Do you want to self-drive around Iceland on your holiday? Do you need some tips on how to customise your self-drive tour or rent a car? Read on to discover how to make the most of self-driving in Iceland.
Discover Iceland beyond Reykjavik by renting a car and driving yourself around the highway called Route 1. Route 1, or the Ring Road, is the road that encircles the island and leads you to many of the best natural attractions in Iceland.
Unless you are trying to keep a budget and cannot drive, it is better not to buy a bus pass or try to hitchhike your way around the country, since it will keep your destinations restricted and you might have some trouble in the more remote or desolate areas.
If you have a license, it is much better to just rent a car and hit the road. And don’t just drive to the north and back or only along the South Coast, but, if you can, get all the way around the full circle.
Make sure you have a map or GPS with you since you'll often sense that feeling of being lost in the middle of nowhere. Before you go, also make sure you read our article about driving safely in Iceland.
This is especially true if you wish to enter the Highlands. You need a good, four-by-four car that will get you past some of the dirt road sections. If it's winter time, you’ll need a car with all-year-round tyres in case some bad weather hits or patches of the road are still icy (snowstorms can happen in May and the mountain passes can be icy almost any time of year).
All of Route 1 is paved, but there are some shortcuts in the east that require a few mountain passes with dirt roads. You'll also want to be able to take some of the side roads, which are often gravel roads, to get closer to some glaciers or to find some wild hot springs.
I know its clichéd but it's important to get off the beaten track. Many tourists drive all around Route 1 without ever turning off it, and some of the best-hidden gems are only a few kilometres out of sight.
For example, when you’re in the north, make sure you take the time for a 25km detour to Sauðárkrókur. It's a quaint fishing town by the sea, in Skagafjörður valley, famous for horses and its delicious bakery. It's also the access point to Grettislaug pool and Drangey Island, the historical setting of the famous story Grettis Saga.
If you're near Lake Myvatn, make the detour north to Húsavík, another quaint fishing town famous for being the best place in Iceland to go whale watching. Another 45 mins drive from Húsavik, you can find Ásbyrgi canyon, a beautiful forested area filled with 'hidden people' and said to be in the shape of a horseshoe from the Norse Mythological creature Sleipnir (Oðin's eight-legged horse) stepping on it.
Have at least 1 week, preferably 2 weeks, to really enjoy your drive around Iceland. Don’t plan too much ahead so that you can stop and stay a while in your favourite places, and don’t feel stuck in the places you don’t find as exciting.
Weather is also always unpredictable in Iceland, and during the winter, highland sections of ring number one can sometimes be closed. A few years ago a bridge washed away, cutting the south coast in half with no other road access, so just be flexible in case your road trip gets delayed by some unforeseen complication (like those silly volcanoes we can't seem to keep under control).
As for accommodation, the best one is a mix of camping (in summer time only) and renting Icelandic summer cabins (they're called 'summer cabins', but they're also perfect to stay in during winter). On the website bungalo.com, you can search for rental cabins all over Iceland, suiting all budgets.
If you have some extra time (and already have done all of the above), journey your way through the zigzagging roads of the Westfjords. Drive in and out of fjord after fjord, visiting all the tiny harbour towns drying their fish along the side of the road. Many of the roads in the Westfjords are not paved, so drive slowly to avoid potholes.
If you're lucky, you might see an Arctic Fox, especially if you take the time to go hiking in the uninhabited Hornstrandir. Get there by boat from I´safjörður town, and get some more beautiful nature views at Dynjandi waterfalls and the Látrabjarg seabird cliffs. The Westfjords also has its own travel guide website you should check out here.
If you need help booking a self-drive car or planning your self-drive tour, don’t hesitate to contact us!
Here is a list of all the main attractions around Iceland that are easily accessible from the ring road.