Everything You Need To Know For Driving In Iceland
This is BY FAR the best way to experience all that Iceland has to offer. The Ring Road or Route 1 of Iceland is 1,332 kilometers. This road will take you around the full circle around the country. If you’ve got a week or more, it’s definitely doable! To give you an idea of what this will be like, in just one hour you could drive past waterfalls, black sand beaches, and cascading mountainsides. You never know what will be around each turn in Iceland!
DRIVING IN ICELAND
While there is public transportation in Iceland the best way to get out and explore the country is by renting a car. Renting a car is the easiest and best option for getting around the country. You will have the freedom to spend as much time at the beautiful sights as you want. Venture off the plan when you find a new waterfall. Stop as often as you want to take pictures of all the amazing things you are seeing out your window. You will have all the freedom to explore Iceland how you want with a rental car.
Before you book your rental car read on for all the information you need to know:
WHERE TO RENT A CAR IN ICELAND?
There are several car rental companies to rent from in Iceland. You can pick up your rental car in locations such as Keflavik Airport, downtown Reykjavik, and Reykjavik Airport. To rent a car you will need a credit card and a driver’s license in English, or with an official translation. Most cars are manuals if you want an automatic to be sure to request it.
The price for renting a car ranges from $35 to $145 USD per day for a small vehicle. For a large vehicle, the price ranges from $55 USD to $330 USD per day. During the summer months, rental cars book up quickly so be sure to reserve your car as soon as possible.
WHAT SIDE OF THE ROAD DO YOU DRIVE ON IN ICELAND?
In Iceland, you drive on the right-hand side of the road.
HOW FAST CAN YOU DRIVE IN ICELAND?
The general speed limit is between 30-50 km/hour in populated areas. On paved roads, it is 90 km/hour and 80 km/hour on gravel roads in rural areas. There are cameras located all over the country monitoring the speed, so even if you think you’re out in the middle of nowhere and speeding is no problem please keep the speed limit in mind.
HOW MUCH IS GAS IN ICELAND?
Gas is quite expensive in Iceland. Be prepared to pay around $5.50 USD per gallon. The gas stations are self-service, however, you can often find an attendant on hand if you need assistance. When driving around the countryside be sure to fuel up whenever you can. The gas stations can be few and far between so better to be safe than run out of gas. Most gas stations are open from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm.
DO YOU NEED TO HAVE A 4WD TO GET AROUND ICELAND?
This question depends on where you plan on driving, and the time of the year you are visiting. If you are planning on driving along the paved ring road during the summer then you do not need to worry about getting a 4WD vehicle.
During the winter having a 4WD vehicle is a safer option when driving in the winter conditions. This is not a requirement, but it could give you peace of mind when driving on icy roads.
If you are planning on driving on any F-roads (mountain roads) then you will need a 4WD. A fair warning, all rental cars will warn against driving off the road. It can be dangerous for you and the vehicle. If you violate this rule and the company finds damage there can be a hefty fine.
HOW OLD DO YOU HAVE TO BE TO RENT A CAR
The minimum age for renting a car in Iceland is 20 years old. If you plan on renting a 4WD or minibus the age requirement is 23 years old.
SHOULD YOU GET THE EXTRA CAR INSURANCE?
Purchasing extra insurance is always a good idea if you are planning on driving while traveling. You never know what can happen and it is better to be protected than risk it. The roads in Iceland can be a bit harsh, particularly if you are planning on driving along any gravel roads. In addition, there is ash and sand around the country that can do damage to the car. With so many unknown natural elements in Iceland that can do damage to the car, it is better to be safe and get extra insurance.
IS DRIVING DURING THE WINTER SAFE?
When visiting Iceland during the winter it is important to take extra caution while driving. The conditions can be dangerous and unpredictable so please only drive if you have experience in such conditions. For more information on driving in Iceland in the winter check out this post.
CAN I PULL OFF ANYWHERE ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD TO TAKE PICTURES?
The short answer, not exactly. Keep in mind that the road you are stopping on is probably the main road. While there is not much traffic a car can come flying by at any minute. Make safety for yourself and other drivers a priority. Find a safe area to park that has your car off completely off the road.
Check out this fun video from Iceland Academy with an overview of the rules of the road.
WHAT TYPES OF ROADS ARE THERE IN ICELAND?
On your Iceland road trip, you will come across a few different types of roads. There is the main ring road that takes you around Iceland. Narrow gravel roads down around the fjörds. And bumpy mountain roads to take you back into the highlands.
Here is a quick breakdown of the different types of roads you can expect in Iceland
Paved Roads –You will find paved roads in the towns around Iceland. Eighty percent of the ring road around the country is paved. These roads are fairly well maintained but can have rough conditions, particularly in the winter.
