It is no secret that it is difficult to travel to Iceland sustainably. In fact, some might say it was impossible. To get here, you will always have to travel by plane or boat; as of now, they are still operated on fossil fuels. But, you can do a few things to offset your carbon footprint.

So, how can you travel sustainably in Iceland if you have to burn so much fuel to get here?

First and foremost, you can offset the carbon footprint of your travels.

In Icelandic law, carbon offset is defined as such:

“When a party participates in another party’s actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or sequester carbon from the atmosphere and uses confirmation of such reductions or sequestration to partially or fully offset its own emissions.”

travel sustainably in Iceland, nature, icelandic marsh
Icelandic marsh

With some simplification, it can be said that carbon offset consists of individuals or legal entities compensating for their own emissions of greenhouse gases by financing projects which prevent the emission of the equivalent amount of greenhouse gases elsewhere or remove the equal amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

In many cases, airlines offer to do this for you (for a charge, of course). They will then use that money to finance the projects they want. Icelandair, for example, cooperates with the Icelandic company Kolviður. That means they plant trees to carbon offset your flight. Forests bind carbon from carbon dioxide and thus reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Check with your airline if they offer to offset your flight’s carbon. If not, you can check out Kolviður or the Icelandic Wetland Fund. This site has many projects you can fund to offset your carbon footprint. Visit Iceland has a calculator where you can see the carbon footprint of your travels in Iceland.

Is it possible to travel sustainably in Iceland?

Due to Iceland’s small population, we cannot offer the same public transport as many other countries. There are, for example, no trains in Iceland. We only have a bus. Outside the capital area, they do not run very often, and none are available for the Westfjords.

So, what do you do if you want to travel sustainably while in Iceland? Do you rent a car? You could, but you would, of course, be burning fossil fuel.

However, you could rent an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle for your travels. There are quite a few charging stations around the country, so it should not be a problem. A plug-in hybrid would be better if you have the so-called range anxiety. Just know, their electric range isn’t that great (compared to electric cars), and they often skip the electricity entirely if you drive faster than a certain speed.

One of the best ways to travel in Iceland is on organized tours. Just like it is more sustainable to ride in a bus than a personal car, it is more efficient to go on organized tours. Buses are generally more fuel-efficient than private vehicles; overall, they pollute less per person.

Walking tours are also great such as we have on offer. Walk With a Viking is a great tour for your first day, where you get your bearings and visit all the highlights of Reykjavik City center. If you’d like to taste Icelandic food or beer, we recommend the Reykjavik Food Lovers Tour and the Reykjavik Beer & Booze Tour. Check our site for more tours.

travel sustainably in Iceland, nature, Laugavegur, hiking trail, laugavegur hiking trail
Views on Laugavegur hiking trail – Photo: Chmee2/Valtameri, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You could also go hiking with a guide or on your own. Popular hiking routes are Fimmvörðuháls, various hiking routes in Þórsmörk, and the Laugavegur. That last one is a multi-day hike and should only be done by experienced hikers.

Staying longer and traveling slower is one of the best ways to visit Iceland

One of the best ways to travel to Iceland sustainably is by staying longer and traveling slower during the off-season. Taking your time exploring the island instead of hurrying from site to site is the best. You will probably never be able to fit everything you want to see in one trip anyway. Check out our tips on driving in Iceland.

Midnight sun on the Arctic Coast Way Photo: Visit North Iceland

Check out the Arctic Coast Way if you are doing the Ring Road. It takes you off the beaten track and shows you a different side of Iceland.

Traveling during the off seasons puts less pressure on the society and environment in Reykjavik and other popular areas. Some places have had to close down for a while due to too many tourists, such as Fjarðárgljúfur and Helgustaðanáma.

What about sustainable food?

The best is, of course, to eat locally. In some cases, it can be difficult. Icelanders don’t grow many fruits, for example. We do grow strawberries, raspberries, and red currants. You might also find Icelandic blueberries in stores in the fall.

You might have heard that Icelanders are one of the largest banana producers in Europe. That’s not true, sadly. The Agricultural University of Iceland has a few banana trees, which it uses for educational purposes. The crop they offer students, staff, and guests.

Regarding vegetables, we grow various types. Carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, salads, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, and more.

Almost all dairy products you find in stores are Icelandic. There are strict import regulations on dairy products (and many meat products as well).

One of the biggest things you can do, apart from eating local food, is to drink kranavatn. The Icelandic water is as clean as it can get, so there is no reason to buy bottled water (it is all from the faucet anyway!).

What else can you do to travel sustainably?

We recommend you take the Icelandic Pledge. That in itself doesn’t make your travels sustainable, but the pledge involves a few steps you can take which make your impact on our little island as small as possible.

If you go on organized bus tours outside the city, check if they have a Vakinn certificate. Vakinn is an official quality and environmental certification for Icelandic tourism, run by the Icelandic Tourist Board. The Vakinn logo helps you find businesses that operate ethically, professionally, and sustainably.

Be respectful of nature, don’t leave anything behind, and recycle your trash.

11 Sustainability Travel Tips from Visit Iceland

1. Pack light and compensate for the carbon footprint of your travels locally.

2. Slow down your travels and stay for longer.

3. Use public transport or rent electric or hybrid vehicles.

4. Travel during the off-season and explore regions closely.

5. Choose locally made products and services from local businesses.

6. Buy products and services with eco-labels.

7. Attend cultural events.

8. Stay on hiking trails, never drive off-road, and camp within campsites.

9. Drink tap water.

10. Be mindful of your energy and resource usage.

11. Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

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