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.
If you are planning your Iceland trip right now, here are some posts to check out later:
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.
Quick 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!
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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