Explore Iceland's highlands with this Highland Circle Bus Passport. With this ticket in hand, you can board any ‘Iceland On Your Own’ bus taking you one-way around this incredible region, and considering the ticket is valid from June 20th to September 7th, there is no need to rush.
Before setting out, you can choose to take this route either clockwise or anti-clockwise, and any 'Iceland On Your Own' bus you board will be free of charge. If you wish to backtrack, you are welcome to; you will have to book another ticket, but it will have a 10% discount. The same discount applies if you want to extend your journey down a road not included in this package, but included in another Bus Passport.
Regardless of your direction, you will see all of the same sites. Considering you take the route anti-clockwise, you will leave Reykjavík and travel through the popular sites of the West, such as the Golden Circle, to the incredible and little-visited Kjölur Highland Road. This will take you to the north of the country, from which you can travel as far north-east as the Lake Mývatn area, via Akureyri.
You then head South down another incredible Highland track, Sprengisandur, passing the beautiful Landmannalaugar region. Rather than head straight back towards Reykjavík via the scenic South Coast, with its many famous landmarks, however, you can detour even further east to the Skaftafell Nature Reserve.
Landmannalaugar and Skaftafell are both paradises for hikers, meaning this tour is perfect for those who love trekking. Anyone with an appreciation for incredible nature and beautiful scenery, however, will have a fantastic time with the Highland Circle Bus Passport. It should also appeal to those on a budget, as the pass is much cheaper than a rental car or series of guided tours.
The only thing you need to concern yourself with on this tour is the departure times of the buses from each location. Other than that, you are free; you choose where to visit and where not to, and how long to spend at each destination.
Before coming to Iceland, however, it is important to book your accommodation in advance. Hotels, hostels and guesthouses are almost always full during peak season, and even many campsites are competitive. If you plan well, however, you should encounter no issues.
Experience the wonders of the Icelandic highlands on your own terms. Check availability by choosing a date.
The Golden Circle is a 300 km route to the 3 most popular natural attractions in Iceland. The Golden Circle consists of Geysir, Gullfoss and Thingvellir.
See this for Golden circle tours.
Geysir is a geyser that gives its name to hot springs all over the world. But although Geysir itself is not active anymore the area features spectacular hot springs such as the powerful Strokkur (spouting a vast amount of water every 10 minutes, regularly about 15-20 meters into the air), Smidur and Litli-Strokkur.
The 'Golden Waterfall', is the second part of the Golden Circle, and one of the most beautiful and powerful waterfalls in Iceland, plummeting 32 meters into the river gorge of the popular rafting river Hvita. It is Iocated about 10 km from Geysir.
The largest attraction of the Golden Circle is Thingvellir National Park. The Icelandic parliament was founded there in 930 and remained until the year 1798.
Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important places to visit in Iceland, not just for its historical and cultural values, but for also its magnificent landscape.
Thingvellir is surrounded by a beautiful mountain and volcano range and is the site of a rift valley, where the tectonic plates meet, marking the crest of the Mid-Atlantic ridge.
Of particular note at Thingvellir are the magnificent Almannagja gorge, and the beautiful lake Thingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland. The popular Gjabakkahellir lava cave is also in the area.
The fissure Silfra is located by Thingvallavatn, Iceland's largest lake, and is famous for its clear waters and popular for diving and snorkeling, as you can literally swim between continents.
Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland and the northernmost capital of a sovereign state in the world.
Despite a small population (120.000 and more than 200.000 in the Greater Reykjavik area), it is a vibrant city that draws an ever increasing number of visitors. It is the financial, cultural and governmental centre of Iceland. It also has a reputation of being one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world.
The city of Reykjavik is located in southwest Iceland by the creek of the same name. Throughout the ages, the landscape has been shaped by glaciers, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and the area is geothermal. Much of the current city area area was subglacial during the Ice Age, with the glacier reaching as far as the Álftanes peninsula, while other areas lay under the sea. After the end of the ice age the land rose as the glaciers drifted away, and it began to take on its present form.
