Car The most common way for visitors to get around. Vehicles can be expensive to rent but provide great freedom. A 2WD vehicle will get you almost everywhere in summer. Driving into the highlands and on F roads requires 4WDs.
Bus A decent bus network operates in July and August, shuttling you between major destinations and into the highlands. Outside these months, services are less frequent (and even non-existent). Find an invaluable online map at www.publictransport.is.
Air If you're short on time, domestic flights can help you get around efficiently.
Iceland has an extensive network of domestic flights, which locals use almost like buses. In winter a flight can be the only way to get between destinations, but weather at this time of year can play havoc with schedules.
Domestic flights depart from the small Reykjavík Domestic Airport, not from the major international airport at Keflavík.
A handful of airstrips offer regular sightseeing flights – eg Mývatn, Skaftafell, and Reykjavík and Akureyri domestic airports – and helicopter sightseeing is increasingly popular.
A list of local airports and useful information about them is found at www.isavia.is.
Airlines in Iceland
Air Iceland Connect Not to be confused with international airline Icelandair. Destinations covered: Reykjavík, Akureyri, Grímsey, Ísafjörður, Þórshöfn, Vopnafjörður and Egilsstaðir. Offers some fly-in day tours.
Eagle Air Operates scheduled flights to five small airstrips from Reykjavík: Vestmannaeyjar, Húsavík, Höfn, Bíldudalur and Gjögur. Also runs a number of fly-in day tours.
Cycling is an increasingly popular way to see the country's landscapes, but cyclists should be prepared for harsh conditions.
Gale-force winds, driving rain, sandstorms, sleet and sudden flurries of snow are possible year-round. We recommend keeping your plans relatively flexible so you can wait out bad weather if the need arises.
You’ll be forced to ride closely alongside traffic on the Ring Road (there are no hard shoulders to the roads).
The large bus companies carry bikes, so if the weather turns bad or that highlands bike trip isn't working out as planned, consider the bus. Note that space can't be reserved. It's free to take a bike on Strætó services; other companies, such as SBA-Norðurleið and Reykjavík Excursions, charge 4000kr, and it's advisable to contact them regarding rules and space.
Puncture-repair kits and spares are hard to come by outside Reykjavík; bring your own or stock up in the capital. On the road, it’s essential to know how to do your own basic repairs.
If you want to tackle the interior, the Kjölur route has bridges over all major rivers, making it fairly accessible to cyclists. A less-challenging route is the F249 to Þórsmörk. The Westfjords also offers some wonderful, challenging cycling terrain.
Transporting Bicycles to Iceland
Most airlines will carry your bike in the hold if you pack it correctly in a bike box; contact the airlines for detailed information.
At Keflavík International Airport, a facility (a container 100m east of the Arrivals exit) is available to assemble or disassemble bikes. Reykjavík City Hostel also offers such facilities and will store bike boxes. At Keflavík airport, Bílahótel (www.bilahotel.is) is a garage (in the same building as Geysir Car Rental) that offers luggage storage, including bike boxes. Note: bikes cannot be taken on Strætó bus 55 from Keflavík airport to Reykjavík.
The Smyril Line ferry (www.smyrilline.com) from Denmark transports bikes for €20 each way.
Various places rent out mountain bikes, but in general these are intended for local use only, and often aren’t up to long-haul travel.
If you intend to go touring, it’s wise to bring your bike from home or purchase one when you arrive; alternatively, Reykjavík Bike Tours (www.icelandbike.com) has touring bikes for rent.
Cycling Iceland (www.cyclingiceland.is) Online version of the brilliantly detailed Cycling Iceland map, published annually.
Icelandic Mountain Bike Club (http://fjallahjolaklubburinn.is) The English-language pages of this website are a goldmine of information.
The Biking Book of Iceland There is a series of cycling books by Ómar Smári Kristinsson, but only one has been translated into English; it covers trails in the Westfjords.
Several year-round ferries operate in Iceland. Major routes all carry vehicles, but it's worthwhile booking ahead for car passage.
- Herjólfur (www.seatours.is) Connecting Landeyjahöfn in South Iceland to Vestmannaeyjar islands.
- Sævar (www.hrisey.is) Frequent, easy connections from Árskógssandur in North Iceland, north of Akureyri, to the island of Hrísey.
- Baldur (www.seatours.is) Connecting Stykkishólmur in West Iceland to Brjánslækur in the Westfjords, via the island of Flatey.
- Sæfari (www.saefari.is) Connecting Dalvík in North Iceland to Grímsey island on the Arctic Circle.
