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How to get around in Iceland without a car

The ultimate guide to traveling around the island without having to drive yourself

Are you planning on travelling around Iceland without renting a car? You might be wondering how you will be able to leave the airport to go adventuring and discover the wonderful landscapes Iceland has to offer. But don’t worry about that! There are many different possibilities to discover the whole country other than self-driving. Here is a list of all the options available to get around in Iceland without a car.

Posted by: Melissa Masvaleix


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Bus

Coach in Iceland

Don't forget the seat belt!

  • Around Reykjavík

First things first. You have to know that Keflavík International Airport is not even close to the Icelandic capital. From the airport to Reykjavík there are 49 kilometers (30 miles), for about a 45-minute drive. The simplest and fastest solution to get to the city center is to take the shuttle bus that you can book in advance. The bus will take you to your hotel and pick you up there for the return.

Once in the city, there are plenty of buses to travel within Reykjavík area. You can download the app which is called Straeto to figure out how to get from a point to another. On the app, it is possible to see a live map to be aware of the buses nearby. The main information and all the timetables are available too. The app even allows its users to pay by credit card so no cash is needed.

If you want to know more about the beautiful city of Reykjavík, you should definitely join a sightseeing tour with a local guide who will tell you everything about the Icelandic capital. Then, you will be sure to not miss any of the best places to see around.

  • In the countryside

Iceland has an extensive network of long-distance bus routes, thankfully for its visitors. The map of Public Transport in Iceland is a good way to look at every bus route possible around the island. On it you can also see all the bus companies and go directly to their website for more information on the schedules, prices and stops.

From approximately June to September, buses with regular schedules run to most places throughout the country. Some 4WD buses will even take you to the Highlands and on other mountain roads. For the rest of the year, services can be daily, weekly or even nonexistent, depending on the roads situation.

Reykjavík has several bus terminals, depending on the different companies, but in small towns, all the buses often stop at the main gas station. The great majority of buses are equipped with free-wifi, which is great to share your adventures on the social networks and keep in touch with your family and friends!

Many bus operators offer different kinds of “bus passports” every summer from mid-June to the first week of September. This allows tourists to move around the country in the easiest way possible, although the passports are not cheap and imply time restrictions as well as using one company only. Sometimes it can be more practical to buy separate tickets, according to where you want to go and the different prices.

Boat

A boat ride during the winter time

Discover Iceland on a boat

Some places in Iceland are only accessible by boat, such as Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords, one of the best places to spot arctic foxes in their natural habitat, and the Westman Islands in the South, one of the best places to observe puffins during the summertime.

With Seatours, it is possible to go to the Westfjords by boat from the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which is only a two-hour drive from Reykjavík. Taking the boat is a better option than driving there yourself or taking the bus if you want to see the multiple islands and the North-Western coast of Iceland from the sea.

Iceland is located right under the Arctic Circle. However, there is an island in the North which is actually inside this circle: Grímsey Island. Once you get out of the boat which leads you there, you can say that you have been North of the Arctic Circle limits.

Note that it is always better to book in advance for car passage on any ferry.

Plane

A beautiful sunset from the sky

Flying with the sunset

Just like the buses, Iceland has a complete network of domestic flights. It is a common means of transport as many locals take the plane to travel around the country. During the wintertime, planes can be the only way to go from a point to another. Keflavík serving as an international airport, domestic flights depart from Reykjavík Domestic Airport, as well as in many other cities and towns.

The two main companies taking care of domestic flights are Air Iceland Connect and Eagle Air Iceland. Air Iceland Connect operates in the biggest cities and towns around Iceland but also has flights for Greenland and Faroe Islands; while Eagle Air Iceland has less destinations but is the one who offers flights to Westman Islands.

It is also possible to take airplane tours to see Iceland from above and blow your mind. The South shore is absolutely wonderful to see from up in the air as you will admire the magnificent Skaftafell National Park as well as the glacier lagoon Jokulsarlon. Taking this kind of tour is also a great way to discover the Northern part of the country with its famous Myvatn region. There, you can fly above the lava fields and view the aftermath of a 6 month volcanic eruption which created the largest lava field in Iceland. The landscapes from above look so much different than when you are on the ground!