The coastline of Reykjavik is set with peninsulas, coves, straights and islands, most notably the island of Videy, and seabirds and whales frequent the shores. The mountain ring as seen from the shore is particularly beautiful. Mount Esja is the highest mountain in the vicinity of Reykjavik and lends its distinct feature to the whole area. This majestic mountain is also highly popular for climbing. Other notable mountains that can be seen from the seaside are Akrafjall and Skardsheidi and on clear days one may even see as far to the legendary Snaefellsjokull glacier, at the end of the Snafellsnes peninsula.
The largest river to run through the city is Ellidaa in Ellidaardalur valley, which is also one of Iceland‘s best rivers for salmon fishing.
There are no trains or trams in Iceland, but most people travel by car. The city also operates a bus system. There are two major harbours in town, the old harbour in the centre and Sundahofn in the east. The domestic Reykjavik Airport is located at Vatnsmyrin, not far from the city centre and close to Oskjuhlid and Perlan. The international Keflavik Airport at Midnesheidi heath then lies around 50 km from the city. Cars, jeeps and bicycles can be readily rented in the city and many organized tours are also being offered.
The local arts scene is strong in Iceland, with both annual events and single ones, many of whom have hit the international stage. For the annual ones please check our articles Best Annual Events in Iceland and the Top Ten Festivals in Iceland. Major events taking place in Reykjavik include the Iceland Airwaves, Gay Pride, RIFF (The Reykjavik International Film Festival), The Reykjavik Literature Festival, Cultural Night, the Reykjavik Arts Festival, Food & Fun, the Reykjavik Fashion Festival and the Sónar music festival.
Among famous people from Reykjavik are artists Bjork Gudmundsdottir, Sigur Ros, writers Halldor Laxness (born in Laugavegur) and Arnaldur Indridason and mayor Jon Gnarr. For more well-known and fairly-well known Icelanders, check our article on the subject.
You might also want to check our article on some of the many things to see and do in Reykjavik, such as visiting the city‘s many museums, exhibitions and galleries, checking out live music, visiting the Harpa music hall or the theatres, visiting the lighthouse at Grotta, the main shopping street of Laugavegur, visiting the old harbour and the flea market, going on a bird- and whale watching tour or visiting Videy island. We also have a top ten list of things to do.
Make sure to visit the public square of Austurvollur, one of the city‘s most popular gathering places, where you‘ll also find the national parliament, Althingi, the state church a statue of independence hero Jon Sigurdson, as well as cafés, bars and restaurants. Austurvollur was central in the 2008 protests, along with Laekjargata, home to the House of Government. You are also not likely to miss the great church of Hallgrimskirkja that towers over the city from the hill of Skolavorduholt, wherefrom you‘ll get a great view of the city.
Try a walk by the city pond, greet the many birds that frequent the area and visit the city hall, stationed by its banks. The Hljomaskalagardur is a beautiful park that lies by the pond, it ideal for a nice walk and sometimes concerts get held there. Further off is the campus of the university of Iceland, the Nordic house and the Vatnsmyri wetland, a particularly pleasant place, but be mindful of not disturbing the wildlife there and keep to the pathways.
For a nice swim on a warm day, we particularly recommend Nautholsvik beach.
Visit the Laugardalur valley, home to one of the city‘s best swimming pools, as well as the Asmundarsafn gallery, a beautiful botanical garden and a domestic zoo. A walk by the Aegissida beach, with it‘s old fishing sheds, in the west part of Reykjavik also holds a particular charm. The aforementioned Elllidaardalur valley is also a popular resort.
Another place that offers one of the city‘s best (and free) views is Perlan, up in Oskjuhlid hill. The hill itself is a popular resort, with over 176.000 trees and great opportunities for walking and cycling.
Travel to Alftanes to see the president‘s house at Bessastadir, which is also a historical site in it‘s own right, having been the educational centre of Iceland for centuries. Nearby is a beautiful lava field, Galgahraun, well worth a visit, though there is currently an environmental struggle going on as to it‘s future state.
