Cycling in Iceland
Cycling in Iceland, an unusual thought for a lot of people. But interest
has grown considerable in the past years. When I started this site in December 1998, there were only
a handful of other sites. Nowadays there are over a hundred, and at least
a dozen new ones a year pop up. But a good information source is never wasted.
Below you'll find a compilation of the experiences I had on my twelve bicycle
trips (and two other trips), and of people I met.
Quote (from the book Insight guides : Iceland) :
Cycling in Iceland has become increasingly popular in recent
years. To Icelanders this development is, it has to be said,
all but comprehensible. A very large proportion of Iceland's
rural roads are still gravel-surfaced, and some of them are bumpy,
stony and downright hazardous. The country is mountainious,
and often very windy. If it rains, cyclists get plastered with
sludge. If it is dry, they choke on clouds of dust. Cycling
around Iceland is strictly for masochists.
Quote (from me) : It's not that bad.
Why cycling in Iceland ?
First the easy part: why Iceland ? Because it's a country with
magnificent, raw, bizarre and fascinating landscapes, unique
in Europe and probably the world. A place where you can see
scenery that makes you wonder what nature had in mind on its
But why cycling ? I don't think it's the ideal way to move
around in Iceland. You are less limited and vulnerable with a
4-wheel Drive. You can cover longer distances and stay drier
in a bus. And you're closer to nature on foot.
The first reason for me to go cycling is, that this way of transport
gives a good balance between money and freedom. Renting a car
costs loads of money, and you keep a distant feeling
with the environment. The bus or walking limits you to the places
where you can stop or go. But I have to admit, that on
every cycling holiday, I also used the bus to cover long
distances. And I always had some hiking days. I even did some
organized one-day trips. You just pick the best way of transport
for your goal : to see Iceland.
(By the way, my second reason to go cycling is to loose at
least five kg of weight ).
I don't think you should go cycling for the athletic achievement.
It's a shame to spent little time in interesting
areas just because you want to do circle road or even the
whole island in 2 weeks. Neither should you go, when you've
never done a cycling holiday before. Or when you hate rain or
wind-in-front. Cycling in Iceland is not as hard as it sounds,
but it is different from a campingtrip in Italy or France. The
unpredictable weather, the sometimes dreadful roads, the vast,
barely populated country and mostly the raw nature make it an
You won't be the only cycler though. If you stay in the more
popular areas, you will meet at least a couple a day.
I met cyclers from e.g. Holland, Belgium, Italy, Denmark,
Poland, England and of course Germany. I even met bicycle tourists
from Iceland in recent years ! But it still happens,
that when you're taking a rest, you're asked by strangers how you're
doing. Or that you end in an unknown photoalbum as
or girl on the bicycle.
The weather is often mentioned as the reason not to go to Iceland.
I think I've seen nearly all weathertypes there, even a snowstorm in
August 2006 at Kerlingarfjöll.
The first time I was in Iceland we had three weeks of bright sunshine.
My second was pretty good, with a lot of sunshine but also some rain.
My third tour was one with a lot of dark clouds and rain.
On my fourth I had a lot of mist, but it was mainly dry. Four of my last
five tours were excellent again, with only few days with mainly rain.
But my sixth tour had (in complete contradiction with what
I write below) a long period without wind but long spells of bad
My prediction for a three week holiday in the summer are
- temperatures between 5 and 15 degrees Celcius
- at least three days with bright, sparkling sunshine
- at least three days with mostly rain
- the rest of the days ever changing weather
- at least one storm
- and there will always be wind !
I can't tell much about cycling outside the summer, because
I always went in July and August. I suppose it is possible between
April and September. But you'll have to deal with closed interior
roads, minimal tourist facilities and sometimes bad weather.
Clothing should (of course) be wind- and rainproof.
My cloths are nothing special. I usually wear a fleece sweater,
with a rainjacket on top when it rains. I wear cycling pants, and
sometimes long cycling trousers. A lot of people I met on the ringroad
dressed up warmer, with Goretex jacks, caps and gloves. I can't really
understand why, because it's seldom very cold. You only need
them when you go to the interior.
A helmet can be a good idea, but is not required by law (I never wear one). But
it will protect you against attacking birds.
My shoes are suitable for cycling and hillwalking. I usually
plan some walking days as well. They look like ordinary
walking shoes but with a thicker sole. If you go inlands or want
to do jeep-tracks you should think of taking some fastdrying
linen sneakers, in case you have to cross a stream. It
is not recommendable to do this bare-footed because of sharp
stones in the water. Another option is to use neopreen surf
shoes with a sturdy sole.
The past 15 years I used a randonneur-type bicycle.
It has 24 gears (42/32/22 at the front, 12 to 28 at the rear, tyres 37-622,
double butted rims). Most severe problem I've had were a broken rear
pannier carrier (in 2003) and front carrier (in 2006). Apart from that
only little trouble (a broken chain, and some loose screws and flat tyres).
