Can you see the Northern Lights in the middle of nowhere with no other tourists around? Are there ice caves off the beaten path? Will the black diamond beach be filled with people as well as ice? Is there a quiet time of the year to visit Iceland? Is the Golden Circle too touristy? How can I see the midnight sun in solitude?
There seems to be a fallacy that Iceland is now suddenly overcrowded. At Hidden Iceland we completely disagree. We believe there is a ‘right way’ to travel Iceland and see the hidden gems.
Sure if you fly into the main city of Reykjavik in the height of the summer and follow the big bus routes to nearby sights then it will certainly feel busy. But in a country almost the size of England there were only 2.3 million visitors in 2018. Compare that to the 80 million tourists in France last year and it’s quite clear that there’s still plenty left to explore.
If you’re willing to travel a little further, join small groups, go off the beaten path, and be strategic with which company you travel with you can often enjoy even the most popular sights with only a few other people around (if you’re lucky).
HOW TO AVOID THE CROWDS AND STILL SEE THE MOST POPULAR SIGHTS
Step 1: Use small group travel companies
Either opt for a private trip or pick small group tours with an experienced guide to travel Iceland. We take small group tours (12 maximum) around Iceland with passionate and experienced guides who are there to immerse and teach you about the surroundings. We aim to treat our guests like friends and family so that it feels more like you are sharing a sunset over the glacier lagoon with an old friend than with some driver telling you what time to be back on the bus.
Step 2: Timing is everything. Even the most popular spots can be quiet at the right time of the day.
We know it’s important to see the most famous places like the Black Sand Beach along the South coast. Or the Golden Circle. The trick with these areas is to be more strategic. We intentionally do the Golden Circle tour in reverse so that we arrive at the Secret Lagoon hot pool when it’s empty (at sunrise) and finish at the Thingvellir National Park for the sunset while making sure we play with the Icelandic horses and eat at the Fridheimar tomato farm between the tourist spots along the way.
Step 3: Travel a little further. Day trips often aren’t enough.
Many people make Reykjavik their base. This limits you to a small cross section of Iceland. Some of the best places are just that little bit further. Even a one night stay in a quaint Guest House in the South East of the island can open up a whole host of places such as the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon or Black Diamond Beach. We want to take you off the beaten path and show you some hidden gems like to the Westman Islands to meet rescue Puffins or to hike on a glacier in the South East of the country on our 2 day Glacier Lagoon trip. Or even into a less explored ice cave in the winter months. All our overnight trips conveniently sleep us in the middle of nowhere so it’s a great time to spot the northern lights or chase the midnight sun.
Step 4: Come back again!
If you’re willing to really explore the forgotten areas of Iceland we’ve created longer itineraries geared at second and third timers such as heading up to the far North West of the country on a 4 day trip to the West Fjords. The West Fjords are home to very few locals, and even less tourists. But what they lack in people they more than make up for in nature and wilderness. Spotting puffins, seals, arctic foxes and the odd whale off the coast is just some of the fun that can be done while driving through the glacier scarred Fjords over a 4 to 5 day journey.
Step 5: The quiet months to come – April/ May/ September/ October
The great thing about Iceland is that there is no ‘wrong’ time to come. You can still see the Northern Lights in early April and late September when there are less people around. Major Ice Caves trips are only accessible in the winter but glacier hikes can be achieved all year round with unique ice sculptures being formed and melting within days during April and May as the speed of the glacier is at odds with the temperature. September and October are when the farmers are most active, retrieving the lost sheep from the mountains, a sight to behold. But even outside of these months it is far from overcrowded.
Step 6: Week days make a difference
A lot of the current influx of tourists is from the ‘stop over’ offered by airlines like Icelandair. There’s also a large number coming for the long weekend trip where they try to squeeze in as much as they can in a short space of time. This means to avoid this bottle neck you can simply come during the week. You’re more likely to find accommodation in the city and last minute trip bookings for the Golden Circle that haven’t filled up on those midweek departures.
Step 7: Check the Reviews
Many companies promise the world when it comes to the trips they run. Perhaps offering an off the beaten path Northern Lights trip only to find yourself lined up with other bus companies at the same ‘secluded’ spot. That’s one of the reasons we only run Northern Lights trips as part of a combined itinerary, often using off the beaten path farm Guest Houses as our chosen viewing place. Checking Facebook reviews, TripAdvisor and simply asking friends and family go a long way to help you get an authentic experience. Even if a chosen company gets the odd bad review we always recommend reading the company response to the guest. The way a company reacts can often show the care they have for their guests.
DO THE ‘CROWDS’ RUIN THE EXPERIENCE?
These simple steps that we follow allow us to avoid the crowds in the most part. However the fact is sometimes you get unlucky, and the Christmas week with low daylight hours is particularly tricky. Summer can be difficult too, though more daylight hours help. But even then the idea of it being overcrowded is greatly exaggerated. There are no big queues, even in the Golden Circle. There are plenty of vantage points and even more hidden spots that punctuate the more celebrated areas each day. Remember you are a tourist too and everyone is here for the same reason as you. If you are with a small group who are led by a passionate guide then each place you stop will be special regardless of who else is there.
If you want to join our crowd beating trips into the more remote locations of the country check out our Hidden Iceland tours run carefully and passionately by us.
Hi, I’m Ryan Connolly; Co-Founder, Glacier Guide, and Marketing Manager of Hidden Iceland.
I’ve guided in multiple countries around the world and stepped foot on all 7 continents. I’ve made Iceland my home for the past few years. My passion for science, the outdoors, nature, glaciers and volcanoes has led me to study many aspects of my adopted home, Iceland.