Driving around Iceland I saw some of the most incredible scenery of my life. I visited beautiful little towns like Vik and Höfn. And picked up a little Icelandic driving know-how to boot. If you’re embarking on a road trip, here are 7 things you need to know about driving in Iceland.
I don’t want to scare your socks off. But driving in Iceland is very different to pootling around your home town. Why? You may ask.
Icelandic weather can change in a matter of minutes. I’ve never seen anything like it. One second it’s bright and sunny. The next it’s dark and snowing a blizzard and visibility is terrible.
The road surface can also pose a danger. Temperatures sometimes drop and create a thin film of ice on the road.
What’s more, Iceland is windy. And I mean a gale force, blow you over, kind of wind. It is seriously powerful, changes direction at the drop of a hat and can easily buffet a car around the road.
All of which – needless to say – can be seriously dangerous if you don’t have a lot of driving experience and the confidence that comes with it. So I’d definitely think twice if you only got your license last week.
The A1 is a ring road which circles around Iceland and links all of its towns and cities. But this is no motorway. It’s not even a dual carriageway. Iceland’s A1 is a single lane road for the whole of its 828 miles.
As it’s the only main thoroughfare on the island, wherever you’re heading, this is the route you’ll be taking. Navigation is easy-peasy.
But single lanes mean overtaking. Particularly if you find yourself crawling along behind a bus or a lorry. And in many cases there isn’t a hard shoulder (an emergency lane at the side of the road) so you have to be careful about where you choose to stop.
Nothing problematic for an experienced driver. Just go easy if you haven’t racked up those road miles prior to your Iceland trip.
It can be very tempting to put your foot down when faced with a long, straight, empty stretch of road. But, as with anywhere in the world, Iceland imposes its speed limits.
Speed cameras and police patrols will issue hefty fines if they catch you going over the limit. So be safe, watch out for signs and remember that most of the A1 has a limit of 90kmph.
When you see this sign, you should approach very carefully. It signals a peak in the road, effectively a blind spot, where you can’t see what the road is going to throw at you next.
In many cases, the road turns. So if you approach it too fast you won’t have time to take the corner safely.
Extra dangers come in the form of crazy drivers trying to overtake on the peak. I saw a few cars completely disregarding this sign and ending up heading straight for oncoming traffic.
So, just in case you’re confronted with a sharp turn or an absolute lunatic, slow down and approach cautiously when you see this road sign until you can see that the road is clear ahead.
Throughout my Iceland road trip, I always tried to arrive at my destination before sunset. The weather app on my phone was really handy for telling me accurately when sunrise and sunset would be on that particular day.
I didn’t fancy driving after nightfall as everything turned completely pitch black. The A1 doesn’t have streetlights. Towns and villages are few and far between.
So driving in Iceland at night, you’re relying upon your headlights, the dividing white line in the middle of the road and the quality of your own eyes.
It’s obviously possible to drive at night in Iceland. But it requires serious concentration and care. So I found it much easier to park up, eat, sup, sleep and hit the road again in the morning.
It sounds obvious. But make sure you always have plenty of petrol when you’re driving in Iceland. Once you leave Reykjavik there aren’t that many urban areas. And some of the towns you pass through just don’t have a petrol station.
So plan ahead and don’t let your meter run anywhere near empty. Marking up petrol stations on the map is a good idea. Or stopping at a garage as soon as your tank is less than half full is also not a bad idea.
It’s also worth noting that many petrol stations in Iceland are unmanned. And at self-service garages you need a credit or debit card to make payment. They accept the major brands – Visa, Mastercard, Amex.
So just make sure you have cards to hand (and that they haven’t been blocked by the bank because they’ve flagged some foreign transactions) before setting off on your road trip.
Driving in Iceland can be a challenge. So you should be confident that you’ve got the right insurance, roadside assistance and a well-maintained vehicle. I found Blue Car Rental to be by far the best independent car rental place on the island.
I opted for a 4×4. I’d seen a few travel articles where people said hiring a 4×4 in Iceland is unnecessary. But travelling long distances during the colder months, I found a more substantial ride invaluable.
The 4×4 I hired was stable on the road, even when it got windy. It had the appropriate winter tires for icy conditions. And it was oh-so-comfortable, with a USB charger, air conditioning that heated up the car quickly and plenty of space for luggage.
I saw a number of smaller cars and their passengers stranded at the side of the road waiting for the Icelandic weather gods to look kindly upon then. And, I’ll be honest, I felt pretty smug cruising past in my 4×4. Check out my full review of the car and the Blue Car Rental experience over on the blog.
Driving in Iceland might not be the easiest. But it’s certainly one of the most spectacularly scenic road trips I’ve ever undertaken.
Have you driven around Iceland? Would you add any other tips to this list? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.