The best way to enjoy Iceland during summer is to rent a car. It’s a fantastic way to experience Iceland in freedom and flexibility. Route 1, also called the “Ring Road”, is a national road in Iceland that runs around the island and connects the most habited parts of the country. Renting a car is convenient, but not cheap… freedom has always a price and Iceland is no exception !
In order to make this road trip memorable, here is a list of recommendations that may help you planning the road trip of a lifetime ! :
Choosing the right car rental company
If like me, you like reading tons of articles before planning your trip, you may stumble upon horrible stories about how car rental companies in Iceland often ask tourists to pay thousands of euros after a little car accident. It was the thing that scared me the most when I had to chose my car rental company for our summer holiday. What if we had a problem and the car company won’t be able to help ?
After reading many reviews, we decided to chose Iceland car rental. They were very helpful and professional. We even could split our payment ! You don’t have to pay everything in one go if you contact them and ask nicely, I think it’s great ! We chose to rent a Suzuki Jimny. Renting this car allowed us to go on gravel roads without exploding our budget…. but let’s face it, it’s not the most powerful car ever ;-)
Also, I would like to insist about the wonderful customer service we’ve experienced with this car rental company. Our windshield was broken due to a stone thrown off the road by a car driving in the opposite direction of us (obviously way too fast). Usually, windshield damages are not covered by any car insurrance in Iceland, which is quite awful. We were stressed out and thought we were going to pay hundred of euros for the damages. We phoned the company to explain the damages we got on our windshield and the company was so helpful, they didn’t even ask us to pay for it !!! I would recommend this company without hesitation !
Drive safely, especially on gravel roads
In Iceland, you drive on the right and the general speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on gravel roads in rural areas, and 90 km/h on asphalt, rural roads like the one below.
All mountain roads and roads in the interior of Iceland have a loose gravel surface, so one should drive carefully. The mountain roads are quite narrow and are not made for speeding.
When leaving the Ring for the F-roads to reach the Iceland highlands, you must have the correct vehicle, extra caution is needed. Some F-roads may be drivable only by larger 4×4 rental… because of the river crossing. A Jimny would not be able to cross a huge stream. When travelling in these areas, make sure you check the Road conditions ! Make a detailed itinerary and always stick to it. In case of emmergency, call “112” to reach Iceland Police, as well as ambulances and fire department.
There is a wonderful video that explains well the danger of the icelandic roads
Pack the right type of clothes
Iceland is warmed up by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate despite a high latitude just outside the Arctic Circle. It’s rather cool during summer (9-12°C), and mild during winter (0-4°C) around Reykjavik. In the North, the temperature can drop drastically, and in August 2014, we had 2°C around Lake Myvatn.
Iceland is a magical place but keep in mind that weather conditions can change quickly. As you can see in the pictures below, within 3 weeks, I wore my hat, my gloves, my waterproof, my down jacket, my sunglasses.. my t shirt !
Bring the proper equipment and clothing, use waterproof bags to keep them dry. It’s difficult to provide you with an universal packing list for Iceland, as the packing will change slightly depending on your style of traveling. Some things are nonetheless essentials. You’ll definitively need a rain jacket and eventually a rainproof pair of trousers (walking with wet pants is definitively not an good option, believe me), a sturdy pair of walking shoes or hiking boots for gravel trails or slippery paths near waterfalls…and in Iceland, there are are a lot of waterfalls :-)
A fleece can also be useful as well as a pair of gloves, a hat and a scarf for outdoors activities, even during summer.
And finally, don’t forget you swimsuit if you want to enjoy one of the numerous Iceland’s geothermal pools !!
Book your accommodation way in advance
… unless you have unlimited budget. Summer is popular, lots of people want to go there, and everyone is doing the same itinerary, yes, you are not the only one to have this brilliant idea !! :-)
Not only to mention tourism professionals who book a lot of rooms in advance for their organized trips, especially in the South. And there is not so much accommodations… . I think with a better planning, you can reduce the cost of your trip.
Here is two interesting link for accommodations:
- Farm Holidays : It is a good website to book accommodations in countryside locations (farm stay, hostel, bed & breakfast)
- Hostelling International Iceland : HI Iceland is a chain of 36 Hostels all around Iceland.
Use online resources to plan your activities
There are three national parks in Iceland, each of them home to different natural wonders :
Þingvellir National Park : Official website of this key location in Icelandic history. Situated in the South, Thingvellir National Park is the only national park in Iceland that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a good section about the history of the place as well as a lot of information about how to plan your visit and see for example where the The Eurasian Plate and the North American Plate on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge meet.
Snæfellsjökull National Park : Official website of the National Park located in the West of Iceland, on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. It’s home to wonderful hiking trails and interesting geological formations.
Vatnajökull National Park : Official website of the second largest national park of Europe. Good information about the walking trail, the different visitor centers and the camping areas. It is the most popular one as it is the home of the Vatnajökull glacier, which is the largest glacier in Europe. :-)
and last … but not least, my custom interactive map I put together only for you :-)
the green stars, you will see all the natural attractions (basically, the free stuff :D) we plan to visit with a little explanation for each of them
– the purple squares, you will see all the attractions that require a fee (museums for examples) as well as the organized trips we have decided to join (with a website for most of them)
– the red marks, you will see the location of the accommodations we have chosen, including a little description and an official website when available