Taking an Iceland road trip and driving around the country’s Ring Road is the ultimate adventure. It’s just you, four wheels, your travel companions, and the open highway road. But before you start preparing that iTunes or Spotify playlist for your journey, you need to be aware of several things. Iceland driving conditions and roads in Iceland are probably unlike anything you’ve previously encountered. Before you hit the road, there’s some vital information you need to know. Here’s a quick summary of the most important rules and regulations to keep in mind as well as handy tips and useful advice for driving in Iceland. Even the most experienced drivers can benefit from taking a crash course in Iceland driving (no pun intended!). Maybe you’ll even learn something new.
Iceland Road Conditions and the Ring Road
Just to orient ourselves a bit, let’s talk a little bit about Iceland driving conditions on the road. It’s important to know what you’re dealing with when it comes to Iceland roads. When driving on Route 1 (the Ring Road), you’ll be circumnavigating the small, Nordic island on a highway that loops 828 miles (1,332 km) from beginning to end. The majority of Iceland’s Ring Road is paved and is a two-lane roadway with one lane going in each direction. You’ll sometimes encounter single-lane parts of the road when you come to a bridge or another type of crossing.
As you can probably imagine, Iceland driving is made particularly challenging due to the weather. The country’s climate can be harsh, especially if you rent a car in Iceland to visit during the low season. Lots of precipitation mixed with temperatures that hover around the freezing mark means you’ll encounter plenty of ice, sleet, snow, and freezing rain as well as slick, slippery road conditions if you travel outside of the summer months. Even if you come in June, July, or August, you will still face rain and the occasional freak snowstorm. Add in the fact that there’s a ton of volcanic ash and sand floating around and you’ve got quite the recipe for a muddy, slushy, driving cocktail.
Let's not forget the Icelandic weather conditions and windiness. Something that surprises many visitors is how strong the wind is here. It’s been known to blow cars off the road while driving in Iceland. Even if you’re not facing gale force winds (although you just might), there’s still a chance that the gusts can be so strong that you will have trouble steering because you’re being pushed around by the wind. In these cases, it’s better to practice safety. Pull over to the side of the road until the wind subsides.
F-roads in Iceland
Another important thing to know about driving in Iceland is F-roads. When researching Iceland travel and looking at blog posts and articles, you’ll quickly start to notice a theme. Many car rental companies and travel bloggers will mention F-roads when talking about their Iceland road trip. So what exactly is an F-road? Put very simply, it’s a mountain road (the letter “F” is short for “fjalla”, which means “mountain” in Icelandic). You’ll typically find these types of roads in the country’s interior in places like the Highlands or in more remote areas, like parts of the Westfjords. There are even some F-roads on parts of the Golden Circle and the Diamond Circle. Don’t worry; you can travel these popular routes without taking a mountain road. Iceland’s F-roads are designated with an “F” in front of the road number on your map or GPS, so F-206 is simply mountain road 206.
These special mountain roads are only open for driving during the summer months in Iceland, depending on the road and weather conditions. The Icelandic Roads and Coastal Administration monitors seasonal changes and deems when it’s safe to open the F-roads in Iceland to drivers every year. During the first few weeks of summer, watch for the annual publication on their website of a map with information on road conditions. The helpful guide also includes some practical safety advice and driving tips for tourists and those new to navigating Iceland’s roads.
4x4 Rental in Iceland for F-Roads
Remember, if you're planning on traveling in the Highlands or on other F-roads, you need to a 4x4 rental in Iceland. I’m not offering this as practical advice; it’s actually mandated by law. The roads are typically unpaved paths or are made of gravel. There are usually no bridges over rivers, so you’ll have to search for a shallow spot and ford the river à la Oregon Trail. Iceland is wild, and its backcountry untamed with tons of gravel, so if you’re looking to get back to nature, a vacation driving in Iceland could be right up your travel alley. Just please don’t go off-roading. It destroys the fragile flora and plants like lava moss. It can take hundreds of years to grow back, if it grows back at all. Be a responsible, respectable tourist with sustainability in mind.
Car Rental Driving in Iceland - Tips, Tricks, Rules, and Regulations
Despite the skills and knowledge, you may already possess as a competent and responsible driver, it’s still valuable to refresh some common sense driving advice and precautions you should take when driving in Iceland. There are also some driving laws that are unique to Iceland which you may not be aware of when you travel to pick up your car rental in Iceland.
Always Turn On Your Headlights
One thing you might not know is that when driving on Iceland roads, you must have your headlights turned on at all times. This means traveling day or night, whether you’re driving in fog, rain, snow, or on a sunny day. By law, if your rental car is moving, the lights need to be on.
The Speed Limit in Iceland
Another frequently asked question on Iceland travel forums like Trip Advisor is the speed limit in Iceland. It really depends on where you’re driving, but you should watch your speed regardless.. Populated areas like cities and towns generally have a speed limit of 18-30 mph (30-50 km/h). If you’re on a gravel road in a rural area, you can go up to 50 mph (80 km/h). If you’re on a paved road, the maximum speed limit in Iceland is 55 mph (90 km/h). And of course, remember that all passengers need to buckle up while driving. Wearing a seatbelt is required by law.
Iceland Driving Side
If you’re wondering about Iceland’s driving side, we drive on the right and pass on the left. Make sure you have a long stretch of open highway with an unobstructed view if you are going to overtake the vehicle in front of you. And of course, you already know to go slowly, try not to get distracted by the stunning scenery (just pull over to take pictures of Skógafoss waterfall), watch out for sheep in the road, and always check the weather forecast before heading out. If you see that weather conditions or roads conditions continue to worsen, don’t be afraid to turn back or head to the nearest campsite or village for shelter. You can also pull over and wait out the weather storm.
Buy the Rental Insurance
Lastly, get the insurance on your car rental! I never get the insurance when I drive abroad, but I would make an exception here. Driving in Icelandic weather is unlike anywhere else on earth. Having Gravel Protection, Sand and Ash Protection, and either the Collision Damage Waiver or Super Collision Damage Waiver will not only give you peace of mind, but your wallet will also thank you if your car rental gets damaged by Iceland’s weather conditions or another driver sliding into you on an icy road. You'll be happy you purchased coverage.
Driving in Iceland
I hope I’ve covered most of your common questions about Iceland driving and travel. Please feel free to check the FAQ section of our website to find out more information. And of course, reach out if you have any specific questions or inquiries pertaining to your Iceland road trip. We’d love to hear from you. Have a safe trip!