We wanted to use our time wisely while driving through Iceland in May. So that meant not renting hotels or Airbnbs and just sleeping in a campervan. This is so not the type of traveler I usually am, but I figured what better way to experience this untouched, scenic country? Driving around Iceland is certainly the best way to see all it has to offer. Plus, the country really caters to campers because once you drive out of Reykjavik hotels *and people* are scarce. Check out these driving tips before heading out on your Iceland road trip.
How long does it take to drive around Iceland? Iceland is a lot smaller than it seems, and it should only take 13 or so hours to drive the ring road (depending on road conditions) if you drive it straight. But who would drive the Iceland ring road without stopping? Give yourself a minimum of 4 days. Read more on must-see stops and itinerary ideas HERE.
Iceland in May
I’ve heard too many horror stories of tourists driving around Iceland in the winter and having accidents, getting stuck, etc. that I knew I preferred to drive the ring road in better weather. May was perfect! The majority of the country had sunny skies and clear roads. Regardless of the season, Iceland can be pricey. We went with my brother-in-law Manny and his girlfriend Jill. I recommend you find a buddy to split the cost with.
Even though it was too early in the season for the midnight sun and too late for the northern lights, we experienced what I would like to call the “forever sunset“™ in May. (Can I trademark that?) Around 10 p.m. the sun would start setting, but it wouldn’t get fully dark. It almost looked like the dark blue hour for the entire night until sunrise. It was really beautiful. Most of Iceland felt like springtime in Chicago. However, when we got to the northern part I was shocked that it was completely covered in snow. Eventually, if you kept driving you would hit spring again.
This is Northern Iceland in May:
The thing about driving in Iceland is that you never know the type of road you’re going to hit. One thing I definitely recommend if you plan to self-drive in Iceland is to purchase the gravel insurance for your rental car. You will 100% need this. I’d say about 40% of the roads were gravel, especially in the more rural areas.
I was aware of what they call “F roads”, and with those, unless you have a 4×4 vehicle in the non-winter months you cannot drive them. I figured that wasn’t an issue for us since we weren’t planning to drive the F roads, all would be smooth, all would be great. Definitely not the case. At some point, regular roads turned into the type of gravel roads that made you fear for your tires. This continued on for the entire trip, but thank God we got through it without any flats!
Besides the gravel, the majority of the roads were big enough to fit two cars just fine. And if you’re wondering about Iceland’s driving side, it’s on the right! Also, before your trip purchase the National Geographic map, it was so helpful and we used that map way more than our rented GPS.
Driving in Iceland
Driving in Iceland really isn’t bad if you choose the right season, but be wary of shortcuts. While making our way to northern Iceland (in the middle of the night) we took a road that wasn’t the safest. I had nothing to do with this decision and I blame Jill, she was holding the map. Before I knew it, our little non-4×4 campervan was creeping its way up and around the edge of a snowy mountain with no guard rail. Oh, did I mention it was a gravel road too?! I was terrified.
Jorge was holding on to the steering wheel tightly as we inched our way up the edge of the mountain. I could tell he was nervous which made me more nervous. The top couldn’t come quick enough. Manny was asleep, and Jill wanted to jump out and make snow angels, and I wanted to punch her lol. We finally reached the top, and Jorge and Jill jumped out to feel the snow and take pictures.
As scared as I was, it was quite a view of the “forever sunset” atop this Icelandic mountain. I took it all in for a minute, and then quickly wanted to leave to be on flat ground. And to think, Manny slept through that whole thing. This was it, as you can see it looks like the sun is setting, but it was the middle of the night:
Camping in Iceland
We visited in 2016 so the rules may have changed for camping (I’d double check the current laws). As for us, we didn’t have to stay at campsites. We were able to pull over almost anywhere and stay the night for FREE. So whatever we wanted our view to be, we went for it. Iceland was ranked the safest country in the world, and I don’t know about you, but that certainly helped me sleep better.
One thing I noticed was that even though camping is popular, you really don’t see that many cars on the road. One night we drove for hours and only saw three cars the entire time. That’s what I loved about the ring road, it wasn’t that crowded.
As I’ve mentioned, campervans and gas in Iceland are very expensive. We got our rental with CampEasy and had no complaints. They had great customer service! To save money we chose a stick shift, diesel campervan with two beds, and no bathroom or shower. We figured we could stop at campsites for those necessities.
Credit is the chosen form of payment in Iceland, which is great, but you’ll also need kronas to be able to use the facilities. So don’t forget that cash (like we unfortunately did). The camper came with a fridge and a stove for cooking, so we stopped at the grocery store before getting on the road. We didn’t purchase any bottled water because their tap water is among the cleanest in the world, and you can get it anywhere for free.
All the packaged food in the store is in Icelandic, and Icelandic is a very difficult language. We did our best and were able to purchase the basics based on how they looked. I say you try to find a translator app that’ll work offline, and while you’re at it download a currency converter too because kronas are hard to follow.
Hot dogs are a popular option that you’ll find at many gas stations. These aren’t your typical gas station hot dogs, they have an entire restaurant in there and a pretty big fan following too. On the second night, we did stop at this cute little restaurant in Höfn named Kaffi Hornið and had some delicious burgers! $25 each burger, but delicious. It was so nice to have a warm meal.
I hope this gives you some insight into what to expect when driving Iceland’s ring road. Want to see more about where to visit while driving the ring? Check out my post HERE.
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