Before going to Iceland, I had never been on a road trip before. For some reason, we had always used public transportation our just walked places. But if you want to see this beautiful country, you need to make this a road trip in Iceland. And here are some useful tips for driving in Iceland that I’m sure you’re going to find useful.
You’d think that driving in Iceland is not that different than driving in any other place. But, as it turns out, driving here is an activity in itself, and it will be part of your trip. So, as I always suggest, get ready well in advance for what’s waiting for you.
Want to know some cool places to visit in Iceland? Here are some off the beaten path destinations you can add to your Iceland bucket list!
Random facts you need to know
1. Distances are displayed in km and speeds in km/h.
I’m sorry for the non-metric system users out there, but if you want to drive here, you should be able to use this to calculate your time. If you need to make any calculations, one mile equals about 1.6 km. But you should be OK without making complex transformations.
2. The road has only one lane per way
You’d think that if there’s only one road in the country, they’ll at least make it a two-lane one, right? Well, the traffic is so low here that you will never feel the need for one more lane. You just have to be very attentive when passing other drivers.
3. Most bridges have one lane
Per way, right? Nope, one lane in total. Again, the low traffic doesn’t justify paying for a two-lane bridge. So slow down when you approach them, look on the other side of the bridge and try to be aware of your surroundings.
4. You don’t have cell phone signal everywhere
What? In the 21st century? Well, yes, what did you think when you decided to come to these remote areas of the country? Especially if you’re driving on F-roads (more on this later), you might get to places where there’s no cell reception. Be self-sufficient no matter what happens. It’s a good skill to have in any case.
5. The road can change from very good to crappy in an instant
Outside of the Ring road, I mean. The Ring road is mostly new, and you can count on it being safe. But outside of it, God knows what you’re going to find. That’s why you should always respect the mentioned speed limits, as you might break your car if you get from asphalt to huge rocks at 90 km/h (55 mph).
6. Some road signs are quite complex
I noticed this while I was not even driving. As they display a small map of the whole area, instead of just the next crossroad or roundabout, the map can look quite daunting. The complicated names make it even harder to read while passing by. So don’t rely too much on these signs and have a working GPS with you at all times.
7. Sometimes, an F-road can cross a river
Without a bridge, that is. And it’s not even mentioned anywhere before you enter the road. You’ll just meet a river at one point and you’ll have to decide if you cross it or not. This is something you don’t learn in driving school, so try to watch a few videos before you board the plane, just to get used to the idea.
8. The emergency number to call is 112
As in most of Europe, in fact. It’s a centralized emergency number, like 911 in the US. Hopefully, you won’t need this information, but it’s better to have it.
9. Sheep are interesting traffic participants
If you kill a sheep in a fenced area, the owner pays for your damage. If you kill one in an unfenced area, YOU pay for the sheep and the damage to your car. The Ring road has both types of areas, so be very aware of this (I will repeat this a LOT in the future, stay tuned).
10. Fines are quite big
Unfortunately, I know this from experience (not me or my husband, but someone close to us). On a part of the road where the speed limit was 90 km/h, our friend was caught speeding at 114 km/h and was stopped on the spot.
The guys were nice and deducted the 4 km/h at the end, and he paid the fine for 20 km/h above the limit, which meant 37,500 ISK (275$). The fine for 50 km/h above the limit is 87,000 ISK (640$) if you’re curious. You can pay some decent 4-star hotels with this money, or the entry fees for the Blue lagoon of your choice.
Want to know how to avoid speeding tickets? Well, have you tried not speeding? I can guarantee it works 100%.
11. There’s no leeway allowed for speeds above the limit
If we’re on this subject, I felt I should also add this. Every km over the limit will get you a fine, so you should stay well below the limit to be sure you won’t be caught unintentionally.
Rules you need to know before driving in Iceland
1. Driving is on the right side of the road
Like in most European countries.
2. The speeding limits
You need to remember this. The speeding limits are as following:
- 90 km/h on paved roads like the Ring road
- 80 km/h on unpaved roads
- 50 km/h in towns and on very bad gravel roads
Of course, you should always adjust your speed based on the traffic and weather situation. Also, remember those fines I mentioned before.
3. Alcohol limit is 50 mg blood alcohol content
And you will have your driver’s license suspended and pay a huge fine if you get past this limit. Currently, there’s a proposal made to decrease this number to 20 mg of alcohol in your blood, so this limitation may also change. To keep it easy, don’t drink (not even a beer or a glass of wine) and drive. And not only in Iceland, I would say.
