Hiring a car to get around Iceland was one of the best choices we made during our 4 day, 3 night stay in Iceland. I highly recommend you do so too as it affords you soo much more freedom and flexibility plus you’ll have change in your pocket too (when compared to the expensive coach tours).
Whatsmore, the landscape was phenomenal. The scenery was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The panorama opportunities were unbelievable. But rejoice… to help share the beautiful views I have created a video from my dashcam and cocktailed it together with some rocky on-the-road music plus some helpful, handy driving tips. Simply click the image below or follow this link here.
If you can’t clickity click, don’t worry as I’ve written a more informative post below. And if you’ve found this post via the video on Youtube; Voila! You’ve made it.
My Top 10 Tips for Driving In Iceland
1) Hiring a 4×4 is Not Essential
If you’re planning to stick to the paved roads and do the ‘usual’ routes (ie Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle or be adventurous and drive down to Vik to see the amazing Waterfalls and the black sand beach) these are all paved roads. No gravel, no off roading just simple, open, quiet lovely roads. We opted for a 4×4 for more comfort, traction and height; with only the latter being noticeably worthwhile. I would, however, recommend the gravel protection option. Even though our route kept us on tarmac we heard so many *pings* and *donks* as loose stones, ice and road debris would ricochet off of our vehicle it was startling. While there were no visible marks left after this adventure we were, at least, free from the fear of any ricochet repercussions…
Should you choose to venture around Icelands ring road or rack up some serious mileage heading further east then a 4×4 may well be in your best interest.
2) Headlights are a Must
It is a legal requirement to have your Headlights on whilst driving in Iceland. Partly due to limited daylight hours and partly due to the adverse, rapidly changing weather conditions. The reason for this is to enhance your visibility and keep you safe. Do it.
3) Slow and Steady..
Icelandic roads are extremely well sign posted; from directions to landmarks and from hazards to live weather conditions. Speed limits are no different. Expect to drive 30-50kph in the cities and 90kph on the paved fast roads. You’ll be limited to 80kph on the gravel roads on the East. Which leads nicely to….
4) Changing Road Surface
If you do indeed encounter gravel roads (you will be warned by plenty of signs before hand) reduce your speed gradually and fluidly before the change in road surface. A common mistake would be hitting the gravel at 90kph and having the car slide from beneath you.
5) SO Photogenic.
You’ll lose count of how many times you will want to stop to snap a sunrise, lay on a lay-by by a lake or simply stop to feed the pony
(not a euphemism). Make sure you only pull over where it is safe to do so. Keep your car’s headlights on and flick on your hazard lights if you’re stopped on a roadside. I, personally, wouldn’t recommend stopping besides a 90kph road however traffic is largely non existent and so I’m sure you’ll be fine if you do so thoughtfully enough.
6) Hold On Tight! Swingers Not Welcome.
The number one cause of car damage in Iceland is down to people opening their car doors and letting go of the handle. Don’t be surprised if a sudden gust or blast of wind snatches the door from your hand and crashing into anything in it’s path. Don’t be that fool.
7) Illegal Off Roading
It is illegal to stray off the road or path in Iceland. This is primarily to ensure the natural, historic landscape remains undisturbed but it is also for your own safety. You’ll invalidate your insurance and be subject to some pretty unhealthy Icelandic fines.
8) Expect All Weather
Expect to experience all four seasons in about thirty minutes. Know where your ice scraper is, how to operate your wipers and the location of your fog lights. We encountered snow that reduced visibility to 10 meters and then bright blue skies with stunning mountainscapes then back to rain- all on the same road. Several times over.
9) Seasonal Variation
If you’re driving in Winter consider your daylight hours. In January this will likely be limited to between 11am and 4pm. This is just about enough time to explore the Golden Circle, be sure to set off early and make the most of your time; you don’t want to feel rushed or like you’re trying to cram in the stops.
10) No Means No.
Iceland operates a zero policy on alcohol consumption when driving. That means 0%. Skip the lunchtime beer at the Blue Lagoon and save it for your night off.
Bonus Blog Tip: did you know you can download maps from Google maps onto your phone? This provides an excellent alternative to a sat nav which is both free and extremely reliable.
Thanks for staying tuned you fine, lovely peoples.
Have you got any driving tips from Iceland? Any stories from on the road? Whats your scariest driving experience abroad? I always hated the coaches from the airport to the Spanish coastal holiday resorts….