17 Things To Know Before Driving In Iceland (Plus Car Rental Tips)

Tips for Driving in Iceland

Things You Should Know About Driving in Iceland

Iceland

Ready for an epic road trip driving in Iceland? Renting a car is the best way to experience this beautiful country. But there are a few things you should know before you start your adventure.

So you’ve embraced your inner Leif Erikson, and you’re finally planning a trip to Iceland! Welcome to the club.

Road tripping around Iceland’s Ring Road, and the Golden Circle, are some of my favorite travel adventures to date (after 8 years and 50+ countries!)

Iceland will always have a special place in my heart.

Renting a car and driving Iceland on your own is the best way to experience this stunning and diverse country, as it truly gives you the freedom to stop at each and every waterfall, volcano, hot-spring, and glacier along the way.

Here are some important tips for driving in Iceland, so you’re ready to hit the road and start exploring the land of fire and ice.

Useful Tips For Driving In Iceland

Iceland Car Rental Advice

Tips for Renting a Car in Iceland

Should You Rent A Car In Iceland?

Hey, if you’re a fan of bus tours, by all means go book one. It’s a wonderful way to see a country if you don’t have a lot of time. No planning, no driving, just sit back and let someone else do all the work.

But if you’re like me, you prefer the adventure and challenge of independent travel. True exploration, with no set schedule or timetable. The freedom to stop anywhere interesting you find along the way.

Maybe you want to capture an epic waterfall sunrise photo at 6am without 100 other tourists around. Maybe you want to drive off the beaten path, excited with anticipation of what you’ll discover around the next bend.

If that’s the kind of traveler you are, then renting a car and self-driving around Iceland is the way to go!

Where To Rent Your Car

Renting a car from Keflavík International Airport is the most obvious choice, however you can also rent them in Reykjavik later if you plan to spend a few days in the city first.

The airport is about 40 minutes away from Reykjavik city.

During my three weeks traveling in Iceland, I rented an SUV for two weeks, and a campervan for one week.

RentalCars.com searches all the big car rental companies and finds the best price. This is probably the easiest way to rent a car or truck in Iceland.

Happy Campers rents fully-equipped campervans with a bed, kitchen, space heater, and everything you’d need for your road trip. It was an awesome way to see the country!

Road Conditions in Iceland

Iceland’s Adventurous Back Roads

Iceland’s Different Road Types

With the variety of landforms and terrain in Iceland, you’ve got to think about the type of trip you want to have. Do you want to carve your way across the Icelandic highlands like a Nordic explorer? Or do you plan on having a more relaxed and comfortable drive around the island?

This will determine the roads you’ll encounter and the vehicle you’ll need.

Ring Road & Golden Circle (Paved)

You can see some of Iceland’s most popular destinations driving around the Ring Road (Route 1). This mostly paved road runs a giant circle around the outer rim of the island and through many towns, including the capital of Reykjavik.

There are some remote sections with gravel, but a 2-wheel-drive vehicle will still get the job done. Speed limits average 90 kilometers per hour (56 mph) on these roads.

You can choose a 2WD vehicle for the Golden Circle, too. This short route is a great day trip from Reykjavik if you’re short on time (like during a layover).

USEFUL TIP: Planning to drive the ring road? Stop at Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon to see the incredible icebergs!

Adventurous F-Roads (Gravel)

Did you know that 54% of Icelanders believe in elves or the possibility they exist? If you want to search for them, you’ll find them near the F-roads.

These special designated dirt and gravel mountain roads wind through Iceland’s rugged interior highlands. It is strongly advised that people travel in groups of 2 or more cars for safety should a breakdown occur, just like remote jeep trails in the United States.

The rocky, muddy conditions are more treacherous than other gravel roads. You can travel for miles without seeing any other cars.

Iceland’s F-roads require a 4-wheel-drive rental car. They also require your full attention. Some F-Roads can get quite rough, with glacial river crossings.

USEFUL TIP: F-Road doesn’t mean off-road. Driving completely off marked roads in Iceland is illegal and can damage your rental and the environment.

Local Access H-Roads (Gravel)

These are dirt roads that often lead to farms and private homes off the main paved roads in Iceland. They are better maintained than the F-Roads, don’t require a 4X4 in the summer, but aren’t plowed as frequently as paved roads in the winter time.

What Kind of Car to Rent in Iceland

Renting a Campervan in Iceland

What Kind Of Vehicle Do You Need?

If you can’t drive manual stick shifts, double check that you’re actually renting an automatic vehicle, because most rental cars in Iceland are manual.

The type of vehicle you’ll need depends largely on the season, weather conditions, and road type.

Two Wheel Drive

Small 2WD cars are the most affordable, and perfectly suitable for day trips around Reykjavik and the popular paved roads that run around Iceland (like the Golden Circle and Ring Road).

All 2WD rental cars in Iceland are equipped with studded tires during the winter season to help with traction on ice too.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? – Renting a small car in Iceland is going to cost between $40 – $100 USD per day (4200 ISK to 10,600 ISK) depending on the model/season.

Check Prices For 2WD Car Rentals In Iceland

Four Wheel Drive

The affordable 4×4 Suzuki Jimny, or a more expensive Land Rover is perfect for Iceland’s rugged F-Roads. If you plan to explore Iceland’s back roads at any point, you’ll want one of these four-wheel drive bad boys.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? – Renting a 4X4 SUV in Iceland is going to cost between $100 – $250 USD per day (10,600 ISK – 26,500 ISK). A fancy Land Rover or Super Jeep will set you back $400+ per day.

Check Prices For 4X4 Truck Rentals In Iceland

Campervan

Transportation? Check. Accommodation? Check. Home-cooked meals? Fire up the grill, baby! This is the way to attack a serious Icelandic road trip in comfort. Plus, you’ll avoid spending cash on Iceland’s notoriously expensive accommodation and restaurant meals. More money = more fuel = more adventures.

Campervans come in both 2WD and 4WD varieties, which is especially important for driving Iceland in the winter.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? – Renting a campervan in Iceland is going to cost between $140 – $250 USD per day (14,800 ISK to 26,500 ISK) depending on the model/season.

Check Prices For Campervan Rentals In Iceland

Northern Lights in Iceland

Driving Under the Northern Lights

Car Rental Insurance In Iceland

Driving in Iceland can result in some pretty harsh conditions that many people aren’t prepared for — so I always recommend getting the extra car insurance options available to you.

Collision Damage Waiver

Car rental companies typically offer various levels of a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), which isn’t exactly insurance. Instead, it means the rental company won’t charge you over a predetermined limit if you drop off the rental car with damage.

But this limit still tends to be upwards of $1750 for the basic CDW, and companies in Iceland are more likely to inspect every inch of your vehicle.

The basic CDW comes free with every rental. With most companies, an additional daily fee (about $10 and up) allows you to upgrade to Super CDW (SCDW), Grand CDW, and even Premium CDW. This lowers the amount you’ll be liable for in the end should damage occur to the vehicle.

These higher-level CDWs usually come with added protection like:

Gravel Protection – Gravel roads abound in Iceland. There’s a risk of other drivers spraying rocks at your vehicle as they drive by, so it makes sense to grab this one for a few extra bucks a day.