4. Lights on
You need to have the lights on at all times, it doesn’t matter if it’s a bright or a dark day or if it’s summer or winter. Most cars handle this for you, but keep it in mind in case yours doesn’t.
5. Seatbelts are mandatory
Yes, including in the back. And children have to be secured in car chairs matching their sizes. Believe me, it’s for your (and their) own safety.
6. Don’t use the cell phone while driving
You can, of course, use hands-free systems to have a conversation, but you should never text and drive. If you need to, pull over when you can and have that conversation in peace.
7. International driver’s license
It’s not needed if coming from the EU, US, or Canada. For other countries, you should check if there are any specific rules. As far as I know, your license needs to:
- have a license number;
- have your photo;
- have a validity date;
- be printed in Latin characters.
If ANY of these conditions is not met, you should have an International Drivers License together with your national one.
8. Don’t go on F roads
If you don’t have a 4WD, you should not go on F-roads. As I said before, these roads can get very steep, or bumpy, or they can even cross rivers. And I know Toyota Yaris is nice, but let’s face it, it’s not cut to do these sorts of things.
Renting a car for your road trip in Iceland
I don’t know about you, but it was our first time renting a car for such a road trip, in Iceland. And while some things were obvious when renting the car, and we knew we should take them into account, some were not that obvious. So, here are a few useful tips for driving a rental car in Iceland.
1. Can you drive a stick?
Some rentals can be a manual transmission, as in Europe not everyone is already sold on the automatic one. Some people even say that you’re not a driver if you don’t know how to drive a stick. So, when you decide on a car, look up these particular aspects if you don’t like surprises.
2. Are you old enough?
Most rental companies require you to be at least 20 when you rent, and some even require you to be older and/or have more experience driving if you’re taking a 4WD. And considering their roads, I must agree, you have to know your deal.
3. Take the insurance
At least the gravel one if you plan to go on F-roads, as this is not in your control. If you know you’re not very experienced and/or you won’t be able to afford to pay the damage you might produce to the car, take the full insurance and you’ll sleep better at night.
4. Check the car before taking it
Always check the tires, tank and fuel policy, if you have everything (vest, triangle, fire extinguisher, first aid kit), working spare tire, and whatever else crosses your mind. Also, take a few pictures or make a video with all the scratches and bumps your car has. You don’t want to pay what you didn’t break.
Useful tips, hacks, and advice for driving in Iceland
1. Pay a lot of attention to sheep
They’re not the smartest animals out there, and they will start running towards you without notice. If one of them is on one side of the road and the others on the other side, just slow down, as they will decide to meet at one point.
2. Be informed
Check www.road.is for the road and weather conditions. Do this every morning, and even during the day. You might think that it’s summer and there’s nothing that can happen, but you’ll be surprised what a big ol’ rain can do.
3. Be very focused when it’s windy
You can feel it can blow you away from the road, and it can even damage or remove your car doors if opened without care. Iceland is a new level of windy, and most of us are not used to these weather conditions. As a reference, wind speed can reach 160 km/h (100 mph) in the winter, so it’s literally a no joke field.
4. Add gas as often as possible
As you might not find another gas station for a while, you should always try to fill your tank when you have a chance. There’s a whole lot of nothingness in Iceland once you get further away from Reykjavik.
5. Have snacks or actual food all the time
As shops can be as sparse as gas stations, you might want some snacks and water for the road. Even if you do find gas stations, not all of them have stores; some are only self-service gas pumps in the middle of nowhere. You just have to get yourself used to the idea of being in the wild while in Iceland.
6. Be prepared
Always have the following with you:
- a working GPS or phone with internet and offline maps;
- a car-friendly charger for phones;
- a first aid kit.
7. Learn how to change a tire
Hopefully, you won’t need this, but if you need to and you don’t know how to, you’re kind of screwed. It might take a while until you’ll see the next car, and who knows if they’ll stop to help you. But if you learn this from Youtube, do it in a private window. Otherwise, it’ll recommend similar videos for the rest of your life.
So, I just finished being the annoying mother you know me to be. These useful tips for driving in Iceland will help you, and I’m sure your Iceland road trip will be an adventure to remember. But wait, there’s more. Continue reading to find other useful information about this.
