The land is desolate.
There’s a black rim around the edge of the island, revealing the volcanic territory I’m about to fly into.
From my window seat in the sky, I can see a single road edging around the island and the occasional moving rectangle of a vehicle below.
I had imagined Iceland to be mountainous everywhere, with rugged shapes visible from the sky. I didn’t expect the entry into Reykjavik to be quite different – a bare landscape, brown, barren and desolate, as if I was flying to the ends of the earth.
But once on solid ground, driving further inland revealed the Iceland I had painted in my mind already – majestic glaciers, volcanoes and the most beautiful waterfalls I’d ever seen.
PLANNING AN ICELAND ROAD TRIP IN AUTUMN
Depending on the activities you want to see, a road trip to Iceland in autumn is an ideal time of year for exploring. It’s not yet too cold and snowy, which makes driving much easier and you’re less likely to face weather-related road closures.
It pays to always have a backup plan if you can’t make it to your destination due to a sudden change in weather conditions – which does happen frequently!
Iceland in autumn is cold – I was there in October and most days the maximum temperature was 5ºC. The wind chill factor is something else though – so prepare for the iciest wind blasts of your life. I still had reasonable amounts of sunshine each day – in fact, more than I expected for Iceland, but conditions change rapidly. Be prepared.
Some activities are not available in autumn, as it’s still not cold or frozen enough, such as ice cave or glacier tours – so if that’s on your Iceland bucket list, then wait until after November. Activities such as scuba diving or snorkeling the Silfra are offered year-round.
ICELAND ROAD TRIP OR GROUP TOUR?
I only had 5 days to explore Iceland – a bucket list country squeezed into a bigger trip around Ireland and Scandinavia. It’s a long way from New Zealand and I couldn’t visit the Nordic countries without at least a few days in the Land of Fire and Ice.
I considered staying in Reykjavik and simply joining day tours to the top sights, but the expense was going to add up quickly. As I was travelling solo this time, with hubby holding the fort back at home, I was initially a little hesitant about driving by myself, but I just felt a self-drive tour was a far better fit with my travel style.
It gave me freedom to see the most important parts of the country and the hidden gems that only those who self-drive will get to see.
Knowing what I know now, hiring a rental car in Iceland was the best decision I could have made.
WHICH RENTAL CAR COMPANY IN ICELAND?
I chose to rent a vehicle with SADCars and couldn’t have been happier with my choice. Iceland is an expensive country and SADCars offers the most affordable rental cars in Iceland.
I was given a 4WD Manual Dacia Duster – perfect for an Iceland road trip in autumn.
Even though it was just me driving, I felt safe being in a bigger vehicle. Especially when those Icelandic winds pick up and you can feel the car moving in the gales.
The staff at were super friendly and helpful with any questions I had and made a real effort to welcome visitors to the country.
The company premises is not on the airport site itself, but they include pick-up and drop-off. Be sure to factor in the extra time when you arrive and leave Iceland.
I highly recommend paying for additional insurance – and SADCars has a number of various insurance packages available such as theft cover, sand and ash protection and gravel protection.
There’s a complete bundle for 28 Euro per day which includes all of that plus collision cover. At the very minimum, you’ll want sand and ash, and gravel protection for your Iceland road trip in autumn.
Peace of mind is always important for me – it’s better to be safe than sorry.
As always in any car hire situation, check the vehicle for any pre-existing damage such as dents and scratches, mark them off on the form and take some photos before driving off.
WHAT TO PACK FOR AN ICELAND ROAD TRIP IN AUTUMN
I don’t go on any road trips – or travel anywhere for that matter – without a portable charger. I’m quite partial to my rose gold Mophie powerstation which means I’ll never be caught short on battery charge for my iPhone or GoPro or any other device which can charge via a USB port. A portable charger is especially important if you’re planning on using your phone for GPS, video and photo, which will drain the battery.
