How to Get Around in Iceland

Biker crossing a busy road in Reykjavík.

Although Iceland is a small country with small towns and cities, the ground to cover can sometimes be enormous. In Iceland, there is no one best way to travel everywhere, as walkability, road conditions, and public transport options vary significantly between areas. Deciding on the best option to get from one place to another entirely depends on where you are and the destination you want to reach. From Keflavík airport to the capital area, rural villages and the Highland, here is our guide to getting around Iceland.

Transportation to and from Keflavík International Airport

If you‘re flying to Iceland, odds are you‘ll land at Keflavík Airport, as most international air traffic goes through there. From Keflavík to Reykjavík, Garðabær, or Hafnarfjörður, we recommend taking the bus, which has services 24/7. It departs directly from the airport and offers one stop each in Hafnafjörður and Garðabær, as well as most hotels in Reykjavík. Tickets can be bought in advance or at the airport.

If you‘re not one for the bus, a private transfer can also be arranged with or without a chauffeur. 

If you‘re skipping Reykjavík entirely, a rental car you can pick up at the airport is the most convenient option. Make sure to consider where you‘re going, what types of roads you‘ll be travelling on and whether snow and ice are possible. 

Getting around Reykjavík

Reykjavík city bus.
Photo: Golli. Reykjavík city bus.

Are you only here to see Reykjavík? Then stick to public transport and walking, as driving and parking in the city is usually expensive and not the hassle-free experience you want for your vacation. Downtown Reykjavík is not large and can easily be covered on foot. 

Alternatively, electric scooters are available for short-term rental from Hopp and Zolo, and bikes can be rented for a few hours up to a week or more. This is an excellent option for slightly longer distances, allowing you to experience your surroundings while travelling.

For colder days or trips outside your nearest surroundings, Strætó, the primary bus system in Iceland, is there to take you across the city, to the suburbs or nearlying towns. While Icelanders are less than happy with Strætó, it does the job. Just be mindful that it doesn‘t arrive as frequently as you might be used to at home, so plan ahead to avoid excessive waiting times! Kids 11 and younger travel for free, and a single adult fair valid for 75 minutes costs ISK 630 [$5, €4]. 24 and 72-hour passes can be purchased with a discount at the 10-11 convenience stores on Austurstæti street and Laugavegur street. Each pass is valid for one person. 

There is also the option of taxis, but if you‘re trying to save money, we advise you to use them sparingly. A 5 km trip within the city during the daytime will likely cost at least ISK 2,666 [$19, €18]. 

Seeing the countryside by car

Empty Icelandic road
Empty Icelandic road.

If you want to see everything Iceland has to offer, the best way to do so is by car. While buses run between towns, trips are not frequent, and the timing might only sometimes suit your needs. Additionally, unless your goal is to walk and hike a lot, you‘ll probably miss out on some fabulous places, as public transport is geared towards the day-to-day needs of locals. If you decide to go with public transport, Public Transport offers a handy map with a comprehensive look at what sort of ground transportation is available in Iceland and where it can take you.

Alternatively, there are heaps of preplanned trips where the itinerary, driving and accommodations – for the trips exceeding a single day – are taken care of for you. You might also choose to go by bike, but be aware that outside the capital area, you‘ll be biking on the main road along with cars. 

If you‘re in a time crunch but want to see the island’s west, north or east side, perhaps flying is the best option. From Reykjavík, you can fly directly with Icelandair to Akureyri, Ísafjörður, Egilsstaðir, and Vestmannaeyjar islands. Flights are available several times daily, with time in the air usually less than an hour. This is not cheap, but it might help you make the most of your trip.

Hop on a boat: seeing Iceland by sea

While in Iceland, you might want to visit one of our smaller islands or remote places that can only be reached by boat or on foot. Ferry rides to popular places, such as Viðey island, Flatey island, Drangey island, and Hornstrandir nature reserve, can be purchased online. Of course, they depend on seasons and weather, so we advise you to look into that beforehand. 

As mentioned above, Vestmannaeyjar islands can be reached by flight, but you can also get there by a ferry called Herjólfur. It offers trips multiple times a day, all year round.

Helicopter and plane tours: seeing Iceland from above

If you’re not one for hiking, maybe a helicopter tour or a plane ride is the ideal way for you to explore the island. See the continental rift, where the North-American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, Vatnajökull glacier, the biggest glacier in Iceland, or the Reykjanes volcano area, where frequent eruptions have been reshaping the landscape since early 2021.

The Icelandic highland: how to get there

Landmannalaugar hiking trail in the Icelandic highland.
Photo: Berglind. Landmannalaugar hiking trail in the Icelandic highland.

