How To: Rent a Car in Iceland
Congratulations on deciding to embark on an Iceland road trip! Your life is about to be *~cHaNgEd~*.
In all seriousness, renting a car or van is the best way to see the country. Taking a tour on a bus usually means you’ll only be visiting the super-touristy spots (and I mean really touristy). Heard of the Golden Circle? That’s probably where you’ll go. There’s nothing wrong with the Golden Circle at all, it’s just not all that Iceland has to offer. You’ll know when you’re near the Golden Circle attractions when you see parking lots full of mega busses.
Anyhow, if you’re reading this, you probably already know about Iceland’s Ring Road, and how driving all around it (with many, many stops) is the best way to see the country. In order to do that, though, you’ll need a vehicle. Here are some tips I learned when planning my own trip:
Do your research
Does the company you plan on renting from have mileage limits? Is their additional insurance (see point 2) exorbitantly expensive? Is it 4WD (see point 4)? If you’re returning the car covered in puffin poop, will there be a surcharge?
Buy gravel insurance as well as sand and ash insurance. Do not laugh. Gravel is everywhere and it seeks out your car. It will ding your car or crack your windshield. And guess what? While you’re moping about the gravel dings all of a sudden Iceland will throw you a curveball and it’ll start hailing golf ball-sized ice spheres! “But it was sunny just a minute ago,” you cry! Welcome to Iceland. Don’t like the weather? Give it 5 minutes. Volcanic ash (I’m sure you can imagine) is also fun to deal with. If you’re covered with your credit card or regular travel insurance, you might want to read the fine print to see if it covers FIRE AND BRIMSTONE AND THE WRATH OF…jk, just see if it covers gravel and stuff. (FYI: It probably won’t.)
Speed traps and mobile speed detectors are everywhere. The speed limit is quite low and with no one else on the road at times it’s tempting to zoom off. You might think you’ve gotten away with it but don’t worry, your rental car company will charge your card a few weeks later with any tickets they receive.
4WD for F-Roads
You’ll need a 4x4 if you plan on adventuring on Iceland’s F-roads (and other remote destinations). These cars are slightly bigger and may cost more, so it’s a bit of a financial investment in your adventuring. If you’re going in the winter I recommend a 4x4 anyway, especially if you’re planning on going outside of Reykjavik and the Golden Circle.
HODOR!! I mean— HOLD THE DOOR
My first experience with a rental car and powerful winds was trying to navigate a sandstorm in a minivan at Coachella. Long story short, I gently opened the door at the gas station only to have the wind almost whip it off its hinge. Thankfully, my friend caught it as she was walking around the car. Wind is scary. Watch your door. Hold your door. It is precious.
Mind the sheep
Sheep, horses, and other critters roam freely. Pay attention to the roads. Do not end up on the news for hitting a poor little Icelandic sheep. I will be upset.
As you can imagine, things can get busy during peak travel times. Book ahead to make sure you have transport. You’ll probably lock in a better deal too if you pay upfront ahead of time!
I didn’t include any tips for vans or camper vans or RVs but there are lots of great companies that cater to this. Camping in Iceland (I’ve heard) is a lot of fun and pretty easy to navigate.
Oh, and, when in doubt, just get gas. Gas stations are few and far between in the more remote areas so if you’re thinking you might need gas and you see a place to refuel…just do it.
If you have any tips of your own, please share in the comments!