Sandstorm & Ash Protection – Yup, you read that correctly! High winds can blast your car with volcanic ash and sand, causing extensive damage to the rental vehicle.

Ice Protection – Ice. Land. It’s in the name! Get this add-on, especially if you’re traveling in the winter. Sliding off icy roads is a common occurrence in Iceland.

River Crossing Insurance – Read the terms carefully. If it only covers water up to half of the wheel-well, you’re not protected for deeper crossings (which you’ll find plenty of on F-roads).

You’ll also want to check if the rental company sets a mileage limit. Always try to get the unlimited milage option!

Beware Sheep on Roads

Dangerous Sheep in Iceland

Watch Out For Animals!

There are 3 types of large animals that may cross your path while driving in Iceland, and crashing into them will definitely ruin your trip.

Iceland has a lot of sheep. In the summer, they’re allowed to roam free through the countryside, often walking across the road.

Beautiful and funny Icelandic horses can sometimes be moved from one pasture to another via roadways too.

If you’re driving in the remote North East of Iceland, you may see some wild reindeer in the winter. Reindeer were brought over from Norway in the 18th century, but were never domesticated.

Remember to slow down and pass any animals near the road very carefully.

Iceland’s Speed Cameras

You won’t see too many police cars on the roads driving around Iceland. However Iceland does enforce its speed limit with camera traps.

These nondescript boxes on the side of the road record your speed and take a photo if you’re driving over the limit, resulting in a steep fine.

The speed limit in Iceland is 90km/h (55mph) on paved roads, 80km/h (50mph) per hour on dirt roads, and 50km/h (30mph) per hour in cities.

Also note that seatbelts are mandatory in Iceland, and just good common sense anyway.

Driving in Bad Weather

Emergency Roadside Weather Shelter

Be Prepared For Extreme Weather

Weather can get severe in Iceland from time to time, especially in the winter. So severe, that 70mph wind gusts have been known to blow open car doors backwards, bending the hinges or ripping them off completely!

To prevent wind damage try to park your car facing the wind, pushing the door closed, not open. Crack your window first, and stick your hand out to test wind strength, then slowly open the door with two hands.

Don’t assume you can handle driving through an Icelandic snow storm just because you grew up in New England, because the weather can be VERY different here.

Weather changes quickly in Iceland, and a sunny morning can easily turn into a snowstorm later that day. Iceland has a fantastic website to check real-time road conditions called Road.is. They even have a handy smartphone app.

Gas Stations & Fuel Advice

Gas stations in Iceland are scarce once you get further away from the cities, but spread out across the island. Be sure to fuel up before setting out, and re-fuel often — try not to let it fall below half a tank.

You’ll find plenty of gas stations on the Ring Road until you reach the more remote Eastern and Northern parts of the country, where they start to thin out. Fill up more frequently out there.

Iceland is a remote island, without a lot of people/cars. At about $2 USD per liter ($7.50 USD per gallon), gas for your road trip is going to be expensive. Diesel isn’t much better right now, so check the prices and plan accordingly.

USEFUL TIP: If you’re up in the highland’s driving Iceland’s F-roads, it’s wise to bring a spare gas can.
Waterfalls in Iceland

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Do You Need GPS?

Many car rental companies in Iceland will try to up-sell you a GPS device for your road trip. However this is not needed if you have international cell service, or pick up a local SIM card at the airport or in Reykjavik before you embark on your journey.

Maybe bring along a dashboard or windshield smartphone holder so you can use the GPS maps hands-free while driving.

Along with Google Maps, I’d also recommend downloading the Gaia GPS Hiking App, which will help you get around Iceland’s backcountry hiking trails, even if you don’t have cell service. Here’s a handy guide for using it.

Don’t Stop In The Middle Of The Road!

Many of Iceland’s roads lack breakdown lanes, or have small ones. However because the scenery in Iceland is so spectacular, tourists are constantly stopping on the edge of the road to take photos.

Don’t do this! It’s not safe, and you might cause an accident.

If you really have to get that amazing photo, keep driving until you find a proper turn-off, park, and walk back to that perfect spot. Even if it takes you an extra 10 minutes.

That photo opportunity can wait a little, it’s simply not worth the danger of stopping in the middle of the road when there’s traffic passing by. Please be respectful of everyone else driving in Iceland.

Road Trip Tips for Iceland

Be Prepared for Extreme Conditions

Pack Proper Gear For Iceland

Even though Iceland is becoming a very popular tourist destination, parts of it are still pretty remote. Between large towns, you could be driving for a while before you’ll find regular civilization.

With this in mind, it’s wise to pack extra food, snacks, and water for your road trip. I’d also make sure you have proper clothing for cold weather and stormy conditions, warm and waterproof layers. Sturdy shoes or hiking boots too.

A first aid kit is always a great idea, here’s the one I travel with on my frequent adventures around the world. You never know when it will come in handy.

Campervan Rules

You Can’t Just Camp Anywhere

Car Camping Restrictions

So, you’ve packed a tent in your car, or you’re driving a camper van. You assume it’s legal to camp anywhere you please on this beautiful island. But should you? Can you legally camp anywhere in Iceland?

According to the Environment Agency of Iceland (EAI):

“Camping with no more than three tents is allowed on uncultivated ground for a single night, unless the landowner has posted a notice to the contrary. However, campers should always use designated campsites where they do exist. Do not camp close to farms without permission. If a group of more than three tents is involved, these campers must seek permission from the landowner before setting up camp outside marked campsite areas.

It is illegal to spent the night in tent trailers, tent campers, caravans, camper van or similar outside organised campsites or urban areas unless the land owner or rightholder has given their permission.”

There are also protected areas in Iceland where you definitely may NOT camp. For a complete list of protected locations and descriptions of when to ask permission, visit the camping rules page.

Please use a designated campsite when it’s available. With more than three tents or driving a campervan, ask permission of the landowner. Avoid protected areas.

If you do choose to camp outside designated areas, please follow the rules above, and leave no trace of your presence behind — so Iceland stays beautiful for locals and future travelers.

Winter Driving Tips in Iceland

Driving Iceland in the Winter

Winter Driving In Iceland

Every year tons of unprepared tourists get stuck or slide off the road due to Iceland’s winter driving conditions. I was hit with 2 snow storms during my 3 week trip during October/November.

Part of the problem is many people don’t have any real winter driving experience, or they over-estimate their abilities.

Getting your rental car stuck in the snow or ice is a very real possibility during winter in Iceland. Do you know how to get yourself out?

  • Clear snow away from your tires, using a shovel or hands and feet.
  • Straighten your tires, rock the vehicle back and forth, shifting from drive to reverse.
  • Create traction under your tires using dirt, sand, branches, granola, floor mats, anything you can find.

Always fill your gas tank when possible, especially in the winter. Getting stuck in a snowstorm and spending the night in your vehicle is a remote possibility. Without gas to keep it running (and warm), things get dangerous quickly.

When driving through heavy snow, try to stay inside the tire tracks. Drive slowly, and carefully move over to the edge when passing oncoming traffic.

Driving in Iceland

Off-Road Driving Tips

F-Road Driving Tips

While driving Iceland’s remote & rugged F-Roads is not technically driving off-road, basically you need to think of them as exactly that.

