The Icelandic travel industry has tours to many special places to offer you, but because of Iceland's extreme climate and small population, public transport is underdeveloped. To travel within Iceland, you’ll need to know the details of pick-up and drop-off for various tours, as well as what to do in other special circumstances so that you can enjoy your travels without worry.
Icelandic Shuttle Tours
In Iceland, public transportation can be difficult to plan your day around, as the bus comes approximately every 15-20 minutes for the most popular routes, with a longer wait in lesser-used routes and in the evenings. The price is also more expensive than in other major metropolitan cities, and the weather in Iceland can make for an unpleasant wait.
Visitors may instead like to walk when taking the bus is inconvenient. There are many taxis in Reykjavik, but prices are astronomical. The popularity of Iceland as a tourist destination has led to an incredible number of visitors to our shores, and public transportation is hurrying to make many necessary changes to keep up with the increased demand.
To help fill the gap in these services, many of Guide to Iceland’s tours offer pick-up. The intention is to facilitate service for those who do not want to wait in the rain or snow, or withstand high winds, while in a completely strange city. We understand that you would rather be on your way in good time. Iceland day tours start early so that you may get your Icelandic adventure started without problems.
Today, Iceland's major tour operators will provide basic various day trips and multi-day tours with shuttle service. In the capital city of Reykjavik, tour buses travel to the centrally-located hotels and hostels to collect everyone who will participate in the tour, and then set off together for their destination.
However, pick-up is not available at the main shopping streets Laugavegur and Hverfisgata due to congestion on these busy streets. Also, some companies only pick up at designated points outside the narrow streets of old town. If you are staying at a hotel on either one of those streets, or in the narrow side streets near them, check with your tour operator where the alternative pick-up location is and ask at your reception for directions to that pick-up location.
The Perfect Iceland
In an ideal world, you would come to the lobby of your hotel in the morning after breakfast, your friendly tour driver would greet you, and you would be ready to go. Voila!
Unfortunately, reality is never so perfect. The pick-up policy for Icelandic tours was created with good intentions: to facilitate travel as much as possible, free from the cold windy weather and other troubles that sometimes happen. However, the actual operation will inevitably encounter some difficulties.
Pick-up time: Why not arrive at my door right before we leave?
Many tours have a pick-up time interval, such as 8 AM, which will continue for half an hour, until 8:30 AM, when you will leave on your journey. This is to allow time to pick up everyone at different hotels, guesthouses and downtown pick up points.
Because many tours offer pick-up to all their customers, the shuttle must make stops at several different locations, with only a short time to reach all the locations and begin the tour efficiently for all. There is no way to know in advance what route will be needed or how far apart the different hotels and hostels may be, and so it is impossible to know exactly where the shuttle needs to go or how much time will be needed to get there and pick up the next client.
Pick-up time: If the driver is not punctual for my pick-up, why should I be on time? Why not go into the hotel to find me or wait for me a little bit?
Drivers do not go inside the hotel to find someone who does not meet the shuttle on time. There are two reasons: Firstly, the most important reason is the requirements of Icelandic traffic rules. Temporary parking rules in front of the hotel or hostel, or at a streetside pickup point can not exceed a certain time limit. The driver is not allowed to turn off the vehicle; in fact, the driver must remain in the car, ready to leave. If the police find the driver has left the vehicle in temporary parking, it will be considered a violation of traffic rules. In severe cases, they may revoke the company's license.
Secondly, the driver may have difficulty finding long-term parking spaces, which will waste more time and involves additional parking costs. The whole process of collecting passengers and beginning the tour becomes exceptionally lengthy with delays like these, and could cause delays in many of the tours for the company that day, leaving a lot of visitors to Iceland disappointed. Prolonging the overall time needed to be on your way also affects the tour itself, reducing the amount of time you have to visit each attraction. In order to make sure the pick-up process is efficient, everyone needs to do their part to help, beginning with waiting for the shuttle bus on time.
Pick-up location: Why do I have to wait outside the hotel or at a pickup point?
As mentioned above, the drivers need to comply with traffic rules regarding temporary parking. Most drivers are not looking for tourists to exit the hotel lobby; drivers want most of all to ensure the normal operation of the tour, so it is best to wait outside to be on time. If you are cold, you can wait in the lobby near a window, watching the passing cars.
On your order confirmation, you can see the name of the operator, so watch for the tour provider's name or logo on vehicles pulling up to your hotel. If there is any confusion, ask the driver which tour he is leading before boarding the bus.
Don't board the wrong bus!
Pick-up location: My accommodation is not on the pick-up list …
Reykjavik has seen the rise of many new hotels and B&Bs during the tourism boom. Sometimes they seem to appear overnight! Not all addresses can be included in shuttle pick-up. Operators need to be constantly trained to stay aware of these new hotel addresses and private B&B addresses. There is no way for all of them to automatically be included in the list of regular pick-up locations.
Tour operators often find locations by address, including hotels and hostels, usually those with words like Hotel, Guesthouse or Hostel in the name. There are many conventional Reykjavik apartments being used as hotels through websites like AirBnB, and these apartments are not likely to be on the list.
...What should I do about pick-up?
If a problem occurs, the most rapid and effective way to get it resolved is to contact the tour operator. After you receive your booking confirmation e-mail, you will see telephone numbers for the tour operators you have selected. Give them a call and supply your name and the name of the tour so that the tour operator can immediately check on the status of your tour. You may also see an order number on your confirmation e-mail, giving this number to the tour operator is extremely helpful when you can.
The most effective way to sort out any issues is to contact your tour operator directly. If there is no phone number provided with your confirmation information, or you are uncomfortable speaking English, you can call the hotel front desk for help.
I’ve waited a long time and the driver has not come!