A randonneur type bike is good on normal roads, and usable on gravel roads and clean
mountain tracks. It has its limitations on sandy tracks (deep cuts in the sand, the
wheels dig themself in), roads with lots of stones, and unpaved tracks uphill (the wheels slip).
If you want to do mountaintracks or big parts of the interior than accept that you have to
walk a lot or use an ATB/mountainbike. And even with these you can have troubles like loose
or broken parts. I've seen quite a few of them.
There are several bicycle shops in Reykjavik, and most are not far from the campsite.
But there are only few in other parts of the country.
I've seen shops in Akureyri, Egilsstaðir, Isafjörður and
Selfoss. The local supermarket's hardly have any bicycle
stuff. And even a car repair workshop might be a three days walk
away. So bring your own tools and spare material. The spare
stuff that I take would be :
The spare outer tyre is arguable. If you start with good tyres or
plan to ride the ring road, you won't need one. If you
want to do lots of interior roads it may be a good idea,
unless you want to take the risk of losing some days. With my
non-MTB size tyres, I don't want to risk a return to Reykjavik
to buy a new one, so I bring a foldable spare.
- some spokes
- spare screws
- brake pads (especially if go into the interior)
- cables for the brakes
- some inner tyres
- an extra outer tyre (unless I start with new tyres)
In the summer, lighting on your bicycle is only necessary in
bad weather. You might leave it at home. It gets dark quite
late. In the beginning of August, I had around 23.00h enough
light to write postcards. And the few tunnels are all lit.
Iceland is an expensive country. Only milk and some
fish products (salmon) are reasonably priced. But prices vary quite much
between shops. A newspaper article, had an example of a product with
a price difference of 180% between the least and most expensive shop. Least
expensive are the Bonus supermarkets but
you'll find them only in larger towns.
Some price indications in Icelandic Crowns in 2014
(click here for a currency converter) :
The assortment in the shops is not very large. You sometimes wonder
what they eat themselves. They cannot barbecue every day
| 1 Sliced bread || Isk 300 - 600 |
| 1 l Milk || Isk 120 - 140 |
| 1 Apple || Isk 80 |
| 400 gr Smjörvi margarine || Isk 400 - 450 |
| 100 gr salami || Isk 400 - 600 |
| 1 jar (450 gr) blueberry jelly|| Isk 400 - 600 |
| Knorr pasta in sauce || Isk 350 - 600 |
| 300 gr frozen vegetables || Isk 180 - 250 |
| 0,5 l Cola || Isk 130 - 300 |
| Maryland doublechoc cookies || Isk 140 - 200 |
You can buy food in the villages, and there is often a foodsection
in petrol stations. Buy food when you have the
opportunity, unless it's certain that you will have another
opportunity later that day. Be sure, that your next opportunity
really is a next opportunity, because sometimes a village isn't
a village. A notorious example is Grimsstaðir at the crossing of
road nr 1 and nr 864 (road to Dettifoss). On some maps this looks like
a village but it is in fact only two farms (guesthouse and sleepingbag accommodation),
and a piece of land used as a campground.
When you go in the interior, you might not get a chance to buy food for
a couple of days. The campsites in the interior don't sell food. Notable
cafe Fjallafang at Landmannalaugar, a small camping shop at
Hveravellir (Kjölur) and (fastfood) restaurants at
Hrauneyjar (south Sprengisandur) and
Áfangi (both Kjölur-route).
Fresh bread is often not available before noon. And check the expiration date of
foodstuffs, especially in smaller shops.
There are no strict rules for opening hours of shops. A lot of shops
are nowadays open until 22.00 hours and on Sundays. But in less touristic
areas shops may close at 18.00, early (14.00 ?) on Saturdays and are closed
on Sundays. Large petrol stations are often open on Sundays.
Campings and campinggear
There are about 150 campsites in Iceland and the number is still growing.
Most of them have a toilet, and warm and cold water taps. Warm showers
are becoming more common nowadays, but campsites with only a toilet and
cold water are still not unusual. For example the campsite at Geysir has only
cold water even though a warm stream flows only meters from the site.
You'll find more luxurious sites in the tourist area's like Reykjavik, Mývatn,
Ásbyrgi and along road nr 1. Only few of the campsites are
comparable with sites in tourist countries (campshop, laundrette,
swimming pool). If there is a town near the campsite you can take a
shower in the local swimming pool. The few campsites in the
interior are usually of the primitive type (only cold water),
although the more popular have hot showers nowadays (e.g. Askja, Nýidalur,
Hveravellir, Landmannalaugar). And if you are lucky there is a natural warm
pool nearby (Laugafell, Hveravellir and Landmannalaugar). Prices for
campsites range from ISK 800 to 1500 a night (1 person,
1 tent), and sometimes a campsite is free. Showers often cost
ISK 100 to 500 for 5 minutes. Here is a
quite good list of sites .
Camping in the wild is common, and often necessary. But don't
expect to find nice pieces of flat grassland. You'll be glad
when you find a stretch of land that's flat and not too rocky.
