Driving in Iceland: Before you leave
Iceland, like most other countries, drives on the right side of the road. There are few one-lane bridges or one-way streets, but otherwise stick to the right. During icy or snowy weather you may be forced more central, so make sure you keep an eye out for oncoming traffic.
The speed limits are written in km/h and are usually 50 km/h (31 mi/h) in urban areas, 80 km/h (49 mi/h) on gravel and 90 km/h (56 mi/h) on asphalt roads. Make sure that you stick to the limit, and there are many speed cameras across the country and there is a hefty fine if you break it.
You may not need an International Driver’s Permit if your current license has a photo and a license number. However, most rental companies require you to have held your license for over a year. They will also only rent to people 21+, will only rent 4x4s to people 23+, and will often charge premium for people under 25. Certain companies may have further restrictions.
You don’t need an amazing GPS, in fact you don’t need one at all. There aren’t that many roads in Iceland and the main routes tend to be well signposted and easy to follow. A paper map or offline map will often be more than enough, especially as you may have extended periods of time without data and your phone may go dead.
Allow extra time in your itinerary. Bad weather, extra stops, slow traffic, these will each eat into your travel time but are either necessary or improve the quality of the trip. Taking your time and making sure that you don’t cram your schedule can also prevent you from rushing and potentially getting into a bad accident.
Driving in Iceland: Tips and Important Considerations
It is illegal to drive off-road. This applies even if you have an off-road vehicle. You must stay on the marked path, road, or within the designated parking area, due to the delicate ecosystem that makes Iceland so attractive. This means that you cannot pull onto the side of the road for photos or drive anywhere you please.
The blood alcohol limit is very low at 0.05. A single drink will tip you heavily over and there is a zero-tolerance policy of drinking and driving in the country. Don’t drink anything if you’re planning on driving.
Throughout the year, your vehicle headlights must be on (though often dipped) at all times, day and night. This is a legal requirement.
Keep an eye out for wildlife, farm animals and other tourists in the road! Whilst the views may be stunning and often distracting, keep an eye out for surprises. Animals may suddenly dart across the road and other people may have pulled over to take photos where they shouldn’t.
Fill up the gas early and often. Gas stations aren’t incredibly plentiful and getting stranded is the last thing that you want. Take a spare gas can in the car if you’re worried. Make sure that you budget for gas as well! They have a standard price across the country, but it is still very expensive, so don’t let it cut your holiday short!
If you have an emergency of any sort, dial 112. Save it in your phone now, just in case.
Throughout the year it is important to keep an eye on weather reports as the weather can change drastically very quickly, even in the summer. However, it is doubly important in winter as some of those conditions can become incredibly dangerous, so make sure that you don’t drive out into terrible snowstorms.
Make sure that you’re able to drive manual. This is a good tip year-round as there aren’t many automatics available, but especially in winter as they are bigger, more reliable and more stable, all key to defending against the elements.
Take sunglasses. During the summer, you’ll need them for the sun. During the winter, the sun is low in the sky and will probably be straight in your eyes. If there’s ice on the ground there can also be snow glare that can distract or blind while driving.
Driving in the Winter
Winter is a different beast in Iceland, with very variable and often dangerous weather and road conditions. Winter in Iceland lasts from early November to the end of April, but winter storms may still occur even in May. During this season, there are additional concerns when driving around Iceland.
- The sun is only up for short hours in the deep winter, averaging about six hours of sunlight for you to enjoy the scenery. Try to maximise the hours that you have available, so don’t walk too far from the car or plan any incredibly long driving days.
- One such element is the wind, which can get dangerously strong. A key warning is to be careful when opening or closing car doors in the wind as it can fly out of your hand and break the hinge on the door, or slam shut on your fingers! To protect both the car and yourself, stay inside the car to wait out the worst of any wind.
- In winter, the roads are covered in ice, so use studded tires (check that they aren’t worn if renting from a discount agency) to keep stability when driving. If you go walking, make sure that you take crampons.
- However, no matter how much preparation you do, emergencies can happen, so make sure that you bring gear to get you through the worst of it.
If you want more tips and information, look at our other blog post here.