Tourist traps in Iceland

As you most of you have read by now, Iceland is one of the most peaceful and safe countries in the world to travel in. You feel it wherever you are here. There is nothing to be afraid of really. Most people are very friendly and helpful except for the occasional drunks creeping around in downtown Reykjavik way past midnight. People in the countryside don’t lock their doors and leave their cars open without a care in the world. But there are tourist traps, things to avoid to do, to buy for you might be paying a great deal more than you get.

So what are these Icelandic tourist traps and how can they be avoided? Well, let’s start off with the most basic, namely water!!!

Icelandic water

Bottled water in IcelandWhen you are in Iceland, you are literally surrounded by one of the best drinking water in the world. It comes straight to the taps and faucets after being filtered through lava for like a million years (exaggeration). Not only is this water to be found coming through every tap here, more or less. It’s is simply delicious and so clean. So when you have free access to such luxury, why spend money on bottled water? Not only should we all try to lessen the use of plastic in our lives, it can be so expensive. We had an incident here were a hotel where selling overpriced bottles of water and not only that, to try to increase sales, they also had warning signs saying the tap water is not suitable for drinking which proved totally wrong. Not only was it a scam, they also refilled the bottles they were selling with water from their own taps.

We saw a price tag on an 1/2 liter bottled water in a very popular destination here. They charged 800ISK for it, that’s 6.6€/7$. Those numbers adds quickly up to amounts you can use to much more fun stuff on you holiday in Iceland like gifts and stuff to take home like Icelandic wool sweaters. And while on the subject….

 Icelandic wool sweater

Wool sweater from IcelandThe traditional Icelandic wool sweater has been around for probably 500 years. The Icelandic word for it is lopapeysa meaning lopa=wool yarn and peysa=sweater. The legend tells a story of a French tourist traveling around Iceland once upon a time and saw a farmer in a field who happened to be wearing a wool sweater. The tourist started to point to the farmer and saying “Paysan“, the French word for peasant. People thought the tourist meant the sweater and the name lopapeysa was born. True or not, it’s a fun story.

In recent years, machine made wool sweaters made in China has made its appearance in certain stores here and what we have read, they are not cheaper than the Icelandic, genuine ones. So skip buying water and you can save up to bring an original, Icelandic, hand knitted sweater back home. We promise, there are few things warmer. Álafoss and the Icelandic hand knitting association are famous for their quality.

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Buying groceries

Grocery shopping in IcelandWhen you are preparing your camper van rental for your Iceland trip, you need to fill it up with food too. Dining out all days is expensive and unpractical while on the road. So you need to head out to a grocery store (you can also pick up stuff along the way) nearby you. So where to go? Well, there are a few decent chains and smaller grocery shops where you can get what you need but if you decide to get your stuff at 10-11, you will pay much more than in any other store in Iceland. Not only are they already the most expensive grocery store in Iceland, they also raise their prices after hours and during weekends. Unless you are really in a pickle or just need one or two little things, do you grocery shopping somewhere else.

We have two big cheap stores here and they are Krónan and Bónus. It’s easy to see them in a distance for Bónus has a big, pink pig as a logo while Krónan has the name and a yellow coin in the name. There is a another big chain too called Hagkaup that can be found all over the country. They are a little bit more expensive than the two above but usually have better vegetables but none of the three comes close to the prices at 10-11.

Icelandic candy

Candy from IcelandWherever you will go shopping groceries, you’ll find candy everywhere for Icelanders love their candy and it comes in all shapes and colors, chocolate might be the biggest seller. Many of the bigger grocery stores typically have so called nammibar. í.e a candy bar where you pick your own candy and the bag is then weighted. On weekends many of them have like 50% so people can get their share of Laugardagsnammi, Saturday candy.

If you also are a candy junkie, you must try what Iceland has to offer but, do not buy any candy with English names like Puffin eggs, lava sparks, horse doo doo and what not. Most of these are traditional candy that has been repackaged for …well…you and they cost like 4 to 5 times more than in any ordinary store.

The same goes for the candy being sold at Keflavik international airport. They do have a lot to choose from but often, it’s much cheaper to buy it in either Krónan or Bónus in case you are planning to bring some candy or chocolate home with you.

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue LagoonThe Blue lagoon is one of the three, big, iconic tourist destinations in Iceland and rightly so. To be clear on how the Blue lagoon came to exist, it is not a natural wonder, its man made and here is how it became to be.

In 1976, they opened the valves to the geothermal power plant Svartsengi. All runoff hot water was lead out to the lava field and in no time formed a lagoon. It didn’t take long before Icelanders found it to be wonderful to swim around in the pool and another additional benefit was the relief Psoriasis patients got from swimming around there. Before long, a guy moved an old morgue from Keflavik to the lagoon to be used for changing facilities. Yes, a morgue! In 1987 they opened the lagoon as an official swimming lagoon with showers and pontoons.

Blue Lagoon FogIn early 1990, they started to build the Blue lagoon as we know it today, an all man made lagoon with excellent bathing facilities, spa, restaurant and everything you could ask for.

Today the regular Icelander doesn’t use the lagoon as they once did. First of all, most people find it to be almost prohibitively expensive. Secondly, the crowds and the prospect to have to book in advance is not something Icelanders finds sexy.

More and more tourists have started to call the Blue lagoon a tourist trap. While that might not be necessarily true for Blue lagoon tries to attract everybody and not only aimed for tourists, it might not be possible to stamp it as a tourist trap, just a very expensive place for all to go to. For those traveling the Ring road will have the possibility to visit Mývatn nature bath instead which more and more people prefer due to much lower prices and a much more relaxed atmosphere.

Read more: Travel apps for Iceland (updated)

Icelandic beerThere are other tourist traps here in the form of overpricing and over promising like there was a time when companies offering Northern lights tours promised lights which is totally impossible to do but that seems to have stopped.

Another thing which is not a tourist trap but a misunderstanding is about beer. When you visit a grocery shop, you will see beer being sold. That is not the beer you are probably looking for. That beer is a non-alcohol version and it’s called pilsner here. To get the beer you are used to, you have to either buy it in the duty free store when you arrive or you go to the state run store called ríkið or the correct name, ÁTVR.

If you see a sign in a store window saying “Sale”, don’t think everything you read is true for there has been more than one occasion where store owners manipulate their prices by first putting on a new price ticket, higher than the original price and then hang a sign saying 30% off or whatever. If you are buying something that is not cheap, try to do a a bit of research what the item costs at other places before jumping on the “sale” train. But again, it’s not a tourist trap by definition, they do that to everybody. (those few stores that might still do it)

In general, Iceland is a very honest country where thieves are few and far between but there are those who will try anything to get you to pay as much as possible for whatever they are selling. Iceland is not a cheap country so just keep your eyes open, don’t fall for the above tourist traps and you will have more money in your pocket to have some fun with. After all, you are on a or are going on a vacation!  🙂

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