Iceland Alternatives: Where to Go Instead of the Land of Fire and Ice

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Let's get one thing straight first: I LOVE Iceland. I've been to Iceland three times in the last decade, and often tell people it's one of the most unique countries I've visited.

Iceland has volcanos and and glaciers and black sand beaches and even fjords; in short, it's a dream destination for a landscape-loving, adventure-seeker like me.

Jokulsarlon in Iceland
Jokulsarlon in Iceland
Ljotipollur, the Ugly Puddle
Ljotipollur, the Ugly Puddle, in Iceland

My first trip to Iceland was in early 2012. This was back when there were whispers going around about how cool Iceland was, but it hadn't yet exploded into Instagram stardom; back then, I still felt very much like I was discovering somewhere “new.”

My second visit to Iceland was also a winter one, in late 2015. Iceland was firmly on the tourist trail by then, but it still didn't feel too overrun with tourists (granted, the fact that I visited in winter helped).

But by my third visit in the summer of 2018, the popularity of the Land of Fire and Ice was evident. Hotel prices in Reykjavik were crazy, restaurants downtown were bustling every night of the week, the Blue Lagoon was completely sold out for multiple days, and every tour my dad and I took was full.

Kirkjufell in Iceland
If you visit Kirkjufell in the summer, you may have a hard time finding a spot to park.

The issue with overtourism

Overtourism has become the newest catchphrase in tourism, with mega-popular destinations around the world struggling to keep up with an influx of visitors as the global pool of tourists expands.

In the past year alone, Boracay in the Phillipines shut down for 6 months for “environment rehabilitation,” the popular Maya Bay in Thailand closed indefinitely, Venice has banned cruise ships from docking in its center, and MANY other destinations have talked about adding or increasing taxes on tourists. Even in the US, the National Parks Service has toyed around with the idea of timed entrances and requiring more permits for hikes in some of its most popular national parks.

I love travel and I love to encourage other people to travel. But there's definitely a little voice in the back of my head that wonders whether we may be loving certain parts of the world to death.

Djúpalónssandur Beach in Iceland
Path to Djúpalónssandur Beach in Iceland

Overtourism in Iceland

Overtourism has been discussed when it comes to Iceland, too, where the tourism industry saw growth in the double digits for several years in a row. Experts are saying that growth is finally slowing – but there were still more than 2.3 million international visitors to Iceland in 2018, which is a LOT in a country of only 340,000 people.

Is Iceland at maximum capacity? Well, I don't know if I would go that far, as there are still plenty of parts of the country that are quiet and lesser-known. (Get away from the southwest coast, and you'll find far fewer people.)

But the popular spots in Iceland ARE getting crowded, and it's inevitable that continued stress on those spots is going to have a negative impact in the long run.

So what's my solution? Consider going somewhere else!

Blue Lagoon in Iceland
The Blue Lagoon is cool, but there are similar spots to visit in other parts of the world!

5 alternatives to Iceland

Sure, Iceland is awesome and is pretty easy to get to from both North America and Europe… but maybe right now isn't the best time to visit. Give Iceland a breather, and consider one of these other countries like Iceland (that aren't currently suffering from overtourism) instead:

1. The Faroe Islands

Village of Tjørnuvík
Tjørnuvík village

When I visited the Faroe Islands in 2017, my first stop after leaving the airport was the famous Mulafossur Waterfall. It's the waterfall in front of a mountain that you'll see on all the Faroe Islands postcards and guidebooks. And yet, on a July afternoon I had the spot entirely to myself.

The Faroe Islands are a collection of 18 rugged, volcanic islands located in the North Atlantic roughly halfway between Iceland and Norway. The country is small (population: 50,000), but the landscapes are BIG.

The very first comment I made about the Faroe Islands on my Instagram Stories was that it reminded me of “Iceland on crack.” The landscape was very similar to what you'll find in Iceland, but dialed WAY up. Everything in the Faroe Islands is dramatic – and yet I had even the most popular spots all to myself in the middle of high season.

