How to plan an epic Iceland road trip in winter (2024)

Going to Iceland? Here’s how to plan an Iceland road trip in winter, including tips on car rental, budget, and itineraries.

South Iceland

After my Iceland road trip this winter, I just had to share how I did it and how you can, too. To be totally honest, I worried about going in the winter.

Mainly because I was 5 months pregnant at the time and didn’t like the risk of icy roads and getting stuck in a snow blizzard with no help in sight.

But then I thought about the upside, like all the tourists I wouldn’t run into or the chance of seeing the Northern Lights dance across the night sky.

Now that I’ve been to Iceland in winter, I can say for sure: It’s totally worth going. In fact, I recommend it!

Here’s everything you should know to plan your own Iceland road trip in winter.

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Is Iceland worth visiting in winter?

Most people visit Iceland in the summer, spring, or autumn – which is good news for you because you’ll have much of it (almost) to yourself in the winter months.

The truth is that winter doesn’t prevent you from much – it even throws in a few winter-only attractions and activities. If you plan well, you’ll have your hands full trying to decide what to see and do next.

Benefits of making an Iceland road trip in winter:

  • You can visit blue ice caves, hike glaciers, do snowmobile tours, and much more (only in winter)
  • The light is beautiful, and the colors are more intense
  • It’s less crowded
  • Prices are lower
  • It’s not that cold
  • It’s a snow wonderland – No wonder that some scenes of Interstellar, PrometheusJames Bond or Batman begins were filmed here.
  • Northern Lights (from October – mid-April)

Read next: The ultimate guide to Iceland car rental in winter

South Iceland
Svínafellsjökull glacier

What to pack for Iceland in winter

Like we say in the North: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

So when exploring the outdoors in winter you obviously have to be prepared for any kind of weather.

Here’s my packing list for Iceland.

How to plan your Iceland winter road trip

In winter, the weather changes quickly.

One minute it can be sunny, and 5 minutes later you’re stuck in an ice storm or what feels like a hurricane.

As a Scandinavian, I’m used to changeable weather, but Iceland is crazily unpredictable. When planning a road trip in winter, this means two things:

  1. Check the weather and road conditions
  2. Always have a backup plan.

Book accommodation and tours in advance

Although winter is not the high season in Iceland, you should still book accommodation and tours in advance.

The weather might not be hot, but as a destination, Iceland is – all year round. You can read my post about the best Iceland adventure tours here.

Weather and road conditions

Since the weather changes all the time, do yourself a favor and check the road conditions regularly through the Vegagerdin website.

They also have an app.

Have a detailed plan

With only 6 hours of sunlight (or less), you need to schedule your day to get the most out of it.

What we did was leave in the morning while it was still dark so we arrived at the destination around the break of dawn.

The good news is that sunrise in the winter is at 11 am so you can sleep in.

Have a back-up plan

A site could be closed, a tire could blow or a snowstorm could ruin your plans. 

Be prepared for anything and be sure to have a solid backup plan. For instance, one day on our road trip I wanted to hike to Svartifoss waterfall, but the trail was closed due to heavy snowfall.

Instead as a plan B, we went to the nearby Svínafellsjökull glacier; a site we wouldn’t otherwise have time for.

Northern Lights

Did you know that the Northern Lights are in the sky every night?

It’s just that most winter nights are cloudy so you don’t see them.

Check the Vedur Aurora website for the latest cloud cover forecast and go look for them after 10:30 pm.

Vik, Iceland

How to get around Iceland

Doing an Iceland road trip in winter rather than joining an organized tour allows you to stop for photos anytime you want or head off to explore off the road.

Trust me, this is the way you’ll want to see Iceland.

You can rent a car in Reykjavik and other major cities in Iceland.

Read next: The ultimate guide to Iceland car rental in winter

Iceland car rental
Best Car Rental Company:


When booking your car rental online, I recommend Discover Cars. They compare prices at car rental agencies all over the country to get you the best deal.

Experience with icy roads

Road conditions change quickly in Iceland and a sudden snowstorm can really put a dent in your plans.

Also, the roads can be icy, and winds powerful! If you’re an experienced driver, great. If not, maybe bring someone who is.

Car rental

Renting a car is really the best and only way to see the country so be sure to factor it into your budget.

We did our Iceland road trip with a Toyota RAV 4 automatic that had 280,000 km on it, and it was a good, reliable car.

And do get that car insurance! You might not need the theft insurance, but if you visit in the winter you need the gravel road insurance (consider ash and ice if you are going to areas with much volcanic ash).

