Believe it or not, driving in Iceland isn’t as scary or dangerous as you may think! Whether you are visiting Iceland in winter or taking an Iceland road trip during the warmer months, driving in Iceland is something you can easily do! For being an Arctic country, the roads in Iceland are extremely well kept and riding along them is pretty smooth.
Iceland is a stunning country full of natural wonder and driving yourself around is one of the best ways to see what Iceland has to offer! You can travel at your own pace, stop whenever you want, and have the chance to see things you may not see on a tour. Another benefit to driving yourself in Iceland is that many of the best spots are close to the road so you are able to easily stop and see waterfalls, hot springs, black sand beaches, and more! Before you embark on driving in Iceland, there are a few things you need to know to have a safe and enjoyable time in the country.
Everything You Need To Know About Driving In Iceland
Should You Rent A Car In Iceland?
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The decision to rent a car and go driving in Iceland is up to you! This depends on how long you will be in Iceland, where you want to go, your budget, and your travel style. If you don’t want to drive in Iceland, that is totally okay! There are plenty of tours in Iceland where you don’t even have to drive if you don’t want to! We even created this 3 day Iceland itinerary with a self-drive option and an option where you do not have to drive yourself in case you aren’t comfortable driving in Iceland.
If you ask us our personal recommendation, we always recommend renting a car and driving in Iceland! This is one of the best ways to see the country and you are able to proceed at your own schedule. If you have a lot of luggage like us, you can easily transport it in the car from place to place and you have a warm spot to eat lunch or get out of the elements. Driving in Iceland is quite easy and rental cars aren’t horribly expensive which is why we recommend it as a great way to explore the countryside!
Where To Rent Your Vehicle When Driving In Iceland
When renting a car for your Iceland trip, you will usually have two options. You will fly into Keflavik International Airport which, contrary to popular belief, isn’t in Reykjavik! The airport in Iceland is actually over 45 minutes away from the city! When driving in Iceland, you will rent a car on or near the Keflavik Airport. If you are planning on camping in Iceland and want to rent a camper van, you will be renting near the airport or in Reykjavik city.
If you are renting your vehicle in Reykjavik, you will have to take a shuttle bus into the city. Some Iceland car rental agencies offer free shuttles so be sure to ask before you arrive at the airport and are left high and dry waiting or paying a lot of money.
You will pick up your Iceland car rental either on airport property, within 15-20 minutes away from the airport in an industrial area, or in Reykjavik proper. Just make sure to check the address when booking your vehicle if you plan on driving in Iceland so you can know what to expect!
7 Things To Know Before Driving In Iceland
#1 You do not have to rent a 4×4 if you want to drive along any part of Iceland’s Ring Road
This is one of the most common questions we are asked when it comes to driving in Iceland. Once and for all, you do not need to rent a four wheel drive car to drive in Iceland. We have visited when the roads are covered in snow during the off-season and when the roads are clear and had a two-wheel drive car each and every time with no issues. If you visit Iceland in winter, all cars will have appropriate snow tires so you don’t have to worry about slipping.
If you do not rent a 4×4 vehicle, you will not be permitted to drive in F or H roads which go into the more remote parts of Iceland. These Iceland roads are unpaved and cannot be accessed in winter so if you want to do an Iceland road trip in winter just stick with a 2×2 vehicle. If you plan on driving around Iceland on the famous Ring Road or driving the Golden Circle or anywhere near Reykjavik, you will not need to shell out more money to rent a 4×4 car. Many people blow their Iceland budget on an expensive rental car that they don’t even really need! If you want to visit all the best and most famous parts of Iceland, save your money and rent a 2×2 vehicle.
#2 Keep your eye out for speed cameras when driving in Iceland
Like many countries, the Iceland government wants to be sure no one drives crazy fast. As a result, there are speed cameras set up around many parts of Iceland. You do not want to get a speeding ticket in Iceland so you are going to have to reign it in and drive safe! You most likely won’t see police officers while driving in Iceland, but you will come across speed cameras.
The speed cameras are usually near more heavily populated areas near Reykjavik and Selfoss and about 1-2 hours from either city. They get more sparse the further away from the big city you go. The max speed limit for driving in Iceland is 90 km/hr on paved roads and 30-50 km/hr in cities. We understand that fast driving in Iceland can be tempting as the country is full of large flat segments of road, but you need to reign it in and stay within the speed limit. If you must speed while driving in Iceland, go no more than 5-10 km/hr over the speed limit to keep your speed safe.
If you are wondering what speed cameras look like in Iceland, you are in luck because they are actually quite easy to spot! Unlike speed cameras in America which are hidden, the Icelandic government wants to make driving in Iceland as pleasant as possible. As a result, about 1/4 of a mile before you see the giant and noticeable pole with the speed camera on it, you will see a sign posted warning you that a speed camera is coming up! If you are driving a little too fast, this is your warning to remember to slow down while driving in Iceland or risk getting a speeding ticket!
