Travel accessibilty in Iceland



Travel accessibilty in Iceland

19.04.2022 | Kaelene Spence

When you hear about Iceland you likely envision rugged landscapes, hiking through lava fields, swimming in hot springs, and chasing the northern lights. If you are a traveler who is a wheelchair user you may be wondering if these types of amazing adventures are accessible?

Our response to this is YES!

Thanks to recent changes in local regulations and initiatives, an increase in accessible tours, and a rise in options and resources for wheelchair users, Iceland is more accessible than ever before! With a little research and planning, you can get the complete Iceland experience in an accessible way.

Rainbow street in Seyðisfjörður
Iceland is quite open and accessible

Accessible tourism is important to us at Hey Iceland, we want to ensure all travelers are able to participate and enjoy the wonderful tourism activities Iceland has to offer. Our mission in this post is to provide an overview of accessibility in Iceland, resources to use when planning your trip, and just a few ideas of accessible activities and locations to visit on your Iceland adventure.

Accessibility in Iceland

Iceland has come leaps and bounds in its accessibility efforts in recent years, thanks in large part to new local regulations and initiatives. This has resulted in innovations in equipment, an increase in accessible tour operators, a focus on creating accessible infrastructure, and a growth of organizations that are working to create a culture of accessibility. While Iceland is still behind other Scandinavian countries in terms of accessibility we are continuing to improve year after year.

A notable change in accessibility in Iceland occurred in 2012 when the Icelandic Parliament passed a law that outlined building codes stating “design should not preclude the use of mobility aids and equipment for disabled persons”. Although this was a positive step, the law only applied to buildings built after 2012 and did not require buildings built prior to 2012 to update infrastructure in compliance with the new law. From this change though came a new uptick in advocacy groups and resources, furthering the work of creating a culture of accessibility.

Sjálfsbjörg, the National Association of People with Disabilities in Iceland, has been working to further Iceland’s progress of accessibility. The association has a goal to “fight for the equality of physically disabled people in Iceland and to inform the public about the circumstances of physically disabled people”. Sjálfsbjörg, whose name translates to “self-help”, regularly conducts surveys of public places such as museums, pools, and restaurants, to get an overview of the accessibility of such locations and provide recommendations for access improvement.

Accessibility in Iceland.jpeg
Accessibility parking in Reykjavík

Another important project that happened in recent years is Ramp up Reykjavik. The project began in March 2021 by Haraldur Thorleifsson, a local citizen and wheelchair user, who was frustrated with the lack of accessible venues in Reykjavik. He decided to make a change and thus launched Ramp up Reykjavik with the goal of installing 100 ramps around the city within one year. Teaming up with the City of Reykjavik, local businesses, labor unions, and government offices, the program solicited donations to fund the 100 ramps, Thorleifsson himself also donated €319,000, which the City of Reykjavik later matched. Ramp up Reykjavik covered up to 80% of the cost for local businesses setting up ramps, and the initiative was so successful that it met its goal of 100 ramps four months ahead of schedule. The project now has a surplus remaining which will be used to install additional ramps around Iceland, with a new goal of installing 1,000 ramps across the country.

Iceland still has work to be done to catch up to our Scandinavian neighbors, but we are glad to see these projects and this positive shift in making Iceland accessible to all.  

Resources in Iceland

To ensure your visit to Iceland is as smooth and comfortable as possible we have rounded up helpful information and resources to plan out your trip. Whether you need to rent equipment, want to know what venues are accessible, or looking for information about transportation options, these resources will be great to have for your trip. 

Mobility Equipment Rentals

Whether you have an issue with your equipment, or it is easier to rent equipment once in Iceland versus bringing your own, Iceland has several options for travelers to use for mobility equipment rentals.

1. Sjálfsbjörg Mobility Equipment Rental - operated by the Icelandic federation of physically disabled people we mentioned earlier, they provide various equipment for rentals such as wheelchairs and walkers.

2. Stoð - this company has specialized staff available to help you find the best options to suit your needs. They offer a wide variety of products both to rent and purchase.

3. Mobility.is - a third option for equipment rental in Iceland, this is a newer family-operated company that offers a range of equipment rental options.

Wheelchair under starry night Iceland
Sitting under the starry sky

Information Resources

The following resources are great places to look for information about accessibility in Iceland.

1. Sjálfsbjörg Knowledge Center - provided by the Icelandic federation of physically disabled people, their knowledge center provides an overview of all types of accessible venues in Reykjavik. The page is currently only in Iceland, so for our non-Icelandic speaking readers you will need to use the help of google translate, but it is a great resource to use while in Reykjavik.

2. travelable - this resource is a free interactive app in English that helps users navigate the physical place they are visiting. This includes maps and detailed information about accessible services and entertainment venues based on users' reviews. The app is a great way to hear from others about the accessible locations they enjoyed in Iceland so you can too!

Transportation

Whether you are wondering about the resources available during air travel, how accessible public transportation is, or where to find accessible parking locations, the below resources will have your questions covered.

