I'm from San Francisco and am planning to visit Iceland March 22nd - 31st. My goal is to do a lot of photography at Vík and Jökulsárlón. I decided to rent a car instead of joining tour groups. I am planning on rending a small 2WD rental car with snow tires.

I have a couple of questions regarding driving:

1) I looked at the Iceland road conditions map at http://www.road.is/travel-info/road-conditions-and-weather/south-east-iceland/se1.html and some of the roads along the south shore are slippery with spots of ice. Will this be a great risk to my small 2WD rental car? If the roads are blue/yellow should I be driving on them?

2) Will there be any risk that snow will completely shut off the roads? What would you recommend in terms of booking tours/hotels early in light of that risk?

  • 5
    March is still winter and while it decreases in risk towards month's end, the snow season extends into April, so you are still at risk of snow accumulation. Of course an even bigger consideration ... how much experience/comfort do you have driving on snow covered or icy roads?
    – user13044
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 9:27
  • 2
    Even if price is a consideration for your car rental I would still advise getting a 4WD. I was there in December (admittedly during worse weather than you're likely to face) and we rented a small Suzuki Jimmy which was very affordable, fun to drive, and capable on snow and ice.
    – Richard Ev
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 17:12

4 Answers 4


If you rent a car in March, the car will be fine for driving on the ring road in March. The question is, will you be?

I used to live in northern Scandinavia, and have driven rental cars in winter in both Sweden and Norway. With good tyres and wide roads, driving is not really a problem, but you will have to be careful. Expect longer braking distances, brake extra early going into a curve, etc. In one curve where I know a group of friends crashed their rental car, the bus slowed down to a speed of well below 20 km/h (recommended speed in summer maybe 50–60 km/h). Also, be wary of driving long distances in the dark. Roads may be empty and you might lose attention.

Unless the weather is very bad, the ring road in southern Iceland will not be completely closed. There are towns and villages along the road, and closing the road would cut those off. Therefore, this will only happen in extreme circumstances such that you shouldn't and wouldn't be doing any outdoor sightseeing anyway. When the weather is bad enough to close the road, it's bad enough to cancel tours. The only exception would be that the weather is very bad where you are, but OK where the tour is. Such is a risk you will simply have to accept in winter in Iceland.

If you do feel insecure driving but you still want to be solo, you could consider taking regular buses. Those are not very frequent, so in that case you should be sure you can stay warm while waiting for the bus back. I don't recall seeing any shelter at Jökulsárlón, for example.

  • "If you rent a car in March, the car will be fine for driving on the ring road in March" What? Maybe things are different in Iceland, but usually car rental companies will rent cars regardless of road conditions. They force you to have insurance to cover damages, and usually have a deposit on file - so it's no big deal to them if you wreck the car. - Make sure you have chains ready, and/or consider a 4x4/AWD car instead.
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 21:43
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    @SnakeDoc I've never seen a serious car rental company renting out a car that wasn't fit for major public highways. Car rental companies usually want to get their cars back whole and their customers back alive. Cars I've rented in the Nordic countries were always flawless, and in winter always equipped with studded tyres. If the weather is so bad that one cannot drive, then the car rental employees can't get to work either, and the airport will be closed. No need for four wheel drive on the ring road in Iceland.
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 21:51
  • The point I was raising was - just because a car rental company will rent you a car doesn't mean it's safe to drive at that time on the roads. Road conditions can vary wildly within a single day - let alone a multi-day trip. There's no implication of safety based on a company's willingness to rent to you. This invalidates the sentence I quoted.
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 22:16
  • @SnakeDoc What I meant is that it should be safe for normal road conditions in March. For example, if you need winter tyres to drive on public roads at all, it will have winter tyres. Generally, of course, in any season, there can be weather where the roads are unsafe for driving, for any car.
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 10:22

1) 2WD rental car with "proper" tires (which you will definitely get) should be perfectly fine. I personally drove the whole ringroad few times in this part of the year, with lots of snow, ice, wind and other catastrophes with no problems at all. However, always be prepared for the worst!!! Weather here is extremely tricky and very difficult to predict. I would definitely recommend you to take a small shovel just in case you stuck in some snow :) Also, mountain roads (those one marked with "F" before the number) are in this part of a year with a car like that a strict NO-NO!
Some websites which you could find helpful are: official iclenadic meteorological office and safetravel website.

2) Biggest risk of shutting the roads (at least the ringroad) are massive floods which don't happen during this time of year, so if you stick to ringroad, you should be fine.

However, for your own safety, I would suggest you to be aware of all the phone numbers you will need on your journey. If you intend to hike around highlands by yourself, inform someone about your plan and let people aware that you are going to a specific location.

Drive safely and responsible and enjoy the Iceland's beauties ;)

  • 1
    +1, but I would amend the 'inform someone' to all hiking and leave information in your parked car whenever you walk away, out of sight from it.
    – Willeke
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 17:21
  • Aren't mountain roads essentially snowmobile roads in winter? And hiking being with snowmobiles or skis?
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 17:47
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    @gerrit well technically they are closed but you can still wonder off the main road because there are no ramps or similar things which would properly stop your car :)
    – errata
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 17:58
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    @errata ooh, yes. Iceland, the country for grown-ups. Let's hope they can keep it that way.
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 18:26
  • @gerrit ah yes, indeed, and let's not forget about Reynisfjara accidents and Jökulsárlón foolishness :)
    – errata
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 8:51

You should be fine with snow tires (as long as you are not going too fast), also on the roads marked with "spots of ice" and "slippery". Be careful when entering one-way bridges and drive according to the road conditions and the risk should be minimal.

It's very unlikely that snow would completely shut off the main roads, so I wouldn't worry about booking tours/hotels early because of that.


Will this be a great risk to my small 2WD rental car? If the roads are blue/yellow should I be driving on them?

2WD is not a great risk in end of March if you stick just to ring road. Mountain roads without 4WD is pretty high risk. Some rental companies explicitly mention NOT to drive in mountain roads with their 2WD. You can still do it but if something bad happens, their insurance will NOT cover it (from one of my past experience).

Will there be any risk that snow will completely shut off the roads? What would you recommend in terms of booking tours/hotels early in light of that risk?

If you stick to ring road, there's very less chance that snow will completely shut off roads. It's relatively safe to book hotels early (and save!) if you are staying near ring road.

PS: I'm going to Iceland in late March too :)

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