Volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers and all sorts of impressive landscapes make Iceland one of the top destinations for adventure holidays. However, unless you have a car it can be tricky to get to all those places, as public transport links are not that common. Having your own car is the easiest way to explore the beauty of this country, but understandably this might not be an option for everyone. Here, I detail some ways, you can see the top sights of Iceland without worrying about renting a car.
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How to explore Iceland without a car?
The easiest solution to this problem would be to join an organised multi-day tour that includes accommodation, transportation and guides to multiple places of interest. This is indeed a popular solution with many tour agencies offering tours to Iceland. However, the problem with these tours is that they lack the flexibility to amend them based on your needs.
The other option for visiting multiple places in Iceland outside Reykjavík is to join organised day tours. There are a plethora of tours you can join that cover many of the top sights in Iceland. They range from small group tours of about 20 people to huge groups of more than 100. Their prices range accordingly as are the exact stops they make.
Clearly, it will be a bit complicated to navigate your way through all these tours to create a custom itinerary that not only covers the mainstream attractions but also some of the easier-to-reach-with-a-car places. Well, I got you covered. This post is all about exploring Iceland without a car.
Original Road Trip Itinerary vs Iceland Without a Car Itinerary
If you arrived here after reading my 12-day road trip itinerary around Iceland, you already know what to expect. Otherwise, let me give you a quick overview. That itinerary includes a wealth of places to visit in southern and western Iceland. Most places are visited by car, so here I am trying to replicate that itinerary, the “original itinerary” using only public transport, organised transfers and group tours. Unfortunately, there are some places which are simply not possible to visit without a car. However, don’t be discouraged as you can still go to the vast majority of them using tours.
If you want to be completely on track with the places mentioned here, then I suggest you have a quick look at the road trip itinerary before continuing to read this one.
Planning your trip to Iceland
The planning that goes into this kind of trip will be considerably simpler, compared to that of the original road trip itinerary. You only have to do the following things:
- Book your flights to and from Iceland
- Research and book accommodation in Reykjavík
- Book airport transfers to and from Reykjavík
- Book tours and transfers for each day of your trip
How to select flights?
My favourite flight search engine is Skyscanner [AD]! Use it to search, compare and book your flights to Iceland.
Where to stay?
The majority of the tours depart from Reykjavík and even include pick up and drop off from and to central hotels. So, anywhere in the centre of Reykjavík should be good. Note, that many of them arrive and depart from the BSÍ bus terminal and charge extra if you want a door-to-door transfer. So, if you want to save that extra cost, look for something within a walking distance from there.
Booking.com [AD] has a great selection of hotels and holiday rentals in Reykjavík! They have accommodation for every budget and style, so you will definitely find something for your needs.
How to get to and from the airport?
There are a few companies, like FlyBus [AD], Airport Direct [AD] and Gray Line [AD] that connect Keflavík Airport with Reykjavík (usually the BSÍ bus terminal and selected central hotels at extra charge). Search for their timetables and book the shuttle that is most convenient for your flights.
Note that FlyBus does not have an official schedule for departures from the airport. The reason is that they have buses departing from there on a continuous basis when flights land.
Which tours and transfers to book?
Below you will find a sample selection of tours and transfers you can book to create a similar itinerary as the 12-day road trip. I will include some examples of tours you can book but feel free to do your own research to find the best option for your needs. Most tours are available through the booking platforms of GetYourGuide [AD] and Viator [AD] and are run by local tour operators.
Disclaimer: I only did some of the tours and activities included below, but none with a departure from Reykjavík. I selected the rest of the tours, based on their description and the stops they say they do. I can’t take any responsibility for the accuracy of the tour descriptions and how efficiently they run.
Visiting Iceland without a car
Unlike the original itinerary, this one includes time to visit Reykjavík. If you want to skip the city, then you can end your trip earlier or select another tour to do in the extra time you have.
Strictly speaking, you will need an extra day to arrive in Reykjavík, as the first tour on day one departs early in the morning. Therefore, it will be better if you arrive the previous day. However, the total duration of the trip will not necessarily differ as there is the option to combine two days in the original itinerary into one here.
Day 0: Arrive in Reykjavík
I named the arrival day as day 0 so that the rest of the day numbering matches with the original itinerary. Use this day to arrive in Reykjavík and settle in your accommodation. If you arrive in the morning, you can do some sightseeing in Reykjavík in the afternoon. Here you can find some ideas for things to do in Reykjavík. Don’t worry, the distances there are relatively small and there is an established public transport network. This means that you will not need a car to explore the capital.
Day 1: Into the Glacier
On day one of the original itinerary, the highlight is the Into the Glacier [AD] activity. Normally this activity departs from Húsafell, but if you don’t have a car, they offer a transfer service there from Reykjavík. To do that, simply select Reykjavík as the starting point of the tour instead of Húsafell when prompted.
Day 2: Snæfellsnes Peninsula
The second day is all about exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. There are many tours that cover the area. After doing some research, I found this tour [AD] which covers many of the sights that are included in the original itinerary. Expect to stop at Kirkjufellsfoss, Saxhóll Crater, Djúpalónssandur and more.
