Season Guide: Travelling and Driving in Iceland During Summer

A car driving in the Icelandic countryside.

Whether you‘ll be cycling, driving, or using public transport, travelling in Iceland, even during summertime, might differ from what you‘re used to. Road conditions, hilly landscape, unpredictable weather, and a limited public transport schedule are all part of that. To help you out, here is our summer guide to travelling and driving in Iceland.

Cycling in Iceland 

If you want to cycle in Iceland, summer offers the best conditions in terms of both weather and road conditions. Within cities and towns, people bike on sidewalks or bike lanes. Icelandic roads are not made with bicycles in mind, which means that when travelling outside towns and cities, you‘ll mostly have to cycle on the side of the road alongside driving cars. If this is your chosen way of travelling across the country, you must be highly aware of your surroundings. Cycling off-road/off-track is strictly prohibited. 

Plan ahead when opting for public transport

Public transport tends to run smoothly in Iceland during the summer, as weather and bad road conditions are far less likely to cause delays or cancellations. The main cause of delays during the summer is traffic, which is at its peak on Fridays and Sundays. Many public transport routes run less frequently during the summer, so make sure to check the schedule.

Driving around Iceland: Cities, towns and the countryside

There are three main types of roads in Iceland: asphalt, gravel, and mountain roads. During summer, a regular car with summer tires will do fine on both asphalt and most gravel roads. The main thing to remember is to slow down when going from asphalt to gravel so as not to lose control of the car. When meeting cars from the opposite direction, take it slow and stay as far to the right as possible, as gravel roads are often narrow. On all roads, beware that rapidly changing weather can quickly change driving conditions, and watch out for sheep crossing the road. 

Driving in the Highland 

Should you venture into the Highland or other mountain roads, you‘ll need a 4×4 jeep. Campervans and regular cars are NOT equipped for these roads. Be mindful that some mountain roads don‘t open until late in the summer. Vegagerðin has a live map of general road conditions, which roads require mountain vehicles, and which roads are open/closed.

Icelandic driving regulations

Driving regulations in Iceland might be different to what you‘re used to. For your own safety and that of others, please familiarise yourself with them. Here are the top rules to remember:

  • In Iceland, cars drive on the right side of the road and priority is given to the right. 
  • In double roundabouts, the traffic on the inner lane has priority over the outer lane.
  • The general speed limit is 30-50 km/hour in populated areas, 80 or 90 km/hour on rural paved areas, and 80 km/hour on rural gravel roads. Some roads may not be suitable for the legal maximum speed, in which case you might spot a sign like this, with a suggestive maximum speed:
  • All passengers must wear seatbelts, and children must have appropriate safety equipment. Car seats for children can usually be added when renting a car. 
  • Headlights are required to be on day and night.
  • Driving off road is strictly forbidden and can result in a very high fine.
  • It‘s illegal to drive after consuming ANY AMOUNT of alcohol or drugs.

For a comprehensive list of road signs, check out this guide.

Urban Design Contest Envisions a Carbon-Neutral, Car-Free Future

The City of Reykjavík has launched an open design competition to “create a dense, mixed, diverse, and carbon-neutral new urban quarter” in Keldur, an underdeveloped area on the eastern outskirts of Reykjavík. Streetsblog reports that the contest, which will accept submissions until mid-April, is open to anyone—not just professional designers and urban planners—and will be judged anonymously by a team of local officials and international expert advisors.

The finalists from the first round of the competition will receive €50,000 [$53,582; ISK 7.7 million]. The final winner will receive an additional €50,000.

Where is Keldur?

Sandwiched between the neighbourhoods of Grafarvogur, Úlfarsárdalur, Grafarholt, Halsar, and Höfðar, the 288-acre parcel that, according to the Keldur Competition Brief, city officials are dividing into Keldur East and Keldur West, is a 30-minute bike ride away from downtown.

via Keldur Competition Brief

The area is currently served by four bus routes “with stops in the vicinity” but once the city unveils its new bus route and the first phase of the Borgarlína Rapid Transit (BRT) service in 2026-27, Keldur will have much more direct public transportation options to and from the city centre. Officials estimate that travel time on the BRT from Keldur and Lækjartorg will be approximately 20 minutes.

‘Against excessive parking’

While the building of a new residential community on the outskirts of a city might naturally imply high car ownership, “officials are are recommending against excessive parking,” explains Streetblog, and have “already promised to devote 100% of the profits from the development and sale of the land towards bringing frequent bus rapid transit service to residents. More broadly, the contest organizers called on entrants to ‘prioritize the eco-friendliest, most compact, and least cumbersome mode of transportation’ in their designs.”

Brad Toderian, one of the international experts serving on the Keldur competition’s judging panel, applauds the City of Reykjavík’s focus on creating “a truly urban place, not just a better suburb,” one that is “not just a little less car dependent, but that’s truly multimodal.” Toderian says that from a North American perspective, the competition is unique not only in that it accepts submissions from anyone, but also because “it’s more ambitious than North America is usually willing to be in these kinds of contexts.”