Rent a car with studded tires

Now, you need winter tires for your Iceland road trip in winter. These winter tires look like normal tires but have metal studs in them which really keep the car steady on the road.

They sure came in handy a few times on our trip.

Gas stations

Gas stations are scattered around Iceland, but as a rule of thumb, you should fill up when you see a station. The price of gas is $2.5 USD per liter (in October 2023).


We almost didn’t bring a GPS and what a mess if we hadn’t! It gave us access to maps, gas stations, emergency services, and local weather.

A GPS is a must if you ask me.

Download the 112 Iceland app

No one wants to get stuck in a snowstorm in the middle of nowhere so download the 112 Iceland app just in case.

By pressing the red emergency button, your location will be sent by text message to the 112 response center.

Vik, Iceland
Driving up to Dyrhólaey

Budget tips for an Iceland winter trip

Costs in Iceland

It’s no secret that Iceland is pricey. But a piece of good news is that the vast majority of attractions in Iceland are free.

We actually ended up spending less than I had budgeted – a major surprise. In total, we spent US $271 per day for 2 persons: 

  • Accommodation (per night): $74
  • Food (2 meals per day): $61
  • Car rental (per day): $66
  • Car insurance (per day): $21
  • Gas (we drove approx. 375 km per day): $49

Don’t pay for water

The tap water in Iceland is some of the purest in the world so there’s no reason to buy bottled water.

We just filled up large 1,5 l. bottles every morning and brought them with us.

Shop at grocery stores

If you want to save money and don’t mind fast food, you can buy cheap hotdogs, ‘today’s dish’, or similar fast food at most gas stations at a decent price.

Another option is buying your food at grocery stores. Iceland has a famous budget supermarket called Bonus that’s perfect for this and groceries are really cheap.

Prices vary greatly between towns, and Reykjavik is the cheapest place to shop.

Miriam’s tip:

Bring snacks on your road trip. We always had fruits, crackers, and some bread or buns.

Avoid speeding tickets

Iceland has a number of fixed speed traps and police cars patrolling Reykjavik and the Ring Road.

Speed cameras are always signaled a few hundred meters before you encounter them, but fines are hefty so for your own sake: stay within the speed limit which is 90 km/h.

Oh, and if you’re speeding and think you got away with it, think again.

If you get a ticket, your rental company will charge your credit card with an unpleasant surprise a few weeks after your trip.

Don’t take out cash

You can pay with a credit card anywhere in Iceland so there’s no reason to withdraw cash and pay those heavy bank fees.

Skogafoss waterfall on the South coast

6 great Iceland road trip itineraries

How many days do you need?

It depends. 8-10 days is ideal if you don’t want to rush it, but Iceland is also a great stop-over destination if you only have a few days.

I had 4 days and saw many of the best sites. You don’t need several weeks to experience the real Iceland, although you would be able to see everything in two weeks’ time.

The Golden Circle (1 day)

The Golden Circle is a perfect example of a 1-day Iceland road trip. Covering about 300 kilometers, the Golden Circle loops from Reykjavík into the southern uplands of Iceland and back.

It takes 3 hours and 21 minutes to drive, but you can also visit on a day tour with one of the many companies from Reykjavik or straight from Keflavik airport. The route takes you to:

  • Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Geysers, including the Great Geysir and Strokkur
  • The mighty Gullfoss waterfall
  • Bruarfoss waterfall
  • Kerið volcanic crater lake
  • And those cute Icelandic horses
The Golden Circle, Iceland
Gullfoss waterfall in the winter

South Iceland (2-3 days)

If you have 2 days or more for your Iceland road trip, you should go to South Iceland. This area, guys. It’s ah-mazing!

Think volcanic beaches, thundering waterfalls, ice-blue glaciers, canyons, icebergs, and a diamond beach → these are just some of the attractions that South Iceland has to offer and the best part?

They’re all free.

Things to see in South Iceland:

  • Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi Waterfalls
  • Skógafoss Waterfall
  • Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach and Dyrhólaey Lighthouse
  • Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon
  • Hike a glacier (Sólheimajökull or Svínafellsjökull) with a guide
  • Sólheimasandur airplane wreckage
  • Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
  • Crystal ice caves under Vatnajökull glacier (only in winter)
Vik, Iceland
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach in Vik

North Iceland (3 days)

While I didn’t have time to visit North Iceland, you might.

Aside from the roaring Dettifoss waterfall, which is the largest waterfall in Europe by water volume, North Iceland has boiling mud pits, hot springs, and whale watching (only from June to October).

