Driving in Iceland is an experience in and of itself. Some of our most memorable moments came to us while we were driving from one sight to the next. That said, there are definitely a few things that would be helpful to know before you embark on the road through this country and we are more than happy to share them with you in the post below:
Renting a car in Iceland
Our car. Oh, Welma…(more on the name later). Upon landing in Keflavík International Airport, we strode over to the car rental counter in order to pick up our reserved vehicle. Upon doing a lot of research and comparing prices from many companies, we decided to rent with Budget as they offered the biggest bang for our buck. We knew we had booked a smaller car (in large part due to the price point) and that is exactly what we got. A little grayish/blue Ford Fiesta with manual shift. Complete with studded snow tires, wicked wiper blades, a hatchback trunk and stiff brakes. All of which would come in handy during our trip. Overall we were quite happy with how it performed and we were glad that we had our own.
Here’s what to look for when considering a car rental:
- Studded snow tires – The day we landed, and a few times while passing over mountain tops, we encountered snowfall. Being from a northern country ourselves this was not new for us and we were more or less at ease driving through the snow. The studded tires on our car mostly helped with gripping the pavement when we needed it most.
- Good windshield wipers – Although not as flashy, the wiper blades really came in handy during our drive. With the amount of rain we drove through, it was a blessing to have good, reliable wipers that kept our vision clear when we needed it the most.
- Trunk size – The hatchback trunk on our little Fiesta was beneficial in fitting our suitcase and other belongings. We did not feel like we were hampered for space and the car was certainly accommodating for all of our coats and bags.
- Automatic vs Manual – Being used to driving a car with manual shift, we had to utilize the downshift quite a bit in order to slow down for turns (since apparently there are no stop signs in Iceland, but only yield signs!?) or adverse conditions. However, for the times when we did need to stop on a dime…our little Fiesta delivered.
As an aside: being two goofy people together in the car for long periods of time, we were bound to come up with a name for our little monster truck. Originally it started as Thelma, and then at some point one of us shouted Wanda, and then we adopted Wanda Thelma, only to eventually settle on Welma so that the car wouldn’t get confused anymore when we called it (cause that’s a thing).
A few things to keep in mind:
- Most companies offer complimentary basic insurance and unlimited mileage, but make sure to double check that this is the case as you will definitely need it if you plan on driving the entire Ring Road.
- On that note, we opted for the extra insurance coverage for an extra $20. Road conditions in Iceland can be very unpredictable and this just gave us that extra peace of mind at a reasonable cost.
- Book in advance to get the best deals, especially during high season (summer). There are tons of different companies that offer various types of vehicles and the best way to get a deal (and ensure that you are guaranteed a rental) is to shop online beforehand.
- You don’t need a 4×4 if you plan on staying on the main roads (i.e. non ‘F’ marked roads). We drove on some pretty questionable roads, very steep hills and slippery roads and were completely fine with our small car – plus it was way easier on gas than a big SUV would have been!
Driving conditions in Iceland
To be honest, the driving conditions in Iceland can be very unpredictable. The landscape tends to change very quickly, at all locations in the country. Very often we found ourselves driving through lush, green mountains and waterfalls to snow covered mountain tops to vast, barren black sand opens all within the same day. The driving conditions seemed to reflect these changes in landscapes just as quickly. We found ourselves going from slick roads to gravel roads to sometimes not even a road at all!
Additionally, the wind in Iceland is fierce because of the lack of trees on the island. This causes winds to reach very high speeds and can affect your driving. At one point the wind quite literally pushed us into the other lane! It can be a little frightening but when you can anticipate a gust or when you are passing another car, be cautious and slow down in order to minimize the risk this may cause. It is important to stay alert and look far ahead when driving the Ring Road in order to fully prepare and act accordingly depending on the conditions you are driving in.
The roads in Iceland
The roads themselves in Iceland are for the most part very well maintained. With the amount citizens pay in taxes, it is evident that the government has taken care of the country’s roadways to ensure it’s people can safely and easily navigate from one location to another. The Ring Road encircles the entire country and passes by some incredible views along the way. It is important to keep in mind that it is a one lane highway. The road itself is quite narrow and can become an issue when trying to pass slower moving, larger vehicles or when passing faster moving, larger vehicles. On more than one occasion we found ourselves almost pushed right onto the shoulder of the road because a super jeep (a 4×4 vehicle equipped with goliath sized tires used to traverse the most rugged parts of Iceland) was oncoming.
Also, one-way bridges. Yep, those are a real thing in Iceland and are quite common in fact. Due to the large amount of water run off from waterfalls, the country roads have lots of bridges and most of them are reduced to one lane. By the end of the trip we had come to recognize the road sign quite easily and it is just as simple to cross them. Be sure to slow down well before the merge and treat the bridge like a stop sign. The first car to reach the bridge will cross first and then the next will proceed. Just be sure to not freak out too too much, you’ll get the hang of it!
Gas stations along the Ring Road
Apart from being quite expensive, most gas stations are situated in good locations. The only issue we experience with regards to filling up was during our leg of the drive from Vík to Seyðisfjörður when we hadn’t accurately predicted how much farther we needed to travel and we cut it pretty close on running out of fuel. Needless to say, it all worked out fine and we were rewarded with a delicious lobster pizza/reindeer burger dinner to compensate for the stress! Our #1 recommendation is to just fill up any time you see a station or if you have any doubts what so ever. It is definitely better to be safe than sorry especially if things were to go wrong along the less populated regions of the Ring Road, where it could take hours before someone notices you.
Also keep in mind that nearly all, if not all, gas stations only accept credit cards and that you must pay for how much gas you want before putting the nozzle in the tank. It took us a few times to gauge how much the tank could hold with regards to the currency conversion but most stations also have a “fill up” option that will stop when your tank is full. Most gas stations can be spotted by their giant red N1 sign along the side of the road, with many even having restaurants and restrooms inside for use when open.
All in all, driving the Ring Road was such an enjoyable experience. The beautiful landscapes can be distracting and you will want to stick your head out the window every 5 minutes or so but the comfort, accessibility and freedom driving provides are definitely worth exploring. We were very lucky to have the chance to visit the country at our own pace and experience all the ups and downs (literally) the Ring Road through our way.
For more pictures of our adventure, click here.
Have you ever been to Iceland?
Do you have any recommendations to add for other readers?
Feel free to comment below to share your experiences!
Like it? Pin it!
Never miss an update – sign up to our newsletter!
Bonus: You’ll even get a free copy of our printable His & Hers Carry-On Essentials Packing List!