A Guide to Driving Around Iceland
A self-drive tour of Iceland is the ideal option for anyone who marches to beat of their own drum and likes to venture off-the-beaten-track.
Every year, thousands of visitors explore Iceland by car-hire. In doing this, they can take in all of the country’s most famous attractions, such as the Ring Road and the Golden Circle, and enjoy the freedom of stopping whenever and wherever they want.
Driving is one of the best ways to take in Iceland’s wonderful landscape. Every corner of the country is gifted with beautiful scenery and outstanding natural attractions. Between impressive volcanoes, majestic waterfalls and powerful geysers erupting near the edge of Iceland’s motorways, it can be hard to keep your eyes on the road sometimes, so stopping frequently to take it all in is highly recommended!
These locations are most popular with adventure tourists, as they allow tourists to take in geysers, glacier lagoons, lava fields, famous mountains and even a seal colony at Ytri-Tunga beach.
However, with so much to see and do, is a self-drive tour the best option for you?
Self-Drive Tour or Guided Tour?
A rental car allows you the freedom to travel when and where you like. It’s the ideal option for people who like to travel at their own leisure, whether that means stopping for a swim in a hot spring, a roadside picture or a delicious Icelandic hotdog.
However, whether you’re driving alone or as part of a group, you can still share the magic of Iceland with other visitors. What is so nice about self-driving tours is that it’s still possible to include lots of amazing outdoor activities and guided tours in your itinerary.
Arctic Adventures gives customers the option of “meeting on location” meaning you can still enjoy a carefree self-drive tour with the option of including a planned activity or two. This way, you can get the full guided tour experience, without sacrificing your own freedom.
Icelandic Self-Drive Packages
However, at Arctic Adventures we always like to go one step further. With this in mind, we’ve created a series of self-drive packages, which are available all year round.
Our self-drive packages allow you to have the best of both worlds and combine the handiness of a guided tour with the flexibility of a self-drive tour. All of our self-drive tours include a detailed map and itinerary plan of your desired route, as well as pre-booked accommodation. We’ll even organize your car hire at the airport, which means a hassle-free trip!
Thanks to our wealth of local knowledge, Arctic Adventures’ itineraries include an abundance of hidden gems as well as the most popular natural attractions in Iceland. And the best thing is that there’s no hidden costs or surprises, as the total cost is displayed as the advertised price.
The Advantages of Taking Guided Tours
For tourists who are nervous about driving in Iceland or simply want to hand the reins over to someone else, a guided tour is the best option.
Driving in Iceland, especially during the winter, can be challenging, and even more so for people who’ve never driven in snow or ice (not to mention on the wrong side of the road!). The harsh Icelandic winters make it surprisingly easy to get stuck or break down while driving if you aren’t careful, so caution is advised.
During the summer months, the weather is much calmer. However, drivers still have to watch out for Iceland’s native sheep, who love crossing the roads at a moment’s notice.
Faced with this scenario, it’s always a good idea to join a guided tour and let someone else worry about the driving.
Everything You Need to Know About Driving in Iceland
Laws & Regulations
The standard Icelandic speed limits are:
- 30-50 km/h (18-31 mi/h) within cities and other populated areas
- 80 km/h (50 mi/h) on gravel roads in rural areas
- 90 km/h (55 mi/h) on paved roads.
Like most European countries, cars are driven on the right-hand side of the road. Iceland’s police force enforces a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drink driving and seat belts must be worn at all times.
In addition, drivers are not permitted to use their cell phone, unless connected to a hands-free device, while driving. As is customary in most European countries, car headlights must be kept on at all times, even during daylight hours.
Drivers shouldn’t stop in the middle of the road, no matter how beautiful the landscape is. If you want to take a picture of Iceland’s breath-taking scenery, find a safe space to pull in and park before doing so.
If driving at night, try to not to get too distracted by the wonderful Northern Lights. If you want to watch the lights dancing and flickering above, make sure to pull in, park and put on your hazard lights to alert oncoming traffic.
Throughout Iceland, off-road driving is strictly forbidden as it destroys the environment and natural landscape. Car insurance providers will not cover you if you crash or damage your rental car while driving off-road. In addition, the fine for driving off-road is anything up to $5,000! It’s best not to risk it, right?
Iceland’s Road System
Many of the top Icelandic tourist attractions are located along the Ring Road, or along other paved roads. These main roads are generally accessible with a regular car, so there’s no need to hire a 4WD vehicle in such cases.
During the summertime, more attractions can be accessed with a 2WD rental car than during winter because the weather conditions aren’t as harsh.
As mentioned previously, Iceland’s weather is very changeable. Roads can close at any time due to floods, snowstorms or really bad weather. It is possible and highly recommended to check the road conditions at any time on the official Icelandic roads website or by calling 1777.
There are three different types of roads Iceland:
- F-roads (also known as mountain roads).
F-roads are strictly forbidden to regular cars, and can only be accessed with an off-road vehicle. These roads are mostly located in the highlands and are extremely difficult to drive on. F-roads are usually closed during the winter months, but generally reopen at the end of June.
Iceland’s Varying Weather Conditions
Weather conditions can be checked out on the Icelandic Meteorological Office website, which is the most accurate weather forecast available. The website boasts different maps featuring temperature, wind speed, precipitation and even avalanche forecasts.
There is an old Icelandic proverb which says, “If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait for five minutes”. and it is surprisingly accurate! Based on our personal experience, it’s possible to have hail, a big sun, rain and snow within a single day.
Up until June, the weather can be quite unstable and unpredictable, making it hard to know what to wear in the morning. That is why dressing in layers is always advised. If it is too hot, take off a layer and if it is too cold, put on another one – simple!
(Please see our guide to dressing for Icelandic weather for more tips)
Another challenge drivers often face while touring the country is the sun. Indeed, it is quite easy to be momentarily blinded by the sunshine, as the sun sits low and tends to stay that way for hours on end. This is especially true during the few hours of sunshine we get during winter, and even at night during the summer, when we enjoy the midnight sun.
Sunglasses are a must when it comes to driving in Iceland. Who would have thought?
Other Precautions to Take on the Road
Many types of Icelandic animals are present on the roads around Iceland, such as arctic foxes, reindeers, birds, horses and A LOT of sheep! Indeed, Iceland’s sheep are released from their farms in June and are allowed wander the country for a few months, so please take extra care while driving during the summer!
It’s only in September that the sheep are rounded up, thanks to the help of horses and shepherd dogs, and returned to their owners.
While the practice may sound strange, it’s actually a really festive occurrence, which tourists and locals alike enjoy and celebrate. With this in mind, never exceed the speed limit and always be prepared to stop if something dashes out onto the road.
Are you interested in booking a self-drive tour of Iceland? Contact our team today!