Located in the northern Atlantic Ocean, Iceland is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating countries on Earth, with a population of 350,000 residents hosting millions of visitors each year. Tourists explore the country using public transportation or rental cars. The majority of travelers prefer renting a car for self-driving, as Iceland’s public transportation system is not highly developed.
Familiarizing yourself with local laws will not only save you fines but also prevent unnecessary complications that could easily be avoided. In Iceland, driving is on the right side of the road, similar to Israel, and overtaking is done on the left. The highest speed limit is 90 km/h, while the general limit is 50 km/h for urban driving.
Drinking alcohol and driving is strictly prohibited in Iceland. Under no circumstances should you exceed the blood alcohol limit after consuming alcohol or drugs. It is not only illegal but also foolish, with a minimum penalty of 70,000 ISK.
Driving in Iceland
The best way to experience the wonders of the country is through a circumferential route around the island, ideally by car. Most visitors base their trip on Iceland’s Ring Road, which circumnavigates the island and passes through various attractions and important sites. The road is 1,332 km long, so planning your route along this path is highly recommended.
Any careful and thoughtful driver can easily navigate Iceland without paying fines or experiencing any harm. Just follow the rules, and everything will be in order. Icelandic drivers are courteous, traffic is smooth, and those familiar with driving on the roads of the Middle East can easily manage in Iceland.
Aside from unnecessary phone use, most distractions for drivers come from the enchanting landscapes visible through their windows. It can be challenging to keep your eyes on the road when the surrounding scenery is so breathtaking. Tourists are often seen stopping their cars unsafely on the roadside to capture photos of horse herds or beautiful waterfalls. With a bit more attention and consideration, it’s possible to find safe spots for stops without disrupting traffic or endangering yourself and other travelers. Icelandic roads are narrow, and in some places, there are single-lane bridges, so awareness of changing driving conditions is crucial.
Parking in Reykjavik
Reykjavik, the capital and largest city in Iceland, is where most travelers begin their journey. Street parking is widely accepted in Reykjavik, but there are also designated parking areas and multi-level parking lots. Prices vary depending on the area, with the general rule that closer to the city center, the higher the price. Credit cards are accepted in all parking lots. Overall, there is no parking shortage in Reykjavik or the rest of the country, and parking is easy and safe.
Choosing the Right Vehicle
Before deciding on a vehicle for Iceland, consider the types of roads you’ll be traversing during your trip. If you plan to stick to the main road (Ring Road), a regular 2WD car is the best and most economical option. For those venturing into the interior regions of central Iceland, a 4WD off-road vehicle is essential.
In Iceland, environmental and nature conservation is a significant concern, so it’s crucial not to drive outside marked roads, as high fines are imposed for doing so. Driving in the mountainous regions of Iceland is legal as long as you stick to marked roads.
Driving in Snow
Iceland experiences stormy winters and chilly summers, with snow being more common during the winter season. While driving in snow may seem beautiful, it can be the opposite. Many people hesitate to drive in snow for various reasons, and some even consider canceling planned trips due to such reservations. However, instead of disrupting plans, it’s better to learn a few winter driving tips and prepare in advance.
The most important thing to remember is the choice of the type of vehicle you are driving. Ensure that the car is adequately equipped to handle snow on the road. The most crucial point is to have studded snow tires to improve road grip. These tires significantly enhance acceleration and braking on icy roads. Always make sure to clear all windows before starting your journey, doing so carefully to avoid damaging them. Prioritize removing snow from the car roof to prevent it from sliding down and covering the windows again.
Driving in Iceland becomes much more challenging when entering mountainous areas, where weather conditions are harsher, and the amount of snow is significantly higher. Nevertheless, Icelanders take good care of the roads, so even if the mountainous areas seem open and accessible, it’s essential to drive cautiously and patiently on these roads.
Remember that an icy road is always very smooth. Sudden acceleration and stops can lead to skidding, so it’s better to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front.
The Icelandic Road Administration (www.road.is) is your best friend during driving in Iceland. They provide an online road map with detailed information about road conditions and their passability. It is advisable to check it regularly, especially with the unpredictable weather.
Whether you’re exploring the city or traversing the picturesque landscapes, Iceland offers a unique driving experience that, with proper preparation and adherence to rules, ensures a safe and memorable journey.
Here are some additional useful tips before hitting the road
Avoid Driving at Night
Driving at night in Iceland is not enjoyable and not safe. The landscape in Iceland is dark and distracts drivers, especially in certain rural areas where street lighting is not available. Most roads in Iceland are narrow, deserted, or two-lane tracks, and in several points, sharp turns need to be navigated. Therefore, it’s advisable to avoid driving in the dark. In an organized travel plan, there is usually no need for night driving, especially during the summer when darkness is minimal.
Speed cameras are scattered almost everywhere on Icelandic roads. The reason is that fast driving is not safe at all. There is also no need to rush. It is better to travel calmly and enjoy the road and the wonderful landscapes. Iceland is famous for its beauty visible from its roads. Driving on these roads is part of the journey and not just a means to get from point A to point B. By driving fast, you may miss the beautiful attractions worth stopping for.
