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Discovering Iceland by Car

Have you always dreamt of exploring Iceland at your own pace? Travelling around Iceland by car is one of the most rewarding ways to experience the country’s diverse and dramatic landscapes. From towering waterfalls to volcanic craters, having your own vehicle means you can travel at your own pace, make stops whenever you need to, and discover hidden gems that are often missed by organised tours.

For families with children, of course, flexibility is everything, so travelling Iceland by car is a great way to enable those with kids to enjoy scenic drives, visit remote areas, and make spontaneous stops in interesting places, all while accommodating everyone’s needs and schedules. To make sure our single parent families have a smooth and enjoyable road trip, we have gathered some advice for driving around the island south of the Arctic Circle by car, with special tips for single parents travelling alone with kids:

Car Rental in Iceland

Renting a car in Iceland is straightforward, but there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you get the best experience:

  • Choosing the right car: For urban areas and well-maintained roads, a compact car like the Toyota Aygo or Hyundai i10 is sufficient. However, if you plan to explore the highlands or rural areas with gravel roads and F-roads, a 4×4 vehicle such as a Dacia Duster or Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is vital for safety and access​. When you drive a Dacia Duster, the rugged terrain feels like a thrilling adventure, with each bump and twist adding to the excitement of discovering new landscapes. Your kids will love the bumpy rides and spotting sheep along the way!
  • Booking in advance: Rental car demand in Iceland can be high, especially during peak tourist seasons from May to September. Booking your vehicle in advance ensures availability and often results in better rates​. Don’t make the mistake of booking last minute: You will end up paying a premium for a car that osn’t your first choice.
  • Understanding insurance: Ensure your rental includes necessary insurance coverage, especially for gravel roads and potential wind damage. Familiarize yourself with the rental company’s policies to avoid unexpected costs​. It’s not unusual to get caught in inclement weather, so you want to make sure that you have comprehensive cover that includes storm and hail damage.

Iceland in a 4x4

Navigating Iceland’s Roads

Iceland’s roads range from well-paved highways to rugged gravel paths. Here’s how to prepare for driving in this unique environment:

  • Weather Conditions: Iceland’s weather can change rapidly. Check weather forecasts regularly and be prepared for sudden rain, fog, or even snow, depending on the season​​. On one summer trip, we experienced all four seasons in a single day – from sunshine to snow, which made for a memorable and challenging drive.
  • Road Conditions: It’s vital to stay updated on road conditions through websites such as Vegagerdin, the IRCA’s (Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration) new website, which is available in English. This is particularly important if you plan to drive on F-roads, which require a 4×4 vehicle and are often closed during winter. Not checking the road and weather conditions on F-roads before you set off, might lead to you getting stuck and a long wait for help.
  • Driving Etiquette: Find out and adhere to speed limits, which are typically 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on gravel roads, and 90 km/h on paved rural roads. Beware of one-lane bridges and livestock on rural roads​​. We once had to stop and wait for a herd of sheep to cross the road – a common occurrence in Icelandic that your kids will talk about for years to come.

road in Iceland

Tips for a Safe Road Trip

As with every holiday, a little planning goes a long way if you want to make the most of your trip. Here are some useful tips for your road trip around Iceland:

Packing essentials:

Bring layers of clothing to adjust to changing weather, a reliable GPS, or offline maps, and plenty of snacks and water, especially if you plan to travel through remote areas​​. You will be grateful for that stash of snacks on the most remote stretches of the Ring Road, especially where hungry children are involved.

Fuelling up:

Gas stations can be sparse in rural Iceland, so fill up whenever you have the chance, particularly before venturing into the highlands or less populated areas​​. Otherwise, you might end up running low, make it to the gas station – only to find that it’s closed for the night.

Safety precautions:

Driving abroad means you must familiarise yourself with each country’s unique road signs and regulations. Get your kids involved in spotting road signs and finding out their meaning. You should also be aware that to protect the delicate ecosystem, it’s illegal to drive off-road in Iceland. Needless to say, you should always check your rental car’s condition before setting off​​. The thrill of driving on Iceland’s unique terrain is unmatched, but driving safely on holiday with kids must always come first.

Puffin in Látrabjarg, Iceland
Photo: Puffin in Látrabjarg, Iceland

Must-See Sights When Exploring Iceland by Car

For families, and especially for single parents travelling with children, exploring Iceland by car offers the perfect blend of adventure and convenience. The flexibility to stop whenever needed and the ability to explore remote locations make it an ideal choice for families with adventure in mind.

If this is your first time in Iceland, or the first time you are exploring Iceland by car, you should start with a road trip of the Golden Circle. The popular route takes you along well maintained roads (no 4×4 needed!) and includes some of Iceland’s most famous natural attractions and geological wonders. It can be done leisurely in two to three days and is only a short drive away from Reykjavik. As the name implies, it’s a circular sightseeing tour, which includes, waterfalls, geysers, and the scenically beautiful Þingvellir National Park:

Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park

Thingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a great starting point for your journey. You can walk between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates that run through Iceland – a fascinating experience. The park also offers easy hiking trails and the picturesque Öxarárfoss waterfall. The historical significance and natural beauty make it a wonderful educational and fun stop with kids​​.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, Iceland
Photo: Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Seljalandsfoss is unique because you can walk behind the waterfall. This exciting adventure is sure to captivate children but be prepared for them to get a bit wet! The path can be slippery, so sturdy shoes are recommended. Nearby, you can also visit the hidden Gljúfrabúi waterfall, which involves a short walk through a narrow canyon​​.

Geysir Geothermal Area

The Geysir Geothermal Area in Haukadalur Valley is home to the famous Strokkur geyser, which erupts every 5-10 minutes. Watching the boiling water shoot up to 30 metres high is a thrilling experience for children and adults alike. The nearby geothermal pools and mud pots add to the otherworldly landscape, making it an engaging stop for curious young minds​.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

Reynisfjara is famous for its dramatic black sand and basalt columns. The beach is a great place for kids to run around and explore, but caution is needed near the water due to strong waves. The nearby Dyrhólaey promontory offers stunning views and is home to puffins during the summer months, which can be a delightful sight for children​​.

Photo: Black Sand Beach

Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss, also known as the “Golden Waterfall,” is one of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls. Its powerful two-tiered cascade is a sight to behold, and the viewing platforms are safe for children to explore. On a sunny day, rainbows often form in the mist, creating a magical experience. Be sure to bring waterproof jackets, as the spray can be intense​​.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is a spectacular sight where icebergs drift out to sea. Taking a boat tour through the lagoon can be an exciting way for kids to see the ice up close. Just across the road is Diamond Beach, where the icebergs wash up on the black sand, creating a striking contrast that’s perfect for photos and exploration​.

iceberg reflection in Jökulsárlón
Photo: Iceberg reflection in Jökulsárlón

Before You Pack Your Bags

Exploring Iceland by car allows you to create unique memories with your child, from spontaneous stops at hidden waterfalls to experiencing the Northern Lights from remote locations. Don’t forget to visit the lesser-known sites, such as the picturesque town of Seydisfjordur and the colourful Stuðlagil Canyon to truly experience Iceland’s diverse beauty.

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