Let's get you ready to drive in winter in Iceland !
A road trip is an unforgettable experience, and the best way to discover this country.
However, conditions are not the easiest and travelers should be prepared.
Below is my guide with video, rules, conditions and recommendations for a safe journey.
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Driving in Iceland in Winter - essentials to know + video
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 are well maintained but conditions can change quickly - snow and ice can appear - but wind is the worst enemy. It can be very strong, with gust, and make you slide on the icy roads - be ready for it
- Slow down - take your time
- Leave more distance between cars - it will take longer to brake
- Make sure to rent a car from a reliable agency - check the tire conditions before starting your road trip (a 4WD is a good idea too)
- Do not do anything abruptly when on ice or snow - be smooth when braking or turning
- In November, December and January, days are short - don't plan too much driving on your itinerary !!!
- Be flexible, conditions can change in a minutes - road closures are very common
- If you have never driven on snow, I recommend taking a class or booking a small group tour (to relax while looking at the scenery) - see my article about the best day trips and winter tours.
Iceland Winter driving video
Before I start writing about which cars to choose, the rules and the conditions to expect, check out this short video with sections driving on road 1, on side roads, in towns and in the snow...
So, should I drive in Iceland during the Winter months?
This is not a decision I can take for you.
However, for safety reasons, if you have never driven on snow before, I would not recommend it.
Plus, Iceland has such an amazing scenery, that being stressed all the time because of the driving, will make your trip less special.
You can take a class before traveling or book a small group tour instead - I think this one has a wonderful program and you will be able to relax while looking at the scenery.
Should I drive everyday from Reykjavik or go on a road trip?
I strongly recommend a road trip.
Some attractions are quite a drive away from Reykjavik. So you would have to drive a lot to get there and back and will risk driving at night.
With a road trip you can see more, spend less time on the road and avoid driving at night.
Here is my guide to facilitate the planning of your itinerary:
Plan your perfect trip to Iceland in Winter!
Where I rent my cars
I always compare prices right away on Discovercars.com.
This is one of the best customer-rated comparison sites on the market.
I have found really great deals and I think the platform super easy to use. I can filter based on my criteria.
Plus, they have a practical coverage option at great price that will cover you in case of damage to the outside of the car.
Need more help? Read my 36 tips for a worry-free experience.
Iceland Winter driving conditions
Let's have a better look at what you can expect as you are driving around Iceland during the Winter months (November to March) and maybe also end of October and beginning of April.
Driving on the Ring Road
Most of your driving will be done on the Ring Road. This is a circular road around Iceland with one lane in each direction (except for a few one-lane bridges).
Most of the time it is quite easy to drive on this road, it is cleared frequently.
Plus a lot of people drive on it, so the snow melts.
Conditions vary a lot. You can have a completely clear road and a few kilometers later driving on a thin layer of snow.
Always be ready for anything.
Note: on the East fjords, GPS may take you to the inland road via a mountain pass as it is a shortcut in theory. Make sure to stay on Route 1 along the coast.
To access some attractions and regions, you will drive on secondary roads. They are mostly paved and with one lane in each direction.
They are normally cleared quite quickly, especially if they are leading to touristic places.
Some may be closed However. For example the road to Dettifoss in North Iceland is closed in Winter. But this is clearly indicated.
Attractions' access roads and carparks
Access roads to attractions are overall maintained. This can be done by the owner, if privately owned.
The clearing is less frequent (and less cars are driving on them), but it remains accessible. Just slow down.
About the gravel roads and F-roads
Most gravel roads and all F-roads are not maintained in Winter. F-roads are even closed.
F-roads normally open mid-June and close from some time during September.
Clearing of the snow
As I said, Iceland is used to snow so they have all the equipment needed. They are clearing the roads frequently.
But sometimes there is so much wind pushing the snow on the road, that it feels like a lost battle.
Mountain passes & windy roads
You will see several signs like this one on the roads of Iceland.
Some will indicate wind danger and others mountain pass status.
Make sure to slow down and check the status before starting a drive.
Driving in Reykjavik in Winter (and in other towns)
No special difficulties in Reykjavik in Winter. Roads are cleared.
Don't forget to pay for carpark.
There is not much traffic but a little. And it is quite a shock if you have been traveling in Nature for several days.
Renting a car in Iceland for driving in Winter
Choosing a car: Standard car or 4WD?
- In Winter, you don't have the discussion about the options to travel on F-roads, but the question of standard vs 4WD car remain.
- It is possible to drive in winter with a 2WD
- However, I recommend to rent a 4WD - it is more expensive, but it offers better stability and options in case of snow and ice. Plus it gives some peace of mind.
- Make sure they have Winter tires (it is obvious with good companies, but better to check than not).
- And note that most cars are manual - you have to make a special demand to get an automatic
Selecting a car rental company
If you do a lot of research before choosing a rental company, you will read a few horror stories. But remember that all the people who had no problems don't take the time to write. For almost all people, it goes smoothly.
Criteria to consider when choosing the company:
- age of the car fleet
- availability of 4WD
- flexibility of pick up hours
- the availability of studded tires, instead of simple Winter snow tires
Option 1 - I recommend comparing offers on my favorite platform - Discovercars.com - one of the best customer-rated comparison sites!
Option 2 - or You can compare rental agency offers on this Iceland specialized website.
Things to know about car rental insurances in Iceland
- There is a basic insurance including the mandatory Third Party which is called CDW (collision damage waiver)
- You can also take the Super or Extra CDW which will reduce the deductible and probably covers more types of damage (check the offer from the rental company) - I think this is a good plan for Winter. You may be confident with your driving on snow, but know that there will be other tourists on the road that may not be...
- There is also a special 'sand and ash coverage' - remember that Iceland is a volcanic island - This is your choice, depending on your risk tolerance level!
- Remember that you are, of course, not covered if you do not follow the rules (e.g. driving on closed roads)
Iceland rules on the road
- Driving is on the right side
- Seatbelts are mandatory for all
- Alcohol limit = almost 0
- Lights shall be turned on at all times
- Do not use a cell 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 - however in Winter, you will rarely reach those limits...
- Most car rental companies require you to be at least 20 (or 23 for a 4WD) - make sure you check the rules
- Don't forget your international driving permit
- Traffic signs are self-explanatory and classic.
- They are black on yellow
- Road numbers and town names are clearly indicated
- Roads have yellow poles on the side to indicate the limit of the road
- For safe driving, check the Safe travel website
Dangers on the Icelandic roads with snow
In Summer, sheep are the biggest danger on those Icelandic roads – but you won't see them in Winter.
However, you can have reindeers crossing in the East fjords. This is quite frequent, be careful when you see a heard not far from the road.
I also had another experience which is quite rare. While driving in North Iceland, a polar fox appeared on the side of the road and run to the car. We almost hit it!
The biggest danger is not the snow or the ice, but the wind.
Iceland is a very windy country. Gusts of wind can take you by surprise after a bend or a pass.
Even without ice it is impressive, but when driving on ice it becomes dangerous. Roads are sometimes closed because of the wind.
Plus, even if not strong, it can blow snow on the road and make it more difficult to drive.
Recommendations from a local I talked to:
- Don't hesitate to stop and wait for the wind to reduce
- If you are being pushed and sliding towards the side of the road, turn your vehicle to be head first in the snow by the road rather than be pushed sideways and topple on the side.
Of course, the other issue is the snow...
You can find videos on youtube to help you learn how to drive on snow.
Even on the Ring Road, several bridges narrow down to only one lane.
They are several warning signs before the bridge, make sure you slow down properly and only engage if there is no one.
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
- Winter tires
- Pressure and status of tires
- Check the tank and what your fuel policy says
- Ask if they have: yellow vest, triangle and snow scraper
- 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 anytime of day.
At some of the stations, there is only one terminal for all the pumps:
- 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 your car
Here are the essentials you should take with you in your rental car when driving in Winter in Iceland:
- water & food - in case you get stuck somewhere because of road closures
- a charger or an extra battery
- thermal blankets - this is something 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. Get them on Amazon
- You can also check out my Iceland Packing Guide for clothes
And keep track of your own trip!
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 a Iceland winter 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 my road trip guide that simplifies the planning of your itinerary:
Plan your perfect trip to Iceland in Winter!
Want to see more of Iceland in Winter:
- Best things to do in Iceland in Winter - read article
- 35 pictures of Iceland in Winter - read article
- Iceland Ice Cave Tours and tips - read article
- 7 Iceland waterfalls in Winter - read article
- Tips for visiting Iceland in Winter - read article
- Planning an Iceland Winter Road Trip - read article
- Iceland Winter itinerary suggestions - read article
Want to see more of Iceland in Winter?
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