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Iceland is a country that is so stunning, that it will raise your expectations for what raw natural beauty should look like, all while having you picking your jaw up off the ground in absolute shock and awe. With so many mind blowing natural attractions located throughout this amazing island nation, you’ll more than likely need a vehicle to get you to each stop. Road trips in Iceland go hand in hand just like eating gelato and pasta in Italy – it’s just something that MUST be experienced!
Like any foreign country you choose to drive in, there are rules to follow to ensure a fun and safe road trip. I’m not just talking about learning the road signs (although that is important, of course), or having a sweet playlist ready to hit the open roads with, I’m talking about rules that will turn an awesome Icelandic road trip from ordinary to downright extraordinary.
Now without further adieu, I give to you my Top 10 Rules to follow in order to have the best Icelandic road trip ever!
Click here to learn how get an International Driving License for Iceland.
Read more: Helpful Tips For Travelling in Iceland
Don’t Get Distracted
The Land of Fire and Ice is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful countries that I’ve been to. With sweeping green valleys, massive mountains and glaciers within view at all times, it’s easy to get distracted while driving and mesmerized by the scenery. Although the roads in Iceland are nearly empty most of the time, many tourists get into accidents every year because of distracted driving. Don’t be a statistic. Keep your eyes on the road and put down the phones and always, always, ALWAYS watch for other drivers as well. A safe road trip is a fun road trip!
Stock Up On Snacks
Before we left Reykjavík, we made sure to stock up on snacks before hitting the open road. Food in Iceland is expensive, so having snacks on hand is a budget saver for sure. Like gas stations, most grocery stores close fairly early and are definitely not close in proximity to each other, so when hunger hits you, you’ll want to avoid getting hangry on the road. I picked up some delicious Skyr yogurt, chips and fresh fruit from a grocery store and I also had some dried fruit, pretzels and nuts, which I brought from home to munch on.
Read more: How To Travel Iceland on a Budget
Lookout For Kamikaze Sheep
Seriously though, the huge Icelandic sheep roam wild and free and are semi-suicidal by hanging out in ditches along the edge of the road, on the sides of mountains and even in the middle of the roads. Keep an eye out for these crazy little buggers and slow down considerably when approaching them gathered on the road sides and in ditches, as they tend to dart out when you least expect them to. Baa Baa Smash…not cool.
Be Prepared For Changing Weather Conditions
If you tell anyone from Iceland that the weather sucks, they’ll just tell you “to wait five minutes.” Well, they aren’t wrong. While travelling through Iceland I was subjected to sunny and warm weather, gale force winds and torrential downpours and even sideways blowing snow while snowmobiling on the glacier. The weather changes can and will affect your driving conditions and it’s best to be prepared, especially if it snows and you aren’t familiar with driving in snowy conditions. It’s best to always have a “bad weather” driving kit with you in your trunk that consists of a blanket, batteries, flashlight, flares and even snacks, shovel and even kitty litter to use for traction just in case you get stuck. In the summer time, you obviously won’t need the shovel, but if travelling in Iceland during the winter months, you may want to consider it.
Read more: Highway To Höfn, Iceland
Don’t Rely Too Heavily On Your GPS
GPS systems are great and definitely a must have while road tripping through Iceland, but don’t rely on them too heavily. Coming back from Gulfoss and heading to the Ring Road, our GPS told us to take a shortcut, but when I turned down the road, it was SO bad. It was full of potholes and deep ruts, sand and gravel that I only drove a few hundred feet before getting frustrated at the slow speeds I had to drive just to avoid bottoming out our vehicle. Yes, we had a 4×4, but it’s the gravel and rock chip damage to the vehicle that I didn’t want to pay the rental company for, since they gouge you on things like that, even if insured. I quickly said, “Fuck this”, and turned around. It was only saving us a total of about 25kms, or so, but at the slow speeds in which I had to drive down the pothole filled road, it actually would’ve taken longer than driving the extra kilometres on the paved route. It’s always good to have a good ‘ol fashioned paper road map as well, just in case your GPS decides it doesn’t want to work properly, and using a large printed map gives you a better look at the roads in which you are looking to take.
Venture Off The Ring Road
The Ring Road is the ultimate route to drive while in Iceland. It has everything a visitor to The Land of Fire and Ice would want to see – Thundering waterfalls, icy glaciers, commanding mountains, open roads and beautiful vistas as far as the eye can see. As gorgeous as the scenery is while driving around the Ring Road is, don’t be afraid to venture off on some side roads for a change, but do it with caution. If you do go off the Ring Road, just make sure you aren’t driving off-road, which is strictly forbidden in Iceland, as it may ruin precious moss and fauna, or accidentally end up on an F-Road, which is only accessible with a 4×4 vehicle.
