Driving in Iceland: Do Not Plan Without Reading!

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Driving in Iceland is by far the best way to really explore the land of ice and fire. The island is made for driving, and although extreme weather and constantly spectacular vistas may distract you more than once, it’s the best way to see the remote sights and to travel at your own pace.

There are many great driving routes to discover around Iceland. From the extensive Route 1 ring road, which traverses the entire circumference of the country, to the dramatic and weather dependent highland roads, where untouched mountains, glaciers and volcanic scenery will quite literally surround you.

To help you to understand the intricacies and local laws behind driving in Iceland, we put together this guide to give you the confidence and the inspiration to take on an Icelandic road trip.

From the basics, such as what side of the road to drive on, to classic itineraries and offbeat locations to visit, we’ve got it covered in our guide to driving in Iceland.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Iceland (Travel Guide)

Driving in Iceland Guide

Rental Car- Driving in Iceland

Hiring a Car to Explore Iceland

With so much wilderness and so many isolated tourist attractions waiting to be discovered, the perfect way to really see Iceland is to hire a car and to self-drive.

This will allow you to really travel at your own pace, to change your itinerary, to add in stops you may not have even realized were there and to have the flexibility to make diversions whenever you see something awesome. The only limit then becomes the weather and your time.

Given the unfortunate lack of public transport in Iceland, and the fact that most of the country’s tourist attractions outside of the capital Reykjavik are all outdoor attractions, without your own vehicle, then getting around is not quite so easy, and the only option is to join a cumbersome group tour.

Hiring a car is easy to arrange in Reykjavik. There are plenty of international and locally run companies with depots at the airport and within the city, allowing you to pick up a vehicle as soon as you land.

In Iceland, you must be at least 20 years old and have had your driving license for a minimum of one year to hire a car. There are many types of vehicles to hire, but if you are after a particular size or type, then it’s best to hire well in advance.

In the summer season, car hire companies can be overwhelmed with requests, such as the popularity of a self-drive tour in Iceland this time of year.

Need to book a car for your road trip adventure? We use Discover Car Hire for comparing car prices to find the best deal. They search both local & international rental companies.

Windshield view of Iceland

Road Laws in Iceland

Outside of Reykjavik, the roads can be quiet and the scenery expansive. It may be easy to forget that you are still following the local laws, and even in the most remote locations, the laws will be enforced.

Driving in Iceland is done on the right-hand side of the road. All too often it’s easy to see tourists veering across the road in the middle of nowhere to get a closer look at something spectacular on the other side of the road. Be careful, because everything in Iceland is spectacular.

You are only supposed to stop on the side of the road for an emergency on the highway, but you will find many, many tourists stopping wherever they feel like, to take photographs. This can cause accidents and is frowned upon by local drivers. No matter how beautiful, try and be mindful of others on the roads.

Remember to stick to the speed limit too – and in fact, don’t drive too slowly on the main highway, especially if you see yet another spectacular sight! On the main highways, the speed limit is 90 kilometers an hour. In urban areas, this is reduced to 50 kilometers per hour. On gravel roads, the limit is 80 kilometers per hour.

Road signs in Iceland

Off-Road Driving Rules

Off-road driving is actually illegal in Iceland. This may seem surprising, as when you first arrive in the country you will see that many locals, particularly outside the city, have huge cars that are perfect for off-roading and dealing with snow and ice.

Actually, these monstrous cars are just for dealing with the bad weather on the roads, or for tackling the gravel roads off the highway. If you are likely to be dealing with bad weather, it may be wise then to hire a four by four for your trip, and if you are planning on taking on the highlands or other very remote areas.

Remember though, that getting caught driving off-road will result in a hefty fine, as the country wants to keep its vast wilderness as pristine as possible.

Don’t forget: Iceland (National Geographic Adventure Map)

Iceland Landscape

The Weather Considerations

The weather is the biggest variable when traveling around Iceland. When self-driving, keeping an eye on weather conditions can be even more important. Many people will choose to visit in summer because this is when the weather is at its best, the days are long – you can drive in full daylight at midnight! – and there is a much-reduced chance of extreme weather closing roads or causing trouble.

That being said, even in summer, the weather can turn for the worse, so still, be careful.

