The Icelandic tourism industry is booming like never before and it would be an understatement to say that hotel construction has been struggling to keep up. Despite hotel rooms having increased by a record 26% (872 rooms) in the year 2015, it still didn’t keep up with the 30% increase in tourism. With a projected 29% more travellers in 2016, and 290 rooms projected to be built, it seems unlikely that the room shortage will let up anytime soon. In fact, Íslandsbanki calculates there is a shortage of about 1000 rooms just to keep up with demand for accommodation. [Just to clarify, even though the number of visitors is increasing rapidly, it’s still not very many tourists in the grand scheme of things.]
Exacerbating the situation, there is a record number of airlines selling a record number of tickets to Iceland. The short story is: it’s not VERY easy to find a place to stay in Iceland on short notice.
Whether you’re holding a plane ticket and are trying to find a place to stay, or just wondering when you want to make your visit, here is a guide to finding accommodation in Iceland when it’s hard to find.
Arrange Your Trip Around your Accommodation
For instance, on icelandairhotels.com, booking.com, farmholiday.is, hostel.is, bungalo.is and airbnb.com, you can search by date and see what’s available. Even if you have to adjust your plans and be flexible: staying 2-3 nights in a place you hadn’t meant to, driving back and forth a little – who knows, you might end up discovering something you never knew was there! Beauty is everywhere in Iceland and you won’t be bored no matter where you go.
Get Off the Beaten Track
Most people stay in and around Reykjavík or the south of Iceland. If you check out places further out in the countryside, or more obscure valleys, you can find very special experiences in very beautiful places, just by going to a place most people wouldn’t think of.
Don’t Assume You Can Just “Figure It Out”
If the beginning analysis didn’t bring it home to you, let me spell it out: You need to find accommodation before you get on that plane. In the worst case scenario, you’ve searched everywhere and haven’t been able to work it out, or the notice is too short to find anything, you might want to put off coming until you’ve sorted it out. Which brings us to:
The seasonal fluctuation in Icelandic tourism is decreasing every year, but there is still more availability in the winter than in the summer. Most of the exciting things that are available in summer are still available in winter, in addition to winter-only activities like Northern Lights gazing and Ice-caves. There are, of course, things that are not available in wintertime, so take that into consideration, but Iceland can be magical any time of year.
That being said, it can be quite busy with northern lights hunters from about mid-December to about the end of January, so it can be hard to book hotels then. But even at that time, you still have a good chance if you just book now, far in advance.
Increasingly popular is taking your sleeping place with you in your car – whether by bringing along a tent or driving a camper van. This gives you the freedom to roam and a closeness to nature, but you might want to plan ahead and call the campgrounds in advance in more popular areas, at least in the busy season. Just make sure you respect the nature and laws of the land.
One great way to get around the campgrounds is to pick up a camping card – it saves you money and simplifies your travel, and includes loads of campsites in every area of Iceland. If you’re interested in the camping card or need help finding a camper van, please just get in touch with us and we will help you out. Places to rent a tent and get camping equipment in Reykjavík include Gangleri Outfitters and Iceland Camping Equipment Rental.
Notes on camping in Iceland
- A common misconception states that it’s legal to “wild camp” anywhere in Iceland. This is NOT TRUE. Don’t camp on privately owned land without permission from the owner. Camping in or near a town is illegal except on a designated campground.
- There is, however, a stipulation that camping with three tents or less on uncultivated, unenclosed land is allowed for a single night, as long as you’re not within sight of a farm, and there’s no notice posted to the contrary. But this is more an emergency recourse, not a “free pass” to camp wherever you want.
- If you do end up having to emergency camp on someone’s land, you can’t just go to the bathroom somewhere out in a field – someone has to farm there!
- You can camp in the highlands if you’re too far from a campsite to make it by nightfall. But in the more popular hiking routes, you will always be near enough to a campground/shack that you can make there it in a single day. Again, think “emergency recourse,” not “free pass.” And even if you do have to camp somewhere random, you’re not allowed to disturb the local nature or leave anything behind.
- And I think that’s obvious to most of us – we want to preserve the beautiful nature we all came there to see. The key terms, I think, are “consideration” and “respect.” And in any case, campgrounds are inexpensive, usually in beautiful locations, with bathroom facilities and running water – why would you want to camp anywhere else?