Day 3 – 4: The Golden Circle
The next two days are focused on exploring the Golden Circle. There are many many tours that cover the top three sights of the Golden Circle, i.e. Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss and the Geysir geothermal area. If you want to visit just these three, then usually you can follow a half-day tour [AD]. However, I really recommend visiting one of the longer day tours that make a few more stops along the way. For example, this tour [AD] also stops at Kerið crater, this one [AD] at Faxi waterfalls, while this one [AD] has a break at the Secret lagoon and this one [AD] at Laugarvatn Fontana Baths. Some tours like this one [AD], even make a stop at a farm for lunch.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a tour of my ideal day in the Golden Circle, and no tour covers all the places we visited independently. If you want something more adventurous, you could get this tour [AD] that also includes snorkelling in Silfra at Þingvellir National Park.
As the original itinerary includes 2 days in the Golden Circle, it means that you will have another day to spare. On that day, you could return to the area and follow this guided hike [AD] to the Reykjadalur Hot Springs or even return to Þingvellir National Park for a standalone snorkelling tour [AD] or diving tour [AD]. Some of these tours are only half-day tours, so in the afternoon you can take your time to explore a bit more of Reykjavík. Alternatively, you can use skip this day and bring the itinerary a day forward.
Day 5: Landmannalaugar
Day five includes an excursion to Landmannalaugar. The original itinerary includes transfers to Landmannalaugar using the highland bus. These buses, originally depart from Reykjavík, so there is no need to join a tour for this one. Simply select Reykjavík as the start and end point of your trip when booking your bus ticket. To find out more about visiting the area on your own, check out this post about planning a day in Landmannalaugar.
On the other hand, if you still want to get a tour, this one[AD] offers a guided hike in the mountains.
Day 6: Vestmannaeyjar
This day needs a bit more planning to follow it on your own as there are no organised tours departing from Reykjavík that take you to Vestmannaeyjar. However, it is still possible to visit the site. To do that, you will need to take bus 52 from the BSÍ bus terminal to Landeyjahöfn. Strætó is the operator of the bus and on their website, you can find more information about services and fares. From Landeyjahöfn the ferry terminal is only a short walk away. To return you need to follow the same route.
While in Heimaey you can follow the same activities as in the original itinerary, as no car is involved.
Day 7 – 9: The South Coast
During these 3 days, the original itinerary includes excursions on the South Coast of Iceland. It covers the common points of interest, i.e. the big waterfalls and black sand beaches, along with some glacier activities. With tours, it is a bit more difficult to do that.
Most standard tours on the South Coast cover the most popular sights up to Vík. Some give the option to add a glacier hike departing from the Sólheimajökull glacier, while a few continue up to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.
Exploring the South Coast – Option 1
If you want to follow a close approximation to the original itinerary, then on day 7 take this tour [AD] to Vatnajökull National Park which includes a boat tour at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the kayaking and glacier hike we did, offered with a departure from Reykjavík.
On day 8, you should take this tour [AD] to the ice caves around the Katla volcano departing from Reykjavík. Finally, on day 9 return to the area to do a dedicated tour [AD] to South Coast up to Vík. Understandably, as you will need to pass from the main road multiple times, the three tours might have some common stops.
Exploring the South Coast – Option 2
If I were you, however, I wouldn’t follow the above as it has a lot of repetition. Instead, I would choose the tour that covers the most attractions in the area, such as this one [AD] that goes up to Jökulsárlón. Then, I might have returned the next day to do a standalone glacier hike [AD] in Sólheimajökull.
Note that this option skips the boat tour in the glacier lagoon and the ice cave. On the other side, it gives you an extra day. You can use it to see Reykjavík or to bring the itinerary a day forward.
Exploring the South Coast – Option 3
If you still want to do the boat tour (but not the glacier hike) and also have the extra day, then you can join this 2-day tour [AD] from Reykjavík. It doesn’t cover more places compared to the other tours, but it avoids the additional transfer to and from Reykjavík.
Day 10 – 11: The Reykjanes Peninsula
The last two days of the original itinerary focus on the Reykjanes peninsula. There is the option to combine all the main attractions of the area in just one day tour. This tour [AD] takes you to the site of the recently erupted volcano and to some of the important sights of the peninsula before ending at the Blue Lagoon. Of course, this will mean that you might not have as much time in the Blue Lagoon, as if you were going outside the tour.
For this reason, I suggest taking a tour [AD] of the volcano and the Reykjanes peninsula on day ten and then on the following day taking the shuttle bus [AD] to Blue Lagoon from Reykjavík. There are many services throughout the day, so it will be easy to find something that suits you.
In the original itinerary, there is the option to visit the Laval Tunnel [AD]. To include this attraction here, you will need to time your visit to the Blue Lagoon, so that you return to Reykjavík by early afternoon. This will allow you to take another shuttle to the Lava Tunnel from there.
Another combination that includes all these activities, is to take two half-day tours on day ten. One of them [AD] to the volcano site and the other to the Lava Tunnel. Then, on day eleven take a full-day tour [AD], to the Blue Lagoon and the Reykjanes peninsula. Note that for this tour, you will need to arrange a separate transfer from the Blue Lagoon back to Reykjavík.
Day 12: Departure from Reykjavík
This is the last day in the original itinerary and no activities were included there. Depending on the time of your flight, you might want to squeeze in a half-day tour in the morning or visit a couple of museums in Reykjavík.
Eigðu góða ferð!
P.S. I hope you found this itinerary useful. Organised tours can come in handy when you want to go outside a city but don’t have a car and public transport is inadequate. In reality though, when I am travelling I am trying to take as few day tours as possible. I get frustrated with how time-limiting some of the tours can be sometimes. For this reason, I’m always looking for ways to get to places of interest independently if possible.
P.S.II “Eigðu góða ferð!” means “Have a nice trip!” in Icelandic.
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