Travel Advice

Top 10 Tips For Driving In Iceland In Winter

Winter Driving In Iceland

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.

Suzuki Jimny

Our little 4 x 4 – The Suzuki Jimny

Jimny With Luggage

Loading the Jimny – just enough space for two people with bags

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.

2. Lights

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‘.

Driving On Snow

Snow blown across the road

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.

Driving Through The Snow

On the road to Stykkishólmur

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!

Iceland Petrol Station

Buying petrol in Iceland

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.

Driving The Golden Circle

Driving the golden circle

9. Insurance

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!

The trusty Suzuki Jimny

The trusty Suzuki Jimny

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.

More Driving Tips – Tops 5 Loves And Hates About Driving In The USA

Driving In Iceland in Winter

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  • Michaela Williams
    March 17, 2017 at 8:33 am

    Mel this is very good list of tips! Some like petrol station etc are very handy, I remember similar freaked us out in the US.
    Great post as always! Where next? 🙂

    • Mr and Mrs W
      March 18, 2017 at 3:29 pm

      I have to admit Michaela, Mr W wrote this post! If you look on our sidebar we always keep our next destination up to date. Lisbon is next 🙂

  • anna
    March 18, 2017 at 8:17 am

    Uhhh we are dying to go to Iceland and this looks incredible! Definitely up for renting a 4×4 or even a camper van! Would love to do this!

    • Mr and Mrs W
      March 18, 2017 at 9:48 am

      Glad we had the 4 by 4 as we had some snowy weather. You don’t really need one for the Golden Circle and the main sites. We loved Iceland, it was incredible.

  • Kavey at Kavey Eats
    March 18, 2017 at 9:22 am

    Absolutely loved your photos from on the road in Iceland. We spent two weeks driving around Iceland a few years ago but we did our trip in the summer, so the roads and landscapes looked very different. Great to read your tips for safe winter driving.

    • Mr and Mrs W
      March 18, 2017 at 9:51 am

      Iceland had a heavy snowfall about 4 days before we arrived so glad we had a 4 x 4.
      Would like to see it in the summer when looking very different.

  • Christina Pfeiffer
    March 19, 2017 at 9:02 am

    Some good tips here! I just got back from a winter driving trip in Canada and can totally relate to some of these. Did the rental cars come with a plug to warm up the engine too?

    • Mr and Mrs W
      March 19, 2017 at 9:14 am

      No, it didn’t. Iceland is cold in the Winter but not nearly as cold as Canada.
      It does get windy and the wind chill can make it feel much colder. We had 70mph winds one day which made for an interesting drive in a small car.

  • Vicki Louise
    March 19, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Great list of tips! I live the little reminder to drive on the right – it might seem obviously, but I can imagine there have been some pretty close shaves with visitors driving over there!

    • Mr and Mrs W
      March 19, 2017 at 5:46 pm

      Luckily Iceland is not that busy so you’ve got some thinking time. Not like when I picked up a car in Madrid at 11.30 pm!!!

  • Jennifer
    March 19, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    We lived in Iceland for a bit and have driven the Ring Road in winter. You’ve got good tips, but I think you missed two of the most import: to regularly check the Vegagerdin website for road conditions and closures and to download the 112 Iceland app to your phone, which sends a signal with your coordinates to Iceland’s search and fire rescue.

    • Mr and Mrs W
      March 19, 2017 at 5:43 pm

      Thanks for those, the second would be useful if you are going to the more remote regions. We always seemed to have two or more tour buses pulling up behind us every time we parked.

  • Toni | 2 Aussie Travellers
    March 20, 2017 at 3:30 am

    We always prefer the freedom of independent travel over organised tours so it’s good to know that driving is a good option. With your tips and a bit of common sense I’m sure we’ll be fine, we have a fair few single lane bridges and roads in Australia and New Zealand so I wouldn’t find them too daunting but I’ve never driven in snow or icy conditions.

    • Mr and Mrs W
      March 20, 2017 at 8:13 am

      We had one really windy day and the car was bouncing all over the road. Lucky we had a 4 by 4 as the wind was blowing the snow across the road. Yes, common sense and take your time is the best way.

  • Anne Slater-Brooks
    March 20, 2017 at 4:38 am

    This car is really cute and you have some fabulous tips here. I prefer hiring a car to give you freedom to explore as you wish.

    • Mr and Mrs W
      March 20, 2017 at 8:11 am

      It wasn’t the biggest car but it was fine for just 2 of us. You do need a car to explore Iceland.

  • Kerri
    March 21, 2017 at 8:21 am

    I ate this up. We’re planning a trip to Iceland for June and we WILL be driving! Love the tips especially about the ash/rocks and the insurance. We always have insurance but I’ve been reading that these extras are very important. Thanks, appreciated all of this info.

    • Mr and Mrs W
      March 21, 2017 at 9:37 am

      It looks really green in the summer, we are thinking of going back in the summer too.

  • Jenna
    March 21, 2017 at 10:21 am

    Great tips! We love road tripping, especially in Iceland but we have yet to visit in the winter. I can imagine the roads can get bad, especially with the winds, so a 4×4 sounds like a great idea!

    • Mr and Mrs W
      March 21, 2017 at 3:38 pm

      In the summer you don’t really need a 4 by 4 but we were glad we had it during our trip in March

  • Chris
    March 27, 2017 at 3:51 am

    While I don’t drive myself, I’ll be sure to pass on these tips to whichever poor sap I con into chauffeuring me across Iceland someday haha.

    Fantastic photos btw!