When researching Iceland, Brian and I quickly discovered that the best way to experience Iceland was by driving your own car. There are plenty of people that use Reykjavik as their home-base and venture out by tour bus, but if you want to go at your own pace and be able to see everything, I would highly recommend getting your own mode of transportation.
While renting a car in a foreign country may sound like a daunting task, it was actually a very simple process and I want to share my knowledge with you! Here are some useful tips, tricks and info about driving through Iceland.
Renting a Car
We rented our car from Blue Car Rental, which is right next to KEF airport. The process was very easy, and just like renting a car in the US. Here are some quick tips when you’re ready to book your trip…
- You don’t necessarily need to get a 4 wheel drive SUV. Driving in Iceland can be very dangerous, but you don’t necessarily need a large car to get you through it. We rented a little Toyota Yaris, and were just fine driving around the entire country in the summer months. I would, however, recommend getting an SUV during the winter months to help drive through the snow and ice.
- Diesel is cheaper than petrol. If you have the option, rent a diesel car to save a little money on fuel. We rented a petrol car, but ended up lucking out when our rental company gave us a petrol discount card. This was a little key card that we could scan at gas stations to save on gas. It was very easy to use, but we realized that not all car rental companies give out the discount cards.
- Automatic cars are available, but can cost a little more. If you are comfortable driving a stick, then you don’t need to be picky when choosing a rental car. But, if you don’t know how, there are plenty of automatics available. We didn’t have time to learn stick and didn’t want to take the chance of running into car trouble, so we decided to pay a little extra for the automatic, which was well worth it!
- You can get by with the basic insurance coverage (for the most part). Again, we traveled to Iceland in June so we didn’t have too much to worry about insurance wise. But, that being said, Iceland is a very dangerous country with extreme weather. If you are there during the more severe weather months, or are nervous that your car will get damaged, get a little extra coverage (it can’t hurt). FYI: there is no car insurance that will cover your doors being ripped off by wind, so be careful when opening your car doors at all times! (Yes, it can get that windy.)
- Look for a car that has cruise control. I am not sure if many cars have this feature in Iceland, but our car didn’t and we really wished it did. You’re on the road for very long stretched of time, so giving your foot a little break is nice. There are also speed readers all over the country instead of police, so it’s nice to set your speed and not have to think about it. No one wants to get a ticket while on vacation!
Rules of the Road
Driving in Iceland is really not much different than driving in the US. You drive on the right side of the road, and the roads are all clearly marked and are mostly well maintained (more on that in a bit). Our rental company gave us great pamphlets on traffic signs, laws and speed limit information, so we felt pretty prepared when we started driving. The one thing that we had to get use to was always having our headlights on, which is the law.
As I mentioned above, you will very rarely see a cop checking cars for speeding, but there are speed readers all over the country. You will see them on the side of the road and they will flash your speed in red if you are going too fast, if you don’t slow down before you reach the reader, you can get a ticket. Just keep your eyes pealed and you’ll be fine! Speed limits are very clearly marked, and our car even read the speed in most areas, so there was never any guessing on how fast we should be going.
The one thing that you need to be aware of while driving are gravel roads. Like I mentioned, most of the roads are very well maintained, but there are a good number of gravel, and even completely unpaved, roads. Pay attention to your map, the types of roads are clearly marked. And if you have to go on a gravel road, GO SLOW! We had several instances where we had no choice but to take gravel roads that were covered with the biggest potholes we’d ever seen. We made it out with no damage to our car, but if we would’ve driven more than 5 miles an hour, it would have been a different story.
One final road rule worth mentioning… You are able to pull over a take pictures (make sure to stop by and say ‘hello’ to the friendly Icelandic horses), but only pull over when there is a shoulder. The highways are just one lane, so it can be very dangerous to pull over when there is no room for other cars to get around you.
Gas Station Tips and Tricks
Stop and fill up if your tank is anything less than half full. Gas stations can be few and far in between, so it’s smart to fill up when you can. Outside the capital of Reykjavik, towns are very spread out and if you run out of gas you could be a good hour away from civilization. I always liked being on the safe side, and having close to a full tank of gas.
Another thing that we discovered while researching before our trip, is that some gas stations are not attended. We never had much trouble with directions, but just know that stopping to ask for directions, is sometimes not an option. Make sure to buy a detailed road map the first chance you get, and have your phone handy to use your maps app if you really need it.
Buy Plenty of Road Snacks
If you’re road tripping through Iceland, I would highly recommend buying snacks for your journey. It’s not only a great way to save a little money on food, but when driving from one part of the country to another, we sometimes would get to our final destination pretty late, and local restaurants were closed for the night. So it was great to have a little something to tide us over until morning. Before we ventured out of Reykjavik, we picked up some apples, bananas, cheese, crackers, bread, peanut butter and Icelandic salami at Bonus, which is an inexpensive grocery store you can find through out the country. This was great for snacks and lunches for a few days!
Driving in a foreign country can be scary at times, but its something that you pick up in no time. The biggest tip I could give anyone going to Iceland is just to be aware of your surroundings and stay safe. It is a beautiful country, filled with sites waiting to be explored, so get out there and see them!
Have more questions on Iceland? Ask them below, I’d be happy to answer them!