How to Get Around Iceland

By Teo Spengler

Preparing for a smooth slide through Iceland

How to Get Around Iceland

Iceland isn't enormous – less than half the size of Oregon – but getting from one place to another requires some know-how. You'll find that public transportation, excellent in high season, dwindles considerably in winter, but renting a car has its own problems. Here are a few tips to help you navigate your stay.

Relying on a rented car can dent your budget and maybe the car

Cars are the primary means residents use to get around Iceland, and it's not hard to rent one. Rental agencies are abundant, and you'll find one in almost every major city. However, car rentals are pricey for solo travelers or couples. And then there are the roads themselves to consider.

Driving in Iceland can be challenging, given the changeable weather and the road conditions. The majority of roads are gravel, not paved, and roads in the country's interior are very rough and only serviceable by four-wheel-drive vehicles. Even the Ring Road can be closed by snow in winter.

Another point to note: You're likely to find that the typical Icelander's approach to driving differs from yours considerably. They may not hesitate to take on gravel or mountainous roads, but they tend to ignore turn indicator signals and drive down the center of the road.

Iceland's bus scene: Delight or dismay

Public transport buses in Iceland are a pleasure to use, both clean and comfortable. They will get you from one town to another, or even all the way across the country, without a fuss. You can choose from:

  • Reykjavík Excursions
  • Sterna
  • Strætó
  • SBA-Norðurleið, and 
  • Trex

But that happy situation is pretty much limited to the high tourist season in summer. Trex operates only in summers, and the other bus companies cut back on routes and frequency of transport in winter. If you're visiting off-season to try to avoid crowds or save money, it may be difficult to find a bus that will take you where you want to go.

It's also worth noting that bus transport isn't cheap. In many cases, it's less expensive to fly across the country than to take a bus.

Flying or boating around

Check out the prices of flights within Iceland. Its faster and sometimes cheaper than bus travel. You'll find regularly scheduled flights from Reykjavík to airports around the country. Most cities and towns in Iceland are connected by bus to a regional airport.

Getting to where you want to go is sometimes possible by boat. Some ferry lines serve various islands and fjords within Iceland, and you can book sightseeing tours by ferry during the high season.

Best routes for seeing the country

The Route 1 Ring Road (the Hringbraut in Icelandic) is definitely one of the top drives in Iceland. It's 827 miles and circles the country. Mostly tracking the coast, the Ring Road takes in most of the cities you want to see, including Reykjavík, Akureyri, Egilsstaðir and Höfn, giving you a real tour of Iceland.

Best of all, every mile of the road is paved. And Iceland makes an effort to keep it snow-plowed and open in winter.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Spengler splits her time between French Basque Country and California.