How to Drive in Iceland ?
Driving around Iceland is one way for visitors to take in Iceland at their own pace. Traffic is usually sparse, and parking is rarely any issue outside of the Reykjavík city centre. Most of the main roads are paved; however, stretches of loose gravel, especially on mountain or farming area roads and in the interior, as well as the country’s rugged landscape and unpredictable weather, create challenges for even the most experienced drivers, so travellers are advised to drive cautiously and to be well-prepared before setting out on their journey, besides finding out current conditions and postponing or changing their plans if necessary.
Arago Travels offers various customized road trip packages with unlimited options.
Age & License
The minimum age for driving in Iceland is 17. Anyone who has reached that age and is carrying a valid driving license from another country is permitted to drive in Iceland during a limited stay (up to one year).
Visitors arriving in Iceland via ferry can bring along their own cars and motorcycles, not to mention bicycles. A “Green Card” or other proof of third-party insurance is mandatory for motorists driving their own vehicles in Iceland, except from countries in the EU and the EEA.
Cars can be booked through Arago Travels, it is advisable to book in advance to help reserve the type of car a driver wants. Many types of cars are available, including small family cars, powerful four-wheel drive vehicles and motor homes.
The Icelandic road system is fairly extensive but easy to navigate. Highway Number 1, commonly known as the Ring Road, is the most travelled route circling the country, giving access to all sorts of side trips. The Ring Road is open throughout the year, though weather conditions can can close certain sections temporarily during winter and even occasionally in summer. Most major highways are paved, but drivers must take note and slow down in time at places where the pavement ends and gravel starts, since a large portion of the Icelandic road system does consist of gravel surfaces, particularly in the highlands. These surfaces require special care even in 4WDs, but even more so in other vehicles and on motorcycles. While most of this section will mention only cars, the points often apply to motorcycles as well.
The condition of gravel roads can vary greatly, including potholes, unstable loose material and washboard surfaces. Of course, gravel roads are certainly an interesting phenomenon if the driver maintains a positive, sensible attitude and takes care. In any case, the driver will need to pay attention to the road ahead, reduce speed as necessary, and keep to the right when there is any possibility of meeting others or when someone wants to pass. Loose gravel can be difficult to drive on, and perilous to turn on sharply if the vehicle is going too fast. Care must certainly be taken when passing another vehicle, and it also pays to slow down on gravel when meeting one. Small rocks thrown up by the tires can easily cause damage such as cracked windshields or a ruined paint job. Mountain roads are often very narrow and curve frequently and unexpectedly, definitely not designed for speeding. If you see another car coming, look immediately for places where other cars have pulled to the side, so that you can avoid large rocks and also not damage fragile, pretty vegetation and unspoiled ground surfaces.
While sheep often roam free across paved roads, this is even more the case along unpaved roads, so drivers must be watchful for them and horses, for instance when lambs rush to their mothers on the other side of the road. In East and Southeast Iceland, even reindeer may suddenly run across the road. Many bridges and some tunnels only have one lane, so that one or more cars will need to stop in time and wait for others to get by.
All of the above factors mean that journeys are likely to take longer than expected, not counting abrupt urges to stop and photograph beautiful scenes or walk up to magnificent waterfalls. Therefore, those who are not relaxing on a bus tour must allow themselves plenty of time to cover distances, so as not to get stressed by time shortages which spoil the vacation, perhaps even by leading to faster speeds and accidents.
The general speed limit in urban areas is 50 km/h; in rural areas, it is 80 km/h on gravel roads and 90 km/h on asphalt roads. Seat belts are compulsory for the driver as well as each passenger, and children must be secured in restraints suitable for their age and weight, meeting the standards of ECE Regulation 44.04 or later. No alcohol consumption is permitted before driving, nor open containers of alcohol in the passenger space. Headlamps or at least daytime running lights must be switched on at all times. Off-road driving is strictly forbidden in order to preserve the vegetation, soil and landscape. There is an exception for driving on snow or frost, but you should enquire in particular about the equipment and possibilities for that, and preferably accompany experienced persons in suitably equipped vehicles. While special warning signs often indicate the threats ahead, such as sharp bends, there is often no separate indication to reduce speed. Every driver has the legal duty to adjust speed according to actual conditions, at all times and everywhere.
A 4×4 vehicle is essential on undeveloped roads in the highlands and other places where travellers may encounter rough terrain, rocks, unbridged waters, etc. The highland roads remain closed in winter, just as the weather may at times cause other roads to be closed as well. When the weather outlook or road conditions are doubtful, the people where a traveller stayed or stopped last need to know where and when s/he is planning on reaching the next destination. Those who can go online are advised to leave details on their plans at the SafeTravel website. If drivers are being warned not to travel at all, or only in better-equipped vehicles, then the tourist must definitely wait for safer conditions, perhaps asking about other enjoyable routes or things to do for the time being.
Detailed, up-to-date maps are also important for choosing appropriate routes and types of road, and navigation systems are in many cases reliable. While at least self-service filling stations are operated in all towns and along major highways, population densities and the distances between stations vary immensely. Drivers should always make sure they have enough fuel to reach the next station.