Let’s get right down to business…yes you should absolutely rent a car on your trip to Iceland. No question, the best way to travel through Iceland is by renting a car! Iceland is such an easy country to drive through, and there isn’t much traffic – you can seriously go miles without seeing another car! And trust me, it’s so nice to have the freedom to stop where you want and for however long you want.
I know there is a lot that goes into trip planning, and a car rental is just one step. If you do your research ahead of time and know where you want to go, the travel part is going to be easy!
This post is part 1 of the ultimate road trip planning series:
- Part 1: Everything You Need to Know About Renting a Car in Iceland
- Part 2: 10 Rules for an Epic Iceland Road Trip
- Part 3: 19 Easy Ways to Save Money on Your Trip to Iceland
- Part 4: Road Signs You Need to Know Before Driving in Iceland + FREE e-book!
- Bonus: 7 Budget Friendly Restaurants in Reykjavik + FREE restaurant guidebook!
Here are the main points you want to consider before purchasing a rental car for your Iceland road trip.
4wd vs. 2wd
This is by far the most common question I get asked, and definitely something worth considering.
The answer primarily depends on a) where you are planning to go and b) the season you are traveling in.
- If you are driving the Golden Circle, the ring road, or cruising around during summer, then no.
- If you’re visiting in the winter and/or you’re not used to driving on icy roads, then yes. Roads in Iceland are not very well maintained, especially outside of Reykjavik. Not only that, but the wind in Iceland can be so strong, you might feel like it could blow you right off the road! The weight of the bigger vehicle will give you peace of mind when traveling.
- If you are planning to drive on any F-roads (off the main roads, usually in the interior of Iceland), then yes you will for sure need a 4wd. All of the rental cars have a sticker on the dashboard that warns you against driving off-road. Not only can it be dangerous to you if you violate this rule, but it can also get you a hefty fine if the rental company finds any damage.
GPS rental is usually around $10/day, and in my opinion, for that price you can buy a nice old-fashioned paper map! Honestly, I don’t think a GPS is necessary in Iceland, it’s maybe the easiest country to navigate?! We ordered an awesome waterproof map from Amazon before we left, and it worked out great. It was actually kind of fun to use a real map!
We were also very prepared ahead of time for our road trip, which helped a lot. I made a detailed itinerary of where we were planning to stop, and the drive time between each place. This was easily done with google maps, and barring any bad weather, will be accurate during your road trip.
If you are just on a quick stopover or spending a couple of days in Reykjavik, I highly recommend getting the City Maps 2Go app by Ulmon and downloading the city before you leave. That will make the streets easy to navigate, and we were able to get out of the city and onto the ring road with that.
I know I know, no one wants to purchase insurance for a rental car, but in Iceland it’s an absolute must. If you don’t have insurance on the vehicle, some companies will require a damage deposit of up to $1,500 before you even leave the pickup desk. Do yourself a favor and get the full package, between rocks, ice, and ash, Iceland takes a toll on vehicles!
I spoke with a local company and they said that this especially important for American travelers because it isn’t automatically added. Sometimes certain credit cards (American Express, I believe) will cover the insurance.
It’s important to remember that Iceland is a small island in the middle of the Atlantic…things are expensive up here! Don’t forget to budget for gas, especially if you will be driving a lot (~$60 USD/day).
- You can expect fuel to be around $5.50 USD per gallon
- If you request a diesel vehicle, it’s cheaper per liter and gives you better fuel economy
- Fill up literally wherever you can. Gas stations in Iceland are few and far between, and sometimes it’s just one pump on the side of the road!
Do yourself a favor and make sure your rental includes unlimited miles. You never know where you’ll going to want to go!
Types of Transportation
Obviously, the two most common ways to travel are by car and SUV. But one thing I love is that Iceland offers two unique ways to travel around this country so that you get the most out of your vacation.
- Car – adequate for the main roads (Golden Circle, Ring Road, Reykjavik)
- SUV – required for F-roads, recommended for winter driving
- Camper Van – Does having your vehicle and accommodation rolled into one sound good to you? Do you want to be able to cook your own meals rather than spend money at expensive restaurants? Then Camper Vans are for you! Not only is this option your wheels and your bed, but it is also equipped for cooking as well! If this isn’t glamping, I don’t know what is.
- Big Rig – so you have your normal SUV, and then you have your big rigs. These vehicles are serious heavy duty 4×4’s that have been modified to handle anything that the Icelandic wilderness throws at you. You will be able to get you into the interior places of Iceland like Landmannalaugar and Thorsmork. If you want to drive through streams and take the F-roads head on, these bookings are for you.
Choosing a Company
Your choice of a rental company depends entire only on the above preferences and your needs as a driver. There are big name rentals and smaller companies, and each will have something good to offer. Consider your individual needs for your trip.
No matter who you choose, I would recommend getting pick-up at the Keflavik airport. If you are thinking about getting transported into Reykjavik, a bus or taxi will cost you $20-$50 each way.
If the car company is not on-site at the airport, make sure free pick up is included!
- The rental car company I recommend: Blue Car Rental
Want a discount on your rental car?! Get 7% off your ENTIRE rental purchase by using code: #BlueLWV at checkout!
What else do I need to know?
- The peak rental season in Iceland is May-September. Outside of those months, rentals become cheaper. This can allow you significant savings!
- Always, always, always check the road conditions, especially if you are traveling in winter. I cannot stress this enough. The weather in Iceland is very unpredictable and road conditions can change rapidly. Be prepared, and don’t take any chances.
- There is a great app called 112 Iceland that can be used in an emergency to notify a response center.
- In an emergency, call 112
By far the most intimidating thing will be when you exit the airport and pick up your rental car. The drive from the airport goes through a big lava field and you will feel like you are driving on another planet. DON’T WORRY. This is going to be the most difficult part of your drive (and it´s not that bad!) Allow for 45 mins to get from the airport to downtown Reykjavik.
From the rental car pick-up lot, turn right out of the airport driveway. When you get to the roundabout, take the first exit onto Road 41 towards Reykjavik. You will go through two more roundabouts, and then several small towns on the way. Continue straight on Road 41 for about 45 kilometers. Road 41 will intersect with Road 40, follow Road 40 straight towards Reykjavik. Road 40 will lead you into downtown Reykjavik. When you see the mountains ahead, you are almost there. Laugavegur is the main road in downtown and will be a turn to your left.
Congratulations, you drove from the airport to Reykjavik without a GPS!
(See map below)
Remember that Iceland is incredibly beautiful, but safety comes first. Invest in a rental vehicle that is right for your itinerary, and most importantly keeps you safe!
I hope your Iceland road trip is everything you want it to be and more!
Question: What’s your road trip plan for Iceland?
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Road Tripping in Iceland?
Make sure you can read the Icelandic road signs with my complete guide!
- Driving in a new country can be scary and you want to be able to read the signs! Don't worry, I got you covered with this detailed guide. Drive in peace, my friends!