Think layers that can keep you warm, dry and act as a windbreaker. I lived in my ski jacket everywhere I went in Iceland. Brands like Northface, Colombia and Patagonia have some great options – or, if you’re a skier or snowboarder, the jacket you wear on the slopes will be ideal in Iceland. Keep it in the car at all times!
Waterproof hiking pants are a must for exploring Iceland. Jeans will not protect you from the rain, nor will any other type of athleisurewear. I always kept a spare pair of pants in the car, in case it was raining heavily and I didn’t particularly fancy driving in wet clothes.
I have a pair of Flinders Women’s Pants from New Zealand’s Kathmandu – Colombia does a similar version.
I usually had two pairs of shoes in the car at all times – one pair of decent hiking boots for exploring, and another pair to change into in case my hiking boots got muddy. I love my Ahnu Sugarpine boots – they’re comfortable, durable and offer great support.
As my second pair of boots, I brought my cosy thermal-lined snow boots to change into as a ‘nice’ pair if I was going into a cafe or shop, rather than my muddy hiking boots. My Northside Kathmandu snow boots have been a great investment for winter travel.
Fortunately, in Iceland, the water is good to drink straight for the tap – or even straight from the lake in some cases! Make sure you have a water bottle handy to stay hydrated through your trip. I like to travel with a foldable water bottle because it packs down nicely when empty and molds to whatever luggage space you might have left.
A must for travel to Iceland. Icebreaker is my go-to choice for quality merino thermals. Layer up – you can always take layers off inside the car, but you’ll want them all on when you step outside.
As a skier, I’m well equipped with gear to stay warm. One of the best investments before my Iceland trip was my Icebreaker merino wool flexi-chute, which I pulled up and over the back of my head underneath my hat and across my face to stay warm.
Kinda obvious, you’d think? Well, as it would happen – I forgot to bring gloves to Iceland! Can you believe it?! So I had to go out and buy a pair ASAP and treated myself to some delightful Icelandic-patterned woolen gloves.
Iceland has some wonderful geothermal spots – both paid and free – so be sure to pack the swimwear for a dip in the hot pools along the way.
Note that Iceland has quite strict rules for hot pool complexes – you must shower (without clothes) prior to entering the hot pools. So be prepared to strip first for a shower, before donning the swimwear.
On that note, it pays to always have a quick-dry towel handy in the car! You will need it if you head to a secret, free hot pool, or simply to dry your face off after being out in the rain or next to a waterfall.
Choose a comfortable daypack that’s lightweight for travel and can hold the necessities. Osprey, as well as many other well-known ski brands, have great options, including daypacks that come with a hydration unit.
The sun can sit very low in Iceland, causing glare. Be sure to pack your sunnies to help protect your eyes. If you’re short on space, opt for some foldable sunglasses.
The most important item to keep in the car during your Iceland road trip – cameras to capture the beauty! If you plan on capturing those silky smooth waterfall shots, you’ll need to bring an ND filter and tripod to allow you to slow the shutter speed down and keep the shot steady.
ICELAND ROAD RULES
DRIVE ON THE RIGHT: Motorists drive on the right-hand side of the road in Iceland. If you’re from New Zealand, Australia or the UK, you’ll find this rather strange – it means the driver seat is on the other side of the car! I lost count the number of times I got into the passenger seat to drive.
HEADLIGHTS: All motorists need to have their headlights on at all times.
SPEED LIMIT: The speed limit in urban areas is usually 50kmh, while on the open road it’s 80-90kmh. It’s lower than many countries – and there are speed cameras in operation.
GIVE WAY RULES: At four-way intersections, the driver on the right has the right of way. In roundabouts, the right of way goes to the driver son the inside lane.
SEATBELTS: Seatbelts are compulsory for all passengers
ROAD CONDITIONS: Stay up to date with the latest road conditions with the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration website.
Is Iceland on your bucket list? What are your road trip essentials?
LIKE IT? PIN IT!
Huge thanks to SADCars for the complimentary vehicle during my stay in Iceland. All opinions are my own.Tweet