We found the warning signs before you reached the actual camera to be very helpful and a good reminder to stay at a safe speed when driving in Iceland! It can be tempting to drive faster along the Ring Road in Iceland because it is so flat and straight but be sure to heed the speed limit signs for safety and so you don’t get an expensive ticket.
#3 Make sure to budget wisely for the cost of gas when driving around Iceland
We hate to break it to you, but the cost of gas in Iceland is very expensive. Even if you are taking all the necessary steps to visit Iceland on a budget, there is no way you can reduce the cost of gas other than not driving anywhere or taking a tour. Gas is often one of the top 5 things people forget to budget for when planning a trip to Iceland. This is another reason why we always suggest getting a two-wheel drive car as opposed to a 4×4.
On a small economy car, the cost of filling up the tank from empty consistently ran us about $80USD. If we were to fill the same car with the same tank in America it would cost about $25-$30. As a result, it is important to be realistic about the cost of driving in Iceland and to budget money for gas. Make cuts in other areas of your Iceland trip such as food or fancy accommodations to save money for driving in Iceland. Your wallet will thank you!
#4 Don’t panic if you come across a one-lane bridge and/or tunnel during your Iceland road trip
Who said Iceland driving was boring? It sure isn’t when you have to keep an eye out for all the one-lane bridges and tunnels when driving around Iceland! The bridges in Iceland were built long before the current influx of tourists so having a major highway was unnecessary since much of the island is remote. As a result, many bridges in Iceland, even quite long ones, are only big enough for one vehicle to fit on at a time.
Since Iceland is flat and empty and you can see far down the road at most points, you are usually able to see pretty easily if it is safe to pass over a one-lane bridge or if you need to pull over and let someone else pass first. If you are driving in Iceland over a longer bridge, there are actually pull-out spaces on the bridge itself in the event that two cars start to cross at the same time and have to pass each other.
The general rule of thumb is the car that arrives at the bridge first is the first to cross it. That being said, not everyone listens to this rule so it is essential to keep an eye out if you hope to self-drive in Iceland. A car may not stop at all until it is too late so it is up to you to keep your eyes peeled at all times to ensure the other vehicle stops and pulls over before you cross. If it doesn’t appear they are going to, it is up to you to pull over and let them pass, despite you arriving first! Driving in Iceland over one-lane bridges and tunnels is a little scary at first but after doing it a few times you will be an old pro!
#5 Depending on where you are driving in Iceland, you may have to pay a toll
If you are hoping to visit The Snæfellsnes Peninsula in west Iceland or head to the western fjords, you are going to come across the lone toll road in Iceland! It comes in the form of a tunnel that goes under the ocean to connect two pieces of land. You are able to drive around it but it takes quite a bit longer.
The toll costs $10 per way which doesn’t seem like that much when you are sitting at home, but will actually be quite annoying if you are driving in Iceland and just come across it unexpectedly. The toll is located about 1.5 hours west and north of Reykjavik. We chose to pay the money and go through the underwater tunnel which shaves off a few hours of time driving along the winding inland road. Depending on where you plan to drive in Iceland and how much time you have for your Iceland road trip, taking the toll may be your best option. Just be sure to remember it is there and have $20 on hand so it doesn’t seem as bad when you come across it when driving in Iceland.
#6. You Do Not Need An International Drivers License To Drive In Iceland
Many people, including us on our first trip, think that in order to drive in Iceland you need to apply for and present an international drivers license. This is actually not true! All drivers licenses are accepted in Iceland and you are legally allowed to drive in Iceland if you are allowed to drive in your home country. On our first trip, we went through the time and money to get an international license only to find out it is unnecessary. A US drivers license is valid for driving in Iceland as is ones from Europe and Asia.
That being said, some car rental agencies may choose to limit what kinds of roads you can drive on based on your driver’s license. If you are hoping to drive the Ring Road or explore the Golden Circle, you won’t have any limitations. The limits may be applied to off-road driving or driving through rivers or down dangerously steep hills. Rest assured that you do not need an international drivers license when driving in Iceland, but don’t forget to bring yours along in addition to your passport!
#7. Driving Off-Road Is Illegal In Iceland
If you are hoping to go off-roading while driving in Iceland, think again! Driving off-road is highly illegal in Iceland and should never be done. If you are driving in Iceland during the warmer months and want a bumpy ride, you should rent a 4×4 and explore the F or H roads in Iceland. While these roads are unpaved but they are still considered roads!
Driving off of the designated road, whether it is the Ring Road or a dirt road, is very harmful to Iceland’s delicate ecosystem. If you think that no one is around and you won’t get caught, consider all the growth you will be destroyed with your selfish decision and stick to the designated roads. Understand that you are a guest in another country and respect the laws and the thousands of year so environmental growth that lay just off the roads in Iceland. Stick to the approved roads for a safe, legal, and environmentally friendly experience driving in Iceland.
