When driving in Iceland you will most likely be spending most of your time on Highway Number 1, or what we call the island Ring Road. From it, you usually only have to drive a short distance inland to reach most of the best natural attractions.
Please do not exceed speed limits, it's dangerous and there are cameras everywhere. They send you an ugly picture of yourself and a hefty fine with it. Tourist accidents are far too common, the gravel is slippery and sand insurance is a good idea.
Do not travel to the countryside in wintertime without proper winter tyres. Drive slowly, and always keep warm clothing and sausages with you in the car.
Iceland has the least developed road system in Western Europe, so be wise and check out these safety manuals.
Check out our ultimate guide to driving in Iceland.
Above is a video of how to drive in Iceland.
Plus a note from the Icelandic environmental agency about driving in uninhabited areas.
You can also use the Transportation to, from and in Iceland article for directions.
About driving in Iceland
All mountain roads and roads in the interior of Iceland have a surface of loose gravel. The same applies to large sections of the national highway, which also has long stretches of asphalt. The surface on the gravel roads is often loose, especially along the sides of the roads, so one should drive carefully and slow down whenever approaching an oncoming car.
The mountain roads are also often very narrow, and are not made for speeding.
The same goes for many bridges, which are only wide enough for one car at a time. In addition to not having an asphalt surface, the mountain roads are often very winding.Journeys therefore often take longer than might be expected.
The general speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on gravel roads in rural areas, and 90 km/h on asphalt roads.
Please note: special warning signs indicate danger ahead, such as sharp bends, but there is generally not a separate sign to reduce speed.
Please choose a safe speed according to conditions.
Motorists are obliged by law to use headlights at all times, day and night. In Iceland all driving off roads or marked tracks is forbidden.
Passengers in the front and back seats of an automobile are required by law to use safety-belts. Icelandic law forbids any driving under the influence of alcohol.
Motor vehicle insurance:
A Green Card or other proof of third-party insurance is mandatory for motorists driving their own cars in Iceland, except from the following countries: Austria, Belgium, The Czech Republic, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Vatican.
Drivers without a Green Card (or equivalent) must buy a separate third-party insurance policy on arrival.
In the greater Reykjavík area filling stations are open Mon-Sat 07:30-20:00, Sun 09:00-20:00 (Oct- May 10:00-20:00). Many of the filling stations are open until 23:30.
Opening hours around the country, where the pumps are privately operated, can vary from place to place. Most stations are open until late in the evening, to 22:00 or even 23:30.
Many stations in the Reykjavík area have automats in operation after closing, which accept 1000 krónur bank notes and credit cards. All filling stations accept credit cards. Automats are also operated in various places around the country.
Octane levels in Iceland are 92 regular unleaded, 98 premium leaded and premium unleaded 95.
Opening of the mountain tracks:
Most mountain roads are closed until the beginning of July, or even longer because of wet and muddy conditions which make them totally impassable.
When these roads are opened for traffic many of them can only be negotiated by four-wheel-drive vehicles.
It is strongly advised that two or more cars travel together.
Also, before embarking on any journey into the interior collect as much information as possible regarding road conditions from a travel bureau, tourist information office or the Icelandic Road Administration (ICERA) Tel: +522 1000 or 1777.
A booklet called Mountain Roads can be obtained at Tourist Information Centres and the offices of the Icelandic Tourist Board abroad. Always take along a detailed map.
Getting around in Iceland is easy during the summer but can be difficult during winter.
The domestic airlines provide the only reliable form of transport in the winter when snow and ice prohibit most overland travel.
In summer, the airlines have daily flights between Reykjavík and most major destinations.
Iceland has no railways and its highway system is the least-developed in Europe.
However, Bifreiðastöð Íslands (BSÍ), a collective organization of long-distance bus lines, does a tidy job of covering the country with a feasible, though inconvenient, network.
There are also a number of ferry services connecting ports. Car-rental agencies are found in most major towns. With its unsurfaced roads, steep hills and inclement weather, Iceland is hardly a cyclist's dream. Nevertheless, an increasing number of visitors are trying cycling as a mode of transport, and bikes can be rented in most urban centres, as well as at hotels, hostels and guesthouses.
Local transport includes municipal buses, and taxis which can also be hired for sightseeing.
Driving in Uninhabited areas
A note from the Icelandic Environmental Agency.
"Off-road driving damages the land. The diverse nature of Iceland is one of the principal attractions for those who travel here. The land is extremely fragile in many places and reckless driving can cause so much damage to the natural environment that it could take years and even decades to reverse the damage. Respect Icelandic nature when travelling around the country!
The soil in Iceland is volcanic and therefore very loose. Consequently, the wheels of vehicles and other means of transport easily leave deep tracks in the soil, whether the ground is covered with vegetation or has no vegetation at all.
It is very difficult to eradicate the destruction caused by off-road driving. Iceland is located just south of the Arctic Circle, where the growing season is very short and it can take decades for vegetation to recover from any damage. The same may be said about sandy areas and areas with no vegetation, where damage may take even longer to disappear than in areas where vegetation covers the ground.
Tire tracks disfigure the appearance of the land and can also become channels for water, thus advancing soil erosion and the denudation of vegetation. Off-road tire tracks also attract other travelers and encourage others to drive off-road.
You should only drive on roads and marked trails and not outside these. Walk or go back if it is not feasible to continue further by driving."
Obtain information on the route you plan to use. Use road maps to organise your trip before starting. Respect seasonal traffic restrictions in uninhabited areas and in the highlands and monitor announcements on road conditions.
Information about road conditions can be obtained via tel. 1777 or on the website of the Icelandic Road Administration.