How to Circumnavigate Iceland Without Getting Too Lost

If you’ve been fol­low­ing some Ice­landic news sources this week, you would’ve read the news about an Amer­i­can tourist who, while dri­ving from the air­port to his hotel in down­town Reyk­javik on his first vis­it to Ice­land, got so ter­ri­bly lost and some­how end­ed up in a sleepy, north­ern Ice­land town of Siglufjörður, at least 5 hour dri­ve away from Reyk­javik. In his defense, he was tired after a red-eye flight and he just went where the car GPS unit told him to go, in addi­tion to the hotel not spelling the street name cor­rect­ly in the address. But still, had he used a lit­tle more com­mon sense, I don’t think he would have end­ed that far off course from his orig­i­nal des­ti­na­tion. He should’ve at the very least known that Reyk­javik was where he need­ed to go and that it was only less than an hour dri­ve away from the Keflavik air­port. He’s become some sort of a celebri­ty because of this mishap. Fan­cy that!

I found the roads in Ice­land to be pret­ty well-marked. We man­aged to nav­i­gate our­selves around Ice­land (even took some detours away from the ring road) with­out get­ting ter­ri­bly lost, and all we had with us was a copy of a good, old-fash­ioned, paper map of Ice­land, which we didn’t even use that much. Grant­ed, we also had an access to Google Maps on my tablet but we only ever used it to nav­i­gate our way around Akureyri and Reyk­javik, two of Ice­land big­ger cities, which our paper map didn’t cov­er very well. So, here are some tips I could give you in order to not get lost dur­ing your Ice­land road trip:

  • Get hold of an Ice­land map (Google Maps will do) and get your­self acquaint­ed with it before you go. Check out where all the places you want to vis­it are locat­ed and fig­ure out the most sen­si­ble route and itin­er­ary. If mak­ing itin­er­aries is not your strong point, check out some Ice­landic tour oper­a­tor web­sites. More often than not, they have some self-dri­ve tour itin­er­aries avail­able on their web­sites (hint: Google “Ice­land self-dri­ve itin­er­ary”) that you can use with­out you hav­ing to book a tour with them (don’t wor­ry, they wouldn’t know).
  • Research your des­ti­na­tions well, includ­ing how many hours of dri­ving it takes to get from Point A to Point B (Google Maps can help you with this). If you’ve dri­ven for longer than the esti­mat­ed time but still haven’t seen your des­ti­na­tion, you might not be on the right track. 15–30 min­utes over the esti­mat­ed time is usu­al­ly enough to make me take a bet­ter look at the map.
  • Have the address or the name of your des­ti­na­tions handy so you can just point at a name if you need to ask for direc­tions because, let’s face it, Ice­landic place names aren’t the eas­i­est to pro­nounce and you’re like­ly to pro­nounce it wrong if you try. Don’t be afraid to ask the locals if you need help. Ice­landers are very help­ful and friend­ly and a great num­ber of them speak Eng­lish fair­ly well.
  • Pay atten­tion to the road signs. As I men­tioned above, Ice­land roads are pret­ty well-marked. If you pay atten­tion to the signs, you won’t get lost. The beau­ti­ful scenery may dis­tract you from pay­ing atten­tion to any­thing else, but it can be done if you try hard enough. ;-) 
  • If you real­ly have to, by all means, rent a GPS unit with your car, but please keep your com­mon sense intact and keep in mind that there are mul­ti­ple places in Ice­land with a shared name. If you fol­low your GPS blind­ly, you could arrive at the wrong place with the right name. That’s why it helps to know, at least rough­ly, where you’re going.
  • Hav­ing a good trav­el guide book also helps. Need a free down­load of an Ice­land trav­el guide book with GPS coor­di­nates of many attrac­tions? Here’s a link to the one I find most use­ful for a self-dri­ve tour. 

For our sec­ond trip to Ice­land this year, we’ll be bring­ing my copy of the Inter­na­tion­al Pho­tog­ra­ph­er map of Ice­land. The map is water­proof, fold­able, and, not only does it show all sorts of places of inter­est all over Ice­land, it also high­lights great places to pho­to­graph! We didn’t have this map the first time we went to Ice­land and I’m very excit­ed to final­ly be able to use it soon. I will also down­load an offline map of Ice­land into my tablet from Google Maps, just in case. You can learn how to do it here. Maps are your friends!

I hope you find my tips some­what help­ful. You may not get famous­ly lost but there are bet­ter things in life to be famous for. ;-) Have a great road trip in Ice­land!

2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. All of your advice is great for my upcom­ing trip in May! I’ve just gone and bought the Inter­na­tion­al Pho­tog­ra­phers map thanks to your post!

  2. Alo­ha! You men­tioned you’ll be return­ing to Ice­land soon, may I ask when you’ll be there? My boyfriend and I are trav­el­ing there at the end of May for a week! Thanks for the tips!

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