Tips For Driving In Iceland In Winter
If you happen to be visiting Iceland in winter and plan to drive, these quick tips and tricks, combined with the ones listed above, will make your trip safer and more enjoyable!
Drive Slowly And Carefully When Driving In Iceland In Winter
If you are driving in Iceland in winter, make sure to drive slowly and carefully! From our experience, the roads in Iceland are great to drive on in winter and ice is minimal compared to other winter travel destinations. That being said, ice is common on roads in Iceland so be sure to heed warnings from officials and drive with caution. If there is fresh snow on the road there is a higher chance that there will not be ice when driving in Iceland in winter.
You Don’t Need A 4×4 When Driving In Iceland In Winter
Just because you are driving in Iceland in winter does not mean that you have to shell out a ton of money to rent a 4×4 vehicle if you don’t want to. A 2×2 or regular car is perfectly fine for driving in Iceland in winter and we have done it twice and lived to tell the tale! The only thing is your car may have a lower clearance and if you are driving over a large fresh snow pile you may hear a light scraping sound. This is just the snow hitting the bottom of your car and isn’t dangerous or damaging. If there isn’t lots of fresh snow on the road you won’t hear a thing when driving in Iceland in winter.
Always Use Your Headlights For Winter Driving In Iceland
During the winter, Iceland is dark for many hours of the day. Even when the sun is out, it is still that sunset glow and not fully bright out. As a result, make sure to use your headlights when driving in Iceland in winter for maximum safety and security of all!
Check For Road Closures And Stick To The South When Driving In Iceland During Winter
If you are going to drive in Iceland during the winter there will be road closures. Make sure to keep an eye out for them and avoid traveling to the north as this is where road closures will be more common. If you are driving in Iceland in winter, stick to Iceland’s warmer [and stunning] south coast! There are almost never any road closures on the south and on Iceland’s Golden Circle drive unless something major happens, so you are set to go and have fun driving in Iceland in winter!
Winter Driving In Iceland Is Totally Doable And Not Scary
If you are prepared, winter driving in Iceland is doable and not scary! We are from Florida so if we can do it twice we are sure you will be just fine! Driving in Iceland in winter simply means being prepared, taking things slow, and paying a little more attention than usual! We are confident that you will get the hang of driving in Iceland in winter quite quickly. The landscape is incredible and the Iceland road trip will be a memorable expereince.
Armed with these tips, you will be successfully driving around Iceland in no time! Driving in Iceland really isn’t scary or difficult and it is actually one of the more enjoyable countries to travel in! Before you hit the road, make sure you have enough gas and program your GPS so you don’t get lost! We can’t wait for your to visit Iceland!
Do You Need An International Driver’s License Before Driving In Iceland?
Whether or not you need an international driver’s license before driving in Iceland is a commonly asked question! For our first trip to Iceland, we applied and got an international driving permit and it made no difference. As long as you have a driver’s license in your country, you will be good to go when driving in Iceland.
All foreign driver’s licenses are recognized as legal when driving in Iceland. That being said, you do have to be a minimum of 21 years of age to rent a car in Iceland and 23 to rent a 4×4 vehicle so be sure to check with your rental agency. The age to rent a car or receive a driver’s license may be different in your home country so this is great to keep in mind if you are younger. Do not worry about applying for an international driver’s license when driving in Iceland, but make sure to bring your passport and local driver’s ID.
Which Side Of The Road Do You Drive On In Iceland?
In Iceland, you drive on the right side of the road. This wasn’t always the law and Icelanders used to drive on the left side of the road like the UK and Ireland but authorities changed that law in 1968. Now, you drive on the right side of the road in Iceland and the steering wheel is on the left side of the car.
Another reason for the change was because almost all cars being imported to Iceland had the steering wheel on the left side of the car and were made for right side driving. The Icelandic authorities wanted to make life easier so they simply changed the laws and there has been driving on the right side of the road in Iceland ever since! Even if you aren’t familiar with driving on the right side of the road, driving in Iceland is a wonderfully easy place to master this skill because the roads are flat with minimal traffic.
Finding Gas Stations In Iceland
When driving in Iceland, we recommend you fill up early and often! Although there are a reasonable amount of gas stations in Iceland, they are quite spread out! Check out this map of gas stations in Iceland and make sure to take a screen shot or bookmark when driving in Iceland! There are lots of gas stations in Reykjavik and on Iceland’s south coast, but they become few and far between if you are visiting the West Fjords, north Iceland, or the east Fjords.