The tent I used for my first two cycle-trips was not special,
a common dome-type. On my first tour I had only little trouble
with it, because it was new then. My second tour was a
disaster with a leaking roof, broken zippers and a ripped
sheet. Icelandic weather knows how to test your equipment.
Nowadays I use a tunnel-type tent which held quite well during my
last five tours.
Always tighten your stormlines, even when it doesn't seem necessary.
You never know how weather changes overnight.
Tents do not require mosquito-netting, because Icelandic midges are
vegetarians (they do not sting). There are only few insects luckily. The
Mývatn area can be a pain, although I didn't have any trouble
myself (and I was there four times). I did have troubles with hundreds
of stupid flies near mount Hekla. This was one of the few times that I
used a mosquito net on my head, and I was glad I brought one.
A good sleeping bag is necessary. It may freeze at night.
Until 2003 I used a stove with unleaded petrol for cooking, since petrol
is widely available. After trouble with my last petrol cooker I
switched to a Karrimor gas cooker. What a relief. No more pre-heating and
no more black pans. Disadvantage is the price of cartridges compared to petrol.
Camping-gaz (piercing type) and Primus gas (screw-on type) cartridges are
available at petrol stations and sometimes in the local shop. You can also
buy them at the Reykjavik campsite.
I have limited experience with sleeping with a real roof above my
head. There are Youth Hostels but
they are too far apart to do a YH-only tour. Sleeping bag accommodation is
found in inhabited areas. It could be anything, from a bed on an attic to a
standard hotelroom without the sheets, but they are almost certainly clean.
Price is between ISK 3000 - 10000. The price of a full-service hotelroom starts
at about ISK 12000. In between are guesthouses, which start around ISK 6000.
In the interior you have mountaincabins. The ones with a warden are usually
nice homelike buildings. For the popular ones you'll often need a reservation.
The unattended ones vary between 'good but dirty' and 'it is dry in here'.
Roads and traffic
There are few roads in Iceland. And although 98% of Iceland's main road (nr 1)
is asphalt nowadays, there are still many roads without it. They have a sandy or
rock surface, with lots of stones. To give you an idea of which
roads are asphalt I created a
small map. On the dirt roads, you ride on the
two or three small tracks that are left free of stones by the
cars. But you are in trouble when you meet a "road-recovery-vehicle".
These machines repair the unpaved roads by scraping
of the top layer with a snowplough. This is no problem for
car drivers, 'cause they get a nice flat road. For cyclers it
means struggling on a thick layer of sand and loose stones.
I met ATB-ers that where cycling beside the road instead of on it,
just because it was better. B.t.w. you're not allowed to cycle
just in the wild. You have to stay on the roads and
tracks. Icelandic vegetation is too vulnerable, and it might
cost nature years to restore the damage made by bicycle tyres.
Of course car-tyres are worse...
There are few tunnels, only 10 at the moment, but more are planned
or under construction. Here is a map
and some information about them. The only tunnel
that is prohibited for cyclers is the Hvalfjörður tunnel,
on the ringroad a little north of Reykjavik.
I think that Icelandic drivers drive save, although quite fast (so
they won't feel the bumps in the road). They never try to cut you
on purpose, but their cars are huge compared to the small roads.
And you might be hit by a stone when they pass. A new phenomenon
for me on a recent tour was drivers yelling or honking when they passed me.
It happend only twice, both times in the weekend and on a busy road,
but it had never happened before in six earlier tours. The amount of traffic
depends on where you are. As a rule of thumb, you can say, that the
further you are from Reykjavik, the less traffic there is.
Apart from the real roads there are also jeeptracks. The
quality varies from bad to
The surface might exist of sand or huge rocks, slopes are steep,
and streams are unbridged. Sometimes the river is the road.
I do about 60-90 km a day, with an average speed of ten km
per hour. Once or twice I did more then 100 km (140 max). But
the 18 km from Búðardalur to the campsite at Laugar cost
me 5 hours because of extreme headwinds. And the 34 km on Hellisheidi
(East Iceland) cost me the whole day (heavy rain and wind, rivers of brown
mud flowing over the road, I had to walk most of the time). Don't plan
your distances too long.
You can do less interesting parts by bus. Bicycles will go
on the front or back or in the
luggage compartment, if there is space left. On the circle road
this is not always the case, since it is the most popular route for cyclers.
If there isn't room, you'll have to wait a day. Fortunately bus drivers are
very helpful to fit it all in their vehicle. I even traveled once on a bus
with several bicycles standing in the path between the chairs. When you're
bicycle is tied to the outside of the bus, it's best to protect
vulnerable parts. My bicycle was damaged by another bike that banged
with its handlebar on the horizontal bar of mine during the ride.
A recent development is, that they use smaller busses (20 seaters).
Good for the environment and cheaper for the bus company, but difficult to
stuff a bicycle in, let alone more than one. Another recent change is, that
Reykjavik's local bus company Stræto
is now the main operator in major parts of Iceland. Advantage is that they
are cheaper than the traditional bus companies. A ticket from Akureyri to
Reykjavík cost me ISK 7700 (2014) and the bicycle was free. Small disadvantage is
that the busses leave from Mjödd, a suburb of Reykjavik.
