Summer may be our peak season here in Iceland, but we have plenty of visitors who visit the island during the winter months to experience what can only be described as the ultimate winter wonderland.
As you can imagine, the numbers of visitors increase exponentially during the festive season. But whilst many are excited to visit the island, many also have reservations when it comes to driving in Iceland in the winter.
And this is completely understandable. Especially if you consider yourself to be a nervous driver or simply do not have the experience driving in extreme winter conditions. But this should not be the reason that you avoid the adventure of a lifetime. So, in this article, we tell you exactly what you can expect when it comes to driving in Iceland during the winter season, tell you all about the pros and cons, and give you the driving tips you need to navigate the Iceland roads safely.
Winter in Iceland
As you can imagine, things get pretty chilly during the winter here in Iceland. But it is these temperatures that help create the perfect conditions for our winter wonderland. And whilst we can’t get enough of winter activities such as exploring the ice caves in Iceland, or watching a glistening waterfall frozen in time tumbling down to a thick blanket of snow, driving in Iceland during the winter can be challenging. This does not mean that you should put that dream road trip on hold, but it might require just a little extra gear and guidance.
Pros & Cons of Driving in Iceland in the Winter
For you to make a quick assessment on whether self-driving in Iceland during the winter may or may not be for you, here’s an overview of all the pros and cons:
- Wintertime isn’t the peak season here on the island, and many prefer to stay off the roads during this time, which means that you won’t need to deal with traffic on some of our most popular routes.
- Not only do you not have to deal with traffic on the road, but you also don’t have to deal with peak season crowds at the various attractions and sites. Add on the fact that seasonal activities such as skiing and exploring the ice caves can finally be added to your road trip itinerary, and this makes it the perfect time to go on that road trip.
- The majority of the main roads are open throughout the winter, paved, and regularly cleared with snowplows, so a road trip using these routes is 100% possible and safe as long as you’ve got the basic winter tips down (but more on this later).
- A self-drive during the winter allows you to experience the winter wonderland the country turns into first-hand without being restricted to a set itinerary or time restraints. If you want to take 1000 photos of the beautiful snow-capped mountains you can do so without having to deal with a group of impatient people and a guide breathing down your neck.
- The few daylight hours and cold conditions almost guarantee you seeing the Northern Lights. The fact that a self-drive road trip takes you out of the well-lit cities and into the more remote regions of the country increases your odds of spotting the Aurora Borealis even further.
- As we already touched on, the Iceland roads in winter can be tricky to navigate, and you’ll need to be able to handle driving in snow and on patches of ice and contend with our legendary Iceland winds.
- Certain roads (which include the F-roads) annually close during the colder months here in Iceland. This means that you might need to adapt your road trip route a bit. These road closures especially impact the Highlands and the Westfjords, so if you have exploring these regions on your Iceland bucket list, you might need to plan your trip in the summer months.
- There are very few daylight hours, so you’ll need to plan your trip itinerary carefully so you’re not left, literally and figuratively, driving in the dark.
- During the winter season, your car will require additional winter accessories such as an ice scraper and snow tires as well as additional insurance coverage.
Driving Tips for Visitors of Iceland in Winter
Whether this is your first time driving in Iceland in the winter or the first time you’ll be driving in harsher weather conditions altogether, the following tips and advice will help keep you prepared and safe:
A 4x4 is the Way to Go
Whereas a 4x4 is usually recommended based on the routes you intend to take here on the island, the winter season leaves no room for debate. You will need a bigger 4-wheel drive to take on the winter roads and weather, so make sure that you budget accordingly.
Keep a Close Eye on the Weather & Road Conditions
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
This is no time for you to test out your racing skills. Keep a slow and steady pace. Turning into Sonic the Hedgehog will not only earn you a speeding ticket, but it might end in disaster.
Give Yourself More Time
In general, you will be driving slower than usual, and you’ll need to take certain weather conditions or sudden road closures and traffic being rerouted into account. So, even though the guidebook might say that you need to set aside about 3 hours for a trip to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, it may take you much longer during the winter months.
Have a Flexible Trip Itinerary
Weather conditions, sudden road closures, few daylight hours, erring on the side of safety and driving much slower, etc. are all factors that can force you to change your plans for the day. If you don’t have any flexibility in your trip itinerary, this can completely derail your vacation to the island and leave you more stressed than relaxed on what’s supposed to be a holiday.
Keep Hold of the Car Door
The Iceland winds are legendary and have been known to reach wind speeds of more than 35 kilometers an hour, with 25 kilometers an hour being the average during the winter season. So, when the wind is blowing, you need to take extra care when entering or exiting your car since our winds have been known to literally rip car doors off their hinges.
Winter is Not the Time to Skimp on Insurance
With harsher weather elements such as snow, ice, and wind to contend with, certain insurance policies are no longer considered just a nice-to-have but essential. You’ll need to be prepared to take out comprehensive insurance coverage when driving in Iceland in the winter, so you’ll need to budget accordingly.
Make Sure You Know the Road Signs
Wintertime is no time to get lost in the road sign sauce. You don’t want to miss icy road warnings or keep driving unbothered straight toward a single-lane bridge or a gravel road simply because you don’t know what the road signs in Iceland mean. Not only can this lead to fines and cause serious accidents, but it can also lead to your insurance not paying out a claim.
Make Sure You Have Everything You Need
As we mentioned earlier, winter will require a few extras when it comes to vehicles. For example, seasonal gear and accessories such as snow tires and ice scrapers are a must. Just make sure that all these seasonal extras are included in your rental price, whether they are provided at an additional cost, or whether you need to get these yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions About Driving in Iceland in the Winter
Below you will find the answers to some frequently asked questions regarding driving in Iceland in the winter:
Is it Safe to Drive on the Iceland Roads in Winter?
Yes. Even though road and weather conditions pose some challenges, it’s not an impossible task. With just a bit of extra prep work and a bit of savvy, you’ll be road tripping around the island like a pro.
Can You Drive the Golden Circle During Winter?
Yes. In fact, the Golden Circle is the one road trip route usually recommended to the public during the winter season. It’s paved, kept in good condition, and is usually open except for when the weather gets really extreme.
Can You Drive the Ring Road During Winter?
This one can be tricky. Although the Ring Road is also a main road and is technically open to the public throughout the winter, you might run into some trouble in the north, where the weather is generally harsher than in the rest of the country. So, if the Ring Road is on your Iceland to-do list, just remember what we said about having a flexible itinerary.
What Type of Car Should I Rent for Driving in Iceland in the Winter?
As we mentioned, always opt for a sturdy 4x4 vehicle during the winter season. If you have your heart set on renting a campervan, don’t worry, there are 4x4 options available to you as well.
Can We Drive the F-roads During the Wintertime?
No. The F-roads in Iceland are closed during the colder months, and it will be illegal for you to access them.
Don’t Let the Winter Rain on Your Road Trip Parade
Driving in Iceland in the winter is not nearly as scary as it’s made out to be (after all, we Icelanders do it all the time). With a bit of extra gear and common sense, and armed with a few helpful tips and advice, you’ll be able to have the road trip of your dreams here in Iceland.