These roads are extremely basic, and not really maintained. In the United States, they’d be called “jeep trails” or “fire roads”.

So the same kind of safety concerns apply. You are on your own out there. No gas stations, no towns, no tow trucks.

If you get a flat, get stuck in the mud, or your engine breaks down, it could be a while before someone passes by who can help.

  • It’s forbidden to drive Iceland’s F-Roads without a 4X4 vehicle due to the rough conditions.
  • Traveling in pairs with a second vehicle is highly recommended, in case one of you breaks down.
  • F-Roads are only open during the summer months, generally June – August (or first snow). Some don’t open until July.

How To Cross A River

If you’re driving the paved Ring Road or Golden Circle, you’ll have normal bridges (although some are one-lane). However if you’re traveling to Iceland’s interior highlands on the dirt F-Roads, you may encounter a few rivers without any.

Crossing a river in a 4X4 truck requires a bit of planning. If you’ve never done it before, here are some tips.

  • Know where your vehicle’s “water line” is (maximum depth). Going past it may result in damage.
  • Try to cross glacial rivers early in the morning, when the flow is lower. As the day heats up, the river gets more powerful/deeper.
  • Shift your vehicle into 4X4 “low” before you start to cross, not in the middle of the river.
  • Drive slow and steady through the current. Don’t drive too fast or “splash” into the water (it could kill the engine).
  • Drive diagonally downstream, so the current helps push you across.
  • Stick to the marked crossing points, and don’t assume it’s always safe to cross. Try to watch someone else go first.
Iceland Emergency Information

What to Do During an Emergency?

Accident & Breakdown Info

112 is the only emergency number in Iceland. This is what you’d call to report any bad accidents, fire, crime, search & rescue, or natural disasters. 112 can be reached from anywhere in Iceland, from any telephone, by voice or by SMS text message.

Another great resource is the 112 Iceland App, that lets you “check in” before going on a hike or doing anything risky, to help provide location information if something goes wrong later.

If it’s not a life-or-death emergency, like your car breaks down or you get a flat tire, then contact your rental car office for help.

If you break down and you’re not exactly sure where you are, please don’t leave your car. Stay with your vehicle until someone passes by who can help.

Iceland’s F-Roads are patrolled by search & rescue teams who check for stranded drivers on a semi-regular basis.

Have Fun Driving In Iceland!

I hope I didn’t scare you too much about driving in Iceland. It really is worth the extra effort to rent a car and drive yourself!

Regardless of which vehicle or road you choose, one thing’s for sure — renting a car in Iceland gives you the freedom to set your own path and reach stunning locations off-limits to the typical bus tourist.

It also lets you do it at your own pace and in a style that suits you. And besides, how do you expect to hunt for elves or the incredible northern lights from your hotel room in Reykjavik?

Get out there and drive around Iceland in your own rental car! ★

Bonus Video! Driving Tips For Iceland

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for new Adventure Travel Videos!

(Click to watch Dangers On Icelandic Roads? – Driving With Elfis on YouTube)

TRIP PLANNING INFORMATION
Location: Iceland
Car Rental: RentalCars.com or Happy Campers
Accommodation: Click Here For Deals in Iceland
Useful Notes: For road trips around Iceland’s popular Ring Road or Golden Circle, you really don’t need a 4X4 vehicle in the summer. In the winter, if you’re heading to the far North or East of Iceland, it will certainly help during snow-storms.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Iceland
Suggested Reading: The Little Book Of Hidden People

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Important tips for driving in Iceland and renting a car. An essential road trip guide! More at ExpertVagabond.com
Important tips for driving in Iceland and renting a car. An essential road trip guide! More at ExpertVagabond.com

Are you planning a road trip in Iceland? Any questions about driving or renting a car there? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

17 Things To Know Before Driving In Iceland!

Tips for Driving in Iceland

Things You Should Know About Driving in Iceland

Iceland

Ready for an epic road trip driving in Iceland? Renting a car is the best way to experience this beautiful country. But there are a few things you should know before you start your adventure.

So you’ve embraced your inner Leif Erikson, and you’re finally planning a trip to Iceland! Welcome to the club.

Road tripping around Iceland’s Ring Road, and the Golden Circle, are some of my favorite travel adventures to date (after 8 years and 50+ countries!)

Iceland will always have a special place in my heart.

Renting a car and driving Iceland on your own is the best way to experience this stunning and diverse country, as it truly gives you the freedom to stop at each and every waterfall, volcano, hot-spring, and glacier along the way.

Here are some important tips for driving in Iceland, so you’re ready to hit the road and start exploring the land of fire and ice.

Useful Tips For Driving In Iceland

Iceland Car Rental Advice

Tips for Renting a Car in Iceland

Should You Rent A Car In Iceland?

Hey, if you’re a fan of bus tours, by all means go book one. It’s a wonderful way to see a country if you don’t have a lot of time. No planning, no driving, just sit back and let someone else do all the work.

But if you’re like me, you prefer the adventure and challenge of independent travel. True exploration, with no set schedule or timetable. The freedom to stop anywhere interesting you find along the way.

Maybe you want to capture an epic waterfall sunrise photo at 6am without 100 other tourists around. Maybe you want to drive off the beaten path, excited with anticipation of what you’ll discover around the next bend.

If that’s the kind of traveler you are, then renting a car and self-driving around Iceland is the way to go!

Where To Rent Your Car

Renting a car from Keflavík International Airport is the most obvious choice, however you can also rent them in Reykjavik later if you plan to spend a few days in the city first.

The airport is about 40 minutes away from Reykjavik city.

During my three weeks traveling in Iceland, I rented an SUV for two weeks, and a campervan for one week.

RentalCars.com searches all the big car rental companies and finds the best price. This is probably the easiest way to rent a car or truck in Iceland.

Happy Campers rents fully-equipped campervans with a bed, kitchen, space heater, and everything you’d need for your road trip. It was an awesome way to see the country!

Road Conditions in Iceland

Iceland’s Adventurous Back Roads

Iceland’s Different Road Types

With the variety of landforms and terrain in Iceland, you’ve got to think about the type of trip you want to have.

Do you want to carve your way across the Icelandic highlands like a Nordic explorer? Or do you plan on having a more relaxed and comfortable drive around the island?

This will determine the roads you’ll encounter and the vehicle you’ll need.

Ring Road & Golden Circle (Paved)

You can see some of Iceland’s most popular destinations driving around the Ring Road (Route 1). This mostly paved road runs a giant circle around the outer rim of the island and through many towns, including the capital of Reykjavik.

There are some remote sections with gravel, but a 2-wheel-drive vehicle will still get the job done. Speed limits average 90 kilometers per hour (56 mph) on these roads.

You can choose a 2WD vehicle for the Golden Circle, too. This short route is a great day trip from Reykjavik if you’re short on time (like during a layover).

USEFUL TIP: Planning to drive the ring road? Stop at Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon to see the incredible icebergs!

Adventurous F-Roads (Gravel)

Did you know that 54% of Icelanders believe in elves or the possibility they exist? If you want to search for them, you’ll find them near the F-roads.

These special designated dirt and gravel mountain roads wind through Iceland’s rugged interior highlands. It is strongly advised that people travel in groups of 2 or more cars for safety should a breakdown occur, just like remote jeep trails in the United States.

