you can, try to visit popular attractions outside peak times. Not only will you help reduce the pressure on these spots, but you’ll enjoy a more relaxed experience when you visit.
On the Visit Iceland website you can see the visitor numbers at many popular highlights. This can help you determine if you should come back later.
8. Take the Icelandic Pledge
Yes, we love tourism and we love our country and the best way to combine these is with a pledge to travel more sustainably.
You can also take the Icelandic Pledge to show your support for our conservation efforts and love our Iceland.
Carbon offsetting your trip
If you are interested in carbon offsetting your trip, you can do so through the Iceland Carbon Fund. What does carbon offsetting mean? Trees will be planted to offset the carbon emissions produced by your trip.
Did you know that before human settlement, birch forests covered around 25-40% of Iceland? In the next few hundred years, around 95% of the original forests had been permanently destroyed.
Reforestation efforts in Iceland have been ongoing since the early 1900s. If you choose to offset your trip with tree planting, then you will be helping us reclaim a part of the original birch forest in Iceland.
If you’re looking for more resources, you can also check out our Iceland Travel Guide. Here you’ll find information on climate and weather conditions, health and safety, what to pack and other useful tips to prepare for your trip.
By travelling in a sustainable way you are helping us preserve our beautiful country so that future generations can also enjoy visiting.