Almost all bridges and tunnels in Iceland are on a single lane, and this is something that needs to be taken seriously. Crossing through these requires much more than slow driving. You need to slow down before the oncoming car and, if necessary, let it pass first. Always drive attentively and be polite.
Iceland recognizes any foreign driving license as long as it includes a license number, the date of issue, a photo, and is written in Latin letters. The Israeli driver’s license is valid in Iceland, and there is no need to obtain an additional international license.
Wildlife on the Road
Agriculture is one of Iceland’s major industries, and therefore, wildlife is the main occupation of these farmers. Sheep, cattle, and even horses can cross the road and block the way. Always be prepared to stop when an animal comes across the road. Approach slowly as much as possible and allow them to descend from the road if possible. Moreover, never honk next to animals because it might startle them, and as a result, they might get closer to the car or choose the wrong escape route. Be cautious about animals and keep an eye out.
Rental cars include basic CDW insurance with relatively high self-participation. It is definitely worth considering purchasing an extension for SCDW when renting a car in Iceland. Many of the Icelandic roads are crossroads with the presence of volcanic ash in certain areas, so it is wise to buy a Crossroad Protection to avoid unnecessary payments for possible damage to the car. Most car rental companies in Iceland make the process of purchasing insurance easier by offering various types of insurance at discounted prices.
At this point, you are already aware of some important driving rules and potential risks on Icelandic roads. Well, here are some more important safety tips:
Buckle up and turn on your headlights
In Iceland, all passengers must wear seat belts at all times, and the car’s headlights must be turned on even during the day. The law requires this at all times.
Do not hesitate to communicate with Icelanders
Icelanders are friendly and helpful. They speak good English. Even if you don’t have a common language, just give them a sign for help, and they will be happy to assist anywhere possible.
Is it better to drive or take a guided tour in Iceland?
Whether it’s better to drive or take a tour in Iceland depends on various factors, including your preferences, comfort level with driving in different conditions, the nature of your trip, and the experiences you seek. Here are some considerations for both options:
Driving in Iceland:
Flexibility: Renting a car provides the flexibility to create your own itinerary, explore at your own pace, and deviate from planned routes. You can stop at scenic spots, remote locations, and natural attractions.
Independence: Driving allows you to have complete control over your schedule. You can choose when to start your day, where to go, and how much time to spend at each location.
Remote Areas: If you plan to explore off-the-beaten-path areas, having a car, especially a 4WD vehicle, is advantageous. Some remote locations may not be accessible by public transportation.
Cost: While renting a car involves expenses such as fuel, insurance, and rental fees, it can be cost-effective, especially for groups or families.
Taking Guided Tours in Iceland:
Guided Experience: Tours, whether small group or private, often come with knowledgeable guides who can provide insights into Iceland’s history, culture, and natural wonders. This can enhance your overall experience.
Safety: If you’re not comfortable driving in certain conditions, especially in winter or on challenging terrains, taking guided tours can be a safer option. Experienced guides are familiar with local conditions and can navigate difficult situations.
Logistics Taken Care Of: Tours typically handle logistics such as transportation, accommodations, and entrance fees, reducing the planning and organizational efforts on your part.
Specialized Activities: Some tours offer specialized experiences, such as glacier hikes, ice cave exploration, or Northern Lights tours. If these activities are a priority, a guided tour might be the best option.
Social Aspect: Joining a tour can be a social experience, allowing you to meet and interact with other travelers. This can be particularly enjoyable for solo travelers.
Some frequently asked questions about driving in Iceland
No, you do not need an international driving license to drive in Iceland. Iceland recognizes any foreign driving license as long as it includes a license number, the date of issue, a photo, and is written in Latin letters. In your case, the Israeli driver’s license is valid in Iceland, and there is no requirement to obtain an additional international driving license. You should be able to use your Israeli driver’s license for driving in Iceland without any issues.
No, Iceland is not left-hand drive; it is right-hand drive. This means that vehicles in Iceland drive on the right side of the road, and the steering wheel is on the left side of the car. If you’re used to driving in a country where traffic moves on the right side of the road, you should feel comfortable driving in Iceland. However, if you’re accustomed to left-hand drive, it’s important to be aware of the difference and adjust your driving accordingly.
Renting a car in Iceland can be a great option for many travelers, depending on their preferences and travel plans. Public transportation in Iceland, especially in rural areas, may have limited schedules. Having a car can be more convenient, allowing you to come and go as you please.
Driving in Iceland can present its own set of challenges, and it’s essential to be prepared for various conditions. Here are some factors to consider regarding driving in Iceland:
Weather Conditions, Road Conditions, Daylight Hours,One-Lane Bridges and Tunnels, Gas Stations, Speed Limits: , River Crossings, Local Traffic Rules andEmergency Services.