Heard of plaice? Ling? Wolffish? Iceland is a buffet of sustainable fisheries

Six tips for climate-friendly travel

Perhaps nowhere underscores the importance of protecting nature like Iceland.

While the island’s smattering of volcanos and glaciers make clear the overwhelming power of nature, much of the country’s most striking sites are also surprisingly delicate. If you drive your car off-road, for example, it could take years for this slow-growing landscape to recover. And the impacts of the climate crisis are already being acutely felt up north: the Atlantic puffin is now endangered, while an increase in rainfall pose a risk of landslide.

This means Icelanders are ambitious in their efforts to go green: the country aims to be carbon neutral by 2040, and already produces 100% of its electricity with hydropower and geothermal energy. 

Vakinn labels

Yellow 'Vakinn' labes - worn with pride by the companies who have them - indicate sustainable operations

The Icelandic Tourist Board offers an official certification called “Vakinn”, issued only for environmentally-friendly businesses. Keep an eye out for their distinctive seal, which indicates the business operates in an ethical, environmentally sustainable way.

Bus in Reykjavík

Reykjavík city buses are yellow on the outside and, increasingly, green on the inside - electric.

Electrify your travel

Many of Iceland’s buses are already electric, and in the capital, it’s easy to rent bicycles, electric bikes, or electric scooters. If you’re renting your own vehicle, most companies offer electric cars, and there’s a great networks of fast-charging points around Iceland and in the parking lots of many hotels - and while driving an electric car in other countries means you’re still charging with electricity created by fossil fuels, in Iceland, since all electricity is produced by renewables, it’s a truly green way to move.

Kranavatn comerical

Introducing the phenomenally fresh and pure 'Kranavatn' - the Icelandic word for 'tap water' - in a tongue-in-cheek commercial aimed at tourists

Drink tap instead of bottled

Instead of creating plastic waste, enjoy some of the freshest, cleanest tapwater on earth. Water melted from glaciers filters slowly through lava rock over the course of hundreds of years, and springs from the tap pristine, so all visitors are encouraged to drink tap rather than buy bottled. Bring a reusable bottle around, and make sure to request tapwater rather than bottled water at restaurants.

Segull Brewery in Siglufjörður

The tap room at Segull, Siglufjörður. Brewers around Iceland tap into Iceland's enormous freshwater reserve - with a joyous results.

Eat sustainably

Iceland is a fishing nation in the middle of the Atlantic - imported products by default carry a high carbon footprint. Sheep run wild and an impressive amount of vegetables are grown inside thermally heated greenhouses.

Keep in mind that not all local cuisine is eco-friendly cuisine. Foods now marketed to international tourists as exotic local delicacies - like puffin and whale meat - are borne out of a legacy of native Icelanders making the best of the spare resources available. In fact, the majority of whale meat now caught by Icelandic whalers goes not to locals, but to tourists - less than 2% of Icelanders report eating whale meat regularly, and the country plans to end commercial whale hunts in 2024. Overall, they’re not a sustainable food choice, particularly puffin, which is now an endangered species. Aquaculture has become a large industry in Iceland over the years, but keep in mind that salmon farmed on land has less environmental impact than open-pen sea cages in fjords.

Instead, check out some farm-to-table restaurants for truly sustainable eating - whether that’s a bowl of tomato soup inside the geothermal greenhouse where they’re farmed, fresh cheese at a goat farm or brunch at a pioneering organic farm. If you’re really focused on eating sustainably, there are even an impressive number of excellent vegan restaurants in Icelandic cities.


Studio Plastplan works with several Icelandic retailers on turning plastic waste directly into new products - including flowerpots

Eco-friendly shopping

Some brands are deliberately sustainable: the Blue Lagoon has a Research and Development Centre that uses ingredients from geothermal fluids, along with cultivated algae, for many of its skincare and wellness products. And other brands like Aftur create their clothes from recycled materials, while Sapusmidjan make soaps from organic Icelandic herbs. Studio Plastplan works with several Icelandic retailers on turning plastic waste directly into new products, from flowerpots to furniture.

There are also several secondhand stores in Reykjavik, if you’re looking for a souvenir that’s both cheaper and more eco-friendly. You can also shop the famous Kolaportid Flea Market for pre-loved items, since reuse is one way to minimize your climate impact. And if you don’t feel like lugging your camping supplies back to your home country, consider donating it to a secondhand shop: it’ll reduce waste, and proceeds from many secondhand shops go to charitable causes.

Hallormsstaður forest

The Icelandic Forest Service has a campground in Hallormsstaður, one of Iceland's oldest forestry project in eastern Iceland. Photo by Skógræktin / Pétur

Decarbonize your hotel

Thanks to the abundance of geothermal energy, hotels will, as a rule, run on renewables. But some accommodations will take it a step further still: Deplar Farm sources organic linens and uses low-flow shower heads, while the ION Adventure Hotel was built with reclaimed wood and other recycled materials, with electric car charging ports in the parking area. And at Hótel Fljótshlíð, you can be part of the reforesting of Iceland: the hotel sits on a family-run farm called Smaratun, and guests can take part in an initiative to plan native birch trees.


The life of moss rests on people's respect for nature

Respect the landscape

This one might sound basic, but litter in Iceland will stick out like a sore thumb. If you’re camping, absolutely remember to pack out your trash with you. And recycle where possible - Iceland was the first country in the world to adopt a nationwide recycling fee for disposable drink cans and bottles. 

This also means respecting regulations and signs: they’re there to protect a fragile environment from the irreversible damage that can be caused by driving offroad, or treading down moss away from designated hiking trails.

There’s one more way to keep the landscape clean: make sure to wash off before you take a dip in any geothermal pools. These pools don’t use chemicals to stay clean, and this way you can avoid introducing oils, soaps, and sunscreen to these natural spring waters.

Happy travels

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