Driving in Iceland
There’s nothing quite like a road trip in Iceland. Most visitors will comment on the seemingly endless surprises revealed at every turn, the vast views, and extraordinary landscapes. An excursion in Iceland should prove to be an experience like no other, but we meant what we said: there’s nothing quite like a road trip in Iceland. This means thinking like a sheep, staying on top of the weather forecast and expecting the unexpected.
The Speed Limit
The maximum speed on paved highway roads is 90 km/h but 80 km/h on gravel roads. Keep in mind that this applies to best possible conditions which are seldom the case in wintertime. While the Ring Road is fully paved there are still many gravel roads in the countryside. Tires can more easily lose their grip on these roads and there’s a chance of damage to the car if you speed through loose gravel. The speed limit is reduced around difficult turns, bridges, towns, etc. so stay alert to your speed signs and view them as your own personal safety measure. Even though the road ahead stretches straight into the distance and there’s not a car in sight, keep in mind that the speed limit is appropriate to the road design and speeding in Iceland comes with hefty fines.
The lights on your car should always be on. This might sound weird in sunny weather in July or faced with a glaring midnight sun, but this is the law and a valid safety measure in an unpredictable country.
Everyone in the car is required to wear a seatbelt. This applies to passengers in the back seat as well as the front and you’re not allowed to have more passengers than seatbelts in your car.
Children under 135 cm are required to sit in appropriate car seats for their age and size.
During a driving excursion in Iceland, you will almost certainly come across sheep on or near the road. The free-roaming sheep are Iceland’s pride and joy, but they have a nasty habit of hanging out near the roads and usually the sheep family of a mother and her lambs will almost always choose separate sides of the road. This means that when a car (you) appears out of the blue, the family panics and decides last minute to reunite, running across the road in an action-packed moment fit for a Hollywood blockbuster. Keep an eye out for white fluffs near the road in the distance, slow down and honk your horn vigorously if they show no signs of a reunion.
Iceland is famous for its glaciers, glacial rivers and waterfalls so expect more bridges than you might be accustomed to. Some of these are unfortunately still single-lane bridges which means you’ll have to slow down, assess the oncoming traffic from the other side and give way if they beat you to it. Glacial rivers also have a habit of flooding for various reasons which means road closures around bridges, especially in the south. The weather in Iceland is notorious for rapid changes so stay informed and plan your excursion around the forecast.
The Highlands of Iceland
The Highlands include some of Iceland’s most magical destinations and an excursion to the wilderness comes highly recommended. If your road trip includes the Highlands, take extra care and prepare yourself vigorously. This is after all the wilderness, complete with difficult terrain, challenging roads, unbridged rivers and extreme weather. Locals don’t take chances in these parts and neither should you.
The Big No-Nos in Iceland
Here’s a list of some serious faux pas when driving in Iceland:
- Don’t stop on the road to take pictures. Serious accidents that could easily have been avoided happen when people stop in the middle of the road to marvel at the views. While this is understandable when you’re absolutely mind blown by the views, this is also extremely dangerous. Find a safe spot to park off the road and drink in the magnificent views.
- Off-road driving is strictly forbidden. We can’t stress this enough. The vegetation in Iceland is extremely delicate and in places has painstakingly grown for years, decades or even centuries. Off-road driving is considered a disgrace in Iceland as it disturbs the sensitive vegetation and alters the landscape and comes with fines, some serious scorn and media coverage.
- And finally, there’s always a valid reason for road closures. If the road is closed, respect it. Assumptions have no business here since you might not know about oncoming glacial flooding, a volcanic eruption, or whatever Iceland decided to throw in the mix that day. Also, the weather might look fine but there might be a dramatic storm brewing. Just follow our lead and you’ll be just fine.
Note! This blog is written as a list of handy tips, not an extensive guide to driving in Iceland. We highly recommend the website www.safetravel.isLink opens in a new tab and urge you to stay informed and up-to-date when traveling in Iceland.