For travelers to Iceland that crave autonomy, renting a car is the path to freedom and adventure.
While some visitors may choose to join a bus tour, anyone else that wants to explore the 40,000 miles of the scenery of Iceland will need to get themselves behind the wheel, as public bus transport is sporadic or doesn't exist to many popular tourist spots across the country.
If you're planning to use a vehicle during your trip, understanding Iceland's road rules and driving culture should be your top priority. Take a look at these 7 tips about driving in Iceland so you know what to expect.
Documents for Driving in Iceland
You will need your driving license, passport, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration. Note that foreigners have to be 21 to rent a car in Iceland and 25 to rent off-road Jeeps.
Important Basics for Driving in Iceland
In Iceland, you drive on the right side of the road.
The major highway in Iceland runs along the coast and through the towns of Reykjavik and Keflavik. Rental car agencies are available in both cities.
Numerous country roads only have a gravel surface. Many Icelandic car rental agencies do not allow rental cars on unsecured mountain/Highland roads as mud can make the road unpassable.
Speed Limits in Iceland
Icelandic speed limits are 31mph/50kph in towns (e.g. in Reykjavik), 49mph/80kph on gravel country roads and 55mpg/90kph is the limit on hard-surfaced roads.
Icelandic Safety Regulations
Put on seat belts and switch on the headlights, both are obligatory. Adjust your speed to the conditions of the gravel roads and move to the side. Remember to turn off the high beam lights when passing another car going in the opposite direction.
Note: Driving off roads or marked tracks isn't allowed in Iceland, just like using cell phones while driving, unless they are hands-free.
Emergency Assistance on the Road
In all parts of Iceland, call "112" to reach Iceland Police, as well as ambulances and fire department. In the Reykjavik area, "1770" calls a doctor to medical emergencies.
In the major cities, gas stations are open typically open from around 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily. Some gas stations stay open until 11 p.m., but those are rarities. Once you go beyond Reykjavik and Keflavik, the hours will vary, but the majority of stations will be open until the mid-evening.
It is best to fill up your tank when the opportunity arises—run out of gas in the middle of Iceland, and you may have a very long walk to the next gas station for a refill.
Alcohol While Driving
There might as well not be a word for "drunk driving" in Icelandic. Driving under the influence of alcohol is considered a very serious offense in Iceland.
The police heavily enforce alcohol-free driving, and the minimum punishment for a first offense is a fine and the loss of driving privileges for two months. Bottom line: Don't get behind the wheel if you have had a drink.