Driving around Iceland on the country’s 1,333 km (828 mi) Ring Road means spending a fair bit of time at the local petrol stations along the way. No Iceland itinerary would be complete without having to stop your vehicle, stretch, grab some Icelandic hot dogs, take photos, and then get back on the open road. If you have never been to our small country, there are some things you should know about visiting Iceland, and more specifically, the country’s gas stations. Do you need a prepaid gas card or will your credit card work? Is there an official gas station map or will Google maps suffice? Here are some crucial tips and tricks for navigating Icelandic gas and petrol stations.
First Things First: Debit, Credit, or Cash?
Iceland may be small, but it sure is beautiful. As such, adventurous travelers make their way from around the world to embark on legendary road trips across our diverse and stunning island. However, if you plan on opting for an Icelandic road trip, there are some things you need to be aware of, including the differences between the gas stations, the norms and common practices surrounding debit and credit cards, and the little quirks and idiosyncrasies that make Icelandic gas stations so interesting.
First things first, the most important thing to keep in mind when you are driving around Iceland has to do with your wallet. This information is relevant whether you are driving through the Highlands on F-Roads, or just outside Reykjavik. Here, in Iceland, all self-serve stations require that you use a credit or debit card. There are a handful of fuel stations that still use the services of a gas stations attendants. It’s kind of a novelty thing, but if you have the opportunity to try it, go for it. But overall, the majority of stations are self-serve.
Iceland’s Credit Card Secret
Most have attendants inside, who also double as cashiers, but when darkness falls, and you are meandering through the Icelandic countryside at night, trying to reach your sleeping destination, you can only use a card. You might be saying to yourself, “Well, yeah, no duh. Of course, that sounds totally normal.” And to that sentiment, I agree. However, there is one significant difference: whether you are using a debit card or credit card, you must supply the four-digit PIN number for each.
If you are thinking to yourself that you don’t even know what your credit card PIN number is, don’t worry you aren’t alone. When I got my credit card, I vaguely remember setting up the pin number. However, I forgot it because 99% of the time no one ever asks for it. In Iceland, you have to know it, at least when filling up your tank. Realizing that you don’t know your credit cards personal identification number, in the middle of a snowstorm or hailstorm is a lousy situation to be in. Avoid it at all costs. If you are only planning on utilizing a credit card for the duration of your Icelandic holiday, I would recommend either memorizing the number (which may difficult for those who don’t even know the number), or you can buy a prepaid gas card.
Get A Prepaid Gas Card
Buy a gas card. Purchasing one of these little wonders simplifies everything when it comes to refueling your car. On the back of the card (or on its packaging), there will be a list of gas stations that will honor the card. Which is nice to know that you won’t have to reach for your credit card (or that sneaky PIN) every time that you want to fill up. Some cards will actually offer discounts if you use certain petrol stations, which is a nice bonus. Just remember to keep track on how much you spend so you don’t accidentally end up with no money left on your gas card.
Iceland’s Main Gas Stations
On to the gas stations and their principal differences. Most of the major suppliers of gasoline in Iceland have robust and interactive websites. They provide crucial information like the price of gas at an individual station (which get updated regularly), they also offer a bevy of facts regarding their histories (yawn), their amenities (yum), and their hours of operations. While I’m not aware of any official gas station maps for Iceland (yet….ahem Icelandic tourism board, ahem), you should be fine with Google Maps, Garmin, TomTom or some other navigational system that lists gas stations close to you along your route. There’s also the Iceland Supermap that many Reddit users recommend. With that in mind, let’s look at the most popular gas stations in Iceland, and their amenities.
Olís & ÓB
The first gas station on our list is Olís, and I generally recommend first-time travelers to Iceland and tourists to stick with them. That isn’t to say that the other fuel providers don’t have excellent service and products, but the main difference is the Ólis rewards card. Signing up for a rewards card gives you the added bonus of having a 10 % discount on the food they serve in their restaurants, an extra 3 Krona off each top up, complimentary coffee (who doesn’t love a coffee on the house), and free WiFi. I believe they have updated all of their locations to provide free WiFi, but, honestly, each station is different.
There is an important distinction to make between Olís and ÓB. Olí offers other snacks, food, roadside equipment, and a sit-down area, while ÓB is a self-serve station. You will find most ÓB self-serve stations to be located in the north, or in areas that are incredibly rural. As I said earlier, each station offers a different experience. Check out their website to filter out the specifics. Some stations are open 24 hours, others have full car washes, and some have entire convenience stores built into them to be used as a mini grocery store for your Icelandic road trip. Their site is interactive and informative. Use it to plan the refueling stops on your route before you begin your journey.
N1, according to them, is the leading Icelandic retail and service company in the fuel market. And, to be honest, it is hard to argue with them. Their stores are incredibly clean, filled to the brim with snacks, tools, maps, and, their website is by far my favorite to use. Iceland is unique, in so many distinct ways, but it is also unique in that gas stations for many communities serve as the general meeting area. Many of the smaller towns out in the countryside don’t have the luxury of being near stores or shops. So, where do they go when they are craving hot dogs or need some supplies for their house or car? They come to the gas station. N1 embodies that idea. They have just about everything you need.
N1 operates 27 different service stations throughout the country which provide a top-notch restaurant, convenience, and fueling experience. Like Olís, N1 also has a prepaid gas card. However, I would only recommend purchasing an N1 fuel card if you plan to be in Iceland for an extended period of time. The deals they offer outstanding, but they are also more niche (specials on sandwiches, desserts), whereas Olís & ÓB’s rewards card will end up getting you more bang for your buck. Check out their site and prepare to be impressed. It is a perfect tool to help you plan your Icelandic road trip.
Atlantsolia, or, AO
AO makes it on my list, however, just barely. I am not saying that they are a terrible company, on the contrary. Their facilities are often clean and the staff is always incredibly friendly. However, when I was conceiving this article, I approached it from the mindset of, “which companies offer clean and excellent service **while** also having a robust, interactive, and helpful website for those planning a road trip around Iceland. While their website does provide accurate and up to date information on the prices of gas at each one of their locations, it is entirely in Icelandic.
Now, Icelandic companies have every right to have their official websites to be written in Icelandic, it is our language and an integral aspect of our culture. However, given how much we depend on tourism from the outside world, and how English is a world language (that almost all Icelanders speak), it seems like it would make sense to also have an Engish version of the website. At any rate, if you have the time and Google translate at the ready, they do have some helpful information on their site for non-Icelandic speakers. But, be warned it will take you a while to dig it up. Make a note of where their service stations are, just in case you can’t make it to an N1 or an Olís station.
Top Tips for Gas Stations in Iceland
Gas stations are the lifeblood of both rural Icelandic communities and adventurous road trippers alike. Tourists depend on them to get them around the country quickly with full bellies and plenty of supplies for the journey ahead, while rural communities use them as their general store, meeting space, and restaurants. If you find yourself traveling through the countryside and you decide to stop at a small town, odds are the tourist information center is located within the gas station. If that doesn’t relay the importance of the Icelandic gas station, then nothing will.
So, remember: whenever you get the chance to opt in for a loyalty card at any of these gas stations (preferably N1 or Olís), do it. They are a great way to save money in Iceland. Plan out which gas stations you are going to stop at along the Ring Road. If you are planning on driving on F-Roads or the Highlands, be aware that petrol stations will be few and far between, so make sure you have a full tank when you set out. Have a full list of available gas station in each area that you plan on stopping in (just in case). Finally, remember that you need to know your PIN before you can use your credit card.