If you are planning an adventurous cycling trip, Iceland is unique in many ways. It is safe to travel here if you are properly prepared, and you will find Icelanders both helpful and friendly. You can plan your own trip, but there are also a few companies that specialize in guided bike tours.
Most main roads are asphalted (albeit often with a somewhat rough surface), but there are still many gravel roads which are often the roads with the least traffic. The main highway in Iceland, Route 1, circles the country in around 1400 kilometers. Once you leave the south-west part of the country, traffic volume decreases, but vehicles still move fast. The roads also become narrower, especially once you exit Route 1. There is far less traffic on the gravel roads, but you may encounter long stretches with potholes, ”washboards“ or loose sand.
Cycling is allowed on all roads except the Hvalfjörður tunnel. However, the motorway-like main roads in the Capital Area are not suitable for cycling. It is better to use the bike paths there.
When cycling on roads, cyclists should cycle on the right side of the lane farthest to the right, and allow motor vehicles to pass.
Cycling on sidewalks and walking paths is legal in Iceland, but cyclists have to show regard for pedestrians.
It is prohibited to damage the vegetation and soil by off-road or off-track cycling. The tire tracks may cause erosion, and plants grow very slowly in Iceland.
Bicycles are required to have head- and taillights when cycling in darkness, through tunnels or when visibility is poor, but not in daylight.
Children 14 years and younger are required to use bicycle helmets when cycling.
Always carry warm, wind- and rainproof clothing; gloves and a warm hat may be necessary even in the summer.
Tents must be able to withstand strong winds. A robust trekking bike or mountain bike, for the highlands, with low gears is optimal. Wearing parts such as tires, brake pads, chain and bearings should be in good condition, as the next bike shop may be far away. It is advisable to carry tools and spare parts for field repairs. The most common problems are flat tires, broken spokes, a broken chain, loose or lost screws and nuts, split derailleur and brake cables and broken aluminum luggage racks.
Food and drink
Food can only be purchased in towns and some other highway locations. You will therefore have to take enough food for several days if you are crossing the highlands. As Iceland is sparsely populated, there may be 100-200 km between shops even on the Ring Road, e.g. between Mývatn and Egilsstaðir and between Höfn and Skaftafell.
Water can usually be accessed quite easily in the countryside from streams and rivers. Never take water from areas downstream of farms or fields. Instead, you should visit the farms and ask for tap water. Water from glacial rivers should only be drunk in an emergency and should preferably be filtered. Two liters of water carrying capacity is usually enough, however, in sand and lava areas without any surface water, it may be necessary to carry more water.
Cyclists bringing their bikes on flights to Iceland must pack them in suitable boxes.
Keflavík airport: Conditions for cyclists were greatly improved in 2016. While it is not permitted to pack/unpack bicycles in the terminal building, a special container with an assembly stand for bicycles, tools and information material has been set up 100 m east of the arrivals exit (see the Keflavík mini map). Bike boxes can be stored at Bílahótel (grey building marked “Geysir”, 800 m to the northwest, Arnarvöllur 4, tel. 455-0000).
Cycling from/to Keflavík airport: A new bike path to the town of Keflavík begins at the bike container. To all other destinations you need to cycle on the roads. The main road to Reykjavík is quite wide for the most part, but there is heavy traffic.
Shuttle bus from Keflavík airport to Reykjavík: Flybus connects with every flight; they also provide onward transport from the BSÍ bus terminal to Reykjavík campsite/City hostel and other guesthouses and hotels.
Strætó route 55 operates to Hafnarfjörður or BSÍ, but this particular bus does NOT take bicycles Reykjavík Campsite/City Hostel offer tools to assemble/disassemble bikes, and bike boxes can be stored there.
Most domestic flights depart from Reykjavík city airport; please note that there are two terminals (see the Reykjavík map). In most domestic airports, you will find some space to work on your bike. Just be considerate and don’t take up too much space.
The Smyril Line ferry sails every week all year between Hirtshals in Denmark, Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands and Seyðisfjörður.
Most domestic ferries charge for the transport of bikes. Pre-booking for bikes is not necessary, but you should contact the operators to confirm sailings.
The ferry to Vestmannaeyjar sometimes has difficulties with the harbour in Landeyjahöfn. As an alternative, they operate from Þorlákshöfn. On such days, Strætó route 52 terminates in Hvolsvöllur, and a special bus connects with the ferry in Þorlákshöfn.
The ferry across Breiðafjörður makes an intermediate stop on the small island Flatey. Cyclists who want to stay in Flatey have their bikes lifted on/off the ship by crane, while for through passages, bikes are stored on the car deck.
In Iceland, public transport buses are operated by several companies. The Public Transport map shows which company operates which routes. For schedules, prices etc., refer to the operator’s websites.