The rocky, muddy conditions are more treacherous than other gravel roads. You can travel for miles without seeing any other cars.

Iceland’s F-roads require a 4-wheel-drive rental car. They also require your full attention. Some F-Roads can get quite rough, with glacial river crossings.

USEFUL TIP: F-Road doesn’t mean off-road. Driving completely off marked roads in Iceland is illegal and can damage your rental and the environment.

Local Access H-Roads (Gravel)

These are dirt roads that often lead to farms and private homes off the main paved roads in Iceland. They are better maintained than the F-Roads, don’t require a 4X4 in the summer, but aren’t plowed as frequently as paved roads in the winter time.

What Kind of Car to Rent in Iceland

Renting a Campervan in Iceland

What Kind Of Vehicle Do You Need?

If you can’t drive manual stick shifts, double check that you’re actually renting an automatic vehicle, because most rental cars in Iceland are manual.

The type of vehicle you’ll need depends largely on the season, weather conditions, and road type.

Two Wheel Drive

Small 2WD cars are the most affordable, and perfectly suitable for day trips around Reykjavik and the popular paved roads that run around Iceland (like the Golden Circle and Ring Road).

All 2WD rental cars in Iceland are equipped with studded tires during the winter season to help with traction on ice too.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? – Renting a small car in Iceland is going to cost between $40 – $100 USD per day (4200 ISK to 10,600 ISK) depending on the model/season.

Check Prices For 2WD Car Rentals In Iceland

Four Wheel Drive

The affordable 4×4 Suzuki Jimny, or a more expensive Land Rover is perfect for Iceland’s rugged F-Roads. If you plan to explore Iceland’s back roads at any point, you’ll want one of these four-wheel drive bad boys.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? – Renting a 4X4 SUV in Iceland is going to cost between $100 – $250 USD per day (10,600 ISK – 26,500 ISK). A fancy Land Rover or Super Jeep will set you back $400+ per day.

Check Prices For 4X4 Truck Rentals In Iceland

Campervan

Transportation? Check. Accommodation? Check. Home-cooked meals? Fire up the grill, baby! This is the way to attack a serious Icelandic road trip in comfort. Plus, you’ll avoid spending cash on Iceland’s notoriously expensive accommodation and restaurant meals. More money = more fuel = more adventures.

Campervans come in both 2WD and 4WD varieties, which is especially important for driving Iceland in the winter.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? – Renting a campervan in Iceland is going to cost between $140 – $250 USD per day (14,800 ISK to 26,500 ISK) depending on the model/season.

Check Prices For Campervan Rentals In Iceland

Northern Lights in Iceland

Driving Under the Northern Lights

Car Rental Insurance In Iceland

Driving in Iceland can result in some pretty harsh conditions that many people aren’t prepared for — so I always recommend getting the extra car insurance options available to you.

Collision Damage Waiver

Car rental companies typically offer various levels of a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), which isn’t exactly insurance. Instead, it means the rental company won’t charge you over a predetermined limit if you drop off the rental car with damage.

But this limit still tends to be upwards of $1750 for the basic CDW, and companies in Iceland are more likely to inspect every inch of your vehicle.

The basic CDW comes free with every rental. With most companies, an additional daily fee (about $10 and up) allows you to upgrade to Super CDW (SCDW), Grand CDW, and even Premium CDW. This lowers the amount you’ll be liable for in the end should damage occur to the vehicle.

These higher-level CDWs usually come with added protection like:

Gravel Protection – Gravel roads abound in Iceland. There’s a risk of other drivers spraying rocks at your vehicle as they drive by, so it makes sense to grab this one for a few extra bucks a day.

Sandstorm & Ash Protection – Yup, you read that correctly! High winds can blast your car with volcanic ash and sand, causing extensive damage to the rental vehicle.

Ice Protection – Ice. Land. It’s in the name! Get this add-on, especially if you’re traveling in the winter. Sliding off icy roads is a common occurrence in Iceland.

River Crossing Insurance – Read the terms carefully. If it only covers water up to half of the wheel-well, you’re not protected for deeper crossings (which you’ll find plenty of on F-roads).

You’ll also want to check if the rental company sets a mileage limit. Always try to get the unlimited milage option!

Beware Sheep on Roads

Dangerous Sheep in Iceland

Watch Out For Animals!

There are 3 types of large animals that may cross your path while driving in Iceland, and crashing into them will definitely ruin your trip.

Iceland has a lot of sheep. In the summer, they’re allowed to roam free through the countryside, often walking across the road.

Beautiful and funny Icelandic horses can sometimes be moved from one pasture to another via roadways too.

If you’re driving in the remote North East of Iceland, you may see some wild reindeer in the winter. Reindeer were brought over from Norway in the 18th century, but were never domesticated.

Remember to slow down and pass any animals near the road very carefully.

Speed Cameras on Route 1

Watch for Speed Traps

Iceland’s Speed Cameras

You won’t see too many police cars on the roads driving around Iceland. However Iceland does enforce its speed limit with camera traps.

These nondescript boxes on the side of the road record your speed and take a photo if you’re driving over the limit, resulting in a steep fine.

The speed limit in Iceland is 90km/h (55mph) on paved roads, 80km/h (50mph) per hour on dirt roads, and 50km/h (30mph) per hour in cities.

Also note that seatbelts are mandatory in Iceland, and just good common sense anyway.

Driving in Bad Weather

Emergency Roadside Weather Shelter

Be Prepared For Extreme Weather

Weather can get severe in Iceland from time to time, especially in the winter. So severe, that 70mph wind gusts have been known to blow open car doors backwards, bending the hinges or ripping them off completely!

To prevent wind damage try to park your car facing the wind, pushing the door closed, not open. Crack your window first, and stick your hand out to test wind strength, then slowly open the door with two hands.

Don’t assume you can handle driving through an Icelandic snow storm just because you grew up in New England, because the weather can be VERY different here.

Weather changes quickly in Iceland, and a sunny morning can easily turn into a snowstorm later that day. Iceland has a fantastic website to check real-time road conditions called Road.is. They even have a handy smartphone app.

Gas Stations & Fuel Advice

Gas stations in Iceland are scarce once you get further away from the cities, but spread out across the island. Be sure to fuel up before setting out, and re-fuel often — try not to let it fall below half a tank.

You’ll find plenty of gas stations on the Ring Road until you reach the more remote Eastern and Northern parts of the country, where they start to thin out. Fill up more frequently out there.

Iceland is a remote island, without a lot of people/cars. At about $2 USD per liter ($7.50 USD per gallon), gas for your road trip is going to be expensive. Diesel isn’t much better right now, so check the prices and plan accordingly.

USEFUL TIP: If you’re up in the highland’s driving Iceland’s F-roads, it’s wise to bring a spare gas can.
Waterfalls in Iceland

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Do You Need GPS?

Many car rental companies in Iceland will try to up-sell you a GPS device for your road trip. However this is not needed if you have international cell service, or pick up a local SIM card at the airport or in Reykjavik before you embark on your journey.

Maybe bring along a dashboard or windshield smartphone holder so you can use the GPS maps hands-free while driving.

