Coming to Iceland and want to do your part in being a responsible tourist? Looking for ways to support the local tourism economy but in a sustainable way? Hey Iceland is focused on supporting exactly this kind of tourism and we have the perfect activities for you!
Sustainability is a core part of Iceland, both in its nature and culture. From volcanoes to hot springs, glaciers and geysers, unique local design and delicious local cuisine, Iceland provides a vast range of sustainable activities to enjoy. And with the abundance of clean, renewable resources in Iceland such as geothermal and hydropower, what better place to practice sustainable tourism than here?
Sustainable tourism doesn’t mean you need to lose out on any of the fun in Iceland either, quite the opposite. Including sustainable activities in your Iceland trip is going to have you closer to nature, wildlife, and culture, enriching your overall experience here.
As a certified member of Vakinn, the official quality and environmental certification for Icelandic tourism, we at Hey Iceland are always driving to make tourism more sustainable and are focused on providing services that support this mission. To help with your trip planning we have rounded up some of our favorite sustainable activities to do in Iceland. These 8 sustainable activities will have your Iceland trip full of adventure, bringing you closer to the Icelandic culture and nature, all while minimizing your travel footprint.
Explore Iceland on Horseback
Combine sustainable travel with an adorable mode of transportation and you get the Icelandic horse. Icelandic horses are very special to the country, world famous for their ability to perform 5 different types of gaits, the breed is also one of the purest in the world. Icelandic horses are known for their friendly temperament, and smaller build, but don’t refer to them as ponies, they are definitely not ponies. An interesting fact, if a horse leaves Iceland it can not return to ensure the breed remains free from disease!
No matter where you are in Iceland, whatever the weather may be, you likely will see these beautiful animals roaming about. And they sure have some beautiful views to call home!
Get to enjoy some of these views, and learn more about the Icelandic horse with one of the following tours. You can enjoy a horseback riding tour at all times of the year, and the Icelandic horses' calm demeanour make them a perfect fit for beginners. These tours are at local farms around the country giving you an up-close experience of the Icelandic farm culture and all that goes into farming in these harsh conditions.
1. Stora Asgeirsa - located in the north of Iceland this cosy farm is surrounded by Icelandic Saga sites. Learn about these fascinating tales as you explore the area on horseback, visitors can even participate in farm work if you are looking to get the real Icelandic farm life experience.
2. Hestaland - experience the Icelandic horse in their natural habitat with a visit to this farm. Hestaland has a horse experience for everyone! Whether that be long trail rides or just a visit to the horse barn to learn more about the Icelandic horse, this farm is a great option for those wanting to get up close with the animals.
3. Skeiðvellir - this horse farm in the south of Iceland can be a great addition to a day of adventuring along the south coast. Not interested in riding horses but still want to learn more about them? Check out this tour at the farm where you can spend some time in the stables and learn about what makes the Icelandic horse such a unique breed.
Eat local foods
Not to state the obvious, but Iceland is after all an island, which means many food products need to be imported into the country which isn’t the most sustainable option. This is to be expected, however, even though many items are imported in, Iceland has quite the list of local foods to try. And thanks to the abundant water, geothermal energy and unpolluted landscape chefs in Iceland have some delicious raw materials to create simple yet tastebud pleasing dishes with.
The food in Iceland has come a long way from all the fermented dishes the Vikings feasted on, although many fermented dishes are still enjoyed today and we recommend trying at least one (fermented shark anyone?). Icelandic cuisine has always had a strong focus on using fresh local products. From fish and meat to dairy items, wild berries and fresh produce grown in geothermal greenhouses, lava salt and the largest variety of sauces you have seen, there is a dish for every palate in Iceland.
For all the foodies out there here are a few ways to incorporate the local cuisine into your trip:
Try Some Local Dishes
To help you out when placing your order, here are a few local dishes we recommend trying.
1. Fish- kind of obvious right, I mean you are on an island. Order the fish of the day and you won’t be disappointed!
2. Lamb - even if you are not a lamb lover you have to try it at least once in Iceland. The country prides itself on its delicious lamb, even the hot dogs have lamb in them.
Skyr - this protein packed dairy product is similar to greek yogurt, but better. A snack that has been a part of Icelandic cuisine for over a thousand years, you will find rows of skyr lining the grocery store shelves. And skyr desserts, those are a delicious treat you will be pleasantly surprised by.
3. Kleinur - Iceland’s version of a doughnut, enjoy one of these with a cup of coffee for a real Icelandic “kafftími”.
4. Harðfiskur - dried fish that has been a popular snack with the locals for years. You can see racks where they are drying the fish around the countryside and purchase your own bag in one of the local grocery stores for a road trip snack.
