From our blog
For many, driving Iceland’s ring road is a bucket list activity. It won’t disappoint, and when you see the abundant and it has to be said breathtaking array of attractions beyond the capital region you’ll be glad you hit the road. Some are so close to the road a stop is pretty much compulsory – the south coast’s famous waterfalls like Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss are two which spring to mind. In the north, Lake Mývatn and the fabulous Diamond Circle await – base yourself in pretty Húsavík to tour that area’s must-sees. Another essential loop, the Snaefellsnes peninsula, lies just off the ring road. But with Instagram favourites such as Kirkjufell waiting to impress, it’s well worth a few extra miles.
Another consideration is the type of road surface you’ll be driving on. While the majority of the ring road is asphalt, if you take a detour off to nearby canyons, turf houses or secluded waterfalls, you may well be driving on gravel surfaces. This shouldn’t worry you unduly, but it’s wise to take out additional insurance cover for damage caused to windscreens or paintwork from loose stones. You might drive slowly and carefully, but you can’t guarantee that someone coming in the opposite direction will do the same.
The country’s mountainous interior brings its own set of needs. This won’t apply to you if you’re planning a trip outside summer, as adverse weather conditions mean the highland F-roads are closed to all traffic. When the roads reopen, usually in June, you’ll need an AWD vehicle and also one with high clearance. This will cope with the potholes and uneven surfaces that you will encounter. Be prepared for river crossings, though this can be as inconsequential as fording a small stream. However, remember that water damage isn’t covered on insurance, so if you’re in any doubt, don’t attempt to cross. If you’re not confident of such adventurous excursions, opt for a day tour instead in a specialist vehicle such as a super jeep.
This question is often asked and many visitors assume that a 4x4 vehicle is essential for a road trip. In reality, the answer is often no. Visitors planning their first short break to Iceland will often venture only relatively short distances from Reykjavik, taking in destinations such as those on the Golden Circle which are firmly on the beaten track. And even if you’re looping the ring road you should be fine in a 2WD car, as surfaces are tarmacked and well maintained.
However, if you’re travelling outside the summer months, there’ll be an increased risk of snow and ice, even in shoulder season months like April or September. It’s at these times you’ll be grateful you opted for a rental with extra traction. Fog can be an issue at times, and if that’s the case while you’re out exploring in your hire car then drop to a lower speed to give yourself plenty of time to react, particularly on narrow roads and one-lane bridges. Finally, wind also needs to be factored in, especially if you plan to drive the more exposed sections of the ring road or some of Iceland’s mountain passes. Choose a vehicle that is relatively low to the ground as these will be more stable if it’s gusty.
Often, driving in Iceland’s rural areas is a dream, but at times you’ll encounter some unusual hazards. Sheep can wander onto the road. They have little road sense so you’ll need to slow down to avoid a collision. Blind summits can also be tricky as you won’t be able to see what’s coming in the opposite direction. Again, take extra care and you’ll continue safely on your journey. Be alert for other tourists who may have parked up by the side of the highway to photograph something that’s caught their eye, like Iceland’s famously photogenic horses. To be safe – and legal – wait until you find the next parking place and pull over there instead.