Driving in Iceland | What to Know for the Ultimate Adventure
Driving in Iceland is an incredible way to experience this beautiful country. The weather and long distances shouldn’t stop you from experiencing the northern lights, watching the whales, photographing the puffins, and soaking in the dramatic waterfalls.
Whether you’re planning a budget road trip or just visiting Iceland for a short stay, we hope to set your mind at ease as we cover the conditions, routes, and rentals available.
Is Driving in Iceland Easy?
The majority of the roads in Iceland are flat and safe to travel all year round. Winter can make driving conditions more challenging. Iceland is, however, considered a safe place to experience driving in snow for the first time.
The road rules require cars to travel on the right-hand side of the road. The speed limit is between 19 and 31 miles/h (30 and 50 km/h) in cities and is limited to 56 miles/h (90 km/h) on tarred roads.
Once in the countryside, keep an eye out for sheep, horses, and even reindeer crossing the road ahead.
Iceland Road Conditions
Winter conditions can require slower speeds and caution. Give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination and maintain safe following distances from the vehicle ahead of you. Iceland road laws require your vehicle to have its lights on during the day and night for safety.
Roads are well maintained and are typically single-carriageway. When venturing off of the main road, Route 1, you can expect rougher conditions. In Iceland, regular paved roads are classified with numbers while rugged gravel roads are preceded by an F.
Is it Illegal to Drive Off the Road in Iceland?
You are not permitted to drive off the road in Iceland. Do not attempt to go off the road if you are not authorized by signage. You can be held liable for expensive fines, which would likely put a dampener on your trip.
Tire tracks disfigure the environment’s appearance and create channels for water to flow – advancing soil erosion.
There are, however, extensive gravel roads traveling inland from the tarred roads, which are only available to 4×4’s. These routes are clearly marked as F roads and can require river crossings depending on the season of your Iceland driving trip.
Adventurous F Roads in Iceland
F roads in Iceland are basic gravel roads that are marked for 4×4 use only. The routes typically leave the highway and head towards the mountainous inland areas.
These routes require concentration and can get rough in some places. It is not uncommon to pass through rivers on F roads. When renting your 4×4 vehicle, it is advisable to check whether you are allowed to cross rivers with it.
How Long Does it Take to Drive Around Iceland?
A trip around Iceland can be made in one week. However, it is advisable to spend up to two weeks, depending on your itinerary. The western Snæfellsnes Peninsula and Westfjords require you to leave Route 1 and are worth visiting if you have the time.
If you only have 2-3 days in Iceland, it is recommended to remain in the area around Reykjavik. The golden circle is a 143 mile (230 km) round trip that visits the Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir Geothermal Area, and Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park.
Driving the Iceland Ring Road
The Ring Road is the main road connecting the inhabited parts of Iceland. It is an 828 mile (1332 km) long round trip that travels the circumference of the country. Plan 10 or more days for the route to be able to visit more remote towns.
Travel outside of the city between September and April for the best views of the Northern Lights. This natural phenomenon occurs when light from the sun collides with magnetic particles in the Earth’s atmosphere and is most vivid when the moon is waning.
Extend your trip by 187 miles (301 km) to visit the Snæfellsjökull National Park and the whale-watching capital of Europe, Husavik. Iceland offers sightings of Humpback, Blue Whale, Minke Whale, and white-beaked dolphins in Husavik, Reykjavik, Hjalteyri, and Olafsvik.
Completed the Ring Road and looking for a challenging adventure with river crossings? Rent a 4×4 and visit the Keldur turf house before traveling 37 miles (60 km) on the F261 and F210 to visit Mt. Maelifell. This 650 ft moss-covered volcano stands out in a desert of black sand.
Do I Need an International Driver’s License in Iceland?
If you possess a valid U.S.A, Canadian, or European Economic Area driver’s license it is not necessary to carry an international driver’s license. The age to rent a car in Iceland is 20 years old and needs to have been in possession of the license for at least 12 months.
Rental companies will ask to see your passport and typically make a copy of your license to assist with the vehicle’s insurance. It is always best to make sure you’re covered – I highly recommend World Nomad travel insurance.
Iceland Car Rental: Should I Rent a Car in Iceland?
Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, can be explored on foot and is connected by bus routes to the major cities. However, the spectacular glaciers, volcanoes, and hot springs are found in beautiful areas outside of the towns and are best visited by driving Iceland’s more remote roads.
