Road Tripping Iceland
Long hours were spent in the car during my 2 weeks worth of road tripping around Iceland. I never got bored, not once. Here’s why:
The landscape changes quickly and for no apparent reason. One minute you’ll be driving through a frozen wasteland of nothingness, the next you’ll descend into a valley of lush, vibrant plant life.
The light in Iceland is some of the best I’ve ever seen anywhere on Earth. Iceland is so far north that the sun stays low on the horizon for hours on end. Even at high noon, the sun is perhaps 30 degrees above the horizon in late September. This makes for dramatic light at nearly any time of the day. It’s a photographer’s dream.
The weather in Iceland is unpredictable. You really need to be prepared for ANY weather at all times – step outside in bright sunlight, and it might be pouring rain by the time you get back. Don’t bother with an umbrella when it does rain – it’s horizontal thanks to the wind. It’s windy in Iceland, very windy… everywhere and pretty much all the time.
The vast openness of the land lends a very epic quality to your road tripping adventures. The arctic air is clean and crisp, and with zero pollution you can see for miles and miles. Well, unless you’re shooting into the sun at sunset and photoshopping your fancy dslr to make it look like you were shooting with a $40 Holga… 😉
So what’s it like to drive in Iceland?
Outside the capital of Reykjavik, the main highway spans just two lanes: one in each direction. But that’s all you need – you can drive all day and only pass a handful of cars. Travelers who stay on the main highway will enjoy paved roads in good condition throughout their trip in all areas except the sparsely populated far eastern side of the country.
There aren’t any street lights to guide your way at night but the yellow reflectors on the sides of the highway help. Still, it’s incredibly dark on overcast or moonless nights. Personally, I tried to stick to daytime driving whenever possible. More adventurous types will want to get off the main highway to explore the remote Westfjords. Those roads aren’t in nearly as good of condition:
Woah! There are enough potholes here to make the otherwise atrocious roads in Chicago look immaculate. And, at least in this picture, we were driving on wet dirt – better known as mud! And to complicate things further, you’re likely to find these roads in mountainous places where you’d most want to have good, solid pavement under your tires. The best advice is to take it slow and enjoy the scenery instead of racing to get to your destination – the journey is the destination!
It’s almost redundant to say it, but pay attention. Iceland’s roads, like the landscape and weather, have a propensity to change fully and without warning. You’ll quickly go from comfortable driving to dodging potholes and back.
When your gas tank’s half empty (half full?), it’s time to fill up. Who knows where the next gas station will be…
Icelandic radio is pretty good, but talk radio is waaay too popular. It’s all in the native Icelandic language, too – interesting for the first hour; not as interesting after that.
“F” roads are 4 wheel drive only. I didn’t try any F-roads in our 2 wheel drive euro-car, but given what we encountered on the normal roads, I certainly didn’t want to. The ticket cost would be too high, anyway.
Speaking of which, tickets are expensive, just like everything in Iceland. Don’t speed.
I love road trips and driving in Iceland is as good as it gets.