From June to August, regular boat services run from Bolungarvík and Ísafjörður to points in Hornstrandir (Westfjords).
Iceland has a shrinking network of long-distance bus routes, with services provided by a handful of main companies. The free Public Transport in Iceland map has an overview of routes; pick it up at tourist offices or view it online at www.publictransport.is.
From roughly June to August, regular scheduled buses run to most places on the Ring Road, into the popular hiking areas of the Southwest, and to larger towns in the Westfjords and Eastfjords, and on the Reykjanes and Snæfellsnes Peninsulas. The rest of the year, services range from daily, to a few weekly, to nonexistent.
In summer 2018, there was no service linking Egilsstaðir in the east with Höfn in the Southeast, making it nearly impossible to complete the Ring Road by bus.
In summer, 4WD buses run along some F roads (mountain roads), including the highland Kjölur, Sprengisandur and Askja routes (inaccessible to 2WD cars).
Many bus services can be used as day tours: buses spend a few hours at the final destination before returning to the departure point, and may stop for a half-hour at various tourist destinations en route.
Bus companies may operate from different terminals or pick-up points. Reykjavík has several bus terminals; in small towns, buses usually stop at the main petrol station or camping ground, but it pays to double-check.
Many buses are equipped with free wi-fi.
Many buses have GPS tracking, so you can see when your bus is approaching your stop.
Main bus companies:
Reykjavík Excursions Departs from BSÍ Bus Terminal in Reykjavík.
SBA-Norðurleið Departs from BSÍ Bus Terminal in Reykjavík.
Sterna Departs from Harpa in Reykjavík; stops at Reykjavík Campsite.
Strætó Main terminal for long-distance buses is at Mjódd.
Trex Hiker transport; has a few departure points in Reykjavík (including the main tourist office and Reykjavík Campsite).
Car & Motorcycle
Driving in Iceland gives you unparalleled freedom to discover the country and, thanks to (relatively) good roads and (relatively) light traffic, it’s all fairly straightforward.
- The Ring Road (Rte 1) circles the country and is paved.
- Beyond the Ring Road, fingers of sealed road or gravel stretch out to most communities.
- Driving coastal areas can be spectacularly scenic, and incredibly slow as you weave up and down over mountain passes and in and out of long fjords.
- A 2WD vehicle will get you almost everywhere in summer (note: not into the highlands, or on F roads).
- In winter heavy snow can cause many roads to close; mountain roads generally only open in June and may start closing as early as September. For up-to-date information on road conditions, visit www.road.is.
- Don't be pressured into renting a GPS unit – if you purchase a good, up-to-date touring map, and can read it, you should be fine without GPS. If you are planning to take remote trails, a GPS will be worthwhile.
Bring Your Own Vehicle
Car hire in Iceland is expensive, so bringing your own vehicle may not be as crazy as it sounds. The Smyril Line ferry from Denmark is busy in summer bringing vehicles to Iceland from all over Europe (book passage well ahead).
For temporary duty-free importation, drivers must carry the vehicle’s registration documents, proof of valid insurance (a ‘green card’ if your car isn’t registered in a Nordic or EU-member country) and a driving licence.
Permission for temporary duty-free importation of a vehicle is granted at the point of arrival for up to 12 months, and is contingent upon agreeing to not lend or sell your vehicle. For more information, contact the Directorate of Customs (www.customs.is).
Winter visitors should have winter tyres fitted (studded tyres are permitted from November to mid-April).
If you're staying for a long period, you might consider shipping your own vehicle via Eimskip (www.eimskip.com) shipping services. Be aware that this is far from cheap, and involves heavy paperwork, but it may be useful for long-stayers who have lots of gear or a well-set-up camper/4WD. Eimskip has five shipping lines in the North Atlantic.
You can drive in Iceland with a driving licence from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and most European countries. If your licence is not in Roman script, you need an International Driving Permit (normally issued by your home country's automobile association).
Fuel & Spare Parts
- Petrol stations are regularly spaced around the country, but in the highlands you should check fuel levels and the distance to the next station before setting off.
- At the time of research, unleaded petrol and diesel cost about 220kr (€1.80) per litre.
- Some Icelandic roads can be pretty lonely, so carry a jack, a spare tyre and jump leads just in case (check your spare when you pick up your rental car).
- In the event of a breakdown or accident, your first port of call should be your car-hire agency.
- Although the Icelandic motoring association Félag Íslenskra Bifreiðaeigenda (FÍB; www.fib.is) is only open to locals, if you have breakdown cover with an automobile association affiliated with ARC Europe you may be covered by the FÍB – check with your home association.