Mulafossur Waterfall near the village of Gásadalur
Mulafossur Waterfall

3 unique things to do in the Faroe Islands:

  1. See puffins on Mykines – The island of Mykines is an easy ferry ride from the island of Vagar, and during the summer months it's home to thousands of Atlantic puffins. Hiking here was a highlight of my trip to the Faroe Islands.
  2. Hike to the “floating lake” – I didn't do any crazy hikes in the Faroe Islands, but my favorite was the 4-hour Trælanípa hike. The cliffs you hike to overlook Sørvágsvatn, the largest lake in the Faroe Islands that looks like it's floating above the ocean.
  3. Go to a music festival – For being such a small country, the Faroe Islands has a rather large number of festivals throughout the year! I went to the G! Festival in Gøta, which is a music festival that takes place on a beach.
Puffins on Mykines in the Faroe Islands
Puffins on Mykines
Looking over Lake Sørvágsvatn
Looking over Lake Sørvágsvatn

How it's similar to Iceland: Landscapes, culture (the Faroe Islands are part of Denmark, and have a very Scandinavian feel), climate, hiking opportunities, easy to road trip

Best time to go: July-August, when it's the warmest, and when you can see puffins!

How to get there: There are regular flights from cities like Copenhagen, Bergen, Edinburgh, and even Paris on Atlantic Airways.

Read more: 6 Reasons to Add the Faroe Islands to Your Bucket List

The Faroe Islands are still relatively “undiscovered” by mass tourism, but I don't think they'll stay that way for long. If you want to visit before these islands become “the next Iceland,” I recommend going soon!

2. Scottish Isles

Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye
Isle of Skye

Scotland is one of my favorite countries in the world; I've visited close to once a year since my first trip there in 2012. I contemplated whether to add the Scottish Highlands or Isles here as an alternative to Iceland, but ultimately went with the Isles.

While the Scottish Highlands are dramatic and moody (just like Iceland), I love the Isles because of their rugged beauty – and because many people don't know about them outside of the Isle of Skye!

Now, Scotland has a lot of islands; in fact, it has more than 790 islands (yes, 790!). Its islands are divided up into four main island groups: the Shetland Islands and the Orkney Islands in the north, and then the Inner Hebrides and Outer Hebrides in the west. Each island group has a slightly different feel and different landscapes ranging from mountains to beaches.

A Coo with a View on the Isle of Harris
And adorable cows ON beaches!

Unique things to do in the Scottish Isles:

  1. In the Inner Hebrides, you can visit distilleries on Islay, see Fingal's Cave on Staffa, and hunt for faeries and waterfalls on Skye.
  2. In the Outer Hebrides, you can marvel at the beaches on Harris, visit standing stones on Lewis, take off from an airport runway that's just a beach on Barra, and visit a new UNESCO World Heritage site on St Kilda.
  3. In the Orkney Islands, you can see ancient sites like Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar, and do tastings the northernmost distilleries in Scotland.
  4. In the Shetland Islands, you can go bird watching at sea cliffs in Hermaness, meet some Shetland ponies, and perhaps even set things on fire with Vikings if you visit for the annual Up Helly Aa festival.
Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye
Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye
Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis
Callanish Standing Stones, Isle of Lewis

How it's similar to Iceland: Unique landscapes, climate, hiking, road trip opportunities

Best time to go: May-October for the best chance of good weather; July-August is high season when all the ferries are running, though I do NOT recommend visiting popular islands like the Isle of Skye during these months.

How to get there: You can drive to the Isle of Skye, but most of the other Scottish isles are reached by ferry – most of which can carry cars.

Read more: Hopping Around the Hebrides with Haggis Adventures

Some Scottish islands are more well-known than others (for example, everyone seems to know Skye these days), but there are so many of them that you could easily plan an itinerary that would still feel adventurous and allow you to get off the beaten path in Scotland.

3. Greenland

View of Ilulissat from Hotel Arctic
Ilulissat, Greenland

Greenland may be the largest island in the world at more than 836,000 square miles, but it's mostly covered by a giant ice cap and is only home to about 56,000 people – meaning it's still quite untouched and wild.

Greenland isn't super similar to Iceland landscape-wise (Greenland doesn't have beaches or volcanoes), but it gives you the same sense of being on another planet when you're there.

I visited Greenland for the first time in 2018, spending 5 days in the town of Ilulissat with my dad. Ilulissat sits above the Arctic Circle on Greenland's west coast, near the UNESCO-recognized Ilulissat Icefjord that empties into Disko Bay. It was an EPIC trip filled with icebergs and sled dogs, and I can't wait to go back and explore more of Greenland.

