It is great to drive around on your own time without any dependence on pre-fixed schedules or destinations. You can just enjoy the unique landscape of this rugged island on your own time. If that is what you have decided I‘m guessing you are an independent traveler. That‘s great, just make sure you know all about driving in Iceland before you start your trip!
Driving in Iceland is not like driving in most other countries.
It is important that you are an experienced driver and that you can react when conditions change such as weather, quality of the roads and so on. If you are well prepared and well informed, you should be able to have a worry free and an enjoyable trip. Here are a few tips for you to keep safe and understand the rules on the Icelandic roads:
Ten tips for driving in Iceland
The Icelandic road system is fairly easy to navigate. Our most traveled route in Iceland is highway no. 1, often called the Ring Road. During winter it is sometimes necessary to close parts of it due to weather conditions. They usually do not last for more than a day or so. Many major roads are paved but a large portion of the road system is made up of gravel roads, particularly in the highlands. Gravel roads are often with potholes or washboard surfaces. Most of them though are in a fairly good condition although care must be taken while driving. Loose gravel can be difficult to drive in and always be careful when passing another vehicle. Furthermore, sand and small rocks can easily cause damage to cars, such as cracked windshields or a ruined paint job. While driving on gravel, slow down when an oncoming car approaches you. Also, take notice that mountain roads are often narrow and not made for speeding. Same goes for bridges, which are often only wide enough for one car at a time.
Make sure you check the weather before starting your trip. Driving in Iceland demands certain attention to conditions, especially if you are heading into the highlands. Also, be sure your car is a four-wheel-drive vehicle, so you don’t get stuck in the middle of nowhere. There you can encounter rough terrain and unabridged waters. The highland roads are closed in winter times and weather sometimes causes other roads to be closed as well. Here you can find the weather forecast.
A lot of people stop on the roads to enjoy the breathtaking views surrounding them. Some cross the roads walking while looking around taking all this nature in. Please do not do this. This is very dangerous. There are plenty of stops on the roads designed for you to park, take a photo and enjoy the views surrounding you. There is no need to stop in the middle of the road putting yourself and others at great risk.
Many rental cars have a GPS system where you can type in your destination and the GPS tells you where to go. That has not always worked as it should for travelers in Iceland, as many towns have the same street names or old farms have the same names as town streets. That is why it is advisable to also have a map in your car to know which direction you should be going and compare it to your GPS. You can buy a map at tourist information centers, gas stations, and book stores. That way you can be sure it is taking you the to the correct destination and you do not lose any time getting lost.
Off-road driving is prohibited by law in Iceland. Because of our short summers, the soil and vegetation can be very vulnerable. Please be respectful to nature, treat it carefully and stay on the roads.
Most gas stations are automated self-service filling stations. They are operated along the main roads and in the towns. Distances between the stations may vary so make sure you have enough fuel to reach the next one.
Stay alert for warning signs which indicate danger ahead, such as sharp bends. Also, take notice that there are generally no separate signs to reduce speed. It is your responsibility to choose a safe speed according to conditions. The general speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on gravel roads in rural areas, and 90 km/h on asphalt roads.
For your safety, you are obliged to keep the headlights on at all times, day and night. You are also obliged to use safety belts. It is forbidden to drive under the influence of alcohol and driving while talking on a mobile phone.
Most mountain roads are closed until the end of June because of snow and muddy conditions. When they open they are often only suitable for four-wheel-drive vehicles. You can check the conditions here.
It is wise to let someone know where you are going. You can leave your travel plan with Safe Travel. If you ever find yourself in immediate danger or lost please dial 112 for emergencies and you should get immediate help or advise.