Driving in Iceland in winter can be a thrilling and unique experience. But navigating these challenging road conditions requires some preparation.
In this guide, we share helpful information and tips so that you can safely enjoy your winter driving adventure here on the island. We’ll share the pros and cons of the Iceland roads in winter, exactly what to expect. And, of course, how the winter conditions affect some of our most popular road trip routes.
Should I Drive in Iceland in Winter?
This is a pretty loaded question since we locals drive in Iceland in winter all the time. Still, there might be a few downfalls that don’t suit your specific driving skill set. Or even things that might make ticking off those items on your Iceland bucket list impossible. Take a look at our handy overview of pros and cons below in order to make your decision:
Iceland turns into a breathtaking winter wonderland during the winter months. And a self-drive trip in Iceland in winter includes landscapes covered in a thick blanket of snow-covered areas and waterfalls seemingly frozen in time.
The main roads on the island are all paved and are kept well-maintained, and cleared of snow and ice. So, even though driving might still be a bit trickier than during the warmer months of the year, there’s no reason why you can’t go on that Golden Circle or South Coast Way road trip.
There is a very real chance that you will see the Northern Lights whilst driving in Iceland in winter – especially if you’re in driving in some of our more remote regions.
During the winter season, we get much fewer visitors to the island than during our summer peak season. That means that you won’t need to contend with as much traffic on the roads or foot traffic at some of our go-to attractions here on the island.
There are certain winter activities in Iceland as well as other attractions here on the island that are exclusive to the season. This includes adventures like ice cave explorations, snowmobiling, and skiing in Iceland.
Driving in Iceland in winter can be tricky due to the impact the weather has on the road conditions. These challenging conditions can include icy roads, strong winds, and plenty of snowfall.
You’ll have much fewer daylight hours to drive in or take on all the items on your trip itinerary – you’ll have about 4-5 daylight hours each day during the winter here on the island.
Planning your road trip or day outings can prove difficult with access being restricted. Certain roads/routes in Iceland are annually closed during the colder months of the year. You can also experience sudden road closures due to the weather.
What to Expect from the Road Conditions in Iceland in Winter
During the winter season, you’ll need to contend with some pretty harsh weather elements. You’ll need to contend with our legendary Icelandic winds that have been known to rip car doors straight off their hinges at 35+ kilometer-per-hour windspeeds. Getting snowed in is a very real possibility, so you’ll have to keep up with where you park and keep a close eye on the Iceland weather forecast. And then, of course, you’ll need to deal with those pesky ice patches.
To navigate these road conditions, you’ll need to have a chat with your rental agent to ensure that you have all the necessary winter gear and accessories, such as snow tires, ice scraper, etc. Some rental companies do not include these with their rental cars at all, whilst others charge additional fees for including them in your rental. You can also double-check Iceland road conditions before heading out for the day.
Also, keep in mind that you might need to deal with sudden road closures, as well as the roads/routes, such as the F-roads in Iceland, that are kept closed every year during the winter season. The Westfjords and the Highlands are especially affected when it comes to this, so if exploring these regions is essential to your Iceland trip, we suggest you plan to visit the island during the summertime.
You’ll also need to keep in mind that you’ll experience much harsher weather the further north you go here on the island. So, the weather you experience in Reykjavik shouldn’t be used as a measuring stick for what’s happening at Akureyri. The north is also where winter tends to hit much earlier than the rest of the island.
When Do Winter Road Conditions End in Iceland?
This is something that’s often misjudged when visitors are planning their trips. Winter road conditions in Iceland can start much earlier than our official winter season and can also last much longer than our official winter season.
Despite winter in Iceland being from December to March, places such as Akureyri can get their winter weather conditions as early as October/November, and the Highlands can still see snow up to July (this is mid-summer here on the island). You’ll also still be dealing with snow and ice that have not completely melted away ‘till March/April. It’s important to do your research and be prepared for the weather and road conditions you’ll be dealing with on your trip.
What Type of Car Should I Use When Driving in Iceland in Winter?
You have to make sure you choose the correct vehicle if you want to drive in Iceland throughout the winter safely. We recommend the following:
You can use a 4x4 vehicle with studded or winter tires on our Iceland roads in winter. They have better traction on slippery roads, and this means more stability in difficult driving situations. Have a chat with your rental agent to see which 4x4 model and make will suit your party and requirements best.
Campervans are great if you’re looking for a budget-friendly holiday solution or want to go on a road trip around the island. By renting a campervan, you take care of both your transport as well as your accommodation, and you can go camping in comfort – even during the winter season.