- FÍB’s 24-hour breakdown number is 511 2112. Even if you’re not a member, it may be able to provide information and phone numbers for towing and breakdown services.
Feature: Buying Fuel
Most smaller petrol stations are unstaffed, and all pumps are automated. There is the (time-consuming) option of going inside a staffed service station to ask staff to switch the pump to manual, enabling you to fill up and pay for your fuel afterwards, but not all places offer such a service.
To fill up using the automated service:
1. Put your credit card into the machine’s slot (you’ll need a card with a four-digit PIN) and follow the instructions.
2. The next step is determined by the type of payment machine. On newer touchscreens you can press 'Full Tank', or you input the maximum amount you wish to spend, then wait while the pump authorises your purchase. Entering a maximum amount pre-approves your card for that capped amount, but you are only charged for the cost of the fuel put into your vehicle (this can be any amount you wish, up to the pre-approved capped amount).
3. Select the pump number you are using.
4. Fill tank.
5. If you require a receipt, re-enter your card into the slot.
The first time you fill up, visit a staffed station while it's open, in case you have any problems.
Note that you need a PIN for your card to use the automated pumps. If you don't have a PIN, buy prepaid cards from an N1 station that you can then use at the automated pumps.
Travelling by car is the only way to get to some parts of Iceland. Although car-hire rates are very expensive by international standards, they compare favourably to bus or internal air travel, especially if there are a few of you to split the costs. Shop around and book online for the best deals.
To rent a car you must be 20 years old (23 to 25 years for a 4WD) and hold a valid licence.
The cheapest cars, usually a small hatchback or similar, cost from around 8000kr per day in high season (June to August). Figure on paying around 10,000kr to 12,000kr for the smallest 4WD that offers higher clearance than a regular car but isn't advised for large river crossings, and 15,000kr to 20,000kr for a larger 4WD model.
Rates include unlimited mileage and VAT (a hefty 24%), and usually collision damage waiver (CDW).
Weekly rates offer some discount. From September to May you should be able to find considerably better daily rates and deals.
Check the small print, as additional costs such as extra insurance, airport pick-up charges, and one-way rental fees can add up.
In winter you should opt for a larger, sturdier car for safety reasons, preferably with 4WD (ie absolutely not a compact 2WD).
In the height of summer many companies run out of rentals. Book ahead.
Many travel organisations (eg Hostelling International Iceland, Hey Iceland) offer package deals that include car hire.
Most companies are based in the Reykjavík and Keflavík areas, with city and airport offices. Larger companies have extra locations around the country (usually in Akureyri and Egilsstaðir). Ferry passengers arriving via Seyðisfjörður should contact car-hire agencies in nearby Egilsstaðir.
Cars Iceland (www.carsiceland.com)
Cheap Jeep (www.cheapjeep.is)
Europcar (www.europcar.is) The biggest hire company in Iceland.
Go Iceland (www.goiceland.com)
Combining accommodation and transport costs into campervan rental is a booming option – and has extra appeal in summer, as it allows for some spontaneity (unlike every other form of accommodation, campsites don't need to be prebooked). Travelling by campervan in winter is possible, but we don't recommend it – there are fewer facilities open for campers at this time, and weather conditions may make it unsafe.
Large car-hire companies usually have campervans for rent, but there are also more offbeat choices, offering from backpacker-centric to family-sized, or real 4WD set-ups for highland exploration. Some companies offer gear rental to help your trip go smoothly (GPS, cooking gear and stove, barbecue, sleeping bags, camping chairs, fishing equipment, portable wi-fi hot spots etc).
There are dozens of companies that can help you get set up. As with rental cars, prices vary depending on size and age of the vehicle, length of rental period, high/low season, added extras etc. Shop around, and read the fine print. Prices for something small and basic can start at around 12,000kr per day.
Camp Easy (www.campeasy.com)
Camper Iceland (www.campericeland.is)
Go Campers (www.gocampers.is)
Happy Campers (www.happycampers.is)
JS Camper Rental (www.jscamper.com) Truck campers on 4WD pick-ups.
Rent Nordic (www.rent.is)
Biking Viking (www.rmc.is/en/biking-viking) offers motorcycle rental, tours and service.
There are a couple of peer-to-peer car-sharing platforms in Iceland, including Carrenters (www.carrenters.is). There are also locals' cars and campervans occasionally available for rent via airbnb.com.
These platforms offer people the chance to hire privately owned cars from locals. If you take up this option, do your homework and assess the costs and the small print – from our research, some prices were not much different from those of car-hire companies; cars were sometimes quite old; and you don't have the reassurance of a company behind you to help if things go wrong.
