Iceland travel: what locals wish tourists would stop doing in Iceland

The jokes about Iceland being green and Greenland being ice get old.
Talia Lakritz/Business Insider

  • Icelandic locals can’t stand when tourists litter or step on fragile moss.
  • They’re also sick of hearing jokes about Iceland and Greenland.
  • When tourists ignore warning signs or advice from local authorities, it can be deadly.

With over 1.7 million visitors in 2022, according to the Icelandic Tourist Board, Iceland‘s otherworldly landscapes and natural phenomena continue to draw crowds of tourists to its shores.

Inevitably, tourists make mistakes or encounter culture clashes during their stays.

Here are six things locals wish tourists would stop doing when they visit Iceland.

Locals have heard all of the jokes about Iceland and Greenland before, and they’re not amused.

Iceland is greener than the name implies.
Talia Lakritz/Business Insider

Tourists occasionally joke with Icelanders about how the country of Greenland is covered in ice, and yet Iceland is very green.

Vanessa Terrazas, an Icelandic local who helps plan adventurous elopements with Iceland Wedding Planner, told Business Insider that the joke gets old after hearing it too many times.

They also roll their eyes when tourists ask where to see the northern lights during the summer months, when they’re not visible.

Iceland’s midnight sun at the Bubble Hotel.
Talia Lakritz/Business Insider

The northern lights are usually visible in Iceland between September and April, while the midnight sun season with 24 hours of daylight occurs between May and August.

Terrazas said that she often encounters tourists who didn’t do their research and came to Iceland to see the northern lights during the wrong time of year.

Tipping isn’t always appreciated by service workers in Iceland.

A cafe in Iceland.
Talia Lakritz/Business Insider

While tipping is commonplace, and even expected, for service workers in the US, it’s not the norm in European countries like Iceland. Some locals may welcome tips, but others may not want or be able to accept them, which can lead to some awkward moments.

“A lot of times there would be tips on the table for the waitress and they say, ‘We can’t take it,’ and then it’ll end up turning into an argument, and that’s something that happened quite often,” Anna Ragna, who was born and raised in Iceland and moved to the US in 2015, told Business Insider.

Icelanders can’t stand littering.

A garbage can in Reykjavík, Iceland.
Finn Huwald/picture alliance via Getty Images

Iceland is renowned for its pristine natural beauty. When tourists discard their trash on the ground, it damages the environment and “enrages us as a people,” Ragna said.

Locals wish tourists would be more careful about preserving Iceland’s fragile moss.

Moss at the Secret Lagoon.
Talia Lakritz/Business Insider

Tourists aren’t always aware of how delicate Icelandic moss is. The slow-growing organism can weather the country’s harsh climate, but it is very fragile when stepped on, The Reykjavík Grapevine reported.

“It grows incredibly slowly and it can take up a hundred years just to grow a simple patch,” Ragna said.

Ignoring warning signs or advice from local authorities could require a costly rescue, or worse.

An erupting volcano spews lava and smoke north of Grindavik, Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland, on December 19.
Icelandic Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS

An Icelandic Coast Guard helicopter rescued an “exhausted, cold and shocked” hiker who got too close to a volcanic eruption near Grindavík on December 19. Authorities warned tourists to “think four times” before approaching the site.

Davíð Geir Jónasson, owner of Icelandic tour company Vík Expeditions, has seen this happen many times throughout his 15 years as a member of Iceland’s search-and-rescue team.

“In Iceland, a warning sign is put up because someone has died or multiple people have died,” he said. “It’s not just because something might happen.”

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