In the summer traditional bus companies like Trex and Sterna also have busses on routes
that are operated by Stræto. But these are more tour busses that stop for a longer time
at touristy places. They also operate the busses that go into the interior like to Landmannalaugar
and across the Sprengisandur. Ticket price is higher than with Stræto, and the fee for a bicycle
is ISK 2500 - 3500. You can find more information at the site of the
Icelandic BusAssociation (BSI) or
this travel site.
If you want to cover a loooong distance like Reykjavik - Egilsstaðir
or Reykjavik - Isafjörður flying may be faster and cheaper.
Egilsstaðir - Reykjavik cost me ISK 10600 in 2003. I bought the ticket
at the airport an hour before the flight, a reservation was not
necessary. Neither was packing my bicycle in a box or bag.
Someone told me that it is better to cycle the island
clockwise than the other way round. You're supposed to have
less wind in front. It has something to do with areas of low
air pressure circling clockwise. My experience is, that you
always have wind in front. Days with wind in the back will
be precious memories.
Where to go
The circle road
The most obvious way to go is the circle road
(nr 1). It will give a good impression of the whole country. The road is about 1500 km
long and a full tour will take about a month (three weeks if you are in a hurry). Most of
the road is asphalt nowadays. Only in the east (nr 6 on the map) will you find unpaved
Areas along nr 1 are :
- Reykjavik - Hveragerdi is
interesting with raw lavafields. The road is hilly (max 375 m). But worse, there is
an awful lot of traffic.
- Hveragerdi - Hvolsvöllur is mostly farmland and not very
interesting. The road is mostly flat.
- South of Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull are interesting
area's (Skógar, Vik, Dyrhólaey), and the view on the mountains is
great. The road is flat, except for small humps near Vik.
- Travelling from Vik to Skaftafell, the first part is a dune like
area with a distant view on Mýrdallsjökull. After that you cross the big, moss grown
lavafield Eldhraun. When you pass the immense mountain Lómagnúpur you´re on the
sandurs, big sandplains with rivers flowing through. The road is mostly flat.
- South of the Vatnajökull (Skaftafell, Jökulsarlon)
are interesting area's. The road is flat. Stunning views on the glacier.
- The east fjords are beautiful,
although more "common" than other areas. You cycle mostly along the sea
with a great view on the surrounding mountains. The road is usually flat, but along fjords
you have stretches with short steep climbs. And at places where you round the capes
the road will climb to about 100 meters above sea level. East of Höfn, under the once
notorious Almmannaskard pass, is the only tunnel in the circle road. The pass Breiddalsheidi,
where the circle road turns inlands, is 470 m high. Several stretches of unpaved road in this region,
usually at places where the road gets hilly.
- The 170 km road between Egilsstaðir and Mývatn is interesting
when you like deserts. The first 60 km are slightly uphill, when you cycle along
the river Jökulsá á Brú. But after a stiff
climb you're on the plains, at the mercy of the wind and rain. Near the farm Mödrudalur
the circle road reaches its highest point (600 m).
- Lake Mývatn (Lots of volcanic curiosities). I would call
it a "must see" for people on a visit to Iceland. This also means that it is
very touristic. The road from Mývatn to Akureyri is quite flat (two climbs,
both around 300 m).
- The road between Akureyri and Varmahlið is a 14 km long pass connecting two mountainous
rivervalley's. The maximum heigth is about 550 m and the climb on the east side is quite steep (8%). There
could be a lot of traffic, but if not, it's a nice ride.
- The north of the circle road is
mostly farmland with views on the surrounding mountains and moderately interesting.
One major climb to the west of Varmahlið (400 m) and a few shorter climbs.
- The north of the western part of the ringroad is a rivervalley leading
to a 400 m high mountainpass, surrounded by moorland, often in the mist.
- The southern part is most farmland with views on the surrounding mountains.
Sitting in an old lavafield you will find the Grábok crater, which is quite nice.
You´re not allowed to cycle in the tunnel under Hvalfjörður, so you have to cycle
the fjord itself, which is very nice. A lot of traffic, with the exception
of the Hvalfjörður.
Other road's (west to east,north to south) are :
- The Westfjords.
This area is nice, quiet and sometimes spectacular. Tourists often
skip this area, because there are only few traces of volcanic activity.
Geological this is the oldest part of the country, with steep bald hills that rise up from
the sea. E.g. Látrabjarg, the most western part of Europe,
is a steep 400 m high cliff crowded with seabirds.
There are some steep (10% or more) and high (500+ m) climbs in the area,
when you go from one fjord to another. The most difficult
one, but also a beautiful one, just south of Isafjörður
is shortcut by a tunnel nowadays.
The area is sparsely inhabited. On the south side, and east of Isafjörður/Sudavík
you won't find a village for more than 200 km, so bring enough food if you plan
to do this. On the east site of the Westfjords is only one lonely but beautiful road,
leading to the hamlets Nordurfjódur and intrigueing
The most northern part of the Westfjords is completely
deserted. There are no roads (and you're not allowed to
cycle, if possible). But you can make long hikes
without meeting anybody.