Things to see in North Iceland:

  • Myvatn Geothermal Area
  • Dettifoss Waterfall
  • Godafoss Waterfall
  • Aldeyjarfoss Waterfall
  • Námafjall Hverir geothermal area
  • Dimmuborgir lava formations

Snæfellsnes Peninsula (1-2 days)

If we’d had a few more days, we would have gone to Snæfellsness.

The drive takes 3 hours from Reykjavik and possibly longer in the winter months because of the shifting weather and road conditions.

One major draw in Snæfellsness, besides the rugged coastline, stunning nature, and glaciers, is Kirkjufellsfoss, the most photographed waterfall in Iceland.

Things to see in Snæfellsness:

  • Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall
  • Arnarstapi cliffs and arch
  • Stykkishólmur (capital of Snæfellsnes)
  • Snæfellsjökull glacier
The wild coast of Iceland

The Blue Lagoon (half-day trip)

If you’re short on time or want to be extra practical, visit the Blue Lagoon on your way to or from the airport.

The lagoon is located halfway between Keflavik airport and Reykjavik with signs leading you all the way there.

Super important tip:

Book the tickets well in advance (at least 1 month in the winter) or risk not getting in. The Blue Lagoon Iceland is very popular all year round.

The Blue Lagoon, Iceland

The Ring Road (8-9 days)

If you have time, you’ll want to do the ultimate Iceland road trip along the Ring Road. It’s 1,432 kilometers in total and goes all the way around Iceland.

You can do it in 7 days, but 9 days is more realistic so you don’t have to rush it.

Plus, in the winter there will be days with bad weather, icy roads, or other things that might delay your trip.

Iceland road trip in winter
Iceland’s Ring Road

FAQ – Iceland road trip in winter

What is the best car to drive in Iceland in winter?

For winter driving in Iceland, a 4×4 vehicle is your best bet.

Models like the Toyota Land Cruiser or Subaru Forester are solid choices for icy and snowy conditions. They offer better traction and stability.

Don’t forget to check if the car is equipped with winter tires. Safety should always be a priority!

How long does it take to drive around Iceland in winter?

The time to drive around Iceland in winter depends on your itinerary.

It’s technically possible to drive the Ring Road in a few days, but you’d miss most sights. A 5-day trip covers highlights at a quick pace.

A 10-day journey allows for a more relaxed exploration. Adjust based on what you want to see and do.

Can you do a road trip in Iceland in the winter?

Yes, you can road trip Iceland in the winter, but it comes with challenges.

A 4×4 vehicle with winter tires is essential for icy conditions. Daylight is limited, and weather can be unpredictable.

Make sure to check road conditions and forecasts frequently. It’s adventurous, but proper planning and caution are key.

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  1. Iceland looks so magical! We are planning to visit in the summer that will be a different kind of magic. 😀 We are so looking forward to it! Then we can start dreaming about a winter visit, haha.

    1. It’s definitely a must on my list, too. We didn’t catch the Northern Lights on this trip (the winter light in Iceland is just beautiful on its own), but I hope to see it next year!

  2. Hi, thanks so much for all your tips!
    I was just wondering is the GPS on a phone good enough? Or do you recommend a separate GPS?
    Thank you.

    1. You’re most welcome, Yvette! It depends on how good your phone GPS is.

      I have a map app on my iPhone, but it would require an internet connection or a lot of data to work, which is why I didn’t use it. I rented a GPS at the car rental company and it was worth every penny. It already knew all the main tourist sights (including small ones) and I felt safe having it in the car.

  3. Thanks for sharing this.I am a travel freak and travel a lot.Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
    People often have a theme that they base their worldly travels on, but how about a mental mantra for your travel? Out of a cheerleading event that consisted of our family shouting supportive words at our daughter who was attempting to kill a rather monstrous spider that the rest of us were too chicken to get close to, came this great quote, “If you don’t think, and you just do….then it’s done!”

    This quote came back to haunt me when on vacation in Seattle. I thought it would be a great idea to take the kids on the Seattle Great Wheel, the ferris wheel overlooking the ocean, but as we approached it, I realized how high it went and immediately panicked! Just as I had decided to put the kids on it on their own, my daughter says, “Come on dad…If you don’t think, and you just do….then it’s done!” What could I do at that point?! She was telling me to stop thinking and creating more fear about the situation and just get on the thing!
    “If you don’t think, and you just do, then it’s done!” We all now keep this quote in our back pocket, ready to whip out at any time to push one of us forward into an adventure we know they won’t regret. No hesitations, don’t allow any time for fear to set in, and be prepared for your kids to turn your life advice back on you!