Along with Google Maps, I’d also recommend downloading the Gaia GPS Hiking App, which will help you get around Iceland’s backcountry hiking trails, even if you don’t have cell service. Here’s a handy guide for using it.

Don’t Stop In The Middle Of The Road!

Many of Iceland’s roads lack breakdown lanes, or have small ones. However because the scenery in Iceland is so spectacular, tourists are constantly stopping on the edge of the road to take photos.

Don’t do this! It’s not safe, and you might cause an accident.

If you really have to get that amazing photo, keep driving until you find a proper turn-off, park, and walk back to that perfect spot. Even if it takes you an extra 10 minutes.

That photo opportunity can wait a little, it’s simply not worth the danger of stopping in the middle of the road when there’s traffic passing by. Please be respectful of everyone else driving in Iceland.

Road Trip Tips for Iceland

Be Prepared for Extreme Conditions

Pack Proper Gear For Iceland

Even though Iceland is becoming a very popular tourist destination, parts of it are still pretty remote. Between large towns, you could be driving for a while before you’ll find regular civilization.

With this in mind, it’s wise to pack extra food, snacks, and water for your road trip. I’d also make sure you have proper clothing for cold weather and stormy conditions, warm and waterproof layers. Sturdy shoes or hiking boots too.

A first aid kit is always a great idea, here’s the one I travel with on my frequent adventures around the world. You never know when it will come in handy.

Campervan Rules

You Can’t Just Camp Anywhere

Car Camping Restrictions

So, you’ve packed a tent in your car, or you’re driving a camper van. You assume it’s legal to camp anywhere you please on this beautiful island. But should you? Can you legally camp anywhere in Iceland?

According to the Environment Agency of Iceland (EAI):

“Camping with no more than three tents is allowed on uncultivated ground for a single night, unless the landowner has posted a notice to the contrary. However, campers should always use designated campsites where they do exist. Do not camp close to farms without permission. If a group of more than three tents is involved, these campers must seek permission from the landowner before setting up camp outside marked campsite areas.

It is illegal to spent the night in tent trailers, tent campers, caravans, camper van or similar outside organised campsites or urban areas unless the land owner or rightholder has given their permission.”

There are also protected areas in Iceland where you definitely may NOT camp. For a complete list of protected locations and descriptions of when to ask permission, visit the camping rules page.

Please use a designated campsite when it’s available. With more than three tents or driving a campervan, ask permission of the landowner. Avoid protected areas.

If you do choose to camp outside designated areas, please follow the rules above, and leave no trace of your presence behind — so Iceland stays beautiful for locals and future travelers.

Winter Driving Tips in Iceland

Driving Iceland in the Winter

Winter Driving In Iceland

Every year tons of unprepared tourists get stuck or slide off the road due to Iceland’s winter driving conditions. I was hit with 2 snow storms during my 3 week trip during October/November.

Part of the problem is many people don’t have any real winter driving experience, or they over-estimate their abilities.

Getting your rental car stuck in the snow or ice is a very real possibility during winter in Iceland. Do you know how to get yourself out?

  • Clear snow away from your tires, using a shovel or hands and feet.
  • Straighten your tires, rock the vehicle back and forth, shifting from drive to reverse.
  • Create traction under your tires using dirt, sand, branches, granola, floor mats, anything you can find.

Always fill your gas tank when possible, especially in the winter. Getting stuck in a snowstorm and spending the night in your vehicle is a remote possibility. Without gas to keep it running (and warm), things get dangerous quickly.

When driving through heavy snow, try to stay inside the tire tracks. Drive slowly, and carefully move over to the edge when passing oncoming traffic.

Driving in Iceland

Off-Road Driving Tips

F-Road Driving Tips

While driving Iceland’s remote & rugged F-Roads is not technically driving off-road, basically you need to think of them as exactly that.

These roads are extremely basic, and not really maintained. In the United States, they’d be called “jeep trails” or “fire roads”.

So the same kind of safety concerns apply. You are on your own out there. No gas stations, no towns, no tow trucks.

If you get a flat, get stuck in the mud, or your engine breaks down, it could be a while before someone passes by who can help.

  • It’s forbidden to drive Iceland’s F-Roads without a 4X4 vehicle due to the rough conditions.
  • Traveling in pairs with a second vehicle is highly recommended, in case one of you breaks down.
  • F-Roads are only open during the summer months, generally June – September (or first snow). Some don’t open until July.
Driving in the Highlands

Highland River Crossings

How To Cross A River

If you’re driving the paved Ring Road or Golden Circle, you’ll have normal bridges (although some are one-lane). However if you’re traveling to Iceland’s interior highlands on the dirt F-Roads, you may encounter a few rivers without any.

Crossing a river in a 4X4 truck requires a bit of planning. If you’ve never done it before, here are some tips.

  • Know where your vehicle’s “water line” is (maximum depth). Going past it may result in damage.
  • Try to cross glacial rivers early in the morning, when the flow is lower. As the day heats up, the river gets more powerful/deeper.
  • Shift your vehicle into 4X4 “low” before you start to cross, not in the middle of the river.
  • Drive slow and steady through the current. Don’t drive too fast or “splash” into the water (it could kill the engine).
  • Drive diagonally downstream, so the current helps push you across.
  • Stick to the marked crossing points, and don’t assume it’s always safe to cross. Try to watch someone else go first.
Iceland Emergency Information

What to Do During an Emergency?

Accident & Breakdown Info

112 is the only emergency number in Iceland. This is what you’d call to report any bad accidents, fire, crime, search & rescue, or natural disasters. 112 can be reached from anywhere in Iceland, from any telephone, by voice or by SMS text message.

Another great resource is the 112 Iceland App, that lets you “check in” before going on a hike or doing anything risky, to help provide location information if something goes wrong later.

If it’s not a life-or-death emergency, like your car breaks down or you get a flat tire, then contact your rental car office for help.

If you break down and you’re not exactly sure where you are, please don’t leave your car. Stay with your vehicle until someone passes by who can help.

Iceland’s F-Roads are patrolled by search & rescue teams who check for stranded drivers on a semi-regular basis.

Have Fun Driving In Iceland!

I hope I didn’t scare you too much about driving in Iceland. It really is worth the extra effort to rent a car and drive yourself!

Regardless of which vehicle or road you choose, one thing’s for sure — renting a car in Iceland gives you the freedom to set your own path and reach stunning locations off-limits to the typical bus tourist.

It also lets you do it at your own pace and in a style that suits you. And besides, how do you expect to hunt for elves or the incredible northern lights from your hotel room in Reykjavik?

Get out there and drive around Iceland in your own rental car! ★

Bonus Video! Driving Tips For Iceland

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for new Adventure Travel Videos!

(Click to watch Dangers On Icelandic Roads? – Driving With Elfis on YouTube)

USEFUL TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR ICELAND
Iceland Map – Plan your trip around Iceland with this handy map
RentalCars.com – Great site for comparing rental car prices
HappyCampers.is – Campervan rentals in Iceland
Skyscanner.net – My favorite place to book cheap airline flights
Booking.com – Book affordable accommodation in Iceland
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Iceland
Suggested Reading: The Little Book Of Hidden People

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Important tips for driving in Iceland and renting a car. An essential road trip guide! More at ExpertVagabond.com
Important tips for driving in Iceland and renting a car. An essential road trip guide! More at ExpertVagabond.com

READ MORE FROM ICELAND

Driving Iceland’s Golden Circle
How To Photograph The Northern Lights
Iceland’s Best Photography Locations
Road Trip Guide To Iceland’s Ring Road

Are you planning a road trip in Iceland? Any questions about driving or renting a car there? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Iceland’s Amazing Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

How to Visit Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Jokulsarlon, Iceland

The landscape is full of broken icebergs, streaked blue and black, floating with the tide, occasionally breaking apart in a mighty crash. This is Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in Iceland.