The Highland is one of the most breathtaking places in Iceland, and for those with adventurous spirits, this is an ideal place to visit. However, getting there can take some careful planning. The roads‘ opening times depend on seasons and weather, they are very rough and neither suitable for small cars nor inexperienced drivers. Along the way, you might also encounter some big and unpredictable glacier rivers that must be crossed. It might, therefore, be prudent to opt for one of the Highland buses or even a planned trip. If you‘d prefer to go at it alone, plenty of suitable car options are available

Major Changes to Reykjavík Bus Routes

Strætó bus Reykjavík miðborgin umferð fólk

There will be major changes to Reykjavík bus routes in the coming months due to construction at Hlemmur, the main bus terminal in downtown Reykjavík. All bus routes in the area will be temporarily diverted and new end stops will be implemented on each route. When construction is complete, only four bus routes will stop at Hlemmur and there will be no central end stop for Reykjavík bus routes.

End stops move to Grandi, Skúlagata, and the University of Iceland

A notice from Reykjavík public bus service operator Strætó outlines the changes to routes due to the construction at Hlemmur. The end stops of routes 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 16, 17 and 18 will move from Hlemmur to Skúlagata, Grandi and HÍ (University of Iceland).

Route 3 will use Grandi as an end stop. Routes 1, 4, 16, 17 and 18 will temporarily make their final stop in Skúlagata street, a new terminal station in the city. Routes 2 and 6 will temporarily end at the University of Iceland. All of the new routes can be seen in detail on the Strætó website.

Read more about public transport funding in Iceland and Reykjavík’s planned Borgarlína bus rapid transit system.

Bus Ticket Prices Rise in July

Strætó bus Reykjavík miðborgin umferð fólk

Strætó public bus service is raising single fares by 3.6% and the price of passes by 3.3% as of July 1. The change means a single fare will go from ISK 550 [$4.06, €3.70] to ISK 570 [$4.21, $3.84] and a 30-day student/senior pass will go from ISK 4,500 [$33.24, $30.30] to ISK 4,650 [$34.35, €31.31].

The board of Strætó approved the fare hike at a meeting on May 19. Strætó reviews fares twice a year, and also increased fares following its last review in October 2022. A notice from the organisation points out that the consumer price index has increased by 5.2% since that time.

“The aim of the tariff policy was and is to ensure that the tariffs go hand in hand with Strætó’s operating costs,” the notice states. These costs include salaries, oil, maintenance, repairs, and spare parts. There will be no change to fares for disabled patrons.

At the same time, the Road and Coastal Administration is raising public bus fares in the countryside, meaning that a trip from Reykjavík to Akureyri will go up from ISK 10,780 [$79.63, €72.58] to ISK 12,540 [$92.64, €84.43], and a trip from Reykjavík to Keflavík will go up from ISK 1,960 [$14.48, €13.20] to ISK 2,280 [$16.85, €15.35].

Strætó is also transitioning its payment systems by phasing out the Strætó app and fully transitioning to the Klapp app on July 1.

Grímsey Ferry Out of Service for 6-8 Weeks

Grímsey

The ferry that connects the 53 residents of Grímsey island to the mainland of Iceland will be out of commission for 6-8 weeks this spring for regular maintenance, RÚV reports. No backup transportation has yet been found to move either people or goods to and from the island during that period. One local city councillor says it is the equivalent of cutting off a mainland town in Iceland from the Ring Road.

Grímsey falls under the municipality of Akureyri, North Iceland. Akureyri Municipal Council has criticised the situation and says the Road and Coastal Administration of Iceland, which owns and operates the Grímsey ferry, has not been keeping residents informed about the situation.

“The thing is that ferry routes are just like Route One [the main highway around Iceland] and we would of course not accept any community being cut off from the main transport artery,” Akureyri Councillor Halla Björk Reynisdóttir stated. The Grímsey ferry is not only used to transport people but also goods, including the fish caught by Grímsey fishermen. Sólveig Gísladóttir of the Road and Coastal Administration’s communication department stated that the organisation is working towards a solution and it should be found and presented to residents by the end of the week.

Grímsey residents have long been calling for a replacement for their island’s ferry. Sæfari, as the current ferry is named, was initially supposed to be used for 10 years but has now been operating for 15. The maintenance to be done on the ferry this coming April and May is meant to extend its lifetime by a few more years.

Reykjavík Public Buses See Increase in Ridership

public transportation iceland

The Reykjavík capital area public bus service Strætó has seen an increase in ridership in the past several months. The increase is seen as far back as December, but recent labour strikes that may affect petrol supplies may be having an effect. Strætó CEO Jóhannes Svavar Rúnarsson told mbl.is the service is prepared for more riders and for the impact strikes may have.

