Do you need 4-wheel-drive in Iceland?

I’m going to preface this article by saying that Iceland is the land known of unpredictability. The weather is constantly changing, which makes it difficult to determine the road conditions. I ventured to Iceland this November and actually did not use a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. That seems to be a shocker to everyone I’ve told. 

In an unfortunate chain of events, I ended up not receiving a four-wheel-drive vehicle from my rental car company. But being the daring Minnesotan I am, I decided that I would stick with the company and use the all-wheel-drive vehicle they gave me. 

To determine whether you need four-wheel-drive on your trip to Iceland here a few criteria that I would use to base your decision.

Do you have previous experience driving in winter?

In November, in Iceland, the weather is unpredictable, which is like any other month in Iceland. But this month is particularly tricky to prepare for because there’s no information in advance about road conditions or what to expect. For me, the weather was a mesh between fall and winter. Some days I had snow and ice to deal with. Other days, it was blue skies and clear roads. Due to this reason, it’s hard to determine what kind of vehicle you’ll need to battle the elements.

During Minnesota winters, I drive a two-wheel-drive vehicle, so I’m familiar with how to navigate a small vehicle through the snow and ice. With that being said, that ultimately saved me during this trip. If I hadn’t had the background of winter driving in Minnesota, I would’ve been in the ditch more times than I can count in Iceland.

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Where are you driving to?

If you’re driving the Ring Road, also known as Highway 1, nearly the entire road is paved. There’s one 100 km section that is a dirt road, which you can drive on in an AWD vehicle, you simply have to go slower. Many of the roads are curved and some sections run through the mountains, making them more prone to drifts and high winds.

In the highlands and interior part of Iceland, you’ll definitely need a four-wheel-drive vehicle. You’ll also need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to access all F-roads in Iceland. In the winter all F-roads are closed in Iceland. This includes the highlands, so plan accordingly. 

Tips for Iceland road conditions

When driving in Iceland rental car companies and locals are going to tell you to check road conditions and the weather forecast daily, if not hourly. (I wish I was exaggerating the last part!)

To check Iceland’s road conditions and road closures locals use Vegagerdin. The website has an interactive map that shows the road conditions throughout the entire country. In addition, there are webcams so visitors and locals can see the conditions of the roads.

Screenshot from Road.is of current road conditions in Iceland.

Drive.is has created an easy-to-follow video that quickly breaks down the dangers of driving on Icelandic roads. Elfis the Elf teaches tourists what signs mean and offers some tips on how to stay safe while navigating the roads.

The learn more about Icelandic parking and license regulations visit the Guide to Iceland’s website.

Rent what puts you at ease

Overall, it’s ultimately up to you whether you rent a four-wheel-drive or AWD vehicle. The most important factor is that you feel comfortable behind the vehicle and feel like you can take on any situation that happens when you are behind the wheel.

Learn more dos and don’ts for traveling to Iceland at The Adventures of Panda Bear. 

Disclaimer: The rental car used on my Ring Road trip was complimentary of Lagoon Car Rental. Opinions stated in this article are all my own.

Quirky Globetrotter

Hi! I'm Martha! The mastermind behind Quirky Globetrotter a feminist travel blog. Quirky Globetrotter is devoted to telling narratives devoted to female solo travel and hidden gems worldwide with an emphasis on intersectional feminism and how that impacts travel on a global and local level.

30 thoughts on “Do you need 4-wheel-drive in Iceland?

  1. Oh my goodness! That shot of the road conditions in Icelands makes me get all panicky! It’s so good that being from Minnesota prepared you for these conditions. Confidence is key, I’m sure!

    1. Hi Marcie! Yeah, the road conditions in Iceland aren’t ideal, but please, don’t let that stop you from exploring the beautiful countryside. Safe and happy travels to you!

  2. If ONLY I had read this blog before we went to Iceland last year! I think I did some of the dodgiest driving I have ever done there! We hired an automatic hyundai i20 (what idiots) and drove all the way to the north, only to have a big storm come in and then have to drive all the way back down to the south again through a blizzard. Seeing that Vegagerdin map again sends shivers down my spine. All the roads were various shades of white or blue and it was terrifying! This is really useful information for people planning a trip to Iceland.