Taxi

taxi iceland reykjavik

See Reykjavík by night

When you are travelling within the Reykjavík area, taxi can also be an option. You can either go to a spot downtown where all the taxis arrive, or you can call and order one. The cabs come quickly but they can be a little bit pricey so if you are on a budget, you might want to take the bus instead. Note that tipping is not required in Iceland.

However, taxis can be really useful if you go out at night and that the party went on and on, as there are not many night buses. There are several 24 hour taxi companies in the Icelandic capital. The taxis are usually located outside bus stations, airports and bars on weekend nights.

Unfortunately there is no Uber or Lyft in Iceland yet, even if the debate is open. Taxis in Iceland don’t have any particularity. They are not yellow like the ones in New York, or black and vintage like in London. They are all brands, all sizes and all colors. However they do have the yellow taxi sign on top of the car (except in October, when taxis trade the yellow sign for a pink one, related to breast cancer awareness month).

Unlike in many countries, you don’t have to hail a cab, you just call for one, and they are usually pretty fast to come pick you up. The two main taxi companies are Hreyfill Bæjarleiðir and BSR. To reach Hreyfill, call +354-588-5522, and BSR is +354-561-0000. You can also book a cab on Hreyfill’s app.

Carpool

carpool iceland

Make new friends

  • Samferða.net

Samferða is an Icelandic word for “going somewhere together”. This official Icelandic website of carpooling was established in 2005 and has been a free service from its first day. The idea came from a German girl called Anita Hubner and a guy from the Westfjords named Birgir Thor Halldorsson. THey decided to launch this website when they realized that getting around Iceland without owning a car can be both difficult and expensive. Users are publishing requests either for passengers or for drivers. It allows travelers to split the cost of transportation and gas. It is an funnier and cheaper way to share rides with other people while travelling around Iceland. Plus, it is so much better for the environment than everyone driving on their own!

You have to know that in Iceland there are more cars than people, so there must be someone going to the same place as you. The website is in english so that everyone can understand. It is also available in German and Icelandic. The prices are not always given in the ride details but there is the contact information to be able to reach the drivers/passengers in advance. The website design is very simple and submitting a request is easy.

  • Skutlarar! Facebook group

The Facebook group “Skutlarar!” allows its member to post where they are and where they want to go. Then, people offer the trips, which usually are a lot cheaper than taxis. Drivers can also post on the group that they are offering rides and give their phone number for interested people to be able to contact them.

The word Skutlarar means “drivers”. At this day, the group counts with 41,500 users. It was created by Icelanders with the purpose of linking people who want to pay a set price for a ride with people willing to offer rides in exchange for money, in order to split the gas price. Technically, this is illegal because the Icelandic law is very strict when it comes to services like Uber. People who want to charge money for driving someone somewhere must have a professional permit to do so. However it does not stop amateur drivers from taking matters into their own hands, and the police are virtually powerless to stop it. So you can enjoy this means of transportation without worrying.

As it is a Facebook group and not an official website, you should always pay attention to the person who offers a ride. Even if Iceland is a really safe country, it does not cost anything to contact the driver before and make sure he or she is well-intentioned.

Hitchhiking

hitchhiking iceland

Get that thumb up!

Jumping into a stranger’s car can be a little scary for everyone. But you have to keep in mind that Iceland is the safest country in the whole world, according to the 2017 Global Peace Index. Iceland has been number one since the Global Peace Index started to study statistics in 2008. In this big country of only about 350.000 inhabitants, there is no army and a murder rate of 0-1,5 per year. The police officers don’t carry guns and there is no class system, so basically, everybody is equal. It is one of the best countries for gender equality and respect for the LGBTQI community. Looks like a perfect world right?

Hitchhiking in Iceland is then a really safe means of transportation. However, it is always recommended to trust your instincts and not getting into a car when it doesn’t feel right.

Getting out of Reykjavík is the hardest part as there are many people and they drive really fast. You should try to go to a calmer road or at a gas station.

Once on the Ring Road, everything is much easier. The Ring Road is the easiest place to hitchhike in Iceland as it is the main road around the island. But don’t worry, it doesn’t look like a highway at all, it is more comparable with an average village road. It is not possible to get lost on this road. Plus, you will be amazed by the wonderful landscapes around it. There are many towns with various accommodation possibilities along the Ring Road.