A vehicle registered in Nordic or EU-member countries is considered to have valid automobile insurance in Iceland. If your vehicle is registered in a non-Nordic or non-EU country, you’ll need a ‘green card’, which proves that you are insured to drive while in Iceland. Green cards are issued by insurance companies in your home country; contact your existing insurer.
When hiring a car, check the small print; most vehicles come with third-party insurance and CDW to cover you for damage to the car. Also check the excess (the initial amount you will be liable to pay in the event of an accident) as this can be surprisingly high.
Hire vehicles are not covered for damage to tyres, headlights and windscreens, or damage caused to the car's underside by driving on dirt roads, through water or in ash- or sandstorms. Many companies will try to sell you additional insurance to cover these possibilities. You need to consider whether this is appropriate for you and your plans, and how prepared you are to cough up in the event of such occurrences (and the cost of the insurance versus factors such as the length of your rental and what regions you plan to visit). There is no way of predicting what climatic conditions you might meet on your trip.
Road Conditions & Hazards
Good main-road surfaces and light traffic (especially outside the capital and Southwest region) make driving in Iceland relatively easy, but there are some specific hazards. Watch the ‘Drive Safely on Icelandic Roads’ video on www.drive.is for more.
Livestock Sheep graze in the countryside over the summer, and often wander onto roads. Slow down when you see livestock on or near roadsides.
Unsurfaced roads The transition from sealed to gravel roads is marked with the warning sign ‘Malbik Endar’ – slow right down to avoid skidding when you hit the gravel. Most accidents involving foreign drivers in Iceland are caused by the use of excessive speed on unsurfaced roads. If your car does begin to skid, take your foot off the accelerator and gently turn the car in the direction you want the front wheels to go. Do not brake.
Blind rises In most cases, roads have two lanes with steeply cambered sides and no hard shoulder; be prepared for oncoming traffic in the centre of the road, and slow down and stay to the right when approaching a blind rise, marked as ‘Blindhæð’ on road signs.
Single-lane bridges Slow down and be prepared to give way when approaching single-lane bridges (marked as ‘Einbreið Brú’). Right of way is with the car closest to the bridge.
Sun glare With the sun often sitting low to the horizon, sunglasses are recommended.
Winter conditions In winter make sure your car is fitted with winter tyres, and carry a shovel, blankets, food and water.
Ash- & sandstorms Volcanic ash and severe sandstorms can strip paint off cars; strong winds can even topple your vehicle. At-risk areas are marked with orange warning signs.
F roads Roads suitable for 4WD vehicles only.
River crossings Few highland roads have bridges over rivers. Fords are marked on maps with a ‘V’.
Tunnels There are a number of tunnels in Iceland – a couple are single lane, and a little anxiety-inducing! Before you enter such tunnels, a sign will indicate which direction has right of way. There will be a couple of pull-over bays inside the tunnel (signed 'M'). If the passing bay is on your side in the tunnel, you are obligated to pull in and let oncoming traffic pass you.
- Drive on the right.
- Front and rear seatbelts are compulsory.
- Dipped headlights must be on at all times.
- Blood alcohol limit is 0.05%.
- Mobile phone use is prohibited when driving except with a hands-free kit.
- Children under six years must use a car seat.
- Do not drive off-road (ie off marked roads and 4WD trails).
- Built-up areas: 50km/h
- Unsealed roads: 80km/h
- Sealed roads: 90km/h
There are many large roundabouts, especially in Reykjavík. Drivers need to know that the inside lane of a two-lane roundabout always has priority over traffic in the outer lane. This is a law that is not common outside of Iceland, and causes some confusion (and accidents!).
Off-road driving is illegal, and hugely destructive to the fragile environment. It is a surefire way to anger the locals. Roads with numbers count as on-road, so please stick to them.
Feature: Crossing Rivers
While trekking or driving in Iceland’s highlands you’re likely to face unbridged rivers that must be crossed. There are a few rules to follow.
- Melting snow causes water levels to rise, so the best time to cross is early in the morning before the day warms up, and preferably no sooner than 24 hours after a rainstorm.
- Avoid narrow stretches, which are likely to be deep – the widest ford is likely to be shallowest.
- The swiftest, strongest current is found near the centre of straight stretches and at the outside of bends. Choose a spot with as much slack water as possible.
- Never try to cross just above a waterfall and avoid crossing streams in flood (identifiable by dirty, smooth-running water carrying lots of debris and vegetation).
- A smooth surface suggests that the river is too deep to be crossed on foot. Anything more than thigh-deep isn’t crossable without being experienced and having extra equipment.
