Driving in Iceland
The Road Ahead
Travelling in Iceland is one of the greatest experiences you can have. Self-drive tours around the country are a popular mode of travel, and sights along the way are numerous and breathtaking. But this beautiful and rugged landscape can also create challenges that drivers may not have come across in other countries. Make sure you are fully prepared and know the rules of the road. Here are some helpful tips for driving in Iceland.
The Icelandic road system is extensive and easy to navigate. Highway no. 1, commonly known as the Ring Road, is the most travelled route around Iceland. It is open throughout the year, but weather conditions can cause temporary closures during winter. Most major highways are paved, but it may surprise travellers to learn that a large portion of the Icelandic road system is made up of gravel roads, particularly in the highlands.
Gravel roads can be in various conditions, with potholes or washboard surfaces, but most of the time they should give a good ride if care is taken. You should always navigate these roads with care, as loose gravel can be difficult to drive in. Be careful when you pass another vehicle. Sand and small rocks can easily cause damage to cars, such as cracked windshields or a ruined paintjob.
Special warning signs indicate danger ahead, such as sharp bends, but there is generally no separate sign to reduce speed. Please choose a safe speed according to conditions. Motorists are obliged by law to use headlights at all times, day and night. Passengers in the front and backseats of an automobile are required by law to use safety-belts. Icelandic law forbids any driving under the influence of alcohol and driving while talking on a mobile phone is also banned.
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. Maps can be incredibly helpful. Ask for road maps and maps of Iceland at local tourist offices, bookstores or filling stations. Always take along a detailed map. All off-road driving and driving outside of marked tracks is prohibited by law. Icelandic nature is delicate and tire tracks from off-road driving can cause substantial damage to the vegetation and leave marks that will last for decades. Respect the nature and tread carefully.
Most mountain roads and roads in the interior of Iceland have a gravel surface. The surface on the gravel roads is often loose, especially along the sides of the roads, so one should drive carefully and slow down whenever an oncoming car approaches. The mountain roads are also often very narrow, and are not made for speeding. The same goes for many bridges, which are only wide enough for one car at a time. In addition to not having an asphalt surface, the mountain roads are often very windy. Journeys may therefore take longer than expected.
Consider the Weather
Driving in Iceland demands certain attention to conditions. Especially if you plan on travelling into the highlands. Be sure that you have the right car for the job. A 4x4 vehicle is essential in the highlands, where you might encounter rough terrain and unbridged waters. The highland roads are closed in winter times and weather sometimes causes other roads to be closed as well.
If driving in winter, you can expect to face snow, icy roads and darkness. If you are travelling outside of populated areas, always make sure that you check weather conditions and the state of your vehicle. As much fun as Icelandic nature is, you will still want to find your way back eventually.
Most mountain roads are closed until the end of June, or even longer, because of snow and muddy conditions, which make them impassable. When these roads are opened for traffic many of them can only be negotiated by four-wheel-drive vehicles. For some mountain tracks it is strongly advised that two or more cars travel together. Check road conditions with a tourist information office or the IRCA website.
The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue
Weather forecasts from The Icelandic Meteorological Office
Road conditions from the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration (IRCA)
- The 112 app
The Icelandic emergency number app with location based services
- How to drive in Iceland
Instructional video from IRCA
Automated self-service filling stations are operated in all towns and along major highways. Distances between filling stations may vary. Make sure you have enough fuel to reach the next one.
Motor Vehicle Insurance
A “Green Card” or other proof of third-party insurance is mandatory for motorists driving their own cars in Iceland, except from countries from the EU and the EEA.
There are several car rental agencies in Iceland. Cars can be booked through a travel agent or an airline, at airports or directly after arrival in Iceland. Many types of cars are available, from small family cars to powerful four-wheel drive vehicles.