About the Iceland (IS)
Situated just south of the Arctic Circle in the North Atlantic Ocean, Iceland is an island oasis of breath-taking, unspoiled natural beauty, with a notably mild climate that belies its name. With the majority of the human population centered in the western city of Reykjavik, and to lesser extent, the city of Akureyri in the north, much of the island is a stunning, uninhabited landscape of mountains, volcanoes, and a shrinking number of glaciers. Popular destinations and attractions include summertime whale-watching in Húsavík, catching the Northern Lights in the hip city of Keflavik, and Europe’s largest national park, Vatnajökull National Park — home to Iceland's, largest glacier (Hvannadalshnúkur), highest mountain (Vatnajökull), and Europe's most voluminous waterfall (Dettifoss).
Getting around Iceland is somewhat of a Catch-22 for visitors. On one hand, public transportation outside of Reykjavik is extremely limited, and you’ll have far more freedom and flexibility if you rent a car. Conversely, Iceland car rental rates are significantly above the European average, and petrol is comparably expensive. While major roads are in good condition, rural routes are subject to wet weather in all seasons, and frequently impassable or closed altogether. You’ll be able to access all of the major attractions without much of a hassle, but getting off the beaten path is prohibitive. And that’s probably a good thing, because Iceland is very protective of its pristine landscape. Disturbing the environment by off-road driving is both illegal and considered extremely disrespectful.
Generally speaking, driving in the developed areas of Iceland is manageable with a two-wheel drive car hire, but reaching the more isolated areas such as Landmannalaugar will require a four-wheel drive vehicle. River crossings are exceedingly common, and road conditions range from rough to downright dangerous if you venture off the main highways in rural areas. So plan and be aware to get the most out of the stunning beauty of the country.
Choosing your car
Europcar and Sixt lead the way in Iceland car rentals, but you’ll also find cars on offer from Avis, Budget, Hertz, and Thrifty. Given the rugged terrain and general road conditions, all-wheel drive SUVs are by far the most popular vehicles. But of course, you’ll have a wide range of cars to choose from: Compact 4-door sedans and economy 3-door hatchbacks, standard and intermediate 4-door sedans, and 7-12 seater minivans for groups of 5 or more passengers.
Tips and advice
It’s recommended that you avoid solo travel to remote locations in Iceland. For any travel to isolated areas, be sure to notify someone of your destination, and locate some guesthouses along the route in case of inclement weather.
You’re also encouraged to book your Iceland car hire as far in advance as possible, particularly during the peak summer tourist season. Major car rental companies quickly sell out of all-terrain vehicles, leaving slim pickings for the latecomers. Meanwhile, it’s very possible to rent a car in Iceland without a reservation outside of the months of June, July, and August. That said, cheap car rentals are always more plentiful when booked in advance. Walk-up renters pay markedly higher prices.
Driving on Iceland’s F roads (c.g. F50) requires all-wheel drive and (usually) snow tires.
Self-service fuel stations generally operate 24 hours, but you’ll need a credit card with a PIN number. Prepaid cards can be purchased from most fuel stations, eliminating the need for a PIN.
Outside of developed areas, road services are few and far between. It’s suggested to never let the fuel gauge dip below half-full.
Most roads in Iceland are paved with black volcanic gravel (basalt) that can wreak havoc on a car hire. Be very clear about your liability for damage caused by road conditions before hitting the road in Iceland, and acquire additional coverage if you’re heading out to remote areas.