Cycling in Iceland

We have to admit, Iceland is insanely beautiful. But the real question that arises, is it also that great to do a cycling tour here? More than anywhere else, there are a lot of unforeseen factors that come into play during a cycling trip in Iceland and it's honestly not the best cycling destination we've been to. Read more about our route and tips for a cycling vacation in Iceland in this blog and you can decide for yourself if you want to take the plunge!

Fietsen door de bossen in Zweden
Lupines were in full bloom in June

Roads to Movement in Iceland

Below you can find an overview of the places where we slept in our tent or at which Warmshowers hosts we could go. Zoom out on the map below to see all the places.

Number of days cycled: 12

Total distance traveled: 570km


Long distance cycling routes in Iceland

We decided to go to Iceland by boat from Denmark. The boat arrives in the East of the country in Seyðisfjörður. Where very often cyclists skip the part in the East Fjords, we decided to spend about a week in/around them. After this we followed the ring road, Road 1, towards the West in Reykjavik. Unfortunately, a broken derailleur made us skip a part and our the cycling part of the trip through Iceland ended early. We got stranded in Kirkjubæjarklaustur and were forced to continue exploring Iceland by hitchhiking and hiking. Below is an overview of the most common cycling routes in Iceland:

  • Round trip route 1: This ring road is the most popular route that all tourists take to visit Iceland. Unfortunately, it's not really a cycling route and the traffic is busy, but these 1,300km take you past numerous highlights in Iceland. Often cyclists start in Keflavik Airport and then make the choice to cycle clockwise or anti-clockwise. It is a paved road, so if you don't want to deviate from this, a standard touring bike will do.

  • Bikepacking Routes: There are three known bikepacking routes to be found in Iceland. Packing lightweight and wide tires are a must and we'd definitely advise to choose for a bike than leans towards a MTB or gravel bike. The best time of year to cycle through these F-roads and offroad parts is from the end of July. Many roads were unfortunately still closed in June due to impossible river crossings. (You can explore more off road routes on your own of course)

  • Cycling in the West Fjords: Very popular among gravel riders, you can find all the info via this website

  • A detailed map with all the info, bike repair shops, how busy the roads are can be downloaded here.

  • For more general info, check out this link.

Sleeping in Iceland

There is no shortage of campgrounds in Iceland, although there are a few things to keep in mind as a cyclist. In the central and southern parts of the country, distances between campgrounds can be quite big for cyclists. Wild camping is allowed for cyclists and hikers when official campgrounds are too far away. It's not always interesting to put up your tent next to the Ring Road, but if you keep your eyes open there is always a nice place to be found. In the highlands this is off course much easier and epic, but in whatever area you are for wild camping, be sure to clean up your mess and respect the rules when a campsite would be close.


Another thing to take into account when camping in Iceland are the busy crowds. Don't worry, you will always find a place to pitch your tent and the bicycles will be safe close to your tent as well, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's cozy. Some people don't take "personal space" seriously and will just pitch their tent anywhere. This can be annoying, especially if there is plenty of other space, but it is quite a good example of how tourists might behave in Iceland. We'd advise to be respectful of each other, be patient and just keep some distance when putting up your home for the night. Still want more peace and quiet? The campgrounds with fewer facilities (often only toilets), are a really nice change as a cyclist because they are more quiet.


You can also use the camping card which costs €159 in 2022. This is valid for 28 days for two people. If you would use it six times with two people, you get +- your money back. We bought this, but would not recommend it as a cyclist. Only about 40 campsites participate and unfortunately these are often the ones with the least facilities (not always!). We would recommend keeping the options open so you can tailor the campsite to the needs of the day taking into account the weather.


Hotels, Hostels and Guesthouses are also to be found, but the availability is low in high season and the prices incredibly high. Because of a few bad nights in the tent due to the wind, we occasionally slept in a hostel. Quality is quite okay but we still feel it is way to expensive for what you get in return. Most of the tourists we spoke to booked their accommodation months in advance to ensure good value for money.

Wildkamperen is verboden in Spanje - Maar als je rondvraagt bij de locals kan je toch nog op unieke plekken slapen
Campsite in Reyðarfjörður

Budget in Iceland

In Iceland you pay with Icelandic Kroner.

€1 = 139.60 Icelandic Kroner (June '22)

Average budget we spent in Iceland:

  • Groceries in the supermarket: €10 per day (for the 2 of us together) - Disclaimer: this does not include the cost of our dinner

  • Price for a coffee: €3.5 to €5

  • Price for a bread: €4 to €6

  • Accommodation: Prices camping €10 to €15 per person per night. €100 per night for a hostel, €180 tot €300 per night for a hotel. Last minute booking for a hostel or hotel is even more expensive.

