It is great to drive around on your own time without dependence on pre-fixed schedules or destinations. You can just enjoy the unique landscape of this rugged island in your own time. If that is what you have decided, I’m guessing you are an independent traveller. That’s great; just make sure you know all about driving in Iceland before starting your trip!
Driving in Iceland is not like driving in most other countries
It is important that you are an experienced driver and that you can react when conditions change, such as weather, quality of the roads and so on. If you are well prepared and well informed, you should be able to have a worry-free and enjoyable trip. Here are a few tips for you to keep safe and understand the rules on the Icelandic roads:
The Ring Road
The Icelandic Road system is relatively easy to navigate. Our most-travelled route in Iceland is highway no. 1, often called the Ring Road. It is sometimes necessary to close parts of it during winter due to weather conditions. They usually do not last for more than a day or so.
Many major roads are paved, but a large portion of the road system is gravel roads, particularly the highlands. Gravel roads are often with potholes or washboard surfaces. Though most of them are in pretty good condition, care must be taken while driving. Loose gravel can be difficult to drive in, and always be careful when passing another vehicle.
Furthermore, sand and small rocks can easily cause damage to cars, such as cracked windshields or a ruined paint job. While driving on gravel, slow down when an oncoming car approaches you. Also, notice that mountain roads are often narrow and not made for speeding. The same goes for bridges, which are often only wide enough for one car at a time.
Off-road driving is strictly prohibited by law in Iceland. Because of our short summers, the soil and vegetation can be very vulnerable. Please respect nature, treat it carefully and stay on the roads.
Stay alert for warning signs which indicate danger ahead, such as sharp bends. Also, notice that there are generally no different signs of reducing speed. It is your responsibility to choose a safe speed according to the conditions. The general speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on gravel roads in rural areas, and 90 km/h on asphalt roads.
Weather in Iceland
Make sure you check the weather before starting your trip. Driving in Iceland demands particular attention to conditions, especially when heading into the highlands. Also, be sure your car is a four-wheel-drive vehicle, so you won’t get stuck in the middle of nowhere. There you can encounter rough terrain and unabridged waters. The highland roads are closed in winter, and the weather sometimes causes other roads to be closed. Here you can find the weather forecast.
What do I need to know before driving a car in Iceland?
Make sure you have your trip somewhat planned out when choosing your car. Most car rentals do not allow their cars to be driven on F gravel roads. If you want to check the highlands, rent a car where that is permitted. You might have to include extra insurance. It is actually a good rule of thumb to get additional insurance, no matter where you are travelling.
You must rent a 4×4 car if you want to go into the highlands. Beware that rivers do not always have bridges over them in the highlands. So, you will have to drive through it to get to the other site.
The roads might also be a bit narrower than you are used to. Roads outside of the capital area are usually no more than two-lane.
Road Safety When Driving in Iceland
Most mountain roads are closed until the end of June because of snow and muddy conditions. When they open, they are often only suitable for four-wheel-drive vehicles. You can check the conditions here.
It is wise to let someone know where you are going. You can leave your travel plan with Safe Travel. If you ever find yourself in immediate danger or lost, please dial 112 for emergencies. You should get immediate help or advice. For further information on ICE-SAR, check out our blog post.
Most gas stations are automated self-service filling stations. They are operated along the main roads and in the towns. Distances between the stations may vary, so ensure you have enough fuel to reach the next one.
Is it safe to drive in Iceland?
Generally, it is very safe to drive in Iceland. However, you will have to check the weather forecast before your trip. If there is a weather warning, it is best to skip the trip that day.
There could also be the occasional sheep on the road when driving in Iceland. Sheep roam free from spring to fall in Iceland, and even if there is supposed to be a fence next to the road, they occasionally get out. You will also never know in which way they will run, so just slow down and wait and see which way they go.
Don’t Rely Soley on GPS – You Could End Up on the Other Side of the Country
Many rental cars have a GPS system where you can type in your destination, and the GPS tells you where to go. That has not always worked as it should for travellers in Iceland, as many towns have the same street names or old farms have the same names as town streets. It is advisable to also have a map in your car to know which direction you should be going and compare it to your GPS. You can buy a map at tourist information centers, gas stations, and bookstores. That way, you can be sure it is taking you to the correct destination, and you do not lose any time getting lost.