Jokulsarlon iceberg lagoon is Iceland’s deepest and most spectacular glacial lake, beloved by tourists, photographers, adventurers – even world-famous Hollywood super-spies.

If you visited this frozen landscape a hundred years ago, all you would have seen was ice. But then, the world started to heat up… thanks global warming!

Because of this increase in the world’s climate starting around 1920, the icebound edge of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier started to melt. The Icelandic word Jökulsárlón actually means “glacier’s river lagoon”.

Jokulsarlon lagoon forms part of Vatnajökull National Park, and has become one of Iceland’s most popular attractions.

Jokulsarlon Lagoon Selfie

King of the Ice!

Icebergs At Jokulsarlon

In less than a century, this vast frozen landscape collapsed into a mess of shattered ice & liquid that we see now — Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.

A river soon formed, and found its way to the sea, pulling broken icebergs into the North Atlantic and sculpting unearthly shapes along its black-sand banks.

Every year, this fledgling glacier lagoon is made larger as icebergs break off Vatnajökull glacier, float around in the lagoon, and eventually drift out to sea in the summer months.

Jokulsarlon doubled in size between 1975 and 1998. It now covers 7 square miles – and is growing every year.

Jokulsarlon Lagoon Sunrise

Colorful Sunrise at Jokulsarlon

Iceland At Its Most Beautiful

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is a photographer’s paradise. I was in heaven during my visit in November. First and most obviously, the ice is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Compressed glacial ice often turns glassy and a deep, luminous blue, and that’s best seen when the icebergs break and flip over.

You’ll see plenty of broken blue icebergs at Jökulsárlón – and the contrast against the white backdrop of the distant glacier and the black sand of the lagoon’s beach is truly other-worldly.

You may even see seals too. Thanks to that small river leading to the ocean, the lagoon is filled with fish, and seals regularly gather at the river mouth to feed, along with huge numbers of seabirds.

Jokulsarlon Lagoon Bridge

Bridge Over the Glacial River

Jokulsarlon Iceland boat tours

Boat Tours on the Lagoon

Glacier Lagoon Boat Tours

A tour company called Glacier Lagoon has been running boat rides at Jokulsarlon for nearly 30 years, ever since the world’s most famous super-spy James Bond himself made an appearance.

In the opening scenes of Roger Moore’s A View To A Kill (1985), the iceberg lagoon was used as a stand-in for Northern Siberia – and when news got out, tourists started arriving, as did boat tour services.

(In 2001, Jökulsárlón again doubled as Siberia for scenes in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – and in the same year, the James Bond crew returned to film parts of Pierce Brosnan’s Die Another Day.)

There are two types of tours to choose from. There is an amphibious boat ride (ISK 5500 / $55 USD) for a relaxing tour round the biggest icebergs, accompanied by guided commentary.

For the more adventurous, get fitted with a flotation suit and lifejacket and take a Zodiac (ISK 9500 / $95 USD) for much closer views of the ice, including right under the glacier’s edge if conditions permit.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Black Sand Beach

Ice Scattered over the Black Sand

When To Visit The Lagoon

Jokulsarlon’s boat tours only run between May and October, and outside of those months, Icelandic weather can get fierce – although bad weather can hit at any time, so it’s wise to always be prepared for white-out conditions.

The best months for good weather (and clear-sky photography) at the lagoon are July and August – but September/October can be a better time to visit Iceland because the tourist season has ended, prices are lower and there will be be less people around.

You’ll also have a better chance of seeing Iceland’s incredible northern lights!

Getting To Jokulsarlon

The Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is hard to miss off the side of Iceland’s famous ring road (Route 1) – but it requires some planning to get out here. Rather than try to cram it into a single day, you should really plan for two days.

Rental Car

I visited while driving around Iceland’s Ring Road in a campervan from Happy Campers – it helps to have your own transportation because Jökulsárlón is pretty far away from major towns.

The trip takes about 5 hours from Reykjavík, provided you don’t stop along the way (which is almost impossible in Iceland, there’s so much to see!). Another service I’ve used in the past is called Sad Cars.

By Bus

Strætó Bus: Route 51 from Mjódd bus terminal (Reykjavík) to Jökulsárlón. It’s a 6 hour trip that starts at 1pm – and the next bus back is usually at 12:55pm the next day.

If you visit Jokulsarlon by bus, you won’t be returning the same day – and since accommodation at the lagoon is non-existent (see later), you’d have to be pretty adventurous to pick this option.

Hitchhiking

Another adventurous option, but hitchhiking in Iceland is pretty common and safe. How long it will take you to hitchhike here from Reykjavík just depends on your hitchhiking skills, luck, and how many stops you make.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Camping

Overnight at Jökulsárlón in my Camper Van

Best Places To Stay

I spent the night camped out at the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon parking lot in my Happy Campers van. There are no hotels, hostels or guesthouses at the lagoon itself. Höfn is the closest large town, about an hour away.

If you’re wondering where to stay in Iceland near Jokulsarlon, here are my recommendations:

Budget Accommodation

Vagnsstaðir Hostel – This is the closest hostel to Jokulsarlon, about 13 miles to the northeast.

Höfn Hostel – An environmentally friendly hostel with sea views, located an hour away in the village of Höfn.

Mid-Range Accommodation

Hali Country Hotel – This small hotel is a 15-minute drive from the lagoon, offering double & triple rooms and apartments plus a restaurant.

Hotel Höfn – Located in Höfn about an hour away, this hotel offers modern rooms with glacier & sea views.

Ice at Jokulsarlon Lagoon

Shiny Diamonds of Ice on the Beach

Jökulsárlón Travel Tips & Advice

  • Iceland in the summer can be surprisingly warm, but icebergs at Jokulsarlon lagoon give off waves of cold air you can feel on your face. Take a hat and a warm gloves, even if it looks sunny.
  • Watch out for the fiercely territorial skua seabirds that live in the area – if you get close to their nests, they’ll dive at you noisily until you back off!
  • Sunrise is the best time to photograph the glacier lagoon icebergs, not only because of great lighting conditions, but also because there are less tourists. Sunset is also good, but more crowded than sunrise.
  • During the tourist season, there’s a small café that serves a limited amount of snacks. But that’s about it.
  • Iceland’s incredible crystal ice caves are not far away from Jokulsarlon, so if you happen to be visiting in the winter, I highly recommend exploring them with a guide!

