Self-drive Iceland

Iceland scenery
By Tiffany Chek

First things first…. EVERYONE NEEDS TO VISIT ICELAND! I could go on and on about how beautiful, stunning, and magical Iceland is, but assuming you have already made the smart decision to go, the next question is, what is the best way to see this magnificent country?

Well, there are several options:-

  • Small group tour (under 16 people)
  • Large group tour (30 – 40 people)
  • Expedition Cruise
  • Self-Drive

There are pros and cons for all options, however I am going to let you know what my experience was with a self-drive tour of Iceland.

For those seeking independence (or for those that are antisocial like my partner), a self-drive is the perfect option. Roads are in good condition and the main highway or ‘Ring Road’ circles the entire country. There is no need for a 4WD unless you plan to get a bit more off the beaten track. Everything is well signposted and it is easy to navigate, even if you can’t pronounce any of the names.

Lucky you just need to remember the route number…

We had a 9-day itinerary covering the west, south and south-east of Iceland and we were barely able to scratch the surface. One thing I learned was that we needed much more time between destinations. There can be long driving distances involved and so many ways to be side tracked. Practically everything is an attraction in Iceland, so don’t be in a rush to see everything. Iceland is a destination where even a rundown shed in front of a mountain looks spectacular, so get ready for a lot of photo stops!

Who knew a shed could look so good?

Unfortunately, Iceland is becoming popular and accommodation during summer can be solidly booked so you need to book your accommodation in advance. So this slightly hampers the freedom you have by doing a self-drive in the first place. I do not recommend just driving until you find a place you want to stop as most likely there won’t be any space at the inn. So, a little planning does need to be involved which is good thing as you should roughly map out the number of kms you will drive per day. On the plus side, it doesn’t really actually get dark during summer so even if end up end up hiking 10kms instead of 4kms, you don’t have to worry about being lost in the dark and getting to your hotel at 11pm as it is still light out! However, be aware that most restaurants will close at 9pm or 10pm, so the other tip is to stop at the local supermarket ‘Bonus’ and stock up on snacks and food. Not only is food VERY expensive in Iceland (we paid $18 for the equivalent of a cheeseburger meal) but there is not always a place to buy lunch on the road and on more than one occasion when we arrived so late back from our adventures to our hotel, we had to have cup noodles and bacon chips for dinner in our room…

Hiking in Landmannalaugar … I swear it didn’t look that far on the map … or that high!

To 4WD or not to 4WD?

If travelling on the main roads and even the non-paved roads, then a 4WD is not necessary. If however you plan to explore some of the interior roads marked ‘F’ then a 4WD is mandatory. We hired a Toyota RAV4 which is probably the minimum size 4WD that you would want to have and I probably would have been more comfortable with a slightly bigger car, especially if you plan to drive the famous Fjallabak route which involves several small river crossings. Roads are also a lot more rocky and rough so you need to be a very confident driver, but the views are worth it! Hiking in Landmannalaugar is also a highlight, which requires driving on ‘F’ roads.

Fjallabak route
It doesn’t look like a raging river but trust me, it was quite nerve wracking crossing it!

Fjallabak route views

Scenery on the Fjallabak route

All in all, a self-drive suited our style of travel and we really enjoyed it. In summary please see my important tips and information below if you are planning on a self-drive:-

  • Book accommodation in advance
  • Get supplies at the supermarket
  • Current Australian licence is sufficient. No need for an international drivers licence
  • No need for cash. Credit cards are accepted everywhere
  • Driving is on the right hand side!
  • Watch out for birds and sheep – they do tend to run out in front of you
  • Don’t get too caught up in your itinerary, leave room to go off script and discover your own little piece of Iceland
  • The weather can be unpredictable in Iceland – always remember to have jacket, gloves, and beanie on hand! Even if it is a just a short walk up the hill to see a waterfall
  • Be careful when you do pullover for a photo stop to make sure there is a) room to stop and b) it isn’t into a ditch!
  • Most importantly, we can plan everything for you. You just need to pick up the car and drive!

Puffin with mouthful of fish

And a picture of a puffin because these guys are so cute and hilarious. A highlight is seeing them belly flop into the ocean.

If you want to find out more about the destinations in this article, or have any questions in general please contact us.