Spring and Autumn can be much quieter times to self-drive, however, the weather will very much be an important factor when planning your routes. Even just before or after summer, heavy snow and ice can keep the main roads closed.

There will be warnings and there will be signs at the entrance to parts of the road network that are closed off. This can even be the main route one highway. While you can venture through the signs, it’s not advised, because if you get stuck you will not be covered by insurance and will have to pay a very hefty fine to get pulled out again.

If you are not experienced driving in icy or snowy conditions, then it will be best to avoid the shoulder seasons and winter if you want to see the northern part of Iceland. You may also want to consider hiring a larger vehicle that’s suited to icy conditions if traveling outside of Reykjavik.

Car window view of Iceland landscape

Insurance and Roadside Assistance

Make sure you have adequate insurance, particularly when traveling outside of Reykjavik. Upgrade the insurance where you can, as Iceland is not a cheap country to have to pay for your rental car to be fixed.

Ensure that you have roadside assistance and that it will cover you in remote areas or places outside the city, as this is when you would be most likely to need it.

Things can happen like a collision or damage to your rental car. We do not travel without travel insurance and Allianz travel insurance covers our rental car

Roadside sightseeing in Iceland

Gas Stations in Iceland

Like everything in Iceland, gas can seem expensive in comparison to other parts of the world. You will find gas stations in every large town along the main highway, so if you are traveling the ring road, then as long as you top up your car at every given opportunity, you should have few problems.

If you are heading more remote or traveling in the offseason, it may be wise to plan ahead and to carry a spare jerry can full of petrol, just in case. Gas stations in remote and rural locations also offer you the opportunity to take upon basic supplies, as they will sell all sorts of drinks, snacks, coffee and the ubiquitous Icelandic hot dog that any road tripper will inevitably become well acquainted with during their trip here.

Many remote gas stations are automated and you will need a chip and pin card in order to access fuel at these stops.

Need to book a car for your road trip adventure? We use Discover Car Hire for comparing car prices to find the best deal. They search both local & international rental companies.

Popular Road Trip Routes

The different road trip opportunities in Iceland are numerous, but here are a few classic itineraries and more off the beaten path routes to take when self-driving.

Divergent Travelers in Iceland

Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is really the classic of the classics when it comes to road trips in Iceland. It’s a very popular option as it’s located so close to Reykjavik and it’s easy to travel this loop from the city in a day.

The Golden Circle will take you to the natural beauty of Thingvellir National Park, then onto the powerful Gullfoss Waterfall and finally to the steaming Geysers.

The South Coast

The South Coast is a place full of natural beauty, and a place that is easily accessible from Reykjavik. Here you will find Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls, literally on the side of the road, as well as the infamous Eyjafjallajokull Volcano and many unreal black sand beaches.

Drive along the ring road as far as Vik, and you can see the highlights in just a day. Take longer though to explore more of the hidden gems, such as the remote Vestmannaeyjar Islands.

Snaefellsnes Peninsula

The north-west of Reykjavik, the rugged Snaefellsnes Peninsula can be visited in a day trip from the capital, but stay longer to truly experience the Icelandic wilderness at its best. This area is home to some of the most iconic mountains and volcanoes in the country.

Icelandic horse in Iceland

The Westfjords

The remote Westfjords are not quick to get to, but they are isolated and spectacular. Few visitors get this far off the main highway, but those that do will be delighted with the landscapes and the outdoor scenery of this coastal area of Iceland.

The North

The north is as sparse and wild as you would expect, being so close to the Arctic Circle. It’s a long drive to the second city, Akureyri from Reykjavik, but it’s worth every mile spent driving. There are powerful waterfalls, glacial lagoons, natural hot springs, and volcanic craters to explore in the beautiful northern reaches of Iceland.

The Ring Road

Many of these wonderful road trip locations can be visited individually or combined to form a much longer Icelandic itinerary. For the majority of travelers, the best route to encompass as much as possible is the simple Route 1.

This ring road will take you around the entirety of the country, and it’s a beautiful experience.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Iceland’s Ring Road (Travel Guide)

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 Iceland Road Trip Guide - Driving in Iceland: Do Not Plan Without Reading!


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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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