Iceland Road Trip Basics

Island nation’s narrow but well-marked and well-signed routes.

IcelandHighway-mapYou might think that national highway #1 in a technically sophisticated nation is a wide divided roadway, but in Iceland, that’s not necessarily the case. Highway 1 is generally a two-lane road with one-lane bridges, minimalist shoulders and efficient highly visible markers that take long dark, damp winters into consideration.

The highway is lined on both sides with yellow reflective stakes every 50 or so meters apart. Bridge approaches are also well signed and have vehicle pull-outs on both ends to provide passing areas. Visitors who rent cars soon become accustomed to these markers, and locals know to depend on them in low visibility. Unless posted otherwise, the speed limit on the open road is 90 kilometers per hour.

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Highway signs alerting drivers to temperature, windspeed and avalanche conditions are updated in real time.
Highway signs alerting drivers to temperature, windspeed and avalanche conditions are updated in real time.
And at each periodic exit is a map diagramming the small roads and sites available. This one, from Flickr, shows a busy exit. Some exits access just one or two really little country roads and perhaps a guesthouse or farm that accommodates guests.
And at each periodic exit is a map diagramming the small roads and sites available. This one, from Flickr, shows a busy exit. Some exits access just one or two really little country roads and perhaps a guesthouse or farm that accommodates guests.

We just traveled from Reykjavik on the southwest coast to Hafn on the southeast and back — unable to fly  because the small commuter planes were grounded due to dense fog, intermittent rain and wind gusts. The landscape is a succession of grazing land (cattle and sheep), grassy meadows, occasional wetlands, rivers and views north toward mountains and south toward the sea.

Both sides present a captivating landscape, but the driver really needs to pay attention because Highway 1 is narrow and is used by every kind of wheeled conveyance including bicycles, motorcycles, passenger cars, buses and fast-moving trucks.

2 thoughts on “Iceland Road Trip Basics”

  1. Very snazzy. We didn’t see these types of road signs on our tour around Iceland’s Golden Circle route. Helpful to know the wind speed and temperature — always a factor in Iceland sightseeing.

  2. A friend posted this comment on my Facebook page, and it bears adding here as well:

    I got a kick out of reading your Iceland road info. Loved the maps, etc. Three of us rented a car for a day. Sadly, the GPS was not working and the maps did not appear to follow actual reality. A few things I learned along the way: 1-Not all cars come equipped with automatic transmissions. Sometimes you need to specify that you want it. 2-Check the GPS before you leave the rental office because once on the road, nobody will have a clue how it works. 3-If you are flying Icelandic air, watch that cute little elf-road tips cartoon ON THE WAY OVER, not after, as I did. It really is helpful. 4-Rental cars (most if not all) use diesel, not gasoline and the pumps don’t have the kind of attachment we have that prevents an unfortunate mix up. BE CAREFUL!

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