Driving in Iceland allows you to see the best of this stunning country while giving you the freedom to go at your own pace. Our guide to seeing the country independently covers all the important things you need to know before setting off on your Icelandic road trip.

Iceland is a volcanic wonderland filled with dramatic landscapes. Bubbling mud pots, steaming vents, rainbow-coloured mountains and hidden thermal pools are dotted far and wide throughout the country.

While the area surrounding Reykjavik has some great attractions, the only way to see some of the most spectacular, most unique and weirdest geology in Iceland is to drive yourself.

While much of the driving in Iceland is straightforward, there are several challenges that you need to plan ahead for. Weather conditions can be extreme and changeable, road quality is varied, and insurance policies can be confusing.

Furthermore, the type of car you decide to hire and your own level of adventurousness will determine where you can go and how much you can see.

We saw a lot of this amazing country on our 10-day Iceland Itinerary, much of which would not be possible if we weren’t crossing rivers and taking on mountain passes in our own car rental. Read on for all our tips to help you travel independently and experience the best of Iceland.  

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DRIVING IN ICELAND

KEY INFORMATION


WHAT SIDE OF THE ROAD DO YOU DRIVE ON IN ICELAND?

The right-hand side.

DO I NEED AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVING LICENCE IN ICELAND?

No. Valid driving licences with photographs are accepted.

WHAT IS THE SPEED LIMIT IN ICELAND?

50 km/h in built-up areas; 80 km/h on gravel tracks; 90 km/h on paved roads.

WHAT IS THE EMERGENCY NUMBER?

112 – via voice or text message.

SHOULD YOU DRIVE IN ICELAND?

Yes. Iceland is a stunningly beautiful country with unusual sights dotted all around the island that you won’t see anywhere else. While there’s no shortage of tours from Reykjavik to the Golden Circle and other popular destinations, many of the most unique parts of Iceland are difficult and time-consuming to see via public transport.  

A car rental in Iceland, allows you to go where you want when you want and saves you time so you can make the most of your holiday. It not only enables you to see the best of the popular Ring Road, but also to head to breath-taking natural scenery in the remote highlands.

Self-driving in Iceland is the best way to see the country independently with a healthy dose of achievable adventure.

DO I NEED AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVING LICENCE?

An international driving licence is not required in Iceland, providing you have a valid driving licence from your home country with a licence number, photograph and valid date. The licence needs to be in Latin letters.

All US driving licences, UK and EU licences are considered valid in Iceland, however you must have held the licence for at least 1 year.

Drivers must be 20 years of age to rent a car in Iceland and 23 years old to rent a 4-wheel drive.

WHAT ARE THE ROADS LIKE IN ICELAND?

There are 3 main types of roads in Iceland

PAVED ROADS

The most famous road in Iceland is the Ring Road (Route 1). Forming a complete loop around the country it can be driven in about 18 hours, but most travellers take 1 to 2 weeks to explore all the sights scattered along the route. The Ring Road, as well as the majority of roads around Reykjavík, the Golden Circle and other major towns, are well paved roads, so a regular 2-wheel drive vehicle is all you will need.

ACCESS ROADS

Access roads are minor roads that connect smaller towns and villages to the paved roads. These are generally unpaved, gravel or dirt tracks, but they are usually short and although often bumpy can legally be driven in all types of vehicles. Driving on access roads in summer is no problem, however, in winter they are cleared less regularly than the paved roads, so you need to be careful of ice.

F-ROADS

The F-roads (fjall which means mountain in Icelandic) are unpaved gravel tracks that are not regularly maintained. The majority of the F-roads criss-cross the mountainous central region of Iceland called the highlands. They generally have large potholes, ruts or large boulders that need to be navigated.

Some F-roads are good quality gravel roads that will allow for speeds of up to 80 kilometres per hour (50 miles per hour) in places. Others are much more adventurous and involve fording (crossing) rivers, climbing steep inclines and driving over sand.

