Iceland is an incredible country to visit, with its iconic black beaches, glaciers, volcanic landscapes and the steaming hot springs. During the winter months with a covering of snow, the views are even more dramatic, especially if you are lucky enough to get the added spectacle of the Northern Lights.
To fully appreciate Iceland you really need to get out of Reykjavik and explore. The best way to do this without the restrictions of an organised coach tour is to rent a car and in particular, a four wheel drive.
We rented a Suzuki Jimny from Lagoon Car Rental in Reykjavik. The Jimny is the most reasonable 4 by 4 option and is just big enough for 2 adults with 2 suitcases. It is not the most luxurious car we’ve ever driven but considering the ice, snow and the general state of the roads, it was definitely the most suitable.
If there are more than two of you or if you want a bit more comfort we would highly recommend upgrading to one of the larger 4 by 4’s they have to offer, such as the Subaru or Mitsubishi Outlander.
After our week in Iceland and driving in conditions ranging from snow, 70 mph winds, rain and yes, brilliant sunlight here are our top 10 tips for driving in Iceland in winter.
1. Rent A Four Wheel Drive
As already mentioned the roads can be covered with ice and snow, also there are many gravel roads so a 4 by 4 is essential. Although you’ve got a four-wheel drive, probably fitted with studded tyres you still need to take care, don’t go all ‘Tommi Mäkinen’ and power slide around the corners.
If you are on driving on regular dry paved roads don’t forget to turn off the 4WD, it improves the mpg and makes handling a bit easier.
Want to know why the trucks are flashing you, turn your lights on. The headlights have to be on both day and night.
3. Speed Cameras
We passed quite a few speed cameras on Route 1, the ring road around Iceland, so take care. Generally, the speed limits are 50kmh in towns, 80kmh on gravel and 90kmh on paved roads. Don’t be tempted to speed up as a tourist coach looms up in your rear view mirror. Some of these travel quite fast around the Golden Circle, it was like a scene from the film ‘Duel‘.
4. Single Lane Bridges
They seem to make a big issue of these in many driving in Iceland guides but they are quite straight forward. Just use your common sense and give way to the oncoming cars if they are closer to the bridge or its one of the tour buses travelling at 150kmh.
5. The Weather
Apart from the ice and snow, Iceland also gets really strong winds. The roads can be very exposed with gusty cross winds and combined with narrow roads and trucks coming quite fast in the opposite direction makes for tricky driving conditions, so slow down.
6. Looking At The Views And Stopping
The roads are narrow and often have ditches either side so don’t stop on the road. We saw a couple of people doing this to take photos of horses, virtually blocking the lane in the process. Maybe they were choosing their lunch. Yes, horse is on the menu in Icelandic restaurants.
The same goes when driving and looking at views, we followed a few cars which were swerving all over the road. Just park and look, there are plenty of stopping areas.
7. Drive On The Right
Pretty obvious and it’s not really a tip, just a good way to avoid a head-on collision!
8. Petrol Stations
Nearly all the petrol stations we stopped at were unmanned and took cards only. We actually did not use any cash during our 7 days in Iceland.
To use the pump, insert your card and then select the cash amount of petrol you want to buy from the options. Enter your pin and then select the pump number you are using. Once filled you can press the button on the machine for a paper receipt. The instructions are available in English.
What we did notice, if you look at your online banking later that day, the pending transaction for the petrol will show twice but don’t worry, it only shows once when fully processed.
OK, the dull yet very important subject of insurance. We would highly recommend going for the best collision damage insurance for your own protection. Even if you are the best driver, the roads are full of other tourists, even the paved roads are full of potholes. There are trucks and coaches throwing up stones and you’re in Iceland – a volcano could erupt and cover your car with ash!
10. Enjoy the Drive
Finally, don’t forget to enjoy the driving experience. The scenery is stunning from the wide open landscapes and the sense of remoteness to the steaming springs with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.
Renting a car truly gives you the freedom to explore Iceland. Taking your own time and stopping when you want to. There is so much to see, we will definitely be going back soon.
What are your experiences or tips about driving in Iceland? Please share below, thanks.
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