Have a unique food experience
Want to see how Icelanders use geothermal energy to bake bread? Head out on this activity and you will learn how the popular rye bread is baked in the ground near a hot spring. You will even get to see the pot dug out of the hot black sand and enjoy the bread while it is still warm from the ground.
Have a Farm to Table Experience
You likely have heard of restaurants already doing farm-to-table in your local area. Take this concept a step further in Iceland and eat at the actual farm! There are several of these options in Iceland, from dining inside a greenhouse with tomato plants all around, to enjoying your meal while you watch the animals eat their dinner too, this will be a memorable dining experience for all.
To give you a few ideas of these kinds of stops to add to your itinerary, here are a few farm-to-table experiences you will want to check out.
1. Efstidalur - come for the fresh ice cream and burgers, stay to watch the adorable calves roam around!
2. Friðheimar - warm up with a bowl of tomato soup while you dine inside a geothermal greenhouse with the tomato plants surrounding you.
3. Vogafjós - a family operated farm with a cosy cafe built inside the cowshed, the menu is full of fresh local food.
4. Háafell goat farm - a fun place to stop for kids and those that have a love for goat cheese!
Take a Walking Tour
If you haven’t tried a walking tour while traveling before Iceland is the perfect place to start! These kinds of tours are great for people who enjoy getting to learn fun facts and the history of a place all while exploring with a local guide. Walking tours will have you stopping and taking in sights you otherwise may have walked right past. Learn stories behind buildings that add to their charm, and get further insight into Icelandic culture as you explore.
If you are in Reykjavik looking for a walking tour here are two options to check out:
1. CityWalk Reykjavik - join local guides as you wander around the charming streets of downtown. Learn the real stories behind the colorful streets of Reykjavik, and walk away full of fun Iceland facts to impress your friends with.
2. Reykjavik Food Walk - for all the foodies out there this tour is for you. Spend a few hours sampling some of the most famous local dishes, learn about some hidden local favorite spots, and get a delicious lesson in Iceland food culture.
3. Funky Iceland Walking tours - Walk around Reykjavavík with a local guide and dive deep into Iceland's history and culture. These tours are more about the stories and the company than they are about the walk.
Looking for a bit of an off the beaten path walking tour? We have just the one for you!
This tour will have you walking around lava fields with a local in the Westman Islands as you learn about the 1973 volcanic eruption that has shaped the island’s character. The walk will take you along the new lava and enjoy stunning views from the top of Mount Eldfell over the island and sea.
Join a Tour with Eco-Friendly Tour Providers
Are you the type of traveler that enjoys an adrenaline rush? Or someone who likes to experience something unique to the location you are visiting? Hoping to join a tour in Iceland to get in one of these kinds of experiences? Well we have good news! Practicing sustainable travel won’t stop you from getting these types of experience!
We have already mentioned that at Hey Iceland we are focused on supporting local businesses that make it their mission to work towards making tourism in Iceland more sustainable. This means that many of the tour options you will find on our site have sustainability as a core mission. If you are looking at other tour operators you can check to see if they are certified by Vakinn, the official quality and environmental system for Icelandic tourism. You can also check the tour operator’s website to see if they have a statement regarding their stance on sustainable tourism.
We are happy to note that the number of eco-friendly tour operators in Iceland has been greatly increasing over the years, making it possible to fit in your Iceland bucket list activity while supporting a tour operator that strives to protect the environment.
Below are just a few ideas of tours that are offered by companies that support sustainable tourism.
1. Take a Glacier Walk - experience an important part of Iceland’s nature with this tour!
2. Snorkel Between the Continents - snorkel between two continents, the American and Eurasian, on this meditative adventure.
3. Go Kayaking - enjoy paddling around Stokkseyri and taking in the beautiful views in the south of Iceland, you may even see a seal swimming about!
Take a swim at the Local Swimming Pool
One thing you will realize while traveling around Iceland, it doesn’t matter how small the town is, there will be a pool. A key part of Icelandic culture, a visit to a local swimming pool is one that everyone should experience. From the deep ties to the local culture, the warm waters that are heated by geothermal energy, and the locals you will get to meet, it is the ultimate relaxing, and sustainable, activity to do in Iceland.
You can always take your swim a step further and visit a local hot spring. Just be sure to leave the area as you found it, if not cleaner. Check outour article about 30 of our favorite swimming pools and hot springs in Iceland. You could plan an entire trip around the swimming pools, it would be one relaxing adventure!
Explore Geothermal Areas
Take your adventure straight to the source of one of Iceland’s most powerful natural resources, geothermal activity. What better way to get an understanding of the sustainable infrastructure of the country than by walking through the steamy, sulfur filled areas bubbling with action.
