Cycling in Iceland: Planning your trip
So you’re thinking of cycling around Iceland? Good idea! There are all sorts of positives to recommend a two-wheeled trip to Iceland. Not least that the views will completely blow your mind. This isn’t the kind of country where you will have to pedal for hours through dull or repetitive landscapes. Iceland is packed full of beautiful scenery. This little island nation way up in the North Atlantic has sight after incredible sight to offer. In fact you will probably be putting on the breaks to stop and admire another view a little too often. So be warned that progress might be slower than your usual pace.
There are of course also a few downsides to cycling in Iceland. You have to take the rough with the smooth after all. In this article we will take you through the pros and the cons. Hopefully giving you a well-rounded view of what it would be like to take a cycling vacation here. Then you will be able to decide for yourself if it’s for you or not.
What are the cycle paths and road conditions like in Iceland?
The most popular cycle routes are around the Ring Road and its offshoots. The Ring Road is a mostly paved route that loops right around the country. There are very few dedicated cycling paths in Iceland outside of Reykjavik. So you will mostly be sharing your route with car users and tour buses. The Ring Road is in good condition though so you’ll have a smooth ride. It is also tricky to get lost in Iceland unless you are headed into the interior. This is when the google map App or a dedicated Iceland mapping App would come in handy.
Away from the Ring Road there are a high number of gravel roads in Iceland. This means that road bikes will have a bumpy ride if they head along the F roads and across the highlands. The road surfaces can get quite rough in these more remote areas. If you plan on biking away from the Ring Road for any length of time you will need a proper off-road bike. You’ll be thanking yourself later for that suspension and those robust wheels.
Which parts of the country are good for biking?
As mentioned the Ring Road is the best road biking route to take. Depending on how much time you have you might choose to stick to just a section of it though. Cycling the entire Ring Road could easily take you a month. It really depends on your speed and inclination. In terms of which direction to travel in there are two different schools of thought here. We think that on balance heading anticlockwise from Keflavik International Airport or Reykjavik is the best plan.
There has been a study comparing headwinds in both directions. It was found that you would encounter fewer headwinds if you headed clockwise on the Ring Road. However there wasn’t much in it and we think that the benefits of seeing the south first outweigh this. South Iceland is much more accessible. The terrain here is flatter and there are more towns, gas stations and amenities. If you run into trouble here you’ll be able to find bike shops and petrol stations much more readily. There are also so many sights to see along the South Coast. You’ll really want to take your time in this part of the country. You certainly don’t want to have to rush through it at the end of a trip.
The North of Iceland is also hillier and much less populated. You will find fewer places to stop and top up water bottles or buy food. Although it is beautiful there aren’t as many sights as such in the North as there are in the South. You’ll be riding harder and longer distances up here. For all of these reasons we recommend starting in the south and then heading north. Alternatively you might just stick to the south if you are short on time or don’t relish the more remote regions.
When is a good time of year to cycle in Iceland?
Most definitely the summer months from June to August are the best time for a cycle trip. Being right up on the edge of the Arctic Circle the weather in Iceland can get really fierce. It is windy and wet and often pretty wild. You really would not get far if you tried to cycle around Iceland in winter. The summer months are the time for spending time outdoors.
The weather is at its most settled at this time of year but you will still need to come very well prepared. The weather is often cool in summer and can get wet and windy too. So bring layers, waterproofs, quick drying microfibers and good cycling gloves.
One big advantage of cycling in Iceland in summer is the daylight hours. The Midnight Sun means that the there are nearly 24 hours of sunlight at the height of summer. This means that you don’t need to worry about cycling in the dark or rushing to get to your campsite. You can comfortably cycle late into the night and enjoy quieter roads. You will also see some amazing sunsets that seem to go on for hours. You can really play with your body clock in Iceland if you like. Cycling at night and relaxing by day.
Where should I stay?
Hotels and guesthouses in Iceland are pretty expensive. You can easily pay a few hundred dollars a night and that adds up quickly. If you are a serious cycle tour enthusiast then you will likely have your own lightweight tent set up. This is how the majority of cyclists roll in Iceland. There are many great campsites dotted around the Ring Road and Iceland's national parks. Camping is an excellent budget-friendly way to see Iceland. Another option could be to hire a motorhome with a bike rack. You could then opt to base yourself at 2-3 different campsites during your trip. From there you can head out on full day cycle rides in the local areas.
Note that the law has now changed and it is illegal to go wild camping in Iceland. This is mainly because of the influx in tourism in recent years coupled with environmental concerns. The flora of Iceland is incredibly delicate. The country’s beautiful mosses and lichens are very slow growing and easily damaged. Do be aware of this when you are biking and stick to the roads and paths only. Bicycle tyres and boots can harm the landscape.
Any insider tips to share?
The Icelandic people love their hot spring pools and spas. There are dozens of geothermal pools dotted around the country. Soaking weary feet and legs in a hot spring is a sure fire way to recover from a hard ride. Hot springs are also a great place to meet locals or other visitors. Many of them are free to enter or imply ask for a small voluntary donation. So make sure you make the most of them if you’re biking through Iceland. For more budget-friendly travel tips visit our article Just how Expensive is Iceland?