So you’re planning your trip to Iceland, but you’re not sure how to move around the island? Here are the answers you are looking for, with all the info you need on transportation in Iceland, according to seasons.
First of all, it’s not entirely true that winter will be snowy and summer will be sunny. In fact, I went to Iceland on February and found beautiful sunny days, while I know about some people who were surprised by snow blizzards in August. Weather in Iceland is extremely unpredictable! So be prepared.
Renting a car in Iceland is a very common thing. The majority of independent travelers buy a flight to Iceland and rent a car, planning to drive all around the island on Route 1, aka “Ring Road” (the only road that goes all the way around the island).
If you are considering this option, here are the pros and cons according to the season and other factors:
Pros – Independence, you design your own itinerary, without time constraints. It is especially good if you are a photographer and wish to take breaks on the road to take some photos. If you are 2 or more people, then renting a car is pretty convenient (compare the price with the other means of transportation and you’ll find “cheap” is not an option anyway). The cheapest car rental in Iceland is SADcars. You may want to check out their website and offers!
Cons – Remember that fuel in Iceland is not cheap (about €1,20/liter) so again, make sure you are 2 or more people to share costs. In the winter, you will definitely need a 4×4 so this will suck a lot of gas. If you plan to spend endless nights waiting for the Northern Lights as I did, and you don’t want to freeze, you will also need to keep your engine and heating on = consume gas. I did so and I don’t regret it! I would’ve probably frozen to death otherwise!
Also, if you’re traveling during winter, you may face some very hard road conditions: ice, snow blizzards, snow on the road (ready to shovel to make your way through the island?), etc. Make sure you always check the road conditions before driving, on the Vegagerdin website.
It’s not as easy as you may think to drive in Iceland, especially during the winter. Ask any Icelander and he/she will tell you horror stories about the so called “black ice” – the ice that you can’t see, but is actually there, and is the cause of many crashes.
I’ve been told a bunch of tourists die every year in Iceland on the road. So if you are not 100% confident about your driving skills, just use the car to move around Reykjavik and hunt the auroras, but you have other great ways to explore the country without risking. Go on reading and you will find more options!
I have to add that sometimes driving is also a bit stressful when you can’t read the signs in the mysterious Icelandic language, but this is only valid in the towns/cities as otherwise you will just have to follow the main road (Route 1).
Another very important thing to remember is that the off-road driving is forbidden for rented cars! So if you want to do that, you should look for an organized tour with super jeeps, that can take you virtually anywhere (on glaciers too!) weather permitting.
2 – Touristic Buses
This is a really cool option to see as much as possible, without the stress of driving and finding directions, and also good for lazy bums like me. You can hop on the bus in Reykjavik, and hop off virtually anywhere, and the bus stops countless times on the way to show you all the touristic highlights (waterfalls, glaciers, cliffs etc). The available routes are seriously cool, check them out on the “Iceland on your own” page.
Pros – Prices are totally reasonable if you think about how much you would spend in fuel to drive the same distances.
Cons – Unfortunately these buses are not available on winter, but only from June to September.
3 – Regular Buses
Regular buses are also an option. These won’t stop at the main landmarks so it’s not a way to explore really, but just to move around from A to B.
Timetables are available here. But to be honest figuring out the times was a bit of a hassle. If you have a contact in Iceland, ask him to help you with this.
Pros – You don’t need to book the ticket. You just buy it on board or at the bus station. Cheapest option so far, but not really cheap anyway (I remember Reykjavik to Höfn was around €50). These buses work all year round, no matter the season.
Cons – It’s a slow way of moving. Also, buses are not available every day of the week so you may want to check the schedules beforehand.
4- Internal Flights
Okay, this is definitely the most expensive option. BUT it has some pros too. When I visited Iceland it was winter, so touristic buses were not available.
I had to reach Höfn (in the east of Iceland: 5 hours in a good road condition), I was alone and didn’t feel like risking icy road conditions etc. So I considered riding the regular bus, but then found I would have spent a whole day with transportation, seen almost nothing, and spent around €50 when I could fly to Höfn, spend €75 and land in 1 hour time having the whole day ahead to do stuff once arrived. It was an easy choice! I flew with Eagle Air, that offers many internal flights across Iceland per day, leaving from the Reykjavik city airport (The little airport in the city center! NOT the international airport in Keflavik, which is about 1 hour away from the city).
Pros – Super quick, and sometimes the price is competitive if compared to buses. Email them to get the actual price, as I have the feeling the website is not very up to date. Planes are little, quick, new and comfortable. Another cool thing is that you can cancel your flight until the last second, with just €15 penalty.
They also fly to Greenland! Just saying!
Cons – Sometimes the prices are really high, not worth paying for such short flights.
5 – Carpooling/Hitchhiking
This is a really cool thing about Iceland. They have a website for carpooling, which is a very common thing Icelanders do: they share their car with other people going the same way. If you’re looking for a ride, you can post your requirement (for free!) and see if someone offers you one. If so, you’re the luckiest traveler on Earth! You will get a ride, and maybe you will only have to share the price of gas. Plus you’ll make new friends!
Hitchhiking is also very common in Iceland, and yes it’s safe. It’s normal in Iceland to offer and receive car rides, so before you spend money on flights and buses, you can ask around in the hostel if there’s anyone going that way and see if you can join someone. I did get a ride all the way back to Reykjavik from Höfn, and it was an amazingly beautiful day!
6 – Day Trips from Reykjavik
If you are not spending many days in the country, but still want to make the most out of your time, you can have some really beautiful tours from Reykjavik as I did twice: you can read all about The Golden Circle and The South Coast and Volcano Show day tours! This is a great way to see all the most famous landmarks in a range of a few hours from the capital city, and again if you think about the cost of gas and car rental, then it’s a good deal.
How else can I help? I hope I answered to all your doubts, but feel free to ask for more details by leaving a comment.
Who’s been to Iceland? Would you add more tips for safe travels?