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.
Below is my guide to driving in Iceland with:
- essential tips,
- F-roads and other types of roads,
- driving rules,
- car rental,
Note: This article is about driving during the Spring / Summer / Fall months. if you are planning to drive in Iceland in Winter, check out this article.
This article contains affiliate links (Disclosure page). If you purchase using my link, I get a commission at no extra cost to you.
Driving in Iceland - essentials to know + video
Video - Iceland 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 entire 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-roads 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 guides eBooks to facilitate the planning of your itinerary:
Is it difficult to drive in Iceland? Are roads safe?
Driving is actually relatively easy. All tourists can drive.
Apart from Reykjavik and Akureyri, the towns are very small with one main street.
Out of the capital city, you are driving mostly on well paved roads only surrounded by nature.
The most difficult part is to keep your eyes on the road and looking in every directions!
And even if you go on gravel road, since you slow down and there is hardly any traffic, there is no risk.
The bigger risks are the river crossings on F-roads (4WD mandatory - more on that later in the article).
Tips 1 to 7 - Types of roads in Iceland including F-Roads
You have 4 types of roads in Iceland.
It is better to know what to expect.
#1 - Driving on large and paved road (e.g.) the Ring Road
To access many of the main attractions in Iceland, you will find roads in good condition with 2 lanes clearly marked (one in each direction).
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
Those roads are paved and wide enough.
#2 - Driving on Smaller "good" roads
To some side attractions or through areas off the main tourist roads, you will find smaller roads that are not as bumpy as the gravel roads 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!
#3 - 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!
A small 4WD is enough to drive on those, as they are maintained.
#4 - Driving on F-roads
F-roads are only tracks through the wilderness.
They can be found mostly in the Central Highlands but a few are in other areas. For example, there is one in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula to reach the glacier.
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.
Plus, some skills are necessary too because many of those roads 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 crossings!
#5 - One lane bridges
There are quite a lot of bridges around Iceland (water from the glacier is flowing everywhere).
Most of them are only one-lane bridge.
Even on the Ring Road, bridges narrow down to one lane.
So, be careful and slow down!
#6 - Everyday before leaving, check out road conditions
And always check out the latest status of the roads - Visit this website road.is and click on the different sections of the small map to see the colors of all the roads.
Wind, snow or other issues could change the conditions of the roads, especially out of the main ones.
And check any warnings on safetravel.is
#7 - Don't drive off-road
Off-road driving is illegal in Iceland.
Even in the wilderness, you have to follow the tracks of the F-roads.
It is important to protect the vibrant Nature!
Tips 8 to 10 - renting your car in Iceland
I have written a complete article with all my tips about renting a car in Iceland - check it out.
Below is a summary of the main points to know.
#8 - 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!
#9 - 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
- My favorite comparison site (one of the best rated internationally) - See here to compare prices on International rental brands: Discovercars.com -
- Or consider a local brand - there are many local car rental agencies in Iceland. It is not easy to compare. But on this website GuidetoIceland.com, they have gathered almost all of them and you can compare the vehicles and prices for the dates you are interested in.
- Both websites collect many customer reviews / ratings
#10 - Understand 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
Tips 11 to 16 - Iceland Driving Rules and Signs
#11 - Which side of the road?
Driving is on the right side of the road.
It is very important to remember it on one lane roads when you have to give way!
#12 - Know the Iceland driving rules
- 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
#13 - License - Do I need an international driver's license?
To drive in Iceland you need a valid driving licence from your country.
If you have a valid driving licence, which includes:
- a licence number,
- a photograph,
- a valid date
- and is in Latin letters,
Then you won’t need an international licence.
Otherwise, you do need one.
Make sure to check if your rental company has more requirements such as a number of year since your licence...
#14 - Understand the Road Signs
- Road signs use the latin alphabet
- Traffic signs are not in English, but 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
#15 - Parking in Reykjavik
There are various parking options in Reykjavik: parking lots and street parking.
Ticket dispensers are in use. You can pay with coins or credit cards and you have to display the ticket.
Note that the plate number of your car will be asked at the dispenser.
Zones P1 (red) are the most expensive While P4 (yellow) are the least expensive.
Parking is free on Sundays.
#16 - Parking at attractions
Most carparks are free.
However, most are on private land and require maintenance.
Therefore, a few have now pay-and-display. Make sure to check the conditions as you arrive.
Tips 17 to 18 - Dangers on the roads
#17 - Sheep
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.
#18 - Wind
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.
#19 - Radars
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.
#20 - Consider submitting a travel plan
Maybe not if you are just driving around the Ring Road.
But if you are planning on driving on F-road, you can submit your travel plan on safetravel.is so that they can monitor and react in case of issue.
#21 - Do not stop in the middle of the road to take picture
The landscapes are so beautifulI understand.
But refrain from stopping in the middle of the road to take pictures.
Most accident happen because tourists have stopped in unsafe areas.
Where to stay in Iceland?
- Reykjavik - capital city - see best rated accommodations
- Selfoss - between Golden Circle and South Coast - see best rated accommodations
- Vik - near waterfalls and glaciers - see best rated accommodations
- Höfn - gateway to the East fjords - see best rated accommodations
- Egilsstadir - between fjords and North Iceland - see best rated accommodations
- Reykjahlid - for the wonders of Lake Myvatn - see best rated accommodations
- Akureyri - capital of the North - see best rated accommodations
- Grundarfjordur - to explore the Snaefellsnes Peninsula - see best rated accommodations
Tips 22 to 24 - Being ready - fuel + what to carry in the car
#22 - 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!
#23 - 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
#24 - Things to have in the car
Here are my 2 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.
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.
Tip 25 - 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
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:
And keep track of your own trip!
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.
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