Most Iceland car rental companies are flexible with pick-up and return dates and pick-up and drop-off locations. Collect your rental vehicle from the airport on arrival or arrange collection from your hotel in Reykjavik or Keflavik.
Car Rental Iceland
You can find budget car rentals from $25 per day. However, insurance to cover potential damages can cost an additional $32 per day. I rented with GuidetoIceland.is who had some of the cheapest cars available to rent during my stay.
It is advisable to choose a small vehicle which is light on fuel. The price of fuel in Iceland is high and costs on average $1.85 per liter ($7 per gallon). Self-service gas stations may require a bank card with a pin to accept payment.
Iceland Motorcycle Rental
For experienced motorcyclists, a road trip around Iceland on two wheels can be an unforgettable experience. The weather is capable of changing rapidly, so it is essential to have the correct gear to be prepared for any conditions.
Most motorcycle rental companies only allow F roads to be traveled when accompanied by a guide. Rentals range from $175 to $250 per day depending on the make and model of the bike.
Iceland 4×4 car Rental
Off-road vehicles are more expensive but allow you access to the F roads. If you are planning to travel in winter, it is advisable to rent a 4×4. Renting a vehicle suitable for the rougher terrain will cost between $75 and $250 per day.
I managed to rent a 4×4 during my stay and found the best prices on Kayak.com and Skyscanner.com.
Iceland Camper Van Rental
If you are traveling as a couple or a family, it might be more affordable to rent a camper van. You can stay for free in open natural spaces as long as it is not forbidden to park/camp there. Camper vans equipped with a cooler, gas cooker and utensils make eating on the road easier.
Dedicated campsites are affordable, offer power, ablutions, and are likely to have clothes washing and drying facilities. If you do decide to stay outside of dedicated campsites, it is important to do so responsibly following a policy of ‘leave no trace’.
Campervans are available in both two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive and cost between $140 and $250 per day.
Hazards When Driving in Iceland?
Traveling at a safe speed and remaining mindful of the weather conditions will ensure you have a safe journey while driving in Iceland. Here is a list of the most common hazards encountered in this scenic country:
- Under-inflated tires can increase your chance of getting a puncture. Flat tires can be a hassle to change and can cause an accident – so ensure your tire pressure is correct.
- Roads changing from tarmac to gravel require slow approach speeds. It is advisable to use your gears to slow down gradually and not the vehicle’s brakes.
- Doors caught in the wind can cause damage to your vehicle and possibly those parked near you – open doors slowly and with a tight grip.
- Ice on the road can cause a loss of traction. Even in summer, many routes can be covered in ice and require vigilance.
- Driving in snowstorms can reduce visibility to mere meters. Roads are clearly marked and get cleared by snowplows during the winter months. It is not recommended to travel during a snowstorm.
Ready for Your Iceland Adventure?
Driving in Iceland can be one of the most spectacular road trips. The dramatic natural environment and fast-changing weather will keep you on your toes – making this an unforgettable vacation destination.
Armed with the information above you can confidently plan your trip to Reykjavik or the Ring Road while knowing where to go and what to avoid.
Have you driven in Iceland before? Share your experience with our readers in the comments below. We always enjoy hearing from first-hand experience!
Essential Info: Logistical Tips and Tricks to Book your Trip to Iceland
BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Kayak. These are two of the sites I use the most due to their exhaustive search on several websites and airlines around the world. They usually bring the cheapest fares.
BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION
If you’re looking to save money by staying at a hostel, HostelWorld has the largest inventory of hostels. On the other hand, Airbnb offers a wide variety of rooms and apartments at affordable prices. (Get $40 off your first Airbnb booking with this link.)
For hotels, guesthouses, and other types of accommodation, I also recommend Booking.com. They usually have the cheapest fares for guesthouses and hotels. I always book my hotels with Booking.com.
DON’T FORGET YOUR TRAVEL INSURANCE
Travel insurance with comprehensive coverage will protect you against unexpected events like theft, cancellations, injury, and illness. I use World Nomads and highly recommend it.
If you’re a nomad and travel often or long term, then SafetyWing could help you save a lot of money on travel insurance.
FIND THE BEST TOURS AT THE BEST PRICES
If you’re looking for the best day-tours and cheapest ticket entrances to local attractions, I recommend checking Viator, as they have the largest selection of attractions, passes, and activities all around the world.
OTHER TRAVEL AND MONEY-SAVING TIPS?
Lastly, check out my resources page for some of the best products and companies to use for your trip. If you like saving money (like I do!), then this page will help.