Road conditions in Iceland

The ring road is fully paved and certainly in good condition for most parts. On some sections they are working for several miles, but even with simple and not too wide 28" touring tires this is possible. What we touched on earlier, the roads are busy and people are also driving fast. There is no bike lane provided and the roads have no shoulder, so you are very vulnerable to the traffic on the Ring Road. Make sure you are visible and check out the tips we shared earlier in an Instagram Post. In general, cars keep plenty of distance, but they often drive fast. This combined with strong winds made us get blown around like a feather on several occasions.


If you leave the ring road you soon end up on gravel roads, the F-roads. The condition of these roads is a different thing and not accessible for just any bike. Thick, sharp stones and many puts are part of these roads and once it has rained a bit, you can quickly be stuck in the mud. We cycled a few times on the F-roads and they were definitely the highlights of our cycling trip.


Food and drinks in Iceland

As you can see from the cost summary, Iceland is an expensive country. More than anywhere else, it's difficult to do groceries budget-friendly. We were aware of that beforehand (what did you think, you're on an island!). There aren't big supermarkets everywhere and if you have to shop in the small convenience stores, you'll quickly find yourself paying even more. Gas stations are also an option to get some necessary energy. It is therefore advisable, as a cyclist, to plan these stops a little in advance.


The supermarkets we recommend: Netto (the biggest and has the most choice, but is also the most expensive) ; Kronan (also a nice selection, just a bit cheaper than Netto) ; Bonus (the cheapest of the three). Kronan was perhaps our favourite because of the reasonable offer of vegan products like nuts and humus at an affordable price.


Our tip? First of all, we want to point out we still did a lot of groceries in Iceland, mainly for breakfast and lunch. It seems logical to us that you support the local economy, but you are also allowed to bring 10kg of food per person. Something we have used to a limited extent and can also recommend for a cycling vacation in Iceland.


Eating healthy after a day on the bike is a necessity and since we often didn't come across a supermarket for three or four days, we decided to bring some dehydrated meals. We got the opportunity from the webshop XFood to test some products. There couldn't have been a better time to do this, this way we kept both our budget and weight limited, as well as being sure to get all the necessary nutrients. What made us even happier? That Xfood has plenty of choice to select some tasty vegan and vegetarian recipes. We tested three brands for them:

The ordering and delivery of the meals went extremely smoothly to begin with. On the webshop you can easily see the availability of the meals, filter between certain brands or allergies and have them delivered practically anywhere in Europe. The waiting time is about two to five working days, which wasn't too bad for us since they were shipped from the Netherlands to Denmark.


We decided to mainly choose vegan meals and added a few vegetarian ones. This gave us a nice mix of the three brands and a nice mix of flavours. From a spicy lentil soup and a vegan orzo bolognese, to a vegetable stew or macaroni. In general, preparing meals for all three brands is so easy. Just boil a little water and the packaging clearly states how to fill it up. Only Blå Bend had some dishes where you don't have to boil water, but can simply prepare food in a pan. Incredibly delicious, but a disadvantage of this is that there are more additives to preserve the shelf life. Still, we would not immediately write these off, but we would also not go on a trip and only take these meals with us. They weigh more than the freeze-dried meals and are not as healthy.


Even though most meals were surprisingly tasty, we are happy to share our favourites and less recommendable meals per brand.


FIREPOT

+ Vegan Orzo Bolognese: A very simple but surprisingly delicious Italian pasta. Fairly mild in flavour yet sufficiently spicy with a fine tomato/oregano flavour. Very nice to add some nutritional yeast yourself.

+ Posh Baked Beans: Wow! A very flavourful, sweet version of beans in tomato sauce, can serve as both breakfast and dinner. Perfect with a wrap or toast bread.


- We unfortunately did not like the dahl with rice and spinach, it lacked almost any kind of flavor. It's a little spicy but that about sums it up. All of Firepot's meals were medium to very tasty, but this dahl really didn't appeal to us.


ADVENTURE MENU

+ Lentil Dahl Soup: A spicy soup pácked with flavours and ideal at the end of a cold cycling day. If you don't like it very spicy it might be on the edge, but we found this one at least as tasty as our own freshly made lentil soup at home. Add a fresh baguette and you will have had a great meal.

+ Fusilli with spinach and walnuts: A full, very creamy pasta that will be enjoyed by all. Perfect blend of garlic and a little chili, definitely not TOO spicy and delicious for all ages.


- Honestly, all Adventure Menu recipes we good to very good . It is our favourite out of the three brands and the flavours are by far the most developed and sophisticating.


BLÅ BEND

+ Chili Sin Carne with brown beans: A delicious, lactose-free and vegan chili dish that can be eaten hot or cold. A sweet/spicy classic that tastes great after any day of cycling!


- Blå Bend also makes some freeze-dried meals, but we were less of a fan of these. The "Wet-Meals" like the Chili Sin Carne are packed with flavour, but unfortunately the freeze-dried meals don't taste as good. Compared to the other two brands, these from Blå Bend are incredibly salty and there is little flavour otherwise, as well as being somewhat less healthy due to the often multiple saturated fats. If you choose Blå Bend we would advise to choose their Wet Meals.