- Snæfellsnes in the west
is nice, and easy to cycle. There are some interesting area's around
- When you have a day left, or want to avoid the busy road
from Reykjavik to Keflavik, you can take a closer look at
the Reykjanes peninsula. Take road nr 42 along Kleifarvatn,
and from there the (bad) road to Grindavik, and the most western
point (Reykjanesviti). Near Grindavik is the famous
Blue Lagoon, a swimmingpool
with salt, very blue water which is the wasteproduct of a nearby powerplant.
The Blue Lagoon with its hotel and conference centre is the best example
of the more luxurious, less adventurous tourist that Iceland's tourism industry
targets on nowadays.
- Near Reykjavik, you could (should) visit the so called
Golden circle : Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss. Lots
of tourists. According to the loads of summerhouses
(especially near Thingvellir), it's the place where
Reykjavik spents its weekends.
- The south between Selfoss and mount Hekla is mostly
farmland and moderate interesting. There are some nice places, especially at the border of
low- and highlands, but you have to know where to find them.
- The peninsulas north of road nr 1 all have their own characteristics.
What they have in common is, that they are often skipped by tourists. The roads that round the
peninsulas are usually unpaved and flat or slightly hilly. But there are some steep climbs like
the mountainpass south of Olafsfjörður. My favourite peninsula is the big one (where I put
the number ´6´ on the map) between Skagafjörður and Eyjafjörður, with its beautiful
mountains. There are also good hiking trails in the area.
- Situated northeast of Mývatn is the Jökulsargljúfur
National Park with Hljóðaklettar (weird rocks) and Dettifoss (big waterfall).
Depending on which road you take 70 km (west side of the river) or 110 kilometers from Mývatn.
Both roads used to be rough, but a few years ago a new road (nr 862) was built on the west side, from
the circle road (nr 1) to Dettifoss, thereby replacing the worst part of the old road.
- The peninsula in the north east is flat, except from small hills south
of Raufarhöfn. The east coastal road (nr 85) from Thorshöfn to
Vopnafjörður is also almost flat. The landscape is nice but not spectacular, and only visited by
tourists looking for birds, beaches with driftwood and peace. The Langanes peninsula is even more
remote with birdcliffs and a deserted village. There is accommodation in the youth hostel at
- The Eastfjords are beautiful and fairly easy to cycle.
Unlike the Westfjords, the road goes mostly along the coast without long, steep climbs to
other fjords. But there are exceptions like the 630 m high pass to Seydisfjörður, where
the ferry from the Faroer arrives. The fjords look more populated
and greener than the Westfjords. And the surrounding hills are a little higher. With the tunnel
between Faskrúdsfjörður and Reydarfjörður opened, the main traffic stream
from the coast to Egilsstaðir has moved. But a tour along all the fjords is still very nice.
Öxidalur is a 21 km long shortcut of the (old) circleroad between the coast and Egilsstaðir.
But it is very steep (20+ %) and sometimes muddy.
- A one-day trip around lake Lögurinn
near Egilsstaðir is not bad (90 km). Using the new bridge at Hengifoss, you can also
make a shorter tour (60 km).
Quite a different story is the interior of Iceland (the area
within the circle road). You might call it the real Iceland
with large deserts of black sand, lava fields, unbridged
rivers and fantastic views on the glaciers. You should do
these only with a mountain bike, and preferable in a group.
The weather can change here in an hour from nice and sunny to
snow/sandstorms, with no place to hide. You'll need your
cap, gloves and Goretex jacket here !
The roads aren't open all year. Depending on weather and road,
they open between May and July. The Icelandic Public Road
Administration has an
information sheet (PDF).
An extract with the table with opening
dates (2000) will you find here. The site with
the current road conditions is
New tracks are created and sheep tracks are upgraded to open new
destinations and suite the traffic in the interior. The quality of
the roads is bad. Icelandic cardrivers are advised to do them in
groups, and only when they have a radio-transmitter on board. Roads
that are easy in bright weather, may take hours when there's a lot
of wind. Be prepared that it takes longer than expected, so bring
some spare food. As said before, you can't buy food there.
In spite of this, don't expect, that the road will be completely
deserted. Driving the interior with a 4x4 has become increasingly
popular. On weekends the main interior roads sometimes look like
In July and August there is a scheduled bus on the main routes.
Before you start, get information at a local tourist office
about the weather, roadconditions and rivers. Don't underestimate
it. In recent years a few tourists died when their hike ended in
bad weather, even when they were close to a mountain cabin.
The main interior roads (west to east) :
- Husafell and the Kaldidalur pass
(west of the Langjökull, road nr 550)
are good when you don't want to go through the "real"
inlands, but still want to taste a little (45 km, max 730 m high) of the Icelandic
desert. Avoid Husafell on the first weekend of July unless you want to
join a bunch of loud, drunken, horny teenagers. Avoid Husafell and other festival
areas (e.g. Westman Islands and Thorsmörk) in the first weekend of August
(Bank holiday) for the same reason. The Kaldidalur-route usually opens halfway June.
