Driving in Southern Iceland can be somewhat of a daunting prospect if you are planning a visit in winter. Though, a driving tour and road-trip around Iceland may not be as scary as you think. Particularly, if you are visiting outside the winter months as I did. This post includes details of my 4-day road trip driving holiday in Southern Iceland sightseeing the Golden Circle with tips, things to know and a route you can follow when you visit. Basically, everything I know about driving in Iceland!
Reading articles about driving in Iceland can often leave you running scared and signing up for every extortionate tour you can find. But, driving in Iceland, certainly outside of the winter months really enables you to see the beauty of this vast and vivid country. I can’t recommend road tripping around Southern Iceland enough!
Hiring your own car gives you a sense of freedom to explore the warm thermal springs, hidden ravines and find a place to stop to stroke the Icelandic horses. Travelling to your own schedule doing a self-guided driving tour, you can chase all the waterfalls and rainbows in the famous Golden Circle route.
Why rent a car and what car to rent when driving in Southern Iceland
Whilst there are other ways of travelling in Iceland, services such as travelling by bus are said to be expensive and infrequent. With wide roads and good surfaces, southern Iceland is a great place to do a self-drive tour and has far less severe weather conditions than in northern Iceland. For this reason, do not be led to believe you need to hire a 4×4, especially if you are travelling to Iceland between April-September and are not planning on using the highland routes. Not only will hiring a 4×4 if you do not need one give you extraordinarily high petrol costs, as I mentioned, but you will also be unlikely to need a 4×4 unless you plan on visiting Iceland’s Northern Highlands, where it is only possible to travel the F roads using a 4×4.
* Planning on exploring Iceland in a campervan? Check out the best: overnight locations for campervans in Iceland *
It should be noted, off-roading is illegal in Iceland as it damages the natural habit so unless you plan on heading up to the Northern Highlands to drive on the F Roads or highland tracks, you may be fine (as we were) choosing a smaller economical car. All cars will have appropriate snow tyres if you are visiting in the winter months.
Things you should know about driving and road tripping around Southern Iceland
Driving in Iceland is done on the right-hand side of the road, not the left like the U.K. I wish we drove on the right in the U.K. as this would make driving abroad so much easier! However, don’t let the difference of the side of the road to drive put you off. In the milder months, Southern Iceland is actually a great place to drive on the other side for the first time, especially along the roads around the Golden Circle route. The road surfaces are properly paved (no potholes..hurrah), have wide lanes and the speed limits are lower in Iceland so you don’t feel like you have to rush. Some of the roads even have special geothermal pipes to melt away any snow and ice. Another thing I wouldn’t mind in the UK!
In the winter months, the roads can be hazardous to say the least! I don’t like driving in the snow in the U.K. let alone in a hire car abroad! However, there is the option to get studded tires for your car hire to better grip the road and stop the car from spinning on the ice.
It should be noted that Iceland has a zero tolerance to alcohol when driving in Iceland so you may want to pick your free drink wisely when you visit The Blue Lagoon! Finding somewhere to go to the toilet during your road trip can also prove somewhat problematic and you may find that independent petrol stations charge you for the privilege. Though, if you come out looking like Blake Lively or Ryan Reynolds who can resist…
Car headlights should be on whenever you are driving in Iceland, regardless of the time of day or the time of year. In my previous post, 11 Things to Know Before Visiting Iceland, I recounted an amusing moment when Adam and I ventured back to the car to put the heating on whilst waiting for the Northern Lights to appear. Unbeknown to us, turning the key to put the engine on automatically turns the headlights on as it is not permitted to drive without headlights in Iceland. As you can imagine this little stunt made us very unpopular with those waiting in the darkness for the Northern Lights to appear…Thankfully, it was September and not the winter months as we would have wanted the heating on even more!
The most basic route driving Southern Iceland’s Golden Circle takes 3 hours and 21 minutes to drive, so with this in mind make sure you always have plenty of food, water and warm clothes with you at all times. Especially, given the unpredictable weather conditions!
Before travelling, I sought advice on Martin Lewis Money Saving Expert about car hire and purchased an excess insurance policy via Maxim. As always, Martin’s website provides a whole host of useful information such as picking up a DVLA NUMBER 21 days before your car hire is due to commence. Many car hire companies do not ask for this but as it is a requirement it’s certainly worth knowing about and requesting one before you go. So as a precaution, make sure you request a DVLA number and bring your driving licence with you to ensure you are prepared when picking up your rental car.
Purchasing your own annual excess policy will cover you for various options, saving you the higher cost of insurance with the rental companies. It should be noted, some items are not included such as sand storm damage and gravel stone damage so you may wish to consider buying one of these additional options from your car rental company. Adam and I didn’t buy one for our trip and had no problems but we all remember the ash cloud from the volcano that caused no end of problems a few years ago!
Átak Car Rental
Always book your car rental in advance, ideally once your flights are booked. The earlier you book, the more you are likely to save. After researching various car hire companies in Iceland, Átak Car Rental came up trumps. Our 4-day car rental for Iceland was £120 and included GPS, WiFi and an additional driver at no extra cost. As mentioned previously, as we visited Iceland in September we opted for a smaller economical car rather than a 4×4 and were allocated a VW Up.
