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

Deep North Episode 25: Good Breeding

iceland sheep breeding

This April, sheep at Bergsstaðir farm in Northwest Iceland were diagnosed with the fatal degenerative disease known as scrapie. In accordance with regulations, the 700-some sheep were culled to prevent the spread of the disease to neighbouring farms. We revisit our 2022 article, Good Breeding, to see what’s being done to fight this deadly disease.

Read the full story.

ISK 130 Million in Grants to Strengthen Rural Settlements

Útivera Ganga Náttúra Gengið frá Aðalvík að Hesteyri og til baka

The Minister of Infrastructure has allocated a total of ISK 130 million ($910,000 / €848,000) in grants to twelve projects in rural Iceland in accordance with the regional development plan. Emphasis is placed on strengthening areas suffering from chronic population decline, unemployment, and a lack of economic diversity.

12 projects organised by seven regional associations

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, Minister of Infrastructure, has allocated grants in the amount of ISK 130 million ($910,000 / €848,000) to 12 projects organised by seven regional associations. The grants are intended to strengthen the country’s rural settlements and are allocated to specific projects in key areas in accordance with the regional development plan for the years 2022-2036. A total of 32 applications for grants, totalling over ISK 857 million ($6 million / €5.6 million), were received for the year 2023.

The aim of the grants is to connect individual plans within different regions of Iceland with the government’s regional development plan while also affording locals greater responsibility in the allocation of funds. Emphasis is placed on strengthening areas with chronic population decline, unemployment, and a lack of economic diversity.

Projects that receive funding must benefit individual regions, localities within the region, or the region as a whole. Population development, the composition of the economy, the level of employment, and average income were among the factors that were used as a basis for evaluating applications. A three-member selection committee reviewed the applications and made recommendations to the minister.

Value creation in sheep farming, Straumhvörf

The projects that received the highest funding are “value creation in sheep breeding areas,” which received the highest single grant from the Ministry of Infrastructure’s fund. The project incentivises innovation and value creation in sparsely populated areas that are heavily reliant on sheep farming. The funding – ISK 21.6 million ($151,000 / €141,000) – will go to the Federation of Municipalities in West Iceland, the Association of Local Authorities in the Westfjords (i.e. Fjórðungssamband Vestfirðinga), and the Federation of Municipalities in Northwest Iceland.

The second highest grant went to the Straumhvörf project, which is a collaboration between the Federation of Municipalities in East, Northwest, and West Iceland; Visit North and East Iceland (i.e. áfangastofa norður- og austurlands); Austurbrú; and the Marketing Office of North Iceland (i.e. Markaðsstofu Norðurlands). Straumhvörf is a project seeking to implement a design and product workshop for a new tourist circuit around East and North Iceland in connection with direct international flights to Egilsstaðir and Akureyri. The Federation of Municipalities in East Iceland will receive a grant of ISK 15.6 million ($110,000 / €102,000).

Hrísey Island Receives Development Grant of ISK Ten Million 

Hrísey Island has received a regional development grant of ISK ten million, RÚV reports. The Áfram Hrísey (‘Onwards, Hrísey’) grant is intended to increase available housing and draw new residents to the island.

The island of Hrísey is located 35 km [22 mi] north of Akureyri and although small (approx. 7.67 km2 or 2.96 mi2), is known for its rich bird life. Forty species of birds make their home on Hrísey, with ptarmigans being particularly prolific. It is also home to the largest breeding colony of Arctic terns in Europe.

By comparison, however, only 200 people live on the island, and this is something that the grant seeks to address. “Right now, our most pressing issue is housing,” says resident Ásrún Ýr Gestsdóttir, who has been hired as the grant’s project manager. “We have people who want to move here, but we don’t have housing for them. We have a lot of houses, but almost half of them are empty for most of the month or the year.”

The grant will make it possible to accelerate the process of building new housing and drawing more people to the island full-time. “Up until now, almost everything has been done by volunteers here…we’ve just been doing it whenever possible, sending news to the media while eating dinner. Right now, there’s only one person submitting something for us and contacting the planning department in Akureyri and the town council and people we need to call.”

