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.
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Driving in Iceland (in Summer) - essentials to know + video
This article is about driving during the Summer / Fall months. if you are planning to drive in Iceland in Winter, check out this article.
Video - Iceland Summer driving
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.
Essentials to know:
If you do not want to read the whole article, let me start with the essential information to know
- Always check road conditions and recommendations on the official site road.is before driving
- Road 1 is in good condition all around Iceland and can be easily driven with a 2WD car
- Some roads are gravel - a 4WD is not mandatory at all to explore a lot of Iceland, but renting one will give you peace of mind that you can go almost anywhere
- The F-road in the highlands are only for 4WD and are accessible from mid-June to sometime in September
- Make sure to rent a car from a reliable agency - check the tire conditions before starting your road trip
- The Emergency number is 112
- Most car rental companies require you to be at least 20 (or 23 for a 4WD) - make sure you check the rules
- Don't plan too much - the scenery is magnificent everywhere and you don't want to rush. Check out my road trip guide to facilitate the planning of your itinerary:
Plan your perfect trip to Iceland!
- 8 maps to easily plan your itinerary
- 100+ selected locations so you don't miss the most beautiful places
- GPS + info to make the most of your time
- 110+ original photos to feel inspired
The roads of Iceland and their conditions
You have 4 types of Roads in Iceland:
Driving on large and paved road (e.g.) the Ring Road
To many of the main attractions in Iceland, you will find roads in good condition with 2 lanes clearly marked.
This is the case for
- The Ring Road (Road 1) going all around Iceland
- The main roads around the Snaefellsnes peninsula
- The roads between the attractions of the Golden Circle
Driving on Smaller "good" roads
To some side attractions or through areas off the ring road, you will find smaller roads that 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 driver I got scared at one of the crossing!
Recommendations for your 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 and I read a lot of horror stories. Don't be alarmed by them. Remember that all the people who have no problems don't roam the internet writing they had no problems.
It is for you to decide based on your criteria:
- Types of cars,
- Ability to face car problems,
- Flexibility for pick up hours,
- Age of the fleet
There are a lot of good local car rental companies. I think they are even better than the International ones because they know the specificities of Iceland.
You can compare prices of local companies on this Iceland focused website
My own choices in terms of cars
- 4WD Suzuki Jimmy - it was not the most comfortable, but it was very practical (for max 2 people) and holding on very well to the road. And driving it, you really feel like an adventurer on your Iceland Road Trip. I really enjoyed it and it is the cheapest 4WD to rent
- 4WD Toyota RAV4 - very very comfortable with automatic 4WD. Driving was very easy.
Things to know about car rental insurances
- There is a basic insurance including the mandatory Third Party which is called CDW (collision damage waiver) - it includes third party liability
- 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). It reduces the deductible
- 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.
- But those were my choices. Base your decision on your risk tolerance level
Driving around Iceland – Rules and Signs
- Driving in on the right side
- Alcohol limit = almost 0
- Lights shall be turned on at all times
- No cell phone while driving
- Speed limit 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
- Traffic signs are self-explanatory and classical.
- Road numbers and town names are clearly indicated
- Attractions are clearly indicated with signs to know what they are about
- For safe driving, check the Safe travel website
Dangers on the roads
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
ONE LANE BRIDGES
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
Being ready - fuel + what to carry in the car
Things to check when you pick up the car
- Pressure and status of tires
- Check the tank and what your fuel policy says
- Ask if they have: yellow vest, triangle
- And check the state of the spare tire!
Managing fuel in Iceland
Gas is available 24h a day where there is a pump (which is not everywhere, so 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 any time of day. However, here are some infos on using the pump (for those who are not used to 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 your equipment charged, especially your phone in case of issue. This connector 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.
What to do in case of an accident in Iceland
- First, call 112. It is the main emergency number for traffic accidents, injury, crimes, search & rescue and fires.
- If safe, try staying in your car while waiting for help.
- Then call your rental company. They can decide with you what the next steps should be.
- If you booked via a travel agency, contact them as well
- You can download the safetravel.is app - it is an Icelandic app to check in or inform when you are going to more remote areas
Planning an Iceland road trip itinerary
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
Iceland in Winter is quite a different driving experience.
For more specific tips and a video, head to my article about Iceland Winter driving.
Want to see more of Iceland's beauty?
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