Let's get ready to Drive in Iceland ! An Iceland Road Trip is an unforgettable experience! With the amazing scenery, driving is a pleasure. However some general knowledge is useful for a worry-free road trip Iceland. Here are some info and tips on selecting a car and a rental company, planning your itinerary and driving around Iceland.
Navigate back to the complete Iceland Travel Guide
This article contains affiliate Links (info on the Disclosure page). If you purchase using my link, I get a commission at no extra cost to you.
VIDEO - DRIVING IN ICELAND
Before talking car rental, rules and itinerary, check out this short video with sections driving on road 1, on gravel roads, on F-Roads and on Tracks.
Note - there was a worse River crossing that I did not film as I was holding on 🙂
TYPES OF ROADS IN ICELAND
You have 4 types of Roads in Iceland:
Driving on Large and paved for lots of traffic (e.g.) the Ring Road
To many of the main attractions in Iceland, you will find roads in good conditions with 2 lanes clearly marked.
Driving on Smaller "good" roads
To some side attractions or through areas off the ring road, you will find smaller roads nat are not as bumpy as the gravel road but not as good as the big roads. So you can still drive at a decent speed. But be careful of the sheep roaming free!
Driving on Gravel Roads
Sometimes short, just to reach a location off a main road. But sometimes they can be longer like one of my favorite (Berserkjahraun)
Some of them can be very very bumpy after a while... Drive slowly and take extra insurance for it!
Driving on F-roads
F-roads are only tracks through the wilderness.
They are open from mid-June to sometimes in September - dates change every year based on conditions.
A 4WD is mandatory to drive on these tracks. And some skills too because many have river crossings that can be quite deep and with rushing water from the glacier.
Even with an expert drive I got scared at one of the crossing!
CAR RENTAL IN ICELAND
Choosing a car: Standard car or 4WD?
- If you plan on doing the central highlands, the question is easy, you need a 4WD and to know how to pass rivers.
- If you plan on sticking to the ring road ring and going through all major sights, then you just need a standard car
- If you have some time and want to discover some areas more in depth, this is when you have to go all ‘pros and cons’. The 4WD is more expensive. But I chose to rent one because I wanted a worry-free trip. This road looks promising, well I can take it no problem!
Selecting a car rental company
I did a lot of research before choosing a rental company (for example this interesting article with comparisons) and I read a lot of horror stories. It is for you to decide based on you criteria: price, ability of facing car problems, flexibility for pick up hours… There is a lot on the Internet and I can’t really summarize it. All I can do is let you know about my own experiences (fyi, I paid fully for those rentals). I rented 2 cars while in Iceland with companies I was recommended by locals. My criteria were recent cars and company big enough to come quickly if I have any problem anywhere.
MY OWN CHOICES FOR MY TRIP
- Reykjavik – Route 1 car rental – 4WD Suzuki Jimmy:
This company was recommended to me and their online reviews were excellent. And I must say I was not disappointed at all. The service was excellent : they came to deliver the car where I was staying at 8:15 AM and I dropped off the car at the domestic airport for them to pick up later. All paperwork was very smooth. The guy even helped me with some advice on my itinerary considering the weather conditions. The car was in perfect condition and I had no problem at all. Based on my experience and all the reviews I read, I do recommend Road 1.
As for the Suzuki Jimmy, it was not the most comfortable, but it was very practical (for max 2 people) and holding on very well on the road. And driving it, you really feel like an adventurer on your Iceland Road Trip.
- Akureyri – Europcar (holdur) – 4WD Toyota RAV4
The choice of rental companies from Akureyri is a lot more limited. I went with Europcar and was satisfied. You do not get the same level of personalized service like I had with Road 1 but I had no problem at all for pick up and drop off. The car was in excellent condition, almost new. The only thing is that their insurance options are a little more obscure. But I did not have to refer to them so I don’t know if they were a problem.
The Toyota RAV 4 was very very comfortable with automatic 4WD. Driving was very easy.
RENTAL CAR INSURANCES IN ICELAND
- I took the insurances with a larger damage waiver as well as the one covering gravels and everything for the glass (considering the many gravel roads).
- However considering the low crime rate in Iceland, I did not take the insurance covering theft.
- And, although the volcano was threatening, I took my chance not taking the ash one.
DRIVING AROUND ICELAND – RULES and SIGNS
- Alcohol limit = 0
- Lights shall be turned at all times
- You must use of hands-free kits for mobile phone while driving
- Speed limits is 50 km/h in urban areas. Outside towns, it is 90 on paved roads and 80 on gravel roads (although I rarely was driving at 80 on those…)
- Seatbelts are mandatory for all
ICELAND DRIVING - The DANGERS
They are the biggest danger on those Icelandic roads – they stay in the grass near the road and sometimes just jump under your car. Know that in areas where fences are mandatory the farmer will pay if you hit his sheep. But in area where there are no fences (even sometimes along the main Road 1), you have to pay for the sheep.
Check out the displays that indicate wind forces. If it is red, do not go there! The wind gets really strong. Do not be fools. Stop and Wait
Some are well indicated and other are normal cars. If you see a car stopped near the road and are wondering if those are tourists admiring the view or a cop waiting to catch you, check the direction of the car. If it is heading towards to road then it is a cop ready to come after you. If the rear is on to road side, then it is a tourist who thought the view was nice and deserved a stop
Even on the Ring Road, bridges narrow down to one lane. So Slow down!
BEFORE LEAVING CHECK OUT ROAD CONDITIONS
And always check out the latest status of the roads - Visit this website and click on the different sections of the small map to see the colors of all the roads
MANAGING FUEL ON AN ICELAND ROAD TRIP
Gas is available 24h a day where there is a pump (which is not everywhere, s plan ahead). You wouldn’t think that a random solo pump in the middle of a field would be working in the middle of the night, but as long as you have a credit card, you can fill up anytime of day. However, here are some info on using the pump (for those who are not used those automatic things in their country):
- Find the payment terminal (normally 1 for 2 or 4 pumps)
- Enter your credit card and follow instructions
- Enter an amount: the amount you enter is a maximum you are allowed to put. Do not worry! If you fill in your tank with less then it charges you only the amount you took. (FYI, 10000ISK was covering well the full tank of my Toyota RAV4)
- Take your petrol
- If you want a ticket reenter your credit card
THINGS TO HAVE IN THE CAR
Here are my 3 recommendations of things to have in the car with you on your Iceland Road Trip:
Your GPS. It is great to just go explore and discover incredible Scenery. But if you are limited in time, better to have recorded the GPS coordinates of all the locations you want to visit. So much time saving.
You can find the GPS in my eBook.
And with this GPS, you can easily enter them via your computer.
Keep all you equipment charged, especially your phone in case of issue. This has 2 USD plugs so it's even better!
Thermal blankets are something I never travel without.
You never know what can happen on the road. They do not take a lot of space and if you get stuck in your car they will keep you warm.
You can also check out my Iceland Packing Guide.
SELF-DRIVE ICELAND ITINERARY PLANNING
So many places to see on a Road Trip around Iceland and never enough time!!!
To help you plan your itinerary you can check out:
DRIVING IN ICELAND IN WINTER
For more specific tips, head to my article about visiting Iceland in Winter
Want to see more of Iceland's beauty?
Discover more things to do and places to see in Iceland in my online Iceland Destination Guide.
Any question? Leave a comment below