The best tip that I—or anyone else—could ever give you for your upcoming trip to Iceland is this one: Don’t stay in Reykjavik for more than a day or two. Rent a car instead and start driving, because that’s the best way to see the best of this wonderful country. Although there are a few things that you should know before starting your road trip in Iceland…
To ease your road trip planning, I created a little list for you with the best tips for a successful road trip in Iceland.
Before renting a car…
…make a preliminary route plan.
Why it’s so important, why you couldn’t just rent a car and start driving? Well, because your route plan has a huge impact on the car you need. If your plan is to stay on road number 1, also known as Ring Road, then a normal car is just fine for your road trip. In case you’re planning to head for inland instead, you will need a 4×4.
Driving on all roads that are marked on the map with the letter F are forbidden for so-called ‘normal cars’. Only a 4×4 is allowed on the highland of Iceland, including Kjölur, which is road number 35, and Kaldidalur, road number 550.
If you are heading for inland, then you should also be prepared with possible changes on your plans: Many of the inland roads are not open until July—if even then. Due to bad road conditions, some of the roads might stay closed for the whole summer.
Our only plan on our road trip in Iceland was to stay on the Ring Road, so we were perfectly fine with this little car. It was nice and comfortable to drive and used very little fuel.
…get a map or a navigator.
Even if your only plan was to stay on the Ring Road, you should still get a map or a navigator. Yes, the most famous tourist attractions are well signed, but so many beautiful and interesting sights are not. Even if they were located right next to the road, you won’t see or notice them without stopping or knowing beforehand where they are. The basalt columns of Dverghamrar is a perfect example of such sight.
Before any road trip, pay a visit to your nearest library. At least in Finland, you can often find a laminated road map to your destination completely free of charge.
…ALWAYS book your car online before the trip!
The closer the trip, the more expensive it will be. If you leave it until the very last minute and decide to rent your car when arriving at Keflavik Airport, you might end up paying 3 times more compared to the prices online. Or… you might be left without a car completely.
You can compare the online prices for example on Icelandair’s website. Once you find your preferred option, it’s better to contact the car rental company directly to confirm the best price. And don’t forget full-coverage insurance. Even if you did everything according to the rules, some other drivers might not. You don’t want to end up paying for other people’s mistakes, right?
It’s good to keep the most important emergency numbers and main traffic rules easily available.
During your road trip in Iceland…
…keep an eye on the weather conditions.
As you probably know, the weather and road conditions might change extremely quickly in Iceland. Here in Finland, we have four seasons in a year, but in Iceland, you might actually experience all four seasons in only one day!
The weather in Iceland might change shockingly quickly. When we left Reykjavik, it was nice and dry. Just a moment later the visibility on the road was like in the picture above.
I’m a Finn, so I’m used to driving on icy roads. Perhaps you are too. But it’s worth remembering that not all tourists are!
And just a moment later the weather might look like this again!
…do not hurry!
There’s no point in making your driving schedule too tight when planning a road trip in Iceland. Make sure you have enough time even for sudden stops, as you will have those! There are lay-bys on the side of the Ring Road every so often, and you can always find something awesome next to them. A good tip is to stop when you see one or more cars stopped on a lay-by and people out with their cameras; There must be something interesting to see!
Well, there always is in Iceland!
So don’t plan too tight of a schedule, because you don’t want to admire the views only from a car window. Also, never stop your car on the road—the next lay-by will be just a few hundred meters away, most probably.
Never stop on the road when driving in Iceland. There are plenty of lay-bys along the Ring Road, and you can always find something interesting nearby.
The roads in Iceland are narrow, and so are the bridges. Normally only one car can drive on the bridge at once.
…do not speed!
I don’t get why some tourists in Iceland have such an urge to speed. You enjoy the views the best when you are taking it slowly, without rushing, and definitely without speeding. Unfortunately, not everyone thinks like that. This is what we got to experience on our road trip in Iceland.
For example, one idiot took us over three(!) times by driving like a maniac in the national park area. Not only was he speeding 120 km/h, he was also causing many close-call situations. Two times he caused a close-call to us, with the second situation risking also a third car and a couple of cyclists. What a f*cker. We even wrote down the license number as we meant to turn him in. But we didn’t, after all. I know, we definitely should have.
Well, we survived, even if it was close. Don’t be like that idiot and do not speed when driving in Iceland. Here’s another reason why you don’t want to do that: Getting caught might get pretty expensive. A speeding ticket might lighten your wallet even with a thousand euros.
These 52 crosses are standing on the side of the Ring Road in Kögunarhóll, mid-way between Reykjavik and Selfoss. The crosses are erected for the memory of the victims of traffic.
…beware the sheep!
Did you know that in Iceland there are a lot more sheep than people? Some sources I found stated that there would be as many as 800.000 sheep in Iceland. That’s fine, but you should know that these sheep are let free for the summer and they are wandering around the island—also on the roads!
The sheep will be gathered back to the farms as late as September, so if you are driving in Iceland during the summer, you might want to keep your eyes open not to bump into one or more of hundreds of thousands of sheep.
Seriously, you don’t want to do that! Because if you do, you need to pay a HUGE amount of money for the farmer who owns that specific sheep. Apparently, we are talking about BIG numbers here.
Oh no, don’t even think about having a delicious leg of lamb, no no! Besides the money you lose, you will also lose the sheep. You don’t get to keep it, it’s still the farmer’s sheep.
…do not do your business in nature!
Tourism has pretty much exploded in Iceland over the past few years, and it’s not always a good thing. Tourists can also mean problems. One clear problem is the lack of public toilets combined with the ignorance of stupid tourists who don’t respect the unique nature… but shit on it. It’s really not nice to step on a pile of poop and then carry it in your shoe back to the car. So please, don’t do your business in nature!
Even the smallest village in Iceland has at least one gas station, and every gas station has a toilet. Here’s another practical tip for you: Always carry a few coins with you! Even if you can manage with a credit card (also Visa Electron) everywhere in Iceland, there is normally a jar next to the toilets asking for 100 Icelandic crowns or 1 euro for using the toilet.
The payment is sort of obligatory, even if it’s not normally monitored. I suggest paying. Just because by paying you will support local businesses and make sure those toilets will be available for tourists also in the future.
If you drive, you don’t drink! But if you fancy a bottle of beer or a glass of wine after a day of driving, you might want to know that Vínbúdin is the only shop in Iceland where you can buy alcohol—even beer isn’t sold in supermarkets. Even the smallest villages often have a Vínbúdin, but the opening hours might be super weird, like between 14–18 or 16–20. So if you find one that is open… you might want to do your shopping then.