Iceland is famous for its outstanding natural beauty, unique wildlife, and rich history. But you may be wondering if there’s anything bad about visiting Iceland.
Even though we think Iceland is an incredible place to visit, there are indeed a few drawbacks for you to consider before your trip. After all, things like the price of living and the long dark winters could be a turnoff for some people.
In this article, we are going to tell you about the ten downsides of visiting Iceland. We don’t want you to put off visiting, because there are far more reasons to love our beautiful country! But we hope the information will help you make the best possible decision for you and your family. Let’s get started!
The 10 “Bad” Things About Iceland
1. Price Of Living
There is no denying that Iceland is a pretty expensive country to visit. The fact that we have to import a lot of food and materials into the country means the price of daily goods is inevitably on the high side. Hotels, restaurants, and activities are all likely to be more expensive than you’re used to. (Especially if you come from a country with a lower GDP).
On the bright side, there are loads of incredible things for you to do that are totally free. You’ve got black beaches, volcanoes, and National Parks to explore for little to no money. So if you’re determined to visit Iceland on a budget, you can make it work!
2. Dark Winters
The second thing to consider is the long dark winters in Iceland. In the summertime, the sun hardly ever sets. But in the winter, you might only see sunlight for a couple of hours a day. The lack of sun can be a bit of a shock for some people, and it’s harder to enjoy the great outdoors when the hiking trails are too dark to explore.
The payoff for the long nights is that you’ll have a chance to see the Northern Lights. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you are not going to forget. There are also lots of museums for you to explore in the dark months, and you’ll also get the chance to go ice caving or husky dog sledding when the glaciers are at their most dramatic.
But if you aren’t comfortable driving in the dark, winter really isn’t the best time for you to come to Iceland.
Along with the darkness comes some pretty gnarly weather. So you’ll have to be prepared for some severe snow and ice in the wintertime. If you’re coming to visit from Alaska, don’t sweat it, you’re going to be absolutely fine!
But if you come from a tropical climate, you may be a bit taken aback by Icelandic winters. Blizzards will shut down the roads some days, and you’re going to want to wear crampons to visit some of the natural attractions. Some people even wear crampons around Reykjavik when the ice gets serious.
((f you wear crampons in the city, make sure they are the kind that won’t destroy the floor of the bus or restaurants!)
Be careful when you’re opening doors so they don’t slam on your fingers in a big gust of wind, and you should be prepared for outdoor activities to get canceled if the weather looks too dangerous.
The summertime is much less dramatic, but you should still bring a warm coat and expect a decent amount of rain. (Don’t forget that Iceland sits right by the Arctic circle). Most outdoor activity companies will have suitable clothing to lend you when you go out with them, but you should still make sure you bring plenty of warm and comfortable clothes for your trip.
That doesn’t mean you have to dress as if you’ve just come off the hiking trails all the time. You’ll probably spot the locals versus tourists depending on who is wearing the ski pants and who is wearing a dress and high heels! (But by all means, stay cozy in ski pants if you want.)
4. Public Bathrooms
It can be hard to track down a public bathroom in Iceland, which can be a bit annoying if you’re going to be out all day. If you need to pop into a restaurant or gas station for the bathroom, it’s considered pretty rude in Iceland to use them without buying something. Don’t worry; you can just grab a can of soda at the gas station to appease the cashier before asking if they have a bathroom you can use!
There are occasionally pay toilets in the bigger towns that you can use, so you may want to keep some coins on you. (It usually costs around 200 IKR to use a bathroom, which is around 1.5 USD).
5. Disabled Access
For visitors with disabilities, some of the attractions in Iceland can be difficult to access. While this is improving, many popular attractions are still tricky for wheelchair users to participate in. The buses in Reykjavik are all wheelchair accessible, and attractions in the capital and around the South Coast are improving their access.
We sincerely hope this important work continues, but in the meantime, we acknowledge that more needs to be done to make a visit to Iceland truly inclusive.
6. Highland Roads
The Ring Road around the edge of Iceland is well maintained. But if you want to take a highland road (or F road) into the wild center of Iceland, you may be disappointed. The rougher conditions mean most car hire companies won’t insure you to take these roads, even if you’re renting a 4×4. Off-roading is strictly prohibited throughout the country, by the way.
The good news is that you don’t have to take any highland roads to enjoy Iceland’s natural beauty. You can take the ring road right to Skaftafell if you want to explore the hiking trails there, and you can still access tonnes of beaches, volcanoes, and glaciers without taking the mountain tracks.
If you decide to ignore the insurance terms and drive on an F road anyway, you could be in big trouble. There are large stretches of mountain roads where you can not get a vehicle recovery, so you’d be facing enormous fines and legal issues. (By enormous fines, we are talking paying for the full value of the vehicle as a minimum!)
7. Taking Flights
Slow travel, particularly flight-free travel, is becoming much more common. But it isn’t easy to visit Iceland without taking a flight. So if you’ve taken a pledge to stop taking air travel, it isn’t going to be straightforward for you to come and visit Iceland.
One option would be to take the ferry from Denmark, but the journey can take up to 3 days each way. So it’s possible to get to us flight-free, but only if you’re prepared for a 6-day return ferry trip, plus however long you need to drive home from Denmark.
We totally understand that reducing your carbon emissions may be a priority for you. So if any more ferry options become available, we will let you know!
8. No Wild Camping
Iceland used to be famous for its wild camping. You could just pull your camping vehicle into a beautiful spot and sleep right in the Icelandic wilderness. But then tourism exploded, and people started camping all over the place, even by the side of the roads. Without toilets to accommodate for this, you can imagine how hygiene issues soon arose, as well as problems with littering and safety concerns.
Unfortunately, new laws had to be drafted to protect Iceland’s nature from the less responsible campers. Wild camping is no longer allowed (nor is it tolerated) in the vast majority of Iceland. You can only wild camp if you’re in high mountain territory and no other campsite is feasible. (If you’re traveling by car, there is practically no situation where you can justify camping outside a campsite now).
Don’t worry; Iceland has loads of affordable campsites for you to use. You can get a camping card to save money on a more extended trip, and the facilities vary depending on your needs. Whether you want a primitive campsite in a National Park or a nice social campsite with a kitchen and clean bathrooms, you’re going to find something that’s to your liking.
9. Hard To Bring Fido
Another thing to bear in mind about Iceland is that it’s not a very easy place to bring your dog along on vacation with you. Dogs have to go through a strict quarantine, and the importation process can be quite lengthy and stressful for them.
If you were planning on moving to Iceland, of course, it’d be worth jumping through these hoops. But if you just like traveling with your dog, then you may need to have a rethink.
10. Crowded Attractions
Some people love meeting other travelers on vacation. If that’s you, then you’re going to love Iceland in the high season. But if you prefer to get to know the local culture and meet people that have grown up in Iceland, you may be a little frustrated by the high percentage of tourists to residents in the summer months.
You can get away from this by leaving the South Coast, where most visitors stay on their trip. And if you want to visit in the summer but don’t want to be part of the crowds, you can head to the natural attractions early in the morning or in the evening. As the sun hardly ever goes down, you can take advantage of the extra light and explore when most people are back at their hotel.
Iceland is a truly spectacular country, so we hope we didn’t put you off coming to visit! Of course, no place is perfect, and we hope this information will help you plan your trip in a way that works best for you. For more helpful information about visiting Iceland, you can explore the rest of the Play Iceland blog. And if you think you’re ready to dive in, you might like to check out some of our handpicked tours.
We are looking forward to welcoming you to Iceland soon!