Cycle city

In addition to linking to the BRT, the Keldur neighborhood is intended to attract cyclists and encourage two-wheeled transit. The contest brief particularly emphasizes the “importance of integrating the region into the city’s ambitious Cycling plan — the city wants 10% of all trips to be taken on two wheels by 2025 — creating reliable pedestrian connections to surrounding areas, and making sure residents can meet their basic needs with a twenty minute walk or less.”

“BRT has a prime role to play,” says Toderian, “but it’s also about walkability and bikeability; it’s about carbon neutrality; it’s about green building design.”

Read the full Streetsblog article, in English, here. The Keldur Contest Brief (also in English), with information about how to submit a design proposal is available here. Queries about phase one of the project will be accepted until March 17, 2023; submissions will be accepted until April 19, 2023.

Nursing Home Pedicab Program a Wheely Great Success

Residents of the Dalbær nursing home in the North Iceland village of Dalvík are on the move these days, thanks to the ‘Cycling at Any Age’ program that provides pedicab services and outings for residents. RÚV reports that Dalbær is among the nursing homes currently participating in the program, which is sponsored by the organization Hjólfærni, or ‘Cyclecraft,’ a local offshoot of the movement of the same name started by John Franklin in the UK.

Arnar Símonarson is one of the Bike Buddies who regularly provides pedicab services for elderly residents. “I come up here to Dalbær now and then, when I have the time and opportunity, when I’m at loose ends, and I ride this hot rod here, which has been dubbed the Cool Cab.”

Arnar says that the number of rides provided each time varies, as do the destinations. “People want to go to the bank and the store, we go to Olís [a petrol station] and get ice cream, sometimes we go to the coffee house and the residents have a beer or something else. And then sometimes, we go up to the cemetery.”

Arnar believes that a pedicab such as the one he pilots in Dalvík should be at every nursing home in the country. “It’s wonderful to go out with the residents and see them smiling and getting a little color in their cheeks.” He says that he’s seen a real change amongst the residents since the pedicab became a regular feature of their day-to-day lives. “We can see the happiness and vitality and people return a bit refreshed,” says Arnar.

The Dalbær residents agree. Kristján Loftur Jónsson is one of Arnar’s regular passengers and says that he enjoys getting out for some fresh air and that his favorite places to go are the coffee house or the corner store where he gets an ice cream when the weather’s nice.

Arnar concluded by saying that there’s no reason to fear getting old if you can remain engaged the world. “Growing old doesn’t mean having to disappear from life. Life is out there,” he remarked. “We just have to go out and grab it.”

Cycling Race a Rare Opportunity for Riders

More than 100 cyclists took part in a socially distanced group ride on Thursday from Siglufjörður to Akureyri in North Iceland, RÚV reports. The event was part of the Akureyri Cycling Festival, which started last Saturday and will end on Sunday.

Competitors were organized into different race groups according to distance, the shortest of which, for adults, was 78 km [48 mi] and the longest of which was 102.8 km [639 mi]. The longest route took cyclists through the Héðinsfjörður and Múlagöng tunnels. And although climate conditions aren’t ideal in the tunnels, festival chair Árni F. Sigurðsson admits, being able to cycle through them is a unique opportunity. “It’s humid and cool,” he said, “and Múlagöng tunnel is one-way and very narrow, which makes it a bit of a struggle. But there’s no other opportunity to bike a route like that in a competition.”

Árni said that some people withdrew from the race because of the current rise in COVID infections, but assured that organizers were conscientious about safety measures. Riders were split into smaller groups, some of which never had reason to cross paths with one another. The award competition was also split between two locations and top prizes were given out before all competitors finished the race. “We gave [winners the awards] right away so that people wouldn’t gather together and wait.”

This is the fifth or sixth time the Akureyri Cycling Festival has been held, said Árni, and he encouraged people to take a look at the remaining schedule of events (here) as all events are open to the public spectators and take place outside over a large area, in compliance with current COVID guidelines.

Capital Sees Dramatic Increase in Cyclists and Pedestrians

More and more people are choosing eco-friendly modes of transportation in the capital area, RÚV reports. Fifty counters at various points around Reykjavík and the environs show that the number of pedestrians and cyclists has steadily increased over recent years.

On average, the data collected shows that just under 23,000 people have been commuting on foot and bike every day.

Unsurprisingly, weather plays a central role in people’s transportation choices: 10,000 more people were counted walking or cycling in January 2021 than the previous January, but January 2020 was also a considerably worse year, weather-wise. But while there may be an obvious uptick in cyclists and pedestrians in the spring and summer, the number of people opting to travel by bike and foot is still considerably more year-round than it has been in years past.

Number-crunchers can find more precise data from each of the city’s counters on the website Borgarvefsjá, here.

