Tourist Traps in Iceland... And How To Avoid Them Skip to content
Akureyri sign post.
Photo: Golli. Akureyri sign post..

Tourist Traps in Iceland… And How To Avoid Them

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What infamous tourist traps in Iceland should you avoid during your time in the country? What activities might take advantage of a visitor’s naivety, and how can you ensure the best value of money throughout your trip? Read on to learn more about the tourist traps you should avoid on an Iceland vacation! 

The Icelandic tourism industry is adept at permeating the myth that operators – no less, Iceland itself – can do no wrong when it comes to providing their visitors with a faultless and memorable vacation experience. 

Don’t hold this against them – whereas once it might have been the catching of fish, it is the snaring of tourists that now drives the engine of Iceland’s economy. Given the wealth of fantastic natural sights, and the fascinating cultural hubs this island boasts, one can hardly blame the Icelandic people for capitalising on what the Norse Gods have bestowed them.

túristi tourist ferðamaður tourism
Photo: Golli. Tourists at Fjallsárlón glacier lagoon

A word of warning – while this article is, of course, intended to attract visitors to Iceland, it may poke fun at the innocence some cannot help but demonstrate while exploring the land of ice and fire… as raiding marketeers have deemed it.

Do not take offence, for you, surely, are not the type of person to be so willfully drawn in by what amounts to be snake-oil salesmen dressed in horned helmets. 

Keeping an open mind in Iceland

There is no need to read this article suspiciously. Most of the time, no lies are told about the absolute majesty on offer here. But sometimes – and, rarely – foreign guests might realise they have been oversold on aspects of the
essential Icelandic experience.

There is no need to sit in the Blue Lagoon feeling you’ve been had! It might be a wonderful spot, but if it’s not for you… you should not go. 

The Blue Lagoon Iceland
Photo: Golli. Blue Lagoon

As stated, tourism is what drives Iceland’s economy – much like a Scandinavian version of Disneyland, if one might be so bold as to suggest it – and it is not unwise to realise that it does the Icelanders, or anyone who call the country home, extremely well to ensure guests are provided, or sold, the best experiences possible. 

If you were to believe such promises without once questioning the validity of your purchase – bless your naivety. 

Again… don’t get us wrong. Iceland is an incredible place to visit, filled with wonder of nature and cultural highlights that can be found nowhere else on the planet. This is so true that validating the fact is completely asinine. But, we would be doing an enormous disservice to guide you into purchasing packages that do not suit you, or that you may regret upon experiencing them. 

Having been around since 1963 – long, long before the tourism boom of the 2000s – you best believe that Iceland Review has your (and Iceland’s) best interests at heart. So, now that we’ve qualified our respect for the country we call home – and you, of course – let’s take a look at a few realities that you should avoid during your time here. 

Don’t shop at 10/11 convenience stores 

Nettó Hagkaup Bónus Iceland Fjarðarkaup
Photo: Golli. Bónus supermarket

For anyone with the luxury of choice, 10/11 sells nothing of importance; let’s get that out of the way from the beginning. Understandably, your instincts might be different upon spotting the luminous green and white of their logo, but do not be fooled… 

Should you desire a packet of biscuits, toilet paper, potato chips, candy, shampoos, chocolate bars – there are always, always, places that will sell you the exact same product for much cheaper. Sure, it might very well be easier to stop at 10/11… after all, it’s right there… but you would be doing yourself a disservice.

Prices at 10/11 are elevated beyond belief, as though it were designed specifically for the purpose of deceiving foreign visitors. 

Shoppers in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Shoppers in downtown Reykjavík

Aside from the typical convenience store items on sale, 10/11 also sells a range of hot products, including pastries, hot dogs, and pizza. Now, we understand better than anyone that, sometimes, hunger defies financial awareness, but know that these warm treats are not generally of the best quality. 

(The one exception could be Sbarro pizza, which is only sold at 10/11 in Iceland, and in truth, is rather delicious if you’re inclined towards guilty culinary pleasures.)

Actually, Sbarro pizza might be the only reason to stop by 10/11, and only if you’re in need of a quick snack. Otherwise, you can find cheaper alternatives in other shops. The best options are called Bonus and Kronan; both supermarkets are the logical choice for those sticking to a vacation budget.  