From Husafell a track with number F578 goes north to Arnarvatnsheiði. The
Norðlingafljót, a big non-glacial river, is the biggest obstacle.
The part north of lake Arnarvatn Stóra to the village Laugarbakki is fair.
- The Kjölur-route (between the Langjökull and Hofsjökull,
road nr 35) shouldn't be a problem in good weather. All rivers are bridged and asphalt has
already covered a fair amount of the southern part. Worst stretch is between 10 km north
of Hveravellir and the bridge across the river Hvitá in the south.
The road north of Hveravellir (an area halfway the route, with beautiful hot springs) is
part through a rivervalley, and part across Icelandic moorland. Neither bad nor inspiring.
But in good weather you have a good view on a gigantic, white, upside-down saucer named
The southern part is more interesting, with a view on lake Hvitarvatn and the Langjökull
glacier. If you have the time, then make the short detour (10 km, some unbridged streams)
to Kerlingarfjöll. There is a sleeping bag accommodation, a campsite and one of the
biggest thermal areas in Iceland. You can combine the Kjölur with a visit to Geysir
and Gullfoss. The road usually opens halfway June and reaches a height of 670 m.
- The Sprengisandur route (between Hofsjökull and Vatnajökull,
road nr F26) is very rough. I did it twice, once with a car and in 2006 taking
an alternative route, by bicycle. There are no real highlights on this route.
Biggest attraction is cycling for days on a bad road in a deserted landscape of sanddunes
and lakes, and crossing two glacial rivers on foot. Still, for a lot of people riding the
Sprengisandur is the highlight of their journey. To be save, you need to take 6 days of food,
and some luck. The road usually opens by the end of June or early July and reaches a
height of 1000 m.
The road has several branches and alternatives. In the south, there is an unnumbered track
passing the lakes in the southern Sprengisandur on the west side (the F26 runs east of them).
It starts about 2 km south of Nýidalur and ends about 3 km south of Versalir.
Apart from some parts where they put lots of stones on the road, quality may be better than
the F26. And if wetter is good, you have a nice view on the wetlands at the foot of
Halfway the F26, about 5 km north of the mountaincabin at Nýidalur is a track going east to Askja
(see Gæsavötnleið below).
Twenty kilometer north of Nýidalur is a sidetrack
(nr F752) going north to Laugarfell. There are some non-glacial river crossings, which
shouldn't provide a problem. In Laugarfell is an excellent natural warm pool. From Laugarfell
you have three options. First you can go east, back to the F26. Or you can continue
north to Akureyri (F821). This track climbs slightly to a bleak desert without vegetation but
after 20 km it descends steep into a narrow river valley. The last option from Laugarfell is
to go west and follow the F752 along the edge of the desert to Varmahlið. Apart from a
glacial river 6 km west of Laugarfell the latter shouldn't be a problem.
- Centered around Fjallabak Nature Reserve is the area to the
southwest of the Vatnajökull one of the most interesting areas in Iceland,
with places like Landmannalaugar, Veidivötn, Thórsmörk, Eldgjá and Laki.
- There is a road from the Sprengisandur to Askja, named
Gæsavötnleið (F910). Actually there are two. The new one, north of the big
shield Trölladyngja, is bad. The old road, close to the Vatnajökull
is more scenic, but awful. They are often closed and if not, could be dangerous. They cross one or two big rivers
and the ground is either wet or sandy. On the southern route there is no drinking water for 80 km.
Expect to push your bike for at least 15 kilometers in the sand near Askja. The tracks usually open halfway July
or not at all. A detailed description of the southern route is at
the site of Ivan Viehoff.
- The track to Herðubreiðalindir and Askja (F88) west of the river Jökulsá á
Fjóllum is quite good, even though you may have to walk short stretches with sand. There a three non-glacial
unbridged rivers, one of them quite big (Lindaá). The track on the east side of the Jökulsá
river (F905) is more difficult with longer stretches of sand. These roads open at the end of June.
- You could consider to go to the north of the Vatnajökull
(Kverkfjöll), road F902. You can cycle to a height of 1000 meter and
from there walk up the glacier to Kverkfjöll. I went
there by car, and found it the most impressive part of my
vacation. There is a river that comes from a large icecave
and on top of the glacier there are hot springs,
that create sculptures in the snow. You have a magnificent
view on the glacier. All of course if weather permits, which is
not often. The whole journey
(Mývatn-Askja-Kverkfjöll v.v.) would cost you a
week to ten days on a bicycle, I guess.
- I already mentioned the 170 km circle road between
Egilsstaðir and Mývatn, but I would also call this a
(relative easy) ride in the interior. The road is
good, and there are no unbridged rivers. Some years ago the highest part of the
road was moved eastward to a lower area, and turned into an asphalt road. Since then
it is expected to be open all year. But the old, unpaved road, now numbered 901
is still rideable and more scenic. It usually opens halfway May. When weather permits,
you have a good view on the Askja area and the Herdubreið mountain. When weather
is bad, it is a tough ride.
