Getting Around Iceland

By Plane

Even though Iceland is a relatively small country, there’s an extensive network of domestic flights and air travel is common, especially in winter when it’s often the only way to get around. Air Iceland (www.airiceland.is) is he main domestic carrier serving nine destinations: Reykjavík, Akurevri, Egilsstaðir, Ísafjörður, Vopnafjörður, Grímsey, Hornafjörður, Thórshöfn and the Westman Islands. Islandsflug (www.islandsflug.is) offers flights from Reykjavík and Akurevri to remoter destinations, such as Vestmannaeyjar, Gjögur and Bildudalur.

The best way to get discount rates is to book online and most flights are ticketless. If you plan to fly a lot, buying an Air Iceland pass might be a good idea. It’s available with four, five or six legs for a discounted rate. It can be used on all routes and is valid for one year. Also, there’s a 12-day Fly As You Please pass, which allows for 12 days of unlimited air travel on all Air Iceland flights.

Keep in mind that bad weather can cause lateness or flight cancellations, especially during the winter.

Flying in Iceland is affordable and discounts for children, students, seniors and disabled travelers available.

By Car

Renting a car is a good way if you’d like to explore the island on your own and be more independent. This freedom does, however, come at a certain price. Expect to pay around ISK 7,000 per day for a small car with unlimited mileage. Prices for 4WD or SUVs start at ISK 12,000 per day. All vehicles can also be rented on a kilometer basis, but this often turns out to be the more expensive alternative. These prices can be a good value if you’re traveling in a group and share the cost. Parking can be a hassle in Reykjavík, so only rent a car if you plan to go out of town. Most attractions in Reykjavík are easily reachable by foot.

If you don’t want to be restricted to the main 930-mile long (1,500 km) Ringroad that circles the entire island on the coastline, an off-road vehicle is recommended since most roads into the interior are all but gravel. Occasionally, these often-winding one-lane streets can be dangerous as they are bumpy and have blind hills and sometimes even small streams to cross. They are only passable during summer (June to August) anyways. It depends on the weather when exactly each one of them opens or if they open at all. The Ringroad is mostly paved, but in winter, snow tires are necessary. For more information on the current road conditions, check out www.vegag.is before you leave.

Driving licenses from the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and most European countries are valid for short-term visits.

If you don’t want to rent a car, it’s possible to bring your own on a ferry that runs between the mainland Europe and Iceland without having to pay import duty for a limited time.

The price for regular gas is around IKR 378 per gallon (100 per liter). The Icelandic Traffic Council (www.umferd.is) issues a driving guide that is available at the car rental companies. In general, Icelanders drive on the right side of the street, seat belts are compulsory for all passengers and dipped headlights must be on at all times of the day. The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.05 percent. It is also prohibited to drive while talking on a cell phone.

Most rental car agencies deliver the car to the customer, who can later drop it off at either the agency or at Keflavík, International Airport for a small surcharge. The minimum age to rent a car in Iceland is 20.

Most agencies are headquartered in Reykjavík, but there are also branches in Akureyri, Egilsstaðir, Höfn, Keflavík airport, Ísafjörður and other towns.

Here is a list of the major car rental agencies:

Hertz: Has locations at the Reykjavík and Keflavík airports and in Akureyri, Höfn, Egilsstaðir, Ísafjörður and on the Westman Islands. Pick-up and drop off is possible at any location, but you might get charged a one-way rental fee. (www.hertz.is)

Avis: Has nine locations around the country, including one at Akureyri airport, but none at Keflavík. (www.avis.is)

Europcar: Has eight locations around the country, including the Höfn, Keflavík and Siglufjörður airports. (www.europcar.is)

Budget: Has a location at Keflavík airport and Reykjavík. (www.budget.is)

By Bus

Taking a bus is a convenient alternative if you don’t want to drive yourself. There are 22 bus companies in Iceland altogether, but the BSI (www.bsi.is) is Iceland’s nationwide bus network that coordinates all the different routes. In summer, buses go around the entire Ringroad and even to interior destinations that are otherwise only accessible with a four-wheel drive.

Buses in Reykjavík run at 15 or 20 minute intervals during the day and later in the evening at 30 minute intervals. You’ll have to pay a flat fee and pay with exact change. If you plan to change buses, ask for a transfer ticket, otherwise no ticket is given.

For a fee and when there is space, you can also bring your bike on the bus. A complete and free schedule of all the routes and departures is published in the Iceland Independent Traveller, which is available at the BSI terminal at Vatnsmyrarvegur 10 in Reykjavík, at most tourist offices, at the bus station in Akureyri or on the Internet at www.bsi.is. Reservations aren’t needed and you can buy the ticket at the bus station or from the driver. There’s no charge for children under 4. Children from 4 to 11 years of age only pay half price.

A disadvantage of taking the bus is that it can be expensive. Sometimes it even costs less to fly to a certain destination. And if you’re traveling in a small group, renting a car is much cheaper than taking a bus. Furthermore, between October and May, routes into the interior close and long-distance connections along the Ringroad only run as far as Akureyri and Höfn.

For longer journeys, bus passes save you money. With the Full-Circle Passport for example, you can take a trip around the entire island on the Ringroad. You can stop as many times as you want, but you must complete the tour in one direction. The pass is available from May 21 to September 13. The standard one leaves out the Westfjords, the northwestern part of the island. But for an additional fee, it can be extended to include this area. Other passes that allow for unlimited travel for periods from a week to a month are available as well.

By Taxi

Taxi services are available in most towns. To catch a cab, you can either call the company or find one waiting on the street. A lighted “Taxi” sign on top of the car means it’s available. Expect to pay at least IKR 1,000 for a short ride of about 2 miles (3.2 km). However, there’s no tipping in Iceland. Borgarbill and Hreyfill are two major taxi companies in Reykjavík.

By Ferry

There are several passenger ferries in Iceland. The Sæfari, for example, runs from Akureyri and Dalvik to the islands of Hrísey and Grímsey, which are known for their natural beauty and great variety of birds. The Sævar leaves from Arsskogssandur and sails to Hrísey. And the Herjólfur has scheduled trips to the Westmann Islands. More information on routes, schedules and departure times is available in the Iceland Independent Traveller tour guide, which is published by Destination Island/BSI and available for free.

By Bike

Bicycling is a great way to see the country’s spectacular landscape and remote places. However, you should be well prepared for harsh weather conditions. Winds can be strong and icy and the roads bumpy and muddy. You’ll need to bring waterproof, warm clothes and pack everything in waterproof bags. If you want to drive into Iceland’s interior, the Kjölur route, which passes between two of the island’s largest glaciers, offers nice views. The Westfjords also offer great bicycle routes.

Hitching

Even though Iceland’s crime rate is relatively low, it is best to hitch hike together with a buddy and not all by yourself. Because Iceland is only sparsely populated, you might have to wait for long periods until someone comes and stops for you.