Save your drinking for Happy Hour 

Cocktails in the making at Tipsy, Reykjavík.
Photo: Golli. Cocktails in the making at Tipsy, Reykjavík.

The wonderful – if not sometimes unfortunate thing – about drinking is that it lends itself to more drinking. 

Oh, what a surprise this is

Outside of Happy Hour, this can cost you a pretty penny in Iceland – and by that, we mean an absolute fortune – which, no doubt, is surprising upon looking at your bank balance the next day. 

Icelanders are very aware of this – after all, they like sipping on alcohol as much as the next heathen. The local way of getting around it is to drink plenty before even heading to the bars and clubs, but this does not tend to be the best way forward for visiting guests. After all, you have a snowmobiling tour booked for tomorrow… 

People partying in Reykjavík Iceland
Photo: Golli. Reykjavík nightlife

Hence the many Happy Hours on offer throughout the city. The vast majority of bars offer happy hour, which you can track through the Appy Hour app developed by local newspaper, The Reykjavík Grapevine. You can download it on Google Play and the Apple Store

If you’re not mobile savvy, it is wise to inquire as to whether you’re purchasing during Happy Hour or not, or at least, try to schedule your drinking within the timeframe. 

Don’t get us wrong; drinking too much will still cost you during your happy hour, but it may lessen the dent in your wallet. Ultimately, it comes down to how much fun you’re having, and how much money you’re willing to sacrifice for it. 

Skip taking an Airport taxi

Taxis at the airport
Photo: Golli. Taxis at Keflavík International Airport

Upon landing in Iceland, visitors will normally take a shuttle bus from Keflavík International Airport to their accommodation in the city. 

These handy shuttle services are operated by respected companies like Grey Line and Reykjavík Excursions, the latter of which runs the FlyBus. It is possible to book tickets for the shuttles in advance, at the airport itself, and sometimes during your flight. 

However, be aware that taxi cabs also hang around outside the terminal.

Somewhat akin to scavenging ravens, these privateers prey upon unsuspecting tourists who might have thought Keflavík was closer to the hotels, hostels, and AirBnB’s prevalent across Reykjavík. Of course, one shouldn’t blame the drivers, who themselves are only making the most of a ready-made opportunity – just don’t let yourself be that opportunity. Save yourself your trauma! 

While accepting their service is well within your rights, the cost of this forty-minute ride is sure to hammer your wallet, which is completely unnecessary straight after arriving in the country. You may as well invite yourself to your own mugging. So, do yourself a favour and prepare other, more financially savvy travel plans. 

Avoid buying pretend Icelandic Sweaters

icewear in vík

The famed woollen sweaters – Lopapeysas – worn by rural Icelanders have become iconic urban fashion wear over recent years. Never one to miss a trend, tourists are often eager to snag one during a trip. 

If you were to form a mental picture of your typical Icelandic fisherman or farmer, they would be wearing an Icelandic sweater everytime. 

Now, this article – or, this writer, at least – would never go as far as to say Icelandic sweaters are cool, but popular they are. That much cannot be denied. 

Some more forgiving people might say that it’s understandable why this clothing item has become synonymous with Iceland’s culture. The Lopapeysa is hand-knitted from new wool sourced from local sheep, then fashioned with cool patterned designs. 

Golli. Hjörleifur Stefánsson, farmer in Kvíaholt, and his sheep

While it might not be as trendy, as say, crocs, it is synonymous with an Icelanders’ perception of how people should dress in the 21st Century. Typically, you’ll find plenty of tour guides wearing them while taking visitors on exciting outdoor excursions across the country.   

Many shops across Reykjavík sell these iconic sweaters, but always make sure to buy them from reputable sellers. With the influx of souvenir stores across Iceland’s towns, some places might sell cheaper knock-offs that fail to fully capture just why the lopapeysa is so perfectly suited for winter wanderers. 

So, always check the label, and even go as far to inquire with staff should you suspect the quality is inauthentic. If you’re looking for places where you can leave doubt at the door, stop by such shops as the Nordic Store and the Handknitting Association of Iceland

Understand what defines a Volcano Tour… 

Meradalir eruption, August 2022
Photo: Golli. Meradalir eruption, August 2022

Iceland is an incredibly volcanic country.  It is sat atop an enormous magma plume that rests between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. 