A visit to a geothermal area will be a truly unique experience while in Iceland. Between the mass amount of steam floating in the area, the powerful bubbling hot water, and the rich mineral colors, you will be impressed by this powerful force of nature that is such a core part of the country. It goes without saying, but do be sure to practice safe traveling while in geothermal areas. This nature is powerful, and dangerous, so stay on the marked pathways and keep away from the water, it is bubbling for a reason.
There are several geothermal areas around the country to visit, here are a few different ones to give you some ideas:
1. Krysuvik Geothermal Area - only a 40 minute drive from Reykjavik, this location is great for those staying in the capital city but looking for a unique outdoor adventure.
2. Deildartunguhver - located in west Iceland this is one of the most powerful hot springs in Europe, the rising steam can be seen from miles away.
3. Námaskarð - also known as Hverir, this large geothermal field is full of bubbling activity. From the large steam clouds to the strong smell of sulfur in the air, bowling mud pots and fumarole, the geothermal activity is evident here.
Hitting the hiking trails and exploring by foot, doesn’t get more sustainable (and Icelandic!) than that. One of the best ways to experience Icelandic nature is getting out on one of the many hiking trails and exploring the environment up close. And the hiking trails in Iceland are all very special. On just one hike alone you could see waterfalls, enjoy glacier and ocean views, and even soak in hot springs. Slowing down and enjoying being outside, that is how Iceland should be explored!
To help plan your hiking adventure Hey Iceland recommends using the free app, Wapp. On this app you will find information on over 300 hiking trails in the country such as useful trail details and local stories. Wapp is focused on making hiking more accessible to all visitors, while promoting a safe experience and respect for nature. Travelers can even send their travel plans to the Icelandic Emergency Hotline, something we especially recommend for those taking on longer hikes.
Interested in joining a guided hike while in Iceland? Check out the hiking tours we at Hey Iceland have. You will find tours that last anywhere from a few hours, to a few days, in locations all over Iceland. You can find more information here.
Rent a Bike
You might not think this when you think of Iceland, but the biking culture is big here. And once you see the biking path views you will understand why! The locals have created quite a big biking culture in recent years, the number of Icelanders who bike to work year-round will surprise you, don’t worry they have snow tires for their bikes. How nice does it sound though to ride your bike with mountains and glaciers on one side, the sea on the other, and the colorful Icelandic houses ahead of you?
With such a booming biking culture this means there are some wonderful paths to enjoy on your trip. Anything from exploring Reykjavik by bike, to getting an adrenaline rush with a mountain bike adventure, biking around Iceland is a great, sustainable way to explore. So do as the locals do on your trip to Iceland and rent a bike to go out exploring! Here are a few different ideas to inspire your Iceland biking adventure.
1. Explore Reykjavik - rent a bike and explore around the city. You can do a guided tour, or head off on your own and enjoy all the biking paths in the city.
2. Bike in the Icelandic mountains - for the thrill-seekers this adventure is one to add to the list. Join a guided tour such as this one and enjoy biking around the mountain trails for an unforgettable experience.
3. Ride the Ring Road - for the experienced biker, fully embrace sustainable travel and bike around Iceland on the ring road. You will be surprised by how many come to Iceland each year to take on this challenge, a once in a lifetime, experience!
What better way to support the local tourism economy than by buying items straight from the locals? Maybe it is the long winter days or just the mentality of Icelanders that they can do it all, but you will be impressed with how much local talent is in the country. From authors to artists, fashion design and jewellery, you will be impressed with the quality of local products you will find here.
Fun fact, 1 in 10 Icelanders will publish a book! Bring home a piece of Icelandic culture with a book by a well-loved Icelandic author. Or head down to the local flea market in Reykjavik on the weekend and get an authentic Icelandic wool sweater, you will likely buy it directly from the individual who knitted it and see them knitting more products! If it is fashion you are looking for, the street of Laugavegur is the place to go with stores such as Kiosk to browse through. And for the foodies out there be sure to get some Icelandic salt like Saltverk, made using sustainable methods, this will be a delicious way to remember Iceland.
Stay in Sustainable Accommodation
Support the local environment and choose a farm stay for your accommodation in Iceland! This unique type of accommodation will have you not only supporting local farmers, but getting to experience working first-hand with Icelandic nature. Who better to learn about respecting Icelandic nature than those who spend their days working the land?! You will leave your trip with a greater appreciation for the country, and take pride in knowing you did something to help benefit Icelandic nature and society!
Want to learn more ways of how you can support sustainable tourism in Iceland? Read our post on how to be a responsible tourist and follow our blog to find even more tips on how you can play your part in making tourism in Iceland sustainable. We look forward to hosting you in our nature-rich country!
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