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Rent a car in Iceland or do day tours

Whether to rent a car in Iceland or do day tours is one of the most frequently asked questions from would-be travellers to the country. The answer depends on when you’re travelling and what you plan to do, of course, but we’ll attempt to answer the question so you can figure out which might be the best option for you.

How much time have you got?

If you’re travelling to Iceland for a few days and it’s your first visit, it’s quite straightforward to have a fantastic trip without renting a car. Downtown Reykjavik is easily walkable and for forays a little further afield, public transport or organised tours are easy to arrange. You can catch the airport bus and stop off at the Blue Lagoon spa on your way in or out of the airport. A morning excursion to the Golden Circle is comfortably doable too, enabling you to tick off Geysir, Gullfoss and Thingvellir National Park.

What’s your group size and your budget?

Solo travellers often find the cost of travel can be expensive. Rent a four seater car, but there won’t be three other people with whom you can split the cost. But as soon as you factor in a second, third or especially fourth person, it starts to make economic sense to split the costs of a rental car rather than to shell out for multiple places on a tour bus. It’s worth having a think about which excursions you are likely to want to do, then work out roughly what it will cost to do them independently.

How confident a driver are you if the weather turns bad?

Another key factor to think about is the time of year you plan to visit and the likelihood of weather. In summer, you’re unlikely to encounter little more than the odd squall or windy day, but if you’re heading to Iceland in winter (or even spring or summer) you might have to contend with fog, ice or snow. Roads such as Route 1, the ring road, and those leading to the Golden Circle are well maintained and in good condition. If you’re a new or nervous driver, however, you might prefer to let someone else take the wheel.

Do you want to set your own pace?

If you plan to travel further afield, and are intending to spend longer in Iceland, then a rental car comes into its own. The trouble with only spending a few days here is that they won’t be enough. There’s so much to see beyond the main sights that you’ll be keen to explore. Although you can book an excursion, having a car gives you the flexibility to stop off along the way. For instance, you can book a day tour departing Reykjavik for Jökulsárlón’s icebergs, stopping off along the way for hurried visits to Seljalandsfoss waterfall and Reynisfjara black sand beach. But rent yourself a car and you can take your time, setting your own pace and your own agenda. You’ll miss out on the guide’s commentary, but take along a good guide book and going it alone doesn’t have to mean you miss out on the background completely.

How spontaneous do you like to be?

Organised tours are all well and good (unless they get cancelled) but they don’t allow you to be spontaneous. Stops are scheduled so that there’s just enough time to see the landform or landmark that you’ve come to see. However, you’ll be clock-watching the whole time to make sure that you’re not going to be the one who does the walk of shame down the coach aisle having held everyone else up. Worse, you could be waiting for someone else to show up, frustrated at how you’re missing out on the next place because of their poor timekeeping. If you want to have the flexibility to stop as long as you please – and decide what that means on the day – then having your own wheels is the way to go.