All about self-driving in Iceland
Taking a self-drive tour is a good option for solo travelers who want to venture around the island by themselves. Every year, many people explore Iceland during a road trip along the Ring Road and enjoy the freedom of stopping wherever they want to. The magical landscapes are in every corner of the country and the scenery after each turn will blow everyone’s mind. Between impressive volcanoes, powerful waterfalls and strong geysers erupting not far from the road, it will be hard for anyone to keep looking at the road. Self-driving in Iceland is a great way to see everything that Iceland has to offer!
During those self-drive tours, discover the most popular Icelandic destinations: the iconic South Coast, the incredibly photogenic Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the famous Golden Circle. The three are the favorite places of our adventurous visitors and it is no wonder that every single person who has been there loved it! While the Golden Circle takes everyone’s breath away with the fabulous geysirs, the South Coast will make its visitors feel like they just landed into another world thanks to its glacier lagoons and the many lava fields. As for Snæfellsnes, with its emblematic mountain Kirkjufell and its seal colony at Ytri-Tunga beach, this is definitely the place to be.
A self-drive tour or a guided tour?
Having a rental car is real freedom: one can spend as much time as he/she wants at any place. It is also ideal to make extra stops whenever the driver feels tired or need to take a picture of the incredible landscapes. Explore alone without having to share this special experience with other visitors. What is so nice with self-driving vacation packages is that we add amazing outdoor activities to the journey. Indeed, some incredible day tours such as lava caving or also glacier hiking (depending on the chosen tour) are included for more fantastic adventures. It is also possible to add activity tours and attractions on the way as long as it doesn’t interfere with the prepared self-drive agenda.
The self-driving package is ideal for those who don’t know where to go and don’t have time to plan their itinerary. We took care of it and everything that is left to do is following this planned route step by step. Plus, we combined the best ofs and the must sees, from our local professionals’ eyes. Everything is already taken care of when booking this kind of tour: the rental car, the accommodation and the itinerary. Thanks to our local knowledge, our itineraries include hidden gems as well as the most beautiful places in Iceland. The real highlight os such tours is that everything is simplified for the visitors. Plus, there are no hidden expenses nor large bills, everything is calculated, there will only be good surprises.
However, renting a car can be a bit scary for some people. Going alone for 5 day self drive tour during winter for example is quite of a challenge for those who are not used to driving in hazardous weather conditions such as slippery roads and low visibility. In this case, it is always a good idea to join a guided tour around Iceland. It is highly recommended to have some previous experience in driving in a foreign country and with similar conditions. The winters are very tough in Iceland and it is really easy to get stuck or worse, to get off the road. During the summer months of June, July and August, there are no big dangers except from the sheeps crossing the roads or just staying on them and not wanting to move.
What to know about driving in Iceland?
Law & Regulations
The standard speed limits are 30-50 km/h (18/31 mi/h) within cities and other populated areas, 80 km/h (55 mi/h) on gravel roads in rural areas and 90 km/h (55 mi/h) on paved roads. In Iceland, we drive on the right side of the road. Authorities have zero tolerance for drunk drivers, texting or anything else with a phone while driving and seat belts which are not fastened. Headlights have to be on at any time. Even if the landscapes are REALLY beautiful, please don’t stop in the middle of the road or at the side of the road if there is a solid or double white line. Driving at night can be really distracting too because of the wonderful Northern Lights. Always try to find the safest spot to stop.
Driving off road is strictly forbidden, it destroys the environment and they can lead to very dangerous places. The car insurances will not work if something happens off the road. Plus, the fine to drive off the marked roads, even if it is a dirty road, can be up to 5,000 USD. Better stay on the road, right?
The Road System
Many of the tourist attractions are located along the Ring Road, or along other paved roads. This kind of road is accessible with a regular car, depending on the weather conditions. During the summer time, more attractions are available with a 2WD rental car than during winter because of the snow.
Roads can be closed at any time due to floods, sandstorms or really bad weather, the safety being always prioritized. It is possible and highly recommended to check the road conditions at any moment on the official Icelandic website or by calling 1777.
There are different types of roads: the paved ones, the gravel ones and the F-roads (also known as mountain roads). The latter is strictly forbidden to regular car as if something bad happens to the car, the insurances will not work. The F-roads are mostly located in the Highlands, but there are some tiny portions of them around the country. They are usually closed until the weather gets better, around the end of June. F-roads are the most difficult roads to drive on. Note that it is not required to take F-roads during our self-drive tours.
The weather conditions can be checked out on the Icelandic Meteorological Office website, which is the most accurate forecast website. It has different maps of Iceland showing the temperatures, the wind, the precipitations, avalanches and so on. The weather can change really fast, there is an Icelandic proverb saying: “If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait for five minutes”. And it is true! From my personal experience, it is possible to have hail, a big sun, rain and snow within just 1 day.
Until June, the weather can be quite unstable and unpredictable. It is hard to know how to dress in the morning. That is why dressing in layers is always the solution. If it is too hot, take off a layer and if it is too cold, put on another one.
Another tricky challenge during a road trip is the sun. Indeed, it is easy to be blinded by the sunshine here because it often sits and stays low for hours. During the few time of daylight time in winter and also during the night in summer (with the midnight sun), the sun will be right in the driver’s line of sight. Sunglasses are a must in Iceland when it comes to driving. Who would have believed it?
Other Precautions on the Road
Many animals are present on the roads around Iceland, such as arctic foxes, reindeers, birds, horses and A LOT of sheeps. Indeed, in June the sheeps (who are not wild, they are all owned by farmers) are released from the fields they were used to stay and are wandering around the country for some months. In September, the farmers meet together and round the sheeps up with their horses and shepherd dogs. It is a really festive moment by the way and some tourists always join the celebration.
So, one good advice concerning crossing animals is to never exceed the implemented speed limit and to always be reactive in case something jumps on the road. Some birds are not good in choosing a place for their nest and do it along the road, but there usually are signs to warn drivers about the possible nesting areas.