F-roads are only open in summer and require a 4-wheel drive vehicle. It’s illegal to drive a 2-wheel drive vehicle on the F-roads.

HOW EASY IS DRIVING IN ICELAND?

On the Ring Road and other paved roads, driving in Iceland is very easy. The roads are good quality with clear signs, and generally not very busy. On sunny days, driving on them is a breeze, but weather conditions can change rapidly making the driving more of a challenge.

The F-roads are unpaved and – being in more remote and mountainous locations – provide much more of a challenge. To prepare for driving in the highlands, read our guide to the F-roads of Iceland.  

HOW TO PREPARE FOR BAD CONDITIONS  

Iceland is just below the Arctic circle so the conditions can be extreme. The winters are cold and dark and, even in summer, the sun doesn’t get far over the horizon. You can encounter snow and ice any time of year. In winter, the storms can be severe and in summer the driving rain can be endless. Gusts of winds can easily rip a car door off its hinges – something you’re not insured for.

There are some simple things you can do to prepare.

1 – Check the weather conditions before each journey.

2 – Keep up to date with the current state of the roads including which ones are open on the Safe Travel website.

3 – Take food and drink with you and plenty of warm clothing in case something goes wrong and you get stranded.

4 – Always park facing into the wind and be very careful as you get in and out of the car.

5 – If bad conditions are likely, leave yourself plenty of time to complete your journey.

WHAT TYPE OF ICELAND RENTAL CAR DO YOU NEED?

Where you want to drive in Iceland is the main factor that will determine the type of car you need to hire. However, other factors such as safety, the time of year you are travelling, comfort, cost and trunk size are important as well.

2-WHEEL DRIVE CAR (2WD)

If you are visiting Iceland in summer and plan to explore the scenery and towns on the Ring Road, then a 2-wheel drive car is all you will need. You may have a few short bumpy journeys connecting to access roads, but nothing will be too difficult. A 2WD is also fine if you are coming in winter and sticking to the populated areas around Reykjavik where roads are paved and regularly cleared.

4-WHEEL DRIVE (4X4)

If you come to Iceland in winter (November to April) and want to explore outside the populated areas, a 4×4 vehicle is highly recommended. Ice and snow can quickly settle on the access roads, and are not cleared as quickly as in the towns.

You will also need a 4×4 vehicle if you want to drive on the F-roads in the central highlands. These roads are only open from around late June to late September. You can choose from a small, medium or large 4×4 vehicle. The larger the size the more comfortable the journey over the rough roads and the easier it is to conquer some of the obstacles (such as fording rivers), but it is also more expensive.

CAMPERVAN

Accommodation in Iceland can be expensive and difficult to find so one money-saving option is to hire your own van to sleep in. Prices rise dramatically in the high season but include everything you need for cooking and sleeping in an environment that is much warmer than a tent. Keep in mind you also need to pay for camping fees each night.

WHAT TYPE OF INSURANCE DO YOU NEED?

Driving in Iceland risks natural hazards: gravel flying into the windscreen, sand and ash destroying the paintwork, strong wind ripping off doors and large boulders damaging the underside of the car.

Like most things, renting a car in Iceland is not cheap. But what really pushes the price up is insurance to cover the unique hazards of Iceland. It’s very important to understand what extras are included in your Iceland car rental, here are some common considerations:

1 – Some policies do not cover you for doors being damaged in strong winds.

2 – Crossing rivers above a certain depth may not be covered by your policy.

3 – Some policies exclude sand and ash protection.

4 – It’s very common for tyres to be excluded completely from insurance policies.

5 – Damage to headlights, windscreens and the underside of the car is generally not covered.

Make sure you know exactly what’s covered to decide if you need any additional insurance. One thing we don’t recommend is theft insurance. Iceland is a very safe country, so theft protection is unlikely to be needed.

For something more enjoyable to read than the fine print of your hire car contract, try these road trip quotes.

