[Guide] Why rent a car in Iceland? Helpful tips and information
The big question many people ask themselves before traveling to Iceland is “should I rent a car or travel with a bus tour?” If you only have one to three days in Iceland, picking a tour might be a better choice to see as much as you can in a short amount of time. But if you have more time, renting a car is the best option. I’ve worked with Sixt rent a car Iceland and they have great offers, check them out here.
The benefits of renting a car is that you are in charge of what to see and do, plan your own itinerary and explore on your speed. I’ve written many blogs about Iceland so please have a look to start adding places and routes to your itinerary. (Use the tags on the right or click on the categories located in the menu bar).
If you’re traveling in Iceland during summer and plan to follow the main ring road 1, then you don’t need to book a 4×4 car. But when driving in Iceland during other seasons, especially winter, I recommend having a 4×4 car or make sure the car has spiked tires (if it’s not 4×4).
If traveling around the highland area then you must have a 4×4 car and remember that off-road driving is not allowed. The highland roads are only accessible during summer. More info here
I would recommend buying the gravel insurance, especially if you are planning on driving off the ring road. Gravel, sand and small rocks can often fly up and hit the car/windshield and there are strict rules that your car rental agency will advise you on.
If you are like me and want to be connected to the social world while traveling and i.e. use your phone for Google Maps or follow the weather forecast, then I recommend you book a portable WiFi at the car rental. (If you don’t have a good data travel package on your mobile phone.)
General driving tips:
Most roads in Iceland are very narrow and people drive closer to the middle of the road when there is no car coming on the other lane. In the summer (May to August), sheep have the right-of-way on the roads, so either you have to stop and wait for them to pass or honk the horn to make them scatter.
If you don’t have a credit card with a pin and you are renting a car, make sure to buy a gas card. There are prepaid cards that you can use directly in the gas pump. Many of the gas stations are just pumps without an attendant or actual store attached, and the pump requires you to enter your pin when using a credit card. You may run into issues at some point if you just plan on using your credit card without a pin.
During winter, some roads can be closed so always check the The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, www.road.is. On this website you can see road conditions and a map of the country where each road is displayed and updated conditions often per day.
If you are road tripping around Iceland and don‘t have 3G or WiFi, then you can call 1778 for an english answering machine with road conditions and weather information. If you have problems with the number you can call +354.522.1100.
A few tips about driving in Iceland:
- It is the law to wear a seatbelt at all times
- Driving off-road is forbidden!
- Headlights have to be on 24h a day
- You are not allowed to turn right on a red light
- The Official number for Iceland emergency service is 112. They also offer a mobile app
- Many of the bridges along the ring road are one lane – the car who got to the bridge first has the right.
Helpful and informative links:
The Icelandic Met Office
Norwegian Meteorological Institute
The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration
Road web cameras
Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue, ICE-SAR
Sunrise and sunset times
Northern lights blogs
Arrival – Departure information Keflavik airport
Civil Protection in Iceland
Guide about hot pools in Iceland