How do you find your way in Iceland? How do pick-ups for tours operate? What should you do if your tour is set for you to meet on location? Read on for information on bus tours, pick-ups and meeting points in Iceland.
The Icelandic travel industry offers thrilling tours to the country's most amazing natural attractions, but because of Iceland's extreme climate and small population, public transport is still largely 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 special circumstances so that you can enjoy your travels without any misgivings.
Within Iceland's shining capital city Reykjavík, public transportation can be difficult to plan your day around, as the bus comes approximately every 15-20 minutes for the most popular routes, but with longer waiting periods for lesser-used routes and during the evenings.
The price is also more expensive than in other major metropolitan cities, and the rare few buses that leave the city for the countryside (where the natural attractions await) cost about five times as much.
Visitors may, instead, like to walk around the city when taking the bus proves to be inconvenient. Naturally, there is a taxi service, but the 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 the many changes necessary to keep up with the increased demand.
To help fill the gaps of these services, many of Guide to Iceland’s tours offer free pick-up in the city. Day tours also tend to start early so that you can kickstart your adventures with ease and fully enjoy the scope of your day in the land of ice and fire.
Today, Iceland's major tour operators provide various day trips and multi-day tours with shuttle services. Most are done aboard a comfortable minibus so that the number of passengers is limited, providing a more intimate experience.
In Reykjavík, 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 already-busy but narrow streets.
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 particular pick-up location.
Don't worry, the city centre is small and you will most likely be facing only a couple of minutes of walking.
In an ideal world, you would leisurely stroll to the lobby of your hotel in the morning after breakfast, your friendly tour driver would greet you personally, and you would head straight to your destination of the day.
Unfortunately, the reality is never so perfect. The pick-up policy for tours in Iceland was created with good intentions―to facilitate travel as much as possible. However, the actual operation will inevitably encounter some difficulties.
Many tours have a pick-up time interval, such as 8 am, which will continue for half an hour, or until 8:30 am, which is when you will leave on your journey. This is to allow for time to pick up different individuals at different hotels, guesthouses and other downtown pick-up points.
Because many tours offer pick-up for 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 everyone involved.
There is no way to know in advance what route will be needed that particular day, or how far apart the different hotels and hostels may be, making it impossible to know exactly how much time will be needed for the shuttle to arrive at any particular meeting point.
But what if you face the dreaded scenario of tripping in the shower or realising that your camera isn't charged? Can't the driver come to the lobby to find you or wait outside for just a few moments?
Drivers, as it were, do not go inside the hotel to find someone who does not wait for the shuttle outside on time. There are two very valid reasons for this.
Firstly, it has to do with the requirements of Icelandic traffic laws. Temporary parking by larger vehicles on the central streets cannot exceed a certain time limit. The driver is simply not allowed to turn off the engine and must, in fact, remain in the shuttle ready to leave.
If the police find the driver has left the vehicle in temporary parking, it will be considered a violation of the traffic rules, wherein severe cases, the tour company's license might even get revoked.
Secondly, the driver may have difficulty finding long-term parking spaces, which will waste valuable time and involve additional parking costs. The whole process of collecting passengers and beginning the tour would become exceptionally lengthy with such delays, leaving a lot of travellers disappointed.
In order to make sure the pick-up process is efficient, everyone needs to do their part to help, beginning with the excursionists waiting patiently for the shuttle bus, either outside or right by the hotel lobby's window.
On your voucher, 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, simply ask the driver which tour he is leading before boarding the bus.
Reykjavík has seen a surge of new hotels and guesthouses because of the boom in tourism over the last decade. Sometimes, they seem to appear overnight! Not all addresses can be included on a pick-up list and operators need to be constantly aware of these new hotels.
There are, as well, many conventional apartments in Reykjavík being used to accommodate travellers through websites like Airbnb, but these private apartments are not likely to be on the list of pick-ups.
If a problem occurs, the most rapid and effective way to get it resolved is to contact the tour operator directly. 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 location. You may also see a serial number on your confirmation e-mail; giving this number to the tour operator is extremely helpful.
If there is no phone number provided with your confirmation information, or you are uncomfortable speaking English, you can talk to the people at the front desk of your hotel for help, or the hotel nearest the place you are staying at. With their increasing numbers, the next one is probably just a stone's throw away!
As mentioned above, pick-up is designed during 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.
The number is always 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.
If you miss the bus, the tour will not be refundable, and, in most cases, cannot be adjusted. If you booked with Guide to Iceland, we will try our best to help you to make other arrangements, such as rescheduling the tour on the next day.
It can, however, be difficult to arrange this, especially if you have chosen many tours in a tightly-packed vacation schedule. Additionally, the next day may have no vacancy. So try to be there on time!
During the summer, Reykjavík hosts a myriad of events, parades, protests and festivals. During those special events, some roads in the downtown area may temporarily be closed, causing tour buses, mini-buses, and city buses to change their routes.
Your tour operator will keep you updated on changes like these before departure, so be sure to pay attention to any e-mails you may receive from the tour operators after you have confirmed your booking.
In case you need to walk to an alternate pick-up location near your accommodation to get away from a marching band blocking the road, remember that your hotel lobby should always be able to give your directions.
If your tour gets cancelled 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 cancelled, such as a slight alteration of the planned route due to road availability.
If you are in doubt, contact your tour provider for consultation. In addition to the weather itself causing a delay, road accidents, road closures, temporary diversions and other delays can also occur as a result of the weather. Of course, the customer is not to blame for the elements of nature, so full compensation is always in order.
There are many local tours running from Akureyri, the Capital of the North, where local travel companies will provide a regional shuttle. There also exist day trips from Reykjavík 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 Reykjavík Domestic Airport is not included. You must make your way to the edge of the centre of the capital, which is just a 5-minute taxi ride. Alternatively, you can take bus number 15 or 12 to reach the urban airport.
If you’re travelling by rental car, controlling the pace of your journey in Iceland, glacier hiking can be one of the easiest activities to join. Following a guide across the surface of a glacier is one of the most popular year-round activities in Iceland, meaning there are many locations and schedules 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.
You should not put the names of the glaciers 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. You can always just ask the locals or purchase a paper map at any gas station for more help.
With that said, if you're not driving, 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 include transportation to and from Reykjavík.
Picture from Drysuit Diving Silfra Day Tour
Snorkelling and diving in the continental Silfra Fissure in Þingvellir National Park, part of the Golden Circle route, has become very popular in recent years. Because Þingvellir does not have a proper postal address, the location to look for is Þingvellir Parking P5.
Snowmobile tours in Iceland have several main locations, being the four glaciers of Langjökull, Sólheimajökull, Vatnajökull and Mýrdalsjökull, as well as the snowy slopes in the northern part of Akureyri.
If snowmobiling on Langjökull glacier, your tour will leave from the parking lot of Gullfoss Waterfall. If you go 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 depart, by season, from either Vagnsstaðir Hostel, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Parking Lot or by the junction of Road 1 and F985. The Akureyri rendezvous point is in downtown at street Súluvegur, or you get picked up from the location of your accommodation.
Most of Reykjavík's bus tours do not charge extra cost for pick-up and drop-off, but a common exception would be the whale watching tours. This is due to the fact that whale watching in Reykjavík sets out from the Old Harbour, which is very centrally located and easily accessible by foot if you're staying anywhere near the centre.
The same goes for puffin safaris and fishing tours. Approaching the harbour, you will first see a row of colourful boats, and then a series 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.
Do you have any additional questions on pick-up information or meeting points in Reykjavík, Akureyri or the rest of Iceland? Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments box below!