As mentioned above, pick-up is designed as a specific interval of time and so it is impossible to say when exactly the driver will reach a specific location. You will need to be patient. If you have not seen the tour bus and you are nearing the end of the pick-up time, you can contact the tour operator for information. Their number is listed on your tour voucher. Remember to wait outside the hotel, or if you must stay inside, wait by the door and watch out for your tour shuttle. Most tour operators will not stop and look for anyone waiting inside the hotel, so be ready!
I missed the bus!
If you miss the bus, the tour will not be refundable, and, in most cases, cannot be adjusted. Guide to Iceland will try our best to help you to make other arrangements, such as rescheduling the tour on the next day, but it can be difficult to arrange this if you have chosen many tours in a tightly-packed vacation schedule. In addition, the next day may have no vacancy. So be sure not to miss the tour because of lateness or other reasons. It will delay the trip and, once missed, you cannot get a refund.
Summer & Holiday Road Closures
In the summer as well as some special events during the year, roads in Reykjavik’s downtown area may temporarily be closed, causing tour buses, mini-buses, and city buses to change their routes. There are no set routes during these different events, and they are finalised very close to the event itself, so it is difficult to know in advance.
Your tour operator will keep you updated on changes like these before departure; be sure to pay attention to any e-mails you may receive from Guide to Iceland or the tour operators after you have confirmed your booking.
The tour operator will always inform you of the latest information by e-mail. For example, you may need to walk to an alternate pick-up location near your accommodation to wait outside the parade route, rather than being able to wait at your accommodation.
In Extreme Weather
If the tour was canceled because of extreme weather, it will be rescheduled and customers will be notified a day in advance. Extreme weather may also cause delays in tours even if they are not canceled, so be aware that you may need to wait longer. Although the Icelandic weather service attempts to keep the public informed, it is often not possible to anticipate sudden storms, in which case there will be no advance notice of any changes.
If you are in doubt, contact your tour provider for consultation. In addition to extreme weather itself causing a delay, road accidents, road closures, temporary diversions and other delays can also occur as a result of the weather.
Tours in other Areas: Transfers and Set Locations
Akureyri Tour Transfers
There are many local tours in Akureyri, the main town in the north. The city is very compact, and local travel companies will provide a regional shuttle. Because Iceland is small, there are day trips from Reykjavik which begin with a short domestic flight to Akureyri, where you will meet your tour guide at the airport to begin your journey.
For these tours, transportation to the Reykjavik Domestic Airport is not included. You must go by yourself to the Reykjavik Domestic Airport, on the edge of the center of the capital, just a 5-minute drive. You can take a taxi. Alternatively, you can take bus number 15 or 19 to reach Reykjavik Domestic Airport. Bus 15 stops near the Air Iceland terminal and bus 19 stops near the Eagle Air terminal.
Meeting Places for Glacier Hiking Tours
If you’re traveling by rental car, glacier hiking can be one of the easiest activities to join. Glacier trekking is the most popular year-round activities in Iceland, and so there are many locations and lengths of time to choose from.
Many glacier hiking tours have a departure point you must reach by car. The specific locations for each tour provider are different, so you should carefully review the information on the tour page, and any confirmation information. However, there are two main meeting places you may keep in mind.
The first location is the Solheimajökull glacier camp and Skaftafell Mountain Nature Reserve Visitor Center. You should not put these locations directly into Google Maps, because the GPS will pinpoint the glacier itself and the national park, rather than a location suitable for driving, such as the parking lot.
Navigation around Iceland is not so difficult; even without the assistance of GPS, you can follow the road signs. Ask questions of the locals or purchase a paper map at any gas station for more help.
If you don’t have a car, there are many glacier trekking tours with scenic routes for extra sightseeing that will provide capital transfers. There are also glacier hiking and ice climbing day trips which have transportation to and from Reykjavik (at an extra cost).
Related Resources: Glacier Trekking Tours
Collection sites for Snorkeling & Diving Tours
Snorkeling and diving in the large geothermal fissures in Iceland (such as Silfra) has become very popular in recent years. Silfra fissure is one of the three major scenic spots on the popular Golden Circle. Thingvellir National Park does not have a proper postal address, but you should plan to meet at Thingvellir National Park information Centre Car Park.
Meeting Place for Snowmobile Tours
Snowmobile tours in Iceland have four main locations: Langjökull glacier, Sólheimajökull glacier, Vatnajökull glacier, and Mýrdalsjökull glacier, as well as the northern part of Akureyri. If you are going snowmobiling on Langjökull glacier, your tour will leave from Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall) parking lot on the Golden Circle; If the participant is going snowmobiling on Mýrdalsjökull glacier, the meeting place is at the foot of the glacier at the base camp called Ytri-Sólheimar 1. Snowmobile tours of Vatnajökull glacier currently depart from Vagnsstaðir Hostel, at the address and location listed in the link above. The Akureyri rendezvous point is in downtown Akureyri, at the Saga Travel Booking Centre.
Related Resources: Iceland Snowmobile tours
Meeting Place for Reykjavik Whale, Puffin, and Fishing Tours
Most of Reykjavik shuttle tours do not charge extra cost for pick-up and drop-off, but a common exception is the Reykjavik whale watching tours. However, as long as you are not staying far from the city center, you can walk to the meeting place and save money.
Reykjavik whale watching, bird watching, fishing tours depart from the old port in Reykjavik (called the Old Harbour). Approaching the harbour, you will first see the large, colorful boats, and then a row of small houses on the pier. Each of these small houses is a boat tour led by different operators, in the shadow of the large glass building which is Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center.
Related Resources: Whale watching & puffin watching tours from Reykjavik
What other questions do you have about pick-up for group tours in Iceland?