Icelandic Tourist Board Report: Second-Busiest Summer on Record

tourists on perlan

A recent report by the Icelandic Tourist Board shows summer 2023 to have been another record year for travel to Iceland.

Approximately 790,000 foreign tourists arrived in the country through Keflavik Airport last summer, about a quarter more than the summer of 2022, making it the second-busiest travel summer since measurements began.

Americans most numerous

Americans were by far the most numerous group of travellers. With around 300,000 in total, they accounted for almost two out of every five tourists.

Other top nations include Germany (60,000 travellers; 7.7% total visits), Poland (52,000 travellers; 6.6% total visits), France (40,000 travellers; 5.1% total visits), and the UK (35,000 travellers; 4.4% total visits).

Of these travellers, the vast majority, about 95% of tourists, were on vacation in Iceland this summer. The remaining 5% were travelling to visit friends and family, on a business trip, or had other reasons for travel.

Capital region most popular

The Reykjavík area continues to be by far the most popular destination among foreign tourists. 90% of travellers visited the Reykjavík area during their travels, due to its proximity to Keflavík International Airport and the services offered.

The South Coast was the second most popular destination, with 79% of travellers visiting. The South Coast was followed by the Reykjanes Peninsula (66%), West Iceland and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula (46%), North Iceland (32%), and East Iceland (28%). The Westfjords were the least popular destination, with only 13% of foreign travellers visiting this remote region of Iceland.

Stable pattern in overnight stays

The report noted that at an average of 8.6 nights, the number of overnight stays has remained the same as in 2022. The trend, however, has been towards increasingly longer stays in Iceland, as an average of 7.5 nights was recorded in 2018, and an average of 7.8 nights in 2019. The report notes that travellers seem to prefer staying in destinations for longer after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Americans were found to spend comparatively less time in Iceland than others, at an average of 6.9 nights. Of the top ten nationalities, German and French travellers had the longest stays, averaging 10.9 nights. Following them were Spanish, Italian, and Dutch tourists with stays ranging from 8.8 to 9.5 nights.

New records

Hotel nights in registered accommodations numbered about 4.3 million for the summer of 2023, an all-time record. This represents an 8.6% increase in hotel nights compared to the summer of 2022. Approximately two out of every five nights were spent in hotels, about 14% in guesthouses, and almost half (46.3%) in other types of accommodations.

The increase in stays in registered accommodations is largely attributable to the increasing preference for longer stays.

Read the full report here (in Icelandic).

Iceland Travellers in Israel Brought Safely to Jordan

Keflavík airport Icelandair

A group of some hundred Icelandic travellers has safely arrived in Jordan after a two-hour bus journey from Jerusalem, RÚV reports.

Many in the group of Icelandic travellers, in addition to some Faroese travellers, were on an eight-day tour scheduled to last until Saturday,  October 14. Their plans were disrupted due to the recent outbreak of hostilities in the region, when Hamas launched one of its largest offensives against Israel in recent history on October 7.

The group was originally supposed to be evacuated from Tel Aviv. However, safety concerns have led many airlines to cease flights to and from Tel Aviv. The decision was instead made to evacuate the group to Amman, Jordan, from where they would be flown back to Iceland.

Sigurður Kolbeinsson, the organiser of the tour in question, stated to Morgunblaðið: “It was a challenging situation, and we worked all night on this plan with Civil Defense, Icelandair, and our Israeli partner, Columbus. There were uncertainties in this because the landing permit was not obtained until just before 11 o’clock. We also had some trouble getting a bus to Jordan because they are so busy due to the influx of refugees here. However, we have now entered the country […] We just need to show the police that we have passport stamps.”

Now, the group is reported to have arrived safely in Jordan after a two-hour bus ride from Jerusalem. Sigurður stated to RÚV that the group was safe and in good spirits: “Everyone is safe, and everyone is relieved. We have made it out of Israel […] Everyone is on their way home, back to their families. We are taking off at 21:20 local time, which will be 18:20 Icelandic time. We will have a layover in Rome on our way home, where the crew will rest, and another crew will take over. It will be a very brief stopover. I understand that the estimated arrival in Iceland will be sometime between two and three in the morning, I don’t know exactly, but that doesn’t matter to anyone,” said Sigurður.

Sigurður also expressed his gratitude to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Icelandair, and Israeli tour organisers for their aid in getting the group to safety.

An official statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can be read here.



Local Health Board Asks Again for Akureyri to Monitor Cruise Emissions

The Health Board of Northeast Iceland has reissued its request that the Town of Akureyri invest in a device that would monitor cruise ship emissions in the area, RÚV reports. Opinions are divided as to how polluted cruise ship emissions are, but hazy white smoke is often visible hanging over the town when ships are berthed in the harbour.

Almost 200,000 tourists travelling on 200 cruise ships will visit Akureyri this summer. There is usually more than one ship in port at the same time and in certain weather conditions, a white haze can be observed hanging over the town. On a windless day, like Friday, exhaust from the cruise ships in Akureyri’s harbour is easily visible.

Pétur Ólafsson, Akureyri’s harbour master, says he isn’t concerned about the emissions. “Many of the ships that come to Iceland now have really excellent cleaning equipment, called scrubbers, which clean their exhaust by around 98% so it’s often just steam coming out. People understandably think it’s all pollution, but it isn’t.”