Boat at Eqi Glacier in Greenland
The mighty Eqi Glacier

3 unique things to do in Greenland:

  • Ilulissat Icefjord – This fjord ends at the Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the most productive glaciers in the world. I got up close to the big icebergs in the Ilulissat Icefjord by boat, by plane, and even on foot.
  • Meet Greenlandic sled dogs – Greenlandic sled dogs are working animals that the local people have relied on for survival for centuries. Humans' reliance on dogs is changing in today's modern world, though, so it's fascinating to learn about them.
  • Go for a hike – Hiking is pretty popular (relatively speaking) in Greenland during the summer months. I only went on a short hike near the icefjord with my dad, but I know people who have hiked the whole Arctic Circle Trail
Face of Sermeq Avangnardleq, the Northern Glacier
Flying over Sermeq Avangnardleq, the Northern Glacier
Sled dog at sunset in Ilulissat
Sled dog at sunset

 

How it's similar to Iceland: Epic landscapes, culture (Greenland, too, is part of Denmark), chance to see the Midnight Sun/Northern Lights

Best time to go: July-August for the warmest weather and the most tours (but you can visit year-round!)

How to get there: You'll have to fly from Denmark or Iceland on either Air Greenland or Air Iceland.

Read more: 9 Things That Surprised Me About Traveling to Greenland

Greenland is definitely not on the typical tourist trail, and it's not a particularly cheap place to visit. But its tourism infrastructure is more developed than most people realize, so don't discount it if you're curious about getting a unique taste of the Arctic.

4. Norway

Geirangerfjord in Norway
Sitting high above Geirangerfjord

Ah, Norway. Where do I even begin?? I've traveled to Norway multiple times, and it always blows me away.

Norway is a safe and beautiful country filled with fjords and mountains – and it certainly isn't a stranger to tourism. But since Norway is fairly large and not densely populated, there are plenty of parts of it that are still quiet and relatively secret.

You might already know a handful of Norwegian spots like Bergen (for the fjords), famous hikes like Trolltunga and Pulpit Rock, and the Lofoten Islands (for mountains and snowy Northern Lights scenes). But for every beautiful spot you've heard of in Norway, there are probably 10 similar ones that haven't yet graced your Instagram feed.

Tungeneset viewpoint on Senja
Tungeneset viewpoint on Senja

3 unique things to do in Norway:

  1. Island-hop in Senja and the Vesteralens – Even though the Lofoten Islands get all the love, nearby Senja and the Vesteralen Islands are just as stunning – but see far less tourists. You can plan an epic road trip in this part of Norway.
  2. Visit Alta in the winter – Northern Norway is one of my favorite winter destinations. Most people head to Tromsø, but I recommend heading even further north to the town of Alta for a more intimate experience. Here you can sleep overnight in an ice hotel, go dogsledding at night, and of course chase the Northern Lights!
  3. Road-trip the southwest coast – Another of my favorite parts of Norway to explore is the southwest coast between Trondheim and Bergen. Here you can cruise Geirangerfjord, drive the Atlantic Ocean Road and Trollstigen, and visit the city of Alesund.
Holmen Husky Lodge in Alta, Norway
Holmen Husky Lodge in Alta
Alesund, Norway
Alesund

How it's similar to Iceland: Dramatic landscapes, culture, hiking, chance to see the Midnight Sun/Northern Lights

Best time to go: June-August for summer; February-March for winter trips; April-May and September-October for popular spots like the Lofoten Islands

How to get there: You can get direct (and often very cheap!) flights to several destinations in Norway on airlines like Norwegian Air.

Read more: A Travel Itinerary for 10 Days in Norway

The downside is that Norway is huge, and the distances between major cities can be far – so you probably won't be able to see everything in one trip (you certainly can't drive around the whole country in a week like you can do in Iceland!). But multiple trips to Norway has never sounded like a bad idea to me!

5. Alaska

Hubbard Glacier in Alaska
Hubbard Glacier

All the other destinations on this list have been in Europe, so let's throw in one in North America, too! Alaska would make another great alternative to Iceland because of its vastness, moody weather, and dramatic landscapes.

While Alaska is a popular cruise destination during the summer months, the state is still called “The Last Frontier” and has plenty of unexplored corners off the main tourist trail. 

Highlights in Alaska generally revolve around nature and wildlife – so if those are things you're interested in, this is the place for you.

Seal on glacier ice in Alaska
Seals, whales, bears, moose… you can see them all in Alaska!

