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2024 Is the Best Year in a Decade to Visit Iceland. Here's Why.

Iceland Travel
by Tim Wenger Apr 30, 2024

Travel to Iceland skyrocketed in 2014 due to a massive push from homegrown airline Icelandair, which promoted its stopover program as a chance for passengers from North America to receive discounts and accommodations on the island en route to mainland Europe. Since then, the island has averaged more than 1 million visitors annually peaking at nearly 2.5 million visitors in 2018. Cries of over-tourism have grown louder as visitor numbers have rebounded following Covid, but 2024 could be the year to visit Iceland for those seeking a more intimate experience.

That’s thanks to two factors. First, tourist numbers have yet to reach the 2018 peak and some estimates suggest a decline in overall visitation in 2024, allowing for a quieter-than-normal Iceland. Second, boutique tour operators including Hidden Iceland have ramped up small-group tour offerings across the island, taking travelers further from Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon to more rugged and non-descript areas. Here’s what else makes 2024 the best year to visit Iceland since the explosion of the stopover program.

New accommodations and tours make the Icelandic highlands more accessible year-round

iceland highlands

Photo: Timofey Furyaev/Shutterstock

Ryan Connolly founded Hidden Iceland in 2017, drawn by the opportunity to showcase less-visited aspects of the island to those willing to firmly embrace the “adventure travel” mantra. His goal was to fight back against the massive cruise ships and large package tours overruning popular spots like the Blue Lagoon and the nation’s capital city, Reykjavik, by offering custom, privately guided tours built around specific activities like hiking, bouldering, and wildlife spotting. The company aimed to embrace sustainable travel, hoping to stimulate local economies beyond the southwestern region while promoting conservation of the places its tours visited.

“In the past, when we took guests on hiker-friendly trips, we would venture in and out of the highland areas on day trips, such as to the popular Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk hiking trails, but still had to skirt along the coast in between, where the best hotels and other must see locations were,” says Connolly, a co-founder of the tour operator.

This has changed for 2024, with better road access and the newly opened Highland Base hotel in Kerlingarfjöll. Guests traveling with Hidden Iceland, or on their own, now have an adventure-ready hotel in the heart of the Highlands to base outdoor excursions. Hidden Iceland will run a tour in the summer of 2024 that includes hikes along multi-colored mountains in Kerlingarfjöll, bathing in natural hot springs in nearby valleys, hiking on pristine alpine glaciers in the Vatnajökull National Park, trekking through deep valleys in Þórsmörk and traveling over fast flowing rivers into the hills surrounding Landmannalaugar.

The ‘solar maximum’ means increased solar radiation and therefore, better Northern Lights

northern lights in iceland

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The Northern Lights are most frequently seen mid-August through mid-April in Iceland. However, anytime outside summer (when the sun never sets) it may be possible to see them. The most active phase of the current solar cycle, Solar Cycle 25, takes place between January and October 2024 because of changes in the sun’s magnetic field that cause increased solar activity, including more sunspots and solar flares. That means more opportunities to see the Northern Lights. Connolly notes that early September through late March offers the greatest chance of seeing the Northern Lights at their best.

“When picking dates for the Northern Lights, it really boils down to what else you want to achieve during your time in Iceland,” Connolly says. “For example, September and early October can still be relatively warm – compared to winter – with great hiking opportunities. By mid-October, the blue ice cave season begins. Over the festive season, the Christmas markets and world-class fireworks displays make it a wonderful multi-generational period to travel. January, February and March are the coldest months, with a much higher chance of getting that winter wonderland feeling.”

To coincide with this year’s Solar Maximum, Hidden Iceland will offer its Must See Winter package built around giving guests the best Northern Lights viewing opportunities.

Recent volcanic activity in Iceland, while ongoing, has stabilized

volcanic eruption in iceland

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Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula has seen a dramatic increase in volcanic activity in recent years. Compared to the historical average of one eruption every four years across the entire country, the peninsula has experienced a staggering six small, effusive eruptions in just the past three years.

However, there are some reassuring aspects. These eruptions have been localized within the peninsula, far from major infrastructure and populated areas. Additionally, they have been effusive, meaning they primarily produce lava flows with minimal ash, posing no threat to air travel.

The current eruption has been flowing from the same point since March 16th, 2024, leading locals to speculate that there will be a chance to hike there safely in the future. However, at the time of writing, the roads near the eruption site are closed and the infrastructure needed to create a safe environment for tourists has yet to be developed. Until then, Hidden Iceland is offering their guests add-on helicopter rides to hover over the top of the eruption site as part of their most popular multi-day tours.

“This is best and safest way to see the eruption on a clear day,” Connolly says. “If you are traveling on a budget, it is still possible to see the red glow on clear night from the tops of some of the higher buildings in Reykjavík too, though no direct view at the moment.”

Currently, helicopter tours are the only way to safely observe the volcanic activity in the Reykjanes Peninsula. No special gear is required for this option. However, if the area becomes accessible on foot in the future, proper gear will be crucial. Standard hiking boots and waterproof clothing are essential, but the most important aspect would be going with a local guide. This ensures access to gas monitoring equipment and gas masks, which are vital due to the potential presence of harmful gases near the eruption site.

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