Plan your road trip to Iceland with these 7 tips!

Are you planning a trip to Iceland?

Iceland is one of the best locations in the world to go on a road trip adventure, especially with the stunning landscapes at every corner and the Ring Road around the island.

But before you visit Iceland, here are some tips to help you plan a memorable trip.

7 Iceland road trip tips

1. Be reasonable with your Iceland itinerary

Everywhere is tempting and with so many things to do in Iceland you’ll want to see it all. I get it! Lonely planet even included West Iceland in the Top Ten regions for 2016.

However, unless you are very lucky, your time on the island is limited. So when preparing your Iceland road trip itinerary remember the following:

  • Do not plan your Iceland road trip with the driving times indicated by Google maps. Not that they are wrong. It is just that they do not take into account that you will want to stop everywhere along the way.
  • Weather can change, fog can appear, and you will have to slow down. Be diligent and safe.
  • When you drive off the Ring Road, you will mostly be on gravel roads which will slow you down as well
  • If you travel outside of summer in Iceland, days are short.

But don’t worry, you will still see a lot!

For manageable road trip plans for Iceland, you can check out the 5 detailed itineraries I suggested on my blog.

2. Choose the right month to visit Iceland

Sunset in Godafoss- things to see on an Iceland road trip
Sunset in Godafoss- things to see on an Iceland road trip

Iceland has something to offer every month of the year, so it really depends on what you want to see and how you want to travel.

Below is a list of special conditions and activities in Iceland and where you will encounter them.

  • Crowds – most tourists come between June and August.
  • Road conditions in Iceland – expect ice and snow November to March (and sometimes October and April)
  • Accessibility – F roads leading to the amazing Landmannalaugar area are opened only between June and September (dates changing every year depending on conditions)
  • Midnight sun in Iceland – Around 21st June.
  • Northern Lights Iceland (aurora borealis) – Late September to March.
  • Whales – all year around, more sightings between April and September.
  • Puffins – May to Mid-August.
  • Ice Caves – November to March;
  • Lupin flowers – Mid June.
  • Frozen waterfalls – January and February.
  • Autumn colors – September.

3. Tips for Driving in Iceland

Here comes the frequent question: should you rent a 4WD or rent a normal car when you’re visiting Iceland?

Well, it depends on where you want to go and where you are able to drive. Below are some pointers for driving in Iceland to help you decide:

  • All the F roads are accessible only to 4WD. Most of them are in the Central Highlands and open only between June and September (roughly as it depends on conditions). Those F roads sometimes have significant river crossings.
  • There is already a lot to see not far from the Ring Road and the access gravel roads are manageable with 2WD cars.
  • I rented a 4WD vehicle and I must admit it was much more comfortable for longer gravel roads.
  • In winter the roads can be covered in ice and snow.

But don’t worry, the Ring Road and side gravel roads are not difficult and manageable for your Iceland road trip.

4. Include time for spontaneity

Berserkjahraun - a stunning place to see on your Iceland road trip!
Berserkjahraun

Make sure you have time to take a road when you have no idea where it leads to. This is how you can find some of the most memorable landscapes in Iceland.

During my own Iceland trip, I was touring the Snaefellsnes peninsula. Based on the recommendation from a local, I drove through the lava field of Berserkjahraun. It was not planned and yet it was one of my favorite places in Iceland.

5. In Summer, book accommodation in advance

Iceland’s tourism industry is developing quite fast, however there are still huge areas without any towns. So it is important to book your Iceland accommodation in advance.

For a local and unique experience consider booking with Airbnb. Click here to view all properties available in Iceland.

The few hotels or guesthouses in the countryside fill up quickly. Another option for summer is to camp.

It is less of a problem in winter. However, during that period, many establishments shut down, so you could face the same problem.

6. Pack Layers for your Iceland vacation

Jokulsalron Beach - stunning place to see on your Iceland road trip
Jokulsalron Beach, Iceland

This is not a legend. This is a reality. The weather in Iceland changes quickly. So you need layers: some to keep warm, some to protect from the rain and some to stop the wind. And on top of that you should bring a hat and gloves.

One time I was on Jokulsarlon beach, a stretch of black sand where icebergs wash off. It was all foggy and wet, an incredible mood! But a little while later we had a beautiful blue sky!

7. Plan to alternate drivers

Kirkjufell - stunning place to see on an Iceland road trip
Kirkjufell, Iceland

I am going to repeat myself Iceland is STUNNING. It is hard to keep your eyes on the road. And yet, you should! Sheep can appear suddenly.

Roads sometimes become one lane bridges, so my advice is to plan in advance to alternate drivers (if you are not on a solo road trip like me).

