Let's plan your Iceland Road Trip ! Below is your step-by-step guide to start planning: when and where to go, renting your car, creating your Iceland itinerary, booking accommodations and getting ready to drive and travel.
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STEP 0 - ESSENTIALS - How to Plan an Iceland Road Trip
As you go through the following steps to plan your road trip around Iceland, I recommend you keep the following in mind:
- Many amazing landscapes are very easy to reach so don't worry! No stress, keep planning 🙂
- Don't plan too much every day - you will get frustrated not to be able to stop as much since it is stunning everywhere
- Don't overestimate your 4WD capacity - if you plan on going on the Central Highlands track, know that there will be river crossings and then can be quite difficult and changing during the day
- As you are approaching your Iceland road trip, stop watching the weather forecast. It will change everyday and during the day, so just go with the flow of your panned 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 when to visit Iceland
Iceland is beautiful and magical all year around. And the weather is always unpredictable.
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 pan your Iceland Road Trip is based on what you want to see.
Here is a summary:
- PROS - Long daylight hours, green scenery,
- You can see - lupine fields (June-July), midnight sun in June, whales, Puffins (May to mid-July)
- BUT Peak season: higher prices, more tourists; no chances of seeing aurora borealis (not enough dark hours)
May & September-beginning October
- My favorite time
- PROS - Still enough daylight hours, spring and autumn colors, road still in good condition
- You can see - aurora borealis, Whales between May and September (Killer whales in May), Puffins in May
- BUT Less accommodations are opened, colder weather
- PROS - Not many tourists, stunning landscapes with snow, less tourists, interesting low light for photography, good prices
- You can see - aurora borealis, winter wonders such as the blue caves, frozen waterfalls,
- BUT Difficult driving conditions, many roads closed, not many hours of light
For more info, read the full article on the Best time to visit Iceland including conditions and things to see.
STEP 2 - Where to go in Iceland - Maps - Ring road or regions
CLASSIC - Iceland Ring Road Road Trip
The most classic road trip to do in Iceland, it to tour the Ring Road, also known as Route 1. It is great to get an overview of the country.
The Ring Road is 1332km long (828mi) - Without stopping at all and staying only on Route 1, it would take you 16 to 17h to drive all around Iceland.
It is fenced on a large portion, reducing the risks of having a sheep on the road (but not everywhere, so be careful
A lot of the most famous sights are along the Road: Waterfalls, glaciers, lagoon, geothermal areas, volcanoes.
You can check out my selection of the Best stops on the Ring Road
OR - Exploring the regions
OR you can stick to a few regions either
- if you have limited time
- or if you want to explore them more
Below are the main regions of Iceland with the things you can expect to see in each of them.
(Note that all the tourist board websites in Iceland are organized by such regions)
Some the country’s most visited tourist attractions along the South Coast
Roads - easy
Check out the top things to do in the region here
My favorite region - as if on another planet
Roads - mostly easy, some moderate and 4WD options
You can see the top things to do in the region here
Isolated region with relatively unspoiled wilderness
Roads - moderate
Forest, lush farmlands, small fjords and islands...
Roads - easy and moderate
STEP 3 - How long to plan for your road trip in Iceland
The first criteria is, of course,: How much travel time can you have...
If you have no flexibility, you can jump to the next step.
If you have flexibility, here are a few facts to keep in mind:
- As written earlier, without stopping at all and staying only on Route 1, it would take you 16 to 17h to drive all around Iceland.
- Speed limit on the best paved roads is 90 km/hour but unpaved sections are at 80km
- You will want to stop every 5 minutes to look at the changing scenery or take a photo – this is inevitable
Therefore, I would not recommend attempting the all around Ring Road in 7 days, you would have to rush all the time and it will be frustrating.
From my experience and discussion with local tour guides, I think to really enjoy it you need at least:
- Reykjavik - Golden circle: 2 days
- Snaefellsnes - 2/3 days
- South Iceland - 3 days
- West Fjords - 2 - 3 days
- East Iceland - 2 days
- North Iceland - 5 days (including 3 around Myvatn)
- Central Highlands - at least one day for Landmannalaugar with 4 WD but there is so much more to see!
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.
However, first, check the Visa requirement for your type of passports.
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 from there.
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 a general Iceland Itinerary Idea
Now you can start creating a rough overview of your itinerary, with the regions you selected.
Have a look at what there is to see and what type of trip you would like to do - this will help you with choosing the right car at step 6
If you already know you are going to stick to the attractions closed to the Ring Road (so you can use a simple car), you can skip to the next step and create your itinerary at step 7
To help you plan your itinerary you can:
Identify the types of roads you are going to take.