No trip to Iceland is complete without a stop at Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, as you can see, there’s a good reason why it’s one of Iceland’s most popular natural attractions! ★

Traveling To Iceland Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

Watch Video: Adventures In Iceland

(Click to watch Iceland Adventures with LifeProof on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Jökulsárlón, Iceland
Useful Notes: While Jokulsarlon is open year-round, the lagoon is often frozen over in the winter. Due to the summer heat, you’ll see the most icebergs in the summer months as ice calves into the lagoon from the glacier and floats out to sea.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Iceland
Suggested Reading: The Little Book Of Hidden People

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Tips for visiting Jokulsarlon lagoon Iceland. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Tips for visiting Jokulsarlon lagoon Iceland. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Have any questions about Jokulsarlon Lagoon in Iceland? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

How To See (And Photograph) Northern Lights In Iceland

Northern Lights in Iceland

How To See The Northern Lights in Iceland

Photography Tips

Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see colorful lights dancing in the night sky. Learn how to find & photograph the amazing Northern Lights in Iceland.

Northern Lights In Iceland

Before I visited Iceland, I’d only witnessed the northern lights one other time back in college. The northern lights transfixed me for hours, watching this mysterious green glow of the magical aurora borealis dance over a high mountain range in Montana.

So trying to locate and take amazing photos of the northern lights in Iceland was a top priority for me — as it often is for many visitors to the country.

However many people don’t realize that this incredible phenomenon is elusive and unpredictable. Yes, even in a famous northern lights country like Iceland.

So to help you improve your chances for finding the northern lights, I wanted to share a few tips and photography techniques from my recent adventure in Iceland — and show you how I managed to get some great photos of this incredible natural phenomenon.

The Aurora Borealis

Northern Lights Iceland

Light Trails – 13 Seconds, f/4.0, ISO2000

How To Find The Northern Lights In Iceland

So why are the northern lights so difficult to see, even in Iceland? Well, it’s because there are many different factors involved.

For a perfect northern lights experience, you need a combination of dark skies, clear weather, and strong aurora activity. Ensuring that all these requirements come together takes some planning.

Find Some Dark Skies

For the same reason star-gazing is better when it’s dark out, viewing the northern lights is best in the dark too. Light pollution from cities & towns hinders the experience. Yes, you can sometimes see the lights from Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik. However you’ll have more luck in the countryside away from man-made light sources.

Wait For Clear Weather

If the weather is overly cloudy, you won’t be able to find the northern lights. So pay attention to the weather forecast, especially cloud cover (infrared satellite maps help a lot). While you might still see some aurora lights if it’s only partly cloudy, you’ll have the best chance when there are no clouds at all.

Check out cloud cover conditions around the world on MeteoStar.

Aurora Forecast

Because aurora activity comes down from the sun in space, scientists are able to predict how strong it will be by looking at our sun’s solar wind, and the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field. The KP-Index ranges from 0-9 with ratings of 5 or greater considered solar storms. There are a few websites that specifically track it.

Iceland has a great site that predicts both cloud cover & aurora activity.

For worldwide aurora predictions, check out Space Weather Ovation.

Self-Drive vs. Group Tour

You should be able to go hunting for the northern lights on your own by renting a car in Iceland. Another option is renting a camper van, which allows you to camp out away from towns with light pollution.

Experience driving in snow is helpful if you’re visiting Iceland in the winter, as conditions can sometimes be very harsh. Big snowstorms are common.

I prefer exploring on my own, as it gives me the freedom to stay out all night or move locations on a whim.

However if you don’t feel comfortable driving in Iceland at night, there are plenty of organized northern lights tours available too.

Northern Lights Over Iceland

Iceland Plane Crash – 15 Seconds, f/4.0, ISO2500

Best Time To See Northern Lights

The best season to see the northern lights in Iceland is the fall/winter months from September to April. The absolute darkest months in Iceland are between November & February, but these months can also have the worst weather.

Remember that you need a combination of darkness away from towns, clear skies, and strong aurora activity to see the northern lights.

Witnessing Iceland’s northern lights during summer months is pretty rare, due to almost 20 hours of sunlight per day near the arctic circle.

The more time you spend in Iceland, the better your chances are of spotting the lights. If you’re only visiting on a 2 day stopover, you’ll need a LOT of luck to see them. I recommend spending at least 7 days in Iceland if you want to find the northern lights.

Even then it can be difficult. As an example, my photographer friend Ken Kaminesky has visited Iceland 5 times now and has still never seen them!

You also won’t see the northern lights if you’re bar hopping in Reykjavik. A primary reason why I was able to capture such great photos of the aurora borealis is because I stayed outside all night, for multiple nights, driving around searching for them. It takes some dedication.

What To Look For

Ok, a few more tips for finding the northern lights. While it may seem obvious, remember to look North! The lights dance along the magnetic bands of the arctic circle, so you need to keep your eyes North to see them.

Often the lights start off weak at first, slowly increasing in intensity. Weak aurora activity will look grey to the naked eye. Much like wispy clouds or fog moving in the wind. They can be easy to miss.

Aim your camera at the grey stuff and shoot a long-exposure photo (20 seconds or so). If those “clouds” come out green in your image, they aren’t clouds! You’re witnessing a weaker version of the northern lights.

The stronger the aurora activity, the brighter the colors will be.

The most common northern lights color you’ll see is green. However if you’re lucky, they can also be blue, red, and orange depending on which atmospheric gasses happen to be prevalent.

Northern Lights Iceland

Driving the Ring Road – 13 Seconds, f/4.0, ISO2000

Northern Lights Photography

Once you find the aurora, capturing decent images of it is a whole new challenge. Here are some tips to help you photograph the northern lights in Iceland.

Photography Gear

In most photography situations, the quality of your gear doesn’t matter too much. However for northern lights & star photography it does. Here’s a list of recommended gear you’ll want to produce some great low-light shots.

  • Full Frame DSLR with Manual Mode & High ISO capability
  • Wide Angle Lens (24mm or wider) with Fast Aperture (2.8 – 4.0 minimum)
  • Sturdy Tripod
  • 2-3 Extra Batteries

Check Out My Travel Photography Gear Here »

You’ll want a quality camera (brand doesn’t matter) with a large sensor for minimal noise at high ISO settings. A wide angle lens aids in photographing large landscapes with the night sky. A fast aperture allows the maximum amount of ambient light to enter your lens.

A sturdy tripod lets you shoot long exposures without producing camera shake. Extra batteries give you flexibility to stay out all night waiting for peak activity — plus cold weather drains them faster.

Focusing Your Camera At Night

Even with the best camera gear and knowledge of the optimal settings, without proper focus, your northern lights photos won’t come out crisp/clear.

There are a few different methods to for focusing your camera at night, but my favorite is to focus on a distant landmark (like mountains) on the horizon.

This is easier to do around sunset or blue hour with some daylight left in the sky.

Most cameras have an infinity focus setting (∞), but it’s not always accurate. Zoom in as much as possible and adjust the focus manually. Once you have it locked in, remember to keep “auto focus” off and don’t touch the focus ring.

Northern Lights Camera Settings

I’ve included my northern lights camera settings under each photo in this post to give you some examples. But generally, because the intensity of the light and amount of movement is constantly changing, you’ll have to experiment with settings throughout the night.

Your camera should be set in Manual Mode, giving you the power to change each particular setting on it’s own.

IMAGE FORMAT
Most professional photographers shoot in RAW format rather than JPG, as it provides the maximum amount of information allowing for greater flexibility with post processing later.

