In March this year, I spent a week driving across two of Iceland's most coveted routes in a nifty campervan rented from Northbound. I had an incredible week driving to world-famous waterfalls, beaches, glaciers, and geysers.
What's more, I got to spend the night parked beside these feats of nature and gaze at them from my bedroom window as I sipped my morning coffee. It sounds idyllic, and oh boy it was!
On reflection, though, I know it could have been even more epic if I had more knowledge and understanding about traveling in Iceland before getting there. Instead, I learned along the way.
Now that I possess the insider info, I am keen to share it with you so that not only can you feel more prepared for your trip, but you can look forward to it fully! So read on to find out more about what I wish I knew before going to Iceland. I talk about everything from travel apps and studded tyres to driving conditions and cold weather.
I booked my trip to Iceland for the end of winter, assuming I would benefit from having warmer temperatures and less chance of snow. Apparently, I hadn't got the memo that nature is full of surprises in Iceland ? and the weather is one of them.
While Reykjavik was a sunny 2°C, temperatures dropped to -8°C along the Golden Circle thanks to strong winds, and I almost got stuck in a severe snowstorm in Skaftafell as I drove along the South Coast.
Whilst I was prepared for the chilly temperatures, I had not considered the fact I could be faced with gale-force winds and snow storms (although I really should have, to be fair).
On paper, these weather events sound dramatic, but in reality, they only added to the fun and excitement of the trip. I just wish I knew about them sooner so that I could have planned around the weather more easily.
Luckily, even though I wasn't prepared for the changeable conditions, Iceland was very prepared because it is so used to this kind of weather. Road conditions were well monitored and maintained and I even got updates from my vehicle provider, Northbound.
Embrace the Weather
Throughout the course of my trip, I faced below-freezing temperatures, gale-force winds, and a severe snowstorm. I had no idea I was going to encounter this kind of weather and if you'd told me I would before I began it, I might have considered changing my flight.
However, I was not forewarned and honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way. Iceland is a land of extremes and I will always be grateful for the fact I got to experience them first-hand.
Its forces of nature pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to embrace the things I usually hide from. As a result, I realised there really isn't such thing as ?bad weather' when you're in a place as magical as Iceland.
Safe Travel App
An app that will be your best travel companion
As it turns out, your everyday weather apps are no good in Iceland because the weather can change drastically with short notice. Instead, Icelanders use an app/website called SafeTravel.is that gives you all the latest weather updates, warnings, and road conditions. Whether you're going on a self-drive road trip or a group tour, it will be your best travel companion. You can even sign up to get weather alerts messaged directly to your phone so that you can be notified of any updates as soon as they happen.
Another useful website to follow before and during your trip is Vedur.is. This website provides excellent live weather maps that track everything including rainfall, wind, and snow. It even provides a live weather map of the Northern Lights allowing you to see where they will appear and at what time!
Iceland is easier to explore than you think
I was surprised by how easy it was to drive all the way from Reykjavik in western Iceland to Hofn in the southeast. Before the trip, I had calculated that Hofn was 458 km (6 hours) away from Reykjavik by road. This meant the return journey was 12 hours in total, which seemed quite ambitious for a week-long road trip.
I questioned my plans and considered shortening the distance to make it more manageable, but I just couldn't miss out on seeing that part of the country so I stayed committed to the long journey.
In the end, I am so glad I wasn't put off by the distance I had planned to drive on my road trip. Yes, 12 hours is a lot, but with a well-planned itinerary, it doesn't feel like it at all.
I split my driving up into chunks with long stops en route to see Iceland's natural wonders Besides, the roads are so incredibly scenic that driving was always a joyful experience. After arriving in Hofn I was tempted to drive even further ? I couldn't get enough and I know you'll feel the same.
Driving in Iceland is a doddle
Driving in a new country in an unfamiliar vehicle is always nerve-wracking and Iceland was no exception. However, having now spent a week driving across Iceland, I can safely say it was the easiest place I have ever driven ? and I have driven in 16 different countries in Europe!
This was partly because the population is so small you're unlikely to encounter traffic, even in Reykjavik. On the Ring Road (Iceland's main highway), you can drive for dozens of kilometres without approaching or passing another car. Since the roads are also well-paved and signposted, driving in Iceland feels smooth, comfortable, and stress-free.
Before coming to Iceland, I was also concerned about encountering bad road conditions caused by adverse weather. However, I was impressed by how well the roads are managed and how carefully and considerately cars drive after heavy snowfall. It helps to remember that Icelanders are used to harsh road conditions and they know exactly how to handle it! However, I'd read my next tip about driving, if you want to err on the side of caution.
Request a hire car with studded tyres
I encountered a lot of snow and ice on the roads which would have usually induced a lot of driving anxiety. Luckily, my campervan had studded tyres which gave it a greater grip on the road. Although I saw many vehicles driving just fine without them, I was really glad I had them because it made me feel much more confident with driving in snowy conditions.
I hadn't specifically asked for my hire car to have this feature, but Northbound was thoughtful enough to ensure I did anyway. While most car rental brokers in Iceland will provide you with a vehicle with studded tyres during winter months, I would recommend requesting it when you book just in case.
Driving may just be the best bit
When I came to Iceland, I couldn't wait to see all of the feats of nature I had seen and heard so much about ? and it didn't disappoint. I stood at the foot of waterfalls, glaciers, canyons, geysers, and basalt cliffs, equally enamoured by the artistry of their nature each time.
When I got home, I drilled my friends' ears off with talk about the things I'd seen, but I always found myself ending my speech with: ?you know what though, I think my favourite part of the trip was the driving!?
There is something intoxicating about a scenic road trip, and they don't get more scenic than Iceland. Luckily, I had already planned to do a self-drive road trip across the country, but if I hadn't I would have been grateful for someone to encourage me to do it so I am passionate about encouraging you too!
Campervaning is easy in Iceland, even during winter
As my holiday to Iceland was planned for the end of winter, I was obsessively checking Reykjavik's weather forecast in the lead-up to my trip, hoping for spring to appear. Instead, weekly daytime temperatures changed from an average of 7°C to an of 0°C with lows of -8°C.
Since I was travelling across Iceland in a campervan, the trip suddenly seemed much less appealing. I kept trying to convince myself it would be fine, but deep down I was concerned.
As it turns out, I needn't have worried about a thing. My winter clothes kept me warm whilst I was out exploring and my campervan was equipped with a diesel heater that had enough power keep me toasty throughout the night.
Plus, the campsites always ensure you are never too far from your next hot shower. So while I couldn't exactly cook my dinner outside at the campsites, I could go out and embrace the cold without worrying about warming up myself after.
If you can do a self-drive holiday, you should
As I was driving freely around Iceland in my campervan, I realised how many benefits I had over group travel tours and coach tours. I had the freedom to choose my own itinerary and travel at my own pace and this turned out to be invaluable. I was able to visit the sights in off-peak times to avoid crowds and enjoy more peaceful, personal, and memorable moments with the waterfalls, beaches, and geysers.
I also had the flexibility to work my plans around the changeable weather so I didn't miss out on anything I wanted to see. Since Iceland is such a magical place, I would recommend planning your own road trip, if you are able to.
Get Your Iceland Road Trip Started With Northbound
Now that you have all the best knowledge and advice about Iceland road trips, you are ready to embark on your own.
Get started by booking a car, campervan, or motorhome with Northbound, Iceland's top rental vehicle supplier.