 

North Iceland Seniors Cycle in International Competition

senior home

Residents at nursing home Hlíð in Akureyri, North Iceland having been breaking a sweat recently in an international cycling competition called Road Worlds for Seniors. This is the third year that Hlíð takes part in the competition and its residents are currently in second place of 120 homes that are participating.

Physiotherapist Ásta Þorsteinsdóttir manages the project, which she says is very popular among Hlíð residents. “First thing in the morning there’s a queue outside here when we arrive and this is on from eight until four o’clock, just constantly,” she told RÚV reporters. “As it stands, we are in second place of 120 teams with 1,700km (435mi) cycled. Last year we were in fifth place so we are doing a bit better this year.”

Residents take part in the competition on stationary spinning bikes in the home, while a screen provides them with video and audio of point-of-view bike trips through cities around the world.

Jónína Axelsdóttir is one of the residents participating in the competition daily. “It’s just so fun, amazing to participate in this.” Jónína hopes Hlíð takes home the trophy this year, but adds “it would be OK to get second place.”

Parking Lot Becomes Harbourside Park

Miðbakkinn, a former parking lot along the Reykjavík waterfront that has been converted into a public space for families, was opened during a public ceremony on Friday, Vísir reports.

Miðbakkinn includes a children’s cycling area, a skate park, and a basketball court. Its skate park was designed in collaboration with Steinar Fjeldsted, a skateboarder and graffiti artist who runs a skateboarding school in Reykjavík, and Sesselja Traustadóttir, a cycling educator and activist, designed the cycling area. Young artists were commissioned to paint the ground murals, which feature a giant crab, fish, and a sailor’s knot.

Friday’s celebration featured musical performances and food trucks, both of which will return for Iceland’s first street fair, which will take place at Miðbakkinn from July 19 – 21. The fair will also have pop-up shops, coffee stalls, and scheduled entertainment.

“I think this will be a very lively and fun area which was, of course, a parking lot, but has now become part of city residents’ public space” remarked Sigurborg Ósk Haraldsdóttir, the chair of the City of Reykjavík’s planning committee. “Because it’s not going to go back to being a parking lot…the idea is that, over time, it will have permanent facilities for these kinds of sports and other kinds of harbourside activities.”

Bike Theft on the Rise in Reykjavík

There has been a considerable increase in bike theft in capital-area, RÚV reports, and police warn that even well-locked bikes may not be safe from thieves. It’s believed that thieves are reselling some of the bikes locally and police ask that anyone who thinks they may have been sold or offered to buy a stolen bike report it to authorities.

Detective Chief Inspector Guðmundur Pétur Guðmundsson told interviewers on Rás 2 that there have been a total of 209 bicycle thefts recorded since the start of the year, as compared to 181 in the first six months of 2018. Police believe that most of the stolen bikes are being sent directly out of the country, but DCI Guðmundur did not want to confirm whether organized crime is suspected of playing a part in the recent spate of thefts.

“These are really brazen thieves,” read a post on the capital-area police Facebook page. “[I]t doesn’t seem to make much of a difference to them whether the bike is securely locked [or] stored. They clip the locks and even go into bike storage rooms to steal them.”

If you’ve recently had a bike stolen, you can check the police Pinterest page here and see if it’s among the ones they’ve recovered.

City to Install Over Two Kilometres of New Cycling Paths This Summer

The City of Reykjavík plans to lay 2.4 km [1.5 mi] of new and/or improved cycling paths in Reykjavík this summer, RÚV reports. The new lanes, which will cost an estimated ISK 530 million [$4.3 million; €3.8 million] to install, will be separated from both pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

According to the announcement posted on the City of Reykjavík’s website, there will be six new paths in total. These will include:

  • Along Eiðsgrandi from the Seltjarnarnes city limit to the gas station at Keilugrandi
  • On Bústaðavegur between Háaleitisbraut and the bridge that crosses Kringlumýrarbraut
  • Within the Elliðaárdalur Valley: from Stekkjarbakki to the path along Fagrahvammur
  • Also within the Elliðaárdalur Valley: repairs to the existing path between Reykjanesbraut and Höfðabakki
  • Along Geirsgata (starting at Miðbakki) between Lækjargata and Pósthæusstræti
  • Within the Víðidalur Valley: new walking and cycling paths from Vallarás to where the Elliðaárdalur Valley’s trail network begins at Klapparás

The cost of the new paths will be split between the City of Reykjavík and the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, with the government putting ISK 450 million [$3.6 million; €3.2 million] towards the project and the Road and Coastal Administration contributing the remaining ISK 80 million [$647,200; €570,645].

Research shows that as the path network has improved, an increasing number of people have begun cycling in Reykjavík. There are a number of indicators of this. For one, the use of electric bikes has quadrupled in Iceland over the last year. Then there were 36,000 cycling trips counted in and around Nauthólsvík in May, which is a new record-high for Reykjavík. Before this, the highest number of cycling trips counted in the same area was 30,000 in August 2018.