Carry Some Cash
Everyone always says that as long as you have a chip PIN card in Iceland and you’re good to go, but what if for some crazy reason your card decides not to work? It’s happened to me a few times and it’s a pretty unsettling feeling. I always like to carry some cash with me for emergency situations and if I buy smaller items such as a coffee, or a snack, I’d rather pay cash than use my cards. Also, what they may not tell you is that a lot of the public washrooms in Iceland actually require you to pay in coins to use them. The washrooms at places like Kirkjufjara beach, by Dyrhólaey and outside of the visitor centre (there are free washrooms inside the visitor centre, but only during opening hours) at Gulfoss are pay as you go (LOL). The first time I ever had to pay to use a public washroom, was in the train station in Bergen Norway, but you know what? For a few kroner (krona), the washrooms are kept in immaculate shape and are very clean, so I don’t mind paying a little coinage to not walk into a washroom disaster. All you road-trippers KNOW what I am talking about!!
Don’t Go Below Half A Tank Of Gas
I think I should mention that gas is CRAZY expensive in Iceland. The best way to deal with gas prices is to never let it get below half a tank. We had a Suzuki Jimny 4×4 vehicle that was surprisingly amazing on mileage and we only had to fill up twice during the entire trip. In Icelandic gas stations, you can purchase prepaid gas cards that go up to approximately $100 CAD to use in the machines outside. The gas pumps are all digital and only take a chip PIN card, but mine didn’t work for whatever reason and I was forced to run inside to buy the prepaid card, which finally worked. During your trip, it’s best to get a few of these prepaid cards, since the gas stations are far apart in some remote areas of Iceland and usually close around 9pm, so if you are stuck with no gas and a credit card that doesn’t work, then you might be in for a night of parking lot car camping. Not fun, or comfortable. Always be prepared, so you’re not in a situation like that.
Read more: A Complete City Guide to Reykjavík, Iceland
Don’t Stop On The Side Of The Road To Take Pictures
In Iceland, it’s inevitable that you’ll want to stop to take approximately one million photos every few metres. If you do want to stop and take some photos along the road, make sure you pull over safely in one of many pullover spots located along the roads. I can’t even begin to tell you how many cars and tourists I had to slow down for along the Ring Road to make sure I avoided a collision with them as they darted across the roads to take selfies with the horses. If you are going to take roadside photos, do it safely for the sake of yourself and others.
Be Cautious & Respectable At All Times
This is probably one of the most important tips for travelling in Iceland. Yes, Iceland does, without a doubt, have some beautiful natural attractions. You have the stunning black sand beaches, the dormant volcanic craters, the massive thundering waterfalls and the mysterious glaciers, but what you also have are dangers around all of these places. Most, if not all of the natural attractions in Iceland are not monitored by any sort of staff, or police, but the Iceland government has clear signs of warning at most attractions that may have risk factors. It’s really important to be aware of your surroundings while exploring because there have been numerous tourists that have injured themselves, or have even been killed while travelling through Iceland. Iceland’s black sand beaches near Vík are especially dangerous as the tide sneaks in when people least expect it and very strongly as well. Not too long ago, a German tourist was dragged into sea by a sneaker wave, which is a wave that comes crashing to shore at least ten times larger and more powerful than the last. Many people have fallen off cliffs, slipped and hurt themselves near waterfalls, especially during the winter months when access to certain parts of the waterfalls are actually blocked off for tourists, yet people still ignore the risks for that “perfect shot”. Some people have even fallen into the icy cold water and had to be rescued at the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon after walking on the floating chunks of glaciers when it is clearly marked NOT to do so. I’m all for being adventurous on holiday, don’t get me wrong, but don’t be dumb…if the sign says not to enter due to danger, don’t go. It may not be worth it in the grand scheme of things. Being cautious and respectable to Iceland’s nature and to the Icelandic people should be your number one priority while taking part in an epic road trip throughout the country.
Read more: Inspired by Iceland: The Land of Fire & Ice
Read more: How to Create the Perfect Travel Itinerary
Iceland is one of my favourite places in the world and a road trip along the southeastern part of the country was something I’ll never forget. It’s also something I’d definitely do over and over again in a heartbeat. The best part of a road trip through Iceland by far, is experiencing the otherworldly landscapes unfold right before your eyes as you make your way around every curve of the road.
Have any of you had the chance to visit Iceland and road trip it yet? If you have, let me know which road and sight was your favourite to visit in the comments below! xo
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