To be honest, the GPS wasn’t fantastic so the free WiFi was really handy for us using Google Maps on our phones. As a blogger, I always exceed my data when I’m away so the free WiFi was an absolute godsend for me! We had no problems when we both used the WiFi either.
The car hire companies at Keflavik airport are located a two-minute shuttle bus away from the airport. Átak are on the third stop. It’s a simple service where you collect your ticket for the queue, take a seat and wait to be called to sign your documents and collect your keys.
Be mindful that collecting and returning the car can take some time so make sure you give yourself plenty of time, especially for your return flights.
Átak kept in touch with weather updates and warnings during our stay in Iceland. As Icelandic weather can be unpredictable, we found these updates very handy! They even sent us a travel warning due to a storm with powerful wind gusts causing snow and slippery driving conditions in the north. Luckily, we were only travelling the south coast. Still, these travel updates prove handy for road-tripping, particularly as the weather in Iceland is so interchangeable.
Since returning, Átak sent a friendly email asking if we enjoyed our time in Iceland and the car rental service. It’s little touches like this that go a long way and put us at ease renting a car. All the staff were friendly and we were not put under any pressure whatsoever to purchase their add on insurance.
Things to be aware of when hiring a car
It is not unusual for car hire companies to charge a redeemable fee (usually a couple of thousand pounds) to your credit card for recovery for any damages. This is standard practice and, usually nothing to worry about. Make sure you bring a credit card with you, certainly the card you paid with when you pick up your car.
There are certain things you need to be aware of such as if you need to return the car with a full tank of petrol. Speeding and parking fines are also likely to incur an additional fee with the rental company, therefore this is also something to bear in mind.
Trust me, there are plenty of speed cameras in Iceland and they are not as easy to spot as in the UK!
If you are planning on visiting Reykjavík, the best day in terms of parking is a Sunday as parking is free.
Parking is widely available in Reykjavík city centre, but like in most city centres, fees do apply. Each street has a sign to indicate whether there is a fee to pay and which parking zone you are in. There are four different parking zones in the city centre: P1, P2, P3 and P4 and the pricing for these zones are as follows:
Hourly prices for the different zones:
- P1 – 320 ISK per hour
- P2 – 170 ISK per hour
- P3 – 170 ISK per each 1th & 2nd hour and 50 ISK starting from 3rd hour
- P4 – 170 ISK per hour from 08:00-16:00
All zones have the same times for pay & display requirements except P4 zone:
Monday-Friday from 09:00 until 18:00.
Saturday from 10:00 until 16:00.
Sundays are free.
Multi-storey car parks:
There are several car parks in the city centre, in addition to street parking. The car parks are slightly less expensive per hour, but the fees apply 24/7 while the fees on-street parking only applies during the daytime. The car parks are also closed between midnight and 7am in the morning, and during those 7 hours, it is not possible to enter the car parks and release the car. If you are visiting Reykjavík on a Sunday, be mindful that free parking may not apply in the multi-storey car parks. It’s always best to check first!
Where to Stay
We stayed at The Swan House in Reykjavík, which is located within five minutes walk to the Sun Voyager, Harpa Concert Hall and Hallgrimskirkja Church. We paid for parking during our three-night stay and did not encounter any problems. We also found the parking prices to be reasonable.
Other than paying for parking at the Seljalandsfoss waterfall (totally worth it by the way), we did not encounter any other parking fees whilst exploring Iceland.
Petrol Fuel Costs
As with many things in Iceland, fuel is expensive. Our car rental with Atak included a key fob with a discount in Olis petrol stations so it may be worth checking with your car hire provider if they have any partner discounts you can use too.
What to do in an emergency or if you need help when driving in Iceland?
In case of an emergency, 112 is the only emergency number in Iceland. The number is available throughout Iceland by phone or SMS text message. You can download the 112 app to check-in prior to exploring Iceland’s vast hiking trails, which will help provide location tracking should you find yourself in a tricky situation. Note, this is for emergencies only – Search and rescue, accidents, immediate dangers, fire and crime.
If you are worried about driving conditions and want to be aware of any potential road closures and issues during your time in Iceland, I would recommend you bookmark the Vegagerdin.is website. This website updates in real time to let you plan your driving route around Iceland. A site recommended and used by Icelanders.
I hope this post has alleviated any stress about driving in Iceland. I am the wrong side of 30 and 2018 was my first driving on the other side of the road (if I can do it anyone can!) Enjoying the stunning scenery at your own pace by hiring a car is something that cannot be underestimated. It saved us lots of time and money touring Iceland, seeing all the sites on our 4-day Iceland itinerary.
Talking of which, feel free to use my Southern Iceland Google Maps Places and Driving Route below.
Now all you need to do is find a good playlist for a fun road trip!
I hope you have found this driving in Southern Iceland post useful – if so, I’d love it if you shared these tips with others on social media using the sharing buttons on the left-hand side or below. It’s great getting feedback and every share helps my little blog be seen by a wider audience.
Thanks for reading & enjoy your time in Iceland!