    1. I definitely feel your painful flashbacks when looking at the road conditions map! I was driving around the Snaefellson Peninsula which hurricane winds, you could hardly open your car door, it was insane! Definitely hoping that people understand the seriousness of driving in Iceland in the winter, especially now that is a top tourist destination. Glad you guys were safe! Happy and safe travels to you!

  3. If ONLY I had read this blog before we went to Iceland last year! I think I did some of the dodgiest driving I have ever done there! We hired an automatic hyundai i20 (what idiots) and drove all the way to the north, only to have a big storm come in and then have to drive all the way back down to the south again through a blizzard. Seeing that Vegagerdin map again sends shivers down my spine. All the roads were various shades of white or blue and it was terrifying! This is really useful information for people planning a trip to Iceland.

  4. Some great tips on understanding whether or not you need 4 wheel drive. We spent two weeks driving around Iceland’s main N1 (with quite a lot of diversions off onto smaller roads) but it was August into September, mostly glorious weather with some heavy rain a few days, and we were OK. But I have no experience in driving on ice and snow so I’d definitely be more cautious in winter.

    1. Hi Kavita! That’s good to know that the roads in the summertime are easier to navigate. I’ve heard some horror stories about F-roads even during the summertime. I definitely want to go back to Iceland in late summer/early fall to experience more of the countryside that I couldn’t reach due to snow blocking certain roads.

  5. This is so useful to know, thank you! Driving the ring road in Iceland is on my bucket list, not sure I’d do it in winter though. Drive.is seems like such a handy website, I wish every country had good guides to driving their roads!

    1. Hi Chesca! Drive.is was so handy during my trip! I had to educate a few travels that I met along the way because their rental car company had not warned them about the severity of the weather. I hope you get to drive the Ring Road one day! I’m so happy that I did! It feels like an even greater accomplishment now that I’ve driven and completed it during the winter. Happy and safe travels to you!

  6. I remember being in Iceland, but didn’t rent a car, just joined a few tours! Great tip on checking the weather conditions hourly, I didn’t remember it being that unpredictable, just very cold! Will remember this post if I ever to a drive through Iceland again.

    1. Hi Lisa! I think with tours, the operations often have a close eye on the weather to know whether it’s safe or not. But I also think in the summer time there are fewer factors that would cause tour cancellations, so it may not seem like such an immediate and necessary task. Hope you enjoyed your time in Iceland!

  7. This was a very detailed and thorough post. You were certainly right to say the weather in Iceland changes hourly. I was just there in the summer myself and I experienced it for sure! I don’t know how to drive, but I could pass this along to any drivers I know visiting Iceland.

    1. Hi Stella! That’s good to know that weather in Iceland even during the summer is pretty erratic. This is the first thing that people find so shocking when I talk about Iceland. Thanks for reading this post!

  8. Thanks for sharing your detailed post about Iceland. Now i understand why most are always in their jackets, due to weather unpredictability. Omg i think Iceland isn’t for me coz changing weather is my weakness.

    1. Hi Blair! Please don’t let the weather deter you from visiting Iceland, it’s a beautiful country. I so desperately want to go back! As long as you have a warm jacket you should be safe. I would maybe recommend going in the summer months if you aren’t keen on unpredictable, cold weather. Happy and safe travels to you!

  9. I went to Iceland over 10years ago before it was a real tourist spot and they had cheap flights. I have wanted to go back now and drive but to be honest I never thought about what type of vehicle to rent till now, as no one really discussed it. You have written some good information about driving there and definitely a post I am going to pin for when I do go back. Definitely a good tip on checking the road conditions and the weather forecast daily

    1. Hi Mel! Thanks for sharing your experience. I wish I would hear more about Iceland being a travel destination before the big tourist boom, this is honestly why I wasn’t thrilled about going there in the first place. Yet, I’m so happy that I went! Happy and safe travels to you!

  10. That’s a great recommendation, thanks! I would imagine that driving in winter cannot be easy, given the unpredictable weather. I plan to visit Iceland in October to be able to see the Northern Lights but I am guessing the weather is equally unpredictable even then, though its not really proper winter yet. Will make a note to rent a 4W drive.

    1. Hi Medha! I hope you have a blast in Iceland! I loved driving the Ring Road and exploring the vast countryside. I hope you get enough time to see everything you’re after! Safe travels to you, my dear!

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