Iceland is an amazing country with scenery that cannot be experienced elsewhere. On the whole, I was thrilled by my trip to Iceland and would be happy to return. Since I am an older person with mobility issues, I can say that I feel that way because I traveled with an able-bodied and physically fit person who was willing to arrange things to accommodate my limitations, do the driving, advocate for me, and handle baggage. The people of Iceland were kind and considerate, but it was obvious they were still learning to cope with the tourist boom.
Iceland does a good job of handling athletic tourists and film companies. Yet walking on a trail can be challenging even for robust people who hike regularly. Trails lead across rough country or on dirt or rocky paths upwards towards the hills, and down rocky hillsides. Therefore, conditions will require special planning if the traveler is disabled with limited mobility.
First, even areas that were labeled handicapped accessible were not necessarily truly accessible. This is less likely to be true if you stay in Reykjavik, but we wanted to experience as much of the country as possible, and so, we tested the claims.
Many museums and venues in Reykjavik do a lot to be accessible for someone in a wheelchair. For example, the Settlement Museum offered an elevator for those who need to avoid the stairs. Even so, seating was scattered and limited to one bench in the first half although the second half of the museum had seating at nice intervals. Even though it is a small museum, it would be likely that individuals with mobility or strength issues would need to bypass exhibits in order to sit down and rest before returning to where they left off.
One of most famous waterfalls, Dynjandi Fjallfoss, had handicapped parking and scattered picnic tables with benches. All of that made it possible to easily enjoy the view. Yet, the facilities failed for a person in a wheelchair: there was an inconsistent 3 to 10 inch separation between the boardwalk and the platform for the WC (that’s bathroom for my US readers). Since I walk with a cane, I was able to step over the narrowest part of the gap, but I doubt that any shenanigans would allow a person in a wheelchair to enter the building.
Unfortunately, several guesthouses that advertised themselves as accessible in reality required walking up or down entire staircases. Be aware, first floor accommodations can mean what people from the US would call walking up to the second floor (with no elevator). Other locations would be great if the visitor can climb a few stairs to enter the building — although one WC had a step up that was easily 12 inches tall.
Another caveat: investigate walking distances before you go. A short walk could be two or three blocks or require walking on ancient stone steps with no handrail. Many locations truly were accessible for a wheelchair yet required a bit of a walk for others.
Accommodations for disabilities were better in places that were used to dealing with tourists. Þingvellir National Park was definitely accessible by wheelchair and offered a nice overlook for those who would not be able to walk the gravel path into the rifts. Despite that, seating was limited to the small café inside the gift shop or the turf walls enclosing the outside courtyard.
I loved my time in Iceland and wholeheartedly recommend a visit. The best thing we did was to schedule a 4WD self-driving tour. That gave us extraordinary flexibility. Of course, to see the best parts of the country, the driver should be comfortable with four-wheel-drive vehicles and navigating on gravel roads. With a bit of planning, some patience, and a lot of research, you can enjoy your vacation in Iceland too.