3 unique things to do in Alaska:

  1. Hike on a glacier – Alaska is home to a lot of glaciers – an estimated 100,000 of them, including at least 1000 in Glacier Bay National Park alone. If hiking on a glacier is on your bucket list, I can highly recommend hiking the Matanuska Glacier not far from Anchorage.
  2. See grizzly bears in the wild – Something that's still on my bucket list is flying into Katmai National Park during salmon season to see lots of wild bears!
  3. Ride the Alaska Railroad – If trains are your thing, you can get to know the real, remote Alaska by taking a tour on the Alaskan Railroad.
Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier hiking in Alaska
Hiking the Matanuska Glacier

How it's similar to Iceland: Dramatic landscapes, outdoor activities, cool climate, chance to see the Midnight Sun/Northern Lights

Best time to go: May-September

How to get there: You can travel overland from British Columbia, but the easiest way is to fly into a city like Anchorage or Fairbanks.

Read more: Ice, Ice, Baby – Glacier Hiking in Alaska

Alaska is another huge place (the state covers 663,000 square miles!) that you can't possibly explore in just one trip – but you can certainly plan a pretty epic adventure that would rival anything you'd find in Iceland.

This isn't an exhaustive list, of course. There are lots of other destinations that would make great alternatives to Iceland, too; places like Newfoundland in Canada, the Azores in Portugal, Torres del Paine National Park in Chile's Patagonia region, Svalbard in Norway, the volcanic regions of New Zealand, and even Kyrgyzstan are like Iceland in many ways.

The destinations listed here are ones I've personally visited and can vouch for in terms of their awesomeness AND their similarities to the Land of Fire and Ice.

And, I should round this up by saying that I don't necessarily think people should stop traveling to Iceland altogether – the country now relies on tourism as a major part of its economy. But for those who want to help ease the strain (or maybe those who have visited Iceland already and would be happy to try somewhere new), then this guide is for you!

What do you think? Would you consider one of these alternatives to Iceland?

 

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5 Alternatives to Iceland
Iceland Alternatives

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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33 Comments on “Iceland Alternatives: Where to Go Instead of the Land of Fire and Ice

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  1. I would absolutely LOVE to visit any of these destinations – especially the Faroe Islands. There’s just something about them that looks completely magical!

      They are SO magical. Like I said, very similar to Iceland, but dialed up like 100%. I spent almost a week in the Faroes a couple summers ago, and I’m dying to go back. I love that they’re very “digestible,” too – you can see all the highlights in a short trip since the country is so small.

    These are instantly on my list after I’ve done Iceland for the second time! They all look incredible.

    Shannon x

      They’re all amazing for sure! I’ve been to some of them more than once!

    I love Iceland too, but I’m worried about going back when it’s so full of tourists! The Faroe Islands have been on my list since you went there. 🙂 It’s funny that you should mention Scotland, because a LOT of people are complaining about how over touristed Skye is now. But you’re right – there are SO many islands here that are worth checking out (thanks for giving Orkney a shout out!). Norway is pretty much top of my list at the moment, too!

      Yes, and I made sure to note that I don’t recommend visiting Skye during the summer months for that reason! I’ll actually be going to Islay this summer with my husband, and maybe another island or two – there are SO many to choose from!

    I absolutely agree with you regarding ‘over tourism’ and so appreciate your idea of alternative trips. I love traveling thru your blogs and excellent pictures. You are a great story teller and full of great tips and ideas. Keep them coming !!!

      Thanks, Barbara! As someone who promotes travel, I think it’s important to promote *responsible* travel, and that means thinking about things like overtourism!

    Shhhhh stop telling people about visiting Norway! I just made my fourth visit since 2012. This last summer was perhaps the best, planned ten days traveling with a friend before joining a tour for another ten days. I will return again soon. It is a spectacular place to visit. I would strongly encourage travelers to stray off the beaten track, don’t be afraid to use public transportation (last trip included trains, Hurtigruten ferries between cities, and long distance public buses. Try also to attend some of the many local festivals like the Trondheim regional Mat (food) festival. Also seek out the quirky museums and public buildings. Then leave plenty of time for the great outdoors!

      Haha! The good thing about Norway is that it’s a fairly large country – and nearly every inch of it is stunning!

