The Ring Road, which generally hugs the coastline, runs for 1,400 km (900 mi) around Iceland. Although 90% of the road is paved, a stretch across the Möðrudalsöræfi highlands and stretches in the east are still gravel. Much of Iceland's secondary road system is unpaved. Take great care on these roads, as driving on loose gravel surface takes some getting used to and is not for the timid motorist. Be careful of livestock that may stray onto roadways.
Caution pays off when driving in Iceland's interior, too. The terrain can be treacherous, and many roads can be traversed only in four-wheel-drive vehicles; always drive in the company of at least one other car. Unbridged rivers that must be forded constitute a real hazard and should never be crossed without the advice of an experienced Iceland highland driver. Most mountain roads are closed by snow in winter and do not open again until mid-June or early July, when the road surface has dried out after the spring thaw.
Use extra caution when approaching single-lane bridges or blind hills (blindhæð). Before driving any distance in rural Iceland, be sure to pick up the brochure Driving in Iceland from any Tourist Information Center, if your rental agency hasn't already given you one. It has informative tips and advice about driving the country's back roads.
The general emergency number, available 24 hours throughout Iceland, is 112.
Gas prices are high, about IKr 110 to IKr 115 per liter (¼ gallon) depending on octane rating. Service stations are spaced no more than half a day's drive apart, on both main roads and most side roads. Service stations are usually open daily until at least 10 pm; the cheaper, unmanned ÓB stations are open later and have multilingual credit-card machines. For information on the availability of gas off the beaten track, call Vegagerð Ríkisins (Public Roads Administration).
Vegagerð Ríkisins (Borgartún 5–7, Reykjavík, IS-105. 1777 Road Conditions; 522–1112 (emergency number) for 24-hr road status in English. www.vegagerdin.is/english/road-conditions-and-weather/.)
It is essential to have a good map when traveling in rural Iceland.
Don't be fooled into thinking all site names on some maps are active settlements. Many of these sites (Icelanders call them Örnefni) are landmarks or farm sites, and some have been abandoned. They may have historic significance but in general lack service stations or food stores.
Rules of the Road
Traffic outside Reykjavík is generally light, but roads have only one lane going in each direction; stay within the speed limit: 90 kph (55 mph) in rural areas on the Ring Road, 70 kph (42 mph) on secondary open roads, and 30 kph–50 kph (about 20 mph–30 mph) in urban areas; the slower speed limits also apply near schools or in denser neighborhoods. Drivers are required by law to use headlights at all times. Seat belts are required for the driver and all passengers; child seats are mandatory.
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Fodor's Go List 2014: Where we are going in 2014
- World Cup Fever: Start planning your trip to Brazil!
- Fodor's 100 Hotel Awards: Check out the winners of 2013
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe