Driving in Iceland in the winter is an extreme sport. My first time in Iceland was nowhere near as wintry as this second time around, and friends – I kid you not – it was intense.
There were a few things that helped, though, and you know how we are – we share, because we care! So here are my 10 tips for driving in Iceland if it’s on your bucket list:
1.Have a co-pilot that can, and will, drive
My cousin Kate and I were determined to explore the North of the country this time around; this was only possible by driving 6 hours from West Iceland where we landed in Keflavik, towards the Northern city of Akureyri. I cannot imagine having to drive there and back alone, which is why having two fairly competent and capable drivers is an absolute must.
2. Agree your road trip etiquette and customs
Driving in Iceland means you more than likely have a long journey ahead – getting some contentious matters out of the way beforehand is much safer than getting your tempers flared as you drive, because like I said… it is an extreme sport. It is wise to do all you can to make it as peaceful and comfortable as possible.
Things Kate and I agreed on:
- Alternating the driving: we were there for 4 nights and 5 days, so we drove two full days each with one day’s driving shared.
- Passenger gets the snacks on the snack stop – this always happened to be me, because who doesn’t love a snack run!? Barbecue flavour Doritos were bae on this trip!
Things Kate and I did not agree on:
- Who should fill up the tank – this was not an argument about paying for the petrol, as the costs were shared. It was an argument about who would physically get out of the car to put the petrol in the tank. I personally think it should be the driver, and Kate thought it should be the passenger. I was always the passenger when we needed petrol, and it turns out… if you just stay sat in the car… the driver will eventually get out and put the petrol in themselves. Ha! Shout out everybody who took part in the IG poll, that agreed with me – we won by a landslide at 84%!
- The music – I mainly played everything I wanted to listen to because I came prepared! Fortunately, we share some musical taste so in fairness I did try not to play too many unknown songs.
3. Pack snacks
This is a must for every road trip, but let me tell you – in case of a weather related emergency, these snacks will make the difference! Bottles of water, too.
4. Check the road conditions frequently
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Thanks for Airbnb hosts who spot you struggling in the distance and send their son to rescue you and tow your car out of a snow ditch with their tractor (not my fault – I drove into the ditch accidentally because the paved road was totally obscured by snow and impossible to see). They get maximum review points from me for the the complimentary rescue ❄️🚜🌈 #discovertheroad #roadtrippin #traveldiaries #icelandroadtrip #iceland #akureyri #northiceland #visiticeland #discovericeland #icelandtravel #visiticeland #icelandair #travelawesome #travelstoke #mytravelcrush #wheniniceland #traveleurope #seetheworld #adventureculture #starttheadventure #bbctravel #choosemountains #moodygrams #beautifuldestinations
Our AirBnb host was pleading with us to check the roads – in fact she was asking us before we even left London if we still wanted to stay. She said we’ll need a 4×4 because the roads aren’t clear. In all honesty, with the coronavirus cases increasing globally, I thought she just didn’t want to host guests anymore. However, she was serious – the roads to the North of Iceland were insane. The drive up to her farmhouse was a literal festival of snow; in some parts around her house, it was waist deep! Fortunately, the roads on the way were not too bad. While we were there, some dramatically speedy winds had blown fresh snow over the roads. Kate drove our rental car slightly off the drive of the farm we were staying at, and our AirBnb host’s son thankfully rescued us with his tractor. I hope you understand I had to make it clear that it was Kate’s actions that required us to be rescued! Banter aside, it was very easily done as it was so difficult to tell what was the road and what wasn’t.
5. Take out the insurance that covers you for as much as possible
You’re not just testing your own driving capabilities, you’re trusting other drivers who often have no regard for the speed limit or road conditions. Amidst all of that, you’re also up against the weather, too. Better to be safe than sorry!
6. Test out the car features before you set off
The weather in Iceland can honestly change within minutes. One moment it can be happy days, sun gloriously beaming – then the next its gusts of wind and snow all up in your windscreen with a vengeance. This is NOT an ideal time to ask your co-pilot how to turn your windscreen wipers on. You will probably also want to know how to turn on the seat warmers, and operate the radio – get familiar with the car before you get out on those Icelandic roads!
7. Be mindful of one-lane bridges
There are big yellow signs warning when these are coming up – respect them. A lot of accidents can happen here, so if you’re unsure about who is going to approach the bridge first, just give the oncoming vehicle the right of way.
8. Park facing the wind!
Iceland and strong winds go hand in hand like voting for Brexit and older British people. The staff at the rental place will most likely warn you about this, but it deserves repeating – the wind in Iceland can be incredibly strong, and unless you park facing the direction of the wind you could lose your car door clean off!
9. Iceland has right-side traffic and left-hand drive cars
To my fellow Brits, please keep this in mind when driving your rental in Iceland. You drive from the left hand side of the car and on the right hand side of the road. Make sure you look to the left as you approach roundabouts and junctions. Don’t be out here looking crazy and putting your life at risk!
10. Respect the speed limit and remember it is a limit not a target
On the Ring Road (Road 1), the speed limit goes up to 90kph. As you approach roundabouts (and there are soooo many as you get closer to main towns and cities) this lowers to 50kph. In the wind, 90kph is not appropriate – go slower to feel more in control of the car! Same for when the roads are icy or snowy – car tyres on deep snow feels extremely weird, and can make you feel like you are sliding to the side. Leave plenty of time to drive your journey, and take your time!
Are you planning a trip to Iceland post-quarantine, or have you been already? We’d love to know if you have any additional preparation tips to share, or if these points have helped your prep!