There is nothing quite like a good road trip, especially in a landscape like Iceland’s with its unique offerings: glaciers, waterfalls, black lava fields, volcanoes and much more!
Renting a car and driving around Iceland is becoming an increasingly popular choice among tourists. This way, you have the opportunity to experience Iceland at your own pace, and the flexibility to explore anything that catches your eye along the way.
In this post, I will introduce you to self-drive tours in Iceland and help you see what a unique experience you’ll have, whether you’re renting a car for a 4-day or a 10-day drive!
The idea of a self-drive tour might seem daunting at first, especially if you’ll be visiting during the winter with its unpredictable weather and limited daylight hours, but the truth is that driving in any new country can be difficult at first. In Iceland, the specific challenges you might face include the weather, the road signs in Icelandic, and the occasional unexpected sheep crossing!
Let’s jump right in, with an overview of driving rules and regulations in Iceland…
Driving regulations in Iceland
- The speed limit is 90 km/hr on paved rural roads but 80 km/hr on rural gravel roads.
- The speed limit you see posted on the signs is the highest speed limit allowed during the best possible conditions. So please keep that in mind and take the weather and road conditions into account.
- All roads marked with an “F” in front of the road number are only accessible with a 4×4 vehicle. You may think you can drive it in a regular car, but there are high fines if you get stuck and need help!
- Drive on the right, and pass on the left.
- Do not, under any circumstances, stop in the middle of the road! If you see something you really want to take a picture of, find a spot to stop where you are not posing a danger to yourself or others.
- Have the headlights turned on at all times. This is required by law! On many new cars you need to turn them on when starting the car.
- Everyone in the car must wear seatbelts!
All Icelandic roads are numbered. The main road, called the “Ring Road,” is road number 1, which is 1,332 km long (828 miles) and leads you around the whole island. You usually end up driving a longer distance than this due to attractions and activities along the way. The Ring Road is open and well maintained all year, but during the winter some road closures can occur if there’s a bad weather event.
The Ring Road is mostly paved, but there are smaller gravel roads throughout the countryside. You must be extremely careful while driving on gravel roads and please, please stay within speed limit! The rule of thumb for these gravel roads is “don’t go too fast, and don’t go too slow.”
In the Icelandic Highlands, there are only gravel roads and most of them are only accessible by 4×4 vehicles. Make sure you know which roads you can drive with your rental car and which you should avoid.
Another important tip: please stay on the road at all times! Off-road driving is illegal in Iceland, and can cause irreversible damage to our beautiful nature (as well as your car!). If you are caught off-road driving, I can guarantee you will regret the amount of money you’ll have to pay in fines. Better to safe than sorry- and luckily, there are many, many beautiful vistas from the roadways and ample opportunities to explore further on foot.
Use Special Caution on Narrow Roads
Some roads in the countryside can be quite narrow, so be extra careful when you’re not on the main road. You may meet some obstacles like blind summits and blind curves, and you’ll have to use extra caution when passing another vehicle on a narrow road: get as far to the right as you safely can. You may also encounter single-lane bridges and there, the rule of thumb is “whoever arrived first goes first.”
Iceland has many rivers, particularly as you get closer to the Highlands. It can be great fun to drive on gravel roads and cross rivers, but only if you have the right type of car equipped to do so. If not, an exciting experience can quickly turn dangerous!
River-crossing is only allowed by 4×4 vehicles, and advisable only for drivers who are experienced in crossing rivers or are accompanied by someone who knows the river very well and can advise you through it.
In case of an emergency
If you’re in an accident, the first thing to do is ensure everyone involved is safe and unharmed, and then call the national emergency number (112). Do not move the vehicles unless they are positioned in a way that might lead to another accident- just wait for the police to arrive. If you absolutely must move the cars, then it’s a good idea to take pictures beforehand.
If you happen to hit a sheep or other livestock in the countryside, always find a farmer and let him know so he can get the carcass off the road. If you can’t see any farm around, call the police, just to let someone know about the accident.
- Be prepared, read about driving in Iceland
- Check the weather before heading out
- Check road conditions before you begin and as you’re driving
- Carefully decide where to drive and where to stop
- A helpful pointer about sheep: if you see the mother sheep on one side on the road and her babies on the other side, there’s a 99.99% chance that either the mother or the babies are going to cross the road!
- Respect the rules and respect other drivers
Safe Travel – The official source for safe adventure in Iceland
Road Conditions – App available (Vegagerdin)
Weather Forecast – App available (Vedur)
Check out our variety of self-drive programs HERE
With a bit of preparation and responsible decision making, your self-drive tour of Iceland will be a unique and unforgettable experience. If you have any questions about driving in Iceland, our self-drive tours or anything else connected to your road trip, please feel free to ask in the comment box below!