Driving in Iceland can be tricky. From the rental services to the icy roads to the ever changing weather – one cannot be too careful. But if you want to really experience this majestic island in all its glory – I would highly recommend self-driven cars. Literally, you will need to stop every 30 minutes to click pictures of the beauty around you as every nook and cranny of this country is Instagram-worthy. So here are some tips from my experience with driving in Iceland in winter.
1. Which car to drive and how to rent?
If you’re planning an independent road trip in winter, a 4-wheel drive is non-negotiable. As mentioned in Iceland 5 day winter itinerary, we had rented a Hyundai Tuscon from a local car rental company Lava and had a great experience with the car. The agency was very professional and it costed us Rs. 3,500 ($45) per day to rent the car from them.
Tips on choosing your rental car
- Make sure the agency has good reviews on Google. Just do a google search and see what others have to say about them. Agencies with rating less than 3 are usually notorious for overcharging. Better avoid them. We used northbound.is to search through the agencies.
- While choosing the car – if you are used to right-hand driven cars – go for automatic gear transmission. It will much easier to get used to this.
- Make sure to get insurance as part of the cost. You will have to pay a little extra but make sure – Collision Damage Waiver, Theft protection, Third Party Liability Insurance are included in your final cost.
- Different rental car agencies will have different rules pertaining to your driver’s license. Always better to be carrying an international license with you and having a valid driver’s license issued more than 2 years ago.
2. How safe is driving in Iceland especially in winter?
The weather in Iceland can change very rapidly and road closures are very common especially during peak winters.
3. Tips for driving on icy roads–
- At times you might feel that the car is not under control as the tires slip on ice. The important thing is to not panic and jerk the car in the opposite direction of the slip. If you do that, you are going to make it worse.
- Goes without saying, but always adhere to the speed limit and especially in icy conditions, drive at a speed you are comfortable at. Most roads in the upcountry are single lanes but don’t worry the locals will pass you by without complaining
- The winds in Iceland are deadly and hence while driving you might feel the wind too steering your car in a different direction. Again – Do not panic. The car is heavy enough to manage this and you don’t need to take any drastic steps.
- DO NOT go on snow covered roads. You do not know the depth of snow and where the road will end.
- Driving during a snowfall is totally normal. No need to stop your road trip if it is snowing outside. Its ice that can get tricky to drive on but not fresh snow (especially on the main roads).
4. Gas Stations & Parking in Iceland
Gas Stations (Petrol Pumps)
If you’re driving abroad for the first time – then you might not be aware that unlike India – there are no gas station attendants to fill petrol in your car. So if you’re not used to this, please follow the steps as below –
- Park your car close to the nozzle at the gas station – near to Petrol/Diesel – whichever applicable for your car. Make sure your fuel tank opening is at the same side of the pump.
- Note the pump no. from which you will be filling up your car.
- Now you need to find the payment machine – this will not be on the pump itself. Here you will need to use your credit/debit card.
- Insert your card into the machine
- Choose the pump No. and type of fuel
- Choose amount that needs to be filled. Here you can also choose “Full Tank” as an option”
- Now just take the nozzle out of the pump and fill your car for the amount chosen. The pump will automatically stop at the amount you chose. In case you chose full tank, you need to do this manually
- After filling up, insert your card again in the payment machine and collect your receipt.
TIP – Very important. Many gas stations in Iceland block a higher amount on your credit card when filling up gas. For example, I had chosen 2000 ISK worth of Diesel to be filled up, but the credit card transaction message I received was for 20,000 ISK which really freaked me out. DO NOT worry, this is only the amount that is getting blocked on your card but they will charge only amount you have actually used. For more piece of mind, always take a printed receipt from the gas station so that you can challenge false transactions later on.
Parking is free in most places in Iceland but finding a place to park in Downtown Reykjavik can be a task in itself. In Reykjavik, like in other European cities, there are parking zones categorized as P1, P2 & P3 -P1 being the premium most & P3 being the cheapest. All of these slots are chargeable only during office hours i.e. 9 A.M. to 6 P.M. on weekdays and 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. on Saturdays, outside those hours, parking is free.
Hope these tips come handy the next time you’re driving in Iceland in winter. Feel free to drop a comment for any question or comment 🙂
Planning a trip to Iceland? Also check out – What to wear in Iceland in winter?
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