Usually, people do the whole island from Reykjavík by going Eastwards, counterclockwise. If you go this way it will be easier for you to be picked up. It is recommended to hitchhike from June to September due to the traffic peak and the weather conditions. Plus, at this time period, you will have more daylight to enjoy landscapes and not be forced to stop because of the night. About the duration of your trip, it is better to plan on staying at least 10 days in Iceland to be able to make the most out of your trip and avoid the stress of missing your return flight.

In addition to being a really cheap means of transportation, hitchhiking will allow you to meet new people. You can be picked up by both locals or tourists. However you should never forget to bring proper, good quality clothing, so you can dress in layers.  Always have some food supplies too, it can be really helpful. The most important thing you should always carry is a tent to be sure to have a shelter at any time.

Wild camping is, however, not allowed everywhere. Icelandic laws allow you to pitch your tent in the wilderness only if you find yourself miles away from any registered campsite. On the South Coast, you are now allowed to camp outside of a designated campsite. Wild camping is also is forbidden in any nature reserve or national park, on cultivated land and private property. There are other areas with restrictions to protect sensitive nature and birdlife. If you are willing to wild camp in Iceland, you must do your research before heading out to the wilderness.

Campsites open around May-June. Be sure to read the things to keep in mind while traveling in Iceland.

Bike

biking in iceland

Biking with a view

Many people bike around Iceland every year to discover the country by themselves. It is going more and more popular as it is cheaper than renting a car. However, if you chose that option you should be prepared for harsh weather conditions. Between strong wind, heavy rain and sandstorms, Iceland is not the easiest country to travel by bike. You should plan to stay for a long period if you want to do the whole Ring Road and always keep your plans flexible depending on the weather. If the weather is too bad, you can always take a bus with your bike as big bus companies can carry them. Note that some companies will charge a fee to take your bike.

Always be prepared when touring in Iceland. You should bring your own puncture-repair kit and spares or rent it in Reykjavík before going to the countryside. You should also know how to do your own basic repairs. It is always better to bring your own bike as you can train with it beforehand. However if you don’t own a bike you can rent one in the Icelandic capital. Most airlines will carry your bike in the hold if you pack it correctly in a bike box. Once you landed in Keflavík International Airport, there is a facility just 100m East of the Arrivals exit to assemble bikes, or disassemble them before you leave. Another way of coming to Iceland with a bike would be to take the ferry from Denmark.

You can consult a free detailed map online, updated annually.

It is also possible to join a biking and kayaking tour to discover the Westfjords with a professional guide who has so many things to tell you about this wonderful part of Iceland.

Hiking

hiking highlands iceland

Into the wild

Iceland has so many amazing and mind blowing hiking trails. Some of them are easy, but you have to remember that it is not a flat country at all! Plus, the weather can be challenging sometimes, going from rain to snow to hail to sun within 1 hour. Just be prepared for any type of weather! The best season to hike there is of course during the summertime, when the weather is most likely to be indulgent. The temperatures can rise up to 20°C and drop to -10°C in winter.

Another good point for summer is that days are much longer than during winter. Indeed, if you are traveling in late June, you will have the opportunity to observe the midnight sun phenomenon and have 24 hours of daylight in a single day. Hiking during winter is not a really good idea as you will only experience the sun for 4 hours per day in December for example.

The best advice when hiking in Iceland for several days is to bring windproof, waterproof and warm clothes, regardless of the season you are coming. If you are traveling to Iceland during winter, the mountains will be covered with snow, which means that you will need crampons and maybe an ice axe, otherwise you will get stuck in the middle of the trail and won’t be able to continue. To know about the conditions of the trails, it is recommended to call mountain huts, especially if you are hiking in the Highlands. A GPS or a map is always a good idea to not get lost, even if, most of the time, paths are well-marked. It is possible to rent all of this in gear rental shops around Reykjavík.