- There's an asphalt road (910) from lake Lögurinn to the
Kárahnjúkar building site and Dimmugljúfur canyon in East Iceland.
It has a sideroad (F909) to the mountaincabin, west of Snæfell mountain (not
Snæfellsjökull). From there it's only 20 km (bad track) to the Vatnajökull
glacier. From Kárahnjúkar the track goes unpaved but in good quality north
where it ends at the "old" F910 in the direction of Askja and Nýidalur
- There are more smaller tracks in the interior (like the track from the Kjölur to Laugarfell
along the north of Hofsjökull glacier). This is 4WD paradise. But even experienced
Icelandic cardrivers would think twice before doing them alone. I did one on
my 2002 tour and saw only seven cars in four days. These tracks are for people
who go to Iceland to seek loneliness. Which means that if you are in trouble,
you'll be on your own.
Arrival and departure
I don't know what's the best way for
you to go to Iceland. But it's almost certain that you will
arrive/depart at Keflavik airport (by airplane) or
Seydisfjörður (by ferry).
is relative small airport with about thirty gates.
It's situated 50 km from Reykjavik, connected by a busy and
uninteresting road, the only 4-lane highway between populated areas in Iceland.
At the airport there is no difference between the arrival and
departure area, so the bank and tax-free shop are open for both
departing and arriving passengers. Handy for last-minute buys.
There are also ATM's (for dollars and Icelandic Kronur) in the hall.
There is no place to store your bicycle box at the airport (one of
the reasons that I use a plastic bag myself). You can store them at the
Keflavik campsite, 2 km from the airport.
They have big lockers that you can rent (ISK 100/day in 2006) and an open storage that's
for free if you stay there the first and last night.
There is a bus to and
from Reykjavik, even for the early-morning flights to Europe.
When it is busy, bicycles may be refused.
is a relative cute town located in the Eastfjords.
When I arrived here on my second trip, the custom officer
asked me for my return ticket. If I couldn't show one, I would have
to buy one on the spot. You couldn't enter the country without it.
Nowadays Iceland is a Schengen country, so I suppose this is not general
The custom officer also told me that "free camping is not allowed" and
handed me a leaflet with all the camping sites.
Very handy, but they only do it to let you spent more money,
because free camping is not forbidden. When you arrive in
Seydisfjörður, you'll start the day with a nice climb (600 m)
and hopefully a good view to the Lögurinn area.
Tip: When you enter the ferry early on departure, there's a
big chance that you'll choke on carfumes on arrival, because
the cars leave first. When you enter late, you're bicycle will
be stalled in front, and you can leave first.
These are the maps that I would recommend :
The Ferðakort and Mál og Menning maps are widely available in Iceland, and are probably
available in your favourite outdoor-sports shop or in specialised maps-shop.
- The Cycling Iceland map published by hjolafaerni.is, a free map available as
PDF and paper map. Not only shows it the main roads (and how busy they are), but also
loads of other useful information, like smaller tracks, (bike) shops, accommodation and camp sites, public transport info and tips. Very, very useful.
- Maps from Ferðakort. First the Islandic Touringmap (1:500.000), available as a single sheet
and as a booklet (road atlas). My favourite though is the 3 sheet detailed Touringmap (1:250.000). Ferđakort maps used to be sold under the
name Landmælingar Islands.
- Mál og Menning publishes a touring map (1:600.000) and 4 sheets detailed map (1:300.000). They have some advantages,
like GPS coordinates, but are in my opinion less clear than the LMI's. They were made in cooperation with the Icelandic
4x4 travel club and show lots of little tracks, especially in the interior. But without distinguishing
them from better marked tracks, they could bring you in hazardous situations. If you stick to the numbered
roads or get information about unmarked tracks in advance, they should be OK.
- Other maps that I've seen where often inaccurate or outdated. But if you don't mind an incidental surprise (campsite ? what campsite ?),
they should be fine for a main route tour.
- A good online map is at ja.is
Below is a personal selection of books on Iceland :
Other books about cycling in Iceland (most of them I only know they exist) :
- Lonely planet Iceland (ISBN 978-1-74104-537-6) and the Rough Guide to Iceland (ISBN 978-1-84353-767-0).
These book are not specially meant for cyclers but have lots of information.
- The Insight Guides : Iceland (ISBN 9-62421-253-8) More background info.
- Island per Rad by Ulf Hoffmann
(Kettler ISBN 3-921939-88-3) is a German language pocketbook with a description of most roads and mountaintracks.
Unfortunately the most recent edition is of 2001 so some information could be out-of-date. The good news is, that the author put it online here, including additions and corrections.
- There is a great free booklet
called Around Iceland. There is also a German version (Rund um
Island) and an Icelandic one (Á ferð um Island). It's
full of information and tips, like places of interest, descriptions of
towns and Icelandic history. It also contains bustimetables and the address of every post office,
museum, guesthouse, campsite and supermarket in Iceland.