    I can’t remember who it was (Renee Roaming, maybe?), but another travel blogger I follow actually suggested the Pacific Northwest as an alternative to Iceland! There you can find similarities like dramatic coastlines, waterfalls, hot springs, etc. I haven’t been to Iceland or the PNW yet personally, but just wanted to throw that out as well, since it’s practically in my backyard as an American. Thanks for another great post!

      That’s another good suggestion! There are definitely similarities in parts of Washington and Oregon to Iceland!

    My mom REALLY wants to go to Iceland for her 70th birthday this year. I wonder if I could talk her into the Faroes instead, hmmm…

      Worth a try! I mean, I’m sure she’d love Iceland, too, but the Faroes really are something special.

    I have visited Iceland once and loved it so much I am torn between wanting to go back again and yet wanting to keep that memory perfect and not find anything to dilute it. We went in August and although it was busier than I would have liked it was an amazing country to tent camp in as you get to smell, hear, feel the land of fire and ice.
    Alaska was phenomenal and I actually cried at its beauty! I am not usually a weepy person, but that place got to me! And I enjoyed a week in Norway with its beautiful fjords and colourful towns.
    Newfoundland and Greenland are high on my bucket list.
    Thank you for sharing this post, you have shaken up my bucket list and re-jigged the contents!

      I know that feeling! If you do go back to Iceland, I recommend trying it out in the winter! There are some different things to do, and it’s not nearly as crowded during that season. 🙂

    Hello,

    Was looking a place to get information for my son and found you. Love it!

    I like this concept! The world is big enough for us travellers to span out a little bit. More posts like these should be written rather than focusing fully on one destination.

      There are plenty of beautiful destinations out there that haven’t been shared to death. I’m not saying people should stop going to Iceland – but there are plenty of places out there that are just as awesome.

    Yes, I am so glad you included the Isle of Skye! Scenery wise it is up there with Iceland, and New Zealand!

      The Scottish Isles in general are just stunning! I also could have easily added New Zealand to this list, but it’s a lot further away than all these other alternatives!

    A very inspiring article Amanda. Exploring a not so touristy place is amazing.

      I agree! I like the touristy ones sometimes, too, but there’s always something special about going somewhere not a lot of other people you know have been.

    Love this post, While we love Iceland, I can see how busy it has gotten over the years. Would love to visit all the alternates you listed here, especially Faroe Islands and Isles of Skye.

      I love Iceland, too, and am sure I haven’t been there for the last time. But all the places on this list are equally as great!

    I visited Iceland in February 2018 and even then I could tell tourism was bursting. I found it very odd that in winter my tours were completely full (and I didn’t do any for the northern lights!)

    I love this post, but do hope that the alternatives you mentioned don’t become the next over-visited places.

      As more people from more places start traveling, there are going to be fewer and fewer “undiscovered” places. But I certainly hope some of the spots on this list remain quiet for at least a little longer!

    I have been to Iceland a few times, in and around Reykjavik, the first time bringing my dad in 2002 who was astounded to see how it had changed from WWII when he was stationed there prior to D-Day. I almost always avoid summer travel, precisely to avoid crowds.
    In Orkney, I’d recommend the dark beers – really the only Scottish (Orcadians might beg to argue that label) beers I can enjoy. Dark Munro and Dark Isle were terrific and you can find Skullsplitter in parts of the U.S. Norway last summer was, surprisingly, much less crowded than expected, even Oslo. Sadly, it’s only a matter of time before overtourism will be a consideration everywhere. That said, the other destinations you mention are still on my list. Cannot wait!

      I’ve found Norway to be pretty quiet in the summer, too. I think only the very popular hikes and the Lofoten Islands really feel “crowded” since the country is so large. But you’re right – overtourism will only continue to spread!

    Hi,
    I thought Iceland is the best destination with the wonderful landscape but this post proved it wrong. The photos and description of each and every destination is awesome. Thanks for the post.

      Iceland is still amazing, don’t get me wrong. But there are other places out there that are equally as stunning!

    Great post! We visited Iceland last summer and didn’t see many tourists, but we went in June to avoid the crowds and we spent most of our time away from the Golden Circle. We got snowed on a couple times while camping in our tent, but it was totally worth it! I lived in Alaska for awhile, but the Faroe Islands and Scotland are still on our travel bucket list. 🙂

      You can thankfully still avoid the crowds in Iceland as long as you get away from the main tourist trail!

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