On Icelandic Tourist Transport
Posted on December 11, 2022
Reading time: 4 minutes.
This is the last instalment in my series catching up with transport experiences overseas. This again takes me back to 2015 for a midsummer extended weekend stay in Iceland. There were designs on a trip to Switzerland at this stage, but temperatures were too hot for my hiking. Thus, I ventured to cooler Nordic reaches instead.
Perhaps because of its low population and the size of the place, I was left with the impression that Icelanders are not big users of public transport. Strætó is the main operator of scheduled bus services in the country, though I never made use of what they offer. Their website does have a journey planner, so you can see how things will work. Service frequencies may mean that day trips are not always feasible, which may explain how visitors lapse into driving themselves.
When I visited, the Iceland On Your Own network looked reasonably comprehensive. However, that appears to have withered since then. Reykjavík Excursions still operates buses to popular highland locations like Landmannalaugar, Þórsmörk and Skógar. SBA-Norðurleið once operated buses between Reykjavík via the Kjölur route, but these were cancelled in 2021. That is a shame because the latter’s operations often connected with those of the former. As the effects of the pandemic recede, we may see a return, but that is not apparent at the moment.
My journeying often had me around the BSÍ bus terminal in Reykjavík with the city’s airport nearby. That is where internal flights operated by Icelandair, but my travel inexperience and limited time meant that I never went exploring such options. Instead, I largely stuck with what Reykjavík Excursions had to offer. Firstly, their Flybus service transferred me between Keflavík Airport and Reykjavík.
While I had designs on visiting both Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk, the long hours of daylight did not make for an early bedtime the first night and morning confusion about the time of day meant that I rose later than was ideal for any of these. Thus, I chose another day trip got me to Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss instead for the sunniest day of my stay in Iceland. That was ample for a first getaway.
For the second whole day in Iceland, I chose Landmannalaugar instead of Þórsmörk, and the place had a decidedly frigid autumnal feel. It was a high ground clearance coach that got me there, with numerous river crossing in a barren landscape. Until Hella, we had been travelling over tarmac, but it was on to gravel tracks soon after that. The Icelandic Highlands have an even more isolated unpopulated feel than their Scottish counterparts where at least some people live.
My hike around Landmannalaugar may have been a short one, yet it took longer than I expected, so I did not make my intended departure for Reykjavík. The next one was at 20:30, and I was edgy about that given that I was flying back to Manchester the next day. The cool eery conditions around Landmannalaugar did not entice me to stay longer either. On discovering that Trex were offering an earlier departure, I opted for that instead. Due to a lack of cash, I needed to pay by card and had to wait until we had enough mobile signal before the card machine would work. Nevertheless, I got back to civilisation as I wanted and on a coach that was quieter than the one on which I had got to Landmannalaugar. This adventure would not be inconveniencing.
None of these were cheap excursions, but Iceland is not a low-cost destination either. My short stay gave me a lot, and there is more to see. The available transport got me to popular destinations, but some added planning is needed when not going to these.
It helps to start with overviews. Visit Iceland has articles on Icelandic public transport and getting around Reykjavík. The first of these mentions ferries, which I have not mentioned in this piece, and domestic flights could have their uses too. There also is an informative overview map that helps and there are other road transport options from Bus4u, AirportDirect, Gray Line and others. Between all of these, it should be possible to start sketching out an itinerary that fits the time that you have. The effort should be worthwhile.