On most routes, reservations are not possible, but a few routes require pre-booking for bikes. It is always advisable to contact the operator you are intending to travel with before setting off in order to confirm your travel plans and check for weather-related changes. Always ask about the conditions for taking your bike on the bus.
Some Strætó routes, shown with dashed lines, run on demand only. Call the operator several hours before departure.
Long-distance buses depart from different locations in Reykjavik, marked on the Reykjavík map. Strætó: Mjódd terminal, a few services also from BSÍ terminal. IOYO and the Flybus: BSÍ terminal. Sterna: Harpa and campsite.
Trex: City center and campsite.
Buses have scheduled stops in every village, but, if necessary, you can get on or off the bus anywhere where the main road meets smaller roads on the bus route in rural areas. Just be sure to make it clear that you want the bus to stop. In the Capital Area and other areas with local buses, buses only stop at marked stops.
In rural areas, bikes are put in the luggage compartments of the buses. Some buses have additional space in trailers or on bike racks. On most services, there is capacity for 4 ± x bikes. The exact number of bikes on any given bus can not be guaranteed but bikes are usually accepted as long as there is room for them.
For all rural buses, you can buy tickets on the bus with cash or credit card. For Strætó, packs of 20 tickets are also sold at a few filling stations in rural areas and at some bus terminals and swimming pools in the Capital Area.
Apart from Strætó, most operators charge ca. 3500 kr for the transport of bicycles.
The yellow Strætó city buses in the Capital Area can accommodate up to 2 bicycles, if the space is not needed for other passengers, children‘s prams or wheelchairs. On the bus, tickets must be payed for in cash (ca. 420 kr) or bought in advance; bikes go free of charge. Nevertheless, cycling is usually the better alternative within Reykjavík.
Iceland’s cool, oceanic climate is quite mild for its latitude, thanks to the Gulf Stream. The summers are short, and the best time to visit is late May to early September. The average daytime temperature around the coast during this period is 10-12°C (50-55°F). The average daily sunshine in July and August is 5-6 hours, and the nights are bright during the summer months. You might even experience the midnight sun if you are near the Arctic Circle.
However, the weather is extremely changeable and unpredictable, so you should always be prepared for the unexpected. You might encounter sudden strong winds and even snow in the middle of summer. Even if you stick to the main roads, you should always consult the weather forecast, and in all cases carry warm clothing with you.
You can get the weather forecast by telephone (902-0600), on www.vedur.is or just by asking the locals.
Icelanders follow the weather forecast almost religiously. Wind speed and gusts (vindhviður) from windy places on the main roads are shown on electronic signs 10–30 km before those areas, and also on www.road.is. At wind speeds above 15-20 m/s, cycling becomes dangerous. Close to some mountains, gusts easily exceed 30 m/s. Even pushing your bike can be dangerous.
Try to keep your plans flexible so you can go with the wind or wait at a safe place. If you have to cycle against the wind, consider cycling in the late evening and at night (in June and July) as the wind often calms down in the evening. This has the added benefits of encountering far less traffic and experiencing wondrous sunsets and sunrises, but access to shops and services is of course limited. In the interior highlands, temperatures are lower, and the storms may be more extreme than in the lowlands.
The mountain roads in the interior highlands are usually closed until late May or even as late as July, depending on the seasonal snow melt. The Road Administration, www.road.is, informs about road conditions and summer opening dates.
The highland roads are all rough gravel/dirt roads of various quality, ranging from packed mud to washboards, loose gravel and even sand, on which it may be impossible to cycle when it has been dry for some period. Many rivers must be crossed at fords and can become dangerous during or after rain, and, in the case of glacial rivers, during warm periods. You may therefore have to wait until late night or early morning to cross certain glacial rivers during the summer.
Mountain bikes with fat knobby tires for good traction and comfort and low gear ratios to help climb steep hills are recommended.
Please remember that in the highlands the nearest lodging can be far away. The highlands are generally devoid of any shops and services. There may be terrible storms, sandstorms or snow. Large areas have no mobile telephone coverage, and some tracks are very lonely. Depending on the road surface, progress can be very slow, and you may cover as little as 25 km per day. If you travel on lonely tracks or hike away from any roads, make sure that someone: friends, hut wardens or www.safetravel.is, knows about your travel plans, so that help can be arranged in the case of an emergency.
The map overleaf only shows traffic volume, major fords, and the areas in which loose sand can be expected.
Please study the map legend carefully. Those who plan to travel in the interior highlands must aquire further information that is not supplied by this map.
Within the Capital Area, there is a rather good network of bike paths. The best routes for cycling into and out of Reykjavík are shown on the map above. In addition, it is usually ok to cycle on all minor roads; many of these have bike paths as well.