Beautiful view during dinner

Climate in Iceland

Where to begin... Nowhere else have we experienced such a harsh climate and nowhere else were we more confronted with many challenges, both physical and mental, as during this cycling trip. Four seasons in one day is nothing new here!


Since it is an island in the middle of the ocean, you can predict that you should not go to Iceland for a sunny vacation. If you only travel here for those beautiful pictures you see in all the brochures, you will unfortunately also be left disappointed (at least 9/10 times). The weather is too unpredictable to perfectly plan all the highlights of the country.


We generally felt that for every good day, you get three to four bad days in return. The biggest difficulty is the unpredictability. You can head to bed with perfect weather forecasts for the day ahead (sunshine and tailwind) and wake up in the chattering rain with wind full in your face. It is true what they say, in 1 day you can encounter all seasons in Iceland.


The dark clouds, rain and colder temperatures are not very hard to get used to. Some proper clothing and gear will arm you against most of Icelandic's cruel weather. However, do not underestimate what a day of cycling through the heavy rain in Iceland does to a body. It wears you down, blocks the beautiful viewpoints along the way and brings with it an added sense of insecurity on the busy ring road.


The biggest problem for cyclists, however, is the unpredictability of the wind. Gusts of 100 to 150km/h are no exception and can suddenly come at you with a giant force. On such days, even with a tailwind, you have to be alert 100% of the time and it doesn't feel completely safe. The wind swirls through the fjords, throws you to the other side of the street and at times cycling 8km/h is top speed. Every next meter feels like an endless stretch and it will become more of a mental than a physical game at one point. Especially when you see a big sized truck laying on its side and some cars upside down next to the road and you can imagine this doesn't necessarily add up to the positive vibes you are looking for. Luckily not every day is like this, but be aware you will encounter them if you are cycling through Iceland for a few weeks (we had approximately one day per week with extreme winds like this). Several cyclists we met stopped cycling after only a handful of days because it was just too hard or not pleasant and honestly, we doubted ourselves as well. We kept going and started to really like the challenge, but it was then when Niels' derailleur broke down.

Check the weather forecasts via Vedur app (app is better than the website version), also the Norwegian website of YR can be useful.

Onze eerst fietsmeters in Denemarken
The views disappeared completely in these fog banks

Cycling holiday in Iceland: Our tips and tricks!

  • Campsites should not necessarily be booked in advance, but ho(s)tels should be!

  • We would advise to take your time for a cycling trip here. If you HAVE to cycle approximately 100km per day to catch your flight back home, the fun will disappear quickly (unless you're a pro?) and you WILL have days where cycling is not possible.

  • Chocolate milk from Oatly is affordable in small packages. We often bought it to add to our breakfast with Muesli, nuts, banana and some chocolate or dried fruit.

  • Going to the dentist is expensive, Niels paid €410 for a new filling. So make sure you have a good insurance before you leave for Iceland. We use the Nomad Insurance of SafetyWing and the assistance was great, check here!

  • Kría's are Icelandic birds and present in large numbers. During the period from May to July they nest and are very protective of their young. If you go near them, you will be attacked. For that reason alone, it is advisable to wear a helmet, because they circle around your head and do not hesitate to strike out, quite nasty sometimes! Stefanie was also attacked by a Skua three times.

  • Swimming pools can be found in almost every village and for € 7 to € 11 pp you can use them. Fresh shower, nice pool and always a hot tub!

  • Kleina is a typical Icelandic pastry that looks a lot like a donut, but feels a little less heavy. They date back to the 14th century and according to the locals it is something that is always made fresh by their grandmothers. Be sure to try this!

  • There is no such thing as a family name in Iceland! In fact, at birth you are given a patronymic, the father's name with an addition. For example, Niels would be called Arnaudson and Stefanie would be called Jozefsdóttir.

  • Iceland is the country with the first female president who was democratically elected (1980).

  • Be sure to visit Thakgil and spend a few nights on their campsite. The yellow hiking route is scary, but very beautiful.

  • Iceland stands up for LGBTQ+ rights, everywhere throughout the country you can find the colors of the rainbow and much openly support it!

  • The lupines (purple flowers) are in full bloom in June and July.

  • If you buy a camping card, you can get a coffee at the Ólis for only 65ISK (€0.45).

  • Kría Cycles in Reykjavik helped us put the bikes in a bike box for the flight to Vancouver. For just 3,000ISK (€25) per bike, they disassemble your bike and put it in the box. It is often already more expensive to store an empty bike box at a campsite/hostel.

  • Unfortunately we didn't have time ourselves, but we were tipped off by other cyclists to visit Bike Farm in Kirkjubæjarklaustur. From fun accommodation to relaxing and MTBing, it all seems to be incredibly rewarding.

  • There is no McDonalds to be found in Iceland. There is also hardly any garbage to be found on the side of the road, perhaps these two go hand in hand?

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