Iceland is such a popular destination right now because it still keeps a lot of its natural landscapes pretty much untouched. This is the result of the efforts done by the population there and the pride they take in looking after their country.
Also because of this and due to many accidents that still keep happening every year, there are essential rules and recommendations that people need to know about when planning to drive around Iceland.
Either you thinking to drive around the Golden Circle or the Ring Road (Route 1), the drive itself its very different from many places I have been before and it’s mostly due to the crazy shifts of weather.
For your trip to go as smooth as mine I thought it was a good idea to write this article with all the tips I gathered from my experience driving around Iceland.
WHY DRIVE IN ICELAND?
Driving in Iceland it’s by itself an adventure! This is because every road unfolds incredible landscapes that will make you want to stop at all times.
After being there I can honestly say that it’s by far the best way to get to proper know the island.
Sure you can go on tours and still see most of the attractions but you are somehow limited to the stops that the tour has planned and you can’t just stop whenever you see a beautiful horse (to give you a basic example).
When you have a car things are much different. Even if you’re going according to the route you planned, everything is flexible and you can stop whenever you want for as long as you want taking your own pace to get to explore the beautiful scenery.
Make your own plan for each day but always think that things can be readjusted as you go along. The drive is easy; the roads are in good condition and the signs easy to understand.
In the end it’s up to you to know if you feel confident or not and even if you have the time to do it.
RENTING A CAR
As I mentioned before, one of the biggest reasons to have a car to drive around Iceland is the flexibility that will allow you to discover the island’s most known and less known spots at your own rhythm.
Unless you have friends or relatives living there that can provide you with a car, you will have to rent one from a rental company.
Now, be aware that you will have to plan this well in advance of your trip. It will save you time as you arrive to Iceland and you don’t have to stress about finding a company there.
If you’re worried that renting a car will be to expensive compare it against all the tours you would have to do in order to visit everything you planned. You will quickly realize that by renting a car you’re actually saving money.
CHOOSING A RENTAL COMPANY
When researching for rental companies there were so many different offers in terms of prices that it was becoming a hard task for me to pick the best one.
The truth is that there are a lot of rental companies in Iceland. Choosing one can be a hard task. I struggled in the beginning with so many different prices from company to company and what they were offering in terms of car insurance.
During my research I came across Lagoon Car Rental which immediately caught my attention because it’s a family owned car rental which is something I always look forward to support instead of other big companies.
I also think it’s much easier to have quicker support to resolve any problems if you hire from someone local.
The other important fact for me to choose Lagoon Car Rental was also the fact that they have pickups directly from the airport into their office for free (just 5 minutes away).
This was important because I learned that many rental companies’ offices are actually located in Reykjavik and that you have to get your own transport into town to pick up your car and that was something I did not want to do!
Plus the cars from Lagoon Car Rental include mileage, collision damage waiver, insurance and taxes with 24/7 breakdown assistance. You can then add extra insurance like sand and ash protection and gravel protection which I did because of the unpredictable weather.
WHAT TYPE OF CAR SHOULD I RENT?
This was one of the hardest things to decide before my trip. Although I read in many websites that a two-wheel car would be just fine to drive around most places (and cheaper) my road trip plan was quite ambitious and I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
If you’re planning to go further than the Golden Circle and do the Ring Road I really recommend you to get a four wheel vehicle (4×4), this is because some mountain roads can only be driven by this type of cars.
For my road trip I had a 4×4 Mitsubishi Outlander automatic and it was the perfect car for my 7 day drive around Iceland. It was safe for all the roads with poor conditions I end up (when the maps were not so accurate).
IMPORTANT RULES TO BE FOLLOWED
For your road trip to go as planned with safety throughout your trip there are some very important rules you should be aware before driving in Iceland.
- Road numbers that start with an ‘F’ mean that the roads require a four wheel vehicle (4×4).
- The speed limit in highways and paved gravel roads is 90 km/h, rural gravel roads is 80 km/h and urban areas is 30-50 km/h (the limit is never higher than 90 km/h)
- There are a lot of speed cameras around the country and fines are really heavy (easily reach between USD 350 to USD 900)
- There are no road tolls on the Iceland roads, except for the Hvalfjörður tunnel where you have to pay (check the prices according to vehicle, here)
- Driving off-road is illegal
- Driving in Iceland is on the right side and overtake on the left
- Seat belts are mandatory by law and infants must be seated in car-safety seats
- Car headlights must be switched on at all times (day or night)
- Drink and driving is not allowed (not even for a small drink) fines can be really high
- Use of mobile phones while driving is prohibited
- Small bridges are often single lane so drivers should be careful. The car closest to the bridge has the right of way
SAFETY TIPS TO DRIVE IN ICELAND
Overall as long as you keep yourself on the designated roads for your car you should not encounter any safety problems. I know I have said this before but it’s never too much to say it again.
Always think about the weather and maybe change your plans accordingly. Even during summer things can take a turn and there were some days during my trip where the rain was insane with very low visibility.
There are two important websites that you want to keep in mind and saved on your phone for daily checks before you even leave your accommodation. The Iceland weather here and the road conditions here.
Related: The best resources to plan a trip
Now, other important things you should be aware:
- You can get gas 24 hours at self-service stations but you might not find them all the time. If you’re off adventuring on the ring road keep your tank almost full at all times, you never know when you’re going to find the next station to fill up the tank.
- Always keep water and snacks with you. The weather can quickly change and you might be stuck for hours somewhere away from everything.
- Many websites will advise you to get GPS. I must say that our phone internet with Google Maps worked fine the whole trip but that may not be the case all the times. So it’s really up to you. Keep a paper map in the car just in case the internet is off or not finding your route (this last one happened to me).
- The emergency number is 112
- If your car breaks down or you have any problem with the car you should call your rental company
- If you see yourself in the middle of a sandstorm or snowstorm drive slowly until you can stop safely in an appropriate place and wait
- Only stop in designated places to stop, DO NOT stop on the side of the road as things may not be as they look and that mud/snow actually be really unsteady
- DO NOT stop in the middle of the road
It’s always a good idea to have have travel insurance, specially when driving around a country like Iceland. Get your quote now.
I hope this article helps you make an informed decision about driving in Iceland. Don’t be scared because the drive is easy and the roads have good conditions. If you maintain your car on the appropriated roads and within the speed limits you’re set for a great adventure with no problems! Enjoy!
** I was provided with a complimentary car from Lagoon Car Rental to explore Iceland during 7 days in collaboration with the company but as always thought and opinions are my own.