I always tell those planning a trip to Iceland is to rent a car and drive yourself where you want to go. The roads are easy to navigate, traffic is nearly non-existent, and it is an overall stress-free experience.
If you are planning on visiting Iceland, you might be considering renting a car. Rumors about the poor quality of the road system or the perceived (inaccurate) small size might put you off, but here are some things you should consider to have a stress-free experience renting a car in Iceland.
- Iceland actually has about the same surface area as England, albeit in a more compact form and with fewer large settlements. The main ring road which runs around the island is 828 miles long and, yes, now entirely paved. Having a car means you can explore much more of the island.
- Doing the “Golden Circle” (Thingvellir, Geysir, Gullfoss) on your own allows you to dodge crowds and spend more time at the parts which interest you. **Tip: Do the Golden Circle on one of your first days on the island, it makes for a great introduction!
- Iceland has very little public transport. UBER is nonexistent there, but taxis are available. There are a few long distance buses and no trains. Public transport immediately around Reykjavik is decent, elsewhere you may be looking at one or two buses a day.
Here are some things to think about when renting a car in Iceland:
- If you plan on going into the interior, you should spend the extra money and rent a 4WD vehicle. There are roads in Iceland it is illegal to drive on in a normal car because they are unpaved even though they are still on a map. Most of the interior is only accessible in summer.
- Book well in advance, otherwise you run the risk of not being able to get the car you need.
- Always get the gravel road insurance. Iceland is one of those places where you can turn down a road and just out of site the pavement stops. Also, rent a GPS.
- You drive on the right and overtake on the left.
- Iceland recognizes US drivers’ licenses, so there is no need for an IDP.
- Minimum rental age is 21 for a normal car and 23 for a 4WD vehicle.
- Remember the following rules: No off roading, car headlights must be on at all times, no cell phone use while driving. The legal alcohol limit in Iceland is zero.
- Gas prices are stable and similar throughout the island. The most recent figures I could find were from 2016 – about 194 krona a liter or about $1.75 a liter. Yes, gas is expensive in Iceland.
- There are a lot of rental companies in Iceland. Look for a company with a good reputation over a cheaper one. Reykjavik Cars and Lava Auto Car Rental (which only provides SUVs) all have very good reviews. If you’re more comfortable with an American company, Thrifty and Hertz (we’ve booked with Hertz 2 out of the 3 times we’ve been there) both have an office in Keflavik (near or in the airport). We usually have paid about $60 a day for a normal car and $90-$110 for an SUV.
Renting a car in Iceland is the best way to explore beyond the capital without being stuck on guided tours or dealing with the vagaries of an often-insufficient public transport.
You Can Read More About Driving in Iceland . . .