A self-drive tour is by far the best way to get around Iceland. But there are a few things that you need to know about driving in our neck of the woods!
Nobody wants to be the total rookie on the single-track roads, causing traffic jams and driving the locals to despair as they park in passing places or forget to give way to the priority traffic.
That’s not to mention the fact that some roads are off-limits to rental cars, and you can invalidate your insurance if you don’t know where you’re going.
Don’t worry; this article will tell you everything you need to know to drive safely in Iceland. So long as you follow our advice, you’ll be driving like a local in no time.
1. Keep Your Eyes On The Road
First things first, Iceland is stunning. But as much as you want to slow down and soak up the view, you need to keep your eyes on the road in front. We encourage you to pull over somewhere safe so you can take the time to enjoy our rugged landscapes!
2. Don’t Park In Passing Places
Talking off parking somewhere safe, that doesn’t include passing places! If you are on a single-track road, these are important places to let people pass. If you park in them, someone else will have to reverse a long way on winding roads if they meet another car. They won’t thank you! So keep these places clear, as they should be. And never leave your car unattended in one of them.
3. Let People Overtake
We encourage you to drive at a speed that feels comfortable, especially if the weather conditions make driving a challenge. But if you’re on a winding road, do pull over safely to let people that go faster move on with their journey.
4. Stick to the main roads
Don’t worry; most of Iceland’s roads are pretty flat and easy to drive on. The ring road, for example, is well paved and maintained. But the F roads are more mountainous tracks, which most rental cars are not insured to drive on! If you are leaving the main route 1, you’ll need to hire a 4×4 and make sure you’re allowed onto these secondary roads.
5. Keep off closed roads
Talking of F roads, they aren’t open all year round. If the roads are snowed under or flooded, you will see signs telling you that the route is closed. Do pay attention because the signs are there for your safety. The ring road is hardly ever closed, but sections may be blocked during really severe weather. Don’t worry, Icelanders are used to the extreme climate, so it’ll get sorted out for you nice and quickly!
6. Give Way At Roundabouts
It might seem obvious that you need to give way here, but the two-lane roundabouts can be confusing for tourists at first. To be clear: the people on the inner lane of a roundabout have priority over people on the outer lane.
If you are driving in the outer lane by mistake, don’t change lanes. Just indicate towards the inside lane until you’re ready to exit, then indicate that you are going to leave. (Don’t worry, most roundabouts only have one lane in Iceland anyway!)
7. Know your speed limits
It can feel a bit strange getting used to Icelandic speed limits if you’re used to “miles per hour.” Our speed limits refer to kilometers per hour, and they are typically like this:
|Unpaved, gravel roads (rural)||80km/hour|
|Paved roads (rural)||90km/hour|
Don’t forget these are limits, not expectations. In icy or windy weather, you’re going to have to take it back a notch.
8. Put your phone away
Unless you’re using the hands-free setting, it’s illegal to use your mobile phone while driving in Iceland. You can use your phone as a GPS if you want, but make sure you have somewhere safe to put it. (You don’t want to be staring down into your lap as you navigate the roads!) Of course, you can also hire a car with GPS, but it’ll be cheaper just to buy a phone stand and open Google Maps.
9. Don’t worry about snow chains
For people visiting Iceland in the winter, it’s only normal that you want to be well equipped. So you might be surprised that rental cars don’t come with snow chains in Iceland. That’s because they can damage paved roads and aren’t necessary for you to get around. The road workers will quickly clear the way after a heavy snowfall! You will likely have studded tires if you come and visit between November and mid-April. These will give you some extra peace of mind during the colder months! (But they’re only legally allowed during that time frame.)
10. Pack supplies
The shops can be pretty spread out in Iceland, especially in the more rural areas. So we recommend that you bring some food and water with you in the car, as well as some warm layers just in case you break down. While it’s unlikely that anything will go wrong, it’s always good to be prepared before heading out of the city!
11. Keep fueling up
It’s also a great idea to grab fuel well in advance. The gas stations in Iceland are not always very close together, so it’s fill up whenever you can. (Or you could end up with a boring wait at the side of the road for a recovery tow.) At the moment, Costco is your cheapest fuel station in Iceland, but ÓB, Orkan, Dælan, and Atlantsolía are also very reasonable. N1 and Olís are more expensive, so you may want to prioritize one of the more affordable fill-ups!
12. Check weather
The weather can be pretty changeable in Iceland, so it’s a good idea to check it before a long drive. You can see the weather and driving conditions on the official Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration Website.
13. Little Ones To The Back
Okay, this rule is going to seem strange to many of you. But in Iceland, children under the age of 12 aren’t allowed in the front passenger seat. So to avoid a fine, make sure they are in the back. (Seatbelts are also compulsory, but that one is less unusual for our visitors!)
14. Keep Your Headlights on
Here’s another rule that might surprise you. Headlights have to be on at all times, even in the middle of the day. If people keep flashing their headlights at you, it’s probably a friendly reminder that yours are off. They are trying to save you a fine!
15. Drinking and Driving
Drink driving is taken seriously in Iceland. You are only allowed to have up to 0.02% alcohol in your blood. That’s four times less than you can legally have in many states of the USA or England. So if you’ve had a drink in the evening, you probably don’t want to drive the following day at all.
16. Keep to the right
Don’t forget that we drive on the right in Iceland. But here’s an easy tip to remember which side to go on, no matter what country you are in. If you’re driving a local car, the driver should always be towards the middle of the road and the passenger to the outside. You also go right around the roundabouts, giving way to the left.
17. Watch Out For Fearless Sheep
If you see some sheep trotting across the road like they own it, don’t worry! In rural areas, sheep aren’t always closed into pastures. In the summertime, it’s pretty normal for them to do their own thing. Just drive slowly and let them past if necessary.
Now you’ve read those tips, you should be ready for a successful self-drive tour in Iceland. But here are the answers to some common questions about driving in Iceland.
Do you need an international driving license to drive in Iceland?
You don’t typically need an international driving license in Iceland! If your driving license is valid in your own country, the Icelandic car rental companies normally accept it. The only exception is if your driving license is written with a different alphabet, such as Chinese, Japanese, or Arabic. In that situation, you’ll need an international driving license.
What happens if you get caught driving drunk in Iceland?
The minimum fine for drink driving in Iceland is ISK 100,000. That’s almost 800 dollars, and you also risk jail time if your alcohol percentage is too high! So don’t drink at all if you’ll be driving, as even a tiny glass of wine or half a beer can push you over the limit. Not worth it!
Do You Drive on the right side of the road in Iceland?
Yes, you drive on the right-hand side in Iceland! If you overtake, you do it to the left of the car in front of you.
What’s the emergency number in Iceland?
The emergency number in Iceland is 112. Don’t worry; the operators will be able to speak English.
Is it safe to drive in Iceland in the winter?
Driving in Iceland is safe. The ring road is well maintained, and it’s quickly cleared of snow in the winter months. Stretches of the road will be shut in extreme weather conditions, and it’s best to sit tight and wait for the storms to pass rather than head out in a blizzard. So long as you exercise sensible caution, you have nothing to worry about!
Driving is a fantastic way to discover the spectacular natural beauty of Iceland. But we do some things a little differently than you might be used to, so don’t hesitate to refer back to this article a few times before you pick up your rental car.
The great news is there’s hardly ever any traffic in Iceland, so you can expect clear roads and gorgeous views around Route 1. For more information, videos, and self-drive tours, don’t hesitate to check out more of our website.
We hope you found this article helpful, and we look forward to welcoming you to the land of fire and ice!