Exterior of one of the gas stations in Iceland

Experiencing Gas Stations in Iceland

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One of the strangest things about Iceland is the gas station culture in the country. While we had been warned about this before visiting, we weren’t prepared for Iceland’s gas stations. In a country of less than 400,000 people and where basic infrastructure just doesn’t exist, the gas stations in Iceland have filled the void. This is something that every visitor needs to be experience.

These fuel stations are a strange breed. There are several different gas companies: the red and white company (N1), the green and yellow companies (Olis and OB), the white and pink company (Orkan), and the blue and red company (AO). At their core, they are places that dispense fuel and diesel. However, Iceland’s stations are also a combination of coffee shop, restaurant, grocery store, retail store and community center.

Boxes of horseshoes and farm supplies
You can buy farm supplies here

It’s not uncommon to find some fuel stations with complete grocery stores and full sit-down restaurants inside. It is also not uncommon to find stations that have stores that sell clothing, knitting supplies or even farm implements. And if a town has a tourist information center, you can be sure that it’s located at the gas station.

The gas station is the provider of all goods and services. Forgot your European electrical adapters? Don’t worry – the local Icelandic gas station has you covered. Given the lack of infrastructure (particularly in some of the remote parts of the country), the station is the one ubiquitous service provider.

Refrigerators and frozen foods are available at the gas stations in Iceland
Stations can double as a supermarket or general store

Grocery stores and liquor stores may be open only a couple of days a week for a few hours, but these stations are open much longer. So they fill the void – selling food and providing a place for locals to congregate and selling all types of goods (from groceries to clothes).

Grocery stores, pharmacies, liquor stores, post office, and a restaurant all in the same building
Some stations have full grocery stores, pharmacies, liquor stores, post offices and even a restaurant, such as this one in Grundarfjörður

A whole culture has developed around these stations on the island. Most Icelanders eat at these gas station restaurants – a lot. For many people, the big night out on the town is dinner at the N1 gas station. I’m not kidding.

At first, I thought this would be freakishly lame or weird, but it really isn’t and turned out to be one of the great surprises during our Iceland trip. And, compared to the rest of country, the gas station meals are reasonably priced. They may not be the fanciest, but they are quite good. It’s definitely worth hitting up the local station for lunch or dinner – and be sure to try more than the ubiquitous hot dogs.

A hot dog

If you are visiting, here are some tips for gas stations in Iceland –

Food at Iceland’s Gas Stations

It seems the national cuisine of Iceland is the hot dog. These little gems are universally available at every station and can be incredibly gourmet. However, these fuel stops serve far more than just hot dogs. These stations can have sandwiches, ice cream, pizza and the Icelandic yogurt called skyr.

Plates of fish and chips and also a chicken sandwich
The meals can go way beyond hot dogs

Gasoline in Iceland

Not all fuel stations are the same. Some stations are full service with restaurants, store, restrooms and dispensing petrol. However, some gas stations are only pumps with a self-serve credit card payment system. Sometimes there can be large distances between fuel stations, so we recommend topping up your tank frequently.

A self-pay pump at an Iceland gas station
Self-pay pumps

The rental cars in Iceland are all designed to take a very specific kind of gasoline or diesel. Putting the wrong kind in is guaranteed to ruin your trip! The result will shut down the engine, likely leaving you stranded and with a very large repair bill.

Generally, in Iceland, the gasoline/petrol pump handle is green and the diesel pump handle is black. This usually confuses people from the U.S., where the green pump handle is diesel. Pay careful attention to which kind of gasoline you are putting in your rental car.

All gas stations are marked on the Iceland Road Atlas or on the map provided by your rental car agency; however, these maps usually don’t differentiate on which kind of station it is.

Sign indicating distance to next fuel
The fuel stops can be few and far in between

Gas Station Discount Programs

Each of the gas station companies in Iceland operate a discount loyalty program. Luckily, each of the rental car companies have partnered with a fuel company to participate in their discount company. The rental car company provides the discount program fob and a map of all of their locations.

The Olis discount fob and map
A discount key tag for Olis

The gas station discount program will get you a few Icelandic króna off per liter. There are also other program benefits like free coffee as well as discounts on food and other items. While it seems like a gimmick, the discounts are tangible and worthwhile.

Credit Cards at Gas Stations in Iceland

Full service stations accept all manner of payments. However, some of the automated Iceland gas stations only accept credit cards with a pin. If you’re traveling from the United States, make sure you know the pin for your credit card. This is especially important when returning your rental car at Keflavik airport – the pumps at the airport need a credit card with pin. An alternative is to buy pre-paid gas cards at the beginning of your trip.

The credit card readers on the self-pay pumps
Know your credit card’s PIN for the self-pay pumps.

Iceland Gas Station Restrooms

Since stations provide a range of services, we frequently found that toilets were treated as public facilities (not just reserved for paying customers). However, you’ll probably want to pick up some food or a coffee while you’re at it.