APERTURE (F-STOP)
You want to capture as much light as possible, so use the widest (fastest) aperture your lens has. I used F4.0 in these photos, but F2.8 is even better if you have it. To learn more about aperture, click here.

SHUTTER SPEED
Depending on how fast the lights are moving, or how bright they are, you’ll want to adjust your shutter speed (exposure) accordingly. Anything from 10 seconds to 25 seconds is a good guess. The faster the lights are moving, the shorter the shutter speed should be.

ISO
The last setting you should adjust for northern lights photos is ISO. Increasing ISO allows your sensor to capture more light. The downside is that the higher your ISO is, the more sensor noise you’ll get, resulting in a grainy image. Settings around 2000 – 4000 should work best.

Northern Lights

Before Processing

Northern Lights

After Processing

Post Processing

Once you have a decent image, you can enhance your Iceland northern lights photos with post processing software. I personally use Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop, but there are others.

They all basically do the same things. How much processing you do is a matter of preference. Remember, art is subjective! You and I may not like the same things.

Post processing is a huge topic though, so I’ll just give you a super quick overview of what I did to enhance my northern lights images to really make them pop.

  • Adjust White Balance
  • Increase Exposure
  • Brighten Shadows
  • Brighten Whites
  • Darken Highlights
  • Increase Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation
  • Adjust Curves
  • Noise Reduction
  • Sharpening

Happy Aurora Hunting!

My Iceland northern lights photography in this post was captured during late November over a 3 day window of clear skies and strong aurora activity as I drove around Iceland’s famous Ring Road.

The lights would usually start off weak, increasing in intensity over the course of a few hours.

The best shots were captured at peak aurora activity, which usually only lasted for about 10-15 minutes. Patience & dedication is soooo important for northern lights photography… you need to stick around long enough for the good stuff to present itself.

With a little planning, a lot of waiting, and a dash of luck, you too can witness this amazing natural phenomenon in Iceland called the northern lights.

Seeing them in person is a magical experience — there’s nothing like it! ★

Traveling To Iceland Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

Pin This!

Northern Lights in Iceland. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Northern Lights in Iceland. More at ExpertVagabond.com

READ MORE FROM ICELAND

Driving Iceland’s Ring Road
How To Find Iceland’s Famous Plane Crash
Epic Iceland Photography Locations

Have any questions about the northern lights in Iceland? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Fortress Of Solitude: Unbelievable Crystal Ice Caves In Iceland

Iceland Ice Caves

Crystal Ice Caves in Iceland

Vatnajokull Glacier, Iceland

We crawl slowly on hands & knees into a long frozen chamber, under a brilliant cathedral of crystal blue waves. Superman would feel right at home in this ice cave.

When the Man of Steel wants to get away from the hustle & bustle of Metropolis, he flies to his “Fortress of Solitude” hidden in the Arctic. A magnificent crystal castle built using Krypton alien technology.

What if I told you Superman’s crystal fortress is real?

Deep under Iceland’s massive Vatnajökull Glacier, beautiful caves of ice are formed by rivers of meltwater.

Too dangerous to visit in the spring & summer due to a threat of collapse, cold winter temperatures strengthen the ice and make exploration possible.

A fellow photographer convinced me to go during my Iceland road trip.

Need a place to stay in Iceland? Click here for accommodation deals.
Driving to Glacier

Traveling to the Glacier

Iceland Glacier

Massive Walls of Ice

Ice Cave Photography Tour

Iceland’s incredible glacier ice caves move or completely disappear with the shifting ice sheet each year. However one man seeks them out and guides people to their location.

Expert local guide Einar Sigurðsson has been running photography tours into these icy caverns for the past 20 years, and knows the glacier better than most. His family has a long history here.

Driving over rugged Icelandic terrain and through small rivers in Einar’s 4×4 van, snow covered Vatnajökull glacier appears in the distance. The ice has retreated a lot over the past few years, so it takes longer to reach the edge.

We begin our ice cave adventure by strapping on helmets and ducking into a small entrance, forced to crawl on the cold, black volcanic dirt.

Once inside though, the views are absolutely breathtaking.

Iceland Ice Caves

Dazzling Blue Support Pillar

Ice Cave Tour

Exploring Glacial Ice Formations

Amazing Blue Ice Caverns

A long tunnel of ice boasting many different shades of translucent blue, white, and inky black stretches out before us. Thousands of years of snowfall compressed into frozen sculpted waves over our heads.

Gradually the tunnel grows large enough with room to stand up.

This densely packed glacial ice glows blue due to a lack of air bubbles which normally scatter colors of the spectrum as sunlight filters down from above. Layers of black volcanic ash are trapped in these ice formations, a remnant from previous eruptions.

We spent a few hours exploring the cave, setting up our tripods for the perfect shot. It was nice to be in here with a group of fellow photographers who understand the importance of patience & attention to detail.

When Einar discovers a new ice cave, he names it. This happened to be called the “Northern Lights Cave”, named after ribbons of deep blue frozen water surrounded by black ash.

It looked very similar to Iceland’s aurora borealis dancing in the night sky.

Iceland Ice Caves

Magic Ice Caves in Iceland

Ice Caves in Iceland

Northern Lights Ice Cave

Vatnajökull Glacier

Covering 8100 square kilometers (5000 square miles) Vatnajökull Glacier is the largest icecap in Europe by volume. The ice is up to 1000 meters thick in some places.

Located in the South East, Vatnajokull covers over 8% of Iceland.

There are seven different volcanoes hidden underneath the glacier. I actually flew over one of them while it was erupting, called Bardarbunga Volcano. This unique combination of fiery volcanoes & icy glaciers is why Iceland is called The Land of Fire & Ice

Superman sure picked a great spot for his vacation home!

Exploring and photographing Iceland’s crystal ice caves was an incredible experience. If you’re traveling through Iceland in the winter, you really should’t miss them.

Nature’s phenomenal beauty never ceases to amaze me. ★

Where To Stay

The closest town to the ice caves is Höfn, about an hour away. If you’re wondering where to stay in Iceland for a trip to the caves, here are my recommendations:

Budget Accommodation

H̦fn Hostel РAn environmentally friendly hostel with sea views, located an hour away in the village of H̦fn.

Loft Hostel – Located in Reykjavik near the bus station, these luxury dorms have en-suite bathrooms and excellent wifi.

Mid-Range Accommodation

Hotel H̦fn РLocated in H̦fn about an hour away, this hotel offers modern rooms with glacier & sea views.

Rey Apartments – Modern and affordable apartment in the heart of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik.

I also enjoy using AirBnB from time to time. Make sure to read my article about how to find cheap hotels too.

Traveling To Iceland Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

More Information

Location: Hof, Iceland
Company: Local Guide Of Vatnajokull
Cost: 18,900 ISK (about $165 USD)
Useful Notes: Iceland’s ice caves are only safe to visit from November until March. Some years they are better than others, as the glacier is always changing. Einar chooses which cave to explore depending on conditions that day.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Iceland
Suggested Reading: The Little Book Of Hidden People

READ MORE FROM ICELAND

My Complete Iceland Road Trip Guide
How To Find The Northern Lights In Iceland
Epic Iceland Photography Locations

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Visiting the crystal ice caves in Iceland. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Have any questions about Iceland’s ice caves? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.