The booklet is available at Tourist Information Centers and some petrolstations. You can download it as PDF document
- Ómar Smári Kristinsson wrote (and is still writing) a serie of books about circular mountain bike routes per region Hjólabókin. At the moment there are four books published :
Vestfirðir, Vesturland, Suðvesturland and Arnessýsla. The books are in Icelandic but with the maps and pictures also useful for non-icelandic speakers. And the first book is translated in English as
the biking book of Iceland.
- Arctic Cycle Two Wheels, Ice and Fire (2006) by Andy Shackleton
(Kennedy and Boyd ISBN 1904999336).
Here is an interview with the author.
- Christian Hannig wrote a book (in German) with the name Island, Vulkane, Eis und Einsamkeit. Another
book by the same author is Polarlicht (Rad-Abenteuer in Skandinavien, Island und Grönland).
- Another German book is Allein durch Island per fahrrad by Arne Körtzinger.
- A book in Dutch by Belgium couple Wim and Isabelle is
Fietsen tussen maan en vulkaan (cycling
between moon and volcano).
- Another dutch book is Fietsvakantie op IJsland – een reisverslag met tekeningen by Edith Vermeulen.
- Josie Dew dedicated one of the chapters of her funny book
The wind in my wheels to Iceland.
- Frost on My Moustache: The Arctic Exploits of a Lord and a Loafer from Tim Moore. Among the
things he does is a bicycle ride from Reykjavik to Blonduós.
- Marty Basch wrote a book
about cycling in Scandinavia and Iceland, named Above the circle.
See my links page for links to lots of bicycle tourreports and
other useful links on Iceland.
The only English language webforum/messageboard dedicated to cycling in Iceland is from
The Icelandic Mountainbike Club.
There must be dozens of travelsites with a webforum with an Iceland or nordic section, like
Lonely Planet (also with an on your bike section),
Trip Advisor and
Forums dedicated to bicycle travel are e.g.
Another option for asking questions is someone who made a tourreport (see my
links page. People who cycled there are often
willing to answer questions. I wonder why that is. Probably because they
want to share an unusual experience .
- When you go to the interior, then bring some handcream or Vaseline.
The sand and dust makes your hands very dry.
- Also bring Duck tape or Gaffa tape, so you can tape everything
that breaks (bicycle, tent, shoes).
- If you like taking photographs, bring enough films with
you. It's very expensive to buy them in Iceland. In 2004 I bought an extra
film (Kodak Gold 200 asa 36 Exposure) which cost me ISK 860. This is about
three times the price that I would pay in the Netherlands.
Someone told me he had taken 40 films with him, but he had to buy 10 extra
in Iceland. I thought 6 films for three weeks would be sufficient, but had
to put myself on a ration.
- Electrical devices use standard European 230V 50hz current and plugs that
are common in continental Europe (see
- Almost 90% of the Icelandic population uses the Internet. They probably do
it at home because I haven't seen many Internet cafe's, and the public terminals
I found were awful slow. If you want to use the Internet, you could try the
Tourist Information Office, the library, the reception of the camp site (?)
or the local hotel. In Reykjavik, the campsite has public Internet terminals and Wifi.
- Bring a packet of chocolate cookies with you, to get new energy when you
want to surrender to the headwinds. And to share with fellow cyclers that
you meet. My favourites are Maryland Double Chocs.
- Don't go to Iceland for spotting polar bears. They don't live there.
So if you see one, you either stumbled upon one of the few that float from Greenland
on an iceflow each decade or you must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.
- Don't think of Iceland as a poor, underdeveloped country.
It is (or used to be until the financial crisis of 2008) one of the richest countries
in the world. But it's also a large, remote island with a subartic climate and
few people. When circumstances look primitive, it's
usually because of the latter. Or because Icelandic people
like it primitive.
Be flexible in your plans. A tight daily schedule is not feasible
because of unpredictable weather conditions. And if necessary take a bus.
Don't let the weather spoil your holiday.
After my third journey I had mixed feelings about it, because
I had had a lot of rain and often strong winds in front. But
later I realized, that the bad feeling was because of the troubles
with my tent and bicycle. And that I also had lots of beautiful
days with clear blue skies and wonderful scenery. So I
prepared myself much better for my fourth journey. And, in
spite of a broken tentpole and two heavy storms, I remember it
as a troublefree, relaxed tour.
So if you go well-prepared and are aware that you could become
wet a couple of times, but accept this as part of the fun,
you'll have a fantastic holiday in a magnificent, impressive
and fascinating country.
Although most of what I wrote are facts, there are of course some
subjective views in it. With these you have to know, that I'm from
the Netherlands, a small, flat, mostly cultivated and rather crowded
country. Someone who lives in Yellowstone Park, Alaska, Patagonia
or on the moon may have a different view on Iceland. And although I
double-checked most of the facts, it may be possible that something is
different from what I wrote. If something has really changed I would like
to hear it from you. But please, don't complain to me when you had fastened
the stormlines of your tent every night, but never had a storm !