Everything you need to know to have a happy experience in iceland
Welcome to our information corner. This page briefly goes over some of the most important things to know before traveling in Iceland. As a part of the Happy Campers mission, we want to make sure that every traveler starts their journey with confidence. That's why we spend a lot of time with each customer at our office, whether it's during the van tour, giving travel tips by our large Iceland map, or interacting with our Information Corner touchscreen. This page contains everything that our Information Corner touchscreen contains, just in case you want to get a head start on your preparation.
Use the green "Jump sections" button to quickly access different sections. If there is anything you are still unsure of, please check out our Q&A section. If you still have not found the answer to your question, you can reach us on Facebook, Instagram, or via email.
There are plenty of other things to keep in mind to make sure that you return from your safely. Even though Iceland is considered one of the safest countries in the world, it doesn't mean that you should throw caution to the wind. The crime rate might be extremely low, but the Icelandic nature can be very unforgiving and brutal if you are not prepared.
There are four main resources for safety information, which you can also find in the "Useful links" section below. The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue runs the SafeTravel website in cooperation with the Iceland Travel Industry Association and the government. You will also find up-to-date weather information at the Icelandic Meteorological Office website. It is extremely important to be aware of the weather forecast and be prepared for the worst, as the Icelandic weather is notorious for being unpredictable and fast-changing. Looking up current road conditions is made extremely easy by the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration's website. This is especially important when driving a car/campervan and if you already don't have much much experience driving in difficult conditions. Finally, make sure that you download the 112 App, which gives you extra security if something goes wrong.
Be on the lookout for the SafeTravel information screens at information centers, gas stations, and other public areas. These screens will sum up weather and road conditions and let you know about any special warnings or dangers in your area.
If you are traveling during winter, taking extra precautions is even more important. For an in-depth discussion about traveling safely in Iceland during winter, check out our post: Winter Camping in Iceland.
For a quick overview of how to stay safe while traveling in Iceland, please keep the following in mind:
How make the most of your iceland trip
- Use common sense - If you see an "impassable" sign, don't use that road. If you can't see out your window because of a snowstorm, stop the car. Etc. etc.
- Pack warm clothing - Expect the worst and be prepared to dress for the harshest temperatures and conditions when in Iceland.
- Be aware of your surroundings - Check weather and road conditions at least daily and know where the nearest gas station is.
- Don't hurry - Don't drive faster than you have to and don't pass other vehicles on narrow roads if you don't have to. What's the hurry anyway?
- Ask for help - Having some issues? Don't be afraid of asking others for help or guidance. Icelanders do this all the time. If we get stuck in a pile of snow, we will ask somebody driving a large truck to drag us out of it and expect to return the favor when somebody else is in need.
- Avoid F-roads - Unless you know exactly what you're doing and are comfortably driving a 4x4 vehicle, don't drive on F-roads.
- No off-road driving - This is simply illegal and Icelanders take it very seriously when nature is harmed and disrespected in this way.
- Bring snacks & water - If you get lost or stuck in your car, always make sure you have extra food and water to hold you over.
- Bring good gear - Headlamp, compass, physical map, Leatherman, etc.
- Leave a travel plan - If you can, leave a travel plan with SafeTravel.
- Have a phone - Make sure that you get a SIM card or have a reliable internet connection at all times.
- Drive Safely - check out our driving safety tips in the chapter below.
Driving in Iceland
Driving in Iceland can be very different from what you are used to. Even in the best conditions during the summer, you will find narrow roads, rough gravel roads, and unfamiliar signs and traffic rules. This is why you should take some time to be conscious of some of the most common dangers you'll be facing when driving in Iceland.
A really large proportion of the Icelandic road system is made up of gravel roads. Gravel roads can be deceptively dangerous and can cause all sorts of issues if you're not careful. The most dangerous aspects of gravel roads is loss of control, but you can also run into other issues such as rocks damaging your car, potholes, dust, etc.
When driving on a gravel road, make sure that you do the following to minimize the risk of an accident:
- Slow down - especially when transitioning from a paved road to a gravel road
- Don't make any sudden turns
- Accelerate and break slowly
- Stay in tracks when you can
- Avoid overtaking and be very cautious if you have to
- Increase the distance from other cars - this is also important to minimize risk of damaging your car from rocks thrown from other cars.
- If you can't see due to dust, stop the car safely.