STEP 6 - Rent the right car for your Icelandic Road Trip
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 the 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 - If you plan on driving on F-roads, a 4WD is mandatory - Otherwise 2WD is sufficient but a simple 4WD allows you to enter any road that looks inspiring without worry 🙂
- 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; For example I really like Route 1 car rental for their great service
Compare the vehicles and price offers from local companies on this website or Compare offers form well-known international rental companies on this website
For more information, head to my complete guide to selecting your rental car of Iceland (car types, companies, insurance, tips...)
STEP 7 - Create a detailed Iceland Road Trip itinerary
Ok now it is time to dig deeper and create a more detailed itinerary. This will help you decide where to sleep and for how many nights.
As before, to help you plan your itinerary you can:
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 to admire the scenery, so if you plan too much you will feel frustrated not to be able to.
- DAYLIGHT HOURS - Check out the daylight time you have available when you are traveling. Because of the latitude, the length of days vary greatly. Check out how long you have to see all the sites during the days
- ROAD CLOSURES - Know that F-roads (difficult non paved tracks with river crossings most of the time) are only opened from mid-June to sometime in September. Dates change every year depending on the conditions. Most of those roads lead to the central highlands.
- ROAD CONDITIONS - Know that in Winter, road conditions can change abruptly, with sometimes snowstorms. Really don't plan too much
- 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 step.
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, minivan/motorhome, hostels, guesthouses, hotels, farm stay.
A few points to keep in mind:
- During peak season, accommodations fill in quickly especially those well located
- Off peak season, many are closed so it can also be hard to find accommodation if you look at the last minute (I looked at it 6 weeks before and options were limited for the Myvatn area)
- 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!
- Renting a campervan or camping is also a great option to save money, stay closer to nature. But know that it is cold at night, so be mindful of how you are willing to travel. In September I still saw a lot of campers. Layers Layers Layers! - Check out some Mini-camper and van options
Practical accommodation hubs to stay around Iceland:
- SOUTH-WEST - Reykjavik of course - Check out the best rated accommodations in Reykjavik
- SOUTH-WEST - another option is to stay near the airport at Keflavik. It is also nice - Check out the best rated accommodations in Keflavik
- SNAEFELLSNES PENINSULA - Grundarfjordur is the most thought after specially for photographer since it is 5 min away from the magnificent Kirkjufell - Check out the best rated accommodations in Grundarfjordur
- 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
- 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 around Lake Myvatn
- WEST FJORDS - The main touristic town in the west fjords is Isafjordur at the end of a magnificent fjord - Check out the best rated accommodations in Isafjordur
- However you can of course find accommodations in between 🙂
FULL ARTICLE ==> For information about where to stay in Iceland and for suggestions, check out my Iceland Accommodations Article.
CONGRATULATIONS!!! Now all is booked
It is time to get Ready for this Icelandic road Trip
STEP 9 - Get all the equipment you need
Wondering what to take with you to Iceland?
What type of clothes and shoes would be the most practical? What you should not forget?
The main things 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
FULL ARTICLE ==> 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 to drive
The main driving rules to know are:
- 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
You can learn more and get ready with my article about driving in Iceland
Below is a video to give you an idea of what driving in Iceland looks like:
STEP 11 - 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.
This way I just pick the favorite and follow the directions!!!
NOTE - All the locations in my eBooks include the GPS coordinates of the nearest carpark, exactly for that reason 🙂
STEP 12 - Get ready to travel in Iceland
Of course like in any country, it is always appreciated when you try a few words in their language (which is called Icelandic by the way).
- Hello – Halló
- Thanks – Takk or Takk fyrir
- Cheers! – Skál!
- Yes – Já.
- No – Nei
For more, check out the wikitravel phrasebook page
To understand the name of places
Also there are a few words that are useful to be recognized so that when you see a sign you can realize what type of scenery it will be and you can decide if you want to explore:
- Jökull – Glacier
- Kirkja – Church
- Sarlon – Lagoon
- Fell – Mountain
- Foss/Fossar – Waterfall
- Hraun – Lava
SPECIAL TIPS - Iceland Road Trip in Winter
And Iceland Road Trip in Winter is quite different from one in Summer.
So here are a few things to keep in mind:
- December, January and February are the coldest months - but they are not as cold as we imagine!
- Don't plan too much. The days are short! for example in January you have only 4h30 to 7h of daylight
- Beginning of March is often a popular month because the days are longer and you can see a bit more, the nights are still long enough to see Northern lights, and the ice caves are accessible
- Early winter can be wet but you can have beautiful clear road with the top of the mountains covered in snow. I love those types of moments!
- If one one your main goal is to admire the aurora Borealis and you have the possibility to pick your dates, Look at the moon calendar, and avoid the days where the moon is big and bright because it will reduce how well you can see the northern lights.
Learn more on my article about visiting Iceland in Winter
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