Iceland: how to get exclusive access to tourist sites [for free!]

In 2017, over 2 million people visited Iceland. The country’s population is 330,000. I don’t have to do the math to tell you the result: Iceland is overrun with tourism.

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A quiet moment at the milky-blue pool of Viti crater in the Highlands

With so many visitors, it’s hard to believe that Iceland still harbours any remote and untouched places. You might think it’s impossible to be anywhere in Iceland alone, with no other tourist around you, as you stare at a breathtaking waterfall, volcano, glacier, or into a tectonic abyss.

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A rare quiet photo at the trailhead to Gullfoss

But it’s not impossible. Do you want to know the secret? It’s actually so obvious, you’ll smack your hand into your forehead and sigh.

***Arrive before 8am!***

A huge majority of tourists sign up for bus tours, departing major towns in the morning for a day of sight-seeing. Usually the buses arrive at their first stop by 9am, when many of the attractions open their information desks. By 10am a venue is pulsing with foreigners, cameras around necks and secret wallets sticking out of their pant line (OK…so maybe I’m that person sometimes).

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A good seal shot? Worth the early wake-up.

In the two weeks we spent in Iceland we had a dozen mornings where woke at 6am, ate breakfast and made it to a famous [insert waterfall/hike/glacier/geyser/volcano/lava field/other life-changing viewpoint here] by 7am. We were normally the first car in the parking lot. For example – the cave where Jon Snow lost his virginity in the rather well-known series (normally there’s a huge line and people get in your photo):

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If you’re willing to be a morning person you can avoid the never ending throngs of people lined up to get that [not-so] perfect shot. It’s so worth it.

During the summer months you can also be a late bird – darkness sort-of falls by midnight, and most of the tourists are back in their warm [expensive] guest houses or hotels far before then. But we aren’t the best late birds, and we were convinced of the power of 7am arrivals, so we stuck to that!

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Vatnajökull glacier – early morning shots

Of course, even with all of the other tourists, Iceland’s beauty is still guaranteed to blow your mind. If you’ve ever watched viking movies, enjoyed Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, or simply appreciated never-ending magical vistas, Iceland is for you.

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Námafjall – bubbling mud pots and watercolour sands

There’s an inspiring waterfall around every corner. Hot springs burst forth in nearly every coastal town, providing much-needed relief from the unforgiving cold and [far too common] biting wind. The people are awesome – we saw so many award-winning beards and smiles – the beer is noteworthy – try an IPA or a weiss – and the roads are never-ending marvels. I’d go back in a heartbeat! And I’d continue to wake up early.

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Striking green moss thriving by a glacial lake in southern Iceland

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