There is sooo much to see in Iceland and there’s no better way than by car! Iceland still has an extremely low population (under 350k!), so the roads are too easy to navigate because, well, there’s literally one main road.
And the best part….. NO traffic! I know all you LA readers are just jumping out of your seats right now!
Iceland is very similar to driving in the USA, but you should definitely note these 15 culture tips/laws to avoid hefty fines & a lot of angry Icelandic drivers, ha! I didn’t read any of these tips online before I went, and I researched A LOT, but I really wish I did because I could have saved myself a lot of hassle.
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1. Get a GPS
This was the number one tip I read before traveling to Iceland. I did a short, 6 day road trip down the southern coast and was on the main roads almost the entire time. There was only one time where I had a scare of my phone maps not working but other than that, I had service pretty much the entire time!
If you plan to do the entire ring road then I would definitely suggest buying one ahead of time. The service is far more scarce once you start heading towards the east and north side of the island. One thing I want to mention is if you plan to use a GPS, buy one in advance. Car companies will charge you an arm and a leg for a one week rental! I would recommend something like this!
2. Stop Everywhere
I know this seems like a DUH statement, but there are so many undiscovered stops in Iceland. I stopped everywhere that had parking and/or people stopped at. Like I said before, there is only one main road along the southern coast of Iceland, so if you stop to check out a spot, it will be very easy to get back on the main road.
I know how tempting it is to rush through your drive because there’s sooo much to see, but take your time, stop and smell the Nootka (literally)! It will be so much more enjoyable, promise.
For example, this picture was at a random Nootka field in the middle of no popular spots! I just pulled over on the side of the road and my goodness, looks like a movie set!
3. Always get gas
People aren’t lying when they say gas stations are scarce. Gas is sooo expensive in Iceland so it’s tempting to put it off as long as possible, BUT if you get stuck on the side of the road you will be screwed because it could be an hour before someone passes by you.
There will be gas stations in all major cities like Rekjavik and Vik, so make sure you fill up your tank before leaving. Yes, even if you still have half a tank left!
4. Rental Car Insurance
The car rental companies will try to sell you every car insurance under the sun – Insurance for gravel scratches to the underside of the car, are you kidding me!?
I got the basic package that covers the most common damages & was perfectly fine. I would only recommend upgrading your package if you are doing a lot of off-roading or driving in the winter. The conditions in the winter months make it riskier to drive and may cause your car to get stuck.. so road side assistance might be a good idea 🙂
5. Watch Out For Speed Cameras
You will see a lot of these when you are starting to drive into a major city. These cameras will take a picture of your license plate and mail you an extremely large fine, without any warning! And when I say large, I mean $350 – $900 USD kinda large.
I would follow the speed limit + 5 miles over at the max. Even though I didn’t see a single cop when I was in Iceland, these signs will get you because they just take a picture of the licence plate and bill you a ticket. So just because you don’t see a cop, doesn’t mean you should be speeding!
The signs look like this… so be on the lookout!
6. The left lane is used for passing NOT driving
Why I didn’t see this tip anywhere before I went I’m not sure… but I got honked at and lights flashed for this one! When there are two lanes, the left lane is only used for passing!
Locals get MAD when you don’t follow this rule, even when the lanes are open and they can get past. This was one of the biggest things I noticed when driving in Iceland that was so different than the USA.
7. Keep your lights on at all times of the day
Iceland is overcast 99% of the time so it’s important that you keep your lights on at all times of the day! Even if it is currently sunny, there’s a good chance it won’t last for long. Once it starts raining or getting cloudy, you may forget to turn your lights back on.
The car rental company will likely tell you or at least give you a hand-out stating this. You will also notice that everyone has their lights on regardless of the time of day!
And yes, even in the never-ending sunlight days of June.
8. Make sure you are renting an automatic car
Make sure you specify with your rental company that you want automatic NOT manual transmission with your rental car (unless you prefer manual). Most rentals are manual and will charge you a little extra for an automatic.
This is a rule for all European countries, they are still mainly manual drivers so that is what they have in stock. If you have to correct it last minute once you arrive, they might not have any automatic cars in stock. Make sure you verify this before reserving your car!
9. Speed limits
The speed limit signs are not always obvious and are not as commonly shown like the USA. Iceland has a generic speed limit that depends on the type of road (which is extremely easy to remember!).
- 90 km/h on Paved roads
- 80km/h on Gravel Roads
- 50km/h on Urban area.
The USA needs to do this as well because are speed limits are ALL OVER THE PLACE. It’s like our cops are trying to catch us speeding!
10. Emergency number is 112
This is normally noted somewhere in your rental car, but just in case of an emergency – you can never be too prepared! I would recommend writing this down in your phone or a piece of paper because when you are in a panicked state, you may not remember off hand!
The service is also scarce in Iceland, so you don’t want to rely on Google in an emergency situation.
11. Don’t drive when you’re tired
This is something that I never even thought of until someone mentioned it to me. The 24 hours of day light in the summer is so deceiving! It will be 11pm and it will feel like 2pm! If you’ve been driving for a long time, make sure you take breaks before you start getting tired!
This is the number one cause of accidents in Iceland so be careful.
12. Off Roading is illegal
Off roading is illegal in Iceland for many reasons, but the main reason is because Iceland’s ecosystem is very fragile! You should not be attempting to drive your car over lava rock or anything similar. Plus, it is common to get your car stuck if it doesn’t have four-wheel drive.
If you want to explore more unknown parts of Iceland, look into hiring a local guide to take you to spots only the local’s know about.
13. Road numbers that start with F require a four-wheel vehicle (4×4)
Road conditions are very unpredictable in Iceland & like I said before, there are few drivers on the road. If you get stuck.. you might be there for a while.
I would not recommend risking it and driving in an area that requires four wheel drive when you do not have a car that can handle it. Especially if you are in an area of Iceland without any cell service!
14. Make sure your car rental does not have mileage limits
Okay, listen up because this one is soooo important!! If you plan on just driving around Reykjavik then don’t worry, but if you plan to use My Iceland Road Trip Itinerary, you’ll be driving 250+ miles! It should say online when you book but if not, always always always call and ask.
15. Phone Charger!!!
Your phone will die before you can say golden circle! When driving, the service is limited so your phone is always roaming. Plus you’ve gotta be playing music if you’re doing a road trip, duh! I would recommend bringing a regular phone charger for the car and a portable charger as a back up.
Okay, that’s a wrap! These are all my tried and tested tips on driving in Iceland to give you the smoothest vacation possible! Iceland is still ranking as my favorite destination to date (Updated 2019), and I don’t see anything outranking it anytime soon.
Am I missing any tips? Share in the comments below!
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