Self-drive in Iceland. Tips and tricks for driving in the countryside
It’s great fun to drive around Iceland. The landscape changes quite often so the scenery can be very surprising and pleasing. Drivers in Iceland must be prepared for many things, so if you’re planning a self-drive in Iceland tour, here are a few tips of do’s and dont’s for your trip to Iceland.
Although the majority of roads are very decent, they can be narrow, float with the landscape and change with the different weather conditions, so that safer summer roads can be icy during the wintertime. You can expect many twists and turns on an open road.
There are still many single-lane bridges where you have to be extra careful. The rule of thumb is that you wait if there is a car who has reached closer to the bridge before you – even though this is not a race! If your car passed before him it’s nice to give a subtle wink or hand gesture to thank him for waiting.
Because the roads can be very narrow, there’s not much room for stopping and actually stopping on the highway can be very dangerous. The road admins have been working hard, in the last few years, on creating more exits where people want to enjoy the view but of course there’s more work to be done. The people in Iceland have little tolerance towards people stopping their cars on the side of the road for photographing or gazing at the northern lights. It’s much better and safer to find a valid space for parking.
Stay on the roads
Off-road driving is strictly prohibited in Iceland. Period. Doesn’t matter if you’ve seen it on TV, where someone driving in a beautiful bed of smooth black sand.. it’s a HUGE NO NO. The only exception is if you’re driving on ice or very thick frozen snow with no risk of damaging the soil. The soil is very delicate and it takes decades for grass and especially moss to grow again because the growing season is merely 2-3 months per year, the rest of the year it’s fighting cold and winter elements.
How can the sun cause trouble in the winter time? Well, the fact is, the sun is very low in the sky for a long duration of the day in the winter months. Believe me, it will shine directly into your eyes for most of the day – so you need to have your sunglasses ready during winter in Iceland more than ever.
Park in camping areas
With the increased number of camper vans there’s a new legislation that prohibits people for stopping overnight on parking lots in towns and villages. Every town has a camping area with some level of service. Those who park in other places can expect a fine of a couple of thousand krónur.
Animals in Iceland
Along roads in the countryside you often find horses gathered in fences. They are very beautiful in all their colours and are usually friendly and might come to you if you give them a gesture. Their fences are usually close to the farms so before you stop by a horse fence you should get permission from the farmer. Do not under any circumstances give the horses anything to eat other than the grass that grows along the fences. Icelandic horses should not eat bread or sugar. If you are looking for a horseback riding tour, we’ve got a one hour and a three hour tour for you! And more if you check out the Horseback riding section on our tours page.
During summertime you can expect to see sheep on and by the roads. It’s necessary to be extra careful if you see sheep on both sides of the road, it’s highly likely that it’s a lamb that will jump right over the road to its mother when sensing danger.
If you’re lucky to be driving around during late summer you should be aware of the sheep gathering tradition. The sheep that roam free around the countryside are gathered, usually by foot and on horses and might occupy some roads. Just be alert at all times.
Information for self-drive in Iceland
Get familiar with, at least, the following websites before your self-drive in Iceland:
- www.safetravel.is – Alerts in regards to weather, river streams, volcanic eruptions – anything that you should know about. Check daily, download the 112 app and leave a travel plan on their website. Seriously.
- www.weather.is – Do as the locals and always check the weather forecast before you leave.
- www.road.is – Road administration, measure the distance to your destination and see if any roads are blocked because of wind or snow.
- drive.is – great advise from Elfis 🙂
Graphic Designer / Co-founder of UpNorth
Dagný is a travel and designer geek born and raised in North Iceland