Ecotourism is booming and Iceland has always been one of the best ecotourism destinations in the world. Today, it is more popular than ever, and Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is known as the greenest city in the world.
Airlines, like IcelandAir, have a commitment to minimize the environmental impact of their operations. You can also offset your flight’s CO2 impact (find out more from Kolviður- the Icelandic Carbon fund).
In Iceland, most of the energy comes from hydroelectric and geothermal plants, which produce renewable energy free of greenhouse gas emissions.
Bicycles and buses are becoming the primary means of transport and people are encouraged to commute to work on foot. As a tourist, you can hire a bike near the old harbor in Reykjavik or get guides to take you on non-motorized excursions.
1. Explore Reykjavik on foot
If you want to sight-see in Reykjavik, the best way to do it is to walk. You can take a free walking tour as an introduction to the city, which starts every day at 12 pm from the clock tower in Lækjartorg square.
While walking in Reykjavik, you will see litter bins on almost every street corner. Iceland’s tap water is also so clean that it is drinkable so you can simply fill up your water bottle rather than buying water.
The Reykjavik old harbor, one of the oldest places in the city, is a must-see. Icelanders have depended on fishing to make a living for centuries and continue to do so.
Reykjavik is famous for its geothermal waters. There are many pools in the city enjoyed by locals and they provide a good place to relax and chat.
2. Experience an unmatched hiking adventure
One of the main reasons people want to visit Iceland is because of its natural beauty. Landmannalaugar (600 m above sea level) is a hiking paradise with numerous trails through colorful landscapes interspersed with glacial rivers and geothermal pools.
Situated in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Landmannalauger sits off the edge of a lava field. The lava rock is packed with minerals cools and cools very slowly, creating an unforgettable psychedelic color mix.
Landmannalaugar is the northern end or starting point of the popular Laugavegur hiking trail that takes about three to four days for most hikers. There are six mountain huts to rest in, operated by the Icelandic Touring Association.
In the winter months, there is no access to the Central Highlands. The area is accessible from late June until about mid-September, depending on the weather.
3. Go on a culinary adventure
Fishermen in Iceland may have the know-how and experience of generations. Still, today a lot of effort is being put into conserving and maintaining fish stocks and the marine environment.
You can eat responsibly sourced fish and taste vegetables grown by the use of geothermal energy in Iceland. You can also taste lamb that roams free in the Highlands and Skyr – a thick, cultured Icelandic dairy specialty.
There are many ways to enjoy Icelandic food, such as visiting producers or dining at restaurants. The food scene is booming and a number of Icelandic chefs have won international awards. A variety of high-quality restaurants specialize in using Icelandic raw ingredients.
If you stay at the Grand Hotel Reykjavik, the largest hotel in Iceland, the à la Carte restaurant, Brasserie Grand, offers a varied menu, including international food and fresh Icelandic seafood specialties. It also offers a certified Grand Organic Breakfast.
This hotel boasts the Nordic eco-label and will impress even the most eco-conscious person for its extensive environmental policy.
If you’re looking for a healthy, canteen-style restaurant in Reykjavik, Gló, the creation of Elías Guðmundsson, an organic food expert, offers healthy meals for meat and plant-based eaters. If you’re a vegan, you will find great vegan food at Kaffi Vinyl in Reykjavik.
4. Visit the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon, roughly 30 minutes’ drive from Reykjavik, is a tourist attraction that’s known worldwide. It is 100% powered by geothermal energy and you can bathe in the natural hot spring water while surrounded by volcanic terrain.
Visit the spa with its sauna and steam rooms and enjoy an Icelandic meal at the Lava Restaurant. Built into the volcanic landscape, The Silica Hotel offers complimentary access to the Blue Lagoon, a private bathing lagoon, and free breakfast.
5. Enter a dormant volcano
Iceland teases travelers with adventures quite unlike anywhere else, such as strapping on crampons and climbing the ice sheets of a glacier or entering a volcano.
The Þríhnúkagígur volcano is found about 13 miles from Reykjavik within the Bláfjöll Country Park. Entering the caldera of this volcano is a unique experience. The last volcanic eruption occurred over 4000 years ago, so it is totally safe.
The name of the volcano may be just about unpronounceable but it basically translates to “Three Peaks Crater.” As a visitor, you can descend 120m into the empty magma chamber of the volcano. Scientists have several different theories for why the magma chamber is empty and it remains a mystery.
6. Indulge in a sustainable shopping spree
Favoring local businesses helps to support the Icelandic economy and buying from companies who prioritize environmental causes impacts Iceland’s longevity as a popular destination.
Aftur is a local fashion brand that upcycles used clothing. The company was founded by two sisters with a background buying for vintage boutiques and one sister was a stylist for Bjork, the famous Icelandic singer. If you want a one-of-a-kind piece with an edgy, eclectic flair, this is the place to find it.
If you’re looking for a souvenir, Aurum is a lovely gift shop that sells locally-crafted jewelry and more.
7. Experience whale watching
The majority of boat trips in Iceland revolve around whale watching. Species that live in the waters include Sperm Whales, Minke Whales, Humpback Whales, Fin Whales, and even some Blue Whales but you’ll have to leave the shores for a chance to spot them.
Elding Whale Watching, situated just outside the old harbor, offers a cruise deep into the natural habitat of whales, getting as close as possible without disturbing them.
This company is one of the most outspoken voices against whaling in Iceland. It believes the most effective way to stop the whaling is by showing the government that the whales are worth more alive than dead. Go whale watching to support the whales!
8. Enjoy Icelandic Horseback riding
Iceland is home to about 80,000 horses and horseback riding is popular. It is a great way to see the countryside. The Icelandic horse is a strong breed that has withstood harsh winter temperatures for centuries.
It has a muscular body, a thick coat and is smaller than many other breeds. It is the only horse breed in the world that has five different ways of walking – walk, trot, canter, pace and tölt. It is also known for its high spirits and friendliness.
Stay at Hotel Eldhestar in the countryside of South Iceland and enjoy daily travel rides that allow you to explore the landscape on horseback. Hotel Eldhestar was the first hotel in Iceland to receive the Nordic eco-label for its daily operations and building processes.
9. Visit ice caves at the Vatnajökull Glacier
The caves in Iceland give nature lovers and photography enthusiasts a chance to venture into caves and experience a subterranean adventure.
Glacier Adventure is a small family-run company that revolves around Vatnajökull. It operates in a professional, ethical and environmentally sustainable way.
In the winter period from November to mid-March, it takes people inside the glacier to ice caves. Those who are more adventurous can go on the Blue Ice Cave Adventure, hiking on the glacier, going into ice tunnels and visiting the Blue Ice Cave.
10. See the Northern Lights
The reason many people go to Iceland is to see the Northern Lights. You may be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights from Reykjavik.
Stay at the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel that offers you unobstructed views of the mountainous lava fields and you may just have front row seats to the Northern Lights.
The ION Hotel is made from repurposed, locally-sourced materials, such as driftwood and lava. It has large windows that offer maximum natural light and uses geothermal heating.
You may choose to go on a tour, which gives you the opportunity to benefit from the knowledge of an experienced guide. Go Green Tours, for example, is a small, family-run company that offers Northern Lights tours all winter. Its guides are very knowledgeable about sustainability and environmental issues.
A final word
It may be a sparsely populated country, but Iceland is not short on culture, natural beauty and sustainable principles. It ranks second on the 2016 Environmental Performance Index conducted by Yale University.
If you’re looking for a holiday that offers eco-friendly experiences, jaw-dropping scenery and unique adventures, you won’t be disappointed.