I’ve heard of some travellers heading to Iceland who stay within Reykjavik and I really would discourage this. There is so much beauty in Iceland and only limiting yourself to the capital city is no way to see Iceland for all of its stunning scenery!
Roads in Iceland are notoriously quiet – you are likely to go miles and miles without seeing another sign of civilisation, leaving you free to admire the scenery and just enjoy the drive. But there are some things to know before you embark on your Icelandic road trip to ensure you have just as perfect a time as we did, so listen up!
1. Keep your headlights on at all times!
In Iceland, law dictates that you must have your headlights on at all times whilst driving. Yes, even on bright sunny days! Weather is known to change very fast in Iceland, which is where this rule comes from. One minute it may be bright sunshine and blue skies and then another, a blizzard or rainstorm rolls in overhead. Icelanders err on the side of caution; so, headlights on!
2. Be prepared for unpredictable weather
As mentioned, weather can change frequently in Iceland. On day trips, ensure you have something to prepare you for all kinds of weather. Have you got an ice scraper in the car? How about an umbrella? And sunglasses? Oh, and the weather really is unpredictable! This is coming from a Brit, so you know it’s true!
3. Plan where you’re going to fill up
If heading outside of Reykjavik, ensure you’ve planned where the next gas station is and the one after that, and maybe a third to be on the safe side. Once you’re outside of the capital, expect that you will rarely see another car, person, shop and gas station so plan ahead rather than getting stuck on some road somewhere.
4. Remember to drive on the right
Okay, so this for the benefit of all my fellow British readers out there. The rest of you are probably fine to remember this! In Iceland, you drive on the right. That’s it, simple! Oh, and roundabouts work anti-clockwise!
5. Pack some tasty snacks
So, if gas stations are rare out in the Icelandic countryside then so are shops and restaurants. That’s not to say they don’t exist, but they are rare. To ensure you don’t end up driving whilst hungry (no-one wants that kind of road rage), pack some snacks in the car with you for when you’re in need. This handy checklist should give you a few ideas on what kind of snacks you can take with you to keep your energy levels up.
6. Admire the scenery but keep your eyes on the road
Iceland really is a beautiful country. From snow-topped mountains and endless green landscapes, to bright blue lakes and natural hot springs, there is so much beauty and stunning scenery to marvel at and admire whilst driving. By all means admire the scenery when you’ve pulled over to stop but when driving, keep your eyes on the road! Along route 1, there are actually a couple of smashed up cars on a spike to set an example by those who chose not to keep their eyes on the road – please don’t be one of them!
7. Off-road driving is illegal
Yeah, so just don’t do it. Seriously don’t. Icelanders are very strict when it comes to off-road driving as they don’t want their precious scenery and landscapes ruined. Don’t even think about being the person that ruins them! If you spot something amazing in the distance and it’s off-road, consider parking somewhere safe and setting off on-foot. Hiking in Iceland is so worthwhile!
8. Manual, manual, manual
If you’re renting a car in Iceland, take note that most cars in Iceland are manual. If you would prefer an automatic, then be sure to ask for it like we did.
9. Watch out for F-roads
Mountain roads in the highlands are called F-roads. You’ll know you’ve found one on the map if it has an ‘F’ before the road number. They are usually gravel roads with no bridges over rivers, and can be quite dangerous to drive on. Also, rental cars don’t allow you to use F-roads at all – as soon as you’re on one, insurance won’t cover you so avoid these where possible. If there really is something you want to see along these roads, then consider embarking on paid for day trips in 4×4 vehicles.
10. A quick note on renting cars
To rent a car in Iceland, you need to be 20 years or older, or over 23 years if renting a 4×4 vehicle. You also need to have a credit card, a driver’s license in English (or one with an official translation) plus more than one year’s worth of driving experience. Also, check if there is a mileage limit on your rental. To take advantage of an online offer, we ended up choosing a car that had a 600 km mileage limit on it (not known to us at the time). This meant we had to do some careful planning of our driving routes to ensure we saw everything we wanted to, without going over by too much and forking out 80 cents per extra kilometre. Providing you have all of this and keep the mileage limit in mind (if there is one), then you should find renting a car in Iceland super easy as so many people do it.
I hope you’ve found this list helpful – enjoy your drive around Iceland! What are you most excited about seeing? Or if you’ve already been, what’s your top tip for driving in Iceland and what one place would you recommend visiting above all others? Jot a note down in the comments to start a discussion…
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