Few years ago there was the saying “Only retarded and foreign workers use the bus”. This was before the crisis. Now the public transport system Strætó got more and more popular, also with Icelanders. How to use Strætó to get around Reykjavík & Iceland and much more, you’ll find here.
As I use the public transport daily since I moved to Reykjavík, I got quite used to it. However, there are still things which confuse me and are different to German cities, like for example Berlin or Dresden, where I used to live. I like to share some information and experiences with you about Strætó public transport, which operates busses in Iceland and Reykjavík. Let’s start with the positive things.
Good to know
- You can only pay cash and with accurate amount in the bus as the bus driver keeps the change. This doesn’t apply for the intercity busses.
- If you have to change bus routes ask for a transfer ticket in the first bus you enter as you will discharge your ticket there and otherwise will have no proof in the next bus that you’ve already paid your journey. Just stare at the little black box next besides the driver and he/she will understand you need a transfer ticket and print it automatically, if your Icelandic or English is not the best.
- If you buy an intercity bus ticket in the bus, it might be cheaper as e.g. at the N1 gas station. However, I would recommend to buy your ticket in advance in the high season as there occur long queues in front of the bus.
- You always enter busses at the front door to show your ticket to the driver. You always leave the bus through the doors in the middle or back of the bus. Don’t even try to use the front door – this is a fixed flow.
- Always keep an eye on the street as some busses might just skip your stop when the bus driver assumes you are not waiting for his route, especially if the bus stops serves more than one route. This can be particularly fatal if there is a snow storm or -5° degrees.
- Some of the intercity busses have sockets to recharge your smartphone – isn’t that great!
- Always check out your route and the direction you have to go to, because there are no maps and routes in the bus itself. This might cause some trouble if you are not quite sure if you picked the right bus in the right direction. I miss this from the public transport in Berlin where you always could spot your location on one of the maps in the vehicles.
- Important bus stops:
- Hlemmur: Central urban Reykjavík bus station where almost every bus route stops
- Mjódd: Central intercity bus station for intercity busses leaving or arriving at Reykjavík
- Ártún: Important stop for busses leaving Reykjavík, especially leaving Reykjavík to West and North Iceland, for example if you want to go hiking up the famous Mt. Esja
- BSÍ: Bus terminal especially for the Reykjavík Excursion Fly Busses, but also used by Strætó intercity routes. You might spot it on the schedule with the incredibly catchy name “Umferðarmiðstöðin”
The first thing I recognised about Strætós service was its modern approach: They have WiFi in some busses, you can pay your ticket with your smartphone, they have a Strætó App EVEN (!) for Windows Phone, what made me as a WP user especially happy and there are also sockets in some busses to recharge your phone. Besides that their website is pretty informative and well structured – all the neccessary things are also provided in English. That’s something not every European bus company can claim about their websites. The analog bus tickets with their post stamp size look like from the 1930’s though.
Regarding the extreme weather they have to cope with, it is impressive how punctual Strætó busses are. If I compare it to Berlin, the BVG sometimes had huge trouble with snow and other “extreme” German weather. It also needs some severe weather conditions to stop the buses operating. Last week I was travelling from the South to Reykjavík and the wind gusts were crazy. The bus driver however was totally unimpressed. Since then I appreciate the seat belts in busses as much as in cars.
Since a few years the Strætó bus network is growing and growing. The only remaining dead spot on Iceland is now the East. The bus routes stop at Höfn coming from the southeast and at Egilsstaðir coming from the northeast. I really appreciate the intercity bus network as it is a good way to come around in Iceland without having an own car. Because cars are insanely expensive in Iceland. Also, I think it is the right way to travel to safe this unique and delicate nature. Regarding the number of inhabitants the bus network is approaching a lot of destinations and is operating quite frequently.
If you know your destination and the location of the bus stops you sometimes might need to stops just in between. Ask the bus driver, if he can let you out on an exceptional stop. At least for the intercity busses this always worked for me. However, most likely you won’t need it in the Reykjavík area or how it is called in Icelandic Höfuðborgarsvæðið (catchy word again) as the busses sometimes painfully often stop here.
Basically it is really hard to find unfriendly service staff in Iceland. Most of the time you will meet people who are friendly and very helpful (also see #8 In 10 Specialties about travelling in Iceland). This however doesn’t apply for the Strætó service staff working at Hlemmur nor at the service office. I’ve never met a friendly seller at Hlemmur neither did I ever received an answer to my questions via e-mail about certain intercity connections.
Sometimes you look at a bus schedule and you are thinking to yourself “Where the heck is this bus driving to”. There are loops and different colours in the routes and no explanation on the schedule, which could help to find out where this bus will gonna lead you. Not even in Icelandic, so you could consult Google translator. If you are lucky, there might be a local also waiting at the stop. And if you are really lucky then he or she knows the route and its features. If not you just can try your luck with “trial and error” – the positive effect on this: You get to know areas you otherwise would have never been to.
If you rely on the public service, it is late, the weather is shitty and you had a long (travel) day, you can get really pissed off when you miss the bus. Especially if you just missed it by a hairbreadth. This happened to me the other day, although there was a so called Rendezvous where all the busses gather at one particular bus stop so you can get your connection. The other day I had to sprint to catch my bus. This is nothing but unneccessary.
If you are late for work and you wait for the bus to come and after 15 minutes you realise that the bus won’t come today, because your bus stop is not operated, this can cause quite some jitters. This happend to me and the only “information” I could find was an unflashy note in Icelandic. With the only two Icelandic words “ekki” (not) and “fara” (go) I recognised and the fact that no bus had arrived yet I could somehow make sense out of it. However, in a touristic city like Reykjavík and a language like Icelandic which is assumed to be spoken by only roughly 350.000 people, you could expect at least a tiny English note. Couldn’t you?!
Watch out – Grandpa driving
A big part of the Strætó bus drivers seems to be beyond 60+. The good thing is, they still work and seem to enjoy their work. Working into old age is quite common in Iceland and considered as joy to do so. They also speak all good English, which I have never experienced in Germany (in regions you might be lucky if they speak German at a comprehensible level). But it also seems like they are due to their experience the most venturesome drivers. Sometimes they approach a bus stop with 60 km/h at icy street conditions just to brake as hard as possible. This is not so much fun with luggage or heavy shopping bags.
In total, Strætó is a good thing and you should really consider to drive around in Reykjavík with their service, if you are staying longer than three days or you visit Iceland in the high season. Always keep in mind: It is the greenest solution you can get to experience this lovely little island with its stunning nature and with travelling that way you make sure it will stay healthy.