The Ultimate Guide To Winter Driving In Iceland

Winter Driving in Iceland.
Winter Driving in Iceland.

If you are a fan of snow and long nights, you should definitely visit Iceland during winter! It is a magical time and a great opportunity to experience many unique Icelandic cultural events and natural wonders.

Although conditions might be a little challenging during winter, driving it is still by far the best way to travel when visiting Iceland. 

In fact it is all part of the winter experience in Iceland and should by no means prevent travelers from visiting the country at this time. In fact, it should be the opposite. Winter might just be the best time to visit Iceland.

With that being said, it is also a time of extreme weather conditions. The Icelandic winter can be both beautiful and harsh and there are a few things drivers need to consider.

Winter conditions in Iceland

Driving in Iceland during winter can be difficult, especially when there is snow and ice on the roads. That´s why it is so important for drivers to check road and weather conditions before starting their trips.

From November and throughout April drivers can expect snow and ice on the roads. However, that is also the time when all our rental cars are equipped with studded winter tires. 

It is important to remember that even though the car has special tires for winter conditions drivers still need to be extra careful. The studded tires do help control the car, but snow and ice always requires careful driving.

Icy road in Iceland.
Icy road in Iceland during winter.

How to drive in snow

Driving in snow is not easy, especially if there is a lot of it on the road. So, if the roads are not clear, it is best to avoid driving there until it is safe. We recommend having your travel plans as open as possible so you can alter your plans if needed, due to bad conditions.

In Iceland we have a saying. If the weather is bad, wait one hour and check again. If that does not work, wait another hour or try again tomorrow. It is better to be safe than being stuck somewhere during a snowstorm.

If you get caught in a snow storm it is important to slow down and drive very carefully. Drive only as fast as you can have complete control of the vehicle. If you lose control of the car you do not want to be going fast. 

SEE ALSO: Driving in Iceland during winter: 5 things to watch out for!

If you start losing control, do not hit the breaks hard. By doing so the car will potentially slide off the road and then you are stuck on the side of the road. If you do get stuck, call for assistance immediately. 

In case of injuries contact the national emergency number, 112. 

If the car is stuck and no one is hurt, you can try pushing it free. Always cooperate with the emergency contact at your rental company when doing so.

Driving in snow during winter in Iceland.
Drirvers must be extremely careful when driving in snow.

Where can I drive in Winter?

Although there are some limitations, a road trip in Iceland during winter is certainly possible. 

The F-roads in the Highlands are closed during winter and other less traveled roads are often closed due to no winter service. Most other roads in Iceland remain open unless in extreme cases where road closures are in place until they are cleared.  

This means travelers can visit most of Iceland’s top attractions during winter. For example, driving the Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik. Or visiting areas such as the Golden Circle to see Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir geothermal hot springs or Thingvellir National Park.

Longer drivers are also possible such as visiting the beautiful South coast and seeing sites such as Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Skogarfoss waterfall, Reynisfjara black sand beach and more.

The same goes for Snæfellsnes Peninsula to see Kirkjufell (e. Church Mountain) and other natural wonders. 

Gullfoss waterfall at the Golden Circle in Iceland.
Gullfoss Waterfall

The Ring Road in Winter

It is also possible to take a road trip along the Ring Road. Visiting places such as Akureyri and lake Mývatn in the North or Egilsstaðir and other areas in the east.

However, traveling far distances in winter is often more difficult as drivers will often need to pass mountain roads and remote areas to reach their destination. 

Therefore, the weather is more likely to affect the trip, so take that into account if you plan on going to the North, East or the Westfjord for example.

Planning a road trip in winter? Keep your travel plans flexible and be prepared for changes to your schedule.

Which car should I rent in winter?

When driving in Iceland during winter we recommend renting a 4×4/AWD. Not only will the 4×4/AWD assist drivers with controlling the vehicle when driving on icy roads but SUV´s also have higher ground clearance, reducing the risk of getting stuck.

For most trips a medium size SUV such as Dacia Duster or Kia Sportage will be enough for driving in Iceland during winter. However, if drivers intend to drive to remote areas, we do recommend a large SUV such as the Toyota Land Cruiser or even the mighty Land Rover Defender.

If the idea is to rent a car for a few days and take short trips, a smaller car such as the Toyota Yaris or Kia Rio will do the job. At least to visit the Blue Lagoon or other attractions around Reykjavik and Keflavik International Airport.

Toyota Land Cruiser driving in snow in Iceland.
Toyota Land Cruiser is ideal for driving in winter conditions.

Witness the Northern Lights in Iceland

It´s impossible to talk about winter driving in Iceland without mentioning the main winter attraction. The amazing Northern Lights. Also called Aurora Borealis or just simply auroras, are only visible during winter.

The auroras are without a doubt the most incredible display in nature and Iceland is the best place in the world to see them.

To get the best view of the Northern lights, it is best to go out of town. Artificial lights will make it harder to see the northern lights. Clouds also block the view as the auroras are above them. Therefore, it is best to find a place where there is a dark and clear sky.

SEE ALSO: Find Northern Lights in Iceland With This Comprehensive Guide

There is no better way to find these conditions, and therefore have the best view, than getting in your rental car and going hunting for the Northern lights.

Great places to see the northern lights are for example, Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon, Kirkjufell Church mountain and Grótta Lighthouse.

The Icelandic Met office provides a great aurora forecast for those planning to see the Northern lights in Iceland.

The Northern Lights at Glacier lagoon in Iceland.
The Northern Lights above Glacier lagoon in Iceland.

The Icelandic Winter

The arctic winter is both long and cold. There is limited daylight, and the weather is unpredictable at this time of the year.

It´s important to see road and weather conditions before starting a trip and make sure your rental car is capable of getting safely to your destination.

You need to be prepared for these conditions when driving in Iceland during winter. So, make sure to pack your warmest winter coat and best boots before arriving.

What do I need for driving in winter?

Snow chains are not used in Iceland. Instead all our cars are equipped with studded winter tires, during the winter months.

Also note that the windshield is often covered with ice. Especially in the morning. It is at most important that drivers clear the windshield before getting on the road. Driving in icy conditions is hard enough without adding limited view.

Now you should better be prepared for driving in Iceland during winter. All that is left is to book the perfect rental car for your trip and start planning your dream winter holiday in Iceland.