Hidden Iceland

Small groups, authentic experience, working with personable and expert guides so that each trip stays truly unforgettable. These are the values of Hidden Iceland, an independent activity operator and travel agency based in Reykjavík. "It's not a job for us. It's our life, and we want to share that with people in the best possible way," says co-founder Ryan Connolly.

Inside Sólheimajökull and then the co-founders of Hidden Iceland: Scott Drummond, Dagny Stefansdottir and Ryan Connolly. Credit (Sólheimajökull): Norris von Niman

Why did you start Hidden Iceland and how is your service different?

We started Hidden Iceland as there is already an abundance of operators who are just looking to maximise numbers on each tour, like squeezing more and more people into tiny places like ice caves. This was almost always at the detriment of the experience, and sometimes even sacrificed safety. For people wanting a once in a life time experience this, in our opinion, is completely unacceptable. We want people to leave Iceland having had the most incredible experience, and to be planning their return trip to see more.

As experienced glacier guides in Iceland, and with local knowledge, myself, Dagny Stefansdottir, and Scott Drummond set out to showcase the most popular places in Iceland but with a blend of some more hidden areas along the way. Mix that with highly trained adventure guides with specialties as diverse as outdoor survival, geology, physics and climate change, and you can make every trip spectacular. When building our tours we did so with the thought of what we would include on a trip if we were showing our friends or family around this wonderful country. We treat each trip as if it’s just that.

On our more active glacier trips the hidden element is often found by making the most out of the guides experience to explore the glacier features and traverse safely onto untouched parts of the terrain. For our more serene trips such as Snæfellsnes or Golden Circle: Platinum tour we use local knowledge to get the best vantage points or be smart with timing on when it’s best to visit certain locations. For instance the Secret Lagoon at sunrise is the perfect way to bathe in the geothermal phenomenon.

We would never guarantee each location to be without other tourists, especially during the busy summer months, but we can guarantee that the guides on our team make each trip truly worth while. Our team consist of experienced and passionate guides allowing us say that we take our clients around Iceland as if we are taking our friends and family around.

On our private trips that’s where we really come into our own where we personalise each trip to the clients requests and visit more bespoke locations.

What nationalities are your most frequent guests?

Mostly our guests come from the US, Canada and UK although we also get many from Australia, France and Germany as well.

Are people booking tours direct or do you get many groups?

We are currently getting most of our bookings by solo travellers, couples and families. We are starting to work closer with travel agencies abroad who direct groups our way, however this is only a small percentage. We do limit our numbers to small groups so that the experience remains personal so this compliments the organic way our customers find us.

It´s often said that the Icelandic tourism market difficult at the moment. Is that true?

Depends on how you look at it. Tourism numbers are at an all time high, so there are more customers than ever. There is also increased competition within the industry with many operators trying to cut margins and offer cheaper and stripped down tours. This works for some visitors, others hope to get more for the money they are spending. So you need to make sure you are reaching these people and offering them the right experience. Iceland is expensive for visitors (and locals!), and this is something that always needs to be kept in consideration when pricing tours. Visitors are still coming to Iceland despite it being expensive. They see this as a trip that is worth paying good money for and are prepared to pay a little more to ensure they leave Iceland with unforgettable memories. The hard part can be reaching these people amid the abundance of choice now available in Iceland.

Where will Hidden Iceland be in 5 years time?

Our ethos is to keep our groups small and each destination as untouched as possible (we’re a carbon neutral certified company). Regardless of demand we won’t be increasing our numbers drastically on any of our tours. We do however hope to branch out to more remote parts of Iceland. For example this summer we’ll be researching our first scheduled trips to the west fjords and surrounding areas.

A few other goals we have is to create:
A dedicated glacier guiding team further east that will allow us to run more stand alone glacier trips.
We want to work closer with local guest houses and tour operators along the routes of our trips to allow us to offer longer trips for 3 or more days.