1. Air Travel

The most important detail to know is that all airlines to Iceland provide wheelchair access. Looking at Icelandair, one of the main airlines flying to Iceland, they provide several resources to ensure all passengers have a safe and comfortable journey. If travelers would like to request mobility assistance they do need to either fill out a request form, contact the service center, or request the service under their Icelandair account. You can also request special assistance once you arrive at the airport in Iceland, information on requesting this service can be found here.

2. Public Transportation

The only form of public transportation in Iceland is by bus, which is called Stræto. All buses in Reykjavik are accessible, equipped with a ramp at the back of the bus, however individuals are required to be able to get on and off the bus on their own. In general, buses outside of the capital area are not accessible as they do not have lifts or ramps. However, there are a few routes in the countryside where it is possible to order a bus with a lift or ramp if you call in advance. These are routes 51, Mjódd to Selfoss, and route 57, Mjódd to Akureyri. To purchase tickets you will need to use the system Klapp, further information on how to use this ticketing system can be found here.

3. Rental Cars and Taxis

If you will be relying on car transportation for your time in Iceland there are a few options for you. First, if you are interested in renting a car Hertz car rental offers specially fitted cars for wheelchair users. Iceland has adopted the European Model Parking Card which makes using your handicap parking badge a smooth process as you can simply use the one from your home country. In addition, when you display the parking badge you can park free of charge and without a time limit, this includes locations that charge a fee to park. You will need to print off a small notice form to keep on display with your parking card, a link to this can be found here.

If you will be using taxis while in Iceland there are a few companies that offer accessible taxis.  Hreyfill is a great option for those looking for an accessible taxi, it is best to call in advance to ensure they accommodate your needs. You can also use FlyBus for transportation to and from Reykjavik and the international airport.

Group Tour Options

There are several group tour operators that provide accessible tour options in Iceland, and is a number that we are seeing continue to grow. It is always best to contact the tour provider directly to confirm they can accommodate your individual needs for the tour you are interested in. Looking for more help in finding tour providers that offer accessible tour options? Feel free to reach out to us and we would be happy to provide ideas and options for tours that would suit all your needs!

What to Do and See in Iceland

Now that we have covered the background of accessibility in Iceland and all the resources to utilize, let's get to the fun part, all the places to visit on your trip to Iceland! We do want to preface this section by mentioning that accessibility outside of Reykjavik is not as reliable, and many locations around the country have unstructured pathways that may be difficult to navigate. But don’t worry, there are still plenty of options that are accessible to all and will get you up close with the dazzling Icelandic nature!

The below list is not an extensive one, but one to get you inspired and ready to start planning your Iceland adventure.

Explore Reykjavik

The colorful and vibrant capital city is one not to miss with charming streets to explore, delicious restaurants, and gorgeous views from all parts of town. When in downtown Reykjavik you will find well-maintained sidewalks, many of them even heated, making them accessible on snowy days, an important detail when in Iceland as it can be snowing anywhere from September to May. Around the city you will also find many venues with ramps, due to the many local initiatives we mentioned above, making it easy to access most venues in the city.

A view of Reykjavík
The colourful rooftops of Reykjavík

For being a capital city Reykjavik is a small one, making it even easier to explore all the gems Reykjavik has to offer. Enjoy a visit to the iconic church Hallgrímskirkja, take in the Scandinavian charm on the popular streets of Laugavegur and Skolastigur, and you can’t miss the Reykjavik waterfront! Admire the view over the ocean with Mt. Esjan in the background at the popular Sun Voyager, be sure to take this path a bit farther to Harpa, a large glass-faced building that is a sight to be seen.

The adventures to be had in Reykjavik are endless! And with the improvements being made in the city, and the great resources available such as Sjálfsbjörg Knowledge Center, Reykjavik is more accessible than ever. Be sure to check out our blog about things to do in Reykjavik to get more ideas of what to add to your Reykjavik itinerary.

Witness the Majestic Northern Lights

Dream of seeing the Northern Lights while in Iceland? Who wouldn’t want to see the magical colorful lights dancing across the sky, it is truly a sight to be seen. It is completely doable to see the Northern Lights on your own without joining a tour, and we have several resources to help give you tips to achieve this. But the Northern Lights can sometimes be a bit tricky to find, which is why it can be a good idea to look into joining a Northern Lights tour to give you the best odds of seeing the dancing lights while in Iceland. There are several tour operators in Iceland that offer accessible Northern Light tours, however, it is recommended to confirm with the tour operator that they are able to accommodate your individual needs.

Enjoying the Northern Lights in Iceland
Watching the Northern Lights dance across the sky

If the thought of standing in the harsh Icelandic winter conditions doesn’t sound fun, but you still want to try your chance at seeing the Northern Lights, a tour with Aurora basecamp is a great option for you. The tour combines an indoor simulation of Northern lights inside the speciality-made observatory, followed by a guide taking those interested out into the Icelandic night to see if they can witness the real thing. An evening that you won’t soon forget!

Soak in a Geothermal Spa

Iceland is famous for its hot springs and geothermal spas making a visit to one of these locations a must-do while in Iceland. There are several geothermal spas that offer accessibility resources making it an activity all can enjoy. Here are a few geothermal spas to get you dreaming of your relaxing soak in the luxurious Icelandic waters.

