Tips on winter travel in Iceland

“I don’t know why people come to Iceland in this weather!” our car rental mechanic exclaimed when we were forced to take our car in for an emergency service on the 2nd day of the trip. The plastic underside of our Toyota RAV4 was hanging onto the car for dear life, scraping the pavement as we drove while collecting chunks of snow and ice. When and how it happened we don’t know but within 10 minutes he temporarily patched up our car with plastic ties and sent us on our way.

Iceland snowy landscape

At first I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of hiring a car for a long weekend getaway to Iceland where the winter weather is known to be unpredictable and extreme.  I love a good road trip but how manageable & safe would the roads be in Iceland? It turns out my fears weren’t unfounded.  

Icelandic snowy road

A strong wind storm (strong enough to rip out chunks of tarmac!!) rolled into the country causing the cancellations of most flights and many of the roads were inaccessible.  We even caught sight of a guided tour van stuck in a snow swamped road to Gunnuver.  But with a bit of planning and a few safeguards, a self drive tour in a wintry Iceland is doable and recommended! Here are my tips on winter travel to Iceland:

1. Rent a 4 wheel drive SUV with snow tires
I would not have felt very safe driving in the midst of a wind storm in a sedan.  An SUV is a little more expensive but will come in handy on icy conditions and it’s more cost effective than paying for a few group tours for 2 people.  Ask your car rental for a snow brush if available.  And of course, an updated gps and roadmap is recommended.
Iceland SUV 4 wheel drive

Iceland Graenavartn Green lake snow coveredIcelandic snowy road2. Gain traction
My Uggs are the warmest pair of boots I own so I knew it would be perfect for the cold weather.  Unfortunately, Uggs have a failing where it is extremely slippery on wet surfaces making it unsafe for Iceland conditions.  I bought a pair of Yaktrax (£13/$15) that is a slip on for shoes/boots and provides great traction on snowy and ice surfaces.  I felt fearless while rocking the Yaktrax/Uggs combo during my stay in Iceland.  It’s not great for indoors but slipping it on and off is easy enough and worth the effort.

3. Pack layers, a rain coat and sunglasses.
Even though I wasn’t exposed to the elements for long periods of time I was glad I layered up.  It’s easy enough to peel off the layers in the car if it got too warm but a lifesaver while exploring the sights. You’ll also need a warm hat, scarf, gloves and a raincoat – an umbrella won’t help much since the winds will destroy it in minutes.  Sunglasses will also come in handy when driving through stark white areas.

4. Check route conditions before heading out.
There’s a website that monitors the conditions of the Icelandic roads.  I didn’t get the name of it but ask your hotel concierge.  After the wind storm we checked with our hotel on safe routes to our destination.  I’m glad we did as it altered our original route and gave us more confidence on the road.

Iceland was incredibly scenic covered in snow and I’m glad we got to enjoy it with the freedom of self driving instead of relying on group tours.  And given how expensive everything is in Iceland the extra cost savings of not spending on tours helped take the sting off a little.

Iceland Geysir

Strokker/Geysir

Iceland gullfoss snow covered

Gullfoss

Iceland Seltun geothermal

Seltun

Iceland Reykjanes landscape

Reykjanes, beginning to thaw

Iceland Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park

Iceland-construction-landscape-231

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