By now, this fact is so well known that it almost defies belief someone would have the gall to patronise their readers so much. And yet… 

Lava fields spill out across a landscape carved with rocky fissures. A landscape dotted with ancient tunnels once filled with flowing magma. Wherever you look, the results of a prior eruption are apparent. 

Unsurprisingly, many activities are sold as Volcano Tours, dedicated to exposing guests to the volatile geological forces that have come to define this island. 

However, given that there have been many active volcanic eruptions over recent years, some visitors might expect that all of these so-called Volcano Tours will take them to a mountain currently blasting lava into the air. 

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One could not be blamed for getting confused. Volcano Tours might cover anything from experiencing a hollowed out lava tunnel to hiking over ancient lava fields. 

Still, some Volcano Tours will take you directly to an active eruption – granted that an eruption is actually happening and it is safe to approach! 

Ultimately, volcanoes are temperamental natural forces. So, these tours tend to be opportunistic, and only available during certain episodes of increased volcanic activity. 

The moment a volcano becomes active, expect a variety of helicopter, hiking, and Super Jeep tours to become on offer. Observing a volcano is a rare occurrence, so these tours are competitive in terms of seats available. 

There is no need to buy bottled water in Iceland

Goðafoss Waterfall, Iceland
Photo: Golli. Goðafoss Waterfall in Iceland.

This tourist trap is self-explanatory! Iceland has, arguably, the cleanest water you’re ever likely to find. It originates from the island’s pristine glaciers, travelling by way of lava-fields, where it filters naturally among the volcanic rock.

By the time it’s pouring out of your kitchen tap, Icelandic water is at its purest and most refreshing! You can theoretically drink from streams and freshwater rivers in Iceland without worrying about how safe it is. 

Still, you’ll find many places across the country still attempting to sell you bottled water. Sometimes, it will be under the guise of ease of accessibility, other times because sordid claims are made that particular brands are, somehow, even cleaner than what appears naturally.

Don’t buy into it – you’re far better off purchasing a dedicated water bottle, filling it up as necessary for free. 

Be realistic about how much you’ll see on your trip 

South Coast travellers
Photo: Golli. The South is one of Iceland’s most stunning regions.

Iceland is a big country. With the sheer amount and variety of natural and cultural attractions on offer, remain realistic. There is no chance you can experience everything without staying for a couple of months, or more.

It is much better to pick which attractions you want to see, then work them within your time frame.

For example, the popular Golden Circle sightseeing route can be experienced in a single day and is comprised of three major attractions – Gullfoss Waterfall, Þingvellir National Park, and Geysir Geothermal Area. It makes for a great choice regardless of whether you have two days in the country, or two weeks. 

Looking at the aurora borealis in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Travellers observing the Northern Lights in Iceland

If you are interested in visiting the North, the Westfjords, or the East, it will require more time and pre-planning. Almost all visitors start their journey in Reykjavík, which is in the southwest of the country. Therefore, it is important to stay aware of how much is possible with the time you’ve allotted yourself. 

One way to simplify this process is by purchasing a multi-day bus or SuperJeep tour. These excursions take guests to a handful of each region’s main visitor’s sites. They also provide an itinerary listing what attractions you’ll visit each day, and how long you spend at each. 

You can browse some of the various multi-day tours on offer before cementing your own schedule. 

In Summary 

Visitors at Gullfoss waterfall
Photo: Golli. Gullfoss waterfall in the wintertime.

For the simple fact that there are not many tourist traps listed in this article, rest easy. You must realise that, by and large, experiencing an Icelandic holiday comes with very little you should worry about.

All in all, Icelanders and Icelandic companies have a visitor’s best interests at heart. It is the best way to make sure this genial Nordic island maintains its reputation as an unforgettable holiday destination.

Still, wherever you choose to visit on Earth, there are little nuances that it’s wise to stay aware of! 

So, when you’re planning your trip to Iceland, just remember to tread lightly in certain places. Be it on the ice, or when navigating purchases and the logistics of your time here. 

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