Gravel Roads – Chances are you will likely come across gravel roads while driving in Iceland. There will be a sign indicating that the road will be changing from paved to gravel. Enter onto the gravel road slowly as there can be loose rocks on the road. Keep in mind the speed limit on these roads is 80 km/hour. Drive with caution as there can be loose rocks making it easy to lose control if going too fast.
F Roads –The mountain roads in Iceland are called F roads. To drive on these roads you will need a 4WD vehicle. The F roads are typically open from the beginning of June to the end of September. Always check the conditions before driving on the F roads and know exactly where you will go and what you will come across.
Single Lane Bridges– Along the ring road, you will come across many single-lane bridges. These bridges will be marked by a sign before reaching them. The general rule of these bridges is that the car closer to the bridge has the right of way. Always slow down and assess the situation and what the other car is going to do before crossing.
OTHER TRANSPORTATION IN ICELAND
When planning your trip to Iceland be ready to not have trained to count on to quickly take you from one waterfall to the next. And your favorite Uber app, there will be no need to open that in Iceland. While the public transportation options are limited they will do the trick if you aren’t planning on renting a car.
Here are the sources of transportation you can count on while in Iceland:
Public Buses –The main bus system in Iceland is calledStrætó. They have bus routes all around the country. You can find a handy travel planner on their website for you to plan your trips. Tickets are $4 USD for a single ride and can be purchased on the bus or at select locations listed here. They also have an app that can be downloaded here. The app allows you to search for bus routes as well as purchase tickets.
For a bit more freedom and more routes around the country check out Iceland on Your Own. This option is a more flexible way to schedule your trip around Iceland when relying on the bus.
Taxi–There are several 24/7 taxi companies in Reykjavik. The most popular one is Hreyfill who you can call for a taxi anytime at +354 588 5522. Taxis are very expensive in Iceland, be prepared to pay around $2.75 USD per 1 km. Some companies offer taxis for hire for a day of sightseeing. In the smaller towns around Iceland taxis aren’t as common so do not plan on relying on them as your main source of transportation.
Bicycle– While in one of Iceland’s cities renting a bicycle is a fun option for getting around town. The cities in Iceland are small making them very walkable and quick to ride a bike from place to place. You can rent a bike in Reykjavik for $40 USD per day.
EXTRA DRIVING TIPS
While you won’t have to worry about getting stuck in traffic jams in Iceland there are a few tips to keep in mind.
Watch for animals crossing the road. Especially sheep. These cute sheep you will see, are not exactly smart. If you keep driving towards them they have a tendency to dash in front of the car. If you do encounter a sheep while driving take it nice and slow as you ease past them.
The Icelandic wind is no joke when it is strong, it is STRONG. On those windy days take extra care when opening your car doors. The wind can throw your door open if you do not hold on to it.
While in Reykjavik keep in mind that you do have to pay to park around the city. There will be a box on the street to pay for it. Once you have paid you need to place the ticket back inside your car. Fees depend on the zone you are parking in and range from $1 USD per hour to $2.25 USD per hour.
The nature you will see on your road trip will have you stopping constantly to take pictures. This is totally understandable, but be aware of where you are parking your car. Do not pull off on the road to take pictures. This is dangerous for yourself and other drivers. Instead, find a place with a pull-off to park your car and safely get your pictures. There are many pull-off locations around the country so please use them.
Keep in mind these options are best for those planning to stay in the city. If you want to get out and explore more of the countryside renting a car may be the better option.
Note: It is illegal to drive off roads in Iceland. Not only does it seriously damage nature, but if caught you will be fined a large sum.
ICELANDIC ROAD TRIP PLAYLIST
To complete your Icelandic road trip you need some fitting tunes to go along with those majestic landscapes you will drive past. Icelandic artists are inspired every day by the beautiful nature that surrounds them making their music the perfect accompaniment to any Icelandic road trip.
A few awesome Icelandic artists to download for your ultimate Icelandic road trip are:
Of Monsters and Men– Little Talks
Ásgeir Trausti– Going Home
Ama b Adam A– Hossa Hossa
FM Belfast– Vertigo
Björk– I’ve Seen it All
Kaleo– Save Yourself
If you’re up for some seriously unique Icelandic music, Sigur Rós is the one to listen to. It’s definitely not your normal road trip music! Prior to Iceland, I didn’t quite understand the dark (a little spooky) style/genre or like it much to be honest. It wasn’t until I was in the car on a rainy afternoon driving along the South Coast of Iceland where I turned on Sigur Ros and listened with an open mind. Never in my life has music created such a profound understanding of each song’s roots and narrative. The music fits flawlessly with the dramatic landscape and moody weather that encases nature. If you want a preview of what I’m talking about, Sigur Rós drove the Ring Road while playing his music the entire way with a camera on his dashboard. Maybe this will help you understand what I mean! It’s pretty neat!
Now, who is ready for an Icelandic road trip? Pack your snacks, grab a map and your camera and you are ready to hit the road!