What are the Driving Conditions in Iceland Like?
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Driving in a foreign country has always created doubts and anxiety among the tourists. Even though the rules might be quite similar anywhere you go around Europe (except for a few countries), it can still cause some uncertainty. This is completely normal and understandable. Especially in a country like Iceland, where the roads conditions can sometimes be extreme and you will be using the car or a camper every day no matter the weather. The right preparation and certain knowledge about the driving conditions in Iceland are the key to having an enjoyable trip with no sad surprises. This way your journey will be nothing but pleasure and will make you feel safe while driving in Iceland.
Iceland driving conditions
If you are planning to drive in Iceland, you should prepare yourself for some harsh road conditions and know the country’s speed limits. It might be quite challenging even for an experienced driver so do not take it for granted.
Not every Iceland’s road is paved and to be honest, most of them are actually gravel roads. The second ones are those that you should be well prepared for.
Gravel roads are the mountain roads which cross the Highlands, in the central part of the island. This is where the weather conditions are harsh and pretty unpredictable. The Highlands are a remote and inhabited part of Iceland. The mountain F-roads are only open and accessible during certain months of the year which is in summer time. It does not mean though that it is totally safe and fine to drive them at that time. You will always need to check the weather conditions first, and any safety alerts before heading to the Highland’s roads. Remember as well to check if the F-roads remain open at the time of your trip, as there is no fixed date of closure and opening. The Icelandic road administration makes this decision every year based on the current road conditions in that part of Iceland, and the weather forecast.
Gravel Roads in Iceland
The gravel roads in Iceland are narrow, curved and bumpy with lots of loose stones and even some big rocks. All of this is a potential danger, this is why it is so important to drive safely in Iceland according to the rules and speed limits. The F-roads same as the gravel roads require a special vehicle which is a four-wheel-drive. The standard two-wheel-drive vehicles are not suitable for this type of surface.
The situation is much easier when using the paved roads in Iceland. Here, the main road, which circles the whole island, is called the Ring Road or the road no. 1. It is the most common Icelandic road. It is always the first choice for most of the tourist as it leads to most of the „must see” attractions, like the Golden Circle. It remains open all year long. Even during the winter, in case of a heavy snowstorm, it is made accessible within few hours.
There is another part of Iceland which is still not easily accessible and these are the West Fjords. The situation will soon change though as the new Ring Road 2 is soon planned to be open. Same as the Ring Road 1, it will circle the whole part of the West Fjords. The roads of West Fjords can be really dangerous and we only recommend to use 4x4 vehicles there, even during the summer time with the favourable weather conditions.
Speed limits in Iceland
In Iceland, as in most of the countries, we drive on the right side of the road and take over on the left side. The speed limit in the populated areas is 30-50km/hour, in the rural areas and on gravel roads it is 80 km/hour and 90km/hour on paved roads. This does not mean that this is the speed you should drive at. Usually, on gravel roads you will need to slow down and drive much less than 80km/hour. Knowing and keeping in mind those rules, will help you driving safe in Iceland and what’s more, avoid being fined!
You might encounter some speed cameras all around the island. Do not be surprised if you receive a ticket for speeding after your trip. The fines for speeding in Iceland are quite high so make sure you adjust the speed to the constraints and also to the prevailing road conditions. The second one is even more important, as safety should always go first.
Remember that Icelandic roads are not made for speeding. Most of them are narrow and gravel with some black ends. You will also encounter some one-way bridges where you will need to stop by and let the cars from the other side pass. Do not forget about our sheeps that can walk freely all around the countryside and many times they will need to cross the road. Adjust the speed in a way that, you always have spare time for the reaction.
How are the driving conditions in Iceland in winter?
Driving conditions in Iceland depend much on the time in which you visit Iceland. During the winter, you might face some difficulties. You need to be prepared for strong wind, rain, snow and ice on the roads. It is extremely important to always check for any safety alerts before heading down the road. This is why if you are planning to rent a car in Iceland and drive in winter time, add some extra days to your itinerary or prepare a backup plan in case one day you are stuck because of the roads being impassable. There are snow storms very often in Iceland and it is strictly forbidden to drive in such conditions. All the alerts about bad weather conditions and about closure of some parts of the roads can be checked here.
When choosing the right car rental for your trip, always take into consideration the weather conditions. During winter the four-wheel-drive would be much recommendable. Those vehicles are much more stable on icy and snowy roads, and thus much more comfortable to drive. Having a 4x4 is a huge advantage of those vehicles which you would appreciate if you got stuck in the snow. It would be much easier to get out than with a standard 2wd.
All of the vehicles rented in Iceland between November and March are already equipped with winter tires. There is no need for chains, however. Some of the rental companies offer studded winter tires which have small spikes that improve the grip. Both kinds though are suitable for Icelandic winter.