The city is furthermore a short drive from many of Iceland‘s major attractions, most famously the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon. In close vicinity you‘ll also find the Heidmork preservation area, a favourite pastime resort of the people of Reykjavik, as well as the Blue Mountains, one of Iceland‘s most beloved skiing venues.
Check our Best of Reykjavik guide further for tips on the best cheap things to do in Reykjavik, some of the best restaurants in the city, happy hours, the top ten value places to eat and our two articles on the famous Reykjavik nightlife; Nightlife in Reykjavik and Nightlife and mating.
Finally, we‘d like to stress that these are only some suggestions of the many things you might check out in Reykjavik. Whatever you choose to do, we hope you‘ll be able to make the most of your visit and we wish you a pleasant stay in our capital.
Akureyri, ‘The Capital of the North’ is a town in the fjord Eyjafjordur in North Iceland. It lies just 100 km away from the Arctic Circle. It is Iceland’s second-largest urban area with a population of about 17,800.
Akureyri is an important fishing centre and port, but in the last few years tourism, industry, higher education and services have become the fastest growing sectors of the economy.
An international airport is located about 3 km from the center. A large number of cruisers also stop at Akureyri. One of Iceland's best skiing sites is found by Akureyri, at Hlidarfjall.
Traditionally Akureyri has survived on fisheries and some of Iceland’s largest fishing companies, like for example Samherji, have their headquarters there. Other large companies include Brim, Nordurmjolk, and Vifilfell hf, the largest brewery in Iceland.
FSA/Akureyri Hospital is a major employer in the area and is one of two major hospitals in Iceland.
Akureyri has excellent facilities for travelers and is located a short drive from many of Iceland’s top natural, cultural and historical attractions.
Akureyri is surrounded by mountains, the highest one being Kerling (1538 m). The area around it has rich agriculture and a beautiful mountain ring.
The innermost part of the fjord, Pollurinn ('The Pool') further lends the town a special character. The climate in Akureyri is generally very pleasant.
The islands Hrisey in the middle of Eyfjordur and Grimsey, straddling the Artic Circle, both belong to the municipality of Akureyri. Hrisey is often called 'The Pearl of Eyjafjordur' and Grimsey 'The Pearl of the Artic' and these beautiful and peaceful islands are highly popular with travelers.
During World War II the town was an important site for the Allies and the town grew considerably after the war, as people increasingly moved to urban areas.
Akureyri has a strong cultural scene, with several bars and renowned restaurants. Folk culture in general is more prevalent there than in Reykjavik. During the summer there are several notable festivals in Akureyri and its surroundings.
Sites of interest in Akureyri include the brand-new Hof concert hall and Akureyri’s many museums, The Nature Museum, Nonnahus, a.k.a. Jon Sveinsson Memorial Museum, for the writer, David's house or David Stefansson Memorial Museum, for the poet, Akureyri Art Museum.
Akureyri also has several churches, Akureyrarkirkja being the most notable, as well as beautiful botanical gardens. The old town is particularly charming, ideal for a nice walk.
Geysir is a famous hot spring in Haukadalur valley in South Iceland. Part of the ‘Golden Circle', Geysir gives its name to hot springs all over the world.
Though Geysir itself is hardly active anymore, the area features spectacular hot springs such as the powerful Strokkur, which spouts a vast amount of water every 10 minutes, around 15-20 meters into the air, Smidur and Litli-Strokkur.
North of Geysir are fumaroles, i.e. unlike the hot springs that emit hot water, only steam and gas emanate from these. You may be able to observe bright yellow stains at the fumaroles, this is native sulphur, which crystallizes from the steam. At the southern part of the geothermal area, called Thykkuhverir, you‘ll find various mud pots. Such mud pots are actually fumaroles that boil up through surface water/groundwater and may become steaming fumaroles during dry spells, rather than the usual boiling mud pots.
About 2 km from Geysir is an old preserved natural pool called Kúalaug. One can bathe in it and it has room for 3-5 people at a time, but care should be taken, as the area around the pool is very delicate. The temperature is 39-43°C, depending on how you are positioned in the pool. The water is slightly muddy, as the pool is built on soil, and the bottom is slippery due to algae, so caution is advised.