1. Blue Lagoon - arguably the most famous geothermal spa of them all, a swim in the sparkling blue waters is a must-do while in Iceland. The lagoon can be accessed directly with specially designed wheelchairs, and the Blue Lagoon offers a range of services and facilities for guests such as wheelchair availability and the assistance of a personal assistant for help in the changing rooms and accessing the lagoon.

2. Sky Lagoon - One of the newest geothermal spas in Iceland, the Sky Lagoon is located near downtown Reykjavik making it a great option for those staying in the city. The lagoon offers accessible changing rooms and showers, as well as a chairlift for entering the lagoon.

3. Laugarvatn Fontana - a visit to this spa will have you out in the Icelandic countryside and enjoying the quiet and peaceful scenery while you relax in the warm waters. Overlooking Laugarvatn, a large lake, is a great stop to add while out exploring the stops of the Golden Circle.

Hot pool in Iceland
The geothermal pools in Iceland are the perfect place for relaxation

Chase Waterfalls

Iceland may be called “the land of fire and ice”, but it could very well be called “the land of waterfalls”, the country is covered in them! If you are a waterfall lover Iceland really is the place to visit. And the variety of waterfalls, you can explore them all and never get over the beauty of this natural wonder. From waterfalls that trickle down over lava fields like Hraunfossar to ones that are so powerful the water mists your face as you take in their beauty, there will be no shortage of waterfalls to enjoy here.

While some of Iceland’s waterfalls are not as accessible, there are many that provide accessible access for all to enjoy. Here are just a few of the waterfalls around the country to add to your list.

1. Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss - located in the south of Iceland are these two famous waterfalls. Regarding accessibility, Seljalandsfoss has a well-paved path from the parking lot right up to the waterfall, so you can get right up close to the cascading water. Skogafoss also has a parking area that is close to the waterfall, however, the path up to the waterfall can be quite bumpy at times. This is not to say you can not use the path to get closer to the waterfall, but just know it can be quite bumpy. Skogafoss is also easily visible from right at the parking lot so you will still get to enjoy the view during your visit.

Skógafoss waterfall
The beautiful Skógafoss Waterfall

2. Goðafoss -  nicknamed “the waterfall of the gods” this beautiful waterfall is shaped like a horseshoe with water crashing down from all sides, it is a sight to be seen. Located in the north of Iceland, there is a well paved parking lot and pathway right up to the side of the waterfall so you can take in the view from several areas.

3. Gullfoss - Iceland’s most iconic waterfall, this natural wonder is a sight to be seen in all seasons. Located along the popular Golden Circle route in the south of Iceland, Gullfoss has great accessibility to all with a well paved parking lot and path to the view point, as well as a cafe and accessible bathrooms, so you can stay and enjoy the beauty for hours and hours. We recommend going to the lower parking area for the best accessible view of Gullfoss.

Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss Waterfall is one of Iceland's main attractions

Experience the Famous Golden Circle

If you are looking for a day packed with adventure and hoping to see a mix of the best of Icelandic nature, the famous Golden Circle route is one you won’t want to miss! An easy day trip from Reykjavik, the route is around 140 miles (230 kilometers) with several stops to visit along the way. All of the locations along the Golden Circle provide great accessibility and will take you to nature such as an active geyser and a volcanic crater lake.

To get you more intrigued, here is an overview of the stops you can visit along this route:

Thingvellir National Park - the first stop of the day will take you to the nature and history-rich national park. Known as the first location to the Icelandic parliament, you will get to explore the area that is between two continental plates drifting apart. Throughout most of the park you will find well-maintained paths that range from tightly packed gravel to wooden pathways, making it easy to navigate for wheelchair users.

Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Parkhas an important place in Icelanders' hearts.

Geysir - the next stop will take you to the geothermal area Haukadalur Valley where you will be able to witness the famous Geysir shoot water up to 15-20 meters into the air! The Geysir typically goes off every 10 to 15 minutes so you won’t have to wait long to witness this natural wonder. From the parking lot there is a well-paved pathway up to the viewpoint, so you can have easy access to enjoy the show of the erupting Geysir.

Gullfoss - the famous waterfall mentioned early makes up the third stop of the Golden Circle route, be sure to visit it!

Kerið - add this extra stop to your day for a unique area to visit. Kerið is a volcanic crater lake that is surrounded by a vibrant red volcanic rock and filled with the most vibrant turquoise blue water. Accessibility-wise there is a large viewing area that is the perfect spot to take in the view of the area.

A spouting geyser in Iceland
Strokkur geyser spouts columns of water every 5-10 minutes

With the increase of accessible resources and infrastructure and the fact that Iceland is one of the safest and friendliest countries in the world, we think it is a great location for wheelchair users to travel to and enjoy all the wonders the country has to offer. We hope this post has provided some useful information, and inspired your next trip to Iceland. Be sure to check out our blog for more Iceland wanderlust and inspiration!

Need help planning an accessible holiday in Iceland? We are here for you!

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