Driving in Iceland in winter can be tricky, especially if you’re a nervous driver or someone who is not used to snowy and icy conditions at all. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. By simply following good advice and staying alert, there’s no reason why you can’t do a self-drive around Iceland in winter and explore the island.
In this guide, we’ll tell you exactly what you can expect from the winter weather. We'll see the pros and cons these conditions bring as to give you some helpful tips and tricks. And, of course, name some of the best places to drive during the colder months in Iceland.
Winter on the island is from December to March, and as you can imagine it is beyond freezing in Iceland. But it is these exact conditions that create the most magical winter wonderland. There is a local saying that says, “you can experience all four seasons in a day in Iceland”, so you’ll always need to be prepared for the unexpected. During the winter months, that can range from blizzards to rainstorms and wind that can rip the wig straight off your head. But in can bring sunshine and blue skies as well.
Daylight hours are also very few, hence why you’re almost guaranteed to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. The island is well-prepared and many attractions and activities are kept well-lit. Still, you don’t want to be caught driving in the dark with winter road conditions. Below, we’ve detailed what the winter months generally look like:
As we’ve already touched on, and as you can see from what you can expect of the winter weather, driving in Iceland in winter can be challenging. There are safety concerns such as getting stuck in the snow or sliding on the ice. And then there are inconveniences such as a car not wanting to start in the cold or having to change your plans due to sudden road closures. Not knowing which type of vehicle or which car accessories may be needed or helpful when driving in Iceland in winter is also another one.
But driving in Iceland is not so daunting if you know some of the basics. Road-tripping around the island is still possible if your itinerary is flexible. You need to be willing to adapt some of the popular road trip routes that include closed roads during the colder months.
You can still drive a 2-wheel vehicle with the needed accessories within the confines of the cities. Now, thinking of driving outside the city limits without a 4x4 vehicle and proper winter tires is madness.
That’s why we always suggest that you have a conversation with your rental agency. They can advise you on the vehicle and accessories you’ll need for your planned routes. You should also ensure that you have all the relevant insurance policies in place to safeguard you in the event anything should happen.
You don’t need an international driver’s license to drive or rent a car in Iceland, but you do need to have your country’s driver’s license with you. Not only that, but you also need to be over the age of 21, and have had your license for at least 12 months.
If you really don’t want to be driving in Iceland in Winter, you can opt for public transport or guided tours. But the public transport infrastructure in Iceland is mostly limited to the larger cities. Transport to and within the more remote regions is few and far between.
Guided tours are also a good option. Now, if you have to spend your entire holiday jumping from one tour to the next, you’ll need to have one heck of a big vacay budget. If you truly want to explore the island without completely breaking the bank, the only way to do so is via a self-drive tour in Iceland in winter.
As with most things in life, there will always be pros and cons. Below, we’ve created a quick overview of the pros and cons of driving in Iceland in winter for your convenience:
Because of the road conditions and the closed regions and routes during the colder months, where you can drive in Iceland in winter needs to form part of your planning. The following are some of the best places to drive and come highly recommended:
Thingvellir National Park is a beautiful park that’s conveniently located off the popular Golden Circle route. Not only can you drive around inside the park with peace of mind regarding your safety, but you can also make a stop at the Silfra Fissure. This area marks the divide between the Eurasian and North-American continents.
The entire Golden Circle route will be open and pretty safe to drive (as long as you stay focused and drive responsibly, of course). This route also hosts many popular attractions and sights, such as the Geysir Geothermal Area and Gullfoss Waterfall.
Just keep in mind that although the route remains open, certain attractions are closed or simply not worth the stop during the colder months. This includes Kerid Crater that’s usually frozen and covered by snow.
The Ring Road is yet another one of Iceland’s most popular road trip routes and actually includes the Golden Circle. Some of the attractions along the Ring Road that you can look forward to are Jokulsarlong Glacier Lagoon, the Blue Ice Cave, and Diamond Beach. But please keep in mind that you may need to give the northern part of the Ring Road a ski. If not because of sudden road closures, but because of downright treacherous road conditions.
The South Coast is also one of the popular Iceland road trip routes that remain open throughout the year. This route takes you 120 km southeast of Reykjavík and includes incredible attractions. The most famous ones are Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, Eyjafjallajökull, and the Solheimajökull Glacier.
The following are a few helpful tips that will make your winter trip to the island a safe and memorable one:
A self-drive in Iceland in winter is not nearly as difficult with a bit of know-how and a well-planned (but flexible!) itinerary. So, you can rent a car in Reykjavik with the peace of mind that you know exactly which routes to take. You’ll be able to navigate the roads around the island armed with the necessary accessories and knowledge to reach your destination safely.