In Haukadalur there has also been tree planting in recent times and today the forest Haukadalsskógur is one of the largest in South Iceland. Aspen, various types of pine, and other plants have been tried out there and experiments and research continue. We also recommend visiting the tree museum, built in the memory of forester Gunnar Freysteinsson. There are good paths and roads in the forest and the wood is specially designed to accommodate wheelchairs.
Haukadalur has been a church site since ancient time. The current wooden church was last rebuilt in 1938 but the variety and appearance of the church dates back to 1842, making it one of the oldest of its kind in Iceland.
Haukadalur is indeed a historical place. It was settled during the age of settlement and scholar Ari “The Wise“ Thorgilsson grew up there. The first pastoral school in Iceland was also built there.
For accommodation, Hotel Gullfoss is about 7 km from the Geysir area, and closer still is the Hotel Geysir.
Gullfoss (translated to ‘Golden Falls’) is one of Iceland’s most iconic and beloved waterfalls, found on the Hvítá river canyon in south Iceland. The water in Hvítá river travels from the glacier Langjökull, finally cascading 32m down Gullfoss’ two stages in a dramatic display of nature’s raw power.
Because of the waterfall’s two stages, Gullfoss should actually be thought of as two separate waterfalls. The first, shorter stage of the waterfall is 11m, whilst the second stage is 21m. The canyon walls on both sides of the waterfall reach heights of up to 70m, descending into the 2.5km long Gullfossgjúfur canyon (geologists indicate that this canyon was formed by glacial outbursts at the beginning of the last age.)
In the summer, approximately 140 cubic metres of water surges down the waterfall every second, whilst in winter that number drops to around 109 cubic metres. With such energy, visitor’s should not be surprised to find themselves drenched by the waterfall’s mighty spray-off.
In the early days of the last century, Gullfoss was at the centre of much controversy regarding foreign investors and their desire to profit off Iceland’s nature. In the year 1907, an English businessman known only as Howells sought to utilise the waterfall’s energy and harboured ambitions to use its energy to fuel a hydroelectric plant.
At the time, Gullfoss was owned by a farmer named Tómas Tómasson. Tómas declined Howell’s offer to purchase the land, stating famously “I will not sell my friend!” He would, however, go on to lease Howells the land, inadvertently beginning the first chapter of Icelandic environmentalism.
It was Tómas’ daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who would lead the charge. Having grown up on her father’s sheep farm, she sought to get the lease contract nullified, hurriedly saving her own money to hire a lawyer. The ensuing legal battle was an uphill struggle; the case continued for years, forcing Sigríður to travel many times by foot to Reykjavík if only to keep the trial moving. Circumstances became so difficult that Sigríður threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if any construction began.
Thankfully, in 1929, the waterfall fell back into the hands of the Icelandic people. Today, Sigríður is recognised for her perseverance in protecting Gullfoss and is often hailed as Iceland’s first environmentalist. Her contribution is forever marked in stone; a plaque detailing her plight sits at the top of Gullfoss.
Besides Gullfoss, visitors can enjoy the views from Gullfoss Cafe, a locally run delicatessen that serves a wide variety of refreshments and meals. The menu has options to tantalise everyone’s taste buds; hot soups, sandwiches, salads and cakes. There is also a shop on site where visitors’ can browse and purchase traditional Icelandic souvenirs.
The glacier volcano of Eyjafjallajokull (1651 m) is located at the borders of the South Icelandic highlands. It featured prominently in world news in 2010 when ash from its eruption halted air traffic in Europe.
An ice cap of about 100 km with several outlet glaciers covers the caldera of Eyjafjallajökull that stands at the height of 1651 meters. The diamaeter of its highest crater is around 3-4 km2 wide and the rim has several peaks.
Eyjafjallajokull glacier volcano lies north of Skogar, and to the west of Myrdalsjokull glacier and the massive volcano there; Katla.
Eyjafjallajokull is thought to be related geologically to Katla in Myrdalsjokull and eruptions in the former have often been followed by eruptions in the latter.
