Thank you so much Cat from The Compass is calling for your awesome Guest Post on how to avoid the crowds of Iceland – we are desperate to visit and this is a massive help!
Ever since a few travelers posted (now) iconic images of Iceland on social media a few years ago, the country has had a surge in tourism. What was once a fairly quiet country seeing its fair share of visitors in the summertime, is now overrun with foreigners no matter the time of year. But never fear! We’ve got you covered, because we’ve discovered a way to enjoy the main attractions AND avoid crowds in Iceland!
If the crowds have been the thing holding you back from visiting this amazing country, don’t let them. The scenery is unlike anything you’ve ever seen anywhere else (and so are the prices, but that’s another story!). Yes, there will be lots of visitors along your route, and sometimes you can’t avoid them. But all that aside, everyone needs to visit at least once in their lifetime.
Read on for the best tips to avoid crowds in Iceland, no matter what time of year you decide to visit.
Rent a car and drive yourself to avoid crowds in Iceland
Thousands of tourists are carted around the island on large tour buses daily. Not only do these tours limit the times you spend at all the sights (or make you spend more time than you wanted), they guarantee you will be surrounded by many others at every. single. stop. Instead, rent a car and drive yourself around! You can drive in Iceland on easy, mostly flat, and well-marked roads. GPS and cell service is also very reliable in the event you need it.
Driving allows you to stop anywhere you please, and there are TONS of places outside of the 6 main attractions you will want to pull over. One of the best things about Iceland is pulling off onto a small road and finding something amazing. And it’s even better when you have the place to yourself! We pulled off onto a small road and had the most spectacular, private view of a glacier.
Renting a car is by far the best tip we can give you to avoid crowds in Iceland.
Get up early to avoid crowds in Iceland
Most of the tour buses set off from Reykjavik between 8:00-9:00 am. Getting on the road early will help you get ahead of these groups, and therefore reduce the crowds you see. In the summertime, it gets light as early as 3:00 am so if you’re up for a really early day, you’ll have a major head start.
Our flight landed at 1:00 am. Rather than spend a few hours at an expensive hotel, we decided to get started on our day after picking up our car. There are lots of great accommodation in Iceland options to choose from but as with most of Europe, these range in prices.
At 3:00 am, we saw one of the most amazing sunrises we’ve ever seen. After parking in a completely empty parking lot at Þingvellir we had the entire place to ourselves. In Geysir, again, the parking lot was empty and NO ONE was walking around Strokkur. We had a front row seat to a spectacular explosion. Here, we slept in the car until 7:00 am, when we walked out to see the geyser again. At this time, there were a couple of people, but it was still far less crowded than it would have been at 10:00 am.
Stay out late to avoid crowds in Iceland
Just like getting up early, staying out late also helps to avoid crowds in this country. Particularly in the summertime. The tours typically finish around 4:00 – 5:00 pm, so the majority of traffic is off the roads after this time. You’ll be left with campers, and other self-drivers. In summer, it stays light until close to 1:00 am. If you have food in your car and enough gas, the fact that the shops and grocery stores are closed won’t be an issue. (Unless you are dying to pick up an overpriced souvenir.)
Drive clockwise on the Golden Circle to avoid crowds in Iceland
Many of the tours drive counterclockwise when starting from Reykjavik. Therefore, if you head clockwise, you’ll miss them most of the time. Weather can change the course of the tours, so not every bus will be traveling the same direction. For wintertime visits, when you can’t use the get up early or stay out late tips, this will be the best way to avoid crowds.
Pull over just before or just past the main stop at attractions to avoid crowds in Iceland
Every main stop has a pull off point, parking lot, or sign. We recommend driving just past or stopping just before these points. We find that most people follow the masses. This is great for you, because a few hundred yards away, your view could be better AND quieter! We found this to be especially true at the glacier lagoon. The main parking lot is always PACKED. However, you can pull off at a few different smaller shoulders before you get to the main lot. These pull off require a little bit of a walk, but your view is unparalleled.
If you follow these tips, while we can’t guarantee there won’t be any others on your route, you WILL avoid crowds in Iceland much of the time.
Your trip to Iceland is sure to be an amazing adventure, and these tips to avoid crowds will only heighten your experience!