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If you want to travel from Reykjavik to Akureyri using public transport you have three options. You can fly. You can take the bus around the ring Road. Or you can be more adventurous and take the bus across the Kjölur Highland Route F35.
The Kjölur F35 route, like all Iceland’s F routes, is rough, unpaved and only accessible to suitable vehicles during the summer months. The bus service, operated by SBA-Norðurleid, runs several time a week from mid-June to early September. Follow the link to see current dates and timetables (see the Scheduled Bus Service tab).
I have wanted to take the F35 Highland route since I first read about it, and finally got round to doing it recently. It is more of an excursion than just a bus route. The journey takes a total of 10.5 hours, and there are various interesting stops en route for photography, refreshments and toilet facilities.
The journey can be done in either direction. Either way it begins at 8.00 am at the appropriate bus station. We started at Reykjavik, so I will describe the journey from there.
We boarded our minibus at the BSI Bus Terminal, and were surprised to find we were the only passengers, though a few hikers and cyclists did join and leave at various points along the journey. The route initially follows the attractive ring road southeast through Hveragerdi. It then turns northward to the first stop of the day – Geysir.
First Stop – Geysir
Here the bus stops for about 30 minutes, which should be long enough to see the regular Strokkur geyser erupt, probably several times. If you haven’t seen a geyser erupting before, this is a very special experience and definitely a fantastic bonus of taking this trip. And if you have seen the geyser before, as we had, it is still a very worthwhile stop. Watching geysers is endlessly fascinating!
In addition to seeing the geyser, there is a large gift shop, excellent restaurant and toilets here.
There are also a couple of good hotels and holiday cottages (available through booking.com). On our first trip to Iceland (see A Magical Journey Around the Ring Road), we spent a night in one of the hotels here, and would highly recommend it. You can easily arrange to pick up the bus here the next day to continue your journey to Akureyri.
By staying here, you get to watch the geyser when the day-trippers have gone, and also explore more of this fascinating area.
Leaving Geysir, the bus heads off to the next destination which is another classic tourist hotspot – Gullfoss.
Again the bus waits here for around 30 minutes. This is long enough to check out several of the viewpoints for the hugely impressive waterfall. Which is definitely worthwhile, whether you have seen Gullfoss before or not.
Gullfoss is famed for the rainbows which form in the copious amounts of spay. Unfortunately, though, it was a dull and gloomy day when we in did this trip, so there were no rainbows to be seen. But just beexpensiveing close to such a huge volume of cascading water is exhillerating. You can feel, as well as hear, the force of the falls.
There are all the usual tourist facilities here, including a gift shop, restaurant and toilets – see Gullfoss. There are also lovely mountain views from the carpark.
Rough Roads – The F35 Route
Shortly after leaving Gullfoss, the bus leaves the surfaced road and, perhaps thankfully, mass tourism behind. The road becomes the F35 route, which is a rough gravel track, and the landscapes become harsher.
The road was actually nowhere near as rough as I was expecting. We have enjoyed bus trips to Laki and Thorsmork in the past, and this road is nothing like as rough as those were. There were no river crossings, and the track was relatively well maintained, though of course this may depend very much on the weather conditions. We did the trip at the very start of the summer season, and it is possible that the road deteriorates as more traffic uses the F35 route throughout the summer.
Driving the F35 route with a four wheel drive hire car should be no problem at all unless the weather is particularly bad. (Don’t attempt it in an ordinary two wheel drive car because your insurance won’t cover F routes).
Of course the route is rough in places, and you get a bit jarred and shaken around. I have seen reviews where people have complained that the journey was very uncomfortable and bumpy. Don’t these people do any research at all? Surely the whole reason for choosing to take this route is to get a glimpse of Iceland’s remote interior. If there was a smooth paved road all the way it wouldn’t be wild and remote, and there would be far more traffic using it.
If you really don’t like travelling on rougher roads, you should stick to Route 1. I have intermittent back trouble, but I didn’t find the F35 route to be a problem at all, and any discomfort was more than worth it to see this fascinating part of Iceland.
The scenery is not exactly pretty: not much grows out here. The landscapes are stark and bleak. The emptiness is striking, but, depending on the light, hauntingly beautiful in places.
We passed this lovely waterfall, where the driver kindly stopped to let us take some photos.
The next stop on the route is at Kerlingarfjöll, where there is mountain accommodation, camping facilities and a simple restaurant. Unfortunately when we arrived here the weather turned to gale-force winds and sleety snow (in late July!), so we were just pleased to get a very welcome hot coffee in the restaurant.
Even in these weather conditions, we could see that this is a spectacular location. There are hiking trails through colourful rhyolite mountains, hot springs and geysers, and beautiful glacier views. This would be a great place to spend a couple of nights if you want to hike in these beautiful and remote mountains. For more information see kerlingarfjoll.is.
Hveravellir Geothermal Area
The next major stop is at the Hveravellir Geothermal Area. Here there are fascinating fumaroles, steam vents and bubbling hot springs. A well laid out trail with information boards makes it easy to walk around the main site. Unfortunately it was still raining heavily when we visited, but we still thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the site.
Here are a couple of short clips I shot showing an active steam vent and a bubbling hot spring.
Active steam vent
The bus stops here for around an hour, which is long enough to explore the immediate site, and bathe in the hot springs if you wish. There is also a good restaurant and toilet facilities.
For more information, including accommodation and hiking trails, see Hveravellir.com.
Route to Akureyri
After leaving Hveravellir, the journey descends passing scenic reservoirs and the Blönduvirkjun Power Plant, before the F35 Highland route finally ends and rejoins Route 1. Even from here, it is still a long (but very scenic) drive to Akureyri.
Our driver made one more stop at a convenient services where we could buy provisions and have a coffee, before arriving in Akureyri at around 6.30 pm. Because we were the only passengers at this time he happily dropped us off close to our accommodation, which we very much appreciated.
Thoughts and Advice
I am so pleased we finally got round to doing this trip. Here are a few thoughts about the journey, and advice if you are thinking of doing the trip yourself.
Bus Service Operating Season and Tickets
The bus service operates from mid-June to early September only. See SBA-Norðurleid (Scheduled Bus Service tab) for timetables and bookings.
We were the only pre-booked passengers joining the bus at Reykjavik the day we did the tour. Several passengers (with and without tickets) did join the tour at various sites, including cyclists with their bikes. This was no problem because the bus was almost empty.
But it is only a small bus, and I certainly wouldn’t want to just assume that a place would be available, especially if you are sticking to a planned itinerary. It is much safer to buy your tickets online in advance and know you have a place. You can just download your ticket to your phone and show it to the driver when you join.
It is expensive
Like most things in Iceland, the trip is expensive. We paid well over 100 GBP each for the trip (in June 2019). Taking the bus around the ring road would have been cheaper (around 50 GBP each), but we wouldn’t have had the the wonderful stops and the experience of crossing the interior.
Our driver was extremely friendly and helpful, and told us lots about the places we passed on the route.
To us the extra cost was definitely worth it – many excursions cost more that this.
It is a long day
The total journey time is about 10.5 hours, but there are plenty of stops en route. For comparison, the ring road bus takes about 6.5 hours.
Remember that a significant part of the 10.5 hours is spent at Geysir, Gullfoss, Kerlingarfjöll and Hveravellir. Unless you are in a hurry, or not good at travelling on buses, consider the trip a fantastic excursion rather than just a means of getting from A to B.
Be prepared for bad weather
The interior of Iceland is pretty bleak, and the weather can change quickly. We were a bit unlucky and had very strong winds, heavy rain and even some sleety snow. And this was towards the end of June!
Make sure you have something warm to wear, and a windproof and waterproof jacket handy.
Bring food and drinks
Although ample refreshments are available at all of the stops, it is a shame not to use the time to explore. You only have 30 minutes and Geysir and Gullfoss, so you don’t want to spend your time queuing for coffee and a cake!
Want more time to explore?
There are lots of organised tours that include Geysir and Gullfoss (see this page at Viator for ideas). These may give you more time at these fantastic sites, though you are likely to be with a much larger group. Of course with your own vehicle you can stay as long as you like! (See Holiday Autos for a great choice in car hire).
There are a couple of hotels and holiday cottages very close to Geysir (see this page at booking.com which also includes accommodation close to Gullfoss). We highly recommend an overnight stay if you want to enjoy the geyser when the tour groups have gone.
If you wish to stay longer in the interior, perhaps to explore some of the hiking trails, there is accommodation at both Kerlingarfjoll and Hveravellir. You can easily arrange to get the bus to one of these sites, stay a night or longer, and then continue by bus to Akureyri.
Despite unfortunate weather, and the road not being quite as rough and wild as we expected, we really enjoyed this journey across the F35 Kjölur Highland Route. If you want a glimpse of Iceland’s remote interior, but don’t want to hike for days or hire an expensive 4×4 vehicle, this is a great alternative – don’t miss it!
(Please remember that this post is based purely on our own experiences, therefore kindly note the Disclaimer)
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