Road Trip Guide: Iceland
If you're planning an epic drive, here are some essentials to keep in mind
Driving around the beautiful, rugged Icelandic countryside is a dream trip for many. But the island nation’s often-remote roads are nothing like the gridlock of the 401—especially in winter. The key to a successful road trip? Be prepared. Get started with these tips from Jónas Guðmundsson, project manager for accident prevention in tourism in Iceland.
Choose Your Vehicle Wisely
While most major Icelandic roads are paved, the country still has many gravel ones. Plus, not all roads are serviced daily, meaning you could be driving on yesterday’s packed-down snowfall. Guðmundsson recommends spending a little extra on a sturdier vehicle—avoid the compact car that might make the perfect rental elsewhere. Also, from November through March, ensure you have proper winter tires and spikes. “To have a steady car on the road is worth the extra money,” he says.
Watch the Weather
Iceland’s weather is very changeable, and Guðmundsson suggests checking the forecast once or twice per day. Bookmark the websites safetravel.is and road.is to have reports and alerts on road conditions available whenever you need them. And when road conditions are less than optimal—ice, slush, wind, heavy rain, whatever Mother Nature throws at you—leave plenty of extra time to get to your destination, and slow down to compensate for the weather.
While general speed limits are 90 km/h on paved roads, 80 km/h on gravel roads and 50 km/h in populated areas, it’s wise to slow down when conditions deteriorate. “If the roads are slushy and icy, a lower speed is a must—sometimes even as low as 50 kilometres per hour on main roads,” says Guðmundsson. “It is so much better to arrive 30 minutes later to your accommodation than not to arrive at all.”
Be Aware of Obstacles
Single-lane bridges, blind curves and blind hills are all common road features that deserve extra caution while driving. One common cause of accidents is failure to lower speed when a road transitions from paved to gravel, causing drivers to lose control. And keep an eye out for the ubiquitous sheep—they commonly wander into roads or even run across at a moment’s notice.
Follow the Rules
To stay safe while driving in Iceland (and to avoid serious penalties), it’s important to follow local laws, including these ones:
• All passengers must wear seatbelts, and children should be in car seats appropriate for their size. Children less than 150 centimetres tall may not sit in the front seat.
• Don’t drive after consuming alcohol.
• Use your headlights at all times.
• If you must talk on the phone while driving, use hands-free equipment.
• Never drive off-road; it is harmful to the natural environment.
“To have a GPS is always better when driving around Iceland,” Guðmundsson says. “We have a lot of wonderful places that are not crowded, and you want to find them.” Note that signage isn’t always aimed at tourists who don’t know their way around, and long Icelandic words can be difficult for anglophones to decipher at driving speeds. He also suggests picking up some printed maps, many of which are free at tourist information centres. For more on driving in Iceland, visit safetravel.is and drive.is, and check out Iceland Academy at inspired.visiticeland.com/academy.
Explore all the possibilities in Iceland. Check out our Extraordinary Explorations and start planning your trip today.