This is nothing to worry about when driving in Iceland, as long as you fill up when you are at half or before you drive for a long stretch. If you rented a 4×4 vehicle and plan to go driving on the F-Roads in Iceland, we recommend bringing extra gas with you if possible. There will be nothing worse than getting stuck in the middle of Iceland with no phone service and no way to fill up your gas tank. We want you to have fun driving in Iceland so make sure to always keep an eye on your gas gauge and fill up sooner rather than later!
Should You Pay Extra For A GPS?
If you plan on driving in Iceland, pretty much every single car rental agency will try and up sell you a GPS. These GPS devices are what we used before they even came out with GPS on the phone, so they are indeed a bit dated. We recommend that you refuse the GPS the rental agency tries to sell you and simply use the GPS on your phone when driving in Iceland.
Either Google Maps or Apple Maps works great and you can even download Google Maps to your mobile device ahead of time if you don’t think you will have phone service or if you are going to a remote area! Visiting Iceland is already expensive enough as it is, there is no need to take it further by spending useless money when driving in Iceland when your smartphone will work just fine.
That being said, if you are more old-school or don’t want to use your phone battery up, a traditional GPS could be a consideration. Even better? If you have a traditional GPS at home, throw it in your luggage and use it when driving in Iceland!
How To Drive On Iceland’s F-Roads
If you are driving in Iceland and plan to visit the F-Roads, there are a few things you need to know! First off, you do not have to drive on F-Roads in order to have a great trip! Pretty much every well-known stop in Iceland can be reached driving in a 2×2 car on a regular road. If you have already been to Iceland or you want to get into the back-country, you may want to consider driving on F-Roads.
When driving in Iceland, you are forbade from taking F-Roads unless you rent a 4×4 vehicle. Your car rental will have giant warnings that will tell you to NOT take this 2×2 vehicle on any F-Roads. If you rented a 4×4 car then you are good to go for driving in Iceland on F-Roads. These roads lead to a lot of wonderful places but you should drive them with care. They are very rugged and remote. F-Roads are closed during the winter months due to snow so if you want to do more remote driving in Iceland, make sure to go when there is little to no chance of snow.
As far as safety goes, make sure to have extra gas or a full gas tank and chart out how far you will be driving in Iceland before you begin. It is also a good idea to tell someone where you are going or to drive in groups, especially if this is your first time exploring the F-Roads in Iceland. If you break down, lose a tire, run out of gas, or get injured, you will be on your own and it is a good idea for someone to know where you are going or to go in a group.
We recommend downloading the 112 emergency app which is Iceland’s app that allows you to check in before driving or hiking far. This way, people know where you are and how to come get you. Additionally, F-Roads are patrolled semi-regularly by search and rescue teams but you will not want to tempt fate and it is better to be safe than sorry!
What To Do If You Get In An Accident Driving In Iceland
If you are driving in Iceland and the worst happens, try to relax and breath, you will get out of this! When driving in Iceland, you need to know the emergency number is 112. Every country is different and 112 is the number to call in Iceland. If you have been injured, call or text 112 immediately and stay in your car and wait for support.
If you have not been injured but your vehicle has been damaged, there is no need to call 112 as it is for real emergencies. Call the roadside assistance number that your car rental agency provided you with upon picking up your rental and they will send assistance. In the past, we have seen car rental agencies drive over 6 hours to help a traveler swap out a car after they had been in an accident.
Should You Get Car Insurance In Iceland?
This answer depends on how risky you plan to be when driving in Iceland. Conditions are harsh and driving in Iceland may very well result in damage from your car. There are wind storms, dirt roads, ice, you name it. That being said, we have never purchased car rental insurance when driving in Iceland. This doesn’t mean you should listen to us, but we make some unwise decisions and want to be upfront.
That being said, our credit card comes with great car rental insurance up to 75K if that vehicle was put on the credit card. This is the option we choose to go with since we pay a pretty hefty annual fee for our credit card, so the choice is yours. If you can afford it and swing it, we do recommend getting car insurance when driving in Iceland, at least a little bit, especially if you are going to be driving on sketchy roads.
Most car rental agencies in Iceland offer some form of a Collision Damage Waiver which we don’t love. This means that you won’t be charged more than a certain amount of money if there is damage to the car. The limit is often very high, around $1500-$2000 so if you have any minor damage you will still have to pay out of pocket!
If you do $10K of damage and total the car then $2000 will seem like a small price to pay. If you damage a wheel or windshield and damage is $1000, you will have to pay that entire $1000 as it is under the limit. For an added cost, you can buy higher insurance which will lower the rate you pay and provide you with more coverage, but you will pay more up-front.
Just make sure to look over every option and make a choice that is wise and informed for you! Every car rental agency is different so be sure to investigate yours when driving in Iceland.
Have you ever been driving around Iceland? What are your thoughts on Iceland driving? Did you do Iceland’s Ring Road or only a part of it? Let us know in the comments! We are happy to answer any questions you may have about driving in Iceland in the comments as well!
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