I spent 10 days driving around Iceland in September 2018 and learned quite a few things about road tripping Iceland’s Ring Road. Below are just a few tips I have for anyone thinking about visiting Iceland.
1) International Photographer Iceland Map
I would highly, highly, highly recommend purchasing the Iceland Map from International Photographer. The map is tear proof, waterproof (important in Iceland), and includes locations of all the places you’ll want to stop. Seriously, there wasn’t a single place I wanted to visit that wasn’t on the map. It also informed us of really scenic drives, places we wouldn’t have known to stop at, and of course road numbers! It also defined which roads were paved or not, which was a huge help.
2) Lonely Planet’s Ring Road Road Trips Book
The Lonely Planet’s Ring Road Road Trips book was a nice, concise book of the different sections of Iceland and what there was to do. It offered road trip itineraries and some brief details about the different stops. I used this book the most to determine our route and how much time we needed to get between places.
3) Lonely Planet Iceland Travel Guide
The Iceland Lonely Planet Travel Guide came in handy to find out more specific details about places that were mentioned in the Ring Road road trip book. I especially enjoyed using the book for dinner recommendations. You could probably skip this travel guide if you’re trying to save space and money and just use Google on your phone.
If you plan to leave the Reykjavik area, you will definitely need to rent a car or camper van. We saw quite a few people with camper vans, which is a great option if you want the freedom of planning your trip as you go. For us, it was a bit too cold in September to want to deal with camping and we had a pretty good plan of what we were going to do before we set out on the trip.
Below is our trusty rental car that lasted our entire trip!
If you’re sticking to just the Ring Road, you won’t need 4WD. We ended up on some pretty bumpy dirt roads that didn’t require 4WD (see cover photo), but I would’ve felt safer having a larger vehicle. If you plan to travel on any F-roads into Iceland’s interior, you are required to have a 4WD vehicle.
This was one of the dirt roads we drove on that didn’t require 4WD. It was quite a stressful drive!
Also, it gets insanely windy in parts of Iceland. Please be careful opening and closing car doors. Seriously, don’t ever take your hand off of it. The last thing you want is for the wind to get a hold of the door and rip it open. You’ll have a hefty bill with your rental car company and possibly have an uncomfortable, cold drive with a door that won’t close all the way.
One last tip for transportation. If you’re from the United States, your credit card won’t work at the gas station pumps. We purchased prepaid gas cards from N1 gas stations and used them the whole trip. If you’re only traveling during the day, you can also go inside to pay and not worry about the prepaid cards. We got the prepaid cards just in case we needed gas when the inside counter was closed.
We saw soooo many people living the camper van life, which is great if you enjoy that lifestyle. We stayed in guesthouses, which was perfect for us. Just remember to book in advance, wayyy in advance if you’re traveling during summer. My biggest problem with the guesthouses was sharing a bathroom with the entire house. I was hoping there would be more hostel options, but they only seemed to be in the bigger towns like Akureyri. We used Booking.com to find the guesthouses with ease.
6) Download Google Maps on your Phone
I downloaded the map of Iceland on my phone through Google Maps. This meant I could navigate the country via GPS, but not have to use any of my data. Iceland is really easy to navigate without a GPS, but for someone that likes to be extra prepared, I appreciated having the maps.
7) When to go?
We picked the middle of September to avoid the busy season and save a little money. We didn’t want to go much later into September because we didn’t want snow to ruin our plans to road trip around the whole country. Fall also brings some big windstorms in parts of Iceland. We were lucky that we only had to deal with really bad wind one day and it didn’t postpone any part of our trip.
Unless it’s really the off season, you’ll want to book any day trips or activities well in advance. Some ideas include snorkeling between tectonic plates, an ice cave tour, Jokulsarlon Glacier Tour, Landmannalaugar hike (into the highlands of Iceland), and the Blue Lagoon. There are seriously soooo many more activities to choose from than what we had time for. If you’re there during whale season, definitely check out a tour to see some!
Iceland is one of the most tourist friendly countries I have ever visited. They have several websites that visitors can check every morning. One of them is road.is which provides details around any road closings or issues you may have to worry about. Roads can be closed due to snow, ice, crazy wind, construction, etc. We used this website every morning to double check our route and make sure we wouldn’t have any issues.
Another great website to refer to is weather.is, which provided very accurate weather for different regions of Iceland. We used this website the most when it came to a crazy windstorm we potentially had to avoid. It also helped us decide how many layers we needed to wear for that day’s activities.
Iceland’s weather changes so quickly. Some days it was really cloudy and windy and felt very cold. Other days the sun was shining and we didn’t need nearly as many layers. My suggestion would be to have lots of rainproof clothes, boots, and many layers. Don’t forget to research what kind of clothes you’ll need if you’re doing any special tours. For our ice cave tour, we were asked to wear very warm clothes, bring waterproof gloves, and wear waterproof pants and jackets. Some people didn’t read those suggestions and were very cold and uncomfortable the entire trip.
Here’s us properly prepared for our ice cave tour!
12) How to Eat Cheap
If you’re like my husband and I, you want to try and save money where you can while visiting such an expensive country. We visited a lot of grocery stores and gas stations for cheap food. Most gas stations have all kinds of hot dogs with toppings to choose from. They’re good, cheap, and filling. We also bought bread and made sandwiches a few times. As for eating out at restaurants, we did that a handful of times during our 10 days in Iceland. We tried to pick restaurants in our price range and obviously wouldn’t go for the most expensive thing on the menu.
We didn’t have to take any money out during our 10 days in Iceland. Everywhere we went took credit card, which was pretty great!
If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, please feel free to reach out with any questions you may have. I’ll do my best to answer them!
Have you ever gone on a road trip around Iceland? What are some tips you’d like to share with others?