Iceland is a dream destination for many adventurers. However, the country’s rugged terrain and sparse population means that it’s not always easy to get around. Iceland’s a relatively small country, but there’s a lot of wide-open space that needs to be crossed if you’re going to see the best parts of it. Hence our comprehensive Iceland transportation guide.
Getting around with Iceland Transportation
Two-thirds of the Iceland’s population lives in or around Greater Reykjavik. For this reason, most of the transportation is going to be locally-focused. This being the case, how are you going to get around to experience the island’s natural beauty and wonder?
There are several different ways of getting around Iceland. Which method you choose should be determined by what kind of Icelandic experience you’re looking for.
If you want freedom to go wherever you please, but at a higher price, then you could rent a vehicle. If you want to view the countryside, but don’t want the responsibility of planning and driving yourself, you should take a bus to your destination. Or maybe guided tours are the right choice for you. With these, you can be led through the best that Iceland has to offer without the hassle of planning.
If you’re in a hurry, you could travel from one spot of Iceland to another by airplane. This costs a good bit of money, but you won’t be able to traverse the country any faster. If you’re a real explorer, you could travel the Iceland countryside by bicycle. This option offers its own unique challenges and rewards for those daring enough to “become one with nature”.
Getting around Iceland can be a challenge, especially if you’re not prepared. If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, read on to determine which transportation option is right for you.
Renting a Car in Iceland
When most people visit Iceland and decide to travel the country, they usually decide to rent a car or other type of vehicle. Renting a vehicle is one of the most convenient and popular ways to get around Iceland. Over all, this option offers the most flexibility and freedom over any other transportation method, allowing you to explore the country on your own schedule and at your own pace. Unlike most of the other transportation options available, renting a vehicle allows you full control of your trip’s route and itinerary. You’ll have the freedom to venture off from the beaten path or to stop and take that perfect must-have picture of that famous landmark or the Icelandic countryside.
In addition to flexibility of time and travel, renting also allows you flexibility in your choice of vehicle. Many international and local car rental businesses exist, offering vehicles ranging in size from small Prius-sized cars to SUVs to campers and RVs. Most of the famous international car rental agencies have locations in Iceland. Local rental agencies may have cheaper options, so always make sure to compare rental prices. Most tourists find it easiest to rent a car at Keflavik National Airport or in downtown Reykjavik, as these are the places where you can usually find the most options.
Iceland’s Route 1, popularly known as Ring Road, is 828 miles long and circles the entire island. This paved road is the most popular travel route for visitors, adventurers, and sightseers in Iceland. If you’re renting a 2-wheel-drive car, this will almost certainly be your main path of travel. If you should choose to rent a car, keep in mind that paved roads make up slightly less than half of the roads in Iceland. Many smaller secondary roads in the country are rocky and can’t be navigated with 2WD.
If you choose to upgrade to a 4×4 vehicle, you’ll have even more freedom to venture off the Ring Road and explore the Icelandic terrain. This will allow you to travel some of Iceland’s F-roads, which are the most rugged and dangerous roads in the country. 2-wheel-drive vehicles aren’t permitted here. These F-roads are normally open from June through September, when weather permits. Some of them involve crossing rivers, which is not covered under most, if any, rental insurance. Always check with your car rental company to determine which roads you’re allowed to take with your rented vehicle.
Taking the Bus in Iceland
There are local bus systems within the greater Icelandic cities if you need to get around locally. Besides that, if you’re looking to explore the beautiful countryside but you don’t want to pay the extra money to rent a car, then there are a small number of companies that offer long-distance bus routes to main cities and towns around the country. From June to August, buses make scheduled stops along most of the Ring Road. There are several stops along some of the more popular hiking areas in the Southwest area of the country, in the larger towns in the Westfjords and Eastfjords, and on the Reykjanes and Snæfellsnes Peninsulas. Outside of the busy summer months, however, many bus schedules are reduced significantly. Many bus routes even stop running altogether. Viewing the scenic country of Iceland by bus is a fine travel choice in the summer, but if you’re visiting Iceland at any other time of the year, you’ll probably be better off choosing another transportation option.
Some of the most popular main bus companies in the country are Reykjavík Excursions, Sterna, and Strætó. There are many bus services that can be used as day tours, as they often stop at various en route tourist destinations. They usually stay at each stop long enough for you to take some pictures and enjoy the scenery before it’s time to move on to the next destination. Once a bus reaches its final stop, they often stay for a few hours before returning to the departure point. This makes traveling by bus a great way to see the countryside without the hassle of driving yourself and finding your way around. Most of the buses are comfortable and offer free wifi to passengers. Some buses are equipped with GPS tracking, allowing you to see when the bus is approaching your stop.
Exploring Iceland by bus is a great option for summer travelers who want the freedom and time to explore the country but don’t wish to drive themselves in a rented car. A bus takes the hassle out of transportation, so you can focus on sightseeing, taking photos, and enjoying the Icelandic experience.
Go on a Guided Iceland Tour
Due to Iceland’s booming tourism business, there is absolutely no shortage of sightseeing tours available for you to choose from. Many people who have visited Iceland have benefitted from these guided tours, and many say it’s the best way to learn about and experience the country. Guided tours are an amazing way to experience some of the best places and activities that Iceland has to offer, and there are many different touring companies available. These companies vary widely in price, tour routes, and quality, so it’s best to do your research on which companies offer the highest-quality tours for the most affordable price. Choosing the right tour should depend on your budget, what you want to do and see, how long you want your trip to be.
Tours travel to almost every popular Icelandic destination, so you should have no problem finding one that fits your sightseeing needs. You can travel on guided tours around Ring Road, to the Golden Circle, to go whale watching, to watch the northern lights, or to visit any of the other famous landmarks and tourist destinations on your list. There are tours of all kinds, ranging in length from just a few hours to over a week. Some of the bigger tours can last up to 24 days.
The downside of guided tours is the schedule restriction. Every stop is predetermined, so you won’t have the freedom that you would get from any other travel options. This restriction is offset, however, by the ease and enjoyability of travel. Cost is also a factor when taking a tour of Iceland. While there are many tours to choose from that can range greatly in price, the great tours can get pricey. Tours are a great option for people who don’t want the burden of planning the trip, but who would rather sit back and be guided to the best sightseeing spots. With a tour guide leading the way, you won’t have to worry about potential travel problems or the possibility of getting lost.
Taking Domestic Iceland Flights
If you’re looking to get around Iceland quickly, and you aren’t worried about missing some of the sights along the way, there are several airlines that offer domestic flights around the country. There are many options to choose from if you’re looking for a quick flight, including airlines that run to Egilsstadir, Akureyri, Isafjordur, the Westman Islands, Husavik, and more.
Air travel is definitely the quickest way to get around Iceland. It only takes a couple of hours to cross the country by airplane, as opposed to a couple of days of driving. The downside to this option is, of course, that you aren’t going to get the same sightseeing experience as you would get from traveling the countryside by road. There’s also the obvious price difference. A plane ticket is quite expensive compared to a lot of the other travel options available, but if you need to get around Iceland as quick as possible, air travel is your best choice.
Weather can also be a problem when flying across the country. Flights can be delayed or cancelled during extreme weather conditions, which can occur without warning and put a damper on your trip. Always make sure to check the weather forecast and plan accordingly to minimize the risk of cancellations or delays.
Air Iceland is the country’s primary domestic flight company. It serves several cities and small towns such as Akureyri, Egilsstadir, and Isafjordur. A flight from Reykjavik to Egilsstadir only takes about an hour. Air Iceland also flies to Greenland and the Faroe Islands if you’re looking to expand your trip. Air Iceland flights depart from Reykjavik International Airport, which is located near downtown. Another reliable domestic carrier is Eagle Air, which offers flights to places such as Hofn, Huvasik, and the Westman Islands.
Exploring Iceland By Bike
One of the most challenging and rewarding ways of traveling around Iceland is by bicycle. While it may sound crazy to some, there are many people who enjoy experiencing the Icelandic countryside by bike. Many who choose to cycle through Iceland travel the Ring Road, while the more experienced outdoor cyclists take more difficult paths through the highlands. The trail across Kjölur is one of the more popular paths for experienced cyclists. Be warned, however, this option is for people who are up for a challenge. It’s hard work, and potentially dangerous, but many say it’s the most rewarding way to experience the country.
Although cycling through Iceland is an invigorating and unforgettable experience, the adventure comes with many challenges. The weather in Iceland can change quickly and unexpectedly, so bring warm protective clothing, check the weather forecast, and always prepare for unexpected adverse weather. You should expect both rain and wind during your trip, so make sure to have clothing that is both warm and water resistant. Gloves are important as well, as temperatures can suddenly and drastically drop, particularly at higher altitudes.
The rugged terrain of Iceland is another challenge. Steep hills, hot springs, crevasses, and many other natural hazards pose a potential threat to any careless adventures. Always be cautious of the terrain and of your surroundings. Because of this harsh terrain, it’s recommended you choose to make your trip on a mountain bike with thick tires over a standard road bike. And always remember to bring a proper bicycle repair kit as well as extra tubes and tires. A map or GPS is also important.
If you’re properly prepared and ready to prove yourself, cycling through the countryside can be an invigorating and unforgettable experience. You can bring your own bike from home or you can look into some of the bicycles available for rent or purchase in Reykjavik.