Given the lack of services in the country, make frequent use of the restroom facilities at the gas stations – you never know when you’ll have your next opportunity. Many establishments also have shower facilities, particularly in the more remote parts of the country.

Car Washes in Iceland

At many Iceland gas stations, they have free car washing facilities to get the mud off your car (and your car will get muddy). We learned the hard way that these are essentially one-car-at-a-time operations. If you try to get two cars in, you will likely be spraying the other driver and they won’t be very pleased about it. Show common courtesy and wait until the other driver is done.

Also, etiquette dictates that you use a little water to clean up the car wash area. At a minimum, you should use your hose to push the mud out of the clean-up bay and into the drainage channels provided. It seems wasteful to use water for this purpose; however, we were instructed that this is common courtesy.

Gas pumps at an OB self-serve gas station
Self-serve station

Exploring Iceland is best done by car. The Ring Road is one of the world’s greatest road trips. But visitors to Iceland should also get off Route 1 and head into some of the lesser explored areas. If you visit, you’ll surely encounter this unique culture that exists in this tiny country. It may seem strange, but gas stations in Iceland will be an important part of your journey. Live like a local and embrace the Icelandic gas station.

12 thoughts on “Experiencing Gas Stations in Iceland”

  1. It´s a pretty far off statement to say that almost all of us Icelanders have a night out at our local gas station when the truth is that the restaurants there are almost always Subway or Serrano (A mexican chain).

    Teenagers and people like taxi drivers etc frequent these places as they food is cheap and you get service fast.

  2. Thanks for your comment and I don’t mean this to be insulting. I mentioned this because it is very different than what we have in our country. However, we liked it. We ate at two gas stations that had excellent food (N1 in Blondus and a place in Egilsstadir). Our experience is that in much of Iceland, there were not many restaurant options.

    Thanks again for posting. And here’s to hoping we can come back to your country soon!

    1. Hi. There is a photographer Spessi in Iceland. He photographed every gas station in Iceland a few years back. There is a book. Fantastic photos!

      1. I’ll have to look for that. Icelandic gas stations are just one of those cool cultural things. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Thanks for this article. Been researching extensively for our trip and this was helpful regarding the comforts we can expect at the gas stations, which seem to be the only thing we can expect to rely on finding all around iceland haha

    We will be there for 5 nights, 6 days and really think all we will be eating is food from N1 stations and self catering in our apartments.

    Just have a question regarding the different gas station companies other than N1. Are they all reliable? Will we have any difficulty using our CHIP/PIN card at the gas stations – meaning is it going to be confusing if there isn’t english written with instructions?

    We will be going as far as Vestrahorn and Kirkjufell

    Thanks

  4. Just got back from Iceland. They’re gas stations are confusing. Trying to figure out to change the information to English which is actually picking the British flag cuz no American flag. Had to use my debit card cuz only credit card I know that had a PIN. Always chose the “full tank” button. When I checked my bank account, these gas stations charged me hundreds of dollars. So mad…

    1. Gas is EXPENSIVE in Iceland (and really all of Europe for that matter). But on the charges, try to get more info from your bank. While gas is expensive, you may have been hit with a lot of outrageous/unnecessary foreign transaction and convenience charges. Make sure you get a PIN credit card that has no foreign transaction fees!

      The flag is pretty universal. They figure England=English. Kind of makes sense from a semantics perspective.

      We do hope, however, that you enjoyed your time in Iceland. It is an amazingly beautiful country, isn’t it?

      1. Brendon Kowalski

        It is universal, I can’t imagine anyone who wasn’t an American ever looking for an American flag and being confused they couldn’t find it for English. I am a native English speaker, don’t live in England, and would be confused by an American flag as a symbol for English. It’s not just semantics, it’s the origin of the language

  5. My CC company, Capital One, says that their card, Quicksilver, which does give free foreign transactions, does not use a PIN for transactions even if you have a pin set up for cash advances. They say the only way to use their card is as “chip and signature”. So, am I screwed or are there enough manned gas stations around the Ring Road that I will be able to go inside and use my “chip and signature” card? We will be there 10 days traveling the full Ring Road in late May.

    1. Lance Longwell

      No, you won’t be screwed. However, you will need to plan ahead. Fully manned gas stations during the daytime won’t be a problem at all. My credit cards are like yours and I was able to use them. However, when you may have trouble is late at night OR at the automated gas stations in some of the bigger cities or near the airport. We couldn’t find a manned gas station at the airport when we returned our rental car. Thankfully, Laura’s credit card is a “chip and pin” so it worked out for us. Just make sure you’re topped up during the daytime and you should be fine.

    1. Iceland prepaid gas cards can be purchased once you arrive in the country from the major companies (such as N1, etc.). The prepaid gas cards in Iceland used to be more popular when Americans lacked the pin-and-chip credit cards. Now that most Americans have some kind of pin, it has made these much less common. They are still available if you really need them.

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