When booking your Northern Lights holiday, one of the things to bear in mind is whether you will be self-driving. In Sweden and Norway you could be self-driving in autumn time (September/October), whereas in Iceland this would cover the whole September to March season. All three countries adhere to driving on the right and you are not permitted to go off-roading. The law dictates that car headlights must be on all year round and in the Northern Lights Season with shorter daylight hours this definitely makes sense.
When collecting your car, you can hire a GPS if you wish, and add on a second named driver. Please note you will need to provide credit card details for the driver, and this card needs to be valid for at least 6 months after the return of the vehicle. A credit card of a passenger, a pre-paid credit card or a debit card will not be accepted. You must return the car with at least the same level of fuel as you picked up or risk being charged extra for the service of refuelling.
Driving Licence Requirements
In the event that there is no deal on leaving the EU, the government will seek to put in place new arrangements for EU and European Economic Area (EEA) countries, to recognise UK driving licences, when people are visiting. Until such arrangements are in place, UK driving licence holders may need an International Driving Permit (IDP) in addition to their UK driving licence to drive when visiting EU and EEA countries.
Each EU and EEA country will decide if they require a foreign driver to have an IDP, in addition to a driving licence, to legally drive in their country.
There are three different types of IDP, covering different countries so if you already have one please check it is the correct one for the country you are travelling to on your Northern Lights holiday.
For example – Norway and Sweden – 1968, Iceland – 1949.
It is very easy to get an IDP from a Post Office (there are 2,500 that issue them in the UK). You would need to take with you a passport photo; your plastic photo card driving license and we would recommend taking a second Photo ID such as your passport as well. It costs £5.50 and it is issued there and then over the counter. We would strongly recommend you get one for your own peace of mind and to save time when picking up the hire car.
Please see the link below with further details, as well as the ability to search for you nearest issuing Post Office – gov.uk/guidance/international-driving-permits-for-uk-drivers-from-28-march-2019.
A Northern Lights Iceland trip is best done by car. With a 4×4 you can safely travel around and avoid the bulk of the tourists arriving by bus to each of the local sites. The website www.road.is is a good source of information regarding road conditions, web cameras and maps. Another source of reference that we recommend to use on your Northern Lights Holiday is www.maps.me which you can pre-download routes from so as not to use data, or if you wish to use as a live satnav then you would need to turn your data on. Remember off-roading is forbidden and can damage the local scenery and invalidate your car insurance.
In North Iceland you can self-drive your Northern Lights Journey in autumn from September to mid-October time when the colours are lovely and the roads clear. If you want to enjoy activities such as husky sled rides then you need to wait for the heavier winter snow in Dec and we would strongly recommend you do not self-drive. Instead chose a Northern Lights Trip with transfers and guided SuperJeep tours included so you can have a safe Northern Lights journey.
Whilst the maximum driving speed in Iceland is 80 km/h, it is not recommended to drive this fast in poor conditions as many of the roads are narrow and with the mix of the cold and wet climate, could be icy if travelling at higher speeds. If self-driving at night to try and hunt out the Northern Lights drive very carefully; we would recommend you go on a Northern Lights tour instead so you can relax and focus on searching for the Aurora Borealis, and not worry about the road conditions.
The R1, whilst not a motorway, is the main road in Iceland and loops round in a big circle, therefore making navigation easy. Due to it being the main road, it is kept clear for travel.
The Golden Circle, which is one of the most popular areas, can be reached by car but this is only the beginning. So much of a Northern Lights Iceland trip is best seen once you are away from the capital. With waterfalls aplenty on the South Coast drive to Vik in the south. You are spoilt for choice enjoying the Atlantic sea to the side of you, but also take a break to see the black volcanic beaches and basalt columns and caves, often with puffins.
On a Northern Lights Iceland holiday, your driving during the day facilitates you being in the right place for your evening tours hunting for the aurora borealis.
Other wildlife encountered on the road on your Iceland Northern Lights trip can include sheep, horses and geese!
In Sweden, the travelling is more than just reaching your Northern Lights destination, with wonderful nature along the way. On the E10 motorway you have the option of seeing eagles, moose, reindeer, the arctic fox, bears and so many others. The scenery is incredible whether you are heading to the Tree Hotel in Lulea where the wooded area overlooks the lake, the IceHotel just outside of Kiruna which is now open all year round with the addition of Ice Hotel 365, or to Abisko which overlooks Lake Tornetrask perfect for ice fishing.
If your Northern Lights trip includes driving to Norway, then you have the Polar Park where wolves, lynx, bears and deer break up your journey. The Norwegian Fjords make for quite a distracting view as well, which just lend themselves to picnic stops en route.
The Lofoten Islands create a stunning backdrop to some truly memorable mountain and sea views on your Northern Lights Holiday. With six main bridges connecting up the islands, the E10 is easy to navigate as it is the only main road, and you can only go north or south. From end to end these scenic islands are only 163 km long.
Rental cars can be found at Harstad/Narvik Airport or Bodo.