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Exploring Iceland by car

Iceland is a truly spectacular country, packed with beautiful natural scenery, stunning coastal settings and picturesque buildings.

It’s also a prime spot to spy aurora borealis – the Northern Lights – in their true glory and is definitely a country best explored by car.

However, the weather also has a part to play, as wintery conditions often continue through to April and visitors that hire cars will need to ensure they are prepared.

The capital Reykjavik is relatively easy to get around either by foot or by using public transport but venturing beyond it requires a vehicle.

Highway 1 is the ring road which circles the island. In the summer you could do the journey in just over a day, but it’s more fun to stop off and sightsee on the way.

Driving Tips & Considerations

Although it is well maintained, the road is still susceptible to sudden weather changes and heavy snowfall, which means drivers need to take care.

The good news is that you can hire manual and automatic cars that are set up for driving on the right-hand side of the road. However, ensure you check the exclusions on your car hire insurance policies, as many car hire and excess insurance providers will not cover for damage caused whilst on an adventure trail or non-public road.

You’ll need winter tyres by law in the winter and may need them in spring – most rental companies can supply the necessary equipment.

Any driver will also need to have their driving licence in their possession at all times when they are behind the wheel and you could be fined if you are stopped by the police and cannot produce it.

Where to visit

Wherever you go in Iceland you’ll come face to face with some of the most incredible geological features in the world. These features make up the majority of things to see and do in Iceland, but they are well worth the effort.

Gullfoss Waterfall

Around 90 minutes from Reykjavik, the river Hvita has created the hugely impressive Gullfoss Waterfall, which features several high cascades of water that drop more than 30 metres in total. Torrents of water pass through the canyon at incredible speeds, but be careful if you visit, as there’s a lack of safety barriers.

Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss Waterfall

Strokkur Geysir

Famed the world over, Strokkur Geysir fires geothermally-heated water roughly 30 metres into the air every few minutes and is the geyser after which all others are named. As well as boiling mud pits, you’ll find around 100 smaller geysers and a Geysir Centre featuring exhibits and presentations on the geography of the region.


Once the home of the national parliament, Thingvellir is a site of historical, cultural and geological significance in Iceland. The national park is in a rift valley where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, creating the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The country’s largest natural lake, Thingvallavatn, can also be found to the south.

Tectonic plates

Thingvellir tectonic plates

Blue Lagoon

Perhaps Iceland’s most famous attraction, the iconic geothermal spas are around a 40 minute drive from Reykjavik. With the water reaching temperatures of anything between 37°C and 40°C, bathing is said to carry numerous health benefits, while there’s a host of spa treatments to enjoy too.


The volcanic island of Heimaey is transformed during the summer months as it plays host to one of the largest puffin colonies in the world. More Atlantic Puffins use the region as a nesting site than any other location on the planet, while there are ample opportunities to see whales and dolphins too.

Landmannalauger National Park

Landmannalauger National Park is home to the Hekla Volcano, spectacular lava fields and an array of other impressive geological features. The landscape is popular with horse riders and hikers, although access to the region is near impossible between October and May as the main road is closed.

Vatnajokull National Park

Also, in the south of Iceland is Vatnajokull National Park, where you’ll find an abundance of glaciers, ice caves and hiking routes. The Vatnajokull Glacier dominates the landscape, while the Skaftafell Ice Cave is impressive all year round.

Reykjavik Whale Watching

Reykjavik is packed full of restaurants, shops and bars, but it’s also a fantastic spot for whale watching when departing from the old harbour. Summer is a more popular time for spotting whales, although there are no guarantees that you will see some of the magnificent creatures.


Akureyri is known as Iceland’s second city and there’s plenty of spectacular scenery nearby, as the landscape is dominated by past volcanic activity. The region is home to some of the island’s best skiing and the Akureyri Museum, while temperatures in the summer months can reach 25°C.

Lake Myvatn

To the east of Akureyri is the spectacular Lake Myvatn. Surrounded by bubbling lava pits and clay pits, the region is home to an abundance of birds and other wildlife which makes it incredibly popular with spotters.

Lake Myvata

Lake Myvatn

If you intend to hire a car to travel to these must-see sights, you may wish to consider car hire excess insurance. This insurance will cover the excess you may be liable for in the event your hire car is stolen or damaged. 


Date Created: 11/01/2019

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