Driving in Iceland can feel like a taxing exercise, but with the right information, you will feel right at home. Knowing what to do in an emergency is the most crucial part. In the case of Iceland, it has a couple of special rules. From where you are allowed to camp, drive, to even where to stop!
The rules of the road can differ between countries, and you don’t want to get caught up in a dispute with Johnny Law that could have been easily avoided. To know the ins and outs of driving in Iceland, we have compiled a holistic guide. You'll learn to navigate the Iceland road and having positive memories from your stay in the north.
The Basics for Driving in Iceland
Whenever you want to grab the wheel in a new country, you need to first get acquainted with how they run things there. Even though this is an amazing country that takes on an unfathomable number of visitors every year, driving in Iceland still requires you to know the basics.
Apart from keeping an eye out for potential Viking raiding parties, it’s important to be aware of potential dangers on the road that you’re not used to. That includes where to call in case of an emergency.
So, first things first: if you ever get into an accident or anything similar when driving in Iceland, the number to call is 112. It is the American equivalent of 911 and whoever you talk to will be able to help you. If you are really in it for safety, you can download the 112-app that also allows you to send them your location if anything happens. This is perfect if you are getting your Iceland driving on in the mountains or simply don’t really know where you are.
Iceland is notorious for the volatile weather, so that is also one of the basic things to keep in mind when driving in Iceland: keep an eye on the weather. This is especially important if you decide to drive a campervan in Iceland in the winter. If you know roughly which type of weather to expect, driving in Iceland will be a breeze. If you don’t know what’s going to happen, that breeze might become a full-blown storm instantly.
Iceland Driving rules
The second step on your road to knowing all there is to know about driving in Iceland is to get acquainted with the Iceland driving rules and regulations.
To be driving in Iceland, you need to be at least 17 years old and have a valid driver’s license. It’s also a good idea to bring an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) with you, since it will validate your foreign driver’s license in this country. It’s not mandatory, but surely makes any rental agencies and government officials feel more at ease.
When it comes to the traffic laws in Iceland, most of the important rules are pretty self-explanatory and are just the same as in any other country. Keep to the speed limits, even if they never exceed 90 kilometers per hour, don’t drive off-road, and simply adhere to the signs, and you’ll be fine.
When it comes to the F-roads in Iceland, there are actually some strict rules and regulations for using them. When driving in Iceland, you will be tempted to head to the mysterious wilderness and explore the highlands. But, first, you need to fulfill some requirements.
You need to have a 4x4 vehicle to be allowed to drive in the highlands, to begin with, and you’re only allowed to go up there by car when the roads open. The highland flora is as delicate as can be, so it needs to be allowed to grow properly before visitors start driving around there. The thing is that you’re not allowed to go off-road at all. And even though most of us have no ill intentions, driving in Iceland gets tricky in the highlands since the roads are hard to see sometimes.
Iceland driving on the F-roads also requires you to be confident in your driving as well as your map reading skills. It is of utmost importance that you keep to the roads and know if your vehicle can handle a small river crossing or not. The same goes for rocks, gravel bumps, and all other peculiar things you might find when driving in Iceland in the mountains.
So, do you need a 4x4 campervan in Iceland? Absolutely, as long as you want to head for the true Icelandic wilderness.
Tips for driving in Iceland
If you want to make your driving adventure in Iceland a success, here are some general tips to keep to:
Check the weather continuously and always dress for the weather, even if you are in your car. Keep track of the clouds (and northern lights) via Iceland’s official weather website.
Make sure you can always access the internet and the phone network. Iceland has tremendous coverage, so when driving in Iceland, you should always be able to call for help.
Know where the camping grounds are. You’re not allowed to camp wherever you want in Iceland, so knowing where you can spend the night is always preferable.
Also, driving in Reykjavík will be the closest thing you get to driving in a city, so don’t worry about any big-city driving.
Tips for Americans Driving in Iceland
Heading to a foreign country where the language is a constant confusion will be, ehm, confusing. Luckily, being an American driving in Iceland, you will be met by very few things that might be a bit foreign to you.
But before we move on, you can rest assured that the Iceland driving side is to the right. You won’t have to battle with driving on the non-right side of the road (left) then.
What you hopefully won’t encounter that might be a bit odd for an American driving in Iceland is that if you get pulled over and issued a fine, you will get a small discount if you pay it right away. If you don’t, that fine will be sent to the car rental agency, who will charge you a handling fee before you pay it there instead.
Something else that might be a good thing to remember is that you are encouraged to slow down slightly on gravel roads in Iceland. You will find them all over the country, so you are incredibly likely to be driving on a significant number of gravel roads while driving in Iceland.
Important information for Driving in Iceland
Some important points to consider before you start driving in Iceland:
The max speed limit is 90 kilometers an hour, so never bank on being able to go faster than that.
You’re not allowed to stop on the major roads in Iceland. Use the pull-ins if you want to stop and take a pretty picture.
Road safety in Iceland is extra important since the Icelandic roads offer unique challenges to many visitors.
You might see sheep on the road or a road sign that says that sheep might be on the road, but don’t get startled, it’s a part of the landscape.
Planning Your Trip
Before you come here and hit the roads, you should check out which season and area suit you best for the things you want to do. Driving in Iceland in March, for example, might not be the best choice for anyone who is in the mood for sunny drives and long days.
Hitting the road in the summer will be incredibly bad if you wish to see the Northern Lights. Lastly, driving around Iceland should be at least a 7-10-day trip and should never be rushed.
If you are in for a wildlife adventure, we suggest either going on the F-roads in late summer or driving the Westfjords in Iceland. If you want to have a shorter getaway, keeping to the south coast is likely to be your best option. Planning on chasing the northern lights? Well, driving in Iceland at night is something you will have to do to get those fantastic shots of the dancing night light.
The Right Car for Your Adventure
Regardless of what you want to do when driving in Iceland, the most important piece of this puzzle will be which car or campervan to rent in Iceland.
If you’re going to hit the highlands, you'll need a 4x4. But if you are ok with sticking to the paved and gravel roads, then you will be fine with a standard two-wheel drive. Make sure you book a vehicle that suits your need for space and comfort, as it will more or less be your home for quite some time.