What Type of Rental Car Insurance to Get When Driving in Iceland in Winter
Safeguarding your rental car during your trip to the island is essential. Whilst there are mandatory insurance policies, such as CDW Liability Insurance, that are usually included in your car rental price, there are others, such as GP (Gravel Protection) and SCDW (Super Collision Damage Waiver) that are always good add-on options irrespective of season.
And then there are insurance policies that become almost detrimental to have during the winter season in Iceland. These include the following:
SAAP (Sand and Ash Protection) – This insurance protects the body of the car against sand and ash. During the winter season, when the winds can pick up all sorts of debris to fling against your vehicle, this is a crucial policy. And if you’re planning on cruising along the coast, risking getting battered by the beach sand without insurance is a bad move.
Tire Protection – As the name suggests, this insurance policy protects you against any tire damage. With road and weather conditions what they are during the winter season here on the island, tire protection is a policy you can’t go without. Ask your rental company if they have this add-on available.
Should I Drive Popular Routes in Iceland in Winter?
There are a few popular routes in Iceland, but many visitors ask whether it is possible to drive these, considering road conditions and road closures on the island during the wintertime. Here’s what you can expect when driving these routes in Iceland during winter:
Should I Drive the Ring Road in Iceland in Winter?
The Ring Road in Iceland is exactly what it sounds like; a road that goes in a ring all around the island. As one of our main roads on the island, the Ring Road is paved, well-maintained, and open all year round.
Driving the Ring Road in Iceland during winter can become tricky to navigate and may be subject to sudden road closures in the northern parts of the island, though, so you’ll need to be prepared for this and keep your itinerary flexible.
Should I Drive the Golden Circle in Iceland in Winter?
The Golden Circle is a loop road that goes from Reykjavik into the southern uplands and back and holds a myriad of must-visit attractions here on the island. This is yet another paved main road here on the island that’s open all year round, and driving the Golden Circle in Iceland in winter is often the top pick for a winter road trip as you don’t need to contend with the extreme weather conditions up north.
Should I Drive the South Coast Way in Iceland in Winter?
The South Coast Way is literally a straight shot up and down the south coast of the island and offers views of stunning black sand beaches, waterfalls, and glaciers. Whilst the route is paved all the way and open all year around, you’ll still need to exercise caution during the winter. Not just because of the overall weather conditions, but especially because of the Icelandic winds picking up the beach sand.
Should I Drive the Diamond Circle in Iceland in Winter?
The Diamond Circle is a looped route to explore Iceland's northeastern region. Even though the route is paved, the fact that it moves into the northern regions of the island can be problematic during the wintertime. Except for sudden road closures, you might also find that certain attractions, activities, and roads are kept closed throughout the winter season. This is one of the popular Iceland routes we recommend you keep for the summer season.
Should I Drive the Westfjords Way in Iceland in Winter?
As with the Diamond Circle, this route can be problematic during the winter. The Westfjords Way is a route that allows you to explore the best of the Westfjords region. Unfortunately, the Westfjords is one of the areas in Iceland most affected by winter weather conditions, sudden road closures, as well as annual road closures.
So, unless you are satisfied with very limited exploration of the region, we suggest that you keep this route for during the summertime as well.
Helpful Tips on Driving in Iceland in Winter
If you’re planning on driving in Iceland in winter, here are a few helpful tips:
Check road conditions and weather forecasts regularly before setting out.
Drive at a safe and cautious speed, adjusting to the conditions.
Keep a safe distance from other vehicles and be mindful of potential wind gusts.
Pack essential supplies such as warm clothing, food, water, and a first aid kit. If you ever do end up getting in trouble, you don’t know how long you’ll end up waiting for help, especially in the more remote parts of the island. These supplies will ensure that you’ll at least be able to keep holding out for a couple of days.
Inform someone about your travel plans and estimated arrival times. It’s always a good idea to let pop a message to close family and friends, as well as notify your accommodation on the island. This way, someone will be able to raise the alarm if you go missing.
Be prepared for changing weather and carry extra fuel and emergency equipment.
Respect Iceland road closures during winter and avoid driving on closed or restricted roads. Not only will this definitely get you in trouble, but no one else will be driving past to help you.
Do not park next to the road or anywhere else that is not a designated parking spot. Not only could you get yourself into car trouble, but you can also get in trouble with the law.
Driving in Iceland in Winter; An Adventurous Wonderland
Driving in Iceland during winter offers some incredible experiences and natural wonders and is definitely not as difficult as one may think as long as you do your research and come prepared. Use this article as a guide to ensure that you’ve dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s when it comes to driving in Iceland in winter.
Now, what are you waiting for? Rent a campervan in Reykjavik and let your Icelandic winter adventure begin!