How to Circumnavigate Iceland Without Getting Terribly 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.

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!

One thought on “How to Circumnavigate Iceland Without Getting Terribly Lost

  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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *