Monday 11 June 2018

Don't follow me, I'm lost too!

I suspect that you probably couldn’t go far wrong touring rural Iceland without maps. The country is very sparsely populated and most of the terrain is rough and mountainous, much of it semi-desert, so the road network is also fairly sparse. This pdf leaflet, in English, describes the road network in 2017. It tells us that there is only 12,901 km of road in the entire country, and only 4,416 of those are the “Primary” roads which you would travel between towns and villages, which are almost entirely on, or within a few kilometres of, the coast. It would be difficult to get lost on such a road network.

The main reason why you might want maps is to have tourist information. There is quite a range of maps available, notably from Stanfords, but like almost everything else about Iceland, they are expensive. They also have a reputation for being printed on thin, poor-quality paper – perhaps OK sitting in a car but useless out in the wind and rain on a bicycle. My daughter bought one and it was falling apart after a few days spread out on the sitting room floor for planning.

You can in any case get all the information you need for free on the internet.

The starting point would be this cyclists’ map, updated in 2016, downloadable from It can also be obtained on paper from cycle shops in country.  Information about roads includes: paved (red/pink) or gravel (grey); daily traffic volumes, distances km between marks; summit heights between marks; sectors with gradient 6-10% or >10% and which way is uphill. It also shows services available at settlements, location of cycling support services, and bus stops outside settlements. I’m going to print off the area I need and laminate it, and also store the pdf on my iPad.

A corner of the cycling map, with legend. This section of road is all asphalt,
500-1,500 vpd (roughly 1 per minute in either direction)
A lot of useful information can also be gleaned from Google Maps – most hotels, hostels, guesthouses, restaurants and tourist attractions can be seen at large enough scale, or searched. While parts of Iceland have 4G mobile coverage, most has only 3G and some is only 2G so maps on the go are going to be difficult, but an alternative is to download the country map from onto a phone or iPad. Then the map is stored and can be followed by the GPS.

I used google maps in Chrome browser to use the Walking Directions feature (cycling directions doesn’t seem to work for Iceland) to get point-to-point distances with an altitude profile and max height, total climbed and total descended. It doesn’t quite tally with the topo maps on highest point on route, but they are close.
I hope it doesn’t take me as long as it shows here! (Reydarfjodur to Neskaupstadur via the Oddsskarð pass. My return will be low-level, via the tunnel opened in November 2017)
A good source of topographical mapping is available at, part of openstreetmap. I printed to pdf, to store on my iPad, about six pages at a scale of about 166k, which has contour lines at 10m intervals.

It doesn’t have much tourist information, but it does show campsites, and the detail increases as you increase the scale.

For tourism information, about campsites/hostels, where to eat and drink or buy groceries etc, and sights of interest, each region has its own website: covers the east, covers the north etc. They have links to local websites such as covering the principal eastern fjords.

Finally Google streetview gives useful clues about the state of the road, its surface, gradients etc, if you drop pins regularly along a road. I find works best for this. You can also create rather crude animations from streetview with utilities such as and watch them play out, in rather slow motion, if you have nothing better to do!

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