Roadtripping Ísland

The classic way to explore Iceland is by car: while the center of the island is often hard to access, especially in winter times, there is a ring road along the coast leading you to most of the important sights in the country. The Hringvegur or Þjóðvegur 1 is more than 1,300 kilometers and the first section was created in 1928. Since 2019 this most important road is fully tarred and with the exception of some bridges always at least two lanes wide.

If tourists don’t book group tours they typically get a car from one of the rental agencies at the Keflavíkurflugvöllur. Riding a car in the country is pretty easy and sufficient parking lots are available everywhere; Iceland is definitely a car-optimized country. If you’re used to right-hand traffic you mostly need to memorize the speed limits and these feel quite unusual: 90 km/h outside cities, 70 km/h on untarred roads and 50 km/h in cities. But most often you wouldn’t want to drive faster than that – find the cruise mode of your car, set the right speed and enjoy the landscape passing by.

There is only one thing that is different than in central Europe: roundabouts. They are often designed with two lanes and the inner lane has priority. If you’re at the outer one you need to stop for cars from the inner lane and let them pass. All roads at Iceland are currently toll-free, there is only one tunnel close to Akureyri which requires upfront online payment. You can easily avoid that by using a road around the mountain which is just a 20 minute detour. Set your smartphone navigation system to ‘avoid toll roads’. By the way: most cars have the fantastic Apple CarKit integration that turn your smartphone into an easy-to-use navigation system which uses the car’s display.

What is more to say? Don’t stop on the road when you want to do a photo or enjoy the landscape. Icelandic roads are rather narrow and it is pretty dangerous – every now and then a small rest area will appear next to the road as an alternative. What first feels also dangerous are the many sheep roaming freely and often close to roads. They seem to know the dangers of an approaching car well and leave the road most often on time. Roads which can only used by 4×4 cars are clearly marked; you will not simply stand in front of an unbridged river with a car unsuitable to cross it.

And finally there are two signs that you will see often: Blindhæð, stating that there is an incline in front of you and you can’t see cars approaching from the other direction. On untarred roads a sign will stand in the middle of the road keeping you on the right lane. And then there is einbreið brú, the bridge with one lane. Velocity has to be reduced from 90 to 70 to 50 km/h and who ever reaches the bridge first is allowed to pass first. Feels unusual but works well. Enjoy your road trip on Ísland!


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