    1. I love that! Don’t think and just do. That’s such great advice to stop fear from slowing us down, because all too often fear gets in the way of what we want.

      Thanks for sharing this with us, Biplab, and all the best to you and yours.

  4. I am travelling with my daughter by the end of march for 12 days visit. Your blog is very useful for us. I been looking around for information, and your blog have answered many question. Thank you very much.

    Right now we have the plane tickets… and nothing else. We are not used to book in advance, but it seems that it is very important when you travel to Iceland.

    We have not decided yet how to get accommodation. We are leaning towards renting a camper van from Sadcars, so we have more freedom and save some money.

    Is it important to book in advance to get accomodation in Guesthouses?

    Thank you

    1. Hi Alvaru,

      Thanks so much for stopping by, I’m glad you found my articles helpful. As for your questions, then yes, it’s very important that you book accommodation in advance. Iceland is one of the most popular destinations right now so hotels are high in demand. Also, if you want to visit the Blue Lagoon, you should also book it in advance. You can do so on their website.

      I think it’s a good idea to rent a camper van – maybe one you can sleep in? Just remember to bring very warm clothes because Iceland is really cold!

      Have a great trip with your daughter.

  5. Hi Miriam,

    What an amazing and fascinating place to visit. I really didn’t know much about this but after reading this post I will surely visit one day. Thanks for sharing such an amazing post.


  6. Hi Miriam,

    This is super helpful! You mention to not bother taking out cash since most places take cards anyways. With that being said, is there maybe a maximum amount I should keep in cash or just pay everything by card and we’ll be okay? I would hate to not take out any cash and be stuck when paying haha.

    Additionally, do you have a specific winter activity you’d recommend over another?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Aya,
      Well, you could always have $30/3700 ISK just to be sure. But honestly, I can’t think of anywhere you can’t pay with card. Iceland is very civil 🙂

      The best winter activity is the blue ice caves and of course the Northern lights! You need a guide for the ice caves, but it’s worth it!

      Have a great trip.

  7. Hello Miriam,
    Thanks for this post, it’s really helpfull ! I plan to fly to Iceland after christmas, and I’m really afraid of the trip, while I dream of it !!!
    We are going to 6 persons for 8 days, we rent a van and want to make the route 1… I know we will see a lot of cool things but not all the things which are on this route, but no matter we want to go there…
    I hope the weather will be “ok”…

    1. Hi Anais, how come you’re afraid?

      I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful trip. Iceland is magical and you can’t help but be amazed.

      All the best to you.

  8. Hi.
    Very interesting and useful article. Indeed, it is very important to take everything you need during your winter vacation.

  9. Hi Miriam,

    I find your blog absolutely beautiful and helpful in its own unique way. I read carefully how you planned your Iceland trip and that scares me a lot. What a brave girl you are, I can’t imagine booking all of those mentioned things on my own. I am planning to use these guys for my trip in December this year. My main concern is the severe weather. Would you recommend using The North Face jacket or any similar for this trip? Also, would you advise staying in Reykjavik for the whole stay and taking day trips? Or staying somewhere else, we are planning to spend 10-12 days there. Thanks!

    1. Thanks so much, Kirk!

      To answer your question, yes a North Face jacket or similar is your best choice. It’ll be around 0 degrees in December, but the wind can make it feel much colder. If you plan on seeing most of Iceland, which you can in 10-12 days, I recommend moving around a bit. You can stay in Vik (south) and do day trips to Jokulsarlon and all the southern sights.

      And then stay the rest if the time in Reykjavik, where you can do these day trips: Snaefellsnes peninsula, Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon. If you go north, you can base yourself in Akureyri, but it might be better to just keep to Reykjavik and Vik, and do day trips from there. Just to avoid a stressed itinerary.

  10. Miriam, you really are adventurous 😀
    I would love to rent a 4×4 with a rooftop, we have one at home and use it to travel all around Europe already, but we can’t really take it with us to Iceland. but if we rent it there it will be just like at home with our Mike, as we call it.
    But of course I’m a bit worried about the cold, but I think we can manage it.
    Thanks for all the info, I hope we can make it this year!

    1. Thanks, Marjan 😀

      Aw, I love that! I’m sure you can find a Mike II in Iceland – I hope you do!

      Have an amazing trip, and let me know if you have any questions.

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