Or plan to stop every couple of kilometers so that the driver can enjoy the views. And then you are back to the first point of this article – be reasonable with your itinerary.

For more ideas about things to do on that road trip, planning information, beautiful photos, and practical maps to help you plan your travels, check out ZigZag On Earth’s eBook:

More tips for Iceland

Plan Your Trip to Iceland

We’ve been traveling 20  years and have come to rely on a few trusted websites that save us money and time when booking accommodation, flights, and car rental. Below are our preferred partners. If you book through these links, we do receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps us continue to provide inspiring and helpful travel content for free on this site.

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Do you have any tips for an Iceland road trip? Share in the comments below!

20 thoughts on “Plan your road trip to Iceland with these 7 tips!”

  1. Great guide. Iceland has been on my bucket list for a while now, has been mostly a postponed trip because of the budget. But fortunately more and more it’s possible to do Iceland on a budget!

  2. We have been three times and it is really beautiful. We went the first time in 2009 in June. We did the ring road. Most of it already has asphalt on it. In June 2011 we did the West Fjords and the west of Iceland. Both of the times we did that in a class A rental car (Toyota Yaris or similar), and it was really doable. Also on the gravel roads. In January 2013 we stayed in a holiday in a holiday home with a hot tub on the terrace. It was magic to be in a snow storm in our hot tub. Sadly we didn’t see the northern light. Oh well, we just will have to go another time in the winter. This time we had a bigger car and it had spikes underneath. 🙂
    Next year we will show friends of us around. We will do the ring road again as it is the best way to see the most of Iceland.

    I recommend to book your car and accomodation through the local hostel organisation. Their site is http://www.hostel.is. They have a great combo deal for car and accommodation. They have great iteneraries on their side we used. They have great detours written into them for places to visit. They are part of HI International. In our experience they are also the cheapest. I’m sorry if I’m not supposed to put a link to a website.

    We found that the best place to go whale watching is Husavik in the north. It is so much nicer than going from Reykjavik.
    But I definately recommend on going to Iceland. But do travel around with a car. Don’t only go to Reykjavik and the Golden Circle (Godafoss, Thingvellir, the Geysirs). There is so much more to see. Sorry for the ramble. I just really love this place

  3. Great information – especially about then the biggest crowds come to the country and about the road conditions. Iceland definitely looks like a wonderful place to go on a road trip but it seems you have to plan ahead to get the most out of it.

  4. This is a great post! Thank you for sharing. I’ll be travelling in May and absolutely cannot wait. We plan to do the entire Ring Road in 9 days which is ambitious but because the weather hopefully will be more co-operative I’m really keeping my fingers crossed that we can do it. Is it bad that I want to make my fiance drive the whole time so I can marvel at the scenery?

    1. Claire @ ZigZag On Earth

      Hi Madi
      Thanks for your comment. 9 days is possible, you just have to make the effort not to stop at every turn because it is so beautiful.
      I totally understand you wanting your fiancé to drive the whole time 🙂

  5. Great post, thanks. We cannot decide whether we want to go to Iceland in Winter or Summer. Such a tough decision!!! Is it hard to drive around in a rental car in Winter – are a lot of the roads and tracks close?

    1. Hi Nick
      I agree, it is a tough decision. Many tracks are closed in Winter (all the F-roads at least but also other fjord roads). The open ones can still get icy and snowy. So it depends on your level of confidence with winter driving.

  6. Thanks for the good advice! Sometimes I have to go on foot week, it’s it is very tiring. If I hadn’t good gear – it would be impossible!

  7. We went to Iceland last spring, it was really amazing! Thank so much for your work and info! It was my second time i have visited Iceland but after reading your inspiration and want to jump on the plane again.

  8. After 8 Months of saving your website tab and well-thought-out Planning. Finally me and two of my friends made it to Iceland. We made a 5 day trip. The place is surreal and a thing of beauty. There were no much waste baskets around. But the place is unbelievably clean.Actually, There is no need to plan an itinerary; You just drive around the country and be amazed.Most of them speak proper english and are hospitable. Its a treat for the eyes when you are in Iceland. Iceland is like watching a nolan’s Movie; You get confused how alluring is the creation of Such a marvellous place.We Rented a camper and stayed in it. The food,Rental and shopping in Iceland are pretty expensive.Still we are not able to believe we made it to Iceland.

  9. Thanks for sharing this amazing information on this blog. I am going to visit Iceland next month so I will definitely follow all the instructions you have given in this blog

  10. Hi Claire,

    What an amazing and fascinating place to visit. I really didn’t know much about this but after reading this post I will surely visit one day. Thanks for sharing such an amazing post.

    Thanks
    Rob

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