Perhaps you’re feeling the need for an impulsive holiday; why not book a flight to Iceland? The great thing about this country is, it doesn’t matter what time of the year you come; there are always things to see. My advice is, however, that as soon as you decide to come here, you lock in your accommodation and, especially, your rental car. There are many advantages to not leaving this part of the process until the last minute. Let’s take a look.
Do I Need a Rental Car in Iceland?
This depends on how much exploring you want to do whilst here. If you’re happy to just explore Reykjavík, the capital city, and perhaps venture out onto the Golden Circle, then no, you won’t need to rent a car. The bus service in Reykjavík is fairly extensive and will take you wherever you want to go within the capital region. For the Golden Circle route, there are several companies that offer guided coach tours.
However, if you want to complete a bigger road trip, say along the south coast or all the way around the ring road (Route 1) then it’s absolutely a good idea to reserve a car rental in Iceland.
Is there a Car Rental Office at Keflavik Airport?
For Reykjavík Cars, and several other car rental companies in Iceland, yes there is. Our Keflavik International Airport pick-up service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is free of charge and instructions will be sent to you once you book your car online. In fact, you can book your car online up to three hours before the desired pick up. However, the later you leave it the lower chance you have of the car type you want being available. Reykjavík Cars has a range of vehicles on offer, both manual and automatic, including small economy and city cars, minivans for up to 9 passengers and off-road vehicles of different sizes.
To increase the likelihood of having your preferred car type, use the website to arrange the rental in advance. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, you can of course head directly to the offices at the airport; the customer service office operates 24/7 and walk-ins are welcome.
There are also options for car rental in Reykjavík; in case you didn’t know, Keflavik airport is about 45 minutes from the capital. So, if you’d prefer to take a bus into the city center and sort out your rental on arrival, you can do so; Reykjavík Cars has an office in the capital too.
Keep in mind, though, that there are some rental offers available online that do not apply when booking in person. Take advantage of the online promotions and organize your rental car before coming to Iceland. A last-minute rental is an option, but in the peak season especially (from June to September), you may struggle to acquire the car type you want if you do not book in advance. This matters because there are some places in Iceland that are restricted to certain types of cars; I’ll discuss this more later.
Know that when you collect your car, you will need to bring a credit card and ID. An imprint of your credit card is taken to cover the cost of any damage that may occur to the car under your care. With Reykjavík Cars, unlimited mileage is included in all rentals, as is Collision Damage Waiver insurance (this insurance is mandatory for all car rentals in Iceland). There are other insurance packages you can purchase separately if you wish to be more protected.
Safe Driving in Iceland
Icelandic roads may not be like the roads you are accustomed to driving. We have one of the least developed highway systems in Europe. Our main highway, Route 1 (the ring road) is only two lanes wide, even one lane in some cases (on certain bridges and through some tunnels). So, great care must be taken when navigating around Iceland. Adhere to Iceland’s speed limits and pay attention to road signs.
Driving in Iceland is not without its hazards. The weather here is unpredictable and can turn extreme, particularly in the winter and spring. Snowstorms are common, as are strong winds. In this most recent winter, there have been several severe weather warnings that have led to roads being closed and even businesses having been asked to close early to ensure everyone can get home safely. If there is a weather warning in place, it’s best not to travel. Check the Icelandic Meteorological Office’s website for up to date forecasts.
Know that if you come here in the winter, spring or autumn, there is a likelihood that you will have to drive on snow or ice. Preferably you will have some experience of this, but for guidance, you can read my article on Snow Driving in Iceland.
It’s also important to remember that Iceland has a huge amount of sheep; more than two for every Icelandic person in fact. Occasionally, sheep may wander onto the road. If you come across some, approach slowly and watch out for any darting individuals.
Where Can My Car Take Me?
As I said before, some places in Iceland only allow for certain types of cars. This is most obvious in the highlands; the interior of Iceland. These are accessible, but not by smooth, paved highways; only by F roads. F roads are gravel roads that are not well maintained, and that also involve river crossings, and so only 4x4 vehicles are permitted on them. Luckily there's a wide range of 4x4 options, from the budget-friendly Dacia Duster or Suzuki Jimny to the cooler Jeep rentals in Reykjavik.
Additionally, due to Iceland’s weather, the roads are only open from June to September, and the exact opening dates are decided each year. There are also some gravel roads in the Westfjords (the north-west area of Iceland) for which it would be a good idea to get a 4x4 rental. For all other roads, a two-wheel-drive vehicle will do just fine, but keep in mind that depending on the time of year, you may need different tires.
Essentially, all of Iceland’s small population is heavily concentrated along the coast, particularly in the south-west capital region, in which 60% of the population is based. So, once you leave the capital, you will pass through small villages and towns, none anywhere near as large as the city you started in. That’s one great thing about Iceland; huge amounts of open space, without too many people to create traffic and noise. But once you leave the capital, gas stations are few and far between. A good rule to follow is to fill up whenever you hit half a tank and there is a gas station nearby.