Iceland is an incredibly beautiful country. Due to the remote nature of much of the country, a car is often the best way to experience all the beauty that Iceland has to offer. When renting a car in Iceland, there are a lot of little things that can make or break your trip. After spending 2 weeks driving around Iceland and sleeping in our rental car, we have come up with some of the most important tips for renting a car in Iceland.
Get a Car with 4 Wheel Drive
Make sure that when you are renting a car in Iceland that you opt for a car with 4 wheel drive. Most of Iceland is labeled as “F-roads” which are gravel or dirt roads that require a 4 wheel drive vehicle to drive on them. Many parking lots are also dirt. This means if it rains and you don’t have four wheel drive, you could easily get stuck. As you drive around Iceland, you will see busses with monster truck size wheels and it will make you quickly question your tiny car. Save yourself future trouble and book a 4WD or AWD car from the get-go.
While you are driving around the country, make sure to stop at some of the best hot springs in Iceland. Iceland is full of amazing hot springs and it’d be a shame not to experience them!
Familiarize yourself with F-Roads
Iceland is basically one big circle called the “Ring Road.” The road circles the entire Island and hits most of the main attractions with very little variation from the main road. However, if you want to explore a more remote Iceland, then you will need to familiarize yourself with the F-roads which make up most of the roads in the interior of Iceland.
Watch for Sheep
There are almost no mammals that are native to Iceland, but even still, you will see animals everywhere. Specifically, you will see sheep everywhere. Iceland’s wool industry is booming and so is their sheep farming. Be careful as you drive around Iceland because the sheep most often wander free. You will often see them on roads and have to slow down for them. Also, Iceland actually doesn’t farm sheep for wool. They farm them for food, and the wool is just a byproduct.
Drive the Speed Limit (even if you get passed!)
The highest speed in Iceland is 90km per hour which is around 55mph for those of us Americans. 55mph seems really slow, and on completely clear roads, it seems even slower. It’s likely that you will not see a cop for most of your journey, but they do exist, and they will pull you over. Speaking from experience, you won’t see the cops coming, and the speeding fine is HEFTY. Just drive the speed limit. Let other people pass.
Pro tip #1: If you do get pulled over, they ask you to pay the ticket on the spot (with a 25% discount to do so)
Pro tip #2: If the cop asks you to get in the back of the police car, it’s not because you are being arrested. It’s because they like to stay out of the weather while filling out the paperwork.
Driving Laws that You Need to Know When Renting a Car in Iceland
- No right turn on red or you will get ticketed
- You must yield at roundabouts and use turn signals
- You must drive with your lights on at all times
- You cannot legally drive F-roads without an approved car
- You cannot off-road at all in Iceland
Watch Out for Blind Heads
Blind heads are very common in Iceland. This means that the road comes to a peak and neither side of the road is able to see over. Sometimes these are even one way roads! It can feel dangerous, but it is ok if you take is slow. These blind heads are always labeled. When you see the label, slow down and go over the peak. Be prepared to stop immediately if need be.
Pay Attention to the Street Signs
Iceland does this weird and horrible thing were sometimes they split the road at the last minute and stick a sign STRAIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. Make sure that you pay attention to the street signs that warn of this. If you are driving in colder weather, they also have signs that warn you that you will need to put on your snow chains for your tires.
Important Gas information for renting a car in Iceland
- gas may be labeled as 24/7 but that just means the pump itself is open
- gas stations require a credit card with a pin or apple or google pay
- fill up the car with gas whenever you get the chance
Check the Weather
This sounds silly and obvious at the same time. However, the weather changes can be EXTREME in Iceland. The south coast often gets sand and ash storms that can make driving incredibly dangerous. Likewise, the wind can be so strong that it knocks cars off the road.
Sidenote: When opening your car doors in Iceland, you MUST hold on to them. It is very common for the wind to swoop in and rip open car doors right off the car. The insurance policy on your rental SPECIFICALLY will not cover this event. The Iceland MET Office is your best source for accurate weather information across the entire country.