While he admitted he hadn’t chemically analysed the haze that was hanging over Akureyri on Friday, Pétur noted that the ships in the harbour on Friday “use legal fuel” and no heavy fuel oil.

Scrubbers help, but they also create their own pollutants

Heavy fuel oil (HFO) is a widely used but controversial fuel for large vessels. It’s comparatively inexpensive, but has a thick, viscous consistency, has a high sulphur concentration, and is incredibly difficult to clean up in the event of a spill, as evidenced by the 2020 incident in which a Japanese freight carrier started leaking HFO into the Indian Ocean around the coral reefs of Mauritius.

As of that same year, Iceland issued a number of restrictions on marine fuels, including limiting the sulphur content in marine fuels used in Iceland and within the pollution jurisdiction of Iceland to .5% and mandating that vessels at berth in ports “shall use shore electricity instead of marine fuels as possible.” In the event that shoreline electricity cannot be used, “vessels in ports in Iceland shall not use marine fuels with a sulphur content exceeding 0.1% (m/m).”

But even if the cruise ships aren’t using HFO and are using scrubbers, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any risk of pollutants and emissions. According to a statement on the subject of scrubbers issued by HFO-Free Arctic in 2019: “Using a scrubber to extract the sulphur from a ship’s exhaust results in the production of scrubber effluent or waste which will need to be disposed of. Most scrubbers are “open loop” which means the waste produced, which can be high in sulphur and also other pollutants such as heavy metals and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, can be dumped straight into the sea. There are also concerns that if a scrubber malfunctions in cold temperatures or due to ice, ships will continue to burn HFO and will emit high levels of Sulphur.”

First request for pollution to be monitored issued in 2019

The Health Board of Northeast Iceland first requested that Akureyri purchase a device that could monitor pollution from cruise ship emissions in 2019. The request was turned down. Alfreð Schiöth, the managing director of the Health Board noted that ports in Faxaflói, the bay that extends between the peninsulas of Reykjanes in the south and Snæfellsnes in the west and also includes Reykjavík and the West Iceland town of Akranes.

“The ports along Faxaflói taking doing really precise measurements at present and we’ll be watching them closely because those are the same ships that are coming [north].”


COVID-19: Information for Travellers to Iceland

Keflavík airport Icelandair

The Directorate of Health has published a health alert notice for travellers regarding COVID-19 in Icelandic, English, and Chinese. Hotels, guesthouses and other accommodations, as well as tour operators and information centres, are encouraged to print out the information and have it visible in their reception. Three cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Iceland, all Icelanders who had recently returned from ski trips in Northern Italy.

The Directorate has also published guidance for frontline service staff in EnglishPolish, and Spanish.

China, Italy, South Korea and Iran defined as high-risk areas

Icelandic authorities have defined China, Italy (as of Saturday, February 29), South Korea, and Iran as areas with a high risk of infection and have advised against travelling to those countries. Individuals who have been in those countries in the past few days and are in Iceland are advised to stay at home for 14 days as a precaution. Foreign travellers are not being directed to stay in quarantine at this time as they are considered less likely to spread the infection to the general population.

Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tenerife have been defined as areas with a low risk of infection. Individuals that are in these areas or have been in these areas for the past few days are advised to pay close attention to personal hygiene. That involves frequent hand washing, using a paper towel/cloth when sneezing/coughing, and using hand sanitizers. Hand washing, avoiding touching of eyes, nose, and mouth, and avoiding handshaking are key factors in reducing the risk of infection.

Individuals located in Iceland are asked to report symptoms (cough, fever, and muscle aches) that arise 14 days after visiting the abovementioned areas to 1700 (+354 544-4113 for foreign numbers) and review travel history.

For the most up to date information on COVID-19 in Iceland, visit the website of the Directorate of Health.

Record Amount of Passengers on Westman Islands Ferry


A record amount of passengers travelled with the ferry Herjólfur between mainland Iceland and Vestmannaeyjar (The Westman Islands) this past June. The total amount of passengers were 62,545, an increase of 5,400 people when compared to 2018. The last record was set in 2017 when 57,538 travelled with Herjólfur to the islands, RÚV reports.

Guðbjartur Ellert Jónsson, managing director of Herjólfur, stated that there have been more foreign travellers than normal. He stated that the summer has gone off to a good start. The good weather in South Iceland has played its part as well as the fact that Herjólfur sails at a different time than before, as well as the ferry taking more frequent trips.

Just over 4,300 people reside in Vestmannaeyjar, which is famed for its natural beauty in the North Atlantic. The Westman Islands are an archipelago just south of Iceland, rich with birdlife such as puffins. The picturesque islands are rich in history, and a short tour to the island has long been a popular pastime of Icelanders. Two beluga whales have also recently made Vestmannaeyjar their home in an open sea beluga whale sanctuary handled by Sea Life Trust.

Vestmannaeyjar residents have not felt the reduction in the number of travellers following the bankruptcy of WOW air. Íris Róbertsdóttir, Vestmannaeyjar’s mayor, says that the island is always popular in the summertime. She stated that she felt there was even an increase in the number of travellers heading out to the islands.

Laila Pétursdóttir, from local tour operator RibSafari, strikes a similar note as she’s been happy with summer so far. The weather plays its part, but she also feels a marked increase in foreign travellers between years.