“We’ve seen a lot of ridership in recent months, even before the strike,” Jóhannes Svavar stated. “Whether that is connected to the strike, I won’t assert just yet.” Diesel supplies are running low in the capital area due to an ongoing strike among oil truck drivers, and the same may happen to petrol supplies if the strike continues. Were capital area commuters forced to leave their cars at home, an increasing number may turn to Strætó to get them from A to B. Jóhannes Svavar says the service is prepared. Strætó’s own fuel supplies would last the company about two weeks in the case of a fuel shortage, according to Jóhannes Svavar.

Heavy snow in December may have also encouraged commuters to opt for public transportation rather than private vehicles.

Read more about public transportation in Iceland.

Night Bus Service Returns to Reykjavík

The City of Reykjavík has signed an agreement with Strætó public bus service to begin operating night buses within the city as of February 24. Night buses from downtown Reykjavík were previously implemented as a pilot project but their operation ceased during the COVID-19 pandemic when overall ridership declined.

Four night routes will run from the city centre to the neighbourhoods of Breiðholt, Úlfarsárdalur, Norðlingaholt, and Grafarvogur on Friday and Saturday nights. The buses will only transport passengers away from the city centre, not towards it. Buses will leave the city centre at a specific time but will not be time-adjusted along the route, so travellers are encouraged to monitor the buses’ real-time location in the Klapp app or on straeto.is.

A single night bus fare will be ISK 1.100 [$7.60, €7.15] and specific tickets will be available within the Klapp payment system. Monthly and yearly pass holders can use their passes for night bus services.

Read more about public transport funding in Iceland.

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.

Deep North Episode 12: Public Transport Funding

Strætó bus Reykjavík miðborgin umferð fólk

With ambitious climate goals, rising oil prices, and an energy transition underway, many Icelandic politicians want to de-centre the private automobile. One might assume that public transportation in Iceland would simultaneously see increased support. Sadly, this has not been the case, and in addition to large budget deficits in 2022, public bus service Strætó has seen significant cuts in service, alongside some of the largest price hikes in recent years.

Read more about the funding of public transportation in Iceland in our recent In Focus piece.

Borgarlína Budget Balloons, But the Real Figure is Disputed

public transportation iceland

New information on Borgarlína reveals that the project, which is due to begin “visible construction” this year, is over budget by a significant amount. The exact total, however, remains disputed.

In Focus: Public Transport Funding

Borgarlína is a bus-rapid-transit system intended to alleviate Reykjavík’s traffic problems. The lack of long-term urban planning in Reykjavík city has long been heavily criticized. Because the development of Reykjavík has centred around the construction of suburbs, commute times have increased and air quality has decreased as more and more Icelanders are forced to rely on their cars. The Borgarlína project, in development since 2015, aims to alleviate these problems by introducing a rapid transit system to the capital area, complete with bus-only lanes.

However, recent information on the cost of the project has raised eyebrows among some officials.

In an editorial in Morgunblaðið today, Mayor of Kópavogur Ásdís Kristjánsdóttir, wrote: “This joint project between the state and municipalities in the capital area is urgent. However, it is part of the responsibility of those who support the agreement and provide it with funds from the taxpayers’ pockets to stop now and reevaluate the plans.”

The exact figure of the budget increase has been disputed, and not all agree.

According to some sources, the project may be overshooting its budget by as much as ISK 50 billion [$375,000,000; €330,000,000].

Read More: First Phase of Borgarlína Project Delayed by One Year

Other estimates give the number as ISK 17 billion [$121,000,000; €113,000,000].

A major reason for the budgetary overshoot is the construction on Sæbraut, where it was decided to build a traffic channel instead of an intersection.

Davið Þorláksson, a project manager for Transport for the Capital Area (TfCA), has clarified that the misunderstanding arises from price comparisons with older figures. Given the duration of the project, inflation, and other growing costs, he claims it’s a matter of apples and oranges.

 “It’s just not possible to compare figures from 2019, when the transport agreement was signed, with today’s figures in 2023. They just aren’t comparable. At today’s prices, the estimated cost that was originally expected would be ISK 148 billion, but now stands at around ISK 164 billion. The difference between these is about 17 billion.”

Construction on Borgaræína is expected to begin this year.

 

In Focus: Public Transport Funding

public transportation iceland

With ambitious climate goals, rising oil prices, and an energy transition underway, many Icelandic politicians want to de-centre the private automobile. One might assume that public transportation in Iceland would simultaneously see increased support. Sadly, this has not been the case, and in addition to large budget deficits in 2022, public bus service Strætó has […]

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