Reykjavik is one of the most environmentally friendly cities in Europe and Icelanders have built one of the most environmentally sustainable infrastructures in the world.

Although it is other-worldly beautiful, Iceland is a tough place to live. One can only imagine what it was like for the Viking settlers. There is plenty of wind, rain, and cold, but by looking deep into their natural resources, Icelanders have built one of the most environmentally sustainable (and interesting) infrastructures in the world.
 
 
Not as far as you think
People are often astounded when I tell them flight times to Iceland. About a five-hour flight from Boston or New York, three hours from London—heck, it is an eight-hour flight from Seattle! For most, they think Iceland is a faraway and exotic destination that is challenging to get to. Iceland is striking, but actually not very tough to get to. In fact, Reykjavik is a great city to visit for a long weekend for a lot of Europeans and Americans with plenty of direct flights and a manageable time change.
 
 
Reykjavik is one of the most environmentally friendly cities in Europe
Reykjavik has been a big draw for those seeking out fantastic art and music scene, colorful architecture and the New Nordic food scene in a very walkable and friendly city. As with any place, there is always more than meets the eye. While walking around Reykjavik, there are signs of the city’s geothermal power that lurks just below the surface. 
 
 
Dotted around Reykjavik are tall pipes coming out of the ground with steam venting out. These are from neighborhood geothermal boreholes used to supply hot water locally. On a much larger scale is the Hellisheiði Power Station, 20 minutes outside of Reykjavik, which is the third-largest geothermal power station in the world. Reykjavik and the majority of Iceland are powered by a mix of hydroelectricity and electricity generated from geothermal steam, and district heating from geothermal wells. It is fair to say that 100% of Reykjavik’s electrical and heating needs are sustainably powered, making the city one of the most environmentally friendly in Europe.
 
 
Reykjavik HI Hostels are environmentally friendly with ideal locations
One of the most ecologically favorable options for staying in Reykjavik is through Hostelling International’s (HI) three Reykjavik sites. All three are in excellent locations within the very walkable Reykjavik. All the Reykjavik locations are well connected to public transportation and paid tour connections.
 
 
Minimize their ecological impact 
HI Iceland is dedicated to a culture of environmental sensitivity, and to minimize their ecological impact. Both as an organization and while encouraging guests to do the same. For those who want to cover even more ground, HI’s Reykjavik´s Hostel location offers bicycle rentals. This is a terrific way to explore Reykjavik through its superb network of bike paths. An old fashion but effective message board in the common area of HI posts dates and destinations for those who want to share space, and costs, of a rental car. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Reykjavik Hostels – in walking distance to local swimming pools
While it seems counter-intuitive, Iceland is a nation of swimmers. All children are taught how to swim in school, and nearly every town has a community pool. The pools are open year-round thanks to the geothermal waters. There is something magical about swimming in the darkness of winter outside while it is snowing. Each of HI’s Reykjavik locations is close to a local pool, and this is something not to be missed. In fact, the Reykjavik City hostel is a stone’s throw away from Laugardalslaug, Reykjavik’s largest pool. Laugardalur roughly translates as “hot spring valley” and is where hot geothermal waters came to the surface and city residents would gather to do their laundry by hand. While folks are not doing laundry in the open any longer, there is an open-air display of where the springs were and Icelanders’ first connections to their geothermal riches. Close by are geothermal boreholes that supply water to warm the local houses and businesses. Most conveniently, after the water has been used to heat a building, it is then run through pipes for radiant heated sidewalks and driveways to melt snow!
 
 
Commitment to sustainable practices
One significant benefit of staying with HI Iceland in Reykjavik, or any of their locations, is their commitment to sustainable practices. I was extremely impressed with how steadfast the organization is about guests not buying bottled water. HI Iceland assures (rightly so) that wherever guests go Icelandic tap water is safe to drink. Nice to see an organization step aside from selling something for profit and taking a stand for something that is right. 
 
 
Only ecologically friendly products available 
HI Iceland is a partner of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), and as a signee, they are dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism practices worldwide while minimizing negative impacts. You can see this in their choice of the ecologically friendly products available at the hostels, from the soaps to toilet paper to locally sourced food (whenever possible, from Icelandic farms and greenhouses) and FairTrade goods.
 
 
No use for single use
How many accommodations encourage you to bring your own refillable coffee or tea mug? By making these choices, HI is avoiding all those single-use items that our world seems to be awash in. HI is pledging to reducing their waste by composting, recycling and reusing products, foods, and goods whenever possible. There is even an area set aside for guests to leave behind camping gear, books, cooking necessities, etc. that they are not taking for other travelers to have. The Swan Eco-label has recognized and certified for all the 3 Reykjavik HI Hostels for their efforts and work towards environmental sustainability with their seal of approval. 
 
 
Offsetting CO2 emissions
HI even sponsors their own sustainability fund through their booking platform. The fund finances projects to help offset the CO2 emissions of travelers. In Iceland, the fund sponsored a project to plant trees. 
 
 
 
Travel without any impact?
Traveling presents a tough dilemma for those who want to be environmentally aware and sensitive. There is no way we can travel and not have an impact. However, we can make choices that will compound over time and lessen our effect on the planet. Travel is a profound way to see the world, but also the best way I know of to open our eyes to the many different people, cultures, environments, and ecological niches. 
 
 
Heading closer to the Arctic Circle does not usually fill one’s mind with abundant hot water and sustainable electricity. Visit Reykjavik and see how the city, and Iceland, have embraced their geology and made the most of geothermal and hydroelectric energy for powering their way of life. A stay at Hostelling International is a terrific way to stay in Reykjavik that is affordable, comfortable, and sustainable.  
 
 

Parker O'Halloran is originally from the North East, US and met an Icelandic woman while on a hiking trip to Iceland long ago. This was not the plan for either of them!

He has been wandering Iceland since and is fascinated by its people, geology, and history.