How to Explore Iceland by Car

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Have you always dreamed of an Iceland road trip? Iceland is a majestic place that makes the perfect backdrop for an adventure. And to be honest, the absolute best way to explore Iceland is by car.

While the actual drive only takes 24 hours, for an ideal Iceland experience by car, allow 7-8 days to explore the Ring Road and other popular destinations. Driving takes longer due to lower speed limits and some unpaved roads, and consider renting a 4-wheel drive vehicle for driving some of the more challenging roads.

But it’s probably best to have a little insight before you embark on your adventure. If you’re not from these parts, you may find some surprises along the way. And not all surprises are welcome ones.

So in this post, we’re going to cover a few of the best tips for getting around Iceland by car and seeing all the amazing sights.

How to explore Iceland by car

There are a few dos and don’ts of exploring Iceland by car, and if you want to have the best possible trip, you’re going to want to avoid all the don’ts and nail all the dos.

Is it easy to drive in Iceland?

An Iceland road trip is typically an adventure that lasts a few weeks (at least), so you should at least consider buying a car instead of renting one.

A rental could end up being extremely pricey for that duration of time, especially if you’re returning the car to a different location.

Either way, you’ll want to choose the right car for the journey. Since many roads you’ll explore will be gravel or dirt, you’ll want a car with all-wheel or 4-wheel drive.

You can get away with a basic 2-wheel drive economy car, but you won’t be able to take it on all the Highland roads, so this may limit your trip.

The Highland is only open from early July through mid-September, so if you’re traveling outside of this time, 4-wheel drive isn’t a necessity.

And if you decide to purchase an inexpensive car for your road trip, make sure to check for maintenance before you set out on the road. If the car needs service, it’s best to get it done upfront to avoid expensive issues later on.

How many days should I visit Iceland?

If you’re exploring New York City or Rome, rushing makes sense.

It’s likely the only way you’re going to see everything on your list, and the act of rushing feels somewhat ingrained in the culture.

But those are fast-paced vacations. This is not.

You may need to reset your internal hard drive on this Iceland road trip, especially if you’re used to rushing.

While the actual drive only takes 24 hours, 7-8 days is the ideal amount of time to fully explore all the major stops in Iceland.

In order to get the full experience, you must take time to ground yourself amidst the natural beauty of this land. It’s humbling and fulfilling at the same time.

It’s okay to live by a schedule, but you’ll also want to leave yourself some room to breathe in the incredibly fresh air outside of Reykjavik.

Try to pad your schedule by a few days, so you can easily stay longer in one destination or fit another into your trip.

Vacation planning, especially to a place like Iceland, isn’t a last minute decision. 

In fact, planning would ideally start at least 6 months out to get you the best deals and allow you to save up and avoid going heavily into debt.

Learn more about our recommended Vacation Planning Steps (click to read on this site) to see all the best ways to plan ahead and save big!

How long does it take to drive the Ring Road in Iceland?

You’re not only here to spend time in Reykjavik.

If you were, a simple flight would do the trick. On this road trip, you want to see the best of what Iceland has to offer, and that means exploring the Ring Road. Even the name sounds mystical.

Along the Ring Road, you’ll want to make time to see the following:

  • Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
  • Skogafoss Waterfall
  • The Golden Circle
  • Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
  • Dettifoss Waterfall
  • Lake Myvatn
  • Vestrahorn and Stokksnes

These may seem like the expected destinations, but you aren’t going to want to skip any one of them. And if you’re looking for an extra adventure, you can explore Iceland beyond the Ring Road.

Get off the Ring Road too

You’ll find some of the most spectacular sights just off the beaten path.

If you explore further than what you’ll find along the Ring Road, you can truly customize your experience.

For example, if you drive about 20 to 25 minutes further than Seljalandsfoss and take a 1-day hike along Fimmvörðuháls, you’ll find the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

And if you park along Ring Road and walk an hour (one way), you can visit the remains of the U.S. Navy DC plane that crashed on the black beach at Sólheimasandur.

And if you’re worried about bad vibes, you should know that everyone survived this wreck.

Trekking across Iceland is also a great way to really explore the beauty of Iceland.

Trekking is not quite hiking or backpacking, but something altogether different and possibly a bit more interesting.

So if you’re curious to learn What Trekking is All About (click to read on my site), take a moment and see if it might not be your new favorite way to sight see!

Bring toilet paper

There’s one important bit of information about Ring Road that you might be missing: There are no bathrooms along this route.

It’s truly you and nature, which is part of the beauty. But if you want to be the most comfortable, you’re going to want to bring toilet paper.

Leaves just aren’t going to cut it on this road trip.

Is driving in Iceland dangerous?

If you are from the US or one of the countries where driving is done on the right side of the road, the driving in Iceland will be familiar.

Like many countries, seat belts are required for all drivers as well.

Speed limits vary usually between the metric equivalent of 18-30 mph on city streets and up to 55 on highways.

So expects speeds a little slower than what we are used to in the US.

Also like many countries, headlights are required to be on at all times and cell phone use is prohibited for drivers.

Don’t even think about drinking while driving as fines start at the US equivalent of $800.

Beyond those basics, though, the biggest road hazards are from unpaved roads, impatient drivers unaccustomed to the slower speeds and the distractions that come with the natural beauty of Iceland which will be all around you on your road trip.

Did we cover all your questions about how to explore Iceland by car?

If you’re ready for the adventure of a lifetime, your road trip through Iceland awaits.

This is not just any old vacation. It’s a life-changing experience that will help ground you and strengthen your connection with nature.

In this article, we took a look specifically at how to explore Iceland by car. 

We examined the rules of the road, some of the most popular destinations, and the ideal time to spend exploring this mysterious and beautiful country.

So, there’s only one question left? Where will your journey begin?


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Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a husband, father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market.

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