The road in Iceland for hired cars
The main highway in Iceland, known as road nr.1, is paved with asphalt and easily accessible most of the year. However, most country roads in Iceland are gravel roads and are not suited to fast driving.
We advise all those intending to hire a car in Iceland to make traveling plans ahead of time and checking on a map of Icelandic roads what kind of road leads to your intended destination. We also recommend that those wanting to drive in Iceland estimate how far they want to drive each day and allow for considerable flexibility because of Iceland’s unpredictable weather and road conditions.
While driving your hired car in Iceland you may experience roads that are different from what you are accustomed to. The Icelandic road system consists of both paved roads and gravel roads as well as the so-called F-roads, also known as the highland roads.
Most of the Icelandic lowland roads are easily accessible and can be driven in a standard hired vehicle, those country roads are also the roads you are most likely to be driving on in your hired car. However, Iceland’s roads, like the weather, can be treacherous and difficult to predict.
Paved roads for hired cars in Iceland
In and around Iceland’s capital city Reykjavík the road system is quite good, with paved and well maintained roads. The streets in the older part of Reykjavík near the city center can be narrow and many of them are intended for one way traffic, in such cases the road signs are very clear. The speed limit in urban areas is 50 km. ph. which amounts to 31 mph. unless specifically stated.
Once you leave the capital of Iceland in your hired car you can stay on paved roads all around the beautiful island driving your hired car from time to time through some of its more picturesque fishing towns and small villages which dot the coastline. This road is the national highway and is known as Highway or Road nr.1 but is affectionately referred to as “Hringvegurinn” or The Ring Road by locals. The total length of the Ring Road around Iceland is 1.339 km. and the speed limit is 90 km. ph. which is 55 mph.
For the most part Iceland’s main road system is paved with asphalt making it quite easily accessable for adventurous travellers in their hired cars. The roads are generally easy to navigate and there is not much traffic or other obstacles with the occasional exception of livestock on the roads or road maintenance crews in areas where changes are being made or the road is being repaired.
On the other hand there is a great deal of Icelands inland road system which is not paved and is only gravel and dirt roads.
Gravel roads for hired cars in Iceland
While driving your hired car in Iceland you should keep in mind that once you turn off the main road, also known as Highway nr. 1, or The Circle Road, most other country roads in Iceland are gravel roads which can be difficult to drive. These gravel roads are marked as such on the maps of the Icelandic road system.
Gravel roads in Iceland are not suited to fast driving and drivers of hired cars are reminded that even allowing for the best possible conditions, such as dry and pothole free roads, good tires and no sidewinds, the standard speed limit is 80 km/h or 50 mph. It is also worth noting that most locals prefer to stay slightly under the top speed at all times because driving conditions are seldom optimal.
Drivers of hired cars, and those unaccustomed to driving on gravel roads, should be very careful at all times as the surface of the road beneath their hired vehicle will consist of loose gravel, small stones, lava-gravel and other loose soil, especially along the sides of the roads.
There may be a considerable amount of potholes in these roads which may come as a surprise to many drivers of hired cars. A good idea is to try to keep to the right side of the road because swaying to avoid holes reduces the drivers ability to keep control of the car.
These country roads are not as wide as paved roads and special consideration must therefore be taken when meeting and passing other motorists. On these gravel roads in Iceland it is especially important that all drivers show other road users great consideration at all times. Driving slow and keeping to the right side of the road is essential especially when meeting other cars.
Driving a hired car on gravel roads in the Icelandic countryside you may encounter wandering livestock such as Icelandic sheep with their young lambs, or come across the occasional group of people riding Icelandic horses. If you do you must slow down and be alert, the animals may spook easily and are quite unpredictable.