Let's plan your Iceland Winter road trip !
Below is your step-by-step guide to start planning:
- when and where to go,
- renting your car,
- creating your Iceland Winter itinerary,
- booking accommodations
- and getting ready to drive and travel.
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STEP 0 - ESSENTIALS to know for an Iceland Winter Road Trip
Planning an Iceland road trip in Winter is quite different from organizing one for Summer (see my other article).
If you don't want to read the full article, below is the list of essentials to keep in mind:
- Itinerary - Don't plan too much. From November to January the days are short! For example in January you have only 4h30 to 7h of daylight- But February and March offer better balance between days and nights
- Driving - If you have never driven on snow before, starting in Iceland might not be a good idea - take a class or book a small group tour instead (to relax while looking at the scenery)
- Accommodations - There are less tourists in Winter, but less accommodations are open - so you still have to book in advance
- Weather - It is not as cold as one might think - plan layers of clothes
- Ice caves - If you want to see an ice cave, book early as places are limited - see my article
- Northern lights - To have a better chances at seeing the auroras, avoid traveling during the full moon
- As you are approaching your Iceland road trip, stop watching the weather forecast. It will change everyday and also during the day, so just go with the flow of your planned Itinerary.
- Note - if you don't want to plan your whole Iceland road trip on your own, you can head to my article about choosing a self-drive package.
STEP 1 - Decide the best Winter month to visit Iceland
Iceland is beautiful and magical all Winter. And the weather is always unpredictable. You can have areas with hardly any snow and just a few kilometers further be surrounded by white.
So, I don't think weather should be too much of a factor when deciding when to visit Iceland (unless it is because you are uncomfortable driving on snow).
To my opinion the best time to plan your Iceland Road Trip is based on what you want to see.
Those 2 pictures were taken on the East coast the same day:
The most important criteria to consider is daylight!
It impacts how many places you can visit everyday and how much driving you can do.
Which is why my favorite time is the second half of February and the most crowded time is March.
Here are the daylight lengths you can expect:
- November - 8h at the beginning of the month, 5h at the end
- December - 5h at the beginning of the month, 4h around the 21
- January - 4h30 at the beginning of the month, 7h at the end
- February - 7h at the beginning of the month, 10h at the end
- March - 10h at the beginning of the month, 13h30 at the end
STEP 2 - Where to go - Maps - Ring road and regions
Video - what you could see on your Iceland Winter road trip
Before I tell you in more details about the different regions you could enjoy, below is a video that gives you an idea of what you could enjoy while traveling around Iceland in Winter...
About road tripping the Ring Road in Winter
The most classic road trip to do in Iceland is to tour the Ring Road, also known as Route 1. It is great to get an overview of the country.
The road is 1332km (828mi) long - Without stopping at all and staying only on Route 1, it would take you 16 to 17h to drive all around Iceland in good conditions (longer with the Winter snow).
A lot of the most famous sights are along the Road: Waterfalls, glaciers, lagoon, geothermal areas, volcanoes.
Can you drive the Ring Road in Winter?
Yes, it is a great road trip. A few things to know if you are planning such a trip:
- As I said before, take into consideration how long the days are (it will take you more days).
- The North has a lot more snow that the South
- However the North has less tourists
Choosing the Icelandic regions to visit
Below is an introduction of the different regions in Iceland and what you could see in each of them during the Winter months (some attractions are not accessible in Winter).
This should help you narrow down for the planning of your itinerary.
South-West Iceland in Winter
- The region - Reykjavik, the Golden Circle and the Reykjanes peninsula
- The main towns - Reykjavik (capital city), Keflavik (airport), Selfoss (gateway to South Coast)
- The scenery to enjoy - Town of Reykjavik, waterfalls and many geothermal areas
- Famous things to do - Blue Lagoon, Thingvellir national park, Geysir, Gullfoss
- Check out my article about the Golden Circle in Winter
Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Winter
- The region - Peninsula North West of Reykjavik, called the 'Iceland in miniature'
- The main towns - Borgarnes before entering the peninsula, Grundarfjordur on the North Coast
- The scenery to enjoy - fjords, a glacier, mountains, waterfalls, giant lava formations, volcanic craters, black beaches...
- Famous things to do - Kirkjufell mountain and its waterfalls, Arnarstapi lava cliffs
- Check out my article about the Snaefellsnes in Winter
South Iceland in Winter
- The region - the South coast of Iceland
- The main towns - Vik and Höfn
- The scenery to enjoy - Black sand beaches, giant waterfalls, glaciers, lagoons, mountains
- Famous things to do - Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, Reynisfjara beach, Jokulsarlon, Diamond Beach, ice caves
- Check out my article about the South Coast in Winter
North Iceland in Winter
- The region - The Northern half of Iceland, North of the Highlands
- The main towns - Akureyri (the capital of the North) and Egilsstadir between the East Fjords and the North
- The scenery to enjoy - Volcanic landscapes, lakes and coastal mountains
- Famous things to do - Hverir geothermal area, Dimmuborgir lava formations, Lake Myvatn, Godafoss waterfall
- Check out my article about Lake Myvatn in Winter
The East Fjords in Winter
- The region - The East Coast
- The main towns - There are no big towns - it is between Höfn and Egilsstadir - each fjord has a small town or tiny village
- The scenery to enjoy - mountains plunging into the water, black sand beaches
- Famous things to do - Mostly driving around and enjoying the views
West Fjords & Central Highlands in Winter
Those regions have closed roads or very difficult access.
STEP 3 - How long to plan for your Winter road trip in Iceland
The first criteria are of course:
- How much travel time you can have...
- How long the days are (as I said earlier)
If you have a minimum of 7h of daylight per day I would recommend:
- Reykjavik & Golden circle - 2 to 3 days (1 more day if you want to do the Reykjanes peninsula)
- Snaefellsnes peninsula - 2 days
- South Iceland - 2 to 3 days
- East Fjords - 1 to 2 days
- North Iceland - 2 to 3 days
The other important thing to remember is that weather conditions are unpredictable, and road closures can happen any day. So you will have to be flexible with your itinerary - enjoy whatever you are lucky to see and be ready to miss some of the places...
STEP 4 - Book your flight
So now that you have chosen when to go, where to go and for how long, you are ready to book your flight.
First, check the visa requirement for your passport.
Iceland is part of the Schengen Visa Agreement
Here is the list of countries where a visa is needed to visit Iceland
Note that all international flights arriving in Iceland land at the Keflavik airport. It is a 40min drive to reach Reykjavik - they have shuttles and private transfers if you are not renting a car right away.
Whereas the regional airport for the few internal flight options (such as going to Akureyri in the North) is located near Reykjavik.
STEP 5 - Create your Iceland winter driving itinerary
Now you can start creating a rough overview of your itinerary, with the regions you selected.
To help you plan your itinerary you can:
Plan your perfect trip to Iceland in Winter!
When planning your itinerary don't forget to consider the following essentials:
- DRIVING TIMES - Always plan more time to go from point A to point B than what Google says. You will want to stop all the time + road conditions will impact your days, allow for some flexibility
- DAYLIGHT HOURS - I am repeating myself, but check out the daylight time you have available when you are traveling.
- ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS - You can't just stop you itinerary on one day in the middle of no-where, you might not find accommodation. So try to plan around the big hubs as listed in the next steps.
STEP 6 - Rent the right car from driving in Iceland in Winter
Now that you have a rough idea of where you are going and what type of roads you are going to take, you can decide on the car to rent.
Here are a few tips to consider when renting a car in Iceland:
- TIMING - Iceland is a popular destination - for choice and good price, book as early as possible
- 2WD / 4WD - You can drive around the Ring Road with a 2WD, but you will feel safer and more ready to face anything with a 4WD
- RENTAL COMPANIES - When choosing the company, don't just look at price consider age of the fleet, included mileage, 24/7 customer service, servicing availability...
- INSURANCES - Check all types of insurance and decide on the level of risk you are ready to take. For peace of mind, I strongly recommend the Gravel Protection one
- BOOK - There are some great quality local companies; They have a better understanding of the Iceland road specificities than the international ones in my opinion. Compare the vehicles and price offers from local companies on this Icelandic website or compare offers form well-known international rental companies on Discovercars.com (one of the best customer-rated comparison sites!)
For more information, head to my complete guide to selecting your rental car and driving in Iceland in Winter.
Renting a Campervan in Winter
In theory, it is possible to travel around Iceland in a campervan in Winter.
However many campsites are closed in Winter because there is less demand. It is recommended to book in advance.
See the campsites open in Winter here.
STEP 8 - Book accommodations
As one of my taxi drivers mentioned, with the boom of tourism in Iceland, accommodations are appearing everywhere, especially guesthouses. The options are as usual: camping, hostels, guesthouses, hotels and farm stay.
A few points to keep in mind:
- In Winter, many are closed so it can also be hard to find accommodations in some areas if you look at the last minute
- If you want to increase your chances of seeing the northern lights, choose accommodations outside of towns
- A lot of rooms in Guesthouses have share bathrooms – I have seen many reviews by people who were surprised. So when you book, check the details!
- Wifi is overall very good in Iceland (I was able to upload pictures every evening)
Practical accommodation hubs to stay around Iceland:
- SOUTH-WEST - Reykjavik of course - Check out the best rated accommodations in Reykjavik
- SNAEFELLSNES PENINSULA - Grundarfjordur is a great location, especially for photographers since it is 5 min away from the magnificent Kirkjufell - Check out the accommodation options
- SOUTH ICELAND - Vik is the main touristic hub on the South Coast. Located between the waterfalls and the Lagoons, it has its own interest with basalt columns and black sand beach - Check out the best rated accommodations in Vik
- SOUTH ICELAND - at the East end of the South Coast is Höfn. A good place to stop along the Ring Road before or after the East Fjords - Check out the best rated accommodations in Höfn
- Egilsstadir - between fjords and North Iceland - see best rated accommodations
- NORTH ICELAND - Lake Myvatn has so much to offer. It is a fascinating place to explore. I recommend staying several night in the vicinity to be able to see all it has to offer - Check out the best rated accommodations in Reykjahlid - or head to the main town Akureyri (see options)
For information about where to stay in Iceland and for suggestions, check out my Iceland Accommodations Article.
STEP 9 - Get all the equipment you need
Wondering what to pack for Iceland?
The main thing to know is to bring Layers, Layers, Layers.
This way, whenever the weather change during the day you can easily adapt what you are wearing - layers to get warm, to protect against the wind or to protect against the rain/snow.
Check out my complete article with detailed suggestions and tips on what to wear and pack for Iceland - detailed lists for both Summer and Winter.
STEP 10 - Get ready for Winter driving in Iceland
The main driving rules to know are:
- Driving on the right side
- Alcohol limit almost at 0
- Lights shall be turned at all times
- No 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 (although I rarely was driving at 80 on those…)
- Seatbelts are mandatory for all
You can learn more and get ready with my article about driving in Iceland in Winter
Below is a video to give you an idea of what driving in Iceland looks like:
Fill your GPS with the coordinates
What I hate the most when traveling is wasting time. Turning around to find a place, missing an exit.
Sometimes it leads to adventure, but most of the time it just leads to frustration.
This is why I don't rent a GPS with the car. I have my own Tom Tom. This way I can use the MyDrive system on my computer to add all the hotel GPS coordinates as well as the carpark coordinates for all the attractions I would like to see.
All the locations in my eBook include the GPS coordinates of the nearest carpark, exactly for that reason:
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
- Iceland Winter itinerary suggestions - read article
Planning a trip to Iceland in Winter
Check out my travel guide to help you plan:
And keep track of your own trip!
Want to see more of ICELAND in WINTER?
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