One of the best ways to see and experience Iceland is on a self-drive road trip. With a car to take you wherever you want to go and the road ahead full of possibilities, you'll feel an unstoppable sense of freedom. However, it can be nerve-wracking to drive on unfamiliar roads in a different country to your own.
Iceland may be in Europe, but it doesn't necessarily follow the same road rules. So before you get behind the wheel, there's a few things you can do in preparation to make the most of your road trip. The more prepared you are, the safer you are, and the more you can relax and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
To help you prepare, we have created a list of the best tips for an Iceland road trip. After reading, you will feel more than ready to hit the road.
We also recommend checking our Top Frequent Traveler Questions for Visiting Iceland, it has some great pointers for visiting our beautiful country.
Tips to prepare for driving in Iceland
Learn Iceland's road rules
It can be nerve-wracking to drive on unfamiliar roads, especially in a different country, but the better you understand its roadrules, the easier it will be. In general, Iceland's road rules align with the rules in most other European countries. However, it's better not to make any assumptions. Not only is it more respectful to other drivers in Iceland, but it is also more respectful of Icelandic laws.
For example, it is required to keep your headlights on at all times when driving in Iceland and those driving without them on are at risk of causing harm to other drivers and at risk of being punished by traffic enforcement officers.
Know the speed limits
When driving in Iceland, bear in mind that speed limits vary from one country to the next. While the maximum speed limit on a highway in France is 130 km/h, there are no speed limits at all in Germany. But if you were to drive as fast as you could in Iceland, there's a good chance you will be banned from returning to Iceland again.
Therefore, it's important to learn Iceland's speed limits and always be on the look-out for speed limit signage when you are driving.
Iceland speed limits:
- Residential roads ? 30 km/h
- Urban roads ? 50 km/h
- Unpaved gravel roads ? 80km/h
- Rural paved roads ? 90km/h
Choose a vehicle that best suits your needs
On a road trip across Iceland, the car you drive makes all the difference to your overall experience, so choose it wisely. Consider what you are comfortable driving, how many people you'll be bringing along, and what kind of road trip you want to take. If you're doing a short jaunt around the Golden Circle with your partner, a small economy car would be suitable, but if you're planning on taking your family to the far reaches of Iceland's interior, you're going to need a 5-seater 4x4. Perhaps it's better to choose a car that feels most familiar to you, or maybe you're ready to switch things up and try something different.
Check out our Car Rental Tips: Pick-Up, driving and returns for some great Iceland car rental tips.
Thing to consider before you start driving in Iceland
Plan your route in advance
Spend more time enjoying your Icelandic road trip by planning your routes and stops in advance rather than working it out as you go. You might just drive past a magical landscape en route if you're too busy searching the internet for ?cool things to see' or realise there's a place you want to visit after having driven past it. The better you plan, the better your road trip could be.
Now, we're not talking about a strict plan ? there should always be room for change and spontineity ? but a loose itinerary will go a long way.
Check the weather before you drive
Iceland's weather has a bit of a reputation for being unpredictable. You might wake up to bright sunshine, but by the time you've eaten breakfast, the heavens have opened and the sun is nowhere to be seen. Things get even more problematic in winter when there's always a possibility of rain or snow. Icelanders deal with this by always keeping an eye on the weather and visitors should do the same.
While Icelandic roads are very well maintained and controlled, driving conditions can be tough for those unfamiliar with the roads. Therefore, it's wise to check the weather forecast before you hop in the car. After all, things are always easier to deal with when you know what to expect.
Pack for all weather
Since Iceland's weather is so changeable, it's always a good idea to keep layers and/or a change of clothes in your car. It might be warm and sunny when you set off, but by the time you reach your destination for the day, that might not be the case. At the very least, always keep a waterproof at hand, but if you have the space in your vehicle, you'd benefit from keeping extra layers, a hat and gloves, and maybe even a change of clothes in the car.
If you're up for some spontaneous hot spring bathing, it would be wise to keep a bathing suit handy too! If your vehicle is packed for all weather, nothing can stop you from enjoying your road trip come rain or shine.
Keep food and drink to hand
Most of the destinations on a self-drive tour of Iceland are in the throes of nature where there is not another soul to be seen, let alone a cafe or restaurant waiting to satisfy your hunger. Therefore, it's recommended to pack some food and drink (or maybe even a picnic if you're feeling fancy) when you hit the road.
Be sure to stock up whenever you're near a convenience store or supermarket because the sparsity of Iceland makes it hard to find food whenever you feel like eating. After all, everything is more enjoyable on a full stomach.
Tips to remember when you're driving in Iceland
Don't park in passing laybys
Most of Iceland's roads either have one lane or a single track which sometimes makes overtaking and giving way necessary. To make this easier, there are laybys along single-track and some single-lane roads where cars can pull over to let the cars pass in the opposite direction or from behind. It's often tempting to pull up in these laybys to stop to take pictures of the surrounding views or rest, but this is a big no-no in Iceland.
If you happen to be parked in a section of the road where two other cars need to pass in opposite directions, you will cause a major hold-up. To be courteous to other drivers, it's best to refrain from pulling over in laybys.
Don't go down F-roads unless you're insured
While most of the driving routes around Iceland are on well-paved highways and main roads, there's a sub-section of driving routes called F-roads or gravel-paved mountain roads. Only vehicles classed as a 4x4 with specific F-road insurance can drive down these mountain roads. This is because they are harder to drive than regular roads and they lead to the most remote parts of the country with limited access to services. When you arrange your hire car in Iceland, the dealer will be able to inform you which vehicles arre F-road accessible and what your insurance covers so that you are fully aware of which roads you are allowed to take.
Be vigilant with fuel levels
In Iceland it's never a good idea to let your fuel tank deplete to less than half because gas stations are often few and far between. Even on the highways like Route 1, you can go for 100 km without passing a gas station and most F-roads don't even have access to a one at all.
The best way of ensuring you'll never run out of fuel is to make a habit of checking fuel levels every time you get in the car. If you do need to refuel, don't skip the nearest gas station in the assumption you can fill up at your destination because there may not be one there. Always err on the side of caution when it comes to refuelling in Iceland.
Let others overtake
In some countries, overtaking can be seen as rude or impatient, but in countries like Iceland where there are primarily single-lane highways, it is common practice. Bear in mind the road signs will indicate which areas are safe for overtaking. Those who overtake in prohibited areas could be fined.
It isn't uncommon for foreign drivers to drive slower than average in an effort to be cautious, in which case, you need to be weary of the vehicles behind you at all times, and allow them to overtake if necessary.
Book your Iceland car hire with Northbound
The perfect Icelandic self-drive road trip adventure isn't possible without the perfect hire car to drive through it. Whether you're looking for something powerful, economical, sturdy, or small, our Iceland car hire experts are on hand to offer their professional advice and help you pick the perfect vehicle for you.
Contact us here or call +354 539 3009 to secure the car of your choice today.