INSURANCE WITH BLUE CAR RENTALS

Blue Car Rentals are a popular car rental company in Iceland. Their policies include theft protection, gravel protection and collision damage with an excess (the maximum you need to pay for a claim) of Kr 90,000 ($680 / £520 / €609) for 2WD vehicles, and Kr 120,000 ($920 / £690 / €820) for 4×4 vehicles.

There are several exclusions from their policy such as damage from sand and ash or wind, and any damage to tires, headlights, the windscreen, or the underside of the car.

Various extras can be purchased to cover these additional things and reduce your excess. Check the details here.

INSURANCE WITH RENTALCARS.COM

If you book your Iceland car rental with rentalcars.com the quoted price includes theft protection and collision damage with an excess of Kr 350,000 (£2,677 / £2,051 / €2370). However, you can purchase full protection for Kr 13,800 ($105 / £80 / €93) for the entire trip. This means the hire company will charge you if anything goes wrong and you can claim the total excess back from rentalcars.com

This is a very affordable way to get full insurance for your Iceland car rental, however, it does mean you have the additional hassle of claiming the excess back.  

INSURANCE4CARHIRE

Another good option is to buy an annual insurance policy from insurance4carhire. They have a policy that covers you for the unique challenges of driving in Iceland. All the details are available on their website.

WHERE TO BOOK YOUR RENTAL CAR IN ICELAND?

The best place to book a car rental for Iceland is rentalcars.com. They check prices from most of the major rental companies and have an affordable insurance option if you decide to pay for full protection.

Avis, Europcar, Budget, Hertz, Sixt and Blue Car Rentals are all located at Keflavík Airport, where most international flights to Iceland arrive and the best place to start an Iceland itinerary.

If you decide to visit Reykjavík at the start of your trip, the airport is around 50 kilometres away, which should take around 45 minutes to drive. Parking in Reykjavík is free after 6pm and all day Sunday.

WHAT ARE THE LAWS FOR DRIVING IN ICELAND?

Driving in Iceland is a great way to see the country and on the main roads, like the Ring Road, it doesn’t present too much of a challenge. However, there are a few specific laws to be aware of.

WHAT SIDE OF THE ROAD DO YOU DRIVE ON IN ICELAND?

In Iceland, you drive on the right-hand side of the road.

IT’S ILLEGAL TO GO OFF-ROAD

Driving off-road is not permitted in Iceland. As a remote wilderness area, very few plants manage to survive, and damage caused to them could take decades to recover. Off-road driving has in the past threatened the Icelandic fauna and locals will not hesitate in reporting anyone driving off-road.  

YOU MUST KEEP YOUR HEADLIGHTS ON

Low visibility conditions are common in Iceland including cloud, mist, rain and snow. Additionally, driving on gravel and sandy tracks can throw up great plumes of dust, so it’s a requirement to always keep your headlights on, day and night. If someone flashes you, it will probably be because you have forgotten to turn them on.

ROUNDABOUTS IN ICELAND

On 2-lane roundabouts in Iceland, the car in the inner lane has right of way and cars in the outer lane must give way to them. The opposite is true in most other countries, so take care.

KNOW THE ICELAND SPEED LIMITS

Iceland is a very safe country, and you won’t see many police. But there are frequent speed cameras; some are signed, some are not. The fine for breaking the speed limit is up to $460USD. Below are the standard speed limits in Iceland, however, always follow the local speed signs.

SPEED LIMITS IN ICELAND


30-50 km/h

populated areas

80 km/h

gravel tracks

90 km/h

paved roads

KNOW YOUR NEXT GAS STATION

There are enough gas stations along the Ring Road and access roads that getting fuel is not something you need to think too much about. However, once you venture off the main roads, gas stations become considerably scarcer. Fill up when you can to avoid the risk of running out, and on long journeys in remote areas plan where your next stop will be. .