About accommodation during a hike, many trails have small huts along the way. You will have to bring your own sleeping bag as bed linen are not provided. Some huts are equipped with kitchen and showers, but you will have to pay more for those services. If you want to camp along the trail, make sure that you have appropriate equipment to not be cold or wet during the night. Always tell someone before hiking where you are going and for how long you are planning to be there. The interior of Iceland has very few inhabitants and you can get lost easily if you miss the good direction. Plus, there is no phone signal in remote areas. Other useful devices would be a flashlight, a walking pole, safety ropes and of course food and water stocks.

If you don’t want to be alone or if you would like a certified hiking guide to tell you more about Iceland, you can join a hiking tour! It can be just for one day or even up to 6 days. It is the best way to know more about the Icelandic nature and the trails you will hike. You have the possibility to join a tour with accommodation included or with camping. There are so many places to explore!

Day Tours

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

The beautiful Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

If you want to get out of Reykjavík for a day and go out and explore the countryside, taking a day tour is perfect for you. You will get picked up close to where you are staying and taken on a tour wherever you desire in Iceland. Exploring the amazing scenery is the reason most people go to Iceland, so we strongly suggest that you get out of the capital!

There are so many places to explore! You could for example join a guided tour to visit the famous Golden Circle, which totally is a must-see and not very far away from Reykjavík. There you will see powerful geysers erupt from the ground, Gullfoss which is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland or also a stunning blue lake inside of a volcano crater.

If you want more adventure, you could also drive a snowmobile on the top of a glacier. This experience will truly blow your mind and boost your adrenaline level. While you are driving in the middle of nowhere, you can really feel part of the surrounding nature.

Something unique that can only be done in Iceland is swimming between two continents, at the Silfra fissure in Thingvellir National Park. Indeed, the Eurasian and the North American plates are moving apart each year for about 2 cm (1 inch) every year. Some earthquakes and the movement of the plates created Silfra, a fissure filled with one of the clearest waters on Earth, with more than 100-meter visibility.

If you are a true animals lover, you should definitely try a whale watching or a puffin watching tour to have the opportunity to spot those wonders of nature. Note that puffins can be seen only from May to August, while whales can be spotted all year long. It is incredible to have the chance to see these wild animals in their natural habitat, where they are as free as a bird, and not in a zoo.

There are so many options for day tours from Reykjavík. You can also depart from other points if you are staying in another city or town,depending on the tour

Overnight Tours

northern lights iceland

Get a chance to see the wonderful Northern Lights

If you want to go out of the capital for more than a day and you want something well-organized, then a multi day tour is the perfect solution! Staying overnight gives you the opportunity to explore more and make the most out of your trip to Iceland. By doing so, you will be able to see the midnight sun or the northern lights, depending on what season of the year you are coming to Iceland. Everything will be arranged for you: transportation, accommodation, some meals, breath-taking activities and the must-see locations including those with entrance fees. All you need to do is to book the tour that corresponds the most to your needs, show up and enjoy!

There are many options for multi day tours. They can be different if you visit during the summertime or during the wintertime, and for how many days you want to explore Iceland.

If you are coming between October and April, join a 5 day tour to see the most visited part of Iceland: the Golden Circle, the South Coast and Snaefellsnes Peninsula, which are truly magical places. In this tour you will also have the opportunity to hike on a glacier and of course see some Northern Lights.

For those who visit Iceland between April and October can join a 3 day tour to see the Golden Circle and the South Coast as well as doing some glacier hiking and take a dip into the Secret Lagoon.

Those two tours are just example but there are so many more!

Ring Road Tours

south coast iceland

On the road again!

If you want the whole Icelandic experience, then join a Ring Road tour and travel around the whole island! It is just like if you rent a car and travel across the country except that you are not driving personally. What is better than to be driven through the wonderful landscapes of Iceland?

In this kind of tour you will be able to see most of what Iceland has to offer. The Ring Road is the perfect way of getting around the country and see a wide range of different landscapes. It takes around 16 hours to drive this 1,333 kilometers long highway without stopping. The ideal duration to take the time to admire the beauties along the way is one week. Then, you can join three different tours depending on how long you are staying in Iceland: 6 days, 7 days and 8 days.

Taking the Ring Road will lead you to the most famous attractions as well as the most beautiful locations. It is the best way to discover Iceland and not staying just in the South like most tourists use to do.