Everything about toll roads in Iceland
What, you thought at least the roads are free in Iceland? Uhm, most of them are. And even this specific toll road can be avoided in summer if you care to drive over a mountain. But this definitely cannot be avoided in wintertime, as the mountain crossing can be dangerous on slippery gravel.
What am I even talking about? Well, there’s a tunnel called Vadlaheidi (Vaðlaheiðargöng in Icelandic) that’s located in the northern part of Iceland, close to the second-largest town of this island (Akureyri). This tunnel is special because it doesn’t have any ticket boots and it cannot be paid on the spot.
But, then, how can you pay for it? Well, you need to visit www.tunnel.is starting 3 hours before and up to 3 hours after crossing the tunnel. The process is pretty simple. You just have to provide your license plate number (it’s usually on a key chain for the rentals), confirm the information they display about the car, and insert your credit card data. Easy-peasy.
The prices are as follows:
- 1,500 ISK for vehicles below 3.5t (most 5 person cars)
- 2,500 ISK for vehicles between 3.5t and 7.5t
- 5,200 ISK for vehicles above 7.5t
But what if you don’t pay? First of all, bad traveler! Second, of course, they have cameras and they will send the bill to the rental company, as they’re the owner of the car. And the rental company will deduct this amount from your deposit, together with a handling fee, for the trouble. This is what you deserve for being a bad driver!
Paid parking and national parks entry fees in Iceland
In Iceland, as in most other places, free parking is not available everywhere. While on the road and close to any visiting sites you’ll have free parking spots, you must know that this is not the case everywhere.
The most obvious places are the national parks, where parking lots are limited and have been carefully made as to not break the (sometimes) fragile environment. When you plan your itinerary, take this parking into account as well.
If you intend to go to the Skaftafell National Park, this website will help you pay your parking fees. The price is 750 ISK for a small, 5 person car, and 1,000 ISK for a 6-9 family car. You can even camp here, and the park has so much to offer. Take a peek on their site, if you’re curious.
If you intend to go to the Þingvellir National Park (or Thingvellir, for us, mortals), and I recommend you do, you’ll also have to pay for the parking. The National Park tax is usually paid when you book an activity (we had ours automatically added to our bill when we went snorkeling), but the parking is not. The prices are the same as in Skaftafell, you can find more information here, and you can go directly here to pay if you wish.
While Reykjavik is a highly walkable city and you can make it work without paying for parking, you should still know how it works, just in case. Parking in Reykjavik is free after 6 PM and all day Sundays, and you only need to pay in multi-stories parking spaces or the central areas.
A basic rule of thumb is that if it doesn’t have a big P sign with instructions nearby, then it’s probably free. Most parking machines work with both coins and cards, but some of the old ones accept only coins. If you’re interested in long term parking, multi-story parking, or a detailed map of the areas, take a look here.
How to add gas while on your Iceland road trip
You’d think you know how to add gas by now, huh? Also, how complicated can it be? You can ask someone if you cannot do it, in the end. Well, sometimes you’ll be happy to see a random gas pump in the middle of nowhere, and there won’t be a gas station assigned to it. Just a lonely gas pump on a field.
For these cases, you need to know how to add gas, as this might be your only gas pump for miles and miles, so you shouldn’t miss the opportunity. And there will be no one around to help you, so pay attention here.
You have to:
- insert your card;
- insert the amount you want to spend (if you spend less than what you put here, it will only deduct what you used, no worries);
- put the gas in your car like you would usually do it;
- insert the card again if you want the receipt.
And voila, now you have gas! You can continue your Iceland road trip. And you were not the guys at the news that managed to be stranded in the middle of nowhere.
What to do in case of an accident
I hope you won’t need this information while on your trip to Iceland, but we have to admit we never know what will happen. And as long as you’re all OK and safe, it doesn’t matter what happens. The car or any other damage can be fixed.
In the unlikely case of an accident, you need to stay in the car if it’s not dangerous. If it’s dangerous, leave the car immediately and leave your belongings behind. Then, call 112 and try to be as specific as possible with your location. And the final step would be to call the rental company as you need to discuss insurance specifics for your case.
I hope you’ll find these useful tips for driving in Iceland as interesting as I found them. Your road trip in Iceland will be an experience of a lifetime and I hope you’ll have me to thank for it as well. And stay tuned, there will be more posts about this trip. In the end, it was an amazing ride!