In particular, many of the F-roads through the centre of the country have no fuel stations at all. Those that do, are often few and far between. There’s also no guarantee that they will be open. Definitely, fill up before you set off on an F-road, monitor your distances & fuel usage, and plan where you intend to fill up next.

DON’T RENT A GPS, DOWNLOAD OFFLINE MAPS

There are not that many roads in Iceland so navigation is relatively easy. Google has extensive coverage of the country but (even if you have purchased data) reception in less populated areas will be patchy. So make sure you download Google Maps offline for the area you intend to explore before setting off.

We also highly recommend Maps.Me. This app also allows you to download maps for the area, but it has better offline functionality, more accurate estimates for journey times than Google maps and often include walking routes.

DON’T STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD

Iceland is a stunning country and while driving in Iceland you will be tempted to stop many times to take photos. But please don’t stop in the middle of the road. Almost all roads are only single lane (except for the ring road) in either direction. Stopping in the road slows down traffic and is a danger to other motorists.

If you see that iconic landscape you need to take a photo of, drive on a little further until you can see a clear parking place where you can pull over safely. Just make sure you don’t inadvertently go off-road trying to pull over.

BEWARE OF ANIMALS ON THE ROAD

Iceland has many farms spread all over the country and instead of fencing their livestock in they are free to wander wherever they want. As a result sheep, cows and cute highland horses can be found meandering all around the country.

But it also means you’re potentially sharing the road with them. So an important Iceland car rental tip is to keep your eyes peeled and be alert to anything that may run across your path.

KNOW YOUR BREAKDOWN NUMBERS

The emergency number in Iceland is 112. This number responds to all emergencies including accidents, fire, crime, natural disasters, and search and rescue. It can be reached anywhere in Iceland via voice or text message.

Always make sure you have the breakdown number provided by your car rental company with you. If you do break down, call or text for help and stay in the car.

TAKE EXTRA CARE ON THE F-ROADS

The F-roads are very basic gravel tracks that are not well maintained, often with large potholes, boulders and rivers to cross. While the F-roads take you to some of the most incredible places in the highlands of Iceland, extra care is required.

There are no facilities and little road traffic on the F-roads, so if something goes wrong you could be on your own for quite a while. Ideally, travel in pairs and download the Safe Travel App to submit a travel plan outlining where you will be each day. The app allows you to communicate with the emergency services, even if you have no phone coverage, so they can find you quickly should anything go wrong.

Read our other Iceland guides for more information about travelling on the F-Roads.

MORE ICELAND GUIDES


VISITING THE ICELAND HIGHLANDS

Our guide to the best of the highlands, including information on how to get there.

UNDERSTANDING THE F-ROADS

How and why you should drive on the F-roads in Iceland and what car you need.

PLANNING A TRIP TO ICELAND

Get the most out of Iceland with everything you need to know when planning your trip.

BOOK YOUR CAR HIRE WELL IN ADVANCE (ESPECIALLY IN SUMMER)

Around 2 million visitors flood into Iceland every year and the vast majority come during the short summer season. With a resident population of only 350,000 people providing hotels and other services, things can get booked up fast.

So our final Iceland car rental tip is to make sure you not only book your accommodation well in advance but your car hire as well. If you want to head to the highlands, you’ll need a specific type of car, so you don’t want to run the risk of the car rental company running out of the car you need, ruining your well-laid travel plans.

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PLANNING YOUR ICELAND TRIP

Iceland is an excellent destination for semi-adventurous travellers who like to get off-the-beaten-track and immerse themselves in stunning scenery. Here’s some more reading from us to help plan your journey to the land of fire and ice.

If you found this guide useful, we’d love it if you could follow us on Instagram.

GENERAL TRAVEL TIPS

15 useful tips for visiting Iceland

How to drive on the F-Roads of Iceland

EXPLORING THE HIGHLANDS

How to visit the Iceland Highlands

6 Amazing Landmannalaugar hikes

Instructions for self-driving to Askja

Hiking in Kerlingarfjöll & Hveradalir


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