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Cycling in Iceland: Rain, Bright Nights, Stunning Views and Unbeatable Adventures

  • Thomas Marvin
  • 12 August 2011

This article was published by our friends at The International Ecotourism Society, who have agreed to its republication here. View the original article on their Your Travel Choice blog.

Back in 2006 my friend Legs and I packed our bags and bikes and headed to Iceland for a six-week pootle round the island. We’d originally been looking at cycling to Norway’s North Cape, but for a variety of reasons (which I can’t quite remember) we sacked that idea and decided to go cycling in Iceland. The cycling trip ended up being some of the most amazing six weeks of my life – howling gales that lasted days, thoroughly pot-holed dirt tracks, stunning views and the invention of tuna tikka-massala.

Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and Much Better Adventures

Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and Much Better Adventures

We started our cycling in Iceland from Reykjavik and headed out on Route 1 (the circular road around the whole island). At Borgarnes we took route 54, then 56 to Stykkishólmur, where we took the ferry to Brjánslækur. We then worked our way to Ísafjörður and then back to Route 1 along Route 61. We roughly followed this past Akureyri to Lake Mývatn, and then U-turned back and followed the Kjöller route through the interior toward Reykjavik. We then cycled along the south coast on Route 1 for a while and then caught the bus back!

Iceland Cycling Travel Tips

New to cycling? Cycling in Iceland was my second proper cycle tour – I’d done New Zealand earlier that year – so I had a vague idea of what to expect. In my opinion cycle touring isn’t something that requires a lot of experience to get a lot out of it. Sure, I’m not sure I’d go and cycle some of the high passes in the Tajik Pamir Mountains as my first tour, but in general I feel it’s a really accessible form of travel.

Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and Much Better Adventures

Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and Much Better Adventures

How to train? Just get the miles in on the bike! Definitely worth trying out your touring bike with panniers (or trailer!) loaded up too, just to see how it handles in various conditions. There are plenty of hills and poor surfaces to contend with when cycling Iceland, so it’s best to make sure you are comfortable in a range of conditions. It also gives you an excuse to go on shorter weekend practice trips beforehand!

Advice for a safe and enjoyable cycling trip: Be sure of the cycling kit you are using, and make sure you can erect your tent, or light your stove in some pretty unpleasant conditions. Being able to break camp pretty quickly helps, so perhaps a bit of experience camping first would be an advantage! We went cycling in Iceland without a guide, just a map. Iceland doesn’t have a particularly extensive road system, and we didn’t really have any plans – just headed out of Reykjavik in a clockwise direction! We used a guide book from time to time, just in case there was anything ‘not to miss’, or to find details of campsites.

Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and Much Better Adventures

Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and Much Better Adventures

When to go? The weather in Iceland isn’t exactly balmy – we experienced hail in July, and were effectively trapped on a campsite by a storm for three days whilst our camping compatriots’ tents flew around the campsite. We went cycling in June and July, taking advantage of the better than average weather and long daylight hours (I used my torch once in six weeks, at 3am, to look deep into a pannier). We were, however, rained on pretty much constantly for three weeks and then intermittently for the next three weeks. You can’t guarantee the weather in Iceland!

Must-have gear: Bring a waterproof tent that is easy to put up and spacious. There’s nothing worse than getting into a wet tent when you are already wet. We used a Terra Nova tent on our trip and were very happy! Thermarest and three-season sleeping bag for ultimate sleeping comfort and light weight. Gas is pretty easy to get for camping stoves, however we used liquid fuel, which was also very accessible in Iceland. Make sure to take a range of cycling clothing – waterproof and regular – and a Buff, mainly for blocking out the light when trying to sleep!

Midnight sea kayaking on Flatey. Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and Much Better Adventures

Midnight sea kayaking on Flatey. Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and Much Better Adventures

Where to stay on your Iceland cycling trip: While cycling in Iceland we camped every night bar one (when we were offered a hotel room for the price of the camping as the weather was so bad). Most villages (and quite often farms and hotels) had campsites in Iceland, so we never struggled to find somewhere. Only when cycling through the Iceland Interior were we required to press on and cover larger distances to find somewhere to camp. Wild camping isn’t encouraged, and there aren’t many places to camp in the Interior!

Getting there: Getting to Iceland is likely to require a flight. You can use the Much Better Adventures flight finder to find your flights from a more efficient fleet. Ferries do go from Denmark (via the Faroe Islands), but they aren’t particularly cheap and take a few days (more information on ferries can be found here).

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Thomas Marvin

Tom is Joint Operations Manager and Head of Content at Much Better Adventures. He studied Sustainable Development at St Andrews, Scotland, graduated in 2009, and now lives in the French Alps where he bikes, climbs and skis when he is not working. He has also work with Sustainable Travel International and the Travel Foundation on sustainability consultancies with various tourism companies.
Thomas Marvin
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adventure travel, ecotours, Europe, Iceland, Northern Europe, outdoors, personal experience, responsible transport, sports, weather extremes,

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