“We hope that when this project ends in spring 2024, we’ll have seen some progress,” says Ásrún Ýr. “That there will have been some construction and that more people will have moved here with either a permanent presence in our remote work center or even gotten started with something new, new employment opportunities.”

Multicultural Festival Celebrated as Part of ‘Friendship Week’ in Vopnafjörður

The East Iceland village of Vopnafjörður will celebrate its second annual Multicultural Festival on Saturday, with international food, dance exhibitions, games, international cartoons for children, and more. Austurfrétt reports that just under 10% of the fishing village’s population is of foreign extraction, with full-time residents hailing from 20 different countries around the world.

As of September, 670 people called Vopnafjörður home. Sixty of these residents are originally from another country. Poles make up the largest subset of foreign residents, followed by Bulgarians. The village is also home to people from Sweden and Pakistan, among other nations.

Flags representing all the nationalities living in Vopnafjörður at the village’s 2020 Multicultural Festival. Photo: Vopnafjörður, FB.

“People have always come here from abroad,” says Þórhildur Sigurðardóttir, who oversees multicultural and diversity initiatives for the larger municipality. Þórhildur explained that the village has a history of attracting foreign workers, but it’s only recently that the makeup of the fulltime population has been so diverse.

“There are people with Faroese roots, and then Danish women came to work here. I think one of them is still left. Otherwise, there weren’t many [other nationalities] here even six years ago. For a long time, it was just one woman from Poland. But that’s changed completely.”

Vopnafjörður held its first Multicultural Festival in 2020, at which time, there were people from 22 countries living in the village. The following year, a Children’s Cultural Festival was held instead, but still with a multicultural focus. During that festival, kids were taught how to count to five in 13 languages and flags were raised for each of the nationalities living there.

This year, the Multicultural Festival is just one part of a week-long ‘Friendship Week,’ sponsored by a local youth club and programmed entirely by teenagers. Friendship Week runs from Friday, October 7 to Sunday, October 16 and will include a variety of events, including a parade, a potluck-style cake buffet, a movie night, a ‘goodwill marathon,’ in which residents are encouraged to do good deeds for one another (such as raking leaves, folding laundry, dog walking, etc), an intergenerational game night, and more.

Imported Premade Sandwiches Sold Cheaper Than Icelandic Equivalents

Imported goods and food have long been a standard feature of Icelandic life, but a new product that’s made its way onto the local market is raising the hackles of some who question both its carbon footprint and its price-point. Mbl.is reports that premade sandwiches are now being shipped to Iceland from Lithuania and sold at a cheaper price than their domestically produced equivalents.

The imported sandwiches, which are sold under the brand name Food on Foot, caught the attention of Friðrik Árnason, the owner of Hótel Breiðdalsvík in East Iceland. “We import all sorts of things to Iceland, but it never occurred to me that I’d see imported premade sandwiches from Lithuania in a shop in South Iceland,” Friðrik wrote in a post on his Facebook page. “To be honest, I was disappointed to see this, thinking about the environment, carbon footprints, and sustainability. I was even more shocked when I saw that the imported sandwiches are half the price of the sandwiches that are made here, with the same ingredients. It’s a head-scratcher for me.”

The sandwiches, which are shipped frozen to Iceland, are imported by the Reykjavík-based company Danól. Managing director María Jóna Samú­els­dótt­ir provided a written response to Mbl after being contacted about the new product and said that the sandwiches are high-quality and have received a good response on the Icelandic market.

When asked how a sandwich made in and shipped all the way from Lithuania could be cheaper than a sandwich made in Iceland, María Jóna wrote: “Of course we can’t speak to other parties’ price points, but Danól has a good business relationship with the supplier, which of course, is also producing for a much larger market than the one in Iceland. And as a result, consumers here in Iceland enjoy economies of scale.”

María Jóna ended by saying that the primary purchasers of the Lithuanian sandwiches are cafés in rural areas (“often remote villages”) that “see that favorable prices, product quality, and ease of service go hand in hand.”