Is it Safe Enough to Drive a Camper in Iceland?

If you’re planning a camper van trip around Iceland, then it’s only logical that you’ll be concerned about safety. After all, you’ll be on holiday, and no one wants to think that their vacation will be spoiled if by getting into a situation that puts people’s safety at risk. So, if you’re thinking about driving in Iceland, what should you be aware of?

Couple enjoying the safety of driving a camper in Iceland

Is driving a camper a good way to travel around Iceland?

Let’s begin with the obvious question and its very straightforward answer: yes, driving a camper is a good way to travel around Iceland. The vast majority of the roads leading to the country’s most popular tourist hotspots are paved roads. These, of course, are the best roads for a camper in Iceland. You can also drive the ring road without any trouble at all: the traffic is relatively light, the road is well maintained and so long as you drive to the conditions if the weather throws a hissy fit, then you’ll be absolutely fine. Whether you opt to rent a car or a camper van, you’ll find this kind of journey during your road trip is pretty straightforward.

Choosing a camper over a car, you’re likely to find that the vehicle is larger than the one you drive at home. Camper vans and motorhomes do come in a range of sizes, and if there are two of you or you’re planning a solo trip, then you can get away with a smaller one. That has the advantage of handling a little more like a car and as it’s not as big, won’t present any issues when it comes to squeezing into a parking space in Reykjavik. Outside towns and cities, you might also be aware you’re driving a larger vehicle than normal when you’re trying to maneuver – such as when you pull off the road into gas stations. Check the side you’ll need to fill up before you set out so you don’t have to try to turn the camper around in a tight space. Don’t rush, take the opportunity to double-check if you need to and you won’t get into any scrapes.

Best roads for a camper in Iceland

Beyond the ring road and the major routes that criss-cross larger settlements like Reykjavik, you might encounter roads that aren’t quite as smooth or well maintained as you’ve become used to. It’s common for visitors to ask “are the roads OK for that type of vehicle?” when they get in touch with us about a potential camper van hire. The answer’s not an outright no, but it’s wise to do a little homework and use some common sense if you’re planning to drive off the ring road.

Group of people on top of their camper watching the Northern lights - drive a camper in Iceland

For example, long stretches of road in Iceland are surfaced with loose stones. Such gravel roads can be daunting. They can feel slippery when wet and in icy conditions will present more of a challenge to your driving skills than the forgiving tarmac of the major roads. If you find yourself on a gravel road in a camper van, then you will need to take care, but it’s still possible to complete such a journey. In general, road conditions in rural areas are likely to be where the surfaces may be rougher, so get an idea of what to expect to help you make the decision to drive that route or find an alternative.

Those smooth as silk main roads are one thing, but Iceland’s mountain roads are a different kettle of fish altogether. Driving on the F roads of the country’s hilly interior isn’t something to take lightly, especially if you have rented a camper van. Some models in our camper van fleet are perfectly capable of coping with these roads; others are not. If you’re planning to be in Iceland in the summer months and hope to include some of the F roads in your plans, then make sure you discuss your requirements with us so that we can ensure you have chosen the vehicle that best matches your needs. Remember these roads are closed in the autumn and don’t reopen until late spring.

Remember the rules of the road

Keeping your speed down to ensure that you have sufficient time to react is really important. That will also be important if you approach one of Iceland’s many single-lane bridges. If you see a vehicle coming in the opposite direction, slow down and ensure you are both clear who has right of way. If it’s not obvious, why not be a courteous driver and give way? You’re on holiday after all, so there’s no harm in allowing the other driver to have priority.

You might also find yourself on the opposite side of the road to the one you are used to back home. In Iceland, we drive on the right. That matches the situation in the USA and most of Europe, for example, but if you’re visiting from the UK, Australia or India to name just a few countries, you’ll be on the “wrong” side of the road. We call it the “right” side, however!

Stick to the letter of the law

Speeding is something else to think about when driving in Iceland – or anywhere else for that matter. In general, the speed limits are pretty easy to remember: between 30 and 50km per hour in built up areas, 90km per hour on major roads such as the ring road and 80km per hour on gravel surfaces. Use your common sense; if it’s foggy, wet, icy or snowing heavily, what constitutes a safe speed limit might be a whole lot lower. And if you’re wondering what the speed limit is off-road, don’t bother – driving off-road is illegal.

safely driving a camper through the Westfjords area

Hopefully, it goes without saying that regardless of the type of vehicle you have rented, you should never drive under the influence. Even if the laws in your own country allow you to drink a little and get behind the wheel, you’re in a different country. If that’s Iceland, it’s also where the road signs aren’t the same, you probably don’t know your way around and the weather might turn nasty whatever the time of year. If you’re the designated driver, it makes sense to stay off the alcohol completely until that day’s driving is complete. That way you’ll have all your wits about you should the driving become a little less ordinary.

Visiting Iceland and seeing it from behind the wheel of a camper is one of those holidays you’ll remember for a lifetime. Your Iceland road trip awaits – stay safe and have fun!

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