The end of 2010 saw some small seismic activity that gradually increased and resulted in a small eruption in March of 2010, characterized by a flow of alkani-olivine basalt lava.
This first stage lasted until April 12th and created the volcanic craters Magni and Modi at the Fimmvorduhals trail. They are so far Iceland's newest vocanic craters, and still eminate steam with lava glowing under the surface.
However it was the second phase of the eruption that started on April 14th that created the huge ash cloud that rose about 9 km into the skies.
This eruption halted air traffic in Europe for days, and its estimated that as many as 107.000 flights may have been cancelled during the week it lasted.
The ejected tephra measured around 250 million cubic meters. This ash cloud lasted for six days and some more localized disruption continued into May. The eruption was officially declared to be over in October 2010, as the snow on the glacier had ceased to melt.
Eyjafjallajokull erupted in years 920, 1612 and again 1821-1823.
Its latest eruptions were the two that occurred in 2010.
Future volcanic developments remain unclear. The area is still highly active and can be quite unpredictable. It continues, however, to be closely monitored by The Icelandic Meterological Office.
Kerlingarfjoll is a beautiful and colourful mountain range in the Icelandic highlands that hosts the third largest geothermal area of the interior.
This is a young range of mountains, unusually created from rhyolite and both dark and bright tuff stone, about 10,000 years old. A few small glaciers grace a number of their tops. The mountains constantly change colours depending on the light, the sun and the time of day. Kerlingarfjoll are operated as a highland resort, providing food services and accommodation to guests in the area.
Thingvellir is one of the most important sites to visit in Iceland for its landscape, history and cultural value.
The Icelandic parliament was founded in Thingvellir in 930 and remained there for centuries.Thingvellir is surrounded by a beautiful mountain range and is the site of a rift valley, marking the crest of the Mid-Atlantic range. Today it is a natural park, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and considered a vital part of the ‘Golden triangle’ (with Geysir and Gullfoss). Of particular note is the magnificent gorge Almannagja, which marks the eastern boundary of the north American plate and into which the beautiful waterfall Oxararfoss falls.
Other notable attractions within the park include the beautiful lake Thingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland, the Silfra fissure, one of the world's top dives, and Gjabakkahellir, one of Iceland's most interesting lava tubes.
The Sprengisandur highland plateau stretches between the glaciers Hofsjokull and Vatnajokull (Europe’s largest glacier) and was the main route between the North and South of Iceland in former times. It stretches between the North and South at around 200 km, reaching a height of around 750-800 meters.
The highland pass is mostly barren, with scant vegetation and is only passable during summer, and even then the weather can be unpredictable. It is accessible by car but it is a gravel road so a 4WD car is recommended.
To the north one can drive over to Eyjafjordur, Skagafjordur and Bardardalur. South of Hofsjokull is the nature paradise Thjorsarver. En route you’ll have view of three glaciers: Hofsjokull to the west and Tungnafellsjokull and the mighty Vatnajokull to the east. To the southeast is the oasis of Nyidalur with excellent lodgings.
Sprengisandur has strong connections with folklore and was a hiding place for outlaws in former times, the most famous being Fjalla-Eyvindur and his wife Halla, along with fellow outlaw Arnes, who resided at the southern border of Sprengisandur (ruins Eyvindarver bear witness to their stay). Already legendary, they were further immortalised in poet and playwright Johann Sigurjonsson's play Fjalla-Eyvindur, later made into a film by Swedish director Victor Sjöström. Poet Grimur Thomsen wrote a famous poem about Sprengisandur (A Sprengisandi = 'At Sprengisandur'), which was later set to music and is a highly popular song with Icelanders.
Solheimajokull is a beautiful outlet glacier of the Myrdalsjokull icecap.
Solheimajokull is a rugged glacial tounge riddled with crevasses and spectacular ever-changing ice formations, jagged ridges and sinkholes and is popular for hiking and ice climbing.
The glacier river Jokulsa a Solheimasandur has its source at the glacier, flowing over the sand plain of Solheimasandur towards the sea.
