Using Reykjavik's bus service is a great option if you can't access a rental car. Get to know how it works.
When you’re exploring Iceland, there’s no better way than to hire a car in Iceland and travel at your own pace, stopping wherever you like. But what about in the country’s capital, Reykjavík? Is a car needed if you are just traveling around the city, you ask? Well, no. There is a great bus service which can take you wherever you need to go to the Capital Region. Taking the bus saves on petrol, parking costs and time if the distance is just a little too far to walk.
The Icelandic capital’s bus service, Strætó, is owned and operated by the municipalities that it services. It covers Reykjavík, as well as the six municipalities surrounding it: Kópavogur, Hafnarfjörður, Garðabær, Mosfellsbær, Seltjarnarnes, and Álftanes. These seven urban areas comprise the Reykjavík Capital Region, which contains almost two-thirds of Iceland’s population. Strætó also operates long-distance buses, such as to the International Airport in Keflavíkand to various towns along the south coast.
The bus stops around the Capital Region are not always immediately obvious. Look for either a bus shelter or just a pole with a sign on, labeled with a yellow ‘S’ and with a series of timetables attached. The bus lines can all be found on Strætó’s website, https://www.straeto.is/. There are several ‘connection stops’ around the Capital Region where many bus lines meet, and from which it is possible to change buses if more than one is required. The one you are most likely to encounter is Hlemmur in the city center. All bus lines that pass through downtown Reykjavík will stop at Hlemmur.
Take care when using Google Maps to navigate the city; I have found it to be mostly accurate, but occasional errors have led to me waiting for buses that never arrived. The Strætó Route Planner is more reliable.
A single fare price is ISK 480 ($3,43 USD). There are several ways to pay for this: in cash to the driver as you get on the bus (no change will be given), purchased from one of many vendors in the city (which can be found here), or using the Strætó app. I recommend this last option, as it allows you to potentially travel further on one fare. You simply enter your card details into the app and can purchase as many tickets as you like.
One ticket will be valid for an hour and fifteen minutes, so if you are only making a quick stop at a place, it is possible to travel there and back using only one ticket. Once you buy the ticket, it will not activate until you press the ‘Activate Ticket’ button, then the timer will start counting down. The app can also be used to purchase a Day Pass for ISK 1900 ($13,59 USD) Additionally, you can purchase multiple tickets in bulk sets of twenty on the Strætó website. They have no names assigned to them, so anyone in your party can put them to use. Of course, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities are entitled to reduced fare prices.
On Friday and Saturday nights, Strætó operates a night bus service. This runs from 1:00 am to 4:30 am and only travels away from the city center, not towards it. If you are out partying in downtown Reykjavík and want to get home, walk to whichever bus stop is closer to you out of Stjórnarráðið or Hlemmur. Routes 101, 102, 103, 105, and 106 operate during these times (details can be found here) and the cost is ISK 960, or two standard tickets.
Found on the tip of the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula, the Grótta Lighthouse is a great spot from which to stargaze and see the northern lights in the winter. Take the number 11 bus from Hlemmur going towards Seltjarnarnes and get off at the Lindarbraut /Hofgarðar stop. The lighthouse is a short walk from there, as is a man-made, geothermally heated footbath. So, bring your towel if you want to bathe your feet while watching the northern lights over you. An abundance of birdlife also collects here, but keep in mind that the spit of land connecting the lighthouse to the rest of Iceland becomes submerged at high tide. Try not to get stuck.
This museum is not far to walk from the city center, but if you’re looking to get there fast, or if the weather is bad, hop on bus 18 from Hlemmur going towards Spöng um Grafarholt and jump off at the Perlan stop. You will probably have noticed Perlan upon your arrival in Reykjavík; it’s the giant glass dome building on the hill. This building is one of Iceland’s finest museums and takes its visitors on a journey through the country’s natural history. With interactive exhibits, an ice cave, and a planetarium, it is easy to spend hours exploring the Wonders of Iceland.
Although not in Reykjavík, Esja is close enough to be seen essentially all the time from the city and close enough to reach via public transport. At 914 meters (2999 feet) high, Esja provides a not-too-difficult hiking challenge, offering great views of the surrounding area once you reach the top. It will likely take you a few hours to complete a round trip. Take bus 15 from Hlemmur going towards Mosfellsbær, then change at Ártún to bus 57 going towards Akranes, and get off at Esjuskáli.
When your Icelandic adventure comes to an end and it’s time to head home, you have a number of options. You can drive your rental car to the airport (approximately 45 minutes from the capital) and jump straight on the plane, or you can drop it at the rental office in the city and hop on a bus or coach to Keflavík. There are several private companies operating coaches to and from the airport, or you can use the public bus service. Bus 55 from Klambratún will take you to Keflavík Airport in just over an hour.
Samuel Hogarth, Reykjavik Cars.