Note that cycling on sidewalks and walking paths is legal in Iceland, but cyclists have to show regard for pedestrians. Some particularly narrow or uneven sections are marked as “slow” paths on the map; cycling on nearby “orange” roads may be faster.
Cycling on the large motorway-like main roads is not recommended.
Outside of the built-up areas, there are no bike paths. Within a 50 km radius of Reykjavík, car traffic is heavy and fast on the main roads. Road No. 1 is especially narrow and dangerous for cycling, but the road to Keflavík is wider. It is much more pleasant to cycle on the smaller roads to Krýsuvík, Nesjavellir, Þingvellir or Hvalfjörður via Mosfellsheiði/Kjósarskarð.
Another good way to avoid the car traffic is to use public transport to e.g. Hveragerði, Akranes or Borgarnes. The buses to Akranes or Borgarnes take you through the only tunnel in Iceland that is not passable by bike: the Hvalfjörður tunnel. If you want to cycle around Hvalfjörður, which boasts fantastic nature and sparse car traffic, you may get off the bus in Kjalarnes at Esjuskáli.
East of Akureyri, a rather narrow, hilly and busy section of road No. 1 can be avoided by cycling on the old gravel road over Vaðlaheiði (see the Akureyri mini map). It is suitable for all bikes except racing bikes. It is open despite of ongoing tunnel construction works at both ends of the road. The climbs are gentle and steady, and there are very few cars.
The cycling map shows all of the places where camping or indoor accommodation is available, as well as huts and shelters in uninhabited areas.
Huts in the highlands are quite likely to be full and should be booked well in advance.
Camping: It is encouraged to use the designated campsites. For cyclists, we have prepared specific information about all campsites like car-free areas for tents, wind shelter, hot showers, indoor facilities etc., see camping/huts. You may ask for a printed version at Reykjavík campsite and tourist informations, but we recommend to download it to your smartphone.
When the next campsite is too far away, walking travellers and cyclists are generally permitted to put up their tent anywhere except on cultivated land, too close to residential buildings and in especially protected areas.
It is common courtesy to ask farmers for permission before camping on their land. In the lowlands, main roads through cultivated areas and forests are fenced in most places. In areas with sparse vegetation (lava fields, sand plains, and at more than 200 m above sea level), most roads are unfenced.
Take care not to damage the fragile vegetation and soil and take all garbage with you. Always secure your tent to withstand sudden strong winds that may start at any time.
For less urgent cases, you will find medical centers in most villages/towns with >100 inhabitants. Specialist doctors, dentists and hospitals may be found in larger towns. Pharmacies are in most larger villages/towns, while in small places a limited range of medicine may be available upon request in the local shop. Ask the locals to find the nearest help, or call 112 in emergency.
In Reykjavík, you can go to any medical center on working days for general medical advice. On evenings and weekends, contact Læknavaktin in Kópavogur, tel. 1700. For emergencies, call 112 and there is a 24h emergency ward at Landspítali hospital in Fossvogur.
There are plans for Iceland to become part of the EuroVelo network of designated cycling routes.
Although the intended route Seyðisfjörður – South Iceland – Reykjavík has not been formally opened yet, it is already shown on this map.
Cycling Iceland is produced by Hjólafærni á Íslandi.
Editor: Sesselja Traustadóttir.
Other contributers: Andreas Macrander, Ómar Smári Kristinsson, Nína Ivanova and Hugarflug.
The Cycling Iceland 2016 map is based on maps from the National Land Survey of Iceland.
Special thanks to: Haukur Eggertsson, Páll Guðjónsson, Darri Mikaelsson, Orri Páll Jóhannsson, Þórður H. Ólafsson, Kristinn Jón Eysteinsson, Tómas Guðberg Gíslason, Erla Bil Bjarnardóttir, Helga Stefánsdóttir, Bjarki Valberg, Jón G. Snæland, Ásbjörn Ólafsson and other employees of The Road Administration, Karl Benediktsson, Kjartan Guðnason, Robert Berman, Jessica Ann Tadhunter, Christina Maas, Mary Frances Davidson, Maria Ericsdottir, Morten Lange, Árni Davíðsson, staff members in GuðjónÓ, National Land Survey of Iceland, The Environment Agency of Iceland, Icelandic Tourist Board and tourist information staff around Iceland.
Cycling Iceland is supported by most of the companies that are listed with address and phone numbers.
The title photo is taken at Fjarðarheiði near Seyðisfjörður by Andreas Macrander.
While we take great care to get all the details correct, we cannot accept responsibility for any errors. Check details for yourself, take care, and enjoy your time cycling in Iceland.
This map is dedicated to our generation, our children and our future.
You are welcome to contact us for any comments, ideas and corrections and if you want to order the Cycling Iceland 2016 map.