- Before attempting to cross deep or swift-running streams, be sure that you can jettison your pack midstream if necessary.
- Lone hikers should use a hiking staff to probe the river bottom for the best route and to steady themselves in the current.
- Never try to cross a stream barefoot. Bring wetsuit boots or sandals if you want to keep your hiking boots dry.
- While crossing, face upstream and avoid looking down or you risk getting dizzy and losing balance. Two hikers can steady each other by resting their arms on each other’s shoulders.
- If you fall while crossing, don’t try to stand up. Remove your pack (but don’t let go of it), roll onto your back and point your feet downstream, then try to work your way to a shallow eddy or to the shore.
- If you’re not travelling in a convoy, consider waiting for other traffic.
- Watch where and how experienced drivers cross.
- You may need to check the depth and speed of the river by wading into it (using techniques described for hikers, including a hiking staff).
- A good rule of thumb: if you would not want to wade through a river you should not drive through it.
- Work with the water – drive diagonally across in the direction of the current, making sure you’re in a low gear. Drive steadily, without stopping or changing gear, just slightly faster than the water is flowing (too slow and you risk getting stuck, or letting water up the exhaust).
Feature: F Roads
We can think of a few choice F words for these bumpy, at times almost-nonexistent tracts of land, but in reality the ‘F’ stands for fjall (mountain). Do not confuse F roads with gravel stretches of road (regular gravel roads are normally fine for 2WDs, although some of them are bumpy rides for small, low-clearance cars).
- F roads are indicated on maps and road signs with an 'F' preceding the road number (F26, F88 etc).
- Opening dates vary with weather conditions, but are generally around mid- to late June.
- F roads only support 4WDs. If you travel on F roads in a hired 2WD you'll invalidate your insurance. F roads are unsafe for small cars: do yourself a favour and steer clear, or hire a 4WD (or take a bus or super-Jeep tour).
- Before tackling any F road, educate yourself about what lies ahead (eg river crossings) and whether or not the entire route is open. See www.road.is for mountain-road opening details.
- While some F roads may almost blend into the surrounding nature, driving off marked tracks is strictly prohibited everywhere in Iceland, as it damages fragile ecosystems.
Hitching is never entirely safe, and it's not recommended. Travellers who hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. Nevertheless, we met scores of tourists who were hitching their way around Iceland and most had positive reports. Single female travellers and couples tend to get a lift the quickest.
Patience is a prerequisite of hitching, and logic is important, too – be savvy about where you position yourself. Try standing at junctions, near petrol stations or even by Bónus supermarkets.
When you arrive at your accommodation it can't hurt to let people know where you’re aiming for the next day. There may be another traveller going that way who can give you a ride.
Check out Carpooling in Iceland (www.samferda.is) for rides – note there is an expectation that passengers will contribute to fuel costs.
There is no train network in Iceland.
Arriving in Iceland
Keflavík International Airport Iceland's primary international airport is 48km southwest of Reykjavík. The most common method of transport to the capital from the airport is bus (journey time 45 to 60 minutes). Flybus and Airport Express will deliver you to their terminals (2700kr to 2950kr) or to your city accommodation (3300kr to 3950kr; a bus change at the terminal is usually required). Flybus can also deliver you to the domestic airport, in Reykavík (3950kr). Taxis from Keflavík are possible, but pricey. Car rental from the airport is also popular.
Seyðisfjörður ferry port The weekly Smyril Line car ferry that connects Denmark with Iceland via the Faroe Islands arrives in the pretty town of Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland. Buses run year-round between Seyðisfjörður and Egilsstaðir, and from Egilsstaðir northwest to Akureyri and on to Reykjavík.
Feature: Essential Web Resources
Five websites every traveller should know about:
Safetravel (www.safetravel.is) Learn about minimising risks while travelling in Iceland.
Icelandic Met Office (www.vedur.is) Never underestimate the weather in Iceland, or its impact on your travels. Get a reliable forecast from this site (or call 902 0600, and press 1 after the introduction). Download its app, too (called Vedur).
Vegagerðin (www.road.is) Iceland’s road administration site details road openings and closings around the country. Vital if you plan to explore Iceland’s little-visited corners and remote highlands, and for information about winter road access.
Carpooling in Iceland (www.samferda.is) Handy site that helps drivers and passengers link up. Passengers often foot some of the petrol bill. It's a savvy alternative to hitching (for passengers), and a way to help pay for car rental and fuel (for drivers).
Public Transport (www.publictransport.is) An impressive map and searchable database of all public transport services in the country.