Myrdalsjokull is a glacier in the south of the Icelandic highlands. It is the country's fourth largest glacier, covering nearly 600 km2. It's highest peak reaches around 1500 meters. Under the icecap is the volcano Katla.
Katla is active and has had at least 16 eruptions since the year 936, usually erupting every 40-80 years. It's latest eruption was in 1918. Myrdalsjokull is to the north of the village Vik and east of the famous Eyjafjallajokull glacier volcano. The popular Fimmvorduhals trail lies between the two glaciers. Due to Eyjafjallajokull's eruption in 2010 the area is closely monitored.
Skaftafell is a nature preserve in Oraefasveit. It used to be a national park of its own but joined the larger Vatnajokull National Park in 2008.
Skaftafell is notable for its rich flora, growing between sands and glaciers, and overall for its amazing and contrasting scenery. You can take short and easy trails to the waterfalls Svartifoss and Hundafoss, as well as Skaftafell glacier, with the mountain Kristinartindar and Morsardalur valley further off.
Skaftafell is also the perfect base camp for those seeking to climb Iceland’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnukur.
Hveravellir is a geothermal area and nature reserve in the Icelandic highlands, between the glaciers Hofsjokull and Langjokull.
The area features colourful sinters and smoking fumaroles, hot springs and a geothermal hot pool. Hveravellir is renowned for its beauty and is a popular stop when traveling through the highland road of Kjolur.
Solheimasandur is a vast area of sand and gravel along the south coast of Iceland, between the cliffs of the interior and the modern shoreline. It was built up by immense glacier bursts sweeping from the mountains to the shore.
The glacier bursts would come via the glacier river Jokulsa a Solheimasandi which runs from the Solheimajokull outlet glacier and towards the sea.
The beach of Solheimasandur is astonishing. It is quite common as far as sands and pebbles go but the colour stands out, a dark greenish, sometimes reddish grey, turning pure black when it turns wet. Mixed with the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean it becomes an amazing sight.
Another impressive sight is the plain wreck of a DC-3 belonging to the US Navy that ran out of fuel and crashed on the sand in 1973, and is still located at the very same spot. It is also seen in Icelandic band Sigur Ros's film Heima.
Vik in Myrdalur valley is the southernmost village on the Icelandic mainland, located 186 km from the capital Reykjavik.
Vik is important as a service centre for the inhabitants and visitors of the marvellous Reynisfjara beach.
Reynisfjara is widely considered one of the most beautiful beaches on earth (see for example Islands Magazine). This black pebble beach boasts an amazing cliff of regular basalt columns called Gardar, which resembles a rocky step pyramid and out in the sea are the spectaculary shaped basalt sea stacks Reynisdrangar. The area has rich birdlife, including puffins, fulmars and guillemots.
Kjolur/Kjalvegur is 600-700 m high mountain pass in the highlands, located east of Langjokull glacier and west of Hofsjokull. It starts by the popular rafting river Hvita (home of Gullfoss) in Arnessysla in the south and the Svartakvisl stream by Hveravellir in the North.
The area is mainly barren, consisting of gravel, sands and lava, though it was better grown in former times. Some high mountains are in the area, such as Hrutfell and Kjalfell. To the north is the geothermal area Hveravellir, popular with travelers.
The pass was the main road connecting North- and South Iceland in former times and it is mentioned as far back as in the sagas.
In the 18th century the brothers of Reynisstadur perished there and the place is said to be haunted. The road is accessible by car in the summer.
Departure time : Flexible
Iceland On Your Own bus passport for selected routes
Entry fees and camping fees
The Passport is available from 13 June to 7 September. Note that some routes start later or end earlier, please observe each individual schedule. Road and weather conditions might affect individual routes as well.
Passport is valid for one circle across both the Kjölur and Sprengisandur highland routes connecting the north and south of Iceland, either clockwise or anti-clockwise. The route covers the south from Reykjavík to Skaftafell, both Sprengisandur and Kjölur routes as well as route as well as route 6-6a between Gullfoss and Reykjavik.
All of the routes included have at least one departure time per day. Most routes have frequent stops for sightseeing and meals.