For your safety, you are obliged to keep the headlights on at all times, day and night. You are also obliged to wear safety belts. It is forbidden to drive under alcohol and driving while talking on a mobile phone.
Road Etiquette in Iceland
Many people stop on the roads to enjoy the breathtaking views surrounding them. Some cross the roads walking while looking around, taking all this nature in. Please do not do this. This is very dangerous. There are plenty of stops on the roads designed for you to park, take a photo and enjoy the views surrounding you. There is no need to stop in the middle of the road putting yourself and others at significant risk.
In many places in Iceland, you will find a peculiar thing; single-lane bridges. They’re not only in the countryside but also on the Ring Road itself. And there are quite a few bridges in Iceland. But just know that who is closer to the bridge is allowed on the bridge. It’s not written laws or anything, just etiquette Icelanders know.
Which are the cheapest car rentals in Reykjavik, Iceland?
Like with every other country, the further in advance you book your car, the better prices you will get. Also, you must be at least 21 years old to rent a car in Iceland. If your driver’s licence is in Latin letters, you’re good to go. However, if you come from a country like China or Japan, you must obtain an international license.
Having said that, there are a few car rentals to keep an eye out for. Many rental car companies have an office right at the airport, so you won’t have to go far to pick up your car. Some even offer a pickup service from the airport to their offices.
One of the best ways to find a cheap rental car in Iceland is through rentalcars.com. The website allows you to search through most car rental databases in Iceland.
But keep in mind, cheap isn’t always the best. Enterprise Car Rental is a good reputable car rental that is worth checking out.
What are some Iceland “Ring Road” trip tips
The Ring Road is 821 miles long (1322 kilometres), so even if you technically could drive it in one day, that’s no fun. We recommend at least 5 days going around the island, but that’s the bare minimum.
The next thing you need to do is to plan where you are going to sleep. Hostels? Hotels? In a tent? Are you driving a camper van?
If you’re driving a camper van, you must park in a camping ground overnight unless you get permission from the landowner to park. It is, of course, easiest to either have a camper van or camping when doing a road trip like this. Then there are no possible curfews or check-in / check-out times you must keep track of.
For road snacks, Bónus and Krónan have a great selection of all kinds of food you can take with you on the road for affordable prices. Check out our blogs on grocery stores and the best road trip snacks!
Be willing to go off-plan. If you see something that strikes your fancy, by all means, check it out!
Should I rent a car when travelling in Iceland?
Renting a car is the easiest way to travel around Iceland. However, suppose you do not want the responsibility of renting a car. In that case, there is public transport around the whole country, and then it is usually possible to do day drips from the biggest towns.
If you are going to rent a car, just make sure you either have unlimited mileage or you buy enough to cover your driving. Driving more miles than you have bought can get expensive very quickly.
How do I choose the best campervan for a road trip in Iceland?
There are a few campervan rentals in Iceland. The campervan you choose completely depends on what kind of trip you are thinking about.
Most camper van companies offer everything from small 2-person vans to family-sized and 4×4.
What is the best way to do a road trip in Iceland?
The best way to do a road trip in Iceland is to have fun. Do not stress too much, and just go for a ride. Take that turn if you see something that strikes your fancy. Don’t drive off-road, and don’t stop on the road.
As we have already stated, it is easiest to rent a car or camper van when doing a road trip in Iceland. Shop food in supermarkets like Bónus or Krónan. Some towns only have a Krambúð, which is a bit more expensive.
Have a rough sketch of your trip, how long it will last, what you want to see, where you’re going to stay, etc.
If you are travelling in the summer, you might get confused about the time since it is bright 24/7. Check the time, and don’t drive when you’re tired. Some of the more popular tourist attractions can be visited in the middle of the night if you want to skip the crowds altogether. But make sure you’re well-rested.
Which roads are usually closed in Iceland in November?
Highland roads are always closed in November. So, you will not be able to visit Landmannalaugar and Lakagígar, for example. Many roads in the West Fjords could also be closed due to snow and heaths on the Ring Road, but that’s also usually due to snow or high winds.
Check The Icelandic Met Office for the forecast, and again, take weather warnings seriously.
Please signup HERE for our newsletter for more fun facts and information about Iceland!