- Stay calm during loss of control and slowly (not suddenly) steer the car back on track while releasing the acceleration pedal or slowly breaking
You will see this sign (the one in the middle saying "Malbik Endar") warning you that you are about to enter a gravel road:
For a more in-depth look at driving in Iceland during specifically, check out chapter 2. D. of our Winter Camping in Iceland post.
When driving around Iceland during winter, keep the following in mind:
- Drive slowly - If you are experiencing a snow storm with no visibility, use your hazard lights and safely stop the car.
- Avoid overtaking if possible and if you need to, do so with great caution
- Check the weather and road conditions daily and as often as you can (see useful links below)
- Make sure that your car/camper has winter tires and is equipped for the season
- Make safety precautions - download the 112 app, make sure you have a SIM card or WiFi, bring extra warm clothing, keep snacks and water in the car, bring a flashlight, etc. Essentially, prepare for the worst when driving in Iceland in winter.
- Bring a physical map with you
- Choose your parking spot wisely - don't stop by the side of the road and watch out for that Icelandic wind when you open your car doors.
- Watch out for black ice - it can be difficult to spot
- Know where the closest gas stations are.
- Make sure that you don't accidentally drain the car battery
Iceland is one of the windiest countries in the world, which presents a unique challenge for drivers. Sudden gusts of wind can easily make you lose control of your car. It can even cause a lot of problems getting in and out of your car. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when it comes to fighting the Icelandic wind while on the road:
- Pay close attention to the weather forecast (see useful links below)
- Be extra careful when driving at the base of mountains and cliffs, especially by the coast. Gusts of wind can be particularly strong and sudden there.
- Always park into the wind so you don't control of your car door when entering or exiting the car.
Traffic Laws & Signs
One of the most important aspects of safely driving in Iceland is being familiar with our traffic signs and traffic laws. Here are some general tips on the Icelandic traffic laws and the most important traffic signs you'll need to know:
- We drive on the right side of the road in Iceland (very important!)
- The general speed limit is
- 50km/hour in populated area
- 80km/hour on gravel roads in rural areas
- 90km/hour on paved roads in rural areas
- Always wear a seat belt and make sure that your children are using the correct child seat
- Car headlights must always be on, even when it's daylight
- You can never turn right on a red traffic light
- Never drive after having alcohol
- It's illegal to use your phone while driving
- There are speed cameras at various spots around the ring road that will automatically snap a photo of you if you're driving above the speed limit.
- Never use a road that has an "impassable" sign in front of it. It is there for a reason!¨
- Do not drive on F-roads (highlands) if you don't have a 4x4 vehicle.
Below you can see some of the most common traffic signs in Iceland. Pay particularly close attention to the "Malibik Endar" (Approaching a gravel road) and "Einbreið Brú" (Single-lane bridge). You will find many singe-lane bridges in Iceland and it's important that you drive slowly when you approach them.
Make sure that you're familiar with these signs
If you are not driving a 4x4 and you see an "F-road" sign, do not continue
Driving in Iceland
One of the most important aspects of driving safely in Iceland is being aware of road conditions. These conditions can change extremely fast due to the unpredictable nature of the Icelandic weather. Route 1 (The Ring Road) is perhaps the best and easiest road to drive outside Reykjavik. However, even driving on this road, which is usually cleared fast and well maintained, an extreme snowstorm could easily alter your plans.
So how do you deal with this? The best and only answer is to bookmark the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration's website. This is by far the best place to find up-to-date information on the road conditions of every road in Iceland. Check which roads you are planning on driving on that day and look those roads up specifically on their website. If the weather is questionable, make sure to check their website multiple times each day.
If you are unable to get access to WiFi, you can also call 1777, which is the phone number of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, to get information about road conditions. This number, however, is only available from 06:30-22:00, so keep that in mind.
The Icelandic weather is predictably unpredictable. You might experience the most amazing midnight sunsets and the northern lights dancing in complete stillness, or you might experience the most extreme winds and snowstorms. Most likely, you'll experience both and it will be hard to see it coming.
Taking the Icelandic weather seriously is one of the most important aspects of traveling safely in Iceland. To do that, make sure that you do the following:
- Pack warm clothing and be prepared for the worst case scenario
- Use common sense and don't take risks when weather conditions are difficult
- Expect delays and complications to your plans due to weather. Be flexible and don't be afraid to alter your plans.
- Check vedur.is at least daily. This is the Icelandic Meteorological Office website and you will find the most accurate weather forecasts and information there.
If you are traveling in Iceland in winter, you are most likely hoping to see the northern lights. The aurora is one of the most amazing natural phenomena is the world and is one of Iceland's top attractions. We have written several posts about the northern lights, including our favorite places to see the northern lights and an overview in our winter camping guide. So if you're looking to read more about the northern lights, check out those posts.
The most important thing about finding the northern lights in Iceland is knowing how to look up the northern lights activity forecast and the cloud cover forecast. You can easily do this here, using the same website we recommended for looking up weather information.
On this page, you will find 3 important elements that you need to understand:
- The map - White means clear skies, light green means light clouds, and dark green means overcast.
- Aurora forecast - In the top right corner, you will see the aurora forecast, which is on a scale of 0-9. In our personal experience, the scale should be interpreted like the following:
- 0-1: Not worth looking.
- 2: Chances of faint northern lights. You shouldn't bother looking.
- 3: Probably at least some faint northern lights and possibly some stronger activity.
- 4: You can be excited. There’s a pretty good chance of strong activity.
- 5: You should definitely not miss this. You can expect a good show tonight.
- 6-9: Holy cow, I’m cancelling my plans tomorrow, grabbing all my camera gear, and spending all night outside and/or in my van.
- The slider - Use the slider to check the forecast for specific days and time of day. You will most likely be looking at the "00" time of day, or midnight, as the chances of good northern lights showing is highest around this time.
You might have heard that relatively new legislation now requires all campers to be parked overnight at designated campsites. The only exception to this rule is if you have the permission from the landowner to spend the night. Fortunately, this is not really a big problem considering that there are hundreds of campsites all over Iceland.
Using campsites actually presents a lot of possibilities and pros that many people would otherwise miss, such as:
- Having access to running water, showers, and other useful facilities. The most advanced campsites might even offer WiFi.
- Meeting other interesting people, sharing stories, advice, etc.
- Opportunity to ask locals (those who run the campsite) questions
- A safe place to spend the night. All campsites are located in safe spots as far as natural dangers go. Plus, if you get stuck or your car battery dies, you can always get help from people at the campsite. When your on your own in the middle of nowhere - not so much.
- You can save time trying to find that perfect spot in a place you've never been before. Just put in the GPS coordinates and drive directly to your campsite, saving time and energy.
The best thing about campsites in Iceland is that they are almost never full, so there is no need to book in advance and you can show up anytime you like. Arriving at 2 AM? No problem, just pay for your spot in the morning.
We at Happy Campers want you to have the best possible information about campsites in Iceland. Since there really hasn't been a complete resource about all the campsites in Iceland, we decided to make our own. We combined various different sources and contacted the rest ourselves to create the map you see below.
All Happy Campers customers get a link to this map as well as a physical map of winter campsites if they are traveling during winter. For the online version, you can easily sort the campsites by winter campsites or all-year campsites and see basic information and photos for each.
Please understand that getting accurate and prompt information about each campsite is sometimes impossible, so use this map as a guide only. Please send us a line at thorsteinn (at) happycampers.is if you have suggestions about improvements or updating information.
Grocery & gas
Fueling your trip is key for any successful road trip. More importantly, finding cheap and convenient groceries and fuel is crucial. This section will tell you which grocery stores and gas stations are cheapest and most highly recommended. First, let's take a look at where some of the nearest grocery stores and gas stations are to our Happy Campers office. They offer a convenient way to do some shopping as you're about to start your trip or refuel you car at the end of your trip.
Let's start with a map overview of all the grocery stores in Iceland:
As you can see, there are a lot of different grocery store chains in Iceland and you won't have much trouble finding one near you. Just be mindful of their opening hours and expect limited options and variety. Iceland is not only infamous for its high grocery prices, but we are also severely lacking when it comes to variety of options.
To simplify, we put together a list of our most highly recommended and most common options below:
Now to the gas stations. You want to know where the nearest gas station is for safety reasons but you should also know which gas stations offer the best prices. Just like groceries, gas is not cheap in Iceland. When this was written in February 2018, the cost of gas in Iceland (cheapest price) in different currencies is as follows:
- $2.02/liter - $7.64/gallon
- €1.64/liter - €6.2/gallon
To look up current prices and trends in fuel prices in Iceland, we highly recommend Gasvaktin. There, you can organize by lowest price or location and you can look up petrol and diesel. For a complete look at all the gas stations in Iceland, here is a handy map from TripCreator:
As you can see, should not have any trouble finding a gas station during your road trip in Iceland. As long as you're aware